How Not to Spend Your First Month in California by Sara Walters

Don’t unpack too quickly and feel as hollow as your suitcases empty under your new bed.

Don’t accept a bottle of Dr. Pepper, banana chips, a Ziploc of almonds, and a pillow from a boy who looks little to nothing like his Facebook photos, even when he sings you Justin Bieber songs.

Don’t buy too many new clothes that you’ll hate in four weeks when you remember you really don’t want to be in a sorority.

Don’t tell your mother on the phone about the girl who got molested in the campus library.

Don’t feel too sad when people from the east coast start taking a few days to answer your text messages.

Don’t leave passive aggressive notes about the dirty dishes in the sink for your roommates to ignore.

Don’t spend three hours on the phone with a 26-year-old drummer in a two-piece screamo band one night and go to bed imagining how his voice will sound in person or if you’ll be able to overlook his mustache.

Don’t spend the next afternoon with the drummer and his mustache, letting him read your writing in plastic chairs in the union, and noticing how he really seems to be listening while you tell him about being bullied in middle school.

Don’t agree to let him pick you up for drinks after class that night.

Don’t tell him you’ve never seen Blood Diamond while he pays for your drink, and when he suggests you leave the bar to go to his apartment and watch it, don’t say “Okay.”

Don’t share a Miller Light with him while you sit on his bed watching a movie (not even Blood Diamond), and don’t rest your head on his shoulder when he winds his arm around you.

Don’t let him kiss you fifteen minutes into the movie you aren’t even watching.

Don’t let him get on top of you and, when he hears you squeak out that you’ve only ever had an orgasm when you’ve done it yourself, don’t let him pull your jeans off without even unbuttoning them and promise you in a voice like sandpaper that he’ll change that.

Don’t fake an orgasm while he’s between your thighs just so maybe he’ll stop and take you home. He won’t stop, anyway.

Don’t feel dirty when you’re face down in his blue bed sheets and he’s finished behind you, getting back into his boxers.

Don’t hold your hand tight between your legs while he drives you home and when he leans over to kiss you goodnight and his mouth is smirking don’t kiss him.

Don’t cry in the shower.

Don’t let him pick you up a few nights later when he gets off work so he can take you to his place to “hang out.”

Don’t let him fuck you before he’s even tried to kiss you or has even taken off your shirt.

Don’t look at yourself in the side mirror of his car while he fuels up at three in the morning when it’s all over, so you don’t notice your smeared make-up, your careless hair, your vacant eyes.

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But, if you do these things, then:

Pretend not to notice when he stops answering your calls.

Tell your girlfriends and prying roommates that the silence is mutual, that you don’t care if he never speaks to you again.

Kiss a different boy—one who always wears a hat and grabs your hand to help you when you trip on the heels you wore to impress him.

Close up. Fill yourself with cheap beer and bad food. Write a lot of things about dead girls.

Drink too much. Stay up sick at night. Cry on the phone with your mother. Buy a plane ticket home.

Cut yourself in your empty bathtub. Hide the marks with bracelets and sleeves.

Pull out a suitcase from under your bed and fill it for home.

Cry at the airport in Salt Lake during your layover. Try not to notice the guy in the blue t-shirt staring from two rows over.

On the plane, delete the drummer’s phone number. Play solitaire. Stop crying.

Go to bed when you get back to the east coast.

When you wake up, don’t unpack too quickly.

Sara Walters
Sara WaltersSara Walters holds a BA in English from the University of South Florida and is now a student in their MFA program. Once, she packed her life in three suitcases and moved to a place she had never been. Sometimes, she likes to write love letters to leave in library books, and is still patiently awaiting her Hogwarts letter. Her work has appeared in Embodied Effigies, Barely South Review, Sugared Water, and The Dying Goose, among others.
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