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She Comes Out On Drive-In NightsTo Dana Jerman's previous piece

This Is About Us

The year was two-thirds gone when we decided to go to the beach for the trip that was supposed to stand as something like a honeymoon.

We started the drive at 4 a.m. The car pre-packed, he said he wanted to wake up to the sound of waves. So he crawled into the passenger side to sleep as I began the five-hour trip. It was the end of April and all the warm rains that came with it ceased to follow us out of town. The sun went higher into the sky at dawn as we snuck up closer to the equator. He awoke beside me and smiled through seatbelt adjusting and kissing my cheek. Driving was numbing my thoughts, helping me abandon the problems that lingered like the burning, stealthy sun around the areas of the car's interior. Each revealed from shadow as I sat, concentrated, intent on the road. He made me pull over with an hour to go. I used the fill station bathroom and bought a honeydew melon Popsicle, peanut butter crackers and a water. I was debating changing into my bikini, but I wasn't ready to stare at my body, or watch him stare at it like he can when he wants to. I know he will. Like a true stoic procrastinator I won't face the issue until someone else shoves my nose in it. It is because of this tendency that I am debating how to tell him that I am pregnant, how to tell him that I am pregnant with a child that is not his.

I try sleeping to kill the last hour, and it doesn't work. The sugar in my system and my burning second wind from soft nervous waves like adrenaline that had begun at 4 a.m. were still holding my eyes and other senses hostage - forced to keep translating raw information into brainwaves. I searched in my bag for the book I've been reading.

The wholeness and richness of a place like a beach is conveyed entirely through its weather. The air and sun embrace everything and when we pull up to the hotel parking lot, he is shouting along with the 80's rock-Billy Idol-kind of beat on the radio. The windows are down and a perfect wind owns the cab. I smile back at him, as he shuts off the engine, because I really am glad to be here. He takes off to the office to check in while I am stretching and trying to decide what to carry in first. We will be here for a week but I've packed like I'll be going on a two-day Buddhist retreat. I've planned on living in my swimsuit and it seems, with the way the heat is meeting my skin, that I can no longer avoid changing.

He's gone out to find breakfast and I use the keycard to enter the room on the 4th floor with the last armful of things. I take in the whole room for the first time, then. The air conditioning is the only noise and there is a clean, but not too clean smell, about the place. Fresh and slightly perfumed with detergent, like when you open up a fashion magazine. I pull the curtain on the glass patio door and walk out. There are two white plastic net chairs, a table that could hold two beers alone beside the tin ashtray that already occupies it, and a naked light bulb in a porcelain socket on the right wall. No doubt for unromantic evening illumination.

The view to the left is the ocean, sparkling and with a motion and energy you mistake for nothing else. Straight ahead and to the right there is a building. Shaped like a hotel, it is actually apartments, and the windows are either dark or wide open and you can see windows on the other side of the building through it - so it looks practically gutted. But framed like a photo in one of the 4th floor windows, I see a person in a wheelchair, watching out the window on his side of the building, the extreme left. He has a full-on view of the sea. From what I can tell, he isn't doing anything - not reading or writing or petting a cat - just sitting. This is suddenly beautiful and amazing. The intimacy of the moment I spend watching his stare unleashes a shiver on my skin.

Then I hear him come in. So I reenter the room and am met with the air conditioning and his warm full-mouthed kiss balancing my temperature. Right hand brushing my belly, I feel it again. I have to shake off still more goose bumps and ease the nausea before I can eat the egg Mcmuffin.

We walk out together, he's leading me by the hand down the stairway that swings along the outside of the hotel, past the apartment building path littered with broken brown and green glass and sand amongst the concrete slabs. We go out to meet the glory we came for: the hot glinting American beach. As of late he had been carrying his 35 mm Canon with him. Loaded with 400 speed black and white print film. Present moments soon became antiquity, the lens offering a neat little frame with which to package everything. I think the camera reflected how he had begun to view the world. And although even imperfections could be magnificent, they could also be magnified, or easily deleted, altogether removed.

Candid shots of rocks awash in foam held his interest while I breathed heavy salt air. I put my hair up so I could feel the bright wind on my neck. The childhood I have comes back in increments here, at the beach. I face salt air and know the freedom to consider those pivotal moments created between being little and being big. The kind of moments that carry you from the former to the latter. I would pick apart clams after sneaking out of bed under the full white moons of final weekends as my parents and grandparents began coming to the shore ever since I was five. A crab latched on to my toe one afternoon when I wasn't watching where I was going. The unexpected jolt of its large pincers was more than I could handle, being myself small. In response, the strong tanned arms of my grandfather scooped me up, like a knight to the rescue in the armor of Ernest Hemmingway's body, and carried me and my box of collected seashells all the way back to the cabin. Almost a mile. I walked with him everyday. Sometimes he fished. Sometimes it was just to get out of the cabin to spare me (and I suppose spare himself as well) from the sound of my parents exchanging harsh words, harsher glances and still harsher backhanded blows. but that was toward the end. They split, and the ocean became a thing for reminiscence. Coming back was like going back, and after getting out on that strand, I wasn't sure if wanted to stay or go.

The first night is quiet. But when my stomach rumbles me awake in the middle of it, I find myself punching my midsection until it softens and allows me back into slumber.

I get up. He has gone out in search of perfection to capture on rolls of negatives. The TV is on; it's the Weather Channel with some lulling jazz in accompaniment to the scrolling highs and lows. Why the Weather Channel? Oh, I remember: he wanted to sail today.

I go to the bathroom and throw up like it's something I do every morning. This fact is what really sickens me.

I get my suit, shorts and sandals on and ease down into the lobby for continental breakfast. I'm debating whether it would even benefit me to eat at all as I file past closed door after closed door. I reenter the first floor from the stairwell and the sound of women laughing startles me. There is one open door - almost like a supply closet, a linen storage space - off to the right in front of me, and in it four women in powder blue uniforms and white shoes, the orthopedic support kind nurses would wear. They are folding freshly laundered bundles of white towels, pressing, stacking. They are watching a soap opera. It goes to a commercial a few seconds later and I figure out it's the Bold and the Beautiful. The women commence chattering about the characters on the show. And then they are all smiles, enjoying one another's company as they work. I smile to watch them, but when a man drifts past and offers up a look in my direction that makes me realize where I am, I decide to go out to the beach and see if I can find him.

We get dressed up in the evening and drive 45 minutes into the city to have dinner. And I think, at my passenger side window musings, that the city is a woman on her back. Her womb exposed and our lights like so many halogen eggs and radiated sperm floating and copulating and producing infinitely more. I turn from the window and meet his smile. It is so genuine. And as he looks back to watch the road, I ache for a moment, thinking about how I'll try to talk him out of leaving when I tell him. And I know it won't work, because nothing ever operates along the lines of the happenings in your head.

But we dream on anyway; I find that here the dream drives me and I can't stop it..

I drink lots of white wine and ask him about photos and tell him stories of being a kid here, and I forget all the ways one can grow, and then all the ways one can easily stop.

The following afternoon, out on the patio, we are smoking the 8th of marijuana we purchased before we left town. He is sun burnt and I am giggling - a bit high - making jokes as to his tomato-like color and shiny aloe-slathered appearance. He's a fruit I've eaten before, but sunk into the chair he looks more like a vegetable. I face him, propped up on the railing, when for a moment the sound of gulls and waves makes us quiet. There is a voice. I look down and see a large, well-built black man to whom the deep male sound can be attributed. There is a brown haired boy in a white t-shirt and jeans in a wheelchair talking to him. They are around to the side of the rear of the apartment building, almost out of sight and in the shade. They laugh. I watch them shake hands and the boy wheels around and back into the building while the black man walks in the other direction. I look up to the window where I recall seeing the wheelchair bound figure and he is no longer there.

Sand measures time. Heat etches memories, brands, like his pictures into my brain. He couldn't wait until home to have them developed and has brought back dinner and the results from the one-hour photo mat. I stare at the stark abstract and deconstructed beauty of his shots. He breaks down patterns and finds shadows well in corners that have shed their light - abstaining from its glance, refusing its hospitality.

I eat fried shrimp and hour later as he falls asleep watching a Comedy Central movie, I creep down the hall to the public restroom to free myself of it. Something is just not right. I'm sick.

The tide roars at night, like if it too had a stomach, it would be rumbling - asking for food, to be nourished. And I realize in the morning, when it goes out, that it's hungry for the dawn - for its chance to eat at the sun. And the sun suckles its child, the ocean, in the early morning, when no one is looking. No one this morning except me, who has chosen to take her rest and her mind out the sand to sleep. perchance to dream. I don't recall having any dreams there, under the sliver of waning moon. I leave the sun to her ocean and go in to confront him. This is between us, about he and I, and it's not like any other problem, ever.

He lets loose with words I didn't know his mouth could make. He is confused, vacant. He is washed up on the shore of understanding like a bottle without a message. He says he won't leave me; swears that he won't take the car, but I'm almost wishing he would. He says he's going to take a walk; he leaves without his camera. That's when I think of taking the car. But I can't bring myself to do much but sleep. The day burns fast and runs late. I get up at ten o'clock and he's still not back. My head hurts. I hear a smash, like glass, from outside. I go out onto the patio and see a few dark figures around the back of the apartment building moving about like they are dancing, or fighting. I hear wet whimpering and a mild shout followed by whispering. Something happens - a motion light comes on and they all scatter off, leaving from what I could tell looking down from the balcony, an unintelligible shadowy heap. I see it move. The heap's shadow shifts oddly. Then I can't help the panic that rises in me from letting loose and I pull on my shoes and shorts and go out to see. It's the boy in the wheelchair. Tipped over, limp on the dirty, sandy grass patch beside the slab path. I touch his head and he's bleeding. I roll him over and he gurgles. He dies in my arms about the same time that the thing in my guts gives up. I lie beside him and writhe and breathe and bleed and cry and stare up. And what can the stars do but stare constantly down, now with no moon to accompany them?

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