The sound of my own breathing is unfamiliar to me as the ground blurs beneath my feet; one step, two, the overgrown path is splayed out in front of me. My running has taken me here.
I am alone. There is no warm body beside mine, no hot breath down my neck; I miss his presence, his shadow, his being; Michael was my first great adventure. I miss his shallow breaths and the soft sounds of his well-worn yellow sneakers beating against the mud-covered trails. He is gone now, swallowed up by the great big nothing, and I am left here. Alone. Here. Now.
Ahead, I see a narrow trail, hidden away from the harsh summer heat, and I follow it. I find a grassy area where I sit, sprawling myself out in the cramped space, and begin to imagine that I am not alone. That he is here with me. The grand oak tree behind me becomes his strong arms, wrapping around my body, as I lean back, I am in the passenger seat of his used Ford, I am no longer alone.
The interstate stretches out across the New Jersey sunset, his soft palm rests firmly on my thigh, as I continue to turn the volume of the seemingly-ancient radio to an ungodly volume. I am looking at his smile; wide-toothed, as he brings the freshly-rolled joint to his lips. Our fingers interlock and I spin the ring I bought him for his birthday last month. My name is engraved on the front. I was flying across the highway. The way those traffic cameras pick up the streaks of light emitted from the long lines of cars; I was in this fleeting moment and I was flying.
The red and blue in the rearview mirror caught my attention first as Michael slowed to the curb; somewhere along the road, his smile had disappeared, and I missed it. He quickly through the scraps of rolling paper under his seat as he put his hand on my arm:
“Let me do the talking baby”
I shrugged. I was coming down and that was never worth the high.
I don’t remember what the cops said or why Michael got out of the car. I try, but the memories tangle with the drugs and everything becomes engrossed and intertwined. Maybe they smelled the weed, I don’t know, but when I look up again, he is thrown against the car, and suddenly, I am screaming. Hysterically. I am pounding on the windows. My hands shook as I tried to open the car door; Michael looked up, soft tears streaming down that angel’s face, and moved his right hand, holding out his ring finger, and I released my clutch on the door. I know he is trying to tell me that everything will be alright. I hear the shot first, and when I look up again, he isn’t splayed across the hood anymore. This time, my hand doesn’t shake. The door opens and I see the yellow sneaker, tainted with a crimson spatter, and I bring my trembling hands to his neck. I know. I am alone now. I do not cry. I get back into the car. And I drive home. No blue or red lights follow.
It is the sudden gust of wind bristling against the branches above that forces me out of my head and back into the present. I stand, legs shaky, and walk to the end of the path, but as I go, I look back to my now-vacant seat upon the sullen roots littering the ground, glimpsing at the pond, and back at the empty space, and for the first time since he left, I let a lone tear roll down my cheek.