The Late Bird – Emma Nelson

I am panicking. I have panicked. I will panic.
I am scared. I was scared. I will be scared.

I don’t know why I said what I said, where I am right now, how I got here. The grass lays flat against my back and the blanket is there between us, me and the ground. I don’t know what to do with my hands. I don’t know why my hair looks like this. It is cold out. Or it was supposed to be I think. It’s fall, right? It’s October? It’s seventy degrees and mosquitoes are landing on my jeans and I used to come here sometimes, sit here sometimes, and watch them bite me.

But that was months ago. On the hill, on this hill, and it was summer then. There were blackberries once. There was sunlight on the water and kids in the woods. We met them once. Walked through the trees to the cliff and sat there laughing for a while. It felt good. At least I think it did. The clouds are coming now. The rain is coming, too.

And there are bruises on me. At least it feels like there should be. But when I ask if it is red or blue they say it looks how it’s supposed to. I thought I felt something touch me, a blade of grass against my hand. It was a second ago, or at least it seemed that way when I started to say so.

The dog got the frisbee. Mid-air, he just grabbed it. Only it’s a kid. He’s throwing a football to his father. I did that once. In the clearing near my house. The one with the deer, the three legged deer. We named her. I thought we named her. I can’t remember what we named her. Only that I stepped on a rusty nail once and I didn’t tell my mother. I pulled it out. I placed it on the cinder block. I went inside and stuffed cotton in the sole of my foot. I sat on the bathroom floor. There was a rug. I think there was a rug. Do you remember, was there a rug? My brother doesn’t know.

His friend hit his head and I found him laying in my brother’s bed when we were supposed to be playing hide and seek. The game ended, it must have. We moved away and gave the cat to the neighbors. We grew up, I thought we did, in the house real far out of town. I used to walk along the banks of the creek with my jeans rolled up. I have a photo of it. I have the feeling of it.

I used to have the feeling of it. I can’t remember what temperature the water was when it touched my feet. I can’t remember the face of my best friend, the one I spent every night with when I was seventeen.

I know that you are taller than me, except that someone I know is your same height and they can look me in the eye without bending down to meet my gaze. I know that it was dark out when I said what I did, but in my head there is a light shining on you like it was six p.m.

What time does the sun set? It seems much later tonight. Do you remember when we met one day, at the park that overlooked the water? It was the solstice. Or the equinox. Or maybe the eclipse. I don’t remember how I got up in that tree, but I remember riding on your shoulders up the hill that same night, feeling like your arms were holding me to earth and like I might float away if you released me.

There’s that house on fifteenth, the one where we spent Christmas break. The one where we grew up for real, or at least I think we started to. I got your name tattooed on my shin but I think it’s my name too. I didn’t start to talk until I met you. I didn’t know that when you opened your mouth I’d stop wanting to. I just want to listen, now. I just want to watch you. I’m just looking. I’m just looking. You came into my bedroom in the middle of the night and said so. I looked back at you. I got angry, but I didn’t mean to.

I met you, I remember, on the walk to the rooftop where we all ran screaming down the stairs. There was a cop. There was a bottle we brought. We grew up. I didn’t notice. There’s your parents and your childhood bed and the sound of something stupid on tv.

It’s all right there, I just don’t know where I left it. It’s somewhere, though. We’re looking. We’re on the plane to Atlanta, to Spain, to the base of the mountain at four in the morning. There’s a wedding, there’s a mother daughter dance. I thought we were alone.

I thought you had forgotten, but maybe that was me. It started to snow, I’m almost certain that it was snowing that day. Do you know what time it is right now? I can’t remember if you’re leaving yet, I can’t remember that you already left. I am scared. I was scared. I’m going to be scared, soon.

We went somewhere, I can’t remember. You said something, I didn’t hear. What are you thinking about? I think so, yeah, me too. I haven’t eaten yet today, I thought I hadn’t eaten for a long time, at least. You said that you were starving. Or that you would be, very soon. “The early bird gets the worm,” I said, “The late bird starves.” I can’t tell if I am hungry or if I’m just an empath. But I think I said that already. Not to you. Whoever I said it to laughed. Or smiled like they were about to laugh, maybe.

“This is my favorite song!” I say that every time. “This song goes out to you!” I say that sometimes, too. I can’t tell where I am but I can recognize the feeling. We grew up here. I remember now.

I failed, I am failing, I will fail again, soon. It used to be so easy. I think it used to be easier, at least. Fuck, I know this feeling. I have had it once before. I know that it’s familiar, I just don’t know how to say so. I stopped talking when you started, but you want me to respond. I was sorry, I am sorry, I will be sorry. You forgave me, you forgive me, I don’t know when you will lose the patience to do so. Soon.

Something’s coming. We’re just getting started. It was all a practice round til now. We grew up here, we’re growing up. All of us on the stoop. Goodbye. I miss you, I have missed you, I’ll be missing you, too.

It was so beautiful. It will be so beautiful. And you and I are waiting here, meeting here, a year or ten from now. You’re not late, I’m not early, we are standing in the same spot talking, I remember now, I can see it now, I hope you see it too.