He left me. And that’s done.
So what do you do when you’re still holding on?
There’s no other way to celebrate New Year’s Day than to hold a bonfire and burn all your hopes and dreams all alone on a cold, barely sandy beach at midnight. I watched as the pages of the scrapbook fluttered from the breeze and then instantly recoiled into themselves once they kissed flame. Photos’ edges became dark and dusty. Colored tape and ribbons drooped and curled. Plastic melted and dripped tears. The fire held dominance and swallowed our road trips, trailer, and marriage. Luther + Hedwig. Those words would be the last thing I would ever see of that book.
The fire was hungry and wanting more.
Me too, fire, me too.
I tossed in my hospital records and receipts from the surgery. And I thought that would be the most painful thing in my life.
With a sigh, I reached back into the crumpled bag of Dollar General marshmallows and lazily stuck one to the end of my stick. Putting it over the fire, I looked out to the city, fidgeting with the strands on hair on my head. You could still see the city lights of Junction City as they sparkled and glowed in the distance over the hills. Light pollution. I could just hear Luther sing it. “We travel to the place without smoke in the air, expecting a place with clear skies, but nope! Welcome to America!”
Without looking, I snatched the closest piece of paper and hurled it into the inflamed pile of driftwood. Light pollution is beautiful.
It’s been two months since Luther divorced me. I put off cleaning out his stuff until now. It was like that bullshit expression. “New year, new you,” or whatever.
Suddenly, I miss Mother. God, if I could see her now. I consider going back to my trailer to call her, but then remember with envy her recent escape to sunny Yugoslavia. Perhaps Luther would be home. No.
Shit. My marshmallow was charred. Still edible I guess. Using a plastic fork, I carefully slid the candy off the stick and onto some graham crackers. I snapped off a piece of Hershey’s chocolate and snugly placed it on top of the white, sugary pillow. Hmm, sugar. The memory of having my first taste of American candy popped into the corners of my mind. I quickly shoved that thought away.
Suddenly cheers and whoops filled the air. Oh, right.
“Happy New Years,” I carelessly mumbled.
I toasted the sky with my smore and went in for a bite. Goopy sugar studded with crumbs and milk chocolate covered my lower lip-- which was such a shame considering how much time I spent perfecting them today. But honestly, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Why am I making smores when I can follow Billy Joel and get a “bottle or red, bottle of white”?
“Hey, mind if I join you?”
Bug-eyed and gaping, I quickly glanced up. Luther? No. It was Tommy Speck, the General’s son. I babysat for Tommy and his baby sister a few times this month. Tommy was a seventeen-year-old, four-eyed, pockmarked, Dungeons and Dragons-obsessed Jesus freak with a fish on his truck. I slouched back on the log and scarfed down the rest of my smore, hiding behind my hair.
Tommy was still standing.
Keeping my head down, I picked up whatever was close to me and flung it into the fire as if it were a frisbee.
He jumped back a bit and muttered something along “waste of a picture frame.” Tommy remained awkwardly standing, shifting from one foot to the other.
“Since it doesn’t seem like you’re ever gonna leave, go ahead,” I sighed. Breaking the brief moment of silence, I asked “Of all the tourist traps, shopping outlets, and literally any other place, you picked to spend New Year’s on this beach?” It wasn’t really a beach, but it was as close to one as midwest Junction City could get, dirt-mixed sand and everything. Across from us was the water. Ah, what a beautiful medium-sized pond.
I caught a slight smile.
“I’m with that bunch over there.” Tommy pointed towards a group of happy clean-cut kids singing around a bonfire. “My church group and I are all on a ‘campfire bonding trip.’ They’re all singing annoying pop songs about God, and it’s just so fucking irritating.”
“So you decided to come this mess-- who was also your sister’s babysitter-- instead?”
“Yeah, pretty much,” he joked. I knew he was fond of me, previously attending my short-set to watch my band, The Angry Inch, perform at Dr. Espresso’s Seattle-Style Coffee Enema Bar.
Tommy continued his lament, shaking his head. “But seriously, how can they worship such a God? You know, what Jesus saved us from was His fucking father. I mean what kind of God creates Adam in His image, pulls Eve out of him to keep him company, and then tells them not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge? That was so micromanaging. So was Adam.”
I took another look at Tommy as he spoke. The glow of the fire lit up his face and part of his upper body. It was like looking at a Queen album cover. He had long, smooth, dirty-blonde hair and pale white skin. His electro-blue eyes were glowing with passion, innocence, and misunderstanding. As for clothes, he wore a plain white v-neck shirt, which was French Tucked into tan cargo shorts.
I gave him an amused hum in response, stifling a laugh. There was something about his disdain for authority, his struggle with organized religion. He reminded me a bit of myself when I was growing up in East Berlin during the Cold War, listening to rock music in my oven to escape the chaos and confusion.
We both turned to look at his church group. They were dancing this time, many holding their water bottles and bags of chips up to the sky. Funny thinking that just a few years ago Luther and I were like that. Shining, happy, carefree. Our time together felt like the interlude of Springsteen’s “Born to Run.”
After a pause, he spoke again. “What about you, Hedwig? Why are you here?”
“I needed somewhere that wasn’t my trailer to burn some old stuff from the past years.” I laughed a bit. “This beach was the first place that came to my mind, I guess. Probably because my ex-husband and I used to come here together every month to go for walks. ‘Hedwig!’ Luther would say, ‘stop going so fast!’ Yeah, well it was his fault for being too slow. After walking the trail, we would hit the McDonalds over there and get our usual: one coffee, one soda, and two sausage McGriddles for the road. Sometimes he’d surprise me with extra ketchup packets too.”
Swamped with nostalgia and sadness, I laugh, because I will cry if I don’t. I don’t even know why I’m telling this to him. I felt a tinge of guilt for him having to listen to me at all, but then I remembered that it was his decision in the first place. That’s what you get when you approach a heartbroken soul who’s feeding trash to the flames.
I mindlessly started playing with the strands on hair in front of my face. I catch myself in the reflection of the clear plastic of the marshmallow bag. I recall doing something similar with a pack of gummy bears back in East Berlin, revelling in the forbidden feeling of power. However, this time, it was me who was the sugar cube trapped inside. Through the reflection of the dancing fire light, for the first time I clearly see the horror hunkering on my head. I could have been one of Lon Chaney’s roles. It was the same carpet remnant that Luther presented to me a year ago to disguise my receding... receding…
“You said ex-husband?” Tommy questioned, interrupting my train of thought.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Married for a year. I really thought he was the one.”
I looked over to the small pile of memories I still had left to burn. “I guess not though. Apparently he decided it was time to move on.”
Tommy leaned forward, his brow slighting frowning.
Tears blurred my vision. I was already 28 and haven’t done much with my life. I was caught between the Scylla and Charybdis. When the tears began to spill, Tommy was holding me in a semi-awkward side-hug.
“It hurts, you know, to only realize it now when it’s too late to do anything. And especially when you were too unprepared for the inevitable. I thought he loved me as I loved him. He gave me this damn wig, paid for the sex change, and married me to bring me here to America to start a life for our own. But hey! As Luther always said, ‘expect the unexpected’! Yeah, well, him leaving was so unexpected that I didn’t question it even being a possibility. I guess I was too overjoyed about having thought that I had found my other half. Why question our relationship if we were whole? But no, he was never the one. Never the missing half.”
Speech sobbing. One of my specialties.
We sat there in silence. I know that he didn’t fully understand the full details of who Luther was or what he made me do, but I just needed to get the words out. I cried into Tommy’s shirt. It felt as if the rivers would never stop streaming down my cheeks and my lungs would never catch enough air. I thought I knew everything, but now all that I know is that I never knew anything. Breathe.
I tried to focus on the warmth of the fire. The grains of sand in between my toes. The cool draft floating down from the mountains. Feel.
And the comforting closeness of another human being. Another human being who was willing to listen. Love.
He held me in his arms until I was ready to sit up again.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, snivelling. “I just want to learn how to move on. Start a new chapter, I don’t know.” Give.
I feel my scalp developing an angry itch. I lift the wig from my head, the weight of it gone.
My personal hair system.
My personal hell.
I was still holding onto the past.
After a while, Tommy softly hummed, “Burn it.”
I must have given him a look because his eyes grew and he frantically sat up in his seat.
“I mean, if you want, not like you have to. It’s just, you said that you wanted to be a new person. Start a new chapter and all. That’s why you’re here isn’t it?”
Maybe he’s right and that really was why I was there. Or maybe some force brought me there, to be with Tommy. But even now today, I still don’t know what led me to that rocky beach on that New Year’s night. But what I do know is that it gave me opportunity and a chance for happiness. Happiness without Luther.
I took one last look at the wig. Examined each strand and knot of the braid. Clenched it in my hand.
And with that, I tossed all that I had left of my ex-husband into the bonfire.