“Cross My Mind” by A R I Z O N A from GALLERY
Listen to it here
“I just think it’s weird,” Cheryl offered, her face turned up in that judgmental sneer she was always flashing me.
“Yes, but why?!” I insisted, tying my scarf tight against my throat. I had already felt the wind when I grabbed the newspaper this morning. I had no interest in facing the walk to the T not as fully encased in fabric layers as humanly possible. Cheryl, on the other hand, was dressed in her typical uniform: short skirt, knee high stiletto heel boots, tight button down shirt, thin long coat left open to snap in the wind like she was some sort of high fashion super hero.
“Don’t you ever get cold?” I barked, attempting to change the topic of our latest fight. We were best friends and roommates, but, well, we could crab at each other with the best of old married couples.
She smirked, recognizing the tactic, but unable to help but reply. She spun, the coat fluttering, the rest of her clothes clinging oh so perfectly. “When I look this hot,” she teased, “how could I ever feel cold?”
“Plus, I grew up in Wisconsin,” she added after a pause, “Not pampered in Southern California.”
I stuck out my tongue at her. I don’t care what anyone says. Boston in the middle of a February cold snap was frigid if you grew up in Siberia, darn it.
She pushed me towards the door. It was already 10 after. We’d be early to class, but not as early as she’d like. She wanted to be in her seat, laptop open and humming, 18 minutes before class started. She denied it had anything to do with the TA, the very cute Gretchen Saunders, but she wasn’t fooling me. Every other class she only felt the need to be 12 minutes early to. I played along though if for no other reason than it allowed me to give her a hard time about it. After all, she was the one who proclaimed herself, “the straightest girl on Earth,” at the start of our Freshman year. Hey, what is college for if not discovering ourselves, right?
A block later, she returns to the subject at hand.
“I mean, does he even want you to?” she asked, not looking at me.
I shrugged in reply. The small amount of my cheeks that could be seen were red, a combination of wind burn and deep embarrassment. “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Because,” I snapped back, harsher than I meant. I didn’t want to have this discussion, not just because we had banged on about it about once a week for the past six. I had offered a variety of reasons, excuses, explanations, but Cheryl had shredded them all. She knew me well enough to know I was just making stuff up even if she didn’t know exactly what the real thing going on here was.
“You haven’t even seen him in a year,” she continued, “And it was always about him, according to you, when you did see him.”
“Cheryl,” I sighed. My agitation was rising. Tears were stinging in the corners of my eyes and it wasn’t the wind. She wasn’t wrong, per se. She had just one version of events. Mine. My uncharitable version. My “I insist on making myself blameless in all of this,” version.
“Aida,” she replied, nailing my inflection. Then she softened, “Seriously, what’s going on?”
I don’t say anything. We walk for a block in silence. She slides her arm in the space between mine and my body, encircling it, and pulling me closer to her as we stride closer to the stop. I can see the sign telling us to turn right a block away. She squeezes, tentative and kind. My heart breaks. Tears wind down my frozen cheeks. My vision blurs.
I feel too warm suddenly. In a blast, like opening an oven door. I bite my lip, too hard, and squeak a bit. My body feels weightless somehow. But not pleasantly. Like it isn’t quite my own, like I’ve become disconnected somehow.
Still I find my voice.
“He got clean when I was eleven,” I began, freezing in the middle of the sidewalk and staring at the sign to settle myself. I couldn’t look at her.
“Convinced mom of it, finally, when I was 13. We started visits when I was 14. He was great. He wasn’t, like…buying my love or anything. I had chores at his place too. We did fun stuff but he was…a real dad. Rules. Expectations. He knew he had been lousy and couldn’t be , you know, a “my house my rules!” type but he didn’t just let me do whatever I wanted either.”
I could feel Cheryl nod next to me, quietly.
“Still, I figured I could call him that night. I had…I was dumb. Sixteen and so desperate to impress. So when this guy, Mark, offered me the cocaine, I figured what the hell. But after I took it…it was like I couldn’t stop. My heart was racing, I was sweating. I couldn’t focus on anything. I didn’t feel good, I felt terrible. So I snuck out and called him and asked him to pick me up. And eight minutes later, there he was. AC running, bottle of water in the cup holder, concern on his face. I jumped in and just…faded. Couldn’t focus so I just let myself drift. I barely registered when he started pulling off my shoes.”
I heard Cheryl pull in air tight and quick, like the hiss of a tire when you press a gauge against the valve stem. “Did he—” she spat out, voice sharp.
“No. No! Just my shoes. Nothing like that. The next day, I came downstairs and my mom was already there. She was pissed. Like steam coming out of her ears pissed. And I just went on the offensive immediately. But not with her. With him. Called him a druggie and a fuck-up. Demanded how he could judge me when he abused alcohol for years, when he drank his marriage down the drain and wasn’t able to see me legally for years. He kept trying to calm me down, tell me he didn’t judge me, that he was just looking out for me, and that my mom had a right to know. He just kept repeating that it would be wrong of him to hide it, that that was something the old him would do. I told him that maybe the old him was a better dad then.”
I pause, shaky. Doubt creeping in. Maybe I shouldn’t do this. Cheryl squeezed again. I caught my breath.
“He went quiet then. Sat down with a thud in his chair. He nodded and I could see the tears running down his face. But he never tried to argue about it. He just nodded. My mom was all apologies. She put her hand on his. She frequently referred to him as ‘my nightmare of an ex,’ and even she was on his side in this moment. I told him to fuck off and never talk to me again. Then I stormed out. When my mom came out 10 minutes later, she didn’t say anything about it. She grounded me for a week, but she didn’t say what I did was unforgivable or that I should apologize. Not a word.”
“A week later, I asked her if she thought I was wrong and she told me, ‘The best things your dad has ever done in his life have happened the past 5 years. But if you are mad at him for the first 10 of yours, I understand. If you’re mad at him because he called me the night you did cocaine though, than yes, you’re wrong.’ That’s the only time we ever talked about it.”
“Aida, it’s not that simply though. He fucked up for so—”
I waived her off. “I know, I know. But she was right too. I got pissed because I messed up. I messed up and I knew it and I was so angry at myself and I just unloaded it all on him. For saving me, not saying one word of judgment, and making sure he did right by my mom, too.”
“But now he won’t take your calls, so still, fuck him,” Cheryl argued.
I sighed. This was actually the harder part.
“He picks up every time,” I confessed, “I haven’t changed my number since that night. He knows it’s me. He picks up and says the same thing every time, ‘I love you. I think about you every day. I’m here whenever you want to talk.’ And every time I hang up. Because it breaks my heart. He forgave me. Probably forgave me that day. But I can’t forgive myself.”
Cheryl hugged me then. Close and tight. I sobbed.
“Maybe you should,” she whispered.
“How can I? Can you imagine how that hurt him? How do I make up for that?”
“By letting him hear your voice? If forgiving you is all you need to talk to him again, it sounds like that’s all he wants too.”
I nodded against her, trying to gasp my breathing back to normal.
“I think we’re going to be late for class,” I finally manage, looking up at her and smiling weakly.
“Screw class,” she replied, offering a larger smile in return, “We’re spending all day getting drunk and watching Happy Endings.”
And that’s just what we did.