Trigger warning: sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, love.

Creative nonfiction prompt: Think about a negative moment in your life, and write it from another person’s perspective.

Car Thoughts

I saw her again yesterday. This time, I didn’t even recognize her. The way her body seemed to crumble underneath her was nothing like the first time I saw her walk into a room. She always had this fake confidence, holding her spine straight and head high. That day in the park with brown leaves swirling below her black, clunky boots, she looked different. This time she hid beneath her greasy, almost black hair as she pulled out her keys to her car. The ring with about six keys, including the bulky one for her beaten-down Audi wagon, was nothing new besides the probably-unused canister of pepper spray. The canister dangled down on a separate ring that seemed to sway with the early October wind. Some things of course were different, yet there was so much of her that was so familiar.

Maybe it was the way her dress wrapped around the middle of her. She had always loved dresses, especially the kind that would hug her waist and then flow out to right above her knees. She would wear one almost every day, regardless of weather. She was wearing one the first day I met her in late summer, and she was wearing one in the beginning of a cold fall. The one she was wearing was new to me. Maybe she had just bought it while out with friends at the mall near her apartment. I noticed that this new dress showed her center a bit more than others. She had clearly gained a bit of weight. I preferred her with a few more curves to her.

She seemed calm with a small smile on her face as she talked to her friend for a little while. They stood underneath a gazebo in the park by one of the four long metal picnic tables. The tables lay on concrete surrounded by frostbitten grass. You could see the path they took to the gazebo from the flattened grass steps. I watched her adjust her dress from time to time to make sure her ass was covered even with the wind blowing. Her facial expressions always could help me figure out how she felt about the conversation. She liked this one. Her face had very animated movements with large smiles and focused blue-green eyes. The friend seemed content as well. They laughed and then hugged each other before parting. I have no clue who the friend was, but they seemed close.

Their embrace reminded me of how she used to cuddle me as I held her. I still can feel her head on my chest as she would doze off after I drove her to my house after school. I wish I could have that back, but for now I only have what I can remember. I remember doing homework in my room as she would beg for my attention. She would always win me over. I was much more studious than her, and knew I could always finish my homework later.

I remember I’d grip onto her hips and kiss her on the cheek. I loved how she would smile as I would kiss her cheek. Her light laugh would fill my ears and make my whole body smile. We would lie there in each other’s arms while we knew we should both be doing work. Sometimes I would help her with her work and then do my own later. Instead, I usually would pet hair as she would tell me about her day, and I would half listen. She could never tell whether I was paying attention or not. She just loved to talk to me. I loved everything about her. Especially the way she obeyed me. We loved each other, or I had at least thought so.

We would always say “I love you” to each other. Both in person and over the countless texts we would send to each other every day. I heard she doesn’t text much anymore. Something about her ex sending her creepy messages. I knew she had a lot of exes. When we texted though, it all seemed real. I could tell her anything, even if it was negative. Mostly it was just saying “I love you” back and forth though. Maybe that is just what all high school couples did, said “I love you”, thought you meant it, and repeat. It didn’t take long for me to say it the first time. I think we had only been dating for a few weeks. We had only started dating soon after we met that late summer afternoon. It was high school freshman orientation.

High school freshman orientation seemed like a dumb thing. We weren’t in college, the campus was small, it was a class of only about a hundred kids, and it was a huge waste of time. The only good part was meeting people. It was my first year there after going to a Jewish day school for six years. They didn’t have a high school there, but my two older brothers had gone to this private school. It was only natural for me to go there too. This school was mostly for very smart kids; I had no clue how she survived until she transferred. She wasn’t very bright. A few other kids that had gone to the Jewish day school switched over to the private school too, but besides them I didn’t know anyone. I was quiet and awkward, but she smiled and walked towards me to introduce herself. We seemed to hit it off from there.

We became the “it” couple of our grade. Everyone, including teachers, would tell us how cute we were, and how we were going to get married. She would have been mine forever. I remember how one of our friends even made a collage of pictures of us. My favorite one of us was the one after winter formal. I made her go right after she got back surgery. Everyone had to see how amazing we were together. She nearly passed out after half an hour, but it was worth it. I miss bringing her to things to show her off.

It had now been almost three years since we broke up as I watched her from my car that fall day. She went off to summer camp and wrote a letter to me ending things. I hadn’t written her at all that month. She knew I was too busy. What a cowardly way to do it: writing a letter. I wouldn’t have hit her that time if she had done it in person. After a year of dating and treating her like a princess, this was the shit I got. She must have been cheating on me. That’s the only reason she would have left me. Well, that bitch thought she would get away scot-free. Before she got home by the end of the summer, I had told everyone she had cheated on me. People wouldn’t talk to her for months! She even transferred schools soon after.

It wasn’t soon after when she decided to take revenge. She started to date one of my friends about a month later. I heard they are still together now, looking for apartments together. That’s sure going to be a messy break up. About a year after they started dating is when she began telling her close friends that I assaulted and raped her. I found out from one of her close friends when her friend accused me of being a creep. What a petty way to take revenge I thought as I watched her start to drive away on the cold October day. She waited over a year to make this false accusation. Even the cops said there was nothing they could do about it without evidence. She clearly missed me, whether she admitted it or not. I wondered if she saw some of me in her current boyfriend and that’s why she stayed. I’m sure she didn’t see me now.

Rust leafs rushed in the wind behind her car as she exited the parking lot. A picture of the fall gray sky fell on her back windshield. She made a left towards the busy gas station by the main road. She always waited until no cars were in sight either way just to make absolutely sure no one would hit her car that she named Adeline. This was her first car. It leaked oil every time she parked as I could clearly see after she left: oil puddles scattered beneath a car-shaped space. I figured she must have been heading home. She didn’t really have a lot of friends, so where else would she be going on a Saturday afternoon? She was probably going to catch up on her homework because she needed so long to finish it. Maybe her boyfriend would be there. I thought about all the things she could have been going to do as I exited the parking lot and made a left towards the busy gas station.

I kept my distance and made sure her “you are beautiful” bumper sticker was too far away to read. I knew my way from here as long she kept to her route. She was awful at directions, so I was pretty sure she wouldn’t go far away from the way she knew. She never could help me get anywhere. She went down main roads and always took the freeway when possible. I took a few side streets parallel to the main streets she took. She was pretty aware of her surroundings, and I couldn’t have her being suspicious. I knew which streets to take to meet her at the freeway entrance she would take to get home. Then I would know she was going home for the day.

I hit a red light before the freeway. I couldn’t let her get too far ahead of me, or I would be unable to catch up. I started to think about my options. I thought about just letting her go once more, but I was more determined than ever. I could either risk her seeing me too soon by going on the larger road, go through the light, or try speeding through later side streets. I decided the latter. It was the beginning of the month in an area where not a lot of cops hung around. I had gone through a few stop signs, passed a few people going below the speed limit, and finally it was time to turn to the large road before getting on the freeway.

I spotted her car quickly. She was stopped at the light before turning right onto the freeway. She was focused on the road with both hands on the wheel. I watched her merge onto the freeway, followed by about three other cars. It would be easy to pass them in order to catch up to her. My light turned green as I turned left onto the on ramp. It was now my chance to catch up to her. She was almost home, and I wanted to let her know that I would meet her there.

She stayed in the slow lane. She usually did due to the fact she hated switching lanes. It made her feel like she was getting in others’ way. Plus she was always nervous about not being able to switch lanes and then missing her exit. She found Utah drivers to be aggressive. This was possibly to do the culture influencing people to be so friendly the rest of the time, according to her. I began to pass cars to get closer to her. I wouldn’t say I was being an aggressive driver, and I certainly wasn’t doing anything illegal. I was just passing people to get to where I needed to be. Then there was a gap where there were no cars next to her. A few cars behind and a few cars in front, but all were about three or four car lengths away.

We had just passed the last exit before hers. I knew that if I passed her on the left now, I’d have a chance to catch her attention. I had followed her before, but I had never gotten this close. I had always kept my distance. I moved from the far left lane to the lane next to hers. I pulled up parallel to her and matched her speed. She was singing along to the radio. He dark hair danced around her shoulders, sometimes sticking to the shoulders of her dress. I pictured her head in my lap once again, and soon it would be. We were going about sixty five down the freeway together, hand in hand like we used to down the halls. For a brief second, I caught the corner of her blue green eye and watched her turn to a ghost. I knew she had seen me, and here came her exit.