1 story

by Emma Ensley

Emma Ensley is an artist, designer and writer living in Asheville, NC. She designs beer labels for a job and tweets at @emmaensley.

New Year's Eve Day

        The day before I am going to drive to Nashville for New Year's, I don’t hear from you for 24 hours until I finally get a text that says:

        Something bad happened.

        I spend New Year's Eve in the passenger seat of your truck, parked outside the Vanderbilt mental hospital. It’s raining and my phone has died. I find a book in the center console—it’s small, palm-sized, and tattered. There’s an inscription inside from a member of a band I’ve never heard of. “Thanks for letting us crash at your place. We’re obsessed with your dog. Hope you enjoy this book! The third story is our favorite.” I read the third story, which I think is just ok.

        I think of everyone else who could be inside with her instead of you. Her girlfriend. Her parents. Her manager. They should all be the ones sitting in a cold, sterile waiting room playing Uno and drinking coffee. They should’ve cleaned her apartment; brought her clothing. They should’ve pulled the belt down from the shower. It should be their black eye.

        I oscillate between feeling proud to have a partner who is such a loving friend and upset to have a partner who refuses to draw boundaries with those that they love. I recognize I am likely included in this.

        Wet, dying leaves splatter across the windshield. You’ve left the truck running and as the clock nears the 2-hour mark, I consider going inside. But what would I even say? “Hello, yes, my girlfriend is here visiting one of your residents and I believe they’ve forgotten about me. Perhaps you checked them in too?” Maybe they would get me next. We’d all three be placed on the same steady rotation of antipsychotics and cafeteria food until everyone felt happy again. It didn’t sound awful.

        You reappear, holding your jacket above your head at the drivers side window, struggling to get the key into the door. You climb in, frantically, and let out a sigh.

        “How is she, how are you?” This is a phrase I will get used to asking. How is she and what I mean by that is how are you in regards to her. You will rarely answer the second part.

        There will be cancelled tours. Whole weeks where you are not allowed to see me. Everything, at once, dependent on how is she.

        “Were you terribly bored?” you ask with a wince, starting the truck. I shake my head, showing you the book—my finger still marking the end of story 3.

        We drive silently back to your house and the rain stops but you don’t turn off the windshield wipers. I shudder at each harsh screech.

        In the driveway, you put the truck in park and look at me.

        I know that we’ll go inside eventually. I know we’ll sip from a shared bottle of cheap champagne and we’ll listen to Michelle Branch and The Dixie Chicks and other songs that will remind us of being kids.

        I know that we’ll fall asleep, sweaty, with dizzy heads, at some point long before midnight. We’ll wake up and say “I love you”, though everything will be decidedly different.

        But for now we are still in the truck.

        “You should talk to someone,” I say, wondering if I’m starting to sound like a broken record. “If not me, then someone.” I consider listing people. I consider running up to the nice looking woman in the yellow raincoat walking down the sidewalk and letting her have my place in the passenger’s seat.

        “Talk to her!” I might say but it might accidentally come out as a yell. “Tell her what happened, she’s nobody.” Maybe I am shaking the poor woman’s shoulders.

        A year later you will text me that I was right. And I will say thank you for saying that and I will suppress the urge to ask follow up questions.

        But for now we are still in the truck. You remain quiet.

        Months from now I’ll get a call that it’s all too much, that you can’t really keep someone alive while keeping a relationship alive, too and I’ll be heartbroken but not surprised.

        But for now we are still in the truck.

        “Thanks for coming with me,” you say and I touch your hand, I say of course.

        I unbuckle my seatbelt and go inside.

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