How can you be so casual about it (Dylan)
When the alarm went off the next morning, I got up as usual. Really, I didn’t know what else to do. Keep going. Go to class. Go to court. Whatever.
It was dark, quiet, and bitter cold. An icy wind blew off the Hudson River, turning the green in front of the library into a wind tunnel. I hoped it wasn’t going to snow any time soon. In the meantime, I wore my army sweats, kept my hood on, and got out there and started to stretch.
I’d gotten pretty adept at doing pushups with just my left hand, but I hoped my right would be back into shape soon. Needed to go see a doctor, and soon, about that. I’d missed my Monday appointment at the VA, because, jail, but I’d be down there Wednesday. Maybe they’d put it in another cast.
I was doing pushups when I heard footsteps. I kept doing what I was doing, but my eyes darted up.
It was Alex. She was in sweats and running shoes, and started stretching. Just like it was any normal morning.
I kept doing my pushups until I got to one hundred, then rolled over and started stretching my legs.
She didn’t say a word.
I didn’t say a word.
I don’t know what she thought. That I was just going to change my mind? She didn’t understand. It’s not that I didn’t want her. God, I wanted her more than anything else in the world. Except to let her have a decent life. And that wasn’t going to happen with me.
Finally, I stood, ready to run. I said, “I don’t really need a spotter any more.”
She looked me in the eye, and said, “I’m not here for you. I’m out here for me.”
I shook my head and started running. She started out beside me, in her normal long lope, keeping pace with me. I gritted my teeth. Why did she have to make it so hard? Why couldn’t she just accept that it was over? She could have such a wonderful life.
By the time I hit 101st Street, I was going fast, and picking up the pace. She stayed right beside me as I turned onto 101st and started heading for Central Park. Traffic was just starting to pick up, taxis and commuters from Connecticut and God only knows where else. Who the hell drives into New York City anyway? Crazy. I stopped at a red light, diagonally across from the park, and ran in place until the light changed.
Even though I was getting winded, I started to talk.
“I was six the first time he came home drunk and hit her. I don’t know what it was about… I think he’d lost his job or something. They were both fucking lushes, and that probably led to him getting fired. But I do remember sitting there, about a week after first grade started. We were making brownies in the kitchen of this shitty little apartment in Chamblee, just outside Atlanta.”
Breathe. I paused in my monologue, not sure if she was listening. “Anyway. They had all these pictures, of the two of them. Happy and stuff. They went to high school together, believe it or not. Dated, then got married. Anyway, that day he came home, and he was angry. I could sense it, and I got real quiet. But I wanted to show him what we’d been making. So I picked up a big spoon, and dipped it in the brownie mix, and carried it into the living room shouting something. I don’t know what. ‘Dad, see what we did?’ Or something like that. And the fucking brownie mix… there was too much of it on the spoon, and it fell on the carpet.”
We were almost halfway down the length of Central Park now, and though not quite at a full out sprint, we were going really fast. I glanced over and saw her face was bright red. Well, I didn’t ask her to come.
“Anyway,” I continued, slower now, taking long pauses to breathe in between sentences. “My dad… he stands up and starts shouting. About how I fucked up the carpet, and we were going to have to pay for it. And she went to defend me. It’s all muddled in my head, but the next thing I knew, he hit her, in the jaw. She went down, hard. And I held on to my mom, and yelled back at him, told him to leave my mommy alone.”
I grimaced, realizing a tear was falling down my face. I wiped it quickly. “Point is… people who love each other don’t always stay that way. Sometimes they hurt each other too.”
She snorted, then said, “Yeah, I know something about that.”
I picked up the pace. I was running flat out now, as fast as I could go, and she was still keeping up. I took the left turn around the south edge of the park at a dead sprint with Alex beside me, and a crowd of birds launched into the sky as we ran through them.
This was my normal route for running, but I never ran it at this pace. I was getting blown out, sucking air into my lungs, and it was starting to really hurt. After the next turn, I stumbled, got back to my feet and kept running, now going north along the east side of the park up Fifth Avenue.
As the reservoir came into sight, I knew I wasn’t going to make it any further. I slowed to a walk, blowing out my lungs in great gasps, my chest shuddering, legs feeling like rubber.
Alex slowed her pace, running in place beside me.
“Too much?” she asked.
I shook my head, suddenly angry. She knew how I felt about her. It was like she was torturing me. Staying in sight, knowing that I had made the decision I had to protect her.
“What do you want from me, Alex?” I cried out.
She stopped running, dropping into a walk at my side. Her face looked serious, so I was blindsided by what she said.
“I want you to teach me hand to hand combat. Self-defense.”
“What?” I asked, my voice incredulous.
“I’m serious. I’ve faced two attempted sexual assaults in my year and a half in college. Next time, anyone touches me, they’re going to regret it.”
I shook my head, flabbergasted. “Are you for real?”
She nodded. “Yeah. And since it looks like I’ll eventually be dating again, well… my history with that isn’t so hot.”
I winced, feeling what seemed like a stabbing pain. I turned my eyes away. The thought of her dating someone else, anyone else, made me want to howl.
“Well, for God’s sake, Dylan, don’t look so upset.”
I stopped in place, turned to face her. “How can you be so casual about it?”
She shook her head, her face a mix of anger and disappointment. “I’m casual about exactly nothing, Dylan. But you didn’t give me a choice. You didn’t talk about it with me. You decided to make all the decisions on your own. Well, suck it up. I won’t go through another year of crying in my room over you. I’m done with that.”
She was right, and I deserved whatever she was throwing at me anyway. But it hurt. It hurt to see her so angry. It hurt to know she was prepared to move on just like that, even if that’s what I kept telling myself I wanted.
I didn’t know what I wanted.
“All right,” I said, once again my mouth going into gear before my brain engaged.
“I said, all right. I’ll teach you what I know.”
She looked at me speculatively, then nodded once.
She looked at me, then said, “I’m busy on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings, that’s when I go running. How about Monday, Wednesday, Friday.”
That’s when she goes running? Oh, for God’s sake. She was going to drive me insane.
“You’re nuts,” I said.
“Look, if you don’t want to teach me, I’ll get somebody else to. I’m sure I can get a class or something.”
I shook my head. “No. I’ll do it. Wednesday morning. Six am. Don’t be late.”
She nodded, her face still dead serious, and said, “I’ll be there.”
Then she turned and took off running. I watched her go, admiring her audacity, her courage. Jesus Christ. As I watched her recede down the sidewalk, all I could think was how I’d do anything for her. Anything at all. And I wanted to run after her, and tell her I was wrong, and beg her to take me back. But it was too late for that. Love meant a lot, it meant everything, and it meant nothing.