This week we get a twofer from Jeffrey Castilla Wohl. In “The Girls” we encounter the burden of guilt and subsequently the onus of being the confessee. “For Juanita” claims a similar haunting. The past again surges forth and the character makes a habitual decision. The very stories themselves are elicited from the travails of the past and their lasting marks on the present. The point, with which I agree, seems to be that confession is a necessity.
Confess something yourself. See how you can form it into a story. A prose poem. Send it to your local story-priest: firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Julian was silent, I knew I had to brace myself. It was difficult not to expect the worst after he had had a few drinks. The girl behind the bar no longer held my attention. My focus was on Julian’s features, his demeanor, his clenched fists. When I had met him before it was always easy to enjoy a little calm banter at a bar after work, but now Julian was different. He had become comfortable with me. He felt like he was able to confide in me now. I had a grocery list of Julian’s quiet confessions: the time he punched his brother in the mouth for swerving the truck to splash rain water on people sitting at the bus stop; the fact that he had slept with the new hostess at work—that elegant blonde who was going to school to become a social worker; or his jealousy towards his current girlfriend (whom he called a roommate). This confession was different.
“I killed a girl once,” he told me. “It was a terrible accident. I couldn’t have helped it. I was in jail for a short time, but I was released. Her parents never forgave me. I wrote them letters, but they never forgave me.” Julian took a big swig of his imported beer then raised the bottle up, signaling the bartender to bring him another. I waited for him to continue his story, but he didn’t.
On the way home, Julian suddenly directed me to “Stop. Turn here.” And I followed Julian’s directions through the swirl of San Antonio streets until we reached the gravel driveway that led up to his house. “Why did you take me a different route?” I asked him. It was the first time I had spoken for perhaps ten minutes. “You’ve been to my house before, right?” was his response, as he turned the knob that rolled up the passenger window. I had been inside Julian’s house once.
The place was immaculately dressed in brand new furniture and framed works of art on the walls. One of them held my attention: a teenage girl on a bicycle with a brown bag of groceries sitting the front basket. Julian explained its meaning: “That one was a gift from my older sister. She painted it herself. It reminds me of my younger, happier days in life. Would you like a beer?” I shook my head no. “We all have to be grateful for what we have when we have it. Otherwise, you’ll be crying in the end. The worst punishment you can ever suffer is the torture of your own conscience. I sleep well at night, but only because I’m drunk.”
It took a short while for me to dismiss myself from Julian’s presence so I could head on home. As I stared at the street lights, glowing orange and fuzzy of the empty highway, I thought of girls. I thought of the bartender I hadn’t spoken to. I thought of the faceless girl my friend had told me he killed. And I thought of the painting of the girl on the bicycle with the brown paper bag sitting in the front basket.
She beat her fists on the ground in wild confusion. She wept with her entire 110 pound body. And that was the last time I saw wild, normal, Norma. It was my mistake, not hers, that tore us apart. I failed to accept her as an entire human being. Rather I chose to ignore the things I did not like and focus on the things I did like. And it all ended with me walking up the street at three AM, barefoot in my pajamas, with nothing but my wallet and my silent, selfish integrity to keep me company.
I hurt her then. I know I did. But I couldn’t help it. And when the opportunity arose for me to leave my sweetheart in favor of more comfortable, secure settings, I threw the crow to the wind. It was all over. What we would both have to go through would be unimaginable. Eating microwave fish sticks in a hotel room would not be able to compete with coming home at 2am and finding my love sleeping.
Why does life and love have to be so fucking complicated? I pondered. Why can’t two people just love each other? I knew she had a past. She had told me all of it. But I had not yet confessed my own past. Was I a coward?
She slept on the couch one night, and I felt extremely guilty that I was not the one sleeping on the couch. If we are upset at one another, I should be the one to be uncomfortable. Period. But she chose to lie down on the couch in her undies and nightshirt before I finally gave in and decided to go to bed. I heard her coughing from the other room. She was stifling a cry. At first she cried loudly, I thought maybe because she wanted me to hear her and come save her. But the worst was when she sobbed under her breath, under the wool sheet that had been given to us.
In retrospect, I realize I was just selfish person. I took her love and I slept with it in my front pocket. When things were this way in the past I just left. I left Amy, Danielle, Kristen, Jamie. But this time it was different. This time I was truly in love. And that’s why I couldn’t live with her anymore. That’s why I could not be with her anymore. Because she spoiled her picture of herself to me. Because this woman I had put on a pedestal had fallen down into an abyss, and there was no way to help her out of it in my mind. Because I was intimidated by her past.
It was 3:35 AM when I finally made my sad decision. I didn’t pack my belongings because I was eager to go. I could come back for the things I cared less about. I just took myself with the clothes I was wearing and a backpack full of books, and I walked down the lonely street. At 3:35 AM.
And I still miss her.