by Maya Elena Jackson

For years I ran from the things that were hard to look directly at.

Deleting, cropping, and blocking phone numbers.

I turned my room inside out, looking for any object that had committed an unforgivable sin — reminding me of the things I wanted to forget.

Every note that I found was thrown away, all trinkets attached to the Me Before had to go. Now. Right Away.

I loved that masochistic exercise, trading in the missing clumps of hair for missing everything else. Sterile and erasable. What they don’t know cannot hurt them, even if it could still hurt me.

Matted and uncombed, bathed but not showered, too young for comfort yet too old for shelter.

When washing you off no longer worked, I started to hide from my memory for months long increments. Sometimes it even worked. But inevitably, something would change. It could be browsing Reddit or listening to a song. No matter what, eventually, I came to the same realization; I cannot change the past.

So, I hated the past. I hated the people who facilitated my past. I hated myself. But keeping this close to my chest was paramount, if I let myself dwell for too long it might come back. The choice I made next was to hide. Losing touch with everyone who had known me then, everyone who had known someone who had known me then, and the degrees of separation became endless, monstrous spirals.

Eventually, I ran so far from my past that I ended up alone in the mountains bordering Canada at eighteen. I thought the snow might bury my transgressions. If I got frostbite, maybe my skin would become pinker, unrecognizable. Maybe my body, accustomed to desert sand, would become so cold that I could not think at all.

And still, it did not work. I left months earlier than planned and flew back to Arizona. My flight left early in the morning, and in the packed shuttle meant to take us to the airport I tried to prepare an explanation for the circles under my eyes, for the way that I was shaking. My fiancée is sick, I have a family emergency, Montana is too cold. Scenarios easier than explaining the truth flooded my mind, but I threw them all away.

On the plane I stared out the window and watched the deep blues and greens change into muted browns. Worse yet, on the layover in Phoenix, I thought I saw you. The packed terminal did not allow anywhere to run or to hide, and I cursed the unyielding grey speckled walls. All of my tactics exhausted, I resigned myself to the clarity of the situation — there were no defenses left. You were going to see me.

I prepared myself as best I could, breathing in through my nose, and out through my mouth. To stall for time, I convinced myself of the pressing matter that was staring at my shoes. Black moccasin slip-ons that I had purchased at Goodwill in anticipation for the snow. Their faux leather laces fraying, weighed down by the silver grommet attached to their ends. I imagined twirling them around my finger but knew they would snap if I actually tried it. Next, I played with the light brown buttons that only hesitantly stayed attached to my green flannel shirt. One came off, and I held it between my palms like some type of rune, imbuing my energy and silently bargaining with deities I wasn’t sure I believed in.

For one moment, I thought back to the times when seeing you brought me comfort and pride. Looking through the dirty windows of your biology classroom and writing a note to whoever had the misfortune of sitting next to me: “I can see him!”

A million scenarios played out in my head, each one more heart-wrenching than the last. I pictured you spotting me, crammed as tightly against the boarding zone as my too-large body would permit, and running over. Whatever words I assigned you in this proverbial play didn’t matter, the violation of your eyes on me was enough.

It had been minutes, or hours, or days. I could hear your laughter clearly, amplified by the linoleum floor panels, making your voice just too loud to be polite. Overhead, a genderless announcer proclaimed, “Now boarding for Flight 926!”

I could not delay it any longer. I finally looked up, directly at you. You turned toward me, your red shirt sticking to your chest from the heat of the desert we lived in and smiled.

My eyes refused to blink for all the saline in the world, I tasted that salt on my tongue.

It wasn’t you.

Maya Elena Jackson is a female author and musician from the heat of the Sonoran Desert, she is hopeful that the words used as her descriptors will make you like her more.