WISH YOU HERE
WORDS BY EMILY WOOD & art by natalia orasanin
It was the Monday after the weekend we partied in the campus chapel.
OUR LAST SUMMER
SLOW DESCENT OF THE SUMMER
The Tuesday that John lost his girlfriend, Jennifer’s eyebrows became an ark of indignation. There wasn’t much to say, something that wasn’t natural for her. He told us and I nodded, stupidly and assertively, like a hammer.
“I guess that makes sense.” The ark rounded its arch into a halo.
“I mean, it doesn’t make sense but…it doesn’t not make sense.”
Her hands were bunched into orbs in her pockets pressing into themselves in the way they did when her palms were sweaty and she wanted to conceal them.
“Where did she go?”
“Have you not been – to the convent.”
“I know that, but where.”
“Oh. I don’t know. Switzerland?”
We had seen her just a week ago; all four of us were in the same poetry class. We sat in the same row, the same chairs, and the same bodies that housed our identities. It seemed like she could still be reading her poem about how owning dogs is just a perverse way of us denying our own animosity. Then there was some lines about being a dominatrix over God.
“Didn’t she say that she was thinking of, like, going on a trip or something? You know how she was, she fucked with everyone and called it a joke.” I doubted that becoming a nun was the kind of scheme that would apply to her “fucking.” It seemed too ironic and heavy handed, even for her.
John had been taking it well, even when our professor made an inappropriate joke about John’s now ex-girlfriend having a lot of time for various “solitary” activities and we were like, “What the fuck who gave this guy an MFA.”
I took him out that night after class and we went to get milkshakes away from campus so we could slurp our uncomfortable silences without being around people who had seen us consuming things comfortably. We hadn’t ever seen each other alone like this and it felt like being underwater and just kind of opening and closing our mouths until random bubbles came out.
I felt bad. I felt for this in-between acquaintance/friend who shared space with Jennifer and I because his girlfriend liked the way we breathed our sense of how we didn’t belong into a space and therefore owned it. We liked to shit on things and ask for others to clean it up. He seemed more like a swimmer, parting the current by a single hair, never causing too much of a wake.
John ordered a chocolate shake and smiled a bit at the waitress, but his eyes projected the kind of light you would find underneath some dirty sheets who never thought they would feel a body again. I found myself bestowing images upon him excessively because of the way his skin seemed to drink it up with its exposed softness. In reality, it made me uncomfortable, so I drowned it until it was something I could swallow.
“How are you feeling?” I noticed him follow the waitresses’ ass swinging away under white polyester.
“Ok. It’s a little cold in here.”
“No, I meant how is your…heart.”
I distracted myself from the fact that he wasn’t leaking enough for me to clean up by grabbing the napkin allotted to me on the table and unfolding it to put on my lap.
“I talked to her the night before she, uh, left. She didn’t say anything, which is weird.”
“Yeah. I’ve talked to her every night for the past six months and she didn’t say anything, so…” I laughed inappropriately. He didn’t flinch upwards like he sometimes did when he made an accidental joke. He remained static.
“It was so fucking selfish.” He clenched and decided to look at me like he was bypassing my pupils and going straight to the back of my head. He looked at me like it was my fault.
“We were happy together. Really, stupidly happy, and then she goes and decides to lose her fucking mind or something. I don’t know. Fuck her.” The suburban family slurping up fries like spaghetti at the next table over peaked at us commandingly from the corners of their eyes.
I paid for the cheque. I accepted the penance, losing a little of my material wealth in exchange for his loss he handled like lightning. He would flash with a kind of surprising brightness, only to after pound the insides of your head with a horrifying thunder.
Her name was/is Jordan. She was/is one of the people that begs to be obsessed with. While we were sitting on my tiny single bed once while Jennifer was in the bathroom, and she told me that her mom used to talk over the phone with an astrologer every month. She whispered that when she was just a baby he said that she would have a large decision to make when she was 18. She seemed startled as she told me she only had two months left to fulfill her fate.
I looked down at her socks, which had holes in them. She placed her fingers on my thigh. There were still miniscule spaces between her fingers and my flesh.
We were at a party once with a bunch of other students from our department. It was the kind of party where people mostly went to stand around with a cooler in their hand and talk about how they are scared of not writing the next great American novel. It was dumb, but so were we. We felt awkward and awful and like we hadn’t read enough in the past few months because we’d been too busy fucking up and holding hands with each other to do much else.
I remember her looking around, spotting John, and reflexively looking away. Jennifer grabbed her from behind and recklessly wrapped her arms around her waist. Jordan didn’t even flinch, but instead morphed into a person with eyes like halos.
“Hey nerds.” Jennifer had a way of greeting her loved ones that was like every harsh and hard word was a kiss.
“Why aren’t you and John rubbing your junk to the Talking Heads already?” The sly comment made Jordan feel uncomfortable, her fingers tightening around plastic and provoking a crunch.
“We had a fight.”
“What?” The word slipped and her expression was one of betrayal, as though I should have already sensed it; I should have known.
“Yeah. Whatever. It was really melodramatic.”
“Why didn’t you call us, or something?” I asked halfheartedly to peel the blame from my exterior.
“What good would that do, it’s not like I’m crying about it. It’s fine.”
“Are you guys ok?” Jennifer asked but didn’t particularly show investment in the answer. I waited with baited breath.
“I don’t know. I guess. I haven’t even talked to him tonight.”
“It’ll be fine Jords, I know you’ll work it out.”
She replied with only, “Yeah.”
Later we left and collapsed back into place in Jordan’s dorm room. Jennifer began tickling me and I screamed in song. We were tipsy. Jordan seemed to be a little over the edge and veering into twisted tongue territory, the raspberry vodka’s scent floating from her hair and teeth.
Along came a knock on the door. At first I was unaware that it was real, the rapping so tentative and sloppy. It wasn’t until the second round that I realized I was the only one hearing the door reverberating in its frame. I got up and opened it shaking hands with the knob inadvertently.
John was there, his cowlick sticking up more than usual. His fingernails probably dirty, his pants chaffing on his pelvis, the denim dirty with thick sweat.
“Hi,” he said.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m standing at Jordan’s door.” Standing he was with tar coloured Nike sneakers with laces like earthworms on pavement after a rainstorm.
“Did you just come here to stand?” I was stupidly stalling, hoping that the girls would clean themselves up and hide their happiness. He looked at me with the face my father would have made at such a comment.
“I don’t know. Did you?” I kicked over a wine bottle with a stuttering clang as I stepped back to let him through the door.
Another time there was the awkward fire set weakly, but pointedly ablaze behind the astronomy building one afternoon. John approached us and sat down cross-legged without asking if he could join. Jordan shifted a little to avoid his shape, clearly uncomfortable and thrown off by his legs sprawling into hers.
“Hey. What’s up guys?” The desperation stank like dirt.
It was the Monday after the weekend we partied in the campus chapel. One of our conspirators had acquired a key to back doors and we had snuck into the camera-free enclosure like birds overjoyed to be back in their cage. It had been dim and the pews had been like little ships that we’d climbed onto to all sail away into a calm sea away from our lives on land. Everyone seemed to be high and floating. It was those hours that consumed Jordan and emptied her out until she was just a pit looking to be filled.
“Hey.” The empty reply swallowed our rapport. Jordan, our ringleader, didn’t want to play, so neither did we.
“What is wrong with you?” John had been kicked sharply and insensitively by that one word and we knew it. We said nothing. I ran my hands through the grass like hair, avoiding the shots I knew were soon to come.
Instead of the blaze I expected, Jordan rose and walked away, leaving flint in her dust. We watched her as she turned herself into a background figure amongst the other parts of the student body fleeting across campus. We watched our protagonist walk into the sunset. The feeling that it was the end and she may never return was present like a fact we were taught out of a textbook.
The night at the chapel was what did it; it wasn’t just a party to a girl like Jordan. She was used to parties and foolish camaraderie fuelled by a stretch of night with nowhere to be. To Jordan, the breaking into the chapel was the closure of a full circle that had encapsulated her life in a tightly wound metaphor.
The same night that she told me about the astrologer and her mother, she told me about the plan. It was a few weeks before it even happened, but her and this other guy James apparently had come up with it together at some point via Facebook messenger (an unsafe and strange choice to discuss something so precious in my opinion). She said that James and her had been talking about their upbringings and how church had always felt like this place of hidden defamation.
“We were talking about how, like, when you’re getting your baptism you get all wet and clean in the name of God, but eventually you dry off and kind of go back to being your normal, dirty self.”
“Huh, I don’t know, I guess.”
“Hear me out for a second, but since historically the church has been one of the dirtiest institutions to ever exist, what if we truly honored that by confessing all our sins by enacting them in a chapel? What if we had the ultimate confession?”
“But, you’re not even Catholic.”
“That’s not the point! Just imagine it, it would be the most immersive piece of performance art I’ve ever created.”
“You know you could be kicked out of school for organizing something like this, right?”
“Father, forgive me,” she said. She touched her nails slicked in green nail polish to her forehead, then her concave chest, then her left and right shoulder with a sharpness and persistency as though she was loading a gun.
By this time I knew that Jordan had a falling into with this girl named Jessica. I would catch the texts that would float up into her cell phone screen like precious tadpoles. She would then stare indignantly at her composition like she was mad at her thumbs for not composing sonnets at her command. This was a girl who won every high school poetry prize in her school district.
I never saw them together, except for at the party in the chapel. Turns out Jessica had been the hook up to how the performance or party or ritual, whatever she was calling it at the moment, would take place.
Jessica’s sister who was a third year volunteered with the Christian student group on campus and as part of her role volunteered to clean the chapel once every couple of weeks. Jessica had gotten her hands on the key that her sister kept tucked away in a little pink pouch that also held her tampons and pads.
I helped a bit by buying some vodka and pouring it into a plain, silver flask that I had written “Holy Water” on in black permanent marker. Jordan saw it and promptly rolled her eyes.
Other than that I made sure that everyone she wanted there to share in the experience received an invite via whispers in ears and coded text messages. The problem with being the designated messenger was the fact that I had to answer to her whims and judgment in who was allowed to hear what I had to say. And one of the people who were not on the list was John.
I tried to pry my way into her to get a straight answer about what she was thinking in relation to John, the party, and their relationship.
“Why don’t you want John at the party?”
“He wouldn’t get it. I’m pretty sure his mom’s Mormon or something.”
“Don’t you want him there though?”
“I don’t know if I want much of anything anymore.”
“You’re really fucking cryptic, you know that?” All I got as a response was an air kiss and a somber little smirk.
I had always liked John and maybe that is why I did it. I was with Jennifer walking around campus aimlessly avoiding our next lecture by strolling in circles. It was a Thursday and we were set to invade the chapel the next day. We ran into John outside of the library and something about the way his face seemed to soften from the shock of familiarity struck me and weakened my defense.
“Hey John!” I exclaimed this without malice like Jordan would have wanted me to.
“Oh. Hey guys.” His face crumpled under our hellos and without thinking I decided to draw my blade and plunge it into Jordan’s back.
“What are you doing tomorrow night?
The night of the party slipped through my fingers like water. I drank too much in nervous anticipation and because I felt like a phenomenally shitty person. I loved these two people I clung to in this new life I wielded recklessly with enormous anxiety and confusion. My insecurities about being thrust into college after feeling ostracized and unwanted in high school were calmed by them. For the first few months that we gripped each other for dear survival I felt like they were the elasticity that kept my calmness in place. I was selfish and couldn’t bear to see that stretch and break.
That is why I let it crumble. As the Wal-Mart lanterns we’d bought were lit around the open mouth of a space, I kept thinking about how it would end. I didn’t know what would satisfy my cravings the most: destruction or creation. Could it be both? I didn’t know yet.
I thought about religion, astrology, psychics, and messes. I thought about how most everything people create tried to temper chaos. I recalled Jordan talking about how the church would be nothing without people defiling things for the sake of being pure. I considered what creed this statement made me a follower of. Maybe I was a worshiper of my own desires and myself above all. That is what I felt like sipping from a flask and watching Jessica and Jordan dance to muted music coming from the pulpit. The atmosphere had a slowness I seemed to fight through as I waited for it to happen. The swirling of fabrics and limbs in a cluster of concentrated energy was making me dizzy and impatient. It was like waiting for the sky to break open and fracture the humidity in order to coat the earth in rain. The scene was cheesy and I knew that. Part of me found everything about college cheesy because of the mythology surrounding it. Part of me wanted it to be cheesier and more richly dramatic so I could bury in it.
It unfolded like a movie scene in the worst way and I, the viewer, bathed in it with the perverted glory of anticipation. John came bursting through the double doors that didn’t even make a sound. The music thumping like a knock from a concerned neighbor, he spent some time weaving through bodies and nodding in solitary with the other actors in the scene in which he had the leading role. I panned to Jordan and Jessica in the corner their hips swinging like a cliché. Their hands were placed delicately on each other’s hips, their nails digging into each other’s flesh.
As he got closer the dramatic tension heightened, the montage of people circulating through the shot becoming more and more ironic, all these masks of happiness amongst the inevitable. Jennifer came up to me with her eyes open so wide they were spotlights.
She managed to breathe out a brief sentence in her manic, jittery state, “I think you have done a horrible thing.”
Then they collided and that was the end.
John and I rode the bus back to campus, our legs separated by mere inches of scratchy red velvet. All I managed to discern from the two hours we’d spent together was that he was hurt and reeling and wanted to hate me, but also didn’t want to lose another person in his life.
I reflected on what had shifted and changed between us and specifically what it probably felt like to be John. I couldn’t though. I theoretically knew he was sad and hurt, but all I could think about was what I would do if I were Jordan. It was frustrating because although I felt like I knew so deeply how she was, but of course I could never be certain. It was probably my narcissism that deluded me into feeling like I knew her at all, but I knew that I didn’t. All that time we had spent together, her, Jennifer, and I, she hadn’t trusted us to peel back her exterior enough to show us who she really loved.
My fascination with her was undermined, or maybe even enhanced, by my destruction of her life. I feel guilty about it, although it more than likely would have happened anyway. Still, I escalated it and therefore fucked with fate in a way that possibly made it worse than it would have. I pried and put my hands where they shouldn’t have been.
And with this I am struck by the vision of Jordan and I on the bed and her talking about fate. We discussed love and longing and how often her and John would be apart late at night and he would bleed with love through text. It seemed romantic and kind of sad, and completely like John. I was struck by how much he needed her in a way that somehow surpassed my conception of normal nineteen-year-old love. Or maybe it didn’t. I couldn’t quite tell because I had never had something similar.
She showed me mountains of texts from the night before, which was supposed to be cute or romantic, but instead was just achingly sad. I think of the repeated phrase now and see it written on Jordan’s skin under her habit in a room with a tiny window and corners filled with darkness.
Over and over the three words etched themselves into the air between her and I like an echo: “Wish you here, wish you here, wish you here.”
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