A Stranger to Myself

"I feel like I don't even know myself. And if I don't know myself, how can anyone else ever know me?" Autumn has always felt alone, like an outcast. But when a girl comes into her life and reveals things about Autumn she never would have known otherwise, can Autumn learn to accept her differences she's so used to hating?


21. Would You?

I was with her every single day for as long as possible, as much as possible. I had been going to these brief little therapy sessions, and without realizing it, all I talked about at those sessions was Carmen. Described her in extreme detail, over-analyzed all of our interactions, rambled excitedly about plans that were to come. It really must've seemed like I was obsessed. And maybe I was. 


I remember one day particularly more than the others. As a whole, things started to morph together with only some stuff standing out, but this I remembered - because of how much it hurt. It hadn't been intentional or malicious in any way. But it just hurt.


We had gone to the movies again - a scary one, my personal favorite genre. Carmen, on the other hand, could barely handle it. She kept suppressing tiny little shrieks with her hands, and covering her eyes through most of the entire thing. At one point, she even jumped out of her seat and partially onto my lap. I just laughed as she quickly got off of me, cheeks flushed. I smiled at her and reached to hold her hand, which she responded to by intertwining our fingers together and squeezing so tightly it almost hurt. I couldn't stop smiling like an idiot. 


When it was over we went and got some frozen yogurt and sat on a mildly secluded bench just outside the mall. It looked like it might start raining but that didn't bother us. What it did do, however, was remind me of that night on the curb in that storm. It felt like that had happened years and years before. I wondered if she was experiencing the same thing. I decided against mentioning it wanting to stay positive but after a little while it actually started to pour. We scrambled under the nearest form of shelter - a thankfully nearby awning. Neither of us said a word. 


It was really coming down in buckets, exactly like the night that just wouldn't leave the back of my mind. I shifted my weight from foot to foot as I started to find this silence awkward. Until finally, she spoke up first. 


"Autumn..." She spoke very cautiously, quietly, I almost couldn't hear her over the sound of raindrops hitting pavement, but I listed intently, "...Does this remind you of--"


"--Yeah." I stopped her before she said the rest of it, though I'm not entirely sure why. I looked down, unable to keep my eyes on the all-too familiar rain. We had thrown out our frozen yogurts and my hands were free, but I had no idea what to do with them. I just shoved them deeply into my pockets. 


There was a long pause, the rain getting louder and more intense as time dragged on. We didn't say anything else. What should we say? So I was just left to my thoughts. And I wished I hadn't been.


I started going over that night in my head, finding that my brain wasn't letting me do anything else. I went over every minute so vividly, every feeling that had course through me in those moments. How horrible I felt. How betrayed, conflicted, lonely and confused. Carmen had abandoned me. Left me behind when I most needed her. She... kissed me. Then I kissed her. Then she left, leaving me absolutely devastated and overwhelmed by far too many emotions - ones that I just couldn't deal with on top of all my extremely deep self-hatred. I remembered just how often I cried, and how hard I sobbed that night on the curb.


And I felt myself start to cry again. I had no control over this, it was too much all at once. With the rain, and with Carmen right next to me, I was starting to lose it. I rubbed at one of my eyes with a clenched fist. She noticed. I tried desperately to keep it together. It wasn't working out too well. 


"Are you alright?" She finally spoke up, looking at me now, stepping closer. Knowing I was unable to speak, I just nodded weakly. What an obvious lie. Even I knew that. But I didn't know what else to do. My lip was quivering nonstop, tears clinging visibly to my eyelashes. Carmen wasn't stupid. Far from it, really. It was then that she stepped in front of me, staring at my eyes. I looked up, both trying to compose myself and unable to match her gaze. I felt her grab both of my arms, but that didn't make me look either. It was only when she spoke that I did, "Autumn, it's perfectly fine to not be okay," One of her hands moved to my cheek, "As  long as you're not giving up." 


We locked eyes. Her expression was enthralling, and the sensation of her incredibly soft skin on my face was mind-numbing. I felt my tears finally streaming down my cheeks. She initially wiped the first one away gently with her thumb, then simply gave up and wrapped me tightly in her arms. I hugged her back, but didn't cry. I felt no need to - not anymore. She made me feel so safe. 


I wanted to express this to her but I didn't know how. I just tried to regulate my breathing, and managed to say finally without really registering what came out, "Thank you, Carmen. Seriously." My words were incredibly quiet and nearly incoherent. I wasn't even sure what I meant by that.


Surprising me, her grip faltered and she let go, not being too far from me. Our eye contact having broken, her cheeks were flushed as she spoke her next words with slight caution, "God it's really crazy just how much you an care about one person... ya know?" She was adorably nervous. 


I gave her a very slight smile - the only one I could seem to manage at that moment. I found all her shyness unnecessary for her to go through, so I reached forward to gently grasp her chin and aimed her head back up at me. Her cheeks then became a deep red, eyes wide. I was about say something, anything, but it was then that her phone rang. It was like some rom-com, when an inconvenient call interrupts a potentially intimate moment. She stammered out some things before I removed my hand, which prompted her to answer the phone. I took a very slight step back during the brief conversation. 


When she hung up, her eyes returned to me. She still looked very tense and nervous when she told me, "That was your mom... She said she's here to bring you to your appointment... She's in the parking lot over by the east entrance." She fiddled excessively with her phone. It was cute. 


I nodded, not feeling like I had anything left to say. As a non-verbal goodbye, I reached forward and intertwined our fingers together. She opened her mouth as if to something else, but nothing came out. After hovering for a few moments longer, I smiled at her and turned to leave. It wasn't until I opened a door to re-enter the mall that she finally spoke. And I understood why she hesitated. 


"If I asked you to stay, would you?" Her voice shook but needed to be projected to be audible.


I turned to face her again. She looked so pained, conflicted, hopeful and desperate. I didn't fully understand the question, "I have my appointment, but..." I trailed off when I saw the discouraged look on her face. This seemed incredibly difficult for her. 


"That's not what I meant." She was blushing once again and fidgeting all over the place. 


I was worried for her to elaborate, but I was so curious it was impossible not to, "Then what did you mean?" My hand remained firmly on the door handle though I didn't push or pull it. 


She took a deep shaky breath, "I mean... stay here. With me. In town." Her voice broke a little and so did my heart. She could see how dismayed I now was, anyone could, but that didn't stop her from saying the next thing. Which was even worse, "Please, Autumn. Don't leave me, please." She whispered, her expression on its own agonizing to witness. 


I didn't know what to say. I needed to leave. My therapist was unforgiving when it came to arriving on time, and I abruptly felt like I needed to talk about a lot of stuff. But I suddenly thought that my previously forgotten guilt was going to eat me alive. I just shook my head back and forth, "I... have my appointment, Carmen... I just... I'll see you tomorrow okay?" My chest physically ached.


She blinked rapidly and sniffled, very distraught, before nodding. I lingered. She didn't look at me - trying desperately to keep it together. I felt absolutely terrible. When I got to my therapy session, I sobbed hysterically the entire time, probably only speaking three or four coherent words. 


I just didn't know what to do.

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