You know why you run?
You run because you need to get away. You run because you need to escape the place you’ve found yourself in. You run because you’re afraid. You run because it’s what you know to do, what you have always done, and what you will continue to do. You run in hopes to leave behind the things that will always, always catch up to you.
That’s why you ran away to Baltimore, right? The city, with its bright lights and roadways outstretched like arms, was waiting to take you in and embrace you, so you could feel its rumble of a heartbeat as it held you close. But the sense of security that the city gave you was accompanied by an understanding that the things you have run away from will always find their way back.
Consider The Hurricane, for example.
The Hurricane, the one you talk of little and think of often, looms just on the outskirts of the back of your mind. Most days, you don’t think of him at all. Those days are ones you consider victories. But on the days you do think of him, you try your hardest not to act on any of those thoughts. You run from those thoughts in the recesses of your mind to the very front; you force yourself to stay present and in the moment in hopes of pushing him back towards the edges. But The Hurricane, despite your attempts to outrun him, will always catch up to you.
You don’t text. You don’t email. You certainly don’t call. You are the definition of restraint and that is impressive in and of itself.
You still can’t understand the hold he has on you; he’s been nothing but a liar since he reentered your life unexpectedly ten months ago. This is proven and you have been aware of it every time he’s opened his mouth, but you still hang on to his every word, hopeful that one day there will be no lies and only love.
You lie, too. Especially to yourself. For example, you’re sitting at your computer, your mind wandering, wondering if people are capable of change. You think about change motivated by another person and you scoff at your own thoughts; people don’t change, especially for others. The can try with all their might and have the best of intentions, but nothing is long lasting.
Now that you’ve lived in the city for a handful of months, you’ve managed to create memories within it. The Hurricane is everywhere as you drive around the city, not physically, but in the form of apparitions. He is the ghost that you see in the corner of your eye and he is ever-present. No matter where you go, those memories flood your mind.
The coffee shop. The Hurricane asked you to decide where to go and he did not object to your request to go to the coffee shop on the corner. Upon arrival, he told you that he had been avoiding the coffee shop because he went on a date with one of the baristas and it ended poorly. She stood at the counter, visibly excited to seem him. You were invisible, less than an afterthought. They exchanged awkward pleasantries as you figured out which vegan dessert to order. You and The Hurricane sat in the corner, sipping coffee and playing Scrabble. He had been looking for a Scrabble partner for quite some time, and having never played you before, he was confident that the match would be a piece of cake. He won narrowly, only by three points. You tried not to be so smug after having proven yourself to be a worthy opponent.
The Pagoda. Five stories of oriental architecture, built in the late 1800’s. From the top, you can get an idea of the Baltimore’s vast expanse, from the Patapsco River, to the Key Bridge, to Fort McHenry, with all of the city’s wonderful neighborhoods in between. It was on top of this pagoda that you decided to move to the city. The Hurricane told you that he would love to have you closer, that the wanted to see you more. You believed him.
The nearby pizza place. After you had your fill of the pagoda, you both walked in the wrong direction for six blocks before realizing it was two blocks east, not west. You drank beers and ate pizza. The Hurricane hinted at struggling with alcoholism. You both had three beers a piece, and you suddenly felt guilty, as if you were enabling his drinking. And as a result of the guilt, you pretended not to take note of the comment. Your legs bumped his under the table a few times. You reached out and placed your hand on top of his, making some reassuring comment in response to his personal struggles. He walked you to your car. You told him you were fighting the urge to kiss him. He touched your face, and said he wished he could. He kissed your forehead, and for a moment you thought that his restraint served to maintain the boundaries of friendship. You drove home in a downpour, replaying every moment in your mind.
The Mexican restaurant on The Avenue. After a month of rain checks, you two met for happy hour margaritas. They were potent and served in pint glasses. You drank three margaritas far too quickly. You and The Hurricane caught up and joked; you were playful and you felt lighter for the first time in a long time. There were several innuendos made; you can’t remember who turned the conversation down that path. He told you he’d give anything to fuck you. In response, you asked him him why that hadn’t happened. He then told you about his girlfriend, the girlfriend he’d been with since February, the girlfriend who he stated on multiple occasions was his best friend and roommate. You were shocked and too drunk to string a sentence together. As a result, you stormed out of the restaurant and stood on the sidewalk, trying to collect yourself. You were drunk and unruly and you tried hard not to cry in public. For the first time in a long time, you craved a cigarette desperately. The Hurricane joined you on the sidewalk after settling the tab. You told him that you needed to take a walk in order to sober up.
The neighborhood surrounding The Avenue. He joined you on your walk to try and explain his situation; he said he was miserable and he couldn’t find a way out of his relationship. You told him that he’s capable of ending it, continuing on to say that how fucked up it is to say “I love you” without meaning it. He didn’t argue. You pushed him a few times. You raised your voice at him a few more. You drunkenly blurted out thoughts and feelings and he had no real response to them. He offered an apology and told you that you deserve better. You didn’t argue. You walked to your car without saying goodbye.
He later told you that the Mexican restaurant was closed due to a fire in the kitchen.
“Bummer” is all you thought to say in response.
The bar in the back of the bookstore. You met him for drinks after a month of silence. You opted not to drink and downed two cans of seltzer water while he downed two beers. You decided not to wear a bra with your dress and the feeling was liberating. He could tell; inappropriate comments ensued and things were alluded to. You decided to ignore his situation and you played along. He was aroused and intrigued and he made comments to that effect. He brought up his girlfriend and said that it was difficult being in a loveless, sexless relationship, adding that he hadn’t received a blowjob in seven months. You responded with indifference. After finishing up at the bookstore, you and The Hurricane took a walk around the neighborhood. He continued to open up about his situation, his statements suggested that his girlfriend was actively mentally and emotionally abusing him. You offered some form of support but you remained silently skeptical. He walked you to your car. You hugged him goodbye. He appreciated feeling your tits against his chest. He told you that you will always turn him on as he pressed his erection onto the inside of your thigh.
The carryout on North Avenue. You sat inside, waiting for your lake trout sandwich to be ready, taking a break from writing the day away. You were supposed to hang out with The Hurricane later that evening, but had not heard a word from him. The silence made you a bit nervous as it was reminiscent of previous vanishing acts. While waiting for your food, you received an email from him. The first line included an apology and at that point you knew that your plans had been canceled. He told you about a bad session with his therapist, a session in which she called his behavior morally reprehensible. His therapist also told him he needed to address his drinking problem and seek help. He ultimately agreed with her, but refused inpatient treatment as an option, opting to do it on his terms. He said that he might become a bit reclusive as a result of trying to better himself, apologizing in advance for impending silence. You responded with one line, telling him to be well. Your order number was called.
You walked home thinking about the past several months. You walked home more concerned with eating your sandwich while it was hot. You arrived, ate, and sat down to write again.
And you’ve been writing ever since.
You don’t think of him as often as you used to. A small voice inside of you urges you to reach out to him, but you don’t respond with action. Instead you quiet the voice with an activity that you can immerse yourself in. Over time, his image begins to fade. You can go to The Avenue without so much as a thought of him or a fear of running into him. And while you miss the conversations and the thoughts of what could have been, the places that you’ve come to fear the most seem a little less scary as the ghosts of Baltimore cross over to the other side, one by one.