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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

SAFETY
By Victoria Harris

 

 

 

 


Keep your distance from her. That’s what has always kept you safe. Sane. Next time she tries to draw you into a conversation about yourself, steer it elsewhere. And don’t have so many glasses of wine, especially when you have work in the morning. She has good intentions, but it doesn’t matter. You’ll hang around as you have for now, but if she’s looking for a lifelong friend, she’d better look elsewhere.

*

There’s no reason to withdraw just yet. Graduation is the perfect opportunity to let this friendship dissolve. That’s the lovely thing about moving: you get to cut ties, and no one will question you for it. That’s how high school was; that’s how this will be. When she offers you her cactus-shaped pipe, take a hit, but just one. When she offers you her only umbrella, turn it down. You can handle the rain on your own. Isn’t it enough that you’re walking next to her when you value being alone more than anything else?

*

Focus on your classes. If you can keep from getting distracted, you’ll leave this place with nearly a 4.0 GPA. Nearly. Isn’t it something how you can never make up for one little mistake in the past. She’ll ask you to come over, and you will say that you’re busy with homework. She’ll ask if you want to meet at the library and work side by side (in those armchairs with the poetic graffiti), and you will pretend you didn’t see her text. There’s nothing like the comfort of boundaries. Therapy taught you that, if not much else. Ignore the nagging feeling that maybe you should try therapy again, since it’s been years. It’s not like you have money to toss around. When you get sushi for dinner, don’t let her pay. You know better than to get caught up owing her something.

*

When she asks if you want to go clubbing, say yes, because there’s little chance of meaningful conversation and a decent chance of shaking away your stress for a moment. When you have a beer, don’t let the scent remind you of your father. It should make you think of frat parties, not the nights your mom would have to pick your dad up from dive bars at 2am. When your mom asks if you’ve gone to church lately, resist the urge to say, “No, Mom, I’m going straight to hell.” She means well, but when is that ever enough? If faith couldn’t save her marriage or her brother from cancer, there’s no way it could do anything for you.

*

She will ask if you want to go on a road trip up the coast with her and some friends over spring break. Tell her no, but be nice about it. After all, she didn’t have to invite you. But the ocean looks the same no matter where you go, so you’re not going to miss anything. Don’t let her disappointment make you feel guilty. She’ll get over it. Say, “maybe you and I could do a trip over the summer,” knowing full well that will never happen. Don’t feel bad about the way her eyes light up when you say that. You’re just looking out for yourself; there’s nothing wrong with that.

*

When she suggests you just crash on her couch, order an Uber and go home. So what if the cost comes out of your grocery budget? You’re an adult. You can make your own choices and tolerate the consequences. Yeah, you had a fun time binge watching Kimmy Schmidt with her. But at the end of the night, it’s best to be in your own company. To be able to wash your makeup off, unhook your bra, sleep in your underwear. To feel like you don’t have to hold yourself together with your arms crossed. There’s beauty in privacy.

*

When she asks about your post-graduation plans, don’t tell her about New York. She doesn’t need to know you’re moving across the country. No need to put a damper on things. No need for her to know that soon, you won’t see each other anymore. Because that adds pressure. And that would make things heat up and fall apart, friendship like pork that pulls right off the bone. Just tell her you don’t know, and she’ll say, “me either,” and you’ll both laugh and shrug. Wish that you knew what it was like for indecision to be anything but paralyzing.

*

Tell her you’ve changed your mind about the road trip. She will be excited, like she’s just done a line of coke. Don’t try to calm her down. Don’t wonder why it matters so much to her that you’re going. It’s just a week of sitting in a car, cramped, tired, hungry. She will tell you about all the stops she has planned on the way from LA to Seattle. Allow yourself to look forward to seeing places you’ve never seen. Start budgeting now.

*

When her roommate locks her out after a spat, let her stay at your place. She can have your bed; you’ll get by on the floor in a sleeping bag. Don’t hug her when she cries because she is reminded of the time her own mother locked her out. Offer her a drink, but don’t drink anything. Don’t make her breakfast in the morning; you’ve already gone out of your way for her. It’s enough of a sacrifice to have someone in your personal space for a whole night. But let her know she can help herself to a bagel—poppyseed—even though there’s only one left.

*

You will cancel your weekend plans with her because your younger sister is going to be in town. When she says, “bring her along!” tell her that you and your sister need some time by yourselves. Don’t mention any of this to your sister. Walk along the Santa Monica Promenade and take selfies with the dinosaur sculptures. Try on that dress you love but can’t afford. Buy your sister gelato, even though she pretends not to want it. When your she asks if there’s anyone you’ll really miss after college, tell her no. Which is the truth.

*

When she tells you, two days before the trip, that her friends have bailed, you will consider backing out too. You know it would be easier just to stay here. You could get ahead on your homework and study for the midterm that is cruelly scheduled for the day after break. But don’t cancel on her. Say, “Well, they’re going out miss out.” You won’t miss out. You owe it to yourself to have a little vacation. And it’ll be more relaxing now that you won’t have to socialize with her friends, who you didn’t really know.

*

Pack everything the night before. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreen, shirts, jeans, sandals, underwear. Maybe even a few sundresses. Pack your bikini, because you don’t have a swimsuit that is less revealing. Try on your bikini, because it’s been a while. Don’t have a breakdown about the way your love handles look. It’s not like you care what she thinks. Sunglasses, shorts, makeup, Autobiography of Red (to read on the beach). Double check your list to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything. Go to bed even though you’re sure you’ve forgotten something—no way to know what it is.

*

Wait outside for her to arrive, backpack digging into your shoulders and bags in your hands. When she drives up to the curb and honks at you three times, give her the finger and laugh. Don’t feel silly because it’s unlike you. Let her help you put your stuff in the trunk. When you get on the highway, don’t criticize her music choice (the Goo Goo Dolls). Just turn it up and sign along; you know the words.

*

When you get to the motel, exhausted from day one of the trip, don’t freak out because the only vacant room has one queen instead of two. It will be like when you shared beds with your friends during middle school sleepovers. Don’t argue that you should find somewhere else to stay; this is probably the only place for miles. Apologize in advance for all the tossing and turning you do in your sleep. Try not to be embarrassed. Anyone with nightmares like yours wouldn’t be able to keep still all night. Let the sound of her breathing, even and slow, lull you to sleep—you need your rest. Let her “goodnight, sweet dreams,” her smile, her gentle bump of her shoulder to your shoulder echo in your mind.

*

When she splashes you with seawater, splash her back. But don’t let your hair get soaked. It’s not worth how awful it will look for the rest of the day. Remember getting teased at that poo party when you were twelve. Don’t stare at the tattoo on her left thigh, or the scars. When it’s time to reapply sunscreen, don’t ask for her help. Don’t think about how her hands would feel on your skin. Walk along the tideline with her, picking up seashells. She likes all of them, even the broken ones.

*

When she shouts over the noise of the bar in San Francisco, “we’re still going to hang out after we graduate, right?” say, “of course,” because it’s hard to imagine that you won’t see her every weekend. You will move into a shitty apartment in Queens, and a year will pass, and then two, and she won’t even think about you anymore. Time will eat this up, just like it does everything else.

*

This is too much, and you know it. You can take a plane back. You can’t stand to be so close to her anymore. You have separate beds this time, but it feels like her body is inches away from yours, and you are burning, burning up inside. In the morning, just say that you’re coming down with a cold, and your period just started, and you don’t feel up to travelling. You can deal with the way her shoulders will sag. You can’t deal with being around her any longer.

*

You wake up in the middle of the night and feel like you are dying. Don’t move. How could you have let this happen? You were so careful. Fuck. No, you weren’t. You thought you were in control. You thought you could have it all. Wrap your arms around your stomach. Hold it in. She’s asleep, unaware that you are in agony and it is all your own fault. You have been driving along the edge of the cliff, foolishly certain that you’d never go over the edge. Cry, but be quiet.

*

Look at the alarm clock. It is 3am. Get up, go to the bathroom, close the door. Turn the light on. Splash cold water on your face. It won’t make any difference. Look yourself in the eye. After all the people who have left you behind, is this who you have become? The one who runs away?

*

Sit on the edge of her bed. Run your hand along the cheap duvet; try to calm the thunder of your heart. Breathe in the fear. Hold it. Listen to the air rush in and out of her body. Be afraid. Be fucking terrified. You are breaking all of your rules, all the careful constructs that have held you together over the years. Whatever happens, you can finally release all that you’ve been holding in. You are going to boil over and it will be a mess and you have to do it. Put your hand on her sleeping shoulder. Say her name. Say it again. Relish the way it tastes on your tongue. Say it louder. She will wake, she will sit up, ask, “You okay?” Do not try to be okay. Find her hand in the darkness. Pause. Notice the way her breath changes. Place your hand on her cheek, even though you are shaking, and kiss her. Kiss her like you’re not afraid, like you don’t care that you are a woman and she is a woman, like it doesn’t matter that this will end someday and it will tear you apart, kiss her like you have always wanted to, kiss her because you are here and she is here and she deserves to be loved. Kiss her and open yourself up like heavy clouds offering a deluge to the parched earth. Kiss her.

*

You cannot turn back.

 

 

 

 

About The Author:

Victoria Harris works as an editorial assistant in Manhattan and lives in Brooklyn with her wife and their three houseplants. She earned an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2018.

 

 

 

 

     
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