I remember the coat I was wearing the first time I fell in love. It was navy blue, and the hood had a rim of fake fur, and when I zipped it up and buttoned the top I felt like an Eskimo on the way to my igloo. We had walked to the park under the bridge on Alameda. If you walked around the fence you could climb up onto the cement blocks and look out at the river while listening to the vehicles trundle overhead. It was early December and the rain had eased up momentarily before the onslaught of winter storms which always came to the northern Oregon coast each year. The park bench was like ice that leached through my tight jeans and into my skin, and I don’t think I’ll ever remember a time when there were more stars in the sky. I would have frozen to death just to stay outside forever that night, if he had asked me to.
Young girls in love can be so reckless, ready to give their life away. If only the boy would ask. If only he would whisper their name, fog leaving his mouth like clouds of stardust.
Months later the same boy would walk me to work, and hand me my journal before I walked down the trail under the bridge. Earlier that day he had snatched my school journal, and when he returned it and kissed me goodbye between the cement pillars he then hurried away back up the hill. I opened the journal to the last page before even getting down the hill, knowing there was something there he had wanted me to see and scrawled in loopy handwriting were the words, “I think I love you.” I sat down on the damp grass looking out to where the ocean meets the mouth of the river and I didn’t move until I could once again catch my breath.
A year or so later I found myself under that bridge in the dead of night, waiting for the same boy to leave a party at our friend’s house where I had walked in and found him making out with another girl. I had stormed in and raised hell. The girl hadn’t known he wasn’t unattached.
She backed away from him in a hurry, her eyes large at the fight in me. He ushered me from the house quickly and told me to wait for him at the park, not so he could explain. There was nothing to explain. He just didn’t want me to make a scene. When he didn’t show after an hour or two I walked back towards my white Ford ranger that I had paid 800 dollars for. Someone had smashed off my driver’s side mirror. I came across a friend who told me that everyone was out searching the streets for my boyfriend. Apparently when the girl I had found him with called for a ride she called four of her guy friends and they had jumped him in the street. She wasn’t trying to be made a fool any more than I was. I wandered the dark streets on that side of town until I found him. He had a swelling on the side of his temple and he was swinging a bat at anything that got in his way. I knew then that he had done the damage to my car, and when he blamed me for getting jumped by those other boys I let him, and when he broke down and cried later in the seat of my truck I parked up on the edge of the hill where we could see the whole world, and we stayed up all night in case he had a concussion. In the daylight I could see the cut on the side of his head and the swelling on his knuckles and his cheek. We didn’t talk of it again and when my parents asked me what happened to my mirror I told them that someone had sideswiped my car in the middle of the night while I stayed at my friend’s house, sound asleep. For days after I noticed things that had been broken and busted on that side of town. Nearby mailboxes, cars keyed that were parked on the streets.
One summer, when he had left me momentarily for another girl that he swore he also loved, I went to the park under the bridge and I swung on the swing set for hours until my legs were pinched and cramped. I flew as high as I could possibly go wondering if that is where I
went wrong, picking a boy who made me feel in my chest the pain, the prick, the elation of being two seconds from flipping over in the air and landing upside down on my head.
Another time, when I was broken hearted, I found myself back underneath the bridge, hidden by one of the cement pillars crying on my knees in the rain until my jeans were caked in mud and grass stains. I picked up a jagged piece of glass that was right in front of me on the ground, as if it has been placed there just for me. I tried to use it to cut myself, but I didn’t know which direction to make the appropriate cut. I didn’t know if I wanted pain or release. The glass was dull anyway, weathered by the near constant rain. I never had much conviction when it came to wanting death. I’ve always wanted to live. I just wanted to live a life where he had chosen me. And he did choose me. To come back to. To lie to. To eventually tell all his truths to. To let me see how dark and fucked up and scared and lonely he was. To let me see how that made him want to make me feel dark, fucked up, scared, and alone with him. “This is what crystal meth looks like,” he showed me one day in the passenger seat of my car. “I love you, and I don’t ever want to lose you again. I want you to see me.” It looked like a diamond, like snow gone to ice during freezing temperatures and unexpected rain. “I’m going to quit,” he said. He just wasn’t going to quit that day.
After leaving him I drove past the park one late December night. I could have sworn there was silhouettes of a young girl with blonde hair lying down on the park bench, her head resting on the lap of a boy who thought he would always remain unseen. I slowed to a near stop, but there was no one there, only an empty bench and a night sky so vast you’d never know that the stars above used to sing.
Shilo Niziolek is an Oregon based writer. She thinks that the work of women telling their stories of trauma and abuse is some of the most imperative and potent ways to reach others, and that this work will never be complete. Shilo’s work has appeared in the Broad River Review, the M Review, the Clackamas Literary Review, and SLAB among others.