It was around 7:00 on Sunday night when I got the text from her. It was cool out. I was standing on 6th Street, along the row of bars, waiting for an AA meeting to start.
In town, if you want to meet, the text read.
I’d been waiting anxiously all week to hear from her, as her plane back to New York City didn’t leave until the next morning. I’d figured she was still around. I just didn’t know where.
Anxiety and regret flooded my body as I thought of her, of us, broken.
Her trip here had initially signified our attempt to salvage the relationship. Instead, it had marked our demise.
I thought back to our argument and petty bickering the week before the trip. I thought about my telling her not to come, that I was done. I thought about my throwing of the pint glass into the courtyard at the restaurant, after our arguing, when she’d first arrived in town.
It all made me sick.
I walked toward the corner of the 6th street and Neuces, holding my phone, past the movie theater, The Alamo Ritz, that used to be a bar, the bar where I’d met my first wife.
I was useless at relationships, I thought as I sat on the ledge of a window in front the Iron Cactus Mexican restaurant.
I looked up at the darkened sky.
I wanted just for once to make it last with someone whom I loved.
Street urchins passed by on the sidewalk selling roses, looking beat and strung out. One of them handed me a rose, smiled and put his hat out.
I thought about her.
She hated flowers.
I put the rose in the cargo pocket of my pants, pulled a dollar out of my wallet and put it in the hat.
I text her back, Yes and no. Terribly conflicted. What do you want? I can’t handle anymore drama. Believe it or not, I’m hurt, sad, fragile. Not sure what I can handle.
I waited in silence, watching the cars pass, and the few people that were out.
Tired and off-key blues drifted out of one of the clubs.
That’s how I felt, I thought – tired and off-key blue.
Not angry anymore, she text back a few minutes later. Having pizza at Home Slice and got a room at the Austin Motel. Leaving early tomorrow.
My car was parked next to the Austin Motel. I took it as a sign.
I’d met a friend, earlier, at the coffee shop across the street from the motel, and we’d come to the meeting together in his truck.
OK, I text. Be there after meeting.
I’d always wanted to stay at the Austin Motel, but never done it.
I was hoping that tonight I would.
It was a standard roadside motel on South Congress, across from the famous Continental Club. Over the years the Austin Motel had become a symbol for Old South Austin Weird. When it had been built it was on the outskirts of town, and had been frequented by traveling country music acts playing the Continental Club and The Broken Spoke further down on South Congress. Now South Congress was hip and trendy and called SOCO. Now the motel was in the epicenter of new growth, a relic amidst the shiny new Austin.
After the meeting I had my friend drop me off, a flood of mixed emotion circulating through me like a storm.
I looked up at the night sky, the stars seeming to keep the blackness from falling.
I knocked on the door of room 123 and looked around.
An old rusted car sat across the way, next to an old gas pump, in a bed of rocks.
Come in, I heard her say.
I tried the knob.
The door was open.
Exhilaration at seeing her rushed through me.
I walked in.
She was standing there in the dim light of a lamp, smiling, looking tired but content, her hair a mess.
The room was simple, like any privately owned roadside motel you might find out in the sticks. It suited her well, as underneath her sometimes sheik and sophisticated New York postures she was simple and unadorned. And I loved her for the way she seamlessly combined the two worlds.
She walked over to the light blue couch and climbed under a heavy blanket.
The TV was on.
Hello, she said cheerily, and any apprehension that I felt melted away.
Where have you been baby? I asked as I walked over to the couch.
I went to Marfa… It was beautiful.
Oh, you little shit, I said as I sat down, moving the edge of the blanket out of the way. I can’t believe you went without me. You know I’ve wanted to go there -
Yeah, well… Oh well…
I tried to grab her feet under the blanket.
She pulled her legs into her chest reflexively, as though scared of me.
I won’t bite… Let me rub your feet booboo, I said, using our term of endearment to one other. I’m not going to hurt you anymore. I promise.
Pffff…. she sighed, then resignedly rested her legs on my lap.
We sat for a moment in comfortable silence and I rubbed her feet and thought of something to say to be able to clear the slate, to make everything OK, to go back to the beginning, when there was nothing but love.
I was at a loss.
Do you want some tea? she asked.
Anything to spend more time with you, I thought.
She smiled at me faintly, seemingly sensing my thought.
I want desert too, she said.
It was just like at home together, when we were at peace with one another, when our needs were simple and easy, when we were simply satisfied with the company of the other, and nothing else mattered.
I didn’t want it to end, and I ached, as I knew it soon would.
Do you want to go out, or order room service? she asked.
Room service… I love room service.
She stood, pulling her feet away, throwing the blanket on the floor, and got up looking for the menu.
I can’t find it anywhere.
I changed the channel then got up to help her.
I walked over to where she was, at the dresser near the door.
Here it is, on the door knob.
You’re silly booboo.
Pffff…. she sighed, at the liberty I was taking with our term of endearment.
It was my way of saying I didn’t want it to be over.
She knew it, and wasn’t playing along.
I picked up the phone and called room service as she watched me wearily.
I ordered tea and desserts then sat back on the couch and searched for her feet under the blanket.
As I rubbed her feet she told me about her road trip to Marfa, Alpine, and Terlingua, the television filling the room with background noise.
She told me about the artist Donald Judd’s Foundation in Marfa, the bookstore in town where she’d bought the French philosopher, Roland Barthe’s Mourning Diary, the Chinati hot springs, Presidio, near the border, and the 290 loop through Big Bend National Park.
I was angry with myself that I hadn’t made the trip with her.
She pulled the blanket back, and her legs away, then got up and dug through her bag, showing me the book, then some stationary from the Thunderbird motel in Marfa that had captured her attention.
A sadness welled up in me.
I loved hearing her talk about things she was interested in.
I didn’t want her to stop.
I didn’t want her to go.
I wanted love to prevail.
I didn’t want her to leave me.
She sat back down on the couch, stopped talking, looked me in the eyes, then said: Can I kiss you.
I leaned into her, kissing her gently on the lips.
Sweet deranged, sensuous pleasure.
I put my hand to her face and felt a warm tear on her cheek.
I pulled away, looked at her, and stroked the tear away with my thumb.
It’s okay baby.
Don’t do this to another woman, Corey.
I love you.
I didn’t mean to hurt you.
I held her face in my hands and kissed her again.
Don’t let it end.
There was a knock on the door.
I pulled away from her, stood up and went to the door.
I signed for the food and turned off the lamp on the dresser.
We ate, apple pie and chocolate mousse, watching the show, stealing glimpses of each other.
After we finished the desserts we sat in the quiet, sipping on the tea.
The show continued on in the background.
There was nothing left but her, drifting away.
Can we lay down on the bed, I said.
She looked at me.
We put the tea down.
She grabbed the blanket and we climbed onto the bed, pulling the blanket over us for warmth.
This reminds me of your apartment, she said, when I first came to visit you.
It’s about the same size, isn’t it?
2 years, gone, left with the shattered shards of love, I thought.
Bookends, I said.
What do you mean?
To our relationship, us laying together in Austin. It’s nice I think.
I looked her into her eyes.
Can we have sex?
I turned off the TV, rolled over and kissed her.
Let’s take our clothes off, she said, and I kissed her again…
Afterward I lay in bed staring up at the ceiling as she dozed off on my arm.
I went back in my mind to all the places in our relationship where I could have done something different – been more understanding, more forgiving, less rash. I hated life for being so unforgiving and cruel.
Life did this to me, I thought.
Made me what I am.
Mutated me beyond love.
If I did this, it is because of what life has done to me.
I rolled over and held her, full of hurt, for hours, until I finally faded off into darkness and sleep.
In the morning I awoke an hour before we were supposed to get up and watched her in the stillness of her sleep and the dawn until she finally stirred.
Faint light fell through the window above the bed.
Do you want coffee? I asked her as she rolled over, looking at me.
I put my clothes on and walked to the coffee shop next door, where I ‘d first worked when I moved to Austin 12 years ago, trying to build a life for myself after years of flailing through the States and Europe, running from myself and my confusion.
It was gray out, gray and threatening like my thoughts.
As I crossed the street I thought back to all those years ago when I’d first arrived in town, how I never would have pictured this, being so close to having a life with someone – a beautiful French girl whom I loved, adored, but was losing because of all that had happened to me, that I have yet to put to rest. A beautiful French girl laying in bed at the Austin Motel, waiting for me to return to say goodbye to her for good because I could not grow up, could not become a man and be the partner that she needed.
If I would have known the hurt that I would feel I would have run, run from it all.
My heart ached, as I couldn’t think of living another twelve years without her.
I got the coffees and croissants and returned, old sadness following me like a shadow, across the street, across my life.
Thank you baby, she said, sitting up as I walked through the door.
I handed her hers, then sat on the couch, turning on the TV and flipping through the channels, watching her sit in bed, drinking her coffee with the sheet draped over her chest, just like she used to do in our bedroom in Brooklyn.
You should get going baby, I said.
I wish I could take you to the airport.
Why don’t you just come and say goodbye.
I could… OK.
She put on her clothes and went outside to smoke.
Corey! Come out here, she said a moment later.
I walked out on the small stoop.
Is this a roadrunner?
She pointed to the blue and red metal sculpture on top of the gas pump next to the rusted out car in rock courtyard across the way.
I saw these running across the road on my drive. They’re so funny.
I smiled at her, my body aching to hold her.
They are funny, like you.
I sat down next to her, my insides churning, searching for a way, a way to make it all okay.
It was too late.
And I sat, taking her in for the last time, memorizing the curves of her face.
We need to go, I said.
She put out her cigarette, got up, went in and packed, and we left.
Just follow me, I said as we walked out the door.
We wound our way through the empty streets under the cloudy skies.
At the airport she followed the lane to the rental car return and I pulled around to short-term parking.
I parked and walked up the stairs of the parking garage to the top level where the rental car return was, looking for her.
I didn’t see her anywhere and called her phone.
She didn’t pick up, and I went looking for her.
I saw her standing in line at curbside check-in across the way.
As I approached I saw her look up, smiling slightly.
As I got closer I saw that her face was red, her eyes shiny and wet.
She was crying.
My heart sank.
I felt like I was going to crumble.
I didn’t want her to go.
I didn’t want it to be over.
I wanted her to forgive me for being the flawed, insecure and unsure, unstable and incapable lover that I was. Unable to love her the way that she needed to be loved. I wanted her to forgive me for being a fuck-up and a mess. I wanted her to say that she couldn’t live without and me, and that we’d work it out. But I was too damaged, and too much damage had been done.
Our love was unraveling in front of me. And I was completely helpless, watching someone who I cherished more than anyone in the world get on a plane and disappear.
I wanted things to go back to when I’d first met her, when we were madly in love, and we hadn’t yet hurt each other so much.
I wanted love to heal all wounds, to conquer.
I thought you left without saying goodbye, she said as I approached her.
I hugged her, and held her in my arms, her head against my chest as the others in line looked on under the gray gray sky shrouding us like sadness itself.
I held her and I wouldn’t let her go.
I love you, I said as she wiped her tears away.
The skycap called out, breaking the trance.
I pulled her bag over to the counter as she reached into her purse.
She stood, looking solemn as the skycap asked her where she was going.
New York City.
I wasn’t sure what to do anymore.
I couldn’t let go.
Maybe I could come to Las Vegas with you, for your job over Christmas and New Years? I asked her.
She looked up at me as she handed the skycap her ticket and ID, and I put her bag on the scale.
Let’s not make any plans.
I looked away, pleading words of sorrow locked in my throat.
OK, I said resolutely, looking away, biting my lower lip, bracing myself for what was to come.
Her bags were checked and she looked at her watch.
I still have a few minutes. I need to smoke.
We sat on bench near the sliding glass doors.
It’s for the best, Corey. This is for the best.
Then it’s over?
I looked up at the sky that looked like it was going to rain.
I was numb.
I had no more words.
It was over.
She put out her cigarette, and I walked her through the doors.
You look like a two year old who’s pouting, she said smiling, leaning into me for one last kiss.
I kissed her, then pulled away, still holding her in my arms.
I looked into the deep blue pools of her eyes, feeling like I was going to cry.
I love you, I said.
I love you too Corey… Goodbye.
Goodbye, I said, and turned, before I lost my courage, and walked away into the gray.