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When I first moved away from home I thought that I was just doing what most people my age did, grow up. It wasn’t until now that I realized that I wasn’t moving away at all; I was running away. It’s too bad that no matter how far I ran, I always ended up back where I started. I guess I can’t out run my dreams or more accurately, I can’t out run my nightmares.
When I stepped off the plane at JFK I wasn’t coming from a different country but I might as well have been because Iowa was long gone. The safety net of home had been stripped away and I was left armor less in a strange new city. New York had always been a dream, a pipe dream of sorts. When I was younger, Tom and my Mother would fight and I use to sit in my room pretending that I was in New York City at a new Broadway play. When she used to scream and run into her bedroom crying, holding her cheek, I would just say to myself, “it’s all just an act, it will be over soon enough.”
It wasn’t an act and the fights never ended they just got worse over time. There was a point in time where I wouldn’t go home because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I would sneak home around 5 a.m. and pray that Tom wasn’t up yet. He was just a no good, low life who worked construction all day and drank all night. I think the only reason my mother kept him around was because she didn’t make enough money waitressing. She needed the second income to help pay the bills. That wasn’t a good enough reason, not to me.
In order to survive in that house I had to build walls, to keep the monsters away. I lost my innocence at a young age and no matter how many times I checked under the bed the monsters were all around me.
That was how I ended up in New York, praying for a second chance or at least a new beginning. With all of the money I had left, I rented an apartment, on the upper west side. This was the start of my new life.
The next step was to fine a job. The thing about New York is that there are a thousand places to go and so there are a thousand places to reject your application. I applied at a radio station to be an assistant, I applied at a shoe store, and I even applied at a Jimmy Johns. Nothing, no one was hiring, or if they were I wasn’t the right person for the job.
I finally found a job, at a local coffee shop, The Bean. It was there that I met him. Nathan worked at the Bean too. It was obvious from the beginning that most of the women who came to The Bean came to be served by Nathan. After a few days I nicknamed them the groupies because he defiantly had his regulars. His sweet smile was what kept them coming back for more even if it meant that their teeth would have to be surgically whitened after their daily four cups of coffee.
“So, Scar huh,” he said randomly one day. It was the first time we ever actually spoke so I was a little taken aback.
“Yeah it’s short for Scarlet, so Nate huh,” I added trying to be funny, although my humor never comes across.
“Yeah it’s short for Nathan,” He started laughing and walked away. That was the only conversation we had in two weeks and it didn’t go quite the way I had wanted it to. It was our 3 o’clock lull and I was mopping the floors when Nathan and I made contact a second time that day. “I think you should go by Scarlet, Scar just seems a little,” he paused looking for the right word, “dark, it just doesn’t fit you.”
Nathan and I worked together everyday and everyday we got a little closer to becoming friends. At the end of the first month we had made it. He had made it, he never knew it but I was keeping him at arms length. There was no way I was going to let him get too close. I had to protect myself and him at the same time.
Two months after I started at the Bean Nathan asked me out. I like the feeling of being out with a guy. Someone who is bigger and stronger than me, who is funny, but has a softer side, someone who even if just for an hour can make me forget who I am and where I came from.
For the first date, we went out to dinner at a small Italian restaurant. At first the conversation lagged. We talked about work and that was it. It was weird that after months of being friends and talking at work we could just go silent during one dinner. But then the owner came over and gave him a hug and a kiss on both cheeks.
“Wow, nice staff, I’ll have to remember that,” I said after she left. He turned beat red and smiled.
“Did I forget to mention that the owner of this restaurant is my aunt?” From then on the conversation flowed easily. We would go for walks in the park before work and cook dinner together afterwards. By the end of the month I was in love. Everything about him made me smile. His easy going personality changed me. I wanted to let him in, I wanted to tell him everything but the scars were too fresh and the images in my head too painful to let out. No one should have to endure what I went through, especially if they don’t have to. I was in love, but there was no way I was going to expose him to the real me. I would rather die then let him see that side of me. It was a dark side a side that if I wished I could erase from my memory, but I can’t and no matter how hard I try to suppress it the nightly nightmares prove that it’s not going anywhere.
At work we stayed professional, well most of the time. Only a few of his groupies stopped coming for coffee everyday. When there wasn’t anyone in the store we would joke around. Make fancy coffees for each other and have wiped cream fights.
“You know, I’m probably to much woman for you and that’s why you haven’t kissed me yet,” I joked one day. He pulled me into the backroom where we punch in and out and closed the door.
“You’re too much woman for me?” He asked in his sarcastic voice. With that he pushed me up against the back wall. I expected him to hit me, or worse, but instead he leaned in really close so that I could feel his breath on my lips and whispered, “Trust me, if you’re anything you’re not enough woman for me.” He cracked a smile and kissed me. He laughed and walked out. It was a good thing too because in the next moment I had melted on the floor. The stacks of coffee closed in around me and suddenly the whole world went fuzzy. All I could do was replay that moment over and over again in my mind. Praying that someday there would be another moment as equally exciting.
As the weeks went on Nathan and I grew closer and closer. It felt like nothing could tear us apart. He was my safety net, my security blanket, and my shoulder to cry on. He had become my world. Everything was great until it all came crashing down around me.
“Scarlet I think you should move in with me,” Nathan said one day out of the blue.
“Come on it would be great! You basically live with me anyway.”
“But… I don’t know… I mean it would be nice, but I really like my apartment.”
“Scarlet, I’ve seen your apartment, if you can even call it that. It’s a ten story walk up, one bedroom with a window that over looks, what is it again, oh yeah the building next to yours.” He was right about that. My apartment was a dump, it was small and always cold and smelled like Chinese food because it was above a Chinese restaurant. Moving in meant taking the next step and I just couldn’t do that. I loved him but I just couldn’t, then the tears started and I couldn’t stop them.
“No! You don’t understand, I’m not a good person, good things don’t happen to me and I leave a wake of destruction in my path. People like me don’t deserve good guys like you,” I wasn’t making sense and I knew it, this had nothing to do with me moving in with him. My insecurities were coming through, this was the first time that he saw me for who I really was and the look on his face was less then reassuring.
“You don’t have to move in with me if you don’t want to.” He said sheepishly. He moved slowly towards me. Each step slow and controlled like he was afraid that I would turn into a tiger and attack him. I don’t blame him. I would be freaked out too if my girlfriend just had a stage 5 melt down in front of me.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what happened to me just then,” I tried to say between sobs.
“Scarlet, what’s wrong? This isn’t about moving in with me is it?” The small gap between us had closed and now he was right next to me, his arms out like a life raft trying to carry me to safety. Only the life raft was about ten years too late, I had already drowned.
“No, it’s not,” I looked at the ground, now was my chance I could lay it on the line, “I want to move in with you I really do but,” my voice trailed off as I recalled the day we moved in with Tom. It was warm that day; my parents’ divorce wasn’t even dry yet. My mother had told me that Tom was a great guy who was going to be like a new father to me. At six I didn’t really understand why I needed a replacement father when I had a perfectly good one already. The day we moved in with Tom was the day I learned the true meaning behind the phrase, love hurts. “Moving in is a big step, and I’m not ready to make that kind of commitment.” My voice was quiet; I was surprised that he even heard me at all, but the look in his eyes told me that he had. He didn’t say a word he didn’t make a sound he just turned around and left.
The cold air greeted me as I left my apartment the next day. It stung my already raw face. I wanted to cry, to call in sick, to do anything but go to work. Work was the last place I wanted to be, but it was the only place I needed to be. As I pushed the heavy glass door open I looked around. There were a lot more customers in today, most likely because of the cold weather, but no one was waiting on them. There was no warm smile to greet me as I walked in, there was just nothing.
I hurried back and grabbed my apron and started helping customers. By ten everyone was fed and happy, that was when he came walking through the door. His cheeks were pink from the wind and his eyes were red, like mine only I had a feeling his eyes were red from drinking not crying. He walked into the back and punched in. When he walked past me I noticed that he was wearing the same clothes from last night and he smelled like day old beer. The whole day he didn’t look at me. It was painful but I had to move on. He came and he went and the only thing that he left behind was the pain in my heart.
The next few weeks went by slowly and painfully. It wasn’t until the Tuesday before Thanksgiving that we actually talked. He had been coming to work drunk or hung-over for the past two weeks and I was starting to get worried. “Nathan, I’m worried about you.” I decided that I was going to have to be the instigator of this particular conversation. “You have been drinking a lot more lately and…”
“You’re what?” He snapped, his voice sent chills down my spine. This wasn’t him. This wasn’t my Nathan. “Where do you get off telling me that I have been drinking too much lately? Where do you get off feeling anything for me?”
“Nathan, it’s just…” it felt like he was drilling daggers into my heart.
“No it’s not just. You were the one who wasn’t ready for a commitment. I gave you my whole heart. I asked you to move in and you said no. So you don’t get to feel sorry for me, or worry about if I’m drinking too much.” I could feel myself backing away. I could tell that my body was tensing up like it used to, getting ready to take the next blow. I looked up and the look on Nathans face was a cross between anger and shock. The tears welded up in my eyes. The little girl inside me was screaming run, get out while you still can, but I stood still waiting for what he was going to say next.
The need for forgiveness was overwhelming and I fell to the ground in fear. With my knees pulled into my stomach I started to sob. Nathan fell to the floor hovering over me like the protective shield he had once been.
“Scarlet!” He sounded alarmed. I didn’t respond right away. My mind was replaying the times I had been in this exact position reeling from all the mutilations I had suffered. It took me a minute to come back to this place in time. Tears were still pouring out of my eyes,
“I’m haunted,” was the only thing I could utter.
“Scarlet,” he sighed and draped his arms around me pulling me closer to him. “Haunted by what?” Here it was again my chance to come clean to make it right. I knew that if I just explained my past to him this whole silly fight would be over, but something made me stop myself again.
“My past,” I simply said. That was more than I had ever told anyone and that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.
“Your past?” He asked, he had backed up and was now sitting on the floor facing me. He was almost begging me to tell him more. He wanted to help heal my wounds. I took a deep breath and stood up.
“Nathan I’m sorry I’m fine, lets just go back to work.” After that day everything went almost back to normal. Nathan and I still had our awkward moments at work but we were slowly working our way back to being friends. Then one day almost like I was reliving a dream he asked me out again. I still loved him and I wanted to go out with him but the pain was still so fresh that I didn’t know if I could do it. In the end I choose to go, not just for me but also for our friendship and for the hopes of maybe relighting the old flame. The date went well, and at the end he asked me out again. Not long after we were going out regularly, and it felt like nothing had changed. There were still dark days and I still kept him at arms distance but things were starting to flow better again. Until one day he asked me about my family. I did everything I could do avoid the subject until just like all of the other arguments I ended up crying and he ended up apologizing for nothing but sheer desire to get closer to me.
When I blinked open my eyes the next day it was still dark out. I looked at my clock and it flashed 6:00 a.m. Even though it as still dark I could still see the glimpses of snow falling. The weather man had said it was going to snow up to five inches over night. I sat up in bed to get a better look; a blast of cold air hit me. I looked out over the already crowed streets and there it was a fresh blanket of snow. They were right there was a least five inches of fresh powder on the ground and it was still falling.
I slowly lowered myself down back into bed and rolled over. My arm landed where Nathan should have been but the bed was cold. It felt like he hadn’t slept here at all. I looked around and he wasn’t in the room.
I got up out of bed and walked into the kitchen. There he was eating a bowl of Cheerios in the dark. I turned on the light; he looked up at me like he was noticing that I was in the room for the first time. When I looked him in the eye, I almost stumbled backward, his blue eyes no longer looked like a waves falling in a clear ocean. They had gone cold. The waves had frozen over and all that was left was just the mere memory of a summer that had once been.
I was frozen in place something wasn’t right and I didn’t need to hear what he was about to say to know what was going to happen next.
“Scar, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can do this anymore,” He got up from the table and put his bowl in the sink. I was staring at the floor; the deep persistent sting was already in my eyes.
“Why not?” I pleaded, never taking my eyes off the floor, “I love you,” I added feebly. At this point I would have done just about anything to get him to stay.
“Do you?” His words cut like a knife right through my already scared heart, “Because I love you, I let you into my world and you kept me at arms distance the whole time.” This time his words didn’t cut my heart they just stabbed right through it. He was right. I had been trying to keep the monsters at bay, by keeping him as far but as close as possible.
“No, you don’t understand, I was doing it for you. I was trying to protect you,” I glanced up to look at him; bad idea it just made the pain grow.
“What were you protecting me from? I thought I knew you but it turns out there is a whole other side to you that I’ve never seen.”
“Me,” was the only answer I could muster up. I was protecting him from me.
“Because I’m haunted.” It was the same reason that he had heard for the past nine months. He threw his arms up in the air and shook his head.
“This, this is what I can’t deal with anymore! I want to help you I want to be there for you but every time I try, you push me away.” His voice rose as he said this. The tears that I had been trying so hard to hold back charged through. “Look I care about you but I think it’s best for the both of us if we just stay friends. I’ll call you later,” with that he walked out. Now he too was just another memory that would soon haunt me.