Empty

“What happens now?”

“You can go.”

Where was I supposed to go? We were sitting in his car, in a parking lot miles from my house. I didn’t move. I couldn’t remember how to. I wasn’t sure I had control over my body anymore.

He shifted into drive and brought me home. The drive was just a few miles, but it felt cross-country. We sat in silence the whole way. The radio had been playing quietly, but he shut it off without saying a word.

“Ok.” He said softly, barely audible.

I opened my mouth to speak, but found no words. Nodding, I left.

The Grand Canyon (Part 2)

Our friend came out to us last night,

in an emotional speech surrounded by loved ones.

We were still on the road,

now in Nebraska.

She FaceTimed us and told us she was trans.

She had her friends over,

the moment felt right.

I wished I could’ve hugged her.

You and I talked about gender and sexuality for a while

well after the call ended.

I learned you once contemplated not being cis.

I did too, back in high school.

I told you I loved that we were still learning about each other.

You smiled and agreed.

We were on the road,

on a street we’d never seen,

in a car you only bought a month ago,

but I couldn’t have felt more at home.

Grand Canyon (Part 1) a road trip we’d never forget

I didn’t eat breakfast.

You tell me, climbing into my car.

Don’t worry,

I respond,

We can stop at Dunkin’.

You smile.

It’s still early,

The sun hasn’t yet risen.

We’re early, too,

We could stop at the beach,

And watch the sunrise.

First, you need breakfast.

I pull into the drive-thru,

I order you a sandwich,

You don’t have to tell me what you want,

I know what you always get.

I order us both coffees, too.

We’re going to need it today.

 

We’ve got a long day ahead of us,

First you have the dentist,

Then I have therapy.

Then, we’re driving across the country.

We’ve saved money,

Calculated the hours it’ll take-

37, with no traffic.

We packed our bags,

Got the time off work,

Found a place to stay.

We’re staying with my friend,

He lives a half hour from the Grand Canyon,

And we’ve always wanted to visit.

He moved to Arizona two years ago,

We’ve hardly seen him since,

Never to visit him,

He’s only come back up to the northeast.

He introduced us to each other,

So we owe him this trip.

 

I’ve known him since high school,

You two met through mutual friends.

I was surprised we had never met,

We frequented a lot of the same places.

When he introduced me to you,

I knew right then.

 

We met a week before our friend moved away.

For a while that was all we talked about.

That grew into how we met our friend,

Which grew into discussions of high school and college,

Which turned into stories of high school and college,

Which turned into our hobbies,

Of which we had many in common,

Which turned into me showing you my favorite show,

Then you showed me yours,

And two years later,

We’re on a road trip to celebrate our anniversary.

 

I paid for our breakfast,

And drove us to the beach.

I made sure to go to one that faces the sunrise.

I’ve made that mistake before.

We ate our breakfast

while our favorite songs played through the speakers.

I was reminded of past dates,

Sitting in this exact spot,

Eating take-out and laughing at each other’s jokes.

I smiled blissfully at the thought,

knowing fully there were more of those moments to come.

Derek Westerly (Part 1)

I’ve never been one to care about mundane tasks. I always just hired someone for that. Cleaning my house? Hire a maid. Mowing the lawn? The neighbor’s kid could use an extra $20. I bought two cars in one year just because I wanted to. I was living my best life. But then my job went under. It all happened so quick; one minute we were on top of the world, the next we were bankrupt. 

I suppose I can blame it on the fact that we were a group of stupid 20-somethings who hadn’t run a business before, but no one could be prepared for what we went through. Everything was going so well, then there was the fire. Our whole building went up in flames in the night. Luckily, no one was hurt, but we never recovered. We got insurance money, and we thought for a while it was a blessing in disguise because we found this greatnew building in what seemed like a perfect location. There wasn’t a store like it for miles, and we quickly found out there was a reason for that: no one wanted it.

I try not to dwell on the past, but if I had been there the night of the fire… if I made sure the stove was off… if I moved the paper towels a foot to the left….There had to have been a reason for it. I’ve been racking my brain for a reason but come up empty every time. It’s taking a toll on my mental health. 

I’ve been applying for jobs elsewhere, but no one wants to hire some washed up, used-to-be rich kid whose whole business went under because of a bad location. My wife is still with me, bless her. I can tell it’s getting to her, too. She’s been picking up extra shifts at the hospital. I’m always home alone with the dogs, at least they’re happy. 

My wife tells me to look on the bright side, she’s always so positive. I love her for it, but honey, what could possibly come from this? It’s almost been two months and I haven’t had a single paycheck. I’m done with dead-end jobs, too, I need at least management. I can’t afford to live off minimum wage. The weather is starting to get better. The sun stays out later and it’s been warm enough for just a light jacket. That helps, at least a little. I’ve been taking the two pups for walks daily. Some days, if I’m feeling extra down, we’ll go for two. Or one long one. 

I’ve gotten friendly with the neighbors. We started just waving at each other when I passed them on my walks, but lately I’ve been stopping to chat. Last week, I had a cup of coffee with this nice elderly lady who lives at the end of the street. She has a tiny Chihuahua. He sat on my lap while we chatted. My two chunky, yellow Labrador Retrievers were unsettled at first, but they were given treats and they were satisfied.

She was very sweet. Her name is Nancy and her husband died a year ago, leaving her with a fortune, but she chose to live comfortably in the house they spent most of their lives in. She gave a lot of money away to charities and local businesses, but also invested a lot for herself. I asked her for advice. It wasn’t like me to talk to strangers so openly, but I hadn’t talked to another person besides my wife in two months and I was missing having friendships. All my coworkers from my old job moved back home with their parents, so I was left with nearly no one. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife more than anything, I just was used to having platonic friends, too. 

Nancy told me to apply to every job I find, even if it’s less than what I want. She pointed out that I could probably move up in the career, I was a CEO after all. A CEO that failed, but a CEO nonetheless. Whenever I began talking down on myself, she stopped me. She made me say one good thing about what happened. 

At first, the only positive thing I could say was that the fire was warm. It melted the snow around us. I chuckled sourly. The insurance money was more than enough. If we did our research…. It was a learning experience. Her words, not mine. I agreed resentfully. There’s nowhere to go but up. That one I came up with. She smiled warmly, offering me another cup of coffee. I declined politely, I had to finish up this walk. We parted ways and I’ve stopped to chat with her for a few minutes every day since. Never that in depth, just her asking how the job hunt has gone and our dogs investigating each other. 

I did apply to a few places. Nothing major, just two sales jobs and a manager at the local coffee shop. The last thing I wanted was to work at a coffee shop in any sense, but I thought about what Nancy had said. It was better than no paycheck. 

One of the sales jobs called me in for an interview tomorrow morning. I planned on calling the coffee shop tomorrow after the interview. I didn’t want the coffee shop job, but I’d rather a manager than a sales person. 

I practiced the interview with my dogs. I smiled politely and shook their paws, chuckling slightly at the absurdity of it. I introduced myself and professionally went over my resumé. They tried to lick my face. 

“Sir, this is extremely unprofessional.” I laughed, patting their heads. I guess I could find joy in the little things, so I wasn’t totally hopeless. And now I have potential jobs in the works, even if the crushing weight of my past still hung over me. 

Nancy asked me last week if I wanted to start again with the business, but in a better location. I told her no, and I had thought about it a lot. It was in the past now, and even if I wanted to, all my partners moved away, I’d need a whole new crew. Not to mention, I lost all my money when we went under, I’d have to take out a loan and my credit has been decreasing rapidly. 

As depressed as I was, I’d never been one to dwell for too long. I pick myself back up after a grieving period and I get myself back out there. Yeah, I was bummed about the company dying, but it could’ve happened to anyone. We were young, just out of college, what else could you expect?

Maybe someday I’ll start a new business. I’ll figure out what the town is in need of and I’ll make some new friends who want to be involved, we’ll save up some money, and we’ll start over. This time, we’ll be thorough. We won’t be hasty for the sake of opening sooner. We had the money to hold us over a few months, we could’ve spent more time planning…. I digress. 

He lied comfortingly.

“I know how you feel.” He lied comfortingly.

“I’m not sure I believe you.” I said, awkwardly fiddling with my hands.

“I know, but you will. You just need time.” He said, and I stupidly believed him. His lies were reoccurring. Comfort grew in his lies. Our relationship crumbled, but I couldn’t bear to live without him. He lied and cheated, and I should know better. But I was too broken to fathom leaving. 

“What if it happens again? What will I do then?” I fought back a little.

“It won’t happen again.” He said. This time it wasn’t a lie because he was referring to me finding out. He’d be more careful next time. He would make sure to close all his tabs and delete his messages. We would live a happy and lie-infested life. 

Months would go on, years passed, and I hadn’t forgotten it. I had nightmares of the night I found out, that Instagram message notification, it’s innocent but brutal ding that defined who we were as a couple. Her message, I memorized. The screenshots she sent, I saw every time I closed my eyes. I told him I got over it, but I could never. I thought about it every time he smiled, every time my phone went off. When I got message requests, I thought, “This is it. Another one. The last straw. I’m finally done.” When it ended up being nothing, I was angry. I was angry that I didn’t have a reason to leave. I was angry that I wanted to. I was angry that it had been years and I still stayed. Why didn’t I leave? What was keeping me here?

I was scared to tell any of my friends about it in fear that they would tell me to leave him. I knew it was abusive, it wasn’t that easy. He was all I knew. We dated since high school, we’d been through everything together. If I left him, I’d be leaving those memories, too. And there weren’t just bad memories, we had a lot of good ones. Watching the football games, hanging out with his friends late at night in the summer. 

I knew it was bad. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was he had me convinced I would never be happy without him, that he was the best I would ever do. I finally left him three months ago, and I’ve never been happier. I’ve been hanging out with my friends again, I moved into my own little apartment. I deleted him from my phone, blocked him on social media, and I haven’t been prouder of myself. I’m still recovering, but I’m doing a lot better already. 

A year’s time.

            Mid-summer. Sticky air. The sun set at 8 pm, now it was 9. The stars were out. The humidity ran high, but so did our spirits. We all had the weekend off from work. We could be out all night if we wanted. The possibilities were endless. We sat on the beach, the sand still warm from the day’s hot sun. A fire roared in front of us, and I looked over at you and fell in love for the millionth time. The fire illuminated your smiling face, your laughing body, and it burned deep inside me. We were young, and we had our whole lives ahead of us, the unnerving future far away from our minds.

            What we didn’t know was how little time we had left. What we didn’t know was that by this time next summer, we wouldn’t talk anymore. No one on this beach, not even me and you. The grief sits on our shoulders, knowing we could have done something, but instead we let it happen. We didn’t stop him, and we should have. For a while after the funeral, we tried to stay friends, but he was the glue that kept us all together. Without him, we were a broken group. We fought constantly, over every little thing. 

            What happened? We had so much time, just graduated high school, no real plans for our future. And now, it’s forced upon us, all because we didn’t reach out after he had another episode. We didn’t say anything when he told us he was done living, because he’d said it before and he never meant it. He was just dramatic, he’d get over it in a year or two. 

            But now he never will. And neither will we.

This story is a little different from my poems, what do you think? Just wanted to remind everyone that it’s not true, it’s just a little vignette I thought of.