He Who Must Not Be Named
The first time I saw him I was at the fair.
It was night, late enough that the kids' rides had been shut down, the "carnies" sent home, wherever their homes may have been that particular night. I was with my friends from high school, the only people with patience enough to insist that I take a shower, get dressed, and leave my mom's house already. It would be good for me.
We walked in circles around people picking at fried dough, smoking cigarettes, and pushing strollers. And suddenly, there he was, the dark-haired, dark-eyed object of my every nightmare, shuffling through the fairgrounds with his hands shoved deep in his jean pockets.
I had never seen him before. And to be honest, I'm not sure how I was so certain it was him at all. He had never spent time at our house. Aleisha had never hung out with him. Nevertheless, I knew.
My body chilled, goosebumps prickling my arms. My legs trembled. As my heart whirred faster, my legs started moving. I was running, sprinting, my whole body quaking, feeling as though I would collapse at any moment. And then I did.
Right into a pile of wooden pallets between the Italian sausage stand and caramel apple cart. The people waiting in line for carnival treats stared.
I sat there sucking for air that wouldn't come, wondering why he'd only glanced my way for an instant before averting his gaze and jaunting past me through the crowd.
I look just like her. He must have known who I was. Did I not haunt him as he haunted me?
We're sitting at a coffee shop with smiles on our faces that are only half-fake, Davis, whom I still call Al's boyfriend, and I. School will start again soon. He'll go back to high school for his senior year, and I will return to finish my final year of college, a submission to my mother's wishes.
"So I thought about dropping my English major," I tell him.
"Oh, really?" He raises his eyebrows as if I am about to tell a joke.
"Yep." I look out the window at the man locking his bike to the streetlamp. "I'm thinking about taking up Physics instead. Figure if I work on it long enough I'll eventually figure out time travel." I pause to look over at him. "That'd solve everything," I say, sipping my tea. He looks down at his cup of coffee and nods.
We keep chatting. I look to the counter wondering whether I should buy a muffin. And there he is. Standing in line. Waiting to get coffee.
He's standing between two girls about his age, who, to my surprise, don’t look afraid of him. The three of them stand so close their bodies touch. The girls don't shrink away. They have no trepidation at all.
The three of them look unreservedly happy, giggling as they wait in line. My mom heard from a friend that he was going to a new school this year, a school far from here where he wouldn't be faced with Al's friends in the hallway. He must be looking forward to his escape.
My jaw clenches.
"I kind of want to go over there and talk to him," I say. It's a lie, but I'm looking for a reaction. Davis gives me none. "What would you say to him if you could?" I ask.
He looks out the window for a moment, his hands cupping his mug and looks back at me with eyes too tired for a seventeen-year-old boy.
"Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed the woman I love. Prepare to die." His eyes twinkle, just for a moment.
I am back at the same coffee shop. It's Christmastime more than a year later. I have come from LA where I live with my boyfriend who has the same red hair that she loved in Davis. He and I make jokes about how Sonksen girls love gingers.
I am there with an old friend who I haven't seen in a long time. Snow falls outside. The shop smells of peppermint cappuccinos and whipped cream, and carols play in the background.
I get up to go to the bathroom feeling less empty than I have in months, humming carols to myself as I make my way across the room. I almost don't notice him as I round the corner away from the commotion. I wouldn't have noticed him at all if he hadn't waved, gesturing me to the table where he is sitting with a young man in unlaced Timberland boots, a diamond stud in his ear.
My heart whirs. It feels as though every muscle in my body has turned to gelatin. I need Chapstick. I need water. I remind myself to breathe. In. Out. In. Out. My shoulders are tensing, creeping closer to my ears. My stomach is dropping.
I imagine her screaming as his car began to flip.
I picture him looking over at his passenger seat and seeing her, still.
I walk to their table.
"Hi," I say. "How was your first semester of college?"
He didn't go to jail. Or did he go to a juvenile detention center for 30 days? I can't quite remember. Either way, he wasn't punished in the way you'd expect someone to be punished for killing a young girl.
The State of Maine took his drivers license away for one year, 52 short weeks, the punishment for underage manslaughter, which is the correct word, I've learned, is if you are to assume that there was no premeditation. But one could argue, and indeed I have, that buying a car like that for a boy like him was a premeditation in itself.
I have tried to forgive. Truly I have. I realize that doing so would release some of this weight pulling on my heart.
The day after the accident, I thought about how many nights my friends had been driving too quickly around a corner too sharp with me in the passenger seat—and I wondered if I should call him and tell him I knew he was just being a kid and couldn't possibly have predicted this outcome. I wondered if I should tell him not to hate himself.
But as time passes my heart hardens, for the days without her keep piling up, one on top of the other, my own private stockpile of missingness. Eventually, they will outnumber the days I spent with her by my side.
This—the loss of her—this I cannot forgive.
I will carry it with me always.