Mère à l’enfant 1 ou Cara in Genesis © Thomas Deschamps 2016
|by Anna Keeler||February 10, 2016|
My memories of Genesis always seemed so treacherous until we were sitting face to face. The years of bitterness and anger between us didn’t just vanish, it was as if they’d never existed in the first place. Her lips would curl in that pout that wasn’t quite a grin, the light would shine in her eyes, and the breath that always caught for me would involuntarily let itself stay paralyzed in her throat, reminding her that even though she was rid of me, I wasn’t out of her system just yet.
I knew because I felt the same about her.
All the folly about love lost and time healing wounds seemed like bullshit in her presence. I’d known, even as a teenager, that the feelings we have for each other surpassed chemical imbalances and elevated heart rates. It was intense, but in the best way possible. It was that thing that would always be a thing, the attraction so strong it pulled the “and” hyphen back between our names, even with tensions, new girlfriends, and even state borders keeping us apart.
As many times as I imagined running into her again, nothing prepared me for the actual experience. Time had passed, yet it hadn’t. Even though we both changed, she looked the same. Same red hair, same blue eyes, same timid fingers fidgeting with every loose end of clothing on her body to keep them from itching out to touch mine.
It wasn’t as bad as my subconscious imagined. The days were always sunny. The coffee, warm enough to keep us engaged much longer than necessary. We both knew she had elsewhere to be; she was only back in Greenville on vacation. It was temporary. She probably had a girlfriend. Genesis had a life so far removed from me, it was hard to believe she was the same girl in tears I’d slammed the door on so many years ago.
I…had nowhere better to go, no one else to turn to. I couldn’t let her think that my life had sunk into the abyss that it had. Still in the closet. Too emotionally stunted to draw a straight line, let alone create actual art. Pining after that one moment where I made the choice to walk away because I wanted to go back to it. I spent all this time in a stupor too great to kick, a depression that couldn’t go away until I did something about it. And even after I did, the melancholy still lingered. My actions cured nothing.
Those memories were too faithless, and I was scared of what I would say if I let them in. When she asked me what I was thinking, all I said was, “Coffee’s good.”
Her shoulders slumped in defeat, like she was waiting for more than a bookstore date could give. “Yeah, it’s pretty decent, I suppose.”
I curled my hands around the mug, letting the warmth press into my palms. “Sorry,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I had a late night.”
She smiled and sat up straighter. “It’s a pretty day, at least.” Picking up a spoon, she mixed more sweetener into her drink. “Hard to stay bitter about the night when the sun’s shining so bright.”
Tracing a finger along the saucer, I let out a dry chuckle. “Easy to say when you’re a morning person.”
Her eyebrows furrowed together. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” I nodded and pushed my hair out of my face. “Like I said, late night.”
The sleeves of my shirt rolled up, and if she noticed my blue and red stained hands, she said nothing. “Why were you up so late, exactly? I mean, what did you have to do?”
I smirked at the precarious edge in her voice. “Why? Because I’m not in school, you mean?”
Her words came fast as she raised her hands. “Oh, no, no, no.” She groaned and pressed a palm into her face. “I didn’t mean that, I just—.”
“It’s fine.” I reached out and pulled her hand down. “I know what you meant.”
Her fingers stayed around mine a little too long, and when I felt her start to squeeze, I pulled back. “I was working on some art last night, actually.”
“Oh, Cara, that’s wonderful.”
When I looked up, her lopsided grin made me smile back. “I just got an idea and sort of ran with it.”
Street art had been my vice since childhood, taking my bin of Crayola and messing up the sidewalk. It was the only way I ever let myself feel anything, and Genesis was the first person I’d shared it with. Towards the end of our relationship, when we knew we were being ousted, and she was faced with the possibility of me running away, I put away my chalk. Even though the proverbial storm would pass, I didn’t want to associate my art with all of that hurt, and I took a break, telling myself I would come back when I was in better spirits.
I was never in better spirits, and my chalks sat in a box in my closet, where I’d expected them to stay forever. Then Genesis came back, and the color started flowing through my veins again. I didn’t let myself feel the pulsing hot red until last night, until the ridges of my knuckles were raw and sore. The blood pushed so hard against my body that it didn’t stop at the sidewalk; it climbed up the walls, it flowed into the sky, even swimming through the gutter and brick and pooling back into the ground where it still remained, because today was sunny, where it sat unseen, because Genesis’ mind was somewhere else.
“Really, that’s so great.” She was bouncing in her seat. “So, do you think maybe this means you’ll get back into it?”
“It means I got an idea for one piece of art.” I brought my mug to my lips. “And it doesn’t mean anything beyond that, right now.”
Her eyes lit up. “Can I see it?”
I stared at her across the table, every muscle in my body still. “It’s not done.”
The joy she’d felt a moment ago deflated, and regret landed in my stomach alongside the coffee. “I’m sorry.”
She turned her eyes to me. “What? Don’t be sorry.”
I shrugged as I set the cup down. “All I ever seem to do is disappoint you.”
“No. You don’t.” Her words wavered against her tongue, as if she could taste their falsity and couldn’t bear to force them out.
“Genesis, don’t lie to me.” I leaned back against my chair. “We don’t talk to each other for years and then we try to act like nothing ever happened. Or, maybe something is happening now. I don’t know.”
Shaking her head, confusion consumed her eyes. “What are you talking about? We’re just catching up. Like we have every weekend since I got back…Why are you acting so weird?”
The words sounded so natural coming from her lips; any passerby would believe the tension was real. But I saw the subtle movements. The lip biting, averting eyes, nails tickling the edge of the table like it was one of her keyboards, playing the melody for us to shift through until our drinks got cold.
Letting out a dry chuckle, my eyes fell to the ground. “I keep wanting to make it up to you, but…”
She cocked her head, trying to read between my lines. “Make it…up to me?”
I gave her a knowing look, waiting for the realization to set in her face.
“Cara.” My name came out in a breath, too silent to be intentional, too pained to be insincere.
Crossing my arms, I tucked my feet under the chair.
“Cara, that was years ago. And… yeah, I was angry at the time, but I’ve told you, I forgive you.” She reached over, squeezing my hand for real. “Maybe it’s time you forgive yourself.”
I watched the steady rise and fall of her chest, mouth cracked open, prodding me to finish this perfect puzzle. It seemed so easy, to say what she wanted to hear, and it would have been easier if I couldn’t see past her lips.
Behind her teeth, into the darkness of her cheeks, every excuse I’d formulated during our relationship, every canon loaded against her was ready to come out in my defense.
Young. Confused. Afraid. Petrified.
Because I didn’t have the courage to admit what we were, because I couldn’t look past myself to see the girl who sat before me. The girl whose wink was too innocent to be seductive, whose jawline fit perfectly into the palm of my hand, who didn’t want to be anywhere else but in my arms, holding our wrists together so our rhythm was syncretic, so she could feel me on her, and in turn, make me feel her.
I felt her. Too close. And as painful as it was, I had to leave.
She flashed a half smile. “I know you did.”
Opening my mouth, I shut it again, realizing that I could feel her pulse, even through our clothes.
My eyes flashed to hers. “What?”
Her fingers stroked mine. “Remember when I said we should run away to Renegade?”
I chuckled. “I remember telling you that’s not a real place.”
“Well, to be fair, it does sound like a real place.” She blushed. “Well, it was to us, anyways.”
On the weekends, when our parents thought we were out with friends, we’d sneak off to cities miles away, where nobody knew either of us. We’d given all of those places the name Renegade to symbolize our betrayal to our Christian, conservative roots. In those places, we could kiss and hold hands. In Renegade, we acted with abandon. It was the only time I would openly say I loved her, the only place she’d sincerely say it back.
There were too many Renegades to count, even though she’d started marking them on her globe with heart shaped stickers.
I wondered if she still had that globe, hidden away in her closet somewhere. Then I realized how foolish that sounded. “We were little rebels, that’s for sure,” I said.
“Our behavior may be treacherous, but true love doesn’t wait.”
Her grip on my hand was binding, but felt so right. Taking her in again, I realized how different she was. The same laughter was on her tongue, pools of lapis danced between the blooming green in her eyes. She stood a little taller, shone a little brighter, but a certain pain still eclipsed her entire body. Some wound from a scar only I could see, a betrayal only I made her endure.
Her face was so full of hope, and I felt the downfall sink like sleepy lids. I fought the urge to pull away, even when the sweat fused my colors onto her palm.
“Genesis, I have something to say. And please don’t cut me off, because this really needs to be said.”
Her hair fell around her shoulders as she leaned forward, all of her attention on me.
“To say that I’ve missed you is a gross understatement. I thought that I could move on. And, even though what we had was so intense in all the right ways, I was so sure that putting it behind me was the best choice.”
I closed my eyes, holding onto her hands to keep me stable. “The days since have been so, so endless. I know, you’re right, I should have forgiven myself. And the truth is, I tried to move on.” Shrugging, I sighed. “When I was still in school, I dated a few guys, thinking I hadn’t met the right one yet.
“It wasn’t that. I know that now. And…I’m not in any state to grapple with am I gay or am I straight, because honestly, none of that matters.” Letting out the breath I’d been speaking on, I forced myself to make eye contact. “I think I want you. What we have…had, I don’t think I could find with anyone else. I know how you made me feel, and I haven’t let myself feel anything since…” I trailed off and watched that hurt pass over her eyes.
“I can’t say for sure what this is,” I continued. “Maybe it really is still love. Or…maybe we need closure on what it was.”
I loosened my grip, turning my eyes to the window. “I have absolutely no right to ask you for a second chance. I sure as hell don’t deserve one.”
She bit her lip, squeezing her eyes shut.
“But I would very much like one. If for no other reason, because you deserve a real relationship.”
“Stop.” Her head was shaking, her free hand waving in the air. “Cara, please, don’t do this.”
“Please,” I gripped her hand with both of mine. “It wouldn’t be perfect, but we have to see this through.”
“It’s taken me all summer to get this out.”
“One chance, please.”
“I gave you another chance.” Her hand slammed onto the table, nostrils flaring against her rage. I noticed the other patrons for the first time, who now eavesdropped over their coffee mugs.
“I came back to your house every day after that,” she said as tears fell onto the table. “Every day, I came by, begging you to help me. And what did you do?” The silence levied between us. “Nothing. You did nothing. Even when your mother threw slur after slur at me, when your dad threatened me with his gun, even when they tried to say I forced you into it, what did you do? Nothing.”
The shock was so heavy that my defenses flew up. “What happened to Cara, I forgave you?”
Her jaw quivered as she looked down, finally pulling her hand away from mine. Taking a deep breath, her stance crumbled.
I watched as she sit back and shifted in her seat, the memories flashing in her mind like she was flipping through a book, each page with words so cutting and mean that they couldn’t belong to the girl who just professed her love.
When we’d had the chance to calm down, I tried again. “Can we at least try to talk?”
Her eyes cut to mine, detached and hesitant. “Cara, I’m not doing this.” She looked down at her palm, running her thumb over the dust that she’d just noticed settled on her skin.
I looked down at my mug. The coffee was cold.
“I think you should leave.”
Her body went taut, her face completely blank, a defense mechanism I’d known all too well. I afforded myself one last glance at her, as I searched for the girl who loved to lose herself in my arms before I let her go for good.
I said nothing as I abandoned my drink, gathered my things, collected myself and went outside. Rounding the corner to the parking lot, I got in my car and drove. Out of the lot, onto the main road, around in circles until the Carolina sun blurred into the sky behind me.
Six years of something came out of my mouth, in my tears, in my cries, under the tread of my tires. I kept moving until I ran out of concrete, until I ran out of sky, until I hit the first and original Renegade.
The first was an abandoned concrete slab that may at one point have been a playground. There was a swing set, a water fountain, and a small brick shed that was supposed to suffice for a bathroom. It was equidistant from her house to mine, we’d both ended up there on accident. One accident turned to another, and we kissed. No one came out here, so we knew we were safe, hiding out affection under the trees and shade of nightfall.
It was here that we were caught and outed, the place where it all fell apart.
As I walked through the grass, I kicked aside the boxes I’d left here last night, crunching the chalk stubs under my feet.
My portrait stared up at me, dejected and bland, the same color I’d put there the night before now fading before my eyes.
Two mazes of veins curled into each other, streaming into two arms interlinked. Those arms lead to breasts, hips, bones, faces, up into bubble gum lips and flushed cheeks. Lines of red and gold extended from her head, tawny curls erupted from mine. The rest was got lost in a flush of color – hearts, patterns, lines that connected to the veins from which they started. The lines faded from scarlet to cyan as they passed through a green outline on the wall, the southern states floating along a massive blue ocean.
Peony tinted hearts popped up against the cities, each loop puncturing my own heart further into the abyss.
I wanted to kick it. I wanted to erase it. I wanted to wash this ugly portrait away with my tears, desperation so thick I wanted to scrub it with my bare hands.
Letting out my breath, I let myself drop, lying down against the concrete slab. Laying on my back, my body fanned out, covering as much as my short stature would allow.
It felt treacherous, but didn’t feel so bad as I masked the meet you in Renegade.
The day was still sunny.
This, I decided, was our end.
Anna Keeler is a poet and fiction writer attending Rollins College. She is currently a columnist for The Odyssey Online, as well as the poetry editor for Brushing Literary Magazine. Her work has been published or is upcoming in Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Red Fez Literary Journal, Indiana Voice Journal, and Potluck Magazine. She lives in Winter Park, FL.