I know you’re not going to want to hear what I’ve got to say. You’ve been missing for such a long time now, you’ll probably think I’m out of touch or just too old to understand. So much has happened to you since we last saw each other you’re probably thinking that I couldn’t possibly get it.
You ran away to another country. Took flight, and ran. I get that. See, I’m not too old to understand. I know that you just had to get away, that something was pressing on you until you popped. Picking up the bags would have felt illicit, like a thrill, and getting on the bus would have had all the hallmarks of a stolen adventure. Heart beating hard, the unknown laid out before you. I get it. I know it.
I can picture you doing it. Stealing away. I can see you squeezed into the seat with him next to you. You’d have grabbed his hand in excitement, and your friends around you. Like a school camp, a bank holiday long weekend – except this one you weren’t planning on coming back from. No need for the tearful trip back with soiled clothes in the bag, tired from staying up all night and playing kiss-chasie in the dark. No bus squealing to a halt back at the school grounds only to be greeted by mum or dad at the school, their arms folded against the cold, asking painful questions like ‘did you have fun?’ and ‘how was it?’
The fun was in the running, wasn’t it?
After you and your friends had downed your beers and vodka mixes on the bus, and fell asleep slumped against one another, you would have pushed back into him in the seat next to you. I can imagine him groggily running his hands under your sweatshirt, and you thrilling at the thought that you were being felt up in a bus. Safe though. Nothing can happen on a bus really. So he would have been free to wander his hands everywhere (oh, everywhere!) and you would have sighed and encouraged him on. You might have muttered to him to not be so daring, just in case the older woman in the seat opposite could see. But you wouldn’t really have minded if she did. What would she know anyway? She’s old. She doesn’t get it. She wouldn’t understand.
I can imagine you sitting in the bus seat when the sun started to rise, listening to the hum of the engine and smelling the scent of forty odd people breathing. I can see you being awake and everyone else asleep as the blue dropped away from the landscape and your head is against the glass. Did you wonder at the scenery? If I know you, you would have done. You would have watched the flat bare landscape open up with the fingers of sunlight, and I know you. You would have wondered. You would have thought for the briefest of moments of what you’d built and made in the decision to run. What path had you chosen?
You know I would have watched the thought run across your eyes and face, and would have read it. You would watch the racing sunbeams and remember stories from long ago, another country, another place, probably another girl you were then.
But being nineteen, being you, it’s not something you could have countenanced for long. I can imagine you physically shoving the thought from the front to the back of your mind.
You would have been able to see your reflection in the glass as the sun rose, and you’d be able to see him lying against you with his mouth open ever so slightly. You’d have thought tender thoughts at the sight of the inside of his lip, the stubble gracing his chin. If I had seen him too my thoughts also would have been tender, but I would have been in awe at his youth as I am at yours. I can imagine you resting back against the seat in a comfortable satisfaction, imagining yourselves as a married couple travelling the world together, adventuring, and nurturing each other.
So what next then, my nineteen year old? The bus heaves to a stop and the feeling of promise sinks to the floor to be scattered amongst the empty bottles and chip wrappers. You grab your things, and leave the seat clumsily as everyone always does. But you’ll be feeling eyes on you and wondering if everyone who looks at you knows that you’ve run. Part of you is tired, heavy, and in a silly fragmented way hoping that mum or dad is outside the folding door ready to make small talk with you on the drive home. But that’s not likely. And really, you didn’t think that at all did you?
He’s already out of the bus. You’re readjusting your sweatshirt and trying to grab your bra strap which has slid down your shoulder. He’s joking with some mates leaning against a car and is closed to your approach. I can imagine you don’t know anyone there, your other friends absorbed by the location and gone. I know you would have felt a thrill in the eyes of these young men as they check you out, scan from root to tip. Even though you are heavy with lack of sleep and a mouth which tastes of fur, I can see you assume your pose. Trying to tell them you belong here, this happens everyday.
Will he continue to joke with his mates, tell you to wait whilst he does some mysterious errands? Does he take you to some fleabitten apartment where he drops your bags (and you’re thinking, they are our bags) and leaves you in the bedroom while he puts his phone to his ear and smokes his cigarettes with four other blokes in the kitchen? Do you, my nineteen year old, stumble through the flat looking for the bathroom because you’re desperate to pee, perch on the dirty loo, and fumble for toilet paper because there is none on the roll? Are you interrupted by one of his mates who bangs the door open, and leaves laughing lustily only to be joined in his gales with the other guys he tells when he gets back to the kitchen?
I imagine you washing your face, feeling angry and humiliated. I can see your temper rising, the one I know and love so well. I watch you compose yourself, even though your cheeks flame red and your eyes have that watery look. Flicking your magnificent hair? Oh yes, that will show them.
I see you taking on your man in the kitchen, the dirty share apartment where testosterone is lounging. You raise your voice and point at the gangly youth who interrupted your piss, the one who is still shaking with laughter. You point back again at your man and thrust out your chest, make a sharp witty crack which instantly brings the audience over to your side. In that instant you won over the audience, and the reason why your man told you he loved you comes out to the fore. The audience laughs, falls about. They are laughing at your man, and you gave them the joke. Maybe it won’t be so bad here after all.
But I imagine that you didn’t see it coming. The flat of his hand to the side of your head. You were too busy grabbing the limelight to notice. Your magnificent hair in his tight fist. His breath on your face.
Were you aware that the rules were going to change?
I can see the light of realization in your eyes as he swears at you closely, his fingers knotted through your hair. You can tell he’s not brushed his teeth yet, and that look on his face is so strong you dare not look. You can hear a wild rush through your head and the sound of a tribe of men around you, whooping and crowing. You can see he’s wearing the shirt you bought for him with the money your mum had given you for the regular house cleaning.
Are you wondering if I get it anymore? If I know it? Or am I too old to understand?
Do you get it when he grabs your breast roughly and squeezes so hard whilst he’s pushing you away? Do you understand when you fall heavily against the doorframe and struggle to stand up elegantly, still trying to maintain some level of dignity in the face of such indignity?
Do you know it when you return to the grimy bedroom, slamming the door for effect? When you slam that door do you remember the last time you slammed a door was only last week when the house was warm from the dinner that was cooking on the stove and your frustration at your mum boiled over?
When you lie on the bed cover sobbing, feeling mortified at the direction you’ve come, and yet feeling the steel of resolve in your spine? I can imagine you do. I can see you holding tight to this decision, this direction, this path. You ran for a reason, and the reason still holds true. The running was your decision, your choice, and I can hear you making a deal with yourself to see it though.
You hold tight because you think that I don’t understand, I can’t possibly understand.
See, I’m just too old to get it.
Short story on a missing nineteen year old