by Caitlin Conran
Jenny moved to Costa Rica three years ago to work on a banana farm. I was unabashedly bitter when she left. There had been mornings – several over the years – when the sun had come peeking Clementine orange through the windows of her loft in Little Italy, and she would lapse into musings of what lie ahead. I knew she wanted to travel to Costa Rica, and France, and Barbados, and even South Africa because she had told me this. But in the same breath she would promise to hold off leaving until we were both done with whatever obligations we had resigned ourselves to; our menial coursework, internships, barista gigs. Then one scorching summer day she packed up and left. It was very abrupt and spontaneous – not unlike Jenny, but still, unexpected.
We didn’t speak the first two years she was there. She sent me postcards for a while, little laminated snapshots of gorgeous sunsets and streets filled with fruit vendors, but I never responded. She never mentioned missing me. I eventually grew up and got a real job. I moved to South Town. I met another girl. She was lanky like Jenny, but blonder and louder. She was sweet. She moved to South Town with me.
I never told Jenny I’d moved, and her postcards stopped arriving in my mailbox. But one day in August, almost a year into my new relationship, a bushel of bananas was forwarded to my new address. I came home to find a tornado of searing suspicion flurrying about my living room.
“Where are these from?”
Not ‘who,’ but ‘where.’ Even I couldn’t recognize the sentimentality of the message attached:
I miss you. Come visit.
And “how?” And “why?” And “you don’t even like bananas.”
“I know” and “I’m sorry” and “Don’t leave me,” followed quickly. But she left and I deserved that. And I fell right back into Jenny’s unforgiving arms, and I deserved that. I booked my ticket that night, one month in advance.
There are some relationships – everyone experiences at least one – that are so dysfunctionally beautiful that despite your petty arguments and injured egos, you can’t bring yourself to end them. Days, weeks, months, even years become blurs of insults and hateful remarks, stemming from harbored jealousies that bleed into years of deep-rooted resentment and loss of eye contact. You hold out like a soldier in a bunker of hazards because you truly believe that those seeds of trust and respect still lie buried beneath the battleground separating you and the only person who ever understood your vulnerability. A faintly glimmering light of love still lingers on the perimeter, shining only suddenly when the dishes are washed, or the coffee is made correctly, or a spark of flinty laughter triggers a memory from years before. Before you moved upstate together. Before the cat you rescued was hit by a car. Before hundreds of nights passed in tangled arms and legs and long strands of hair evaporated into dark stillness. Before the voice of the only person courageous enough to sit down next to you and whisper in your ear turned sullen and sore. The only person who held your hand across the street and kissed your neck in public. Who brushed your wet hair behind your ear and didn’t weep when you showed them pictures of your dead mother. Who was somehow strong enough to carry the burden of your insecurities and slowly whittle them down to slivers of nothingness.
The trouble with these relationships is that they always end disastrously. Human beings were not meant to invest so much of themselves in one another. We are all organic. We will all decay. We will slowly break each other down.
She apologized ahead of time for not being able to pick me up at the airport. She had never bought a car after she moved to the farm, choosing instead to ride an old Schwinn bicycle. What she failed to mention was that a cab ride to her new home would cost me $150 plus tip, and after smiling meekly at the old Costa Rican cab driver and forking over a mere $50, I resolved to buy a cheap bicycle for myself. Or would she think that was too much?
“You can just use Jacob’s,” Jenny said, “He hardly ever leaves this place.”
“Sure, just holler whenever you need it,” Jacob said too cheerily through crunches of Cheerios and milky lips. I had only been there ten minutes and already I sensed that I had made a gargantuan mistake.
“Besides, who knows how long you’re staying. I wouldn’t want you to invest in anything you won’t really need,” Jenny said coolly.
I immediately interpreted this as a cue to purchase my plane ticket home. I wondered if visiting so abruptly was a major turn-off. Did I seem too eager and frantic? Were our three years of silence not quiet enough? Were the thousands of miles from my door to hers not long enough? I should have stayed home.
I watch Jenny’s calves as we bike toward the beach. She’s always had very strong legs, having spent the majority of her childhood dancing ballet. Her muscles are subtle and supple so that she always moves gracefully, even on a rusty bicycle over bumps in the dirt road. Her hair is down and flowing in the light Costa Rican breeze and I find myself longing to feel it, her head resting on my stomach. When we finally settle in the sand I offer to braid it for her.
“I prefer wearing it unbound,” she says. Not just down, but unbound. I sense that she is sending me subtle clues.
I watch her take off her shirt and jean shorts and toss them into the sand. I wonder if this is what everyone in Costa Rica does, or if Jenny alone is confident enough to strip in front of the ocean. I keep my t-shirt on. I tread through waves to meet her. She calls out to me over the sound of churning salt water.
“I’m surprised you came.”
I need to shout to reach her. I want to scream, “I’ve missed you more than anything,” but high tide drowns out my inclinations of honesty. She ducks under water for a moment and resurfaces, brunette strands plastered to her cheeks and the back of her neck. She’s a mermaid, she’s goddess, she’s a siren. I cannot recognize her.
Caitlin Conran is presently a 20-year-old film student running rampant in Austin, TX, previously a know-it-all pre-teen in the suburbs of Chicago, and posthumously a literary genius, or something like that, maybe.
Illustration by Margarita Korol.