Long Distance

by Claudia Pocasangre

I have one rule when we have the dorm to ourselves–no pants. April wears a tie-die panty with a happy face on the butt. She sits on my bed, her laptop on her knees typing away. A textbook is next to her foot; the cover illustrated with a woman’s face, a colorful collage of neurons, the earth, and the word Psychology written across the top.  Papers are scattered across the bed, her long wavy hair covering half her face, her focus, her mind, and her tie-die panty.  

We were supposed to study together this weekend. Get our shit straight.  I met her Friday night at the Downtown San Francisco station from San Luis Obispo.  She waited outside the station in her SLO hoodie. She complained the entire MUNI ride from Montgomery Station. On and on she went about her classes, the lack of support for Latinx, and the annoying sorority girls and frat boys in her building. SLO is not her scene. I’ve been telling her since our senior year of high school that she’d hate the SLO crowd, where the blonde douchery of privilege roam a SoCal coastal town.  She had options: UC Santa Cruz, Humboldt State, even my school.  She needed a school somewhere more north, more hipster, more Raza, and more weed friendly, but according to her SLO has the best agricultural program that didn’t involve living in Pomona.       “Besides, more Latinx are organizing, so don’t fuck up my plans,” she said on the train. I’m an English major. What the fuck do I know about giving career advice?

I lie on the bed facing her feet, tapping at her her toes. Her hummingbird tattoo on her foot recently healed. I don’t know how she’s going to hide that from her parents.

She looks up from her laptop

“What?”  

“When will you be done?”

“I don’t know. This essay is due Monday morning.”

“Why don’t you do it tomorrow?”

“I have to take the bus back to SLO tomorrow.”

“Did you really think we were going to do homework the entire weekend?”

“I expected too. You haven’t done shit. You’ve been reading stupid blogs on your lap

top this whole time.”

I lean over to kiss her. She pushes me away and stares back at the screen.

“I’m going to finish this first.”

The back of her laptop stickered with a cartoonish Frida and a tiny quetzal her mother gave her from her trip back to Guatemala.

April tucks her hair behind her ear. She is wearing her septum ring again. She doesn’t take it off now when she goes to her parents’ house back in L.A. She said that if she wears it long enough in front of them, they’d eventually accept it. Her mother has not said a word to her since she saw the ring on her nose. I wonder how long her mother will play the silent treatment when she sees her new tattoo.

Her face is shiny, her under eyes puffy. She’s tired. The stress is showing. I try and picture her last year, our senior year–silky legs in jean cut off shorts on my bed after school. Her eyes lit up then. Her hands were quick to search my cock under my jeans. She would laugh and we would wrestle and end up naked, sticky and sweaty.  Bien enmielados ,as my grandmother used to say.

She scratches her skin on her arms and picks at it for a little.

“Stop”

“I’m itchy.”

“No you’re not.”

She shifts her gaze at me and then to the computer. I wanted her here all week, and now that she is here I’m bored. I grab my phone and play some Aterciopelados in hopes she’ll pay attention. I see her looking at her arm again and she is scratching.

“April, stop!”

She does stop and covers her head with her hands. Shit, she’s crying.

“Look, I’m sorry I yelled. You just have to stop scratching. Remember, the doctor

said it’s all in your head.”

Now it’s uncontrollable. She’s like shaking crying.

“What’s wrong?”

I pull her into my chest. I wish girls had an off button for this.

I hear her muffle “nothing” under my shirt. My shirt feels wet, snot and tears.

“I’m sorry. I won’t yell anymore. Please stop crying.”

She pulls away. Her hair is on her face. She wipes her eyes.

“I don’t know,” she stops and I can sense the tears coming back again.

“You don’t know what?”

This is happening. I knew she would do it first. I felt it die months ago. The last time I was in SLO and we smoked some weed I brought down from the city. We slept all weekend. She didn’t want to fuck once, she didn’t even try and touch my dick. Then there was the obsessive texting she did before Thanksgiving vacation because I liked a classmate’s picture on Instagram.

The girl wasn’t even that cute. We fought the entire break and finally made up before school started again. I thought about breaking it off before.  It’s four years for me in the Bay Area

here and four years for her in SLO.  How long will we put up with riding the stink ass Greyhound for each other?

She stops crying and lifts up her face and extends her arm in front of me.

“Look!”

“Look at what?”

Her arm looks normal. Then she points—on the surface of her brown skin, there is a small patch of green, green like a plant, with thin translucent thorns. The patch on her skin looks prickly, raised like the surface of a cactus.

“What the fuck is that?”

“I don’t know? Danny what do I do? I tried to shave it off and it grew back.

I went to the school doctor and she gave me some cream for, but doesn’t do

shit.”

“It looks like the surface of a plant is growing through your skin. It’s kind of cool. Can

I touch it?”

“No! It’s not cool! I told the dermatologist that it looked alien, monstrous. She

laughed!”

“Is that the only place you have it?”

“Yes, but what if it grows to my whole body? I feel like it’s spreading.”

“April, you just have to look for another doctor. Have you told your parent’s?”

“No.”

“Fuck. I wonder if it’s contagious.”

“You’re not helping!”

I grab her and hold her in my arms. I don’t know what to do. I want to look at it again; I want to touch it, but she’ll freak out and cry some more. I resist the urge. We lie down on my bed. She’s still in my arms but her eyes are closed. I feel a something poking on my chest.  I close my eyes and think of the translucent thorn.

1:30 a.m. My shirt is soaked, beads of sweat on my forehead. April is lying still next to me. For a minute I forget why she was crying in my arms, and then I remember her skin problem. I feel like that did not really happen. Like in the morning when we get up, I’ll make her cum, she’ll make me cum and then we’ll go down to the dining hall and eat breakfast. I’ll make her the waffles on the machine that she likes and we’ll sip on orange juice and everything will be fine.

2:25 a.m.  I’ve been staring at April all this time. Why can’t I go back to sleep?. April is snoring a little, her mouth slightly open with drool dripping down her lip. She looks cute in that messy way. Her waves are now frizzy; her hair looks like the 80’s version of Gloria Trevi, that Mexican pop singer my mom still worships.

I stroke her face. Maybe she’ll wake up and join me in my restlessness. She turns the other way. Damn. My hand traces her shoulder and her back. I spoon her, bring her close to me. She makes a noise but is still asleep. My hand runs the rim of her tie-die panty, and down the trail of tiny curls to her crotch. Her hand grabs mine and yanks me out of my zone.

“Really Danny? Right now?”  April scoots her body as far away from me as she can, which is impossible on my long twin bed.

“I know, I know. Consent.”

April springs up from my bed.

“This isn’t a joke! I’m going through this weird skin deformation and you are not taking anything serious.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. If you don’t want to then we don’t have to.”

“It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s that I’m going through a lot.”

She lies back down and faces the wall. I’m not sure if I should touch her or not.

“Danny.”

“Yes.”

“Just hold me.”

I do and I kiss her neck. I kiss where she has a slight discoloration on her neck, a scar from the curling iron. I keep kissing her. She hasn’t told me to stop, or moved away. She turns around. Her eyes are closed and her face is soft.

“Don’t stop.” She says with her eyes still closed.

I don’t. She kisses back and this time when I run my fingers along the elastic of her underwear, she doesn’t fuss, she doesn’t move away and she doesn’t say anything.

April is not one to shave and usually I’m not one to care. I’m not picky about stuff like that, but as I feel around, I can’t tell if she trimmed or not. I feel a spot that doesn’t feel like pubic hair, but doesn’t feel like skin either. I feel a hard texture with a sharp bump.

“Ouch.”

I suck the blood from my finger. I turn on my bed light and shake my hand. I look at the small prick on my index finger.  

“What happened?”

How do I tell her I think her pussy cut me?

“April. You got to see something.”

“What?”

I show her my finger.

“How’d you get a cut?

“From you,” I even smile so she thinks it’s sort of cute that she cut me.

“What do you mean?”

I look down at her panty and she looks down too. She pulls down her panty and touches herself. I would totally be turned on right now if not for her vagina turning into a cactus.

“Oh no,” she says and looks at me. She’s about to cry again.

“It’s alright babe. It’s just one little prick. All we have to do is pluck it out and your vagina is back…”

“Don’t say normal! Vagina’s are not supposed to be green!”

She’s in my arms again. This is getting bad. What if she really is turning into this cactus freak? Will she be all over the news? Is there a cure? Will she still be alive? Why am I wondering what it will be like to fuck her as a cactus?  

“Danny, what do I do?”

“Okay, I know your skin thing is crazy, but I don’t want the RA to come knocking asking me what’s going on in my dorm. He takes his job seriously.”

“I’m fucking turning into this plant thing, Danny! I don’t give a shit about your RA!  I thought it was all in my head, but now I have this weird disease that doesn’t even have a name and I don’t know what to do. I’m going to die, Danny! I’m going to die!”

“Sush, it’s okay”

“No it’s not!”

“Well maybe your vagina works and it just looks cactusy. I’m sure we can work something out?”

“Danny!”

She cries so loud, I know for sure Ryan is going to get up and start pounding at my door.  My dorm had to be next to the RA’s. My hand goes down her again. Maybe it was an illusion from earlier. Maybe her pussy is not a cactus. Maybe we are both tripping. As I feel around her vagina again I feel her skin, the coils of her hair, then the hard cactus surface, but I move my fingers away from the spot that pricked me, and her sobbing ceases a little. “See, we can find a way.” She lies on her back and her body is tense. I’m not sure if she feels anything. Tears still roll down her eyes, but I keep pressing around, until I find a soft spot that seems untouched by the plant skin disease, a spot that still feels like April. She gets quite and breaths in and out. My fingers get moist.

              ******

I see her little hand wave by the window of the Greyhound bus before the bus drives away.  I walk back to Muni to take the M to my dorm. It is Sunday afternoon and the Financial District in San Francisco is filled with tourist and the homeless. Usually I don’t think about April much. She pops in and out, but she is not in a cycle inside my head spinning and replaying images. I am usually in my own world, but since the skin incident happened, I kept thinking about what to do if she evolves into a cactus person. We probably can never have sex. Real sex. How can I tell her I don’t want to be with her when she is going through something so life changing? Literally.

There is always a chance that her skin condition is curable. She is going to a new dermatologist right after class on Monday. I asked her to text me as soon as she comes back from the doctor this week. I’m sure everything will be fine.  I’m underground waiting for the train. I hear the M train going outbound, the wind on my face.

           *****

April finally saw a dermatologist. The doctor had never heard about such a skin condition, but offered her another cream that might soothe the irritation while they run some more test.

She is ruined. Our conversations involve her crying, complaining about losing her concentration in class and how she thinks she is going to die. Sometimes I don’t want to pick up the phone because I know she’s going to go on and on, but I don’t want her to think I don’t care. She tries to start a fight with me whenever she thinks I sound disinterested.

As I walk to the library from my sociology class, I received a text from her. A picture of her hip, the skin green and prickly– cactus like. I stare at the picture for a long time. This is my girlfriend. My girlfriend is becoming a cactus. No she’s not; she has a skin disease that makes her skin a cactus.  Whatever. I don’t think I can do this. It’s dark out and late. I look up at the trees around campus. Their branches bushy with leaves, creating giant shadows. As I pass the library I see students smoking at the only smoking section on campus. Guys are skating on their skateboards. Grungy girls are flirting with hipster guys. I feel like I missed out on my first semester focusing on us.  I can’t do this. I don’t care how fucked up I am. I’m breaking up with her.

I run run towards student housing. I get to my dorm room and open the door.  It is Thursday and my roommate is on his computer playing a video games. Our schedules are so conflicted I forget he’s ever here. I don’t even bother to say hello. I open my laptop and search Greyhound. I can’t do it over the phone. I’ll see her tomorrow night. This is fucked up but fair.

I did not hear from her for the whole night. I wish I had some weed so I could fall asleep. I could feel another restless night creeping in. I booked a ticket for a morning bus ride. I know she only has one class in the morning, and I am going to skip my British Literature class tomorrow. I Google images of cacti on my phone as I lie in bed. I swipe through squat cacti, tall cacti, and cacti with prickly pears. Nope. I still don’t know how I’d fuck her.  

****

Friday afternoon the Greyhound bus rolls in at the San Luis Obispo Station. I’ve been texting and calling April all morning. I feel even worse now. I’m going to surprise her, but it won’t be one of those good surprises. I know she’ll go crazy. I’m fucked if I do and fucked if I’m don’t. My mind is made up. I’m here. April doesn’t live in student housing. She lives in one of those fancy apartments near campus. She shares the place with four other girls. I know she does some homework after class, so she should have the afternoon free. Her apartment is gated but someone is about to step out. I run to the door and slip in as the person leaves.  I walk upstairs to number 2B and knock. I wish I had her apartment key. I knock again on the door and her roommate Kirsten opens up.

“Hey, Kristen. Is April here?”

“Oh, hey Danny. No she’s not in.”

“Um. I have to drop off something in her room. Do you mind if I come in?”

“Well, I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”

“I can’t carry it around with me. I need to drop it off now.”

“Okay, but …”

I can’t wait for an answer. I push her aside and rush into the apartment. I don’t know why but I needed to be in April’s space. When I walk in her room everything looks normal. Her bed unmade, amateur paintings on the floors, the carpet stained with acrylic colors; brown, yellow, and green.  I finally see her in the corner of her room. She is tall and stiff. Rooted to the carpet floor she stood, green and thorny.  I drop to my knees. I want to scream but I am out of breath. Instead, I trace each thorn, each indent in her cactus surface with my eyes. I’m shaking, but I lean in to her. I kiss her, thorns puncturing my lips, the taste of her in my mouth. From Kristen’s perspective, I look like I am worshipping a house plant.

Photo credit by Maria Keays via Flickr, All Creative Commons 

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