Far beyond whatther-the-fuck-I-am control, too, for that matter.
So even though I knew in five short years I was going to be suddenly propelled backwards in my own personal history, even though I knew it was going to end soon, I stayed.
Claire fell back into the comfortable pattern we'd had going all those years, cooking, cleaning and making love to me. Her beautiful red hair and sultry eyes kept me hypnotized and I followed her around, a shadow for a beauty, clinging to her, constantly touching her, wanting her closer to me. Even when I was inside her, even when I was curled around her like smoke, I still coudln't seem to be close enough to her. It's like I wanted to take my soul out of my own body and inhabit hers. And even that wouldn't be quite close enough, either.
Claire made me whole in a way that I'd never been whole before.
Which is why in 1971 when she asked me to I married her.
It was a simple ceremony. We stood on the beach in the fading sunlight one evening with a minister and a couple of the friends we'd acquired together over the years, but nothing huge. She held reeds from the dunes instead of flowers and a simple, flowing white gown that hung from the curve of her hips in a whimsical fashion that reminded me of a Lilly of the Valley petal. Her hair was gathered in loose clumps and the freckles that came across her shoulders and arms during summer speckled her tanned skin, which glowed with happiness.
I wore my suit proudly, never so content to be dressed formally, staring at her, my hands shaking, even as I repeated the vows and put the ring onto her finger. When she slid the gold band onto my own hand, it didn't feel heavy, as I had expected it to...it felt...right, like it had always been there, always a part of my hand, as though my hand had been waiting for it to be found and replaced.
I kissed her deeply and our mouths melted together like chocolate around strawberries.
We had a wonderful marriage. Claire became used to my constant worrying about saving people I loved and I became used to her constant reassurance that it was going to be okay. She listened patiently before reprimanding me when I started talking about the future, when I would turn thirteen, and it would all be over.
"I want you to fall in love again," I pleaded with her. "Fall in love and remarry and have a long, beautiful, happy life with someone." The words were catching in my throat, my heart aching and burning with the idea that someone else would touch these breasts, hold these hands, kiss this mouth...
"I'm going to have a long, beautiful, happy life with someone," Claire said, rolling her eyes, "I'm going to have it with you, Nick. You're not going anywhere. We'll figure out how to keep you here."
But on January 27, 1975, we didn't have much as far as answers go. Despite the fact that we'd tried and tried to find something - anything - that might ground me, that might keep me there.
So we decided to try something basic.
Every pore of my body was pooled with sweat, my heart slamming in my chest, my hands on her hips as she hovered over me, her body grinding into mine. My arms were shaking. I felt her every move deep within my core. "Jesus," I muttered as she ran her hands down my chest. My own hands travelled up her body, feeling her curves, clinging to her.
The idea was that perhaps if we were one, the force that changed me, that stole me away each time, would be unable to find me buried within her, that her soul would protect mine from being detected.
"I love you," Claire gasped, her breath coming out labored from the passion.
"And I - I you," I panted.
She laid down over me, her breasts pressing into me, and our mouths met as our rhythm continued. I clung to her, my arms wrapped around her. Slowly, we stopped moving, slowly our kisses became calmer, less passionate, more gentle, more sleepy...
And before I knew what had happened... we'd fallen asleep, together.
Our lips were hovering over one another, though at some point we'd rolled apart from each other so that I was on one side of the bed and she was on the other, no longer connected.
But when I woke up, I knew without even opening my eyes what happened.
I dressed quickly in clothes that were way too big for me. Pulled my wallet from the dresser table. I opened it, looked at my license, at the license that would no longer be valid, and stared at the picture that stared back at me, my face, my eyes, my mouth. But it was no longer me. I dropped the card on the nightstand. It was useless to me now. I'd left her a small pile of treasures like that. My keys, half of all the money I had (more than enough to keep her), my glasses, a seashell I kept in my pocket from long ago... Things that would help her, mean something to her, but that had become trinkets to me.
I kept my wedding band.
Claire slept on, wrapped in the comforter and sheets, a precious, unknowing smile upon her lips. Her scarlet hair sprayed across the dark sheets and pillowcase. I let my eyes roam across her body, drinking her in, memorizing every curve of her body. Her closed eyes, the thick eyelashes, the plump lower lip.
Her eyes slowly opened, looking up at the ceiling, not at me. Her hand moved to the empty space beside her where I'd laid all night.
I backed away from the bed as she sat up, realizing I wasn't there. Her head turned first in the direction of the bathroom, not even seeing me at all where I stood, back against the wall.
"Nick?!" her voice was panicked.
My voice had changed.
"No." She shook her head, but didn't turn around. I knew she didn't want to see.
"No," it was more of a whimper this time.
"I- I can't control it."
"No," this one broke her. Her shoulders folded in towards her chest, and her elbows moved to push her hands against her eyes. Her hair fell across her creamy, smooth back.
"I have to leave," I said, fighting the instinct to crawl across the bed, to hug her, to make her better.
"No," she cried, with more ferocity than I'd expected. She whipped around, clutching the sheets to her chest, covering herself up. Her eyes finally fell upon me and she gaped at me, her eyes wide, her mouth a perfect O. "Oh my God." Her hand covered her mouth.
"I told you," I whispered.
Her eyes welled with tears.
I couldn't handle it.
"I have to go," I repeated, grabbing the bag that I'd just packed, stuffing my wallet into my pocket. I moved quickly across the room to the door and into the hallway.
"Nick!" she screamed, "Wait!"
I was already on the stairs before I heard her trip over the sheets, curse, and get back up. I was on the bottom one before she emerged from the bedroom, pulling on the silky night gown she'd worn to bed the night before. I plowed ahead. I didn't want to feel the pain that was exploding inside my chest, like a bullet had struck me in the heart.
"Nick, please!" she cried, "Please, we can make this work."
If I'd believed for even a second that it was possible to make it work I would've stayed. But a thirteen year old and a thirty year old? There was no way to make it work. No way...
The doorknob all but burned my hand when I grasped it. I wrenched the door open, certain that there must be a blossom of blood spreading across the shirt that hung, too loose, off my chest.
"Nick, Jesus. Please."
The stoop was hot from the sun already, the pebbly texture of it stung the bottoms of my bare feet. No shoes that had fit my 29-year old self would fit me now. I would have to find new shoes.
Claire, wearing only the lingerie, followed me, even to the step; but I'd already leapt onto the lawn, already determinedly walking across the grass, heading toward the street, unsure where I was going, only knowing that I could not ever, ever look back, or I'd never go.
"Nick!" her sob tore my heart in two.
I hesitated, ever so slightly, at the edge of the lawn.
"Come back," she pleaded, her voice guttural and desperate.
"I can't," I said.
"But- I love you!" The words had come from the most extreme depths of her body.
I steeled myself. You can't. You can't go back. "And I, you, my Love," I said, as I always did. But it sounded different… childish… like a little kid reciting lines from a script of what I would have said to her.
I heard her sobs. Heard her fall to the ground with them. Her pain made me numb in a way that I had never been before. But I kept walking until the sound of her faded.
And now, I was sitting on a subway car, the backpack on the floor between my feet, which I had at least obtained shoes for, with nowhere to go.