We Are Still Here



“You look great,” Nick said to me, smiling his crinkly smile and touching my arm. He was a liar, but he was a sweet liar. I looked at myself in the mirror behind the bar. My eyes were rimmed with a yellowish tint. My skin was flaky and beet red from the sun because the medicine I was taking made my skin sensitive in a new, exposed way. My neck was swollen and my fingernails, for some reason, were blue.

“Thanks,” I said, smiling back at him, knowing that I was about to throw up.

I muttered an “I’llberightback” jumped off the stool and dashed back to our room, three outdoor stairways away. I slammed myself through the bamboo bathroom door and didn’t make it to the toilet. Orange vomit covered the walls of the bathroom, sliding down the tile in gooey bits. I lay down in the middle of the room on the bathmat, and a few minutes later, Nick knocked on the door.


I couldn’t answer.

“Fran?” He pushed in the door and took a step back. I am sure what he saw repulsed him, and though I couldn’t possibly move, I imagined retreating even further into myself.

“Oh, honey,” he said sadly. He got a towel and washed the walls with the floral soap from the shower, scrubbing the floor, literally mopping up the mess.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, and took the bundle of towels out into the hallway. When he came back in, he had bedding, a pillow, and a glass of water.

“Can you drink this?” he asked gently.

“I don’t know,” I squeaked. “I don’t know if I can sit up.”

Nick came over to me and slid down onto the mat next to me. He smelled like the floral soap and salt water and the beer he had abandoned. Lifting my head in his hand, he tipped a small sip of water into my chapped lips.

“There,” he said.

He put the glass of water down on the floor next to me and I rested my face on the tile in front of the bathmat, the coolness an astounding relief.

Nick tucked my head under the pillow and made a floor-bed under me.

“You don’t have to do this,” I croaked.

He ignored me and slid his body down next to mine. “Try to sleep,” he said.

I tried to nod as his hand traced light circles on my back. Before I drifted off, I remember thinking, though I am not sure I said it out loud, “That feels good.”

A long time ago, we were different from this.

We took road trips in rented convertibles, we spent our last three dollars on an in-and-out burger to share, and we slurped smoothies on boardwalks and only wore flip-flops. We raced around underground, coming up for air at different Brooklyn bars, hands fumbling for the cigarettes that were no longer allowed. We wrote things down. We lost people. We joined our bank accounts, we approached corporate ladders, we got kittens. We fumbled around in the night. We felt free.

Since then, there have been many times when it might have made sense for Nick to leave. That day in our Brooklyn apartment, a sick, sober me talking to a drunk, honest him. In the bathroom in Jamaica: me with blue fingernails, red raw skin. On the couch during a time where getting up was an impossible feat. Watching a long thin woman get out of a car with out wincing. Looking at his passport longingly before putting it back in the top drawer of his desk. As the bank account drooped. Our fury mounted, our fear sizzled, our tongues lashed. Our fire dulled.

But he is still here.  After fifteen years, we are both still here. My frenzied worry about him leaving is all but gone; deflated, like a weathered balloon, shriveled into a corner, red and soft and unassuming.

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