Leave No Trace
by Tanya Marquardt
She rang my bell and when I opened the door all I could see were flowers.
What’s all this?
Curly red hair peeked out from behind the bouquet, their own kind of flower, and whoever it was was hopping up and down, a nervous twitch.
“Hello?” I asked.
The flowers lowered.
“Do you remember me? I’m Mia.”
My eyes strained against the sun and I could make out a large grin with perfect teeth and a layer of soft freckles on Mia’s cheeks. She looked like a Bobbsey Twin, her paisley summer dress hanging below her knees and Birkenstocks showing off newly manicured toenails. Her face looked familiar, but I had been a teen runaway who hardly bothered remembering people’s faces, and my mind hazily recalled some dance classes earlier that summer, recommended by my college theatre professor as a way to keep training over the break. I showed up on the first day in pajamas smelling of rain and cigarettes and was pretty sure Mia had shown up in expensive yoga wear smelling of lavender soap, and I probably assumed she was a rich girl who wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I wondered if we had even stood beside each other at the barre.
“Sure, yeah, sure,” I half-lied.
“I was just, you know, driving by and I was — oh, oh, these are for you,” Mia handed me the bouquet, clumsily held together with a half-broken stem. They almost fell apart.
“Oh, watch out,” she reached to hold up some daffodils, “they’re from a field near my house. I decided to stop on my way into town, since it’s such a great day to be outside. And, yeah, so, I was just in the neighborhood, and um, I drove you home the other day, after dancing, do you remember?”
“Yeah, right,” I said, the memory of her finally coming to me, a group of us piling into her blue convertible after class, sweaty and driving with the top down, and me the first to be dropped off.
Mia and I stood on the porch, and I noticed she was practically on tiptoe, leaning forward in a state of hyper-anticipation.
What does she want me to say?
“Do you want to go for a drive?”
“A drive?” I asked.
“A drive,” I said.
“Only if you’re free.”
I had no idea why she was suddenly on my stoop asking if she could take me for a ride but I found her amusing. Wanting to prolong the moment and the fragrance of wildflowers, I leaned into the doorway to frame my unexpected pleasure.
I grabbed my backpack and went with her.
We drove in her car with the top down — two, three, four hours — city giving way to suburbs until we were close to Horseshoe Bay, where the edge of Coast Salish land gives way to the smell of salt water coming off the sea. I had been on the ferry to visit my Mom in Port Alberni, a mill town and Tseshaht First Nation. But I never drove around the Bay unless I was on public transit, the mansions looming over the bus, allowing us passage without letting us see into the world of old money and beach access, sun glinting off the tinted glass and shiny car windows in the driveways. Mia had long turned off the main road; I had no idea where she was taking me as she cruised slowly through the hills, pointing out local cafes and landmarks as we went. I kept thinking it should bother me, that she could be taking me anywhere, but it didn’t. I was curious to see what would happen, a curiosity fueled by her curiosity, the way Mia had been looking at me all afternoon, a nervous slight head tilt when she smiled. I didn’t worry at all and wasn’t used to that feeling — the suspension of not knowing without fearing the possibility of violence. That had always been present when driving around with guys.
“I’m staying at my family’s right now. They have a place out here, but they’re gone for the summer, on vacation.”
“Oh yeah,” I said.
None of my friends had families who spent summers away. When we pulled into her driveway, I saw gigantic houses surrounding her gigantic house, noted the gardeners on the front lawns, the absence of families and kids wading in plastic kiddy pools.
“Come on in,” she said, leaving her front door open and disappearing inside.
I followed her but didn’t know what I was doing in this monster of a house with a girl who I barely knew. I put my bag down next to the door and started to look around.
Mia’s voice echoed into the hallway.
“Could you stay here while I go grocery shopping?”
Walking into the kitchen, I saw two pantries and a stove that looked bigger than my bathroom.
“I’ll just be out for a minute,” she said.
Mia was practically running as she left, shutting the front door with its antique doorknob. I listened to it creak into echoed silence, alone in a stranger’s house moments after entering it for the first time. Afraid that my hands were greasy, I went to her living room, where I didn’t put anything on the coffee table, and sat on her pristine white couch. A white carpet covered most of the floor and a family photo hung on the far wall, with everyone in matching white turtlenecks. My mind flashed to my Dad’s kitchen, where there was a picture of me on the wall in my thrift-store-polyester ski hat, sneaking a peek from behind a sign in our local park that read “Beware of Thieves.”
I sat on my hands and waited for what felt like forever and eventually fell asleep, tentatively leaning back on Mia’s couch with my hands folded under my armpits, trying not to leave my imprint in her cushions. She left me for over an hour. I found out later she had been driving around the block talking to her friends on speed dial.
“She’s in my house, what do I do?” Mia would yell into the phone.
“Kiss her! Just kiss her!”
Mia finally came home with a bag of oranges and walked into the living room.
“Can I kiss you?”
And without thinking too much about it, about what it meant, about its implications, about whether or not love was present, I shrugged and I said, “Yeah, sure. Sure, okay.”
Mia hesitated for a moment before she touched the sides of my face and pulled me down to her. All of my senses became one sense as I fought the urge to get down on my knees; I thought they might buckle under the electric friction of our touching lips. I had kissed girls, but only in the dark corners of bar bathrooms and once —quickly, gruffly, near blackout —underneath a kitchen table at a college afterparty. The wreckage of my childhood hung over me as well, full of booze, hitting and yelling, my body shown, over and over, that it didn’t belong to me. I had never been touched the way Mia was touching me and eventually I did kneel, needing to be below her, wanting all of her to cascade into me.
Three months later, I woke up with Mia laying on her side, outlined against the dawn of the waning summer. I was barely twenty-two, terrified but trying not to show it, always wanting to put something in my mouth.
But by then she knew that.
It was me who pulled the blankets down to our waists. I woke up before her, wanting to see her back to my front, the gathering of the sheets and her hair, red, blasting against the white coverlet and the edge of her pillowcase. I hoped Mia might get cold and wake up, ask me to touch her in all that stillness, the heat and the silence.
I was impatient when my fingers crossed the divide, testing, pressing lightly into the hard ridge of Mia’s left hipbone. She stirred. I thought I felt her shudder. I stopped.
“Can I touch it?” I asked.
“Touch it,” she said.
A thick pink scar, a ribbon of raised skin, marked her. Mia didn’t turn to me but it felt like she was opening, becoming more tender, my hand moving, resting, reaching.
“There’s steel in there,” she told me, “but I’ve never let anyone touch there before. The hip socket. It's fused.”
She moved my hand to the place she wanted and my eyes imagined the inside of her hip, a gleaming rod of stainless steel. I tried to be soft. Mia lay still and even in the softness didn’t turn to me. I tried to hide the fact that it bothered me, that I was falling in love with her, pretending things weren’t as far along as they were, her scar hiding scars on scars, the memory of pain underneath.
Mia was stronger than I was. I brought my lips to her skin, full of questions as I fought the urge to run, full speed, out of the room, to leave no trace on her steel bones.
What does it take to show someone your scars?
And how do we make sure one doesn’t turn into another?
Tanya Marquardt (they/them) is a genderqueer writer and performer, whose book Stray: Memoir of a Runaway was published in 2018 and named a Best Queer History & Bio in LGBTQI2S+ Magazine The Advocate. The performance version, commissioned by Theatre Conspiracy and written with Tim Carlson, toured both Canada and the US. Their play Some Must Watch While Some Must Sleep, about Tanya’s life as a sleeptalker, was the subject of an NPR Invisibila podcast. Their essays have appeared in Medium, Huffpost, Howl Round, Grain, DanceGeist, and Plentitude Magazine. Tanya has performed with Jerome Bel, Mabou Mines, Ballez, the only animal, radix theatre, and the Leaky Heaven Circus. Their theatre works have been presented at Dixon Place, BAX, PuSh, VIDF, The Tank, Summerworks, foldA, the Collapsable Hole and the Brooklyn Museum. They graduated with a BFA in Theatre from Simon Fraser University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Hunter College. Tanya dances in their kitchen, writes memoir, and sends you all queer love during this strange, strange time. Follow them on Instagram @tanya.marquardt