just before midnight

by natalie cuddington

Content Warning: Worries of Suicide

       The cold air bites at my face and I regret not wearing a scarf. But now that I think of it, I can’t even remember the last time I wore one. Do I even have a scarf? I shake my head and try to think more clearly. My mind is not working right now; it’s moving in five directions at once and I’m so afraid of what will happen if I don’t get there in time. What if I don’t get there in time?
       My breath is still coming out of my mouth in big white clouds in front of me, and the snow crunches under my boots with every step that I take. I try to focus on those two things to keep my mind calm, but I can’t. I can’t stop thinking about what her voice sounded like on the other end of the phone. How panicked and upset she was. But she wasn’t just upset, it was more than that. So much more that I don’t even have a word for it. As soon as I heard her crying, I told her I was on my way, I told her to hold on, that I was coming. I almost called a cab, but it’s New Year’s Eve; there’s no way I would get one in time. I didn’t even think; I put on my coat and left before I even hung up the phone. I didn’t even tell anyone at my party where I was going. I probably should have, maybe someone could have helped, but my mind wasn’t working properly. I just knew that I needed to go. I stayed on the line with her for the first five minutes of my walk, but then she hung up. I’ve tried calling her again twice but her phone goes right to voice mail.
        What if I’m already too late?
      I check the time on my phone and curse myself for not realizing what time it was before I left. It’s 11:30, and everyone should already be at their midnight destinations. I probably could have gotten a cab pretty easily. I think about calling one now, having them just meet me where I am, but I call her instead. I need to make sure that she’s okay. I hit redial with my numbing nose so I don’t have to take off my mitts, and almost cry when her voice mail comes on again.
        “It’s me,” I say. “I’m coming. Please don’t do anything, I’m on my way.” I pause, wondering if I should say the words that so badly want to come off my tongue. I can’t feel my lips and I’m sure my words aren’t super clear anyway. But the words I want to say will be clear no matter how numb my mouth is.  I take in a breath of cold air and let it out slowly, watching the puff form in front of my face. “Please,” I say. “I love you.”
        It almost hurts to say those three words. I haven’t told her that in three months, and it’s been even longer since I’ve heard her say it to me. Even if she still doesn’t feel the same way, I hope she at least gets to hear me say it. I need her to hear me say it.
         I think she needs to hear it too.
       A car drives by on my left side and I flinch even though I’m on the sidewalk. The roads have been so quiet for my walk so far, I could have been walking down the middle of the street. The car honks excitedly a few times after it passes, and I wish that I was excited too. I wish that I was happy, that I could raise my hand in the air in response to the driver now ahead of me who wouldn’t see me anyway.
      I try calling her again and hang up as soon as I hear the recording of her sweet voice. She sounds so happy in that message. I wonder when she recorded it. It was definitely before we got together.
       My heart starts hammering and I can feel it slamming against my ribcage. I pick up the pace, but my thighs are frozen and I can’t feel my steps the way I know I should. Why does it have to be so damn cold? Why can’t my brain work properly in situations like this? Should I call a cab? If I call a cab, does that mean I have to stop walking and wait for it to show up? I can’t stop walking. Even though my entire body is numb and my ponytail is making my toque ride up and not cover my ears properly, and even though my face might have mild frost bite, I can’t stop walking. I can’t just sit here and wait for something to come to me. I can’t wait. I have to keep going.
       I tear my right mitt off with my teeth and text her. Maybe she’ll see a text.
       I love you I type.
       I don’t care if she doesn’t love me back. She needs to know that someone loves her.
       I stare are my screen, feeling like I’m going to barf up my heart, waiting for her to reply. She has to reply. I can’t take it anymore; I call the taxi place. But I just get a busy signal. I hang up and try again. Busy.
       “Dammit!” I cry. I want to throw my phone across the road, I want to step on it and smash it into pieces.
        But I don’t really want to do that. I just need to release my feelings somehow. I don’t know what else to do but walk, so I walk.

       My thoughts are still moving a mile a minute, from one thing to the next, and I can’t keep my mind straight. I can’t help but think of our first kiss. I had kissed a few girls before, but she hadn’t and she was nervous. She told me that she wanted to kiss me, but she that she was afraid.
       “What are you afraid of?” I had asked her.
       “I don’t know,” she mumbled, almost shrinking in on herself.
       I backed away from her a little bit, not wanting to make her feel pressured, but she then just stepped into me again. It was like she was trying not to be nervous. Like she knew she wanted it, wanted me, but her nerves were making her second guess herself. So because she stepped into me, I helped a little and brought my face in to hers, leaving only millimetres between our lips. “Are you afraid of me?” I whispered.
        “No,” she replied quickly.
        “Then what is it?”
         “I’m afraid… I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to get you out of my head.”
         I almost laughed. But it seemed like a legitimate fear. Your first kiss resonates with you, keeps a hold on you so strong that you can’t break free from it. Once someone takes your first kiss, they can’t give it back. I wanted to be perfect for her. I wanted her to not be able to get me out of her head, but I wanted her to want that. I wanted her to want me for the rest of time. If she couldn’t get me out of her head, I wanted it to be a good thing.
         “Do you want me out of your head?” I finally asked, still just as close.
         “No.” And then she closed the tiny gap between us, and she kissed me.

       That seems so long ago now. We’ve both grown and changed so much, we’re almost different people. I try calling her one more time, even though I know she won’t pick up. I don’t leave a message. I pocket my phone and put my mitten back on, try to keep my head up high as I keep making my way to her place. I’m almost there. I’ll probably make it just before midnight.
        My phone rings and I yelp, pulling it out of my pocket right away. My heart sinks when I see that it’s just someone from my party. They’re drunk and loud and don’t listen to me when I try to say what’s going on. They ask me where I went and when I try to say where I’m going, they just tell me that she doesn’t want to see me.
        “You’re not together anymore, you have to get over it,” my friend says, their words slurring.
         “That’s not what this is about,” I say. “She needs my help.”
         I’m about to ask for their help but the crowd in the background gets louder and our call is disconnected. I start to cry, the phone still against my ear, nothing coming out the other end. I can’t bring myself to pull my phone away, but I’m not sure why. Did I mess this whole thing up? If I just called a cab from my place, or if I asked a friend to come with me, would this night turn out differently? What if someone at my party hadn’t had anything to drink? They could have driven me. Why don’t I think rationally when I’m scared? I wish I had it together enough to handle this situation properly. I just left. I just threw on my boots and left. And now she’s probably gone too.
        She was always so happy when we were together. Her giggle lit up my entire world, and her smile was so warm and genuine. I never thought that anything like this could happen, that she could be in a place like this.
          She was always so happy.
          I can finally see her apartment building and I let myself pocket my phone. I start to run. I almost slip on a patch of ice but I catch myself before I fall and keep going. I can see a light on in her apartment. That doesn’t mean anything, but to me for some reason it means hope.
          I smash my thumb against her intercom, but she doesn’t buzz me in. That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe she’s just asleep. I don’t take any chances and start pressing all the intercom buttons until someone buzzes me in. As soon as I hear the sound come from the door, I pull it open and sprint down the hall, my boots thumping along the carpet and leaving trails of snow behind me.
        As I slam open the stairwell door and start making my way to her floor, my phone starts to go off. Notification after notification, and I know that it’s midnight. Everyone I know is wishing me a happy new year, oblivious to the fact that I’m not having a good time. Oblivious to the fact that I’m not happy.
         But that’s how it always seems to happen, isn’t it?
        Her door is unlocked and when I open it I almost fall into her entryway. She sits up on the couch as soon as I come in and I gasp, so relieved to see her. So relieved to see her alive. She’s been crying, but as soon as she sees me, her entire body language changes. She still looks sad and broken, but there’s a piece underneath that so badly wants to fit. I can see it.
       She lets out a sob, but stays where she is, allowing me to come to her. I don’t even take my boots off; I step into her living room and join her on the couch, letting her wrap me up in her arms.
        She cries into my shoulder and takes in a deep breath. “You’re here,” she says.
        I let out another sigh of relief and hold her tighter. “I’m here.”