You never did give up.
It was the first day of class when I saw you my freshmen year. I lived just two blocks away from school, but I knew I would never be on time. I walked hurriedly down the block, still trying to get my foot in my shoe, comb my hair and hold my books at the same time. As I got closer to the building, I stopped for a minute. My eyes glued to the frame of the doors and I took a deep breath. This place I walked by every day, where my parents first met and where a new experience will soon begin. “This is it…ok, ok, get it together” I said to myself. I almost forgot I still had a class to get to. I opened the doors and was immediately hit with the scent of Clorox and pineapples. Such a strange combination. I walked to the second floor and hesitantly glided into my classroom where I sat in the front row. At least this way my professor would know I was a good student, right? not really. I started taking my books out and prepared to take notes when I saw you rushing in as if you had been chased. Sweat beads formed on the top of your brows, veins pulsed in your arms. You scanned the room for a vacant desk, but your eyes suddenly stopped. They stopped as if you had found all that you were looking for. As if you needed to go no further. Your eyes remained fixed on my face and I quickly turned away as you had violated my 3-second eye contact rule. In efforts to distract myself from your annoying stare, I looked out the window to my left and decided to people watch. Then I spotted a woman in a red jacket, carrying her toddler while feeding her nuggets from the McDonald’s close by. “How cute, I suppose, feeding your child that cheap garbage” I sneered. I still felt you, staring as you finally walked passed my desk and found your way, two rows back. Your scent caressed my nose, surrounded itself around me as if it was trying to lure me to you. I peeked over my shoulder and found you still watching me so I shut my eyes quickly and turned around, careful not to look back again. “What a strange one…” I thought. For some reason, I couldn’t help but find you slightly appealing.
A few months went by and it seemed like you were in almost all of my classes. In every building and at all the events, there you were, as if you had already known where I would be. But let’s just think here for a minute, was this all just a coincidence or were you keeping tabs on me? I was kind of intrigued by your interest. You weren’t bad looking at all, in fact very handsome. You had velvet skin that glistened in the sun and ran for days. All your muscles would fight your skin, as if they were trying to break though. Your veins created intertwining patterns on the surface of your arms. Cheekbones pronounced on your face with a broad jawbone. Your face was married together in a way I’d never seen. I liked looking at you but…, and here comes that unforgiving ‘But’, your mysterious nature made you appealing and intimidating. I wasn’t sure what you wanted but I had an idea. Sophomore year came around and you approached me. After days, months, a year of staring and sticking yourself in all my classes, you decided to say something. As you walked towards me, you kept your hands in your pockets and opened your mouth to speak but it was like you were on mute. I stood waiting since you were blocking the path I needed for my next class and became frustrated at the time you let go unused. I tried not to show my irritation but the internal conflict you had riding across your face made me question myself. I didn’t think I was hard to talk to. Just say hi!
“Weren’t you in my classes last semester?” I started.
“Yes” you said shyly.
Great, we have some progress.
“I…umm actually wanted to know if you were coming to the poetry event tonight.”
“Cool, I hope I’ll see you there.”
I smiled “Sure”
I was already planning to go. Little did you know I loved poetry. That was my thing. An emotional bucket of words dumped on a page that allowed me to feel whole again.
Later that day, I walked to the event anxious to hear these talented voices. I walked in as the first poet started and listened deeply, breathing in every word. I scanned through the faces in the audience and couldn’t pick you out. An hour had come and gone yet you still weren’t there. “Why would he ask me if I was coming if he wasn’t going to be here” I thought confused. I wandered within my thoughts until I heard your name announced on the mic. I was a deer caught in headlights as you appeared from nowhere and took your place on stage. You cleared your throat as you looked at the audience and appeared satisfied to see my face. You had a voice that melted into the mic and engulfed my ears. Your poem, a story of how the moon fell in love with the ocean but all its force wasn’t enough to bring it close enough to confess. The words danced around me, seductive and enticing. It held its hand out and whisked me off the ground. My mind tied itself around the sound of your voice, reacting to its tone. I blushed at the way it made me feel, the way you made me feel. Awkwardness lifted me up and pushed out of the doors of the room. My cheeks were hot and my hands were clammy. I heard the door open behind me and I knew it was you. I hoped that it wasn’t. I needed more time to collect myself.
“You were great” I said exhaling slowly.
“Thanks, I’m glad you came” I didn’t respond immediately, just let time fill the empty space.
“So…Ash, do you think we could go out some time?”
Still stuck in my silence, I tried to muster up a good reason not to go. “I really would like us to
be friends” I said quietly.
“Sure, I understand” you said positively but disappointed.
I wrote down my number in an effort to show that I actually did want a relationship as friends. You grabbed the piece of paper firmly as if you were trying to conceal an overflow of eagerness and embraced my softly. I expected a sense of defeat from your side, but it seemed that you already had a plan. A door just opened for you. I fought myself when it came to you. You made me question what I wanted. I consistently told myself I wasn’t ready for anything but there you were neatly woven into my mind. We’ve barely spoken but the mystery of you kept me bonded to you. The next day you called me. I was a bit surprised that you did. The conversation started slow but began to pick up once we got over that awkward stage. We talked for a while about small subjects like our boring professors or ridiculous assignments. I felt comfortable talking to you. You called about three or four times a week. It came to a point where I could look at my phone and know exactly when it would ring with your name as the headline. You always called at about 7:00 in the night. The conversations went on for hours until one of us finally fell asleep. We met up on campus more often. Our spot was the new café that had just opened in the beginning of the semester. I always ordered the caramel latte with extra milk and you liked to get a black coffee with sugar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. I didn’t understand how you could like that combination. “You have to try new things, Ash” you would say. That was entirely too new for me. You started to grow on me in a way the almost bordered the line of our friendship. I didn’t know if I should allow myself to move further or preserve the way things were.
In mid-junior year, we became very busy and couldn’t talk as much. I started to miss our chats, but I was too distracted to do anything about it. I would see you walking to your classes every now and then, but we only had time to wave and keep moving. Soon we were off in our separate ways. There came a point where I didn’t see you for weeks at a time. I thought about you more than I should have. It was strange, but I did miss you. I sent you random texts just to see how you were, if you were still around but the conversations were always short. Of course, I knew our free time was limited, I just wanted things to go back to how it was. I became very frustrated as the thought of you continued to cloud my mind. I felt as if I was going through a withdrawal. The rest of the semester went like this…
Next year, senior year, I saw you outside the student center. Our eyes locked and you leaped over to me, overjoyed, and gave me the tightest bear hug that forced all the air out of my lungs. My feet barely touched the ground as I tried to wiggle my way out. Your smothering passion was clear as pressure started to build up in my head.
“I…can’t…brea…” I gasped
“I’m sorry; I haven’t seen you in so long.”
“So you decided to suffocate me?” I said jokingly
“Well If I did that, I’d never get to see that face again.” you flirted
“Yeah, Yeah, so what’s up?” I dismissed
“Let’s go to the movies Saturday, A new horror movie just came out.”
I could tell my pause had made you nervous; but I like to add a bit of suspense sometimes
“Ok, text me the time.”
You nearly exploded with excitement and jumped to hug me again, but I quickly held my hands up and moved back. “Please, I would rather not die today.” I laughed. The day came sooner than I expected. It was 8:00 on the dot when I pulled back the curtains of my window and saw you preparing to ring my doorbell. I rushed down the stairs and opened the door to find you with a feverish smile. “I just have to get my jacket, one sec” I said. You stood patiently inspecting what little you could see from my door. After a couple of minutes, I came back, and we walked to the nearest theater. The theater we went to wasn’t very modern. It was quite odd and vintage looking. It was nice to have a change from the typical overpriced theater in the city. It had character. After the movie we talked forever about each scene, using sound effects and hand gesture. People passing by probably thought we were on something.
But then you said “I’m glad I finally got to go on a date with you”.
I said nothing. I didn’t know how to respond, probably because I didn’t categorize this outing a date. I stood there playing with my thumbs, searching for something to say. I looked at you, you looked at me, anticipating my response. I’d began to think. We enjoyed spending time together and I liked talking to you. Why not? Why not consider it a date? I wasn’t seeing anyone. There was no doubt that I liked you. Finally I smiled and that seemed to be all you needed. “I had a great time too” I responded. You grabbed my hand and swung me around your torso, unable to conceal the thrill flowing through your body.
We had many more dates after that, each one better than the last. I remember, one day I had just come from the gym and you texted me to come outside. I peeked out of my window and there you were standing on my porch, ready to grab me up. You didn’t even care that I looked crazy. My hair was all tangled, I smelled of salt and coconuts, my clothes were sweaty and still you thought I was perfect. We walked for about ten minutes since you wanted to be discreet about where we were going. We came to the entrance of the park and I was too quickly disappointed as I hoped you weren’t expecting me to do any arduous activities since I’d just came from the gym. You turned to look at me as my hesitation persisted and laughed gently as if he knew what I was thinking. “Ash, come on, I promise you’ll like it.” you said. We walked into the park toward an isolated area where my heart liquefied in my chest. You had this very intimate area of the park decorated with lights entangled on the branches of the trees, rose petals circling a blanket in the grass with my favorite foods, sitting there waiting to be devoured. The soft music of the neighboring crickets made this date all the more enchanting. This was the night I was yours and you were mine. Our relationship flourished. We spoke every day from morning to night. I expected to hear your voice just as you expected to hear mine. We became closer than ever, collecting each other’s laughter, finishing each other’s sentences, and making sarcastic jokes. You started to create a tunnel to my heart, circling around it to get the full effect, careful not chip at the edges. Every time I saw you, I knew this was something more. You never seemed to just look at me. You looked within me. You let our souls be introduced. I was careful not to fall too hard. I knew I could fall severely in love with you and a part of me already did.
It was pouring outside when I walked home from class one day. I texted you to let you know I was home and asked if you’d made it safely as well. Your responses were usually quick, but I figured you were probably doing something important. An hour past with no response. “Must be on the train.” I said. I didn’t let myself be concerned. I decided to start my assignments which took about three hours to complete. It was 11:00pm, still no response. “he probably fell asleep, he’s been tired lately” I reassured myself. It was late, so I got ready to go to sleep with a slightly uneasy feeling, but I figured everything was ok. I woke up the next morning and grabbed my phone from underneath my pillow to find that I had no new messages. “I know! … he lost his phone” reassuring myself again. I knew as soon as you found your phone, you would let me know you were ok. So, I went on with my plans for the day and went to work. I repeatedly looked at my phone until my shift was over. Anxiety started to grow inside me. I thought if you had lost your phone the least you could do was call me from someone else’s phone, find me at my job or even email me. My concern crept into anger. I walked home still trying to figure out a reason that you would not be able to contact me and reasonable answers either annoyed or worried me. When I got home, I threw my phone on the couch in the living room and stared at it as if I was able to will it to ring. Nothing.
It was now almost 3 days since I’ve heard from you. I began to sweat as I counted the minutes and managed to develop a massive headache absorbed with worry. I quickly got out my laptop and checked to see if there was any sign of you online, a status update, a like, a picture, a poke, something. I found nothing. Instead, I was startled by a post from your sister asking if anyone had seen you. I read the words letter by letter hoping they weren’t real. She was searching for you. It said you never came home. My body stiffened, and I didn’t realize I had stopped breathing. I felt my legs break underneath me as I crumbled to the ground. “Stay calm…just…stay…” tears poured out before my last word. I tried to convince myself that you were fine, but my mind was tired of being reassured. How could I possibly know that you were ok? How could I convince myself that you were just out somewhere and forgot to call? It wasn’t you. This was not you. Night had already fallen once again. It fell all around me. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep. I continuously looked at my phone, willing it to ring, hoping for it to ring. You couldn’t have just disappeared. I stared at my phone for hours. It never rang. I needed you to be ok. I had no more tears left. I had exhausted every emotion I could physically endure. My body was searching for relief. I didn’t know what else to do. I needed you to come back.
I blacked out that night and the morning sheltered me for a second. I woke up having forgotten everything, remembering what seemed like a frightening dream until I realized, I was still living in this nightmare. The reminder came into full effect as I gazed at the ceiling, unable to move. My head pounded. I tried to leave my bed, but my body began to shake profusely. I wanted to cry but my eyes felt as if they had been doused with lighter fluid and set on fire. I closed my eyes tightly and drowned into another sleep. I woke up during the afternoon, now in more pain than earlier. I checked my phone and saw that your sister put out a missing person’s report. I was completely numb. I needed something to do, I had to help somehow. This was real, this was really happening. I figured it was time that I talk to your sister. I messaged her online and told her who I was and how long we were dated. We exchanged numbers and she called me immediately. I got so wrapped in my words that I started to choke. She could feel the tortured pain that consumed me. My voice reduced to a sickly whisper as I continued speaking. I told her when I’d last spoken to you. She told me she would let me know as soon as she heard anything.
The next day my parents knocked on my door. I didn’t say anything, I just let them enter. I was too weak to speak or move. They came in to find me on the ground next to my bed staring at the creases in floor. I had counted them all. 673 creases. 673 creases I counted. My mother rushed over to me and lifted me into her arms. She cried “Ashley, please you need to eat!” My body fell limp in her arms. I watched her eyes hover over me. I tried to move my lips to ask if she had heard anything, but I had lost all feeling in my face. My eyes had grown tired of focusing and everything just became black. I moved in and out of consciousness, then realized I was being carried somewhere. I could make out who it was that was holding me. I believe it was my father. It didn’t take long for me to completely lose consciousness again. I had a dream that you were trying to reach me but you couldn’t. I saw you struggling to speak but no words came out. I was shaken fiercely out of my sleep by the agonizing cry of my mother. She was sitting over me in what look like a hospital room. “Mom?” She looked up and quickly grabbed me.
“What happened?” I said
“Your body is weak, baby. You fainted, and we weren’t able to wake you” She began to cry again.
“I’m sorry, mom”
“Where’s dad? Is he here?”
“Yes,…he’s in the waiting room”
I sat there thinking of all that had brought me to this moment. I wanted to ask my mom if she had heard anything, but I knew it was not the time. All I could think of was you. I still I had no idea if you were ok. I franticly looked around the room for my phone but I couldn’t see where it was. My mom glanced at me from the floor and said “It didn’t ring”. I collapsed into the bed and turned my body to the opposite wall. And there I remained, unmoved.
* * *
The ringing of my phone shook me out of my sleep. It’s the ring, I knew that ring. It was personalized just for you. I sat up quickly trying to listen for where it was coming from. Then I spotted my mom’s purse on the chair by the door. Those few steps to that purse were the most agonizing. I felt like I hadn’t walked in months. As soon as my legs felt the weight of my body, they buckled and gave in underneath me. I was reduced to a crawl. I reached for the phone but my arms were heavy and started to seize. I made it to the chair, pulled the purse to the ground and saw your name flashing. Your name that made created a euphoric high throughout my body. I grabbed the phone and listened for your voice.
“Ashley?” It was a female voice.
“Who is this?” I said puzzled.
‘’We found him” she said in an unconvincing voice. It was your sister.
“Ok where is he?”
“I…We…” unable to complete her sentence, she said “don’t worry”.
“What do you mean?” confused.
“Ashley, please” she pleaded.
“What’s wrong? Where is he?!” I demanded.
She remained silent. I hung up the phone and immediately force my body towards
my clothes on the side table by my bed. I tried to move as fast as I could, but it felt like I wasn’t moving at all. I snatched all the IVs and tubes from my arm and used the silver pole holding the fluids to support my weight. I stuck my head out of the door to see if anyone was around and briskly limped down the hallway. I made it the elevators just as the doors open and my eyes solidified to her face. Your sister stood staring back at me.
“Where are you going? No one knows I’m….Oh my god!” I yelled.
I turned around viciously, finally filling words into her silence.
“He is here, He is here in this hospital”.
I moved through the hallways, snapping my head into every room, until I saw your jacket. Your blue leather jacket with the black straps across the shoulder. I forbade myself to look any further you’re your jacket. I was afraid of what I would see. I took a deep breath and sailed my eyes across the bed to your face. There were tubes hanging out from every part of your body. The oxygen frosted and then cleared. The sound of the cardiac monitor comforted me as I walked closer. I grazed my hand down the length of your cheek. You seemed to be having pleasant dreams. My mind was at peace because I had found you. I exhaled for the first time in days. Your sister rushed in to find me by your bedside. Her face expressed her deepest apology.
“He’s been sick for some time…he didn’t want anyone to know” she said
I waited for her to continue.
“They found him on the train, the passengers thought he was just sleeping.” she
started to weep.
“An officer tried to wake him but were unable to. They said his pulse was almost nonexistent.” She stopped to wipe her face.
“They brought him here to the hospital a couple days ago but he didn’t have his ID. We got the call after they matched him to the missing person’s report.”
“Will he wake up?” I said blankly.
“Ash, his body is shutting down”.
“Will… he… wake up?” I repeated.
“I…I…don’t...Ash, please… I don’t know” she cried.
My mom ran passed the room and doubled back after she spotted me cradled over your body. She didn’t say anything. She took in the scene and knew. She tried to comfort me by placing her hand on my shoulder, but I jerked away. There was nothing anyone could do for us. I knew you. This was not you. “He’ll wake up” I smiled softly “He will wake up.”
I stayed the whole day, curled next to you, listening to the soothing beats of your heart. I waited to hear your voice again, to see your lips spread across your teeth. As the night fell on us, my mother suggested that I leave. I refused. To leave you would be giving up. I let the essence of you creep into me. I carried a place for you that I would give to no one else. You exposed a love I didn’t know I had. I won’t let go. I’m going to be here when you wake up. “He’ll wake up” I assured. “He will wake up”.