I wrote this for a contest at school and decided to post it here. Enjoy!
Lights filter past the darkened windows, whipping through their lines of vision and disappearing, leaving hazy streaks behind. The road stretches endlessly in front of them, eaten up by the tires under them in this creaky car. New York, the city that never sleeps. The lights look beautiful at night, one of those sights that long ago would have made them park somewhere and get out, strolling hand in hand, lost in each other. Neither of them can remember the last time they did anything like that.
Suburban War by Arcade Fire blares thinly through the ancient speakers; he's never understood her liking for them, but he doesn't change the station. It would be just another fight in the years of many, spiraling out behind them like a half-forgotten trail, the tail of their kite that wouldn't stay up no matter how hard they tried. No matter where they ran to, no matter what seedy motel in some highway stop or fancy hotel in some big city they stayed in, their past always caught up with them.
"Now the cities we live in could be distant stars; and I search for you in every passing car."
No wonder this is your favorite song, he thinks bitterly. It's our life in four minutes.
She remembers the suburbs. How the sun would set behind the tightly-packed houses, each one exactly like all the others inside. How dark the streets would seem to be to a child of such a young age. Growing up there didn't seem different than anywhere else. Only later would she realize the scars that place left behind, hidden so deeply you almost couldn't see them. Like scrambling through a barbed-wire fence and emerging bloody on the other side.
Freedom always came with a price.
Teenage dreams, bright as flowers. Ranging everywhere and anywhere, uniting at one central point, always. Leave this place.
It's all a blur from those early years, all neon lights and pastel colors and laughter over long-forgotten jokes. She looks at those old photo albums sometimes. Blue graduation caps thrown skyward, the teenage self of her past smiling happily next to a joyful-looking man. She glances to her left, watches his hands clutching at the steering wheel, eyes concentrated intensely on the road, driving them out of New York to somewhere on the west coast. Hard to believe he was the same person as the one standing with her in the photo.
He wasn't the same. But then again, neither was she.
If she mentally flipped the page of the same album, the wedding photos would come next. Still so young, she thinks bitterly. The thought is as old as time immemorial now, echoing in her ears, staining the old memories. Still so young, still so foolish. Mistaking teenage infatuation for love. You had the whole world at your fingertips, stupid girl, and you threw it away. And for what?
Five years. You could count them on one hand. Such a small time allotted for being happy. Youth is wasted on the young, they say. No one ever mentions that age and experience are wasted on the old.
The sixth year marked the cracks in their foundation. Late nights at the office prompted accusations and suspicions, errors in the bills or margins in the checkbook set the stage for screaming matches. He remembers the fights over the seemingly important things and the ones that even then had no point. Teenage love collapsed under the real world; who paid the bills or worked too long or not long enough. Who had the TV remote, for God's sake.
It always ended up the same way. Small issues arising, snowballing into problems threatening to engulf them both. Quiet, steady voices ("debate tone", they always called it in school; another lost memory of a better time) raising in volume until the shouts reverberated off the walls, accusations swinging back and forth like Poe's pendulum, unceasing. Slammed doors, engines starting, rubber shrieking as the car peeled out of the driveway. It was almost always the same car they were sitting in now, too, a silent witness to years of anger and sadness, of tears dripping into the cheap upholstery. Running back the next day, begging for forgiveness, apologies made on bent knees like proposals, hands clasped as if in prayer. A few weeks of peace and happiness and hope that maybe this is the time it gets better, only to fall back into the same cycle again.
Lather, rinse, repeat. For more than two decades.
He turns off the road, pulls into the parking lot of another cheap motel. The sight is far too familiar to them. Nights alone after shouting themselves hoarse, meeting places for clandestine affairs--neither of them are innocent of this, and they both know it, but what's the use in mentioning it anyway?
A marriage in tatters. Twenty-plus years of hoarse screaming and pleading tears and sidelong glances filled with guilt. The overwhelming oppression of wanting things to be different and having absolutely no power to change them. These are the things they both remember.
They climb out of the car, slam the doors to their respective sides. Feet crunch over gravel as they walk to the registration desk, walking apart from each other. So different than in the suburbs all those summers ago, walking together, hands entwined.
What would it be like now, if either of them was to reach out and take the other's hand? Fingers reaching across a small space in this moment, but in reality stretching across years and years of cold shoulders and steely glares across rooms.
He takes the key for their room wordlessly. They both stop to unpack, brush their teeth and dress for sleep. He takes one side of the bed, she takes the other. They don't face each other in the darkened room, the inches between their bodies measuring an innumerable distance.
Who knew one could feel so alone sharing a bed?
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