This is What You’ll Remember | Bahiyyih El-Shabbaz

That it was the day before the Fourth of July, and you were back for summer after living away, and you wore your hometown like a pair of old comfy jeans you’d become too skinny for.

You’ll remember the sickness you felt lying on the floor realizing you must have accused an innocent man, that the day he’d walked out of your house you had yelled after him, “You are a fucking piece of shit!” as his boat of a car eased away from your curb.

You’ll remember walking in the door kissing, and kissing and apologizing and kissing harder. That he whispered where’s your parents and where’s your brother and you told him in between kisses, “out of town…and still off in Africa,” pulling him down on top of you on the uncomfortable couch that you’d picked out as a family when you were eight, and he asked where’s Jenny because he saw her car parked outside, and you said asleep. That he stopped kissing you for a minute to get up and go lock the dead bolt, and that you knew he would stay.

The dark house lost its tilt a little but your head throbbed hard like your heart was in it as you led him up to your room and closed the door. If scientists were measuring and studying the chemistry between you they would have been badly burned, possibly even blown away.

You’ll remember that the next afternoon he said he had to go do some things, and you hoped that it was really things not people. But you let him leave with a smile because what else could you do? You couldn’t yell, you could not question or make demands beyond buying you some bottle rockets to blast off and fast food. You had to let him go and stand in the doorway waving hoping you were something he’d want to return to.

You’ll remember the feeling of him coming back, kissing you like a long-gone husband in the kitchen, staying again. A feeling lighter than floating, lying next to and half on each other all night. Your bedroom window open, hearing down below the small blasts of teenagers and their Black Cats blasted at the sky and the sizzling of sparklers, the hoots and the hollers and all the car alarms that were triggered by the vibrations that no one bothered to come out and turn off. That you politely offered him sex like a cool drink but he didn’t want it. He said he was exhausted, he just wanted to lie with you. He made you turn so he could be a spoon and he called you his peanut butter, and kissed the back of your neck under the hairline. And never in your whole nineteen years on earth had you felt more loved by a boy, or a person in general.

You’ll remember the day your parents were to come home you cleaned up evidence of him though it wasn’t much, a beer bottle and a shirt he’d shed in your room. He left and you sat sad, knowing it would be forever until you had a whole house to yourself with him inside again, walking around bare-chested in basketball shorts, cussing and singing badly and cooking you breakfast. You sat thinking about your return to college quickly approaching, brainstorming ways you could not go or pack and take him with you.

This is how you’ll remember it went, the worst day up to that date of your life: He opened the door and she tried to push her way inside. She screamed, she called out for you. You sat sickened into stillness on his couch. The hallow sound of heels, the whoosh of her body being thrown in the air. Her sobs, the shoes she bought him that she demanded he give back that he shoved into her stomach so hard. The sharp names he called her. The second girl showing up on top of the first, and that she was prettier than you thought yourself, except her big bright acne. How her voice shook when she cussed. How the girls overlapped, blurred, and magnified each other, turned on the hose to make a wet mess, smoke him out. The pleading, the threats. All the tires squealing.

When the door was slammed for good he knelt for you.

He had his shirt off, his arms out to the sides. He was standing in the perfect spot in the dark living room so that the yellow light from the kitchen gathered around him and shone like an aura. He stood and hovered above you like a prophet.

“Baby,” he said.

You will remember wishing he could ravel everything that had happened back up like a yoyo string. Or push a button like on a tape measure so it sucked back into itself. You wished you didn’t love him or you didn’t know about him loving other people or both. He stared at your legs. He said, “Hey.” He said, “Man. I am really, really sorry.”

When you looked at him you felt some of everything. You were drained like you’d just played a day of sports.

Outside the sky was purple and blue turning black now. He walked you shoeless along the pathway bordered in small pines, slipping a white shirt over himself, wincing when it settled on his cuts. He walked slowly a step behind you and did not say a word. You’ll remember you were waiting for some.

You’ll remember the chest pains when you saw him speed past you in traffic without slowing, when you watched him glide by your house without a glance. Maybe on his way to see his cousin who lived at the edge of your neighborhood, maybe he was just circling your block on purpose to re-break and re-break and re-break your heart.

Your mind stayed on him, your pillow stayed soaked.

There were lots of close calls where you had to talk your fingers away from the phone.

You’ll remember hating him, wishing he’d catch a disease.

You’ll remember remembering how he brushed his hair forward with a worn wooden-handled brush to make dark waves in it like a shiny sea.

You still had butterflies for him. You still blushed deep when he reached over and traced your face with a finger.

You drove to the big park at the end of your block and stopped the car at the edge of Leving’s Lake to stare at the water. When you were a kid and couldn’t read you’d always misheard it as Loving’s Lake, and had just found out recently you were wrong. The sky was starting to orange, setting fire to the leaves on the tree that curved above you like a hand.

He leaned against the window and stared at you. You wished he would grab and pull you to his chest and not let you up when you struggled, knew how easily his words could weld you back to him like little blue flames. He stared deep into you biting his bottom lip while you stared up at the sky slowly changing.

He asked, “So how do you know for sure?” and you reached over, popped the glove compartment open onto his legs. You pulled out the stick you’d peed on and threw it at him. He looked at it, nodded and turned to look outside.

“This is crazy,” he said quietly, and exhaled.

You’ll remember sitting in his car parked at the curb outside your bright line of living room windows crying some more, pretending you were confused about what to do. That he finally pulled you to him like you had wanted him to at the park and rubbing both hands across your stomach spoke into the back of your head saying, “A little Us.”

You’ll remember he swore to be different and how your heart filled high. How he said he’d be right back and you stepped aside so he wouldn’t run you over as he pulled away.

How he did not be right back and you did not hear from him for another stretch of days.

You’ll remember some nights when you were out driving with Jenny you’d pass him in traffic, look back and see the silhouette of a long-haired-somebody in your seat.

You’ll remember not wanting to go. But you didn’t know how to get out of it. You’d needed him to prove himself, not even to you, but more to Jenny and your mother who did not care for him, and your dad and brother who did not know him at all. Somehow during his two week trail he’d only been worse. And you did not want to be a babymama. You did not want to be one of many, you did not want to spend life chasing him, being called out of your name and growing your nails extra long just to scratch him and loving him so bad it made you over-water his lawn.

You’ll remember that you lay that night next secretly panicking. That you were nineteen and that felt about as useful as being ten. You’ll remember lying on your back cupping your flat tummy with your hands, imagining it rising puffy like bread. Thinking about living, how the chance at it was laid out like a scroll before you. Thinking for hours about the possibility of a girl, how she would be born with her half a million eggs, how all your potential grand and great-grand children and on and on were all in there right now, begging for a chance. Waiting on an answer, the yes or the no from you.

You’ll remember that back in the small room you were called to a woman with bangs beckoned you to sit across from her in a folding chair. There was nothing in the room except these uncomfortable chairs holding her and you and an outdated TV/VCR combination in the corner. And a blue box of tissue at her feet. She cocked her head. She asked, “What’s brought you to this decision?”

You’ll remember letting out a big breath you had not realized you were holding. You’ll remember wanting to start at the beginning a year ago when you’d met him and work your way all the way through the sex and lies up to now. You’ll remember you wanted her to really, really understand. You whined, “He’s just a big asshole,” and she handed you all the cheap tissue that burned your face.

You thought you would get all the time you needed, that she’d sit and nod like a therapist or even no-he-didn’t like a best friend. But she stood before you could begin your story and said she’d like you to watch a tape. Once it was playing she left the room on the balls of her feet like a cartoon robber, sneaking away. You will remember wishing she would have felt a lot sorrier for you.

Bahiyyih El-Shabbaz is a near-graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Writing Program. Her work has appeared in Bronx BiAnnual, Hair Trigger, and The South Loop Review, among others. She is currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction. Follow her on Twitter @BahiyyihElShbz.


Nonfiction for the restless soul. Published online quarterly.

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