A Love We Couldn't Give
By E. Alexandra
My blood was the same as yours but I was birthed in a different land. I had the freedom to exist in worlds you couldn’t. Expansive where you constricted. I dreamt of the expansive, generous you. My freedom gave me power. You had your own. We hurt each other in the ways we could; begged each other for a love we couldn’t give.
I saw you for the first time, rolled my eyes, and said, “Him? I already know him.” Alone in the back of the bar with a camo hat and jacket, sunglasses at night. classic white Adidas sneakers, black socks perfectly laid at your ankle. The ball of your ankle was so delicate. A bird got caught in my sister’s closet once. It banged itself maniacally against the walls for what seemed like hours. She wrapped its corpse in an old bed sheet. I saw the outline of its head, realized it was a baby, marveled at the force of a tiny, trapped thing, wondered how it even knew it was trapped. I pictured you on your bed, one ankle on your knee, carefully pressing your toes into socks, bringing the fabric over the ball of your ankle like a funeral mound.
Accidentally, I caught you checking yourself out in the bathroom. Unmasked, you took my breath away. You had the wettest eyes I’d ever seen.
In the morning I asked you over a daisy pillow, “what do you do?”
You turned your back to me, “Business.”
“Like what?” I traced your spine as you stood.
“Tattoos shops, restaurants, different things.” The man on your calf constricted and expanded, the chaos of the world around him lifted and collapsed.
“Are you from here?”
“Your family is here?” I asked squinting my eyes.
You turned and faced me with your mask.
“Do you have siblings?”
“Why are you asking me this?”
“You sell drugs?”
You shook your head like I was a kid trying to crack a coconut with a butter knife. I closed my eyes, bored by the lie. I felt you pause over me, whisper to my forehead, “Yes.”
“It’s weird?” I asked.
And like that we conceived another you. After you finished, you patted the condom and said, “mis hijos,” patted my belly, I said, “tu bebe.” You shook your head, asked me seriously, “you want a baby?” I nodded. You told me, “you’re strange,” in a language I didn’t know you had.
You read the English subtitles in Finding Dory slowly, hesitantly, “One… Week… Later...”
“You’ll teach me English?” you asked, sticking a pink fairy pencil inside the TV.
“How long until you go back?”
“Until you do.”
“If it’s what you want.” You laid down beside me with your hat still on and looked at the ceiling for a long time.
“You have other guys and I don’t like it.”
“So I won’t have them.”
You didn’t sit alone at the bar anymore. You had me. You held my hand, watched your men like Eddie silently, and told me, “I have family in California and Miami. I have a job cutting weed in California. We’ll go everywhere.” I said, “I’m cold.” You scooted over and held me. The visa application was a list of everything you didn’t have.
Eddie had a Swiss girlfriend named Elsie. He tattooed a cube over her left eye and limited her worlds. She’d be on Molly, watching you make ketamine, calling you family, and I’d hope she see the disgust on my face. She never laughed. Sometimes she smiled a heavy smile that made me sadder than when she called you family. Eddie dealt at bars. Fucked his customers in toilet stalls. He had dreads, pretty eyes, spun fire, and they wanted a story to tell. Elsie watched him enter stalls with defeated eyes, smiled heavy when he came back to her, and tried to pretend the coked out foreigners didn’t exist. In a way they didn’t. Facebook says they’re still together. It’s been three years. I saw a picture of them on a boat. Her smile still made me sad. “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for,” she posted underneath. “What you have the courage to put up with,” someone else commented.
Eddie tried with me before you – grabbed my waist, told me there was a fire in his heart, and kissed me. She watched him silently. After you and I were together he made no secret about watching me at bars, reporting back to you the men I smiled at. Sometimes he tried to be funny to his new male customers. “So I see this guy’s dick in the stall and I ask him…”
“Dick jokes aren’t funny.” I turned on him sharply. “They’re boring. Some dicks are big, some are little.”
He laughed me off, put an arm around Elsie, “This one’s got a mind of her own.”
“As opposed to what?” I scowled. He grabbed Elsie’s face and kissed her hard on the lips.
“You know I never liked you.”
“Yeah, I know,” he smirked.
“I just wanted to make sure you knew. It’s important to me you know that.”
He bent down and whispered in my ear, “You’ll remember yourself and leave.”
While I cut your nails you asked me, “why can’t you be more like Elsie?”
“Elsie never laughs,” I clipped your pinky nail.
“Anyone can be sweet.”
“Except you.” I dug the clipper into your cuticle.
“Fuck! You made me bleed!” You sucked the blood on your hand. “Why are you always fighting me?”
“I’m not. You are.” I kissed the blood from the crown on your finger.
You were in a good mood the day you got your passport. We watched jazz at the Irish bar on the other side of town, you rested your head on my chest, and tapped your fingers to the beat. In graffiti alley we passed 10 cops. They stopped when they saw you. You puffed your chest and said, “baby come here.” They looked at me and kept walking. You put your arm around my shoulders, kissed my check, said joyfully, “They would have stopped me if it weren’t for you.”
“They bother you?”
“I’m hungry,” you said and turned to the chicken stand.
You took me to Eddie’s bar, handed me your fanny pack, said, “Wait here with this. Here is safe.”
I backed away from you, “No.”
“No. I’m not waiting with it,” I crossed my arms.
“I’m giving you a lot of money,” you pushed the fanny pack towards me.
“I don’t care. You wait. I’ll get the food.”
At the stand, a weathered woman fanned chickens on an open flame. Her son asked me, “Your Juan’s girlfriend?” I pretended not to understand.
“Juan es grande,” he said to the woman.
“Melanie and Juan,” the woman said slowly, staring into blackness. I hadn’t told her my name.
“What does Juan do?”
I was silent.
I turned around and the 10 cops looked up at the ceiling. You took me home, locked me inside the spotless bedroom, told me you had to work. In the morning, I found you in the room you and Eddie shared. A peacock earring was stuck to a condom on the floor. I clawed at your face until you bled. You slammed my hands onto the dresser. I tried to head butt you. You slammed my forehead against the mirror. I tried to bite your hand, felt you reach down, unzip your pants, and push into me like you were taming an alligator. Inside me, you said “this is what you wanted?” I shook my head and bit your finger. “This is what you wanted,” you said definitively, pulled my hair harder, dug your nails into my ass until I bled. When you finished our reflections stared emptily at each other.
“You have your period?” you asked looking down at the blood on you.
“No.” I felt blood between my legs.
“It was too rough.”
“Give them to me.” I was too tired to protest.
“Salvage,” you laughed and shoved my panties into your pocket. “Where’s my hat?” you asked frantically. I found it underneath baggies, bottles, and condom wrappers. You told me once, “I have three phones. One for customers, one for friends, one for family.” You led me back to the spotless room, locked me in, said, “I have to work. I’ll be back,” and I wondered where the third room was.
At the embassy, they asked you for your resume in English and told you next in Spanish. You stepped forward, words just out of your mouth, when they shouted next again. I stared hard at an outlet. The curly-haired fat man waited outside for your orders. At a red light we waited behind a rust-colored man sprawled on top of an overflowing garbage truck. He unzipped his pants, pissed on himself and the mountain of garbage. The curly-haired fat man chuckled from behind the wheel. You slammed his head into the window and told him, “Give me my fucking sunglasses.” I looked down at my feet like Elsie.
Closer to the lake we stopped at a hardware store. You said you were looking for a new tattoo-bed. I waited on the corner and watched a girl around 7 play hesitantly with a naked Barbie. The curly-haired fat man stood by the door with his hand on his gun and didn’t flinch when a shot rang out. You opened the car door for me, said, “they only had white and I need black.” An old man yelled for the girl and watched you drive away with wary eyes.
I fell asleep in the spotless bedroom, watching Friends re-runs with my head on your chest. You were gone when I woke. You hadn’t dealt in bars like that in a long time but I figured you liked being the one they lined up for. You needed to say next. At daybreak, I walked in on you fucking the red-headed Norwegian in the other room. I watched your camo jacket, black socks, and Adidas sneakers rock back and forth, and forgot about the blackness of your hair. She was fully clothed underneath you, her arms sprayed by her sides. If it weren’t for your dick, it was almost nothing at all, and for a second I thought the distinction was arbitrary. She stared off in space, too coked out in her own thoughts, but noticed me first. “Shit,” she said and moved back slightly. Our eyes met and I shut the door.
I watched the lake turn from pink to purple, white powder seep into rainbow rum puddles, and you turn to dust. I put a hand to my belly, one to my heart, closed my eyes, and waited until I felt you next to me. I was too tired to claw, not tired enough to smile heavy. I let you touch my knee and thought it was the closest we’d ever be to a family. If I kept it, it would be the closest you ever got to him or her. My mother told me, “sometimes people make choices when they don’t have options, you have options.” You brought your hand to my belly, interlocked my fingers, and didn’t say the things that were too hard to say.
Facebook shows me things I shouldn’t see. A girl walks behind you, hunched over, your fanny pack wrapped around her, staring at the ground with sad eyes. You stare straight ahead, chest lifted, the strain in the ball of your ankle like a baby bird’s neck snapping.
E. Alexandra is a psychologist and writer living on Maui. She studied Journalism and Creative Writing at New York University and Educational/Applied Psychology at Columbia University.