That winter, the temperature dropped so sudden and hard that stranded birds chipped their beaks on the false green of lichen-covered rocks, and I kept thinking of the girl whose scream startled me awake a few years earlier.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a rape story.
I lived in an apartment then, and she was close, screaming and kicking and scratching at the door to the unit directly across the landing. After a few minutes, a guy inside the apartment yelled that the girl was being crazy, then several guys laughed and music flared. The girl did not let up. She kicked harder, screamed louder. I dressed and crept to my door. There was no peephole, so I flattened one palm against the cheap grain as if I might catch a change in the vibrations should I need to hit send on the 911 cued in my other hand.
And then the girl began crying. If they could just talk, she said. Please, she didn’t understand. Please, please, please, she didn’t want to lose him. If he would just explain what she’d done, she would never do it again. The door opened. The guy told her to stop bothering him. The door slammed. Multiple male voices laughed. The girl cried louder. She cried herself out. She knocked again.
I removed my hand from the door and sat with my back and head against it. I would stay because the girl might still need 911, but I now knew that if I intervened, I might well become the recipient of the hurt and humiliation she felt. Or, on hearing my offer of a ride home or a call to a friend, the guy might open the door and tell me to fuck off as he put his arm around her, and the girl would smile up at him as he led her inside.
If you don’t know what I am talking about, then I am happy for the life you have lived. I have lived a different life.
The girl did, eventually, leave. I listened to her pick herself up off the landing. I listened to her walk down the metal staircase. I listened to a car door open and an engine start. I listened to that engine fade away. I stood. I deleted 9-1-1 from my screen. I went back to bed knowing sleep, if it came, would not bring rest.
Over the next few years, I would wonder about this girl. Maybe she was the student whose boyfriend ‘just hates feminists.’ Maybe she was the girl on the street with a guy holding her head like a ventriloquist. When I would think of this girl, I considered her actions those of youth, and I would hope that night was the last night she would ever break herself on someone who did not love her well.
But that winter, as I cleared bird corpses from the yard, I was on the other side of someone who did not love me well, and my disoriented heart had spent months pecking at friendships and one-night stands and past relationships I knew damned well had ended for damned good reasons. Because the being in love part, even with someone who does not love us well, still feeds us. And we will all, no matter our age, seek whatever green we can find. Because there will be times when we are in love with no one. And that breaks us in its own way.
Amanda Bales hails from Oklahoma and is currently a Lecturer at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Her collection, Pekolah Stories, is forthcoming from Cowboy Jamboree Press, and her work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Cincinnati Review, Raleigh Review, and elsewhere.