A Non-Exhaustive List of Ways to Leave and Be Lost

by Melissa Bowers

Five Reasons Winter Is the Worst

  1. Everyone gets sick
  2. Nose hairs freeze
  3. Wet socks
  4. Head too big for most hats
  5. Eventually, snowmen melt.

*

It is February when Devin tells his mother he’s done with Chicago. Done. February—so after she starts to cry he can gesture to the window and say, “But the snow,” and she won’t be able to blame him. She protests anyway, and for a moment, Devin thinks he hears a wheeze between her words. Gently, he reminds her he is an adult capable of making his own choices.

“You’re barely twenty-one,” she says.

“Twenty-three, Mom.”

“I think I’d remember when my own son was born.”

She’s wrong, as she has been about so many things—politics, what he would be when he grew up, running out on his father all those years ago—but he doesn’t argue again. It is his turn to be part of The Abandoning: his parents from each other, and now him from them, like shedding cells. Devin rips a handwritten page from his notepad, the one he carries everywhere for list-making, and slides it across the table. “My new address.”

“You’re not packed.”

He leans in for a hug. “I’m driving down this weekend. Want to come? You can fly back eventually.”

Of course she wants to, but Devin knows she would never be able to live with herself, as if her presence would indicate full approval of his escape. When he leaves Chicago behind, the passenger seat is empty.

*

How to Create the Perfect Road Trip Playlist in Four Easy Steps

  1. Google songs that contain some variation of the word Free
  2. Skim lyrics
  3. Play thirty-second samples to determine tempo
  4. Download anything remotely upbeat 🎵

*

The girl at the front desk looks too young to be handling harsh complaints. A middle-aged man leans toward her with his palms flat on the counter, yelling: “Wasn’t this building supposed to have a fucking beach view?” A toddler sits at his feet, squalling, one nostril bubbling with snot. Front Desk Girl winces at all the noise.

Devin’s arms are loaded down with grocery bags, but he pauses to address the father. “It does have a view.” He nods toward the window. “See? There’s a palm tree. Palm trees are beachy. Very beachy. Plus, if you’re on the third floor you can see the edge of the lake, just past the highway.”

Certain he has extinguished a fire, Devin smiles gallantly at Front Desk Girl and strides toward his apartment. He unloads provisions of his own choosing: Pringles, salami, granola bars, instant noodles, several boxes of sugary cereal. And a cucumber, just so he can tell his mother he bought vegetables.

He has to open three different cabinets before he can remember where he put the plates. Beautiful. Nothing is quite where it belongs, and this feels like an adventure.

*

Five Ways to Stop Feeling Lonely in a New City

  1. Tell someone you like his Jeep
  2. Buy a round at the bar
  3. Say hi to strangers on the sidewalk (or maybe not—they don’t know I’m a Midwesterner and might call the police)
  4. Help your neighbor change a tire
  5. Get a job, dude.

*

This is the deal: Devin will go back to Chicago for Thanksgiving if his mother will visit him in his Floridian paradise over Christmas. He keeps his end of the bargain, but she calls in early December to admit she is too sick to travel this year. Maybe all the years from now on.

“Why don’t you come home again?” she says once her coughing fit has subsided. “I know you were just here—”

“I have to work, Mom. I used all my vacation last month.”

She is crying, although she pretends she isn’t. Devin blinks and blinks until he worries she might somehow be able to hear it through the phone, and then he inquires about her wheezing until she promises she’s okay, honest. He buys a small spruce tree and decorates the branches with ornaments that don’t match, strings them with secondhand lights from a garage sale. When he stands back to survey his work, humming holiday tunes softly to himself, he notices most of the bulbs are dead.

*

Things to Tell the Landlord

  1. Dishwasher leaking
  2. Silverfish invading bathroom
  3. Mouse droppings still in kitchen, but WHERE THE FUCK IS MOUSE?

*

Everyone is in shorts and Santa is at the mall. A bizarre dichotomy. Devin thinks of puffy coats and scarves, frostbitten fingers, the clunky waterproof boots of yore. He looks down at his flip-flops and thinks: Gratitude. He will not allow memories that involve the delicious thrill of snow days. Crawling back into bed between fuzzy flannel sheets. Frigid winter air, crisp and icy-clean, exactly how it’s meant to be this time of year.

Driving back to his building, Devin watches the grass instead of the road—something about its greenness, its bareness, looks inappropriate. Just outside the apartment lobby, palm trees flutter and bend while “Jingle Bells” plays over a jarring loudspeaker. Beachy. Very beachy. Front Desk Girl glances up when he enters but doesn’t say hello, so neither does he.

Devin isn’t on the third floor, where tenants can see the water. He’s on the second. People above him and below him, living beneath his feet and over his head, strangers on either side, surrounding him, everywhere. And the lake isn’t actually a lake. More of a marsh, really.

He stumbles upstairs, a bit disoriented, his mother’s labored breath now roaring in his ears, as if it has amplified each moment since he drove away. He needs to change shirts—his armpits have soaked straight through the fabric in this strange heat. But suddenly, he can’t remember where he put his favorite crewneck. The closet or the dresser? The hamper or the floor? Snow or sun? Home or astray? Nothing is quite where it belongs, and this feels like a tragedy.

Melissa Bowers is the first-place winner of The Writer magazine’s personal essay contest, a multi-prize winner of Pithead Chapel’s 2019 Short Story Award, and a finalist for the 2020 Lamar York Short Fiction Prize, the 2020 Beacon Street Fiction Prize, and the 2020 Anton Chekhov Prize For Very Short Fiction. She was shortlisted for Barren Magazine’s flash fiction prize this year, and Susanna Kaysen recently awarded her the 2020 Breakwater Review Fiction Prize. Melissa’s work has also appeared or is forthcoming in HuffPost, Fractured Lit, CHEAP POP, and The Boston Globe Magazine, among others. Read more at www.melissabowers.com or find her on Twitter @MelissaBowers_.

 

Photography by: Takemaru Hirai