Nicole St. Pierre
I am very sorry, but I don’t have a story to tell. I know that I told you that I would, but I don’t, and I am sorry.
No excuse is good enough. I could tell you that I have forgotten what I told you I would do in the first place, but that would be a lie; I could tell you that I forgot the date I told you I would have something, and that would be true, but still not adequate.
I could tell you that I felt, for a long time, as if I was swimming suspended in a large glass bowl of water and everyone else was watching me. That I felt as though I was speaking English and everyone around me was speaking a new language to which I had not yet converted. That it is hard to write stories in a language you do not speak, or when your head is submerged. That now I feel chilled and strangely off-center and the joints of my fingers are too stiff to do what they are supposed to do.
I could tell you that my bones filled up with concrete and my skin is made of rice paper and if I try to move I will break all to pieces and I’ve got no one to clean up the mess. Perhaps this is graphic, perhaps this is dramatic, but you cannot deny that I could tell you this and yet it would not be good enough.
I could tell you that this has all been a process in which a haze has gradually descended, as if I am slowly, slowly, slowly falling asleep, but my eyes have not yet closed completely. Voices are far away, images blur behind my eyes, new beginnings grow and move inside of my imagination and I am enveloped by their warm potential, but I jolt awake again just as quickly, and the process starts over. I have been falling asleep for about nine months. In the time that you could make a human, I cannot even manage to fall asleep or stay awake.
I began to fall asleep when he kissed me on the forehead and walked away, but laying both the blame and the credit at only his heavy feet would be incorrect. If I am going to write you a story, the credit will be mine. I have always said that I do not need anyone else in order to live my life, which is true, but to tell you why I have been falling asleep, I need him, I suppose, and that pisses me off, but it’s true, and so. I began to fall asleep when he kissed me on the forehead and walked away. Unless I am mistaken, a kiss from a man like that is supposed to be what wakes you up; yet, since his mouth touched my skin, I have not stopped falling asleep.
In the summer, when he was already long gone and the dust settling back down on the road, the sun cooked my skin until I turned brown, like gingerbread, and my hair gold, like the odd triangle boxes of Toblerone bars.
I knew that he must love me when he silently and without grandeur bought me a Toblerone bar at the grocery store when I was not looking, because I do not have them often and their strange shape makes me happy. I knew, then, that must have been a sign; it must have, right? But this was long ago, before the kiss, before the leaving, before the sun turned me into baked molasses, and I digress.
In the summer after he left I got drunk for the first time. I could tell you that. I could tell you that I went to a bar in the middle of Baltimore where the air smelled like the harbor and I thought about the last time I had been in the city; he and I had laid on our backs on a boat in the middle of the water, quiet, alone, and watched the fourth of July fireworks while, on the deck beneath us, other revelers played beer pong and danced to someone’s iPod.
I could tell you that, that summer after he left, I told my friends at the bar that I don’t get drunk and that alcohol bores me, which is entirely accurate, and was, then, until the first shot of cinnamon whiskey shot a streak of high-proof fire down my throat, and I dared a companion to take another, because he was woozy and I was fine. “I’m smaller than you,” I said, “and I could take it.”
That boy turned around and came back with another and it burned and I sat down and suddenly time was slow and my hands were very, very pale, and when I went to the bathroom I could not recall if there had always been four stalls, or if two had been added since the last time I needed to use the restroom. The music became so loud that, when I came back to the table, that boy and I, we had to sit close and we had to lean in to hear one another say very important things. I buzzed because this was intriguingly unlike the he I had known, the he who had left before, and because if two shots of cinnamon whiskey in quick succession don’t buzz you somewhere, you’re made of steel.
Later, I turned to endow this new he with the gift of more of my snark and he planted a kiss on my forehead and then I was sober again and in the bathroom stall a moment later, having lost my sea legs. I touched that spot, and I hated him. The first place that boy kissed me was the last place that he had kissed me, and suddenly I was again in a gray and rainy parking lot, full of cavities, cold. A week or two later, I sat in the dark, humid car of this new boy who knew nothing of my drowsiness, and I told him that I could not do it, and he said okay, and neither could he, and we said okay, and he drove me home and just like that, the new he expired, and the old he was left again to pace around inside my hazy mind.
I have had two last kisses on my forehead, and neither one has woken me up; I could tell you that. Perhaps I should grow bangs as a preventative measure, so that maybe I will be able to stop falling asleep. I could make that joke, but it would not be a good one, and would likely become a darling I had to kill later, in revisions.
Anyway, I could tell you that story, but it would not be very interesting. I could tell you that every time I feel myself falling asleep I try to yell, “Wake up! You have never needed anyone else to wake yourself up.”
And one day, I walked into a restaurant and I saw the back of his head for the first time in five months and I walked right by and stood in the bathroom and looked at myself with my tissue skin and concrete bones and I thought, I have been holding on so tightly, and he has been letting go for so long. What, then, is there to hold?
And I walked to the booth where he sat and I took the place across from him and he returned the DVDs I had lent him five months before and I did not give him back the sweatshirt he gave me a year prior because it was more mine than his, at that point, and in the future I may need it for burning. I looked at his stupid beautiful face and the places on it where I used to touch him and I curled my fingers up between my legs so that I wouldn’t, and I said,
“You said we may have ruined something special, and that may be true, and that is very sad. We wanted to be friends, but you gave up on me, and now I don’t. I may forgive you someday, but right now, I do not. You must be an eternal optimist for believing that you will always find someone who you can ruin something special with.
I would have done anything to make you happy, and maybe that was my mistake.”
He looked at me like I spoke to him in the terrible language of cannibals or death; like I had slapped him on his stupid beautiful face. I did not want to slap him or speak to him with knives on my tongue or shut that door I had thrown open so wide; I did not want to tell him those things, but my mouth had sewn itself shut for so long that it happened anyway. Maybe the whiskey was catching up to me again; maybe the water had drained from my tank and I could see and hear everything without a single blur. Before I knew that I had said it, I had said it, and he said, “Okay,” in that way that he said things which I knew meant that it was not okay, but because it was him, you would pretend to believe it anyway. And he left, and I left, and I sat in my car in the parking lot of the restaurant and I placed my head on the steering wheel and I shut my eyes and I thought, I am not tired.
My feet feel heavy when I walk around and this winter seems like it will never end but I know that it will. Sadness drained away but Anger has been a tall, dark man who came and sat on my chest and stayed for a while. I get sick often but I get better and when I get better I don’t want to spend my whole day in bed because I don’t want to waste the sunlight. I will write again one day when the stories come, but I’m very sorry.
I don’t have anything for you today. I can’t think of a single thing to say.
Nicole St. Pierre was raised in rural New York, and currently lives just outside of Baltimore, where she write fiction, nonfiction, and works for the stage. In 2011, two of her nonfiction essays appeared in Fine Print Literary Magazine at Elizabethtown College; that spring, she was awarded the Louise Baugher Black Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Writing. Several of her short plays have been held in staged reading or received productions at Millersville University and Elizabethtown College, both in Pennsylvania.
Nicole will be featured in Issue Three of Embodied Effigies.