I ran more and more every day. I lost fifteen pounds and battled insomnia. I cut a few more times but nothing that Neosporin and a Band-Aid couldn’t fix. One afternoon, near the sports complex, Diesel walked around with Evan, an upper classman who played football. He looked a lot like me, too, except buff. He was known for his sport’s car and promiscuous ways. After I’d ogled them, walking side by side, fingers clasped, her shorts so high I could see the dimple in her ass, I went for another long run.
The next day, the cross country coach approached me. “Lennon?” he said, “I’ve been watching you. Want to walk on the team?”
It was cold. We stood on the curb, students ambling passed. A few guys nodded toward the coach. He stood arms akimbo, a hopeful smile on his face. But all bundled up in my fleece, I couldn’t see how running with them would make Diesel come back to me.
“No thanks,” I said.
The coach shook my hand. “Too bad.”
That night a little before midnight, as I was walking home from the library, I saw Evan and Diesel hanging out in a corner of the quad. The campus was deserted, everyone consumed by midterms. Most lights were off except for the few illuminating the science lab and the amphitheater. On the grass, Diesel danced. I inched toward them then paused, holding onto my backpack. It was the way she moved, plugged-in to some invisible outlet that rooted me there. The atmosphere around her crackled. She rolled her hips and shoulders. Her hair, ablaze, fell down her back, Evan sometimes clutching strands. I smelled weed and spotted the empty Tequila bottle nearby.
Diesel turned, and at my sight she sighed.
“Have you guys met?” she said. “Evan, this is Lennon, short for John.” She slurred her words. “Fool wouldn’t even kiss me in the shower.”
“Diesel,” I said, unprepared for our business to be out there flapping in the wind.
“What?” she answered. “Am I wrong?”
And then, I don’t know what possessed me, maybe the devastating look in her eyes, but I launched into the gap. I tried to explain it to her. I brought up Sophie the dark-eyed beauty, even the scientific calculators and Tony Bertucci going to second base, the fact that I was mixed and didn’t know who to hang with until I met her but that I loved her. Really loved her. And would she please come home with me now?
Except that Diesel walked away, then twirled, radiant, beneath the stars. She sang some kind of blues song about rivers and sycamore trees. Evan cracked up.
“A gap?” he said. Then, he added, “Maybe you’re gay. It’s okay.”
I must have looked open to the idea because he walked over and kissed me, breath Tequila thick, tongue darting, reminding me of the ring-like worm, swimming at the bottom of a bottle in backwash. I gagged. I don’t know how long the kiss lasted but eventually Diesel giggled then looped her fingers around his neck, pulling him away. They plopped onto the grass and started making out themselves. I stood there frozen, then walked away.
Back in my room, I couldn’t sleep. The scene looped over and over. Evan’s mouth, me gagging. Them on the grass. Evan holding Diesel’s wrists, hair splayed and damp from the dew. Could it be, I thought before dawn, that the gap became so wide I’d have to move onto the other sex, whether or not I liked it? How could I be asking myself these kinds of questions and not know the answers? I rifled through my desk drawer looking for my Jasper but found a note from Steve that read, I took it. I’ve seen your scars. Let’s get you help.
I looked around, praying for him to come through the door but then remembered that he was spending the weekend with Izzy, so I went for a 20 miler in the hills, seeking relief, yet when the darkness kept on pressing, when the whirlpool siphoned me into suffocating muck, I threw myself down into a gorge. I know. It sounds super melodramatic, but it wasn’t Grand Canyon deep or anything, and the whole thing happened so fast that I didn’t have time to process my actions. There was the sharp dip, a valley covered in grass in font of me. The sun shone, burning off late autumn fog, and I just kept running.
I thought that the pain would be swift, that I’d make the tumult of guilt, shame, and isolation finally die. I thought that everything would be replaced by a great calm, some cosmic acceptance, and that if there was a river below with rapids it would forever engulf my soul, maybe take me to flat grounds where only ghosts hovered together.
But there was no river.
I broke my right ankle, scraped ribbons of skin off my body. By the time night fell, I’d curled up at the base of a tree. All I could do was whimper. The full moon shone. Moss grew beneath my legs. An owl hooted. The pain knocked me out.
Diesel is the one who found me the next morning. She must have looked into the ravine, then grabbed onto the edges of the rock and somehow made her way down. She called the paramedics, said something like accident. He slipped. At first, I thought she was an illusion, a dream. Diesel and me caught in the cracks of a canyon. The romance of it so over-the-top. I’d dehydrated and my body had grown so cold I was numb. But then I felt her hand on my shoulder and I heard her say, “I’m sorry.”
Diesel looked up at the sky, then maybe because of the pain or the cold or the strange relief at still being alive, I grabbed her face and kissed her.
“I’m not gay,” I said.
Then I passed out.
I was lifted by a helicopter and admitted to the hospital. Aside from her, Steve is the only other student who visited me. When I woke up the first time from a strange drug induced dream where hundreds of Diesels danced around me, I said, “I want to marry you.” Except that Diesel was gone.
Steve stood by my hospital bed and looked at me funny.
“You should rest,” said the nurse.
Later, my parents arrived. They were briefed and given words for my actions such as depression, social anxiety disorder, aka SAD, and self-harm. With the help of a therapist, they asked me to drop out of school, said that they weren’t sure exactly what had happened, that they were so sorry I’d never come to them before but that they wanted to be with me for my recovery, that the director of inclusion at the school had mentioned the overlap between the search of racial identity and generalized anxiety. I pretended to understand, nodded, and agreed to make a safety plan.
The morning before leaving campus, I tried to find her. I searched the dorm. I knocked on her door. I even trucked over to the science lab hoping to find her with a new physics tutor, but Diesel was nowhere to be found. Outside, I tapped Steve on the shoulder, told him to say hey to Izzy, and then put my final suitcase in the trunk of my parents’ car.