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one of the best books I've ever read. I cried a lot. It's amazing.
13 July 2021 (16:48)
I wished it should never get finished.. ? it's just awesome and doesn't even have a sequel!! Damnit!
15 October 2021 (14:20)
Praise for The Light We Lost “As The Light We Lost enchanted and compelled me, I found myself reconsidering my own choices, and wondering at the choices of my friends and the people around me—how did their dreams match their realities? And what if that dream can’t include the person you love the most?” —DELIA EPHRON, AUTHOR OF Siracusa “A beautiful, moving meditation on the choices we make in pursuit of love and a meaningful life.” —BETHANY CHASE, AUTHOR OF The One That Got Away “We couldn’t stop turning the pages. . . . Santopolo took us on a journey of missed chances, regret, and uncertainty that left us pondering our own choices. The love story of Lucy and Gabe is one that will stay with you long after you finish.” —LIZ FENTON AND LISA STEINKE, AUTHORS OF The Status of All Things “The arc of this book gracefully and tragically charts the course not only of a genuine and deep love, but also of our country and of our collective identities. It is memorable and haunting, because it is authentic and so close to home.” —NICK SCHIFRIN, PBS NewsHour SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR CORRESPONDENT “A heartfelt story about both the bliss and torment of love . . . Santopolo has an amazingly sharp eye, zooming in on emotions and the small ways in which they change while also pulling back for a wide-angle view of Lucy and Gabe’s relationship during the course of a tumultuous decade. I am not a weeper but dammit if I wasn’t crying at the end.” —JANE O’CONNOR, AUTHOR OF Almost True Confessions G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS Publishers Since 1838 An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 375 Hudson Street New York, New York 10014 Copyright © 2017 by Jill Santopolo Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form withou; t permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Santopolo, Jill, author. Title: The light we lost / Jill Santopolo. Description: New York : G. P. Putnam’s Sons,  Identifiers: LCCN 2016043192 (print) | LCCN 2016050261 (ebook) | ISBN 9780735212756 (hardcover) | ISBN 9780735212770 (ebook) Subjects: | GSAFD: Love stories. Classification: LCC PS3619.A586 L54 2017 (print) | LCC PS3619.A586 (ebook) | DDC 813/.6—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2016043192 p. cm. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Version_1 Contents Praise for The Light We Lost Title Page Copyright Dedication Prologue Chapter i Chapter ii Chapter iii Chapter iv Chapter v Chapter vi Chapter vii Chapter viii Chapter ix Chapter x Chapter xi Chapter xii Chapter xiii Chapter xiv Chapter xv Chapter xvi Chapter xvii Chapter xviii Chapter xix Chapter xx Chapter xxi Chapter xxii Chapter xxiii Chapter xxiv Chapter xxv Chapter xxvi Chapter xxvii Chapter xxviii Chapter xxix Chapter xxx Chapter xxxi Chapter xxxii Chapter xxxiii Chapter xxxiv Chapter xxxv Chapter xxxvi Chapter xxxvii Chapter xxxviii Chapter xxxix Chapter xl Chapter xli Chapter xlii Chapter xliii Chapter xliv Chapter xlv Chapter xlvi Chapter xlvii Chapter xlviii Chapter xlix Chapter l Chapter li Chapter lii Chapter liii Chapter liv Chapter lv Chapter lvi Chapter lvii Chapter lviii Chapter lix Chapter lx Chapter lxi Chapter lxii Chapter lxiii Chapter lxiv Chapter lxv Chapter lxvi Chapter lxvii Chapter lxviii Chapter lxix Chapter lxx Chapter lxxi Chapter lxxii Chapter lxxiii Chapter lxxiv Chapter lxxv Chapter lxxvi Chapter lxxvii Chapter lxxviii Chapter lxxix Chapter lxxx Acknowledgments Chapter Lucy and Gabe’s Reading List About the Author For New York City prologue We’ve known each other for almost half our lives. I’ve seen you smiling, confident, blissfully happy. I’ve seen you broken, wounded, lost. But I’ve never seen you like this. You taught me to look for beauty. In darkness, in destruction, you always found light. I don’t know what beauty I’ll find here, what light. But I’ll try. I’ll do it for you. Because I know you would do it for me. There was so much beauty in our life together. Maybe that’s where I should start. i Sometimes objects seem like they’ve witnessed history. I used to imagine that the wooden table we sat around during Kramer’s Shakespeare seminar our senior year was as old as Columbia—that it had been in that room since 1754, edges worn smooth by centuries of students like us, which of course couldn’t be true. But that’s how I pictured it. Students sitting there through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf. It’s funny, if you asked me who else was with us that day, I don’t think I could tell you. I used to be able to see all their faces so clearly, but thirteen years later I remember only you and Professor Kramer. I can’t even recall the name of the TA who came running, late, into the classroom. Later, even, than you. Kramer had just finished calling roll when you pushed open the door. You smiled at me, your dimple making a brief appearance as you slipped off your Diamondbacks cap and stuck it into your back pocket. Your eyes landed quickly on the empty seat next to mine, and then you did too. “And you are?” Kramer asked, as you reached into your backpack for a notebook and a pen. “Gabe,” you said. “Gabriel Samson.” Kramer checked the paper in front of him. “Let’s aim for ‘on time’ for the rest of the semester, Mr. Samson,” he said. “Class starts at nine. In fact, let’s aim for ‘early.’” You nodded, and Kramer started talking about themes in Julius Caesar. “‘We at the height are ready to decline,’” he read. “‘There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries. / On such a full sea are we now afloat, / And we must take the current when it serves, / Or lose our ventures.’ I trust you all did the reading. Who can tell me what Brutus is saying about fate and free will here?” I’ll always remember that passage because I’ve wondered so many times since that day whether you and I were fated to meet in Kramer’s Shakespeare seminar. Whether it’s destiny or decision that has kept us connected all these years. Or a combination of both, taking the current when it serves. After Kramer spoke, a few people flipped through the text in front of them. You ran your fingers through your curls, and they sprang back into place. “Well,” you said, and the rest of the class joined me in looking at you. But you didn’t get to finish. The TA whose name I can’t remember came racing into the room. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “A plane hit one of the twin towers. It came on TV just as I was leaving for class.” No one knew the significance of her words; not even she did. “Was the pilot drunk?” Kramer asked. “I don’t know,” the TA said, taking a seat at the table. “I waited, but the newscasters had no idea what was going on. They said it was some kind of prop plane.” If it had happened now, all of our phones would’ve been blowing up with news. Pings from Twitter and Facebook and push notifications from the New York Times. But communication then wasn’t yet instant and Shakespeare wouldn’t be interrupted. We all shrugged it off and Kramer kept talking about Caesar. As I took notes, I watched the fingers of your right hand unconsciously rub against the wood grain of the table. I doodled an image of your thumb with its ragged nail and torn cuticle. I still have the notebook somewhere—in a box filled with Lit Hum and Contemporary Civilizations. I’m sure it’s there. ii I’ll never forget what we said when we left Philosophy Hall; even though the words were nothing special, the conversation is burned into my memory as part of that day. We’d started down the steps together. Not exactly together, but next to each other. The air was clear, the sky was blue—and everything had changed. We just didn’t know it yet. People all around us were talking over one another: “The twin towers collapsed!” “School’s canceled!” “I want to donate blood. Do you know where I can donate blood?” I turned to you. “What’s going on?” “I live in East Campus,” you said, pointing toward the dorm. “Let’s go find out. You’re Lucy, right? Where do you live?” “Hogan,” I said. “And yeah, Lucy.” “Nice to meet you, Lucy, I’m Gabriel.” You held out your hand. Amid everything, I shook it, and looked up at you as I did. Your dimple came back. Your eyes shone blue. I thought then, for the first time: He’s beautiful. We went to your suite and watched TV with your roommates, with Adam and Scott and Justin. On the screen bodies dove out of buildings, blackened mounds of rubble sent smoke signals into the sky, and the towers fell in a loop. The devastation numbed us. We stared at the images, unable to reconcile the stories with our reality. The fact that this was happening in our city, seven miles from where we sat, that those were people—actual human beings—hadn’t set in yet. At least not for me. It felt so far away. Our cell phones didn’t work. You used your dorm phone to call your mom in Arizona to tell her you were fine. I called my parents in Connecticut, who wanted me to come home. They knew someone whose daughter worked at the World Trade Center and no one had heard from her yet. Someone else whose cousin had a breakfast meeting at Windows on the World. “It’s safer outside Manhattan,” my father said. “What if there’s anthrax? Or some other biological warfare. Nerve gas.” I told my dad the subways weren’t running. Probably not the trains either. “I’ll come get you,” he said. “I’ll jump in the car now.” “I’ll be okay,” I told him. “I’m with some friends. We’re fine. I’ll call you again later.” It still didn’t feel real. “You know,” Scott said, after I hung up. “If I were a terrorist organization, I’d drop a bomb on us.” “What the fuck?” Adam said. He was waiting to hear from his uncle, who was part of the NYPD. “I mean, if you think about it academically . . .” Scott said, but he didn’t get any further. “Shut up,” Justin said. “Seriously, Scott. Not the time.” “Maybe I should leave,” I said to you then. I didn’t really know you. I had just met your friends. “My roommates are probably wondering where I am.” “Call them,” you said, handing the phone back to me. “And tell them you’re going to the roof of the Wien dorm. Tell them they can meet you there if you want.” “I’m going where?” “With me,” you said, and you ran your fingers absently along my braid. It was an intimate gesture, the kind of thing that happens after all barriers of personal space have been breached. Like eating off someone else’s plate without asking. And all of a sudden, I felt connected to you, like your hand on my hair meant something more than idle, nervous fingers. I thought of that moment, years later, when I decided to donate my hair and the stylist handed me my braid, wrapped in plastic, looking even darker brown than usual. Even though you were a world away then, I felt like I was betraying you, like I was cutting our tie. But then, that day, right after you touched my hair you realized what you’d done and let your hand drop into your lap. You smiled at me again, but it didn’t go to your eyes this time. I shrugged. “Okay,” I said. The world felt like it was cracking in pieces, like we’d gone through a shattered mirror into the fractured place inside, where nothing made sense, where our shields were down, our walls broken. In that place, there wasn’t any reason to say no. iii We took the elevator up to Wien 11, and then you pulled open a window at the end of the hallway. “Someone showed me this sophomore year,” you said. “It’s the most incredible view of New York City you’ll ever see.” We climbed out the window, onto the roof, and I gasped. Smoke billowed up from the southern tip of Manhattan. The whole sky was turning gray, the city shrouded in ash. “Oh my God,” I said. Tears filled my eyes. I pictured what used to be there. Saw the negative space where the towers had stood. It finally hit me. “There were people in those buildings.” Your hand found mine and held it. We stood there, staring at the aftermath of destruction, tears dripping down both our cheeks, for how long I don’t know. There must have been other people up there with us, but I can’t recall them. Just you. And the image of that smoke. It’s seared into my brain. “What happens now?” I finally whispered. Seeing it made me understand the magnitude of the attack. “What’s next?” You looked at me, and our eyes, still wet with tears, locked with the kind of magnetism that ignores the world around it. Your hand slid to my waist, and I rose up onto my toes to meet your lips halfway. We pressed our bodies together, as if that would protect us from whatever came after. As if the only way to stay safe was to keep my lips on yours. The moment your body enveloped mine, that’s how I felt—safe, enfolded in the strength and warmth of your arms. Your muscles fluttered against my hands and I buried my fingers in your hair. You wrapped my braid around your palm, tugging it and tipping my head back. And I forgot the world. In that moment, there was only you. For years I felt guilty about it. Guilty that we kissed for the first time while the city burned, guilty that I was able to lose myself in you in that moment. But later I learned that we weren’t alone. People told me in whispers that they’d had sex that day. That they’d conceived a child. They’d gotten engaged. Said I love you for the first time. There’s something about death that makes people want to live. We wanted to live that day, and I don’t blame us for it. Not anymore. When we broke for breath, I leaned my head against your chest. I listened to your heart and was comforted by its steady beating. Did my heartbeat comfort you? Does it still? iv We went back to your dorm room because you promised me lunch. You wanted to go onto the roof with your camera after we ate, you told me, and take some pictures. “For the Spectator?” I asked. “The paper?” you said. “Nah. For me.” In the kitchen I got distracted by a stack of your photos—black-and-white prints taken all over campus. They were beautiful, bizarre, bathed in light. Images zoomed so far in that an everyday object looked like modern art. “Where’s this one?” I asked. After looking for a while, I realized it was a close-up of a bird’s nest, lined with what looked like newspapers and magazines and someone’s essay for a French literature class. “Oh, that was incredible,” you told me. “Jessica Cho—Do you know her? She sings a cappella? David Blum’s girlfriend?—she told me about this nest that she could see out her window that someone’s homework got worked into. So I went to check it out. I had to hang out the window to get this shot. Jess made Dave hold my ankles because she was afraid I would fall. But I got it.” After that story I saw you differently. You were daring, brave, committed to capturing art. Looking back, I’m guessing that’s what you wanted me to think. You were trying to impress me, but I didn’t realize it at the time. I just thought: Wow. I thought: He’s wonderful. But what was true then, and has been true as long as I’ve known you, is that you find beauty everywhere. You notice things other people don’t. It’s something I’ve always admired about you. “Is this what you want to do?” I asked then, indicating the pictures. You shook your head. “It’s just for fun,” you said. “My mom’s an artist. You should see what she can do, these gorgeous enormous abstracts, but she makes a living by painting small canvases of Arizona sunsets for tourists. I don’t want that kind of life, creating what sells.” I leaned against the counter and looked at the rest of the photographs. Rust leaching into a stone bench, cracked veins of marble, corrosion on a metal railing. Beauty where I’d never imagined it could be. “Is your dad an artist, too?” I asked. Your face closed. I could see it, like a door shutting behind your eyes. “No,” you said. “He’s not.” I had stumbled into a fault line I didn’t know was there. I filed that away—I was discovering the landscape of you. Already I was hoping it was terrain I’d learn well, one that would become second nature to navigate. You were quiet. I was quiet. The TV was still blaring in the background, and I heard the newscasters talking about the Pentagon and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. The horror of the situation rushed over me again. I put your photographs down. It seemed perverse to focus on beauty then. But looking back, maybe that was exactly the right thing to do. “Didn’t you say we were going to eat lunch?” I asked, even though I wasn’t hungry, even though the images flashing across the television screen made my stomach churn. The door opened behind your eyes. “That I did,” you said, with a nod. All you had the ingredients for were nachos. So, mechanically, I sliced tomatoes and opened a can of beans with a rusty can opener while you arranged tortilla chips in one of those throwaway foil trays and grated cheese into a chipped cereal bowl. “What about you?” you asked, as if our conversation hadn’t gotten derailed. “Hm?” I pressed the top of the can into the beans so I could lever it off. “Are you an artist?” I put the metal disc down on the counter. “Nope,” I said. “The most creative thing I do is write stories for my roommates.” “About what?” you asked, your head cocked to one side. I looked down so you wouldn’t see me blush. “This is embarrassing,” I said, “but they’re about a teacup pig named Hamilton who accidentally got accepted into a college meant for rabbits.” You let out a surprised laugh. “Hamilton. A pig,” you said. “I get it. That’s funny.” “Thanks,” I said, looking up at you again. “So is that what you want to do after graduation?” You had reached for the jar of salsa and were tapping its lid against the counter top to loosen it. I shook my head. “I don’t think there’s a big market out there for Hamilton the Pig stories. I’ve been thinking about going into advertising, but saying it now, it sounds silly.” “Why silly?” you asked, twisting the lid off with a pop. I looked over at the TV. “Does it mean anything? Advertising? If this were my last day on Earth and I’d spent my whole adult life coming up with campaigns to sell people . . . shredded cheese . . . or nacho chips . . . would I feel like my time here was well spent?” You bit your lip. Your eyes said, I’m thinking about this. I learned more of your topography. Perhaps you learned a bit of mine. “What makes a life well spent?” you asked. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” I told you, my mind turning as I was talking. “I think it might have something to do with making a mark—in a positive way. Leaving the world a little bit better than it was when you found it.” I still believe that, Gabe. It’s what I’ve been striving my whole life to do—I think you have too. I saw something blossom in your face then. I wasn’t sure what it meant. I hadn’t learned you well enough yet. But now I know that look. It means perspectives are shifting in your mind. You dipped a chip in the salsa and held it out to me. “Bite?” you asked. I crunched it in half, and you popped the rest into your mouth. Your eyes traced the planes of my face and traveled down the length of my body. I could feel you examining me from different angles and vantage points. Then you brushed my cheek with your fingertips and we kissed again; this time you tasted like salt and chili pepper. When I was five or six, I drew on my bedroom wall with a red crayon. I don’t think I ever told you this story. Anyway, as I was drawing hearts and trees and suns and moons and clouds, I knew I was doing something I shouldn’t. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. But I couldn’t stop myself—I wanted to do it so badly. My room had been decorated in pink and yellow, but my favorite color was red. And I wanted my room to be red. I needed my room to be red. Drawing on the wall felt completely right and absolutely wrong at the same time. That’s how I felt the day I met you. Kissing you in the middle of tragedy and death felt completely right and absolutely wrong at the same time. But I concentrated on the part that felt right, the way I always do. • • • I SLID MY HAND into the back pocket of your jeans, and you slid your hand into mine. We pulled each other closer. The phone in your room rang, but you ignored it. Then the phone in Scott’s room rang. A few seconds later, Scott came into the kitchen and cleared his throat. We broke apart and faced him. “Stephanie’s looking for you, Gabe,” he said. “I put her on hold.” “Stephanie?” I asked. “No one,” you answered, just as Scott said, “His ex.” “She’s crying, dude,” Scott told you. You looked torn, your eyes going from Scott to me and back again. “Would you tell her I’ll call her back in a few minutes?” you said to him. Scott nodded and left, and then you grabbed my hand, weaving your fingers through mine. Our eyes met, like they had on the roof, and I couldn’t look away. My heart sped up. “Lucy,” you said, somehow infusing my name with desire. “I know you’re here, and I know that makes this strange, but I should see if she’s okay. We were together all last school year and only broke up last month. This day—” “I get it,” I said. And weirdly, it made me like you better, that while you weren’t dating Stephanie anymore, you still cared about her. “I should head back to my roommates anyway,” I said, even though I didn’t want to go. “Thank you for . . .” I started the sentence without knowing how to end it, and then found I couldn’t. You squeezed my fingers. “Thank you for making this day about something more,” you said. “Lucy. Luce. Luz is light in Spanish, right?” You paused. I nodded. “Well, thank you for filling a dark day with light.” You’d put into words the feeling I couldn’t express. “You did the same for me,” I said. “Thank you.” We kissed again and it was hard to tear myself away from you. It was so hard to leave. “I’ll call you later,” you said. “I’ll find you in the directory. I’m sorry about the nachos.” “Stay safe,” I said. “We can always eat nachos another time.” “That sounds good,” you answered. And I left, wondering if it was possible for one of the most horrific days I’d ever experienced to somehow contain a small nugget of goodness. • • • YOU DID CALL ME a few hours later, but it wasn’t the conversation I’d expected. You said you were sorry, so sorry, but you and Stephanie had gotten back together. Her eldest brother was missing—he worked at One World Trade—and she needed you. You said you hoped I understood and you thanked me again for bringing light to such a horrible afternoon. You said it meant a lot to have me there. And you apologized once more. I shouldn’t have been crushed, but I was. I didn’t speak to you for the rest of fall semester. Or spring semester either. I changed my seat in Kramer’s class so I wouldn’t have to sit next to you. But I listened every time you spoke about the way you saw beauty in Shakespeare’s language and imagery—even in the ugliest scenes. “‘Alas!’” you read aloud, “‘a crimson river of warm blood, / Like to a bubbling fountain stirr’d with wind, / Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips.’” All I could think about was your lips and how they felt pressed against mine. I tried to forget that day, but it was impossible. I couldn’t forget what happened to New York, to America, to the people in the towers. And I couldn’t forget what happened between us. Even now, whenever anyone asks, “Were you in New York when the towers fell?” or “Where were you that day?” or “What was it like here?” the first thing I think of is you. • • • THERE ARE MOMENTS that shift the trajectory of people’s lives. For so many of us who lived in New York City then, September 11th was that moment. Anything I did that day would have been important, would have been burned into my mind and branded on my heart. I don’t know why I met you that day, but I do know that because I did, you would have been a part of my personal history forever. v It was May and we’d just graduated. We’d handed back our caps and gowns, trading them for diplomas written in Latin, emblazoned with our names, first, middle, and last. I walked into Le Monde with my family—my mother, my father, my brother Jason, two grandparents, and an uncle. They seated us next to another family, a much smaller family—yours. You looked up as we filed by and you reached out, touching my arm. “Lucy!” you said. “Congratulations!” I shivered. All those months later, feeling your skin against mine did that to me, but I still managed to say, “You too.” “What are you up to?” you asked. “Are you staying in the city?” I nodded. “I got a job working in program development at a new TV production company—kids’ shows.” I couldn’t help grinning. It was a job I’d been crossing my fingers over for almost two months before I got it. The kind of job that I’d started thinking about soon after the towers fell, after I admitted that I wanted to do something more meaningful than advertising. A job that could reach the next generation and had the potential to change the future. “Kids’ shows?” you said, a smile playing across your lips. “Like Alvin and the Chipmunks? Will they have helium voices?” “Not quite,” I said, laughing a little, wanting to tell you that it was our conversation that led me there, that the moment we shared in your kitchen meant so much. “How about you?” “McKinsey,” you said. “Consulting. No chipmunks for me.” I was surprised. I hadn’t expected that, after our talk, after hearing your analyses in Kramer’s class. But what I said was, “That’s great. Congratulations on the job. Maybe I’ll see you around the city sometime.” “That would be nice,” you answered. And I went to sit down at the table with my family. “Who was that?” I heard someone ask. I looked up. There was a girl next to you with long wheat-colored hair almost to the middle of her back and her hand on your thigh. She’d barely registered, I was so focused on you. “Just a girl I know from class, Stephanie,” I heard you say. Which, of course, was all I was. But somehow it stung. vi New York is a funny city. You can live there for years and never see your next-door neighbor, and then you can run into your best friend while getting into a subway car on your way to work. Fate versus free will. Maybe it’s both. It was March, almost a year after graduation, and New York City had swallowed us up. I was living with Kate on the Upper East Side in that huge apartment that had once belonged to her grandparents. It was something she and I had talked about doing ever since we were in middle school. Our childhood dreams had become a reality. I’d had a six-month fling with a coworker, a couple of one-night stands, and a handful of dates with men I’d deemed not smart enough or not handsome enough or not exciting enough, though in hindsight there probably wasn’t much wrong with them at all. Actually if I’d met Darren then, I might have thought the same thing about him. Without the constant reminder of Philosophy Hall or the East Campus dorms, I’d stopped thinking about you—mostly. We hadn’t seen each other in close to a year. But you did pop into my mind at work when I was skimming storyboards with my boss, when we were reviewing episodes focused on acceptance and respect. I thought about your kitchen and felt good about the decision I made. Before long it was Thursday, March 20th, and I was turning twenty-three. I had a party planned for the weekend, but my two closest friends at work, Writers’ Room Alexis and Art Department Julia as you called them later, insisted that we have a drink on my birthday. The three of us had become obsessed with Faces & Names that winter because of the fireplace and the couches. The temperature was hovering around forty, but we thought the bar might turn the fireplace on if we asked. We’d been there enough during the past few months, and the bartender liked us. Julia had made me a paper birthday crown that she insisted I wear, and Alexis ordered all of us apple martinis. We sat on the couch in front of the fire, coming up with things to toast before each sip. “To birthdays!” Alexis started. “To Lucy!” Julia said. “To friends!” I added. Which devolved into: “To the photocopy machine not jamming today!” and “To bosses who call in sick!” and “To free lunches scrounged after fancy meetings!” and “To bars with fireplaces!” and “To apple martinis!” The waitress came over to our couch with a tray that had three more martinis on it. “Oh, we didn’t order those,” Julia said. The waitress smiled. “You girls have a secret admirer.” She nodded toward the bar. There you were. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating. You gave us a small wave. “He said to say happy birthday to Lucy.” Alexis’s jaw dropped. “You know him?” she said. “He’s hot!” Then she picked up one of the new martinis that the waitress had placed on the table in front of us. “To cute boys in bars who know your name and send over free drinks!” she toasted. After we all took a sip, she added, “Go thank him, birthday girl.” I put the martini down, but changed my mind, taking it with me as I walked toward you, wobbling only slightly on my high heels. “Thanks,” I said, sliding onto the stool on your left. “Happy birthday,” you answered. “Nice crown.” I laughed and slipped it off. “It might look better on you,” I said. “Want to try?” You did, crushing your curls with the paper. “Stunning,” I told you. You smiled and put the crown on the bar in front of us. “I almost didn’t recognize you,” you said. “You did something new to your hair.” “Bangs,” I told you, pushing them to the side. You stared at me like you did in your kitchen, seeing me from all angles. “Beautiful with or without bangs.” You slurred your words a little, and I realized that you were even drunker than I was. Which made me wonder why you were alone, lit at seven p.m. on a Thursday night. “How are you?” I asked. “Is everything okay?” You propped your elbow on the bar and leaned your cheek into your hand. “I don’t know,” you said. “Stephanie and I broke up again. I hate my job. And the U.S. invaded Iraq. Every time I see you, the world is falling apart.” I didn’t know how to respond to that, the information about Stephanie or your assertion that the world was falling apart, so I took another sip of my martini. You kept going. “Maybe the universe knew I needed to find you tonight. You’re like . . . Pegasus.” “I’m a winged horse, like in The Iliad?” I asked you. “A male winged horse?” “No,” you said. “You’re definitely female.” I smiled. You continued talking. “But Bellerophon never would have defeated the Chimera without Pegasus. Pegasus made him better,” you said. “He got to fly above everything—all of the pain, all of the hurt. And he became a great hero.” I hadn’t understood that myth the same way. I’d read it as one about teamwork, about cooperation and partnership; I’d always liked how Pegasus had to give Bellerophon permission to ride him. But I could tell your interpretation was important to you. “Well, thank you for the compliment, I think. Though I might have preferred a comparison to Athena. Hera. Even a Gorgon.” The corners of your mouth quirked up. “Not a Gorgon. No snakes on your head.” I touched my hair. “You haven’t seen how I look first thing in the morning,” I said. You looked at me like you wanted to. “Did I ever tell you I was sorry?” you asked. “For what happened. With us. I’m not sorry that I kissed you, I mean. But”—you shrugged—“I’m sorry about what happened after. I was trying to do the right thing. With Stephanie. Life is—” “Complicated,” I finished for you. “It’s okay. It’s forever ago now. And you did apologize. Twice.” “I still think about you, Lucy,” you said, looking into your empty glass of whiskey. I wondered how many you’d had. “I think about that fork in the road, what would have happened if we’d taken it. Two roads diverged.” Now I would laugh if you called us a road, but then it felt so romantic, you quoting Robert Frost to me. I looked over at Alexis and Julia. They were watching us as they drank their martinis. You okay? Julia mouthed to me. I nodded. She tapped her watch and shrugged. I shrugged back. She nodded. I looked at you. Gorgeous, fragile, wanting me. My birthday present from the universe, perhaps. “The thing about roads,” I said, “is sometimes you happen upon them again. Sometimes you get another chance to travel down the same path.” God, we were lame. Or maybe just young. So, so young. You looked at me, then, right at me, your blue eyes glassy but still magnetic. “I’m going to kiss you,” you said, as you tipped toward me. And then you did, and it felt like a birthday wish come true. “Will you come to my apartment tonight, Lucy?” you asked, as you tucked a rogue lock of hair behind my ear. “I don’t want to go home alone.” I saw the sorrow in your eyes, the loneliness. And I wanted to make it better, to be your salve, your bandage, your antidote. I’ve always wanted to fix things for you. I still do. It’s my Achilles’ heel. Or perhaps my pomegranate seed. Like Persephone, it’s what keeps drawing me back. I lifted your fingers to my lips and kissed them. “Yes,” I said, “I will.” vii Later we were lying in your bed, our bodies illuminated only by the city lights leaking in around your blinds. You were the outer spoon, your arm wrapped around me, your hand resting on my bare stomach. We were tired, satiated, and still a little drunk. “I want to quit my job,” you whispered, as if the darkness made it safe to say it out loud. “Okay,” I whispered back, sleepily. “You can quit your job.” You rubbed your thumb along the underside of my breast. “I want to do something meaningful,” you said, your breath warm against my neck. “Like you talked about.” “Mm-hm,” I answered, half asleep. “But I didn’t get it then.” “Get what?” I mumbled. “It’s not only about finding beauty,” you said, your words keeping me awake. “I want to photograph all of it—happiness, sadness, joy, destruction. I want to tell stories with my camera. You understand, right, Lucy? Stephanie didn’t. But you were there. You know how that changes your view of the world.” I rolled over so we were facing each other and gave you a soft kiss. “Of course I understand,” I whispered, before sleep pulled me under. But I didn’t really get what you meant or know how far it would take you. That it would bring you to here, to this moment. I was drunk and tired and finally in your arms, the way I’d imagined so many times. I would have agreed to anything you asked just then. viii You did quit your job, of course, to take photography classes. And we kept seeing each other, our physical connection getting even stronger the more time we spent together, finding solace, hope, strength, in each other’s embraces. We undressed in restaurant bathrooms because we couldn’t wait until we were home. We crushed each other against the sides of buildings, bricks digging into shoulders as our lips met. We took picnics to the park, complete with apple juice bottles full of white wine, and then lay together breathing in the scent of the dirt and the fresh-cut grass and each other. “I want to know more about your dad,” I said, a few months after we reconnected, walking eyes-open into a fault line, willing to risk the earthquake. “Not much to tell,” you answered, shifting so my head rested on your chest instead of your arm. Your voice was still light, but I could feel your muscles tense. “He’s an asshole.” “An asshole how?” I asked, turning so I could wrap an arm around your stomach, holding you closer. Sometimes I got this feeling that we’d never be close enough. I wanted to climb inside your skin, inside your mind, so I could know all there was to know about you. “My dad was . . . unpredictable,” you said slowly, as if choosing that word with the utmost care. “Once I was big enough, I protected my mom.” I picked my head up off your chest and looked at you. I wasn’t sure what to say, how much I should ask. I wanted to know what your definition was of “big enough.” Four? Ten? Thirteen? “Oh, Gabe,” was all I could think of. I’m sorry it wasn’t more. “He and my mom met at art school. She said he was a beautiful sculptor, but I never saw any of his work.” You swallowed hard. “He smashed it all—every single piece—right after I was born. He wanted to design monuments, huge installations. But no one was commissioning anything from him, no one was buying his art.” You turned to look at me. “I know it must’ve been hard for him. I can’t imagine . . .” Then you shook your head. “He gave up,” you said. “He tried to run a gallery. But he wasn’t much of a businessman. Or a salesman. He was angry all the time, volatile. I . . . I didn’t understand what giving up did to him. The power it had. One time, he took a knife to my mother’s canvas—a painting she’d been working on for months—because he said she needed to spend her time painting sunsets instead. She cried like it was her body he’d stabbed, not just her art. That’s when he left.” I slipped my hand into yours and held it tight. “How old were you?” “Nine,” you said, your voice soft. “I called the cops.” My childhood had been so different from yours, so idyllically Connecticut suburban. I wasn’t sure how to respond. If we were having that conversation now, I would acknowledge the pain—both his and yours. Say that your father clearly had a hard time, that he was fighting demons, and that I’m sorry his demons became yours. Because they did, didn’t they? You’ve lived so much of your life in response to his, trying not to become him, that you ended up battling both his demons and your own. But that day, I couldn’t process what you were saying quickly enough and I just wanted to comfort you. After a breath, what I said was, “You did the right thing.” “I know,” you answered. Your eyes were hard. “I’ll never be like him. I’ll never hurt you like that. I’ll never act like your dreams are disposable.” “Me neither. I’ll never act like your dreams are disposable either, Gabe,” I told you, resting my head back on your chest, kissing you through your T-shirt, trying to convey the depth of my admiration and sympathy. “I know you won’t.” You stroked my hair. “It’s one of the many, many things I love about you.” I sat up so I was looking at you again. “I love you, Luce,” you said. It was the first time you said that to me. The first time any man had. “I love you too,” I answered. I hope you remember that day. It’s something I’ll never forget. ix A few weeks after we said I love you for the first time, you and I had my place to ourselves. We’d decided to celebrate that fact by walking around in our underwear. It was sweltering out, the kind of muggy July heat that makes me wish I could spend the whole day submerged in a swimming pool, and even though the air conditioner was on full blast, the apartment was still warm. It was so big that we probably needed more than one. “Kate’s grandparents were real estate geniuses,” you said, as we scrambled eggs half naked. “When did they buy this place?” “No idea,” I said, sticking some English muffins in the toaster. “Before her dad was born. So . . . 1940s?” You whistled. I know we didn’t stay there often, but I bet you remember that apartment. It was hard to forget. The two huge bedrooms and bathrooms, that breakfast nook we used as a library. And the ceilings that were about twelve feet high. I didn’t appreciate those details then, but I did appreciate the apartment. Kate was in law school, and her dad said it was cheaper for her to live there than for him to pay for housing down by NYU. It worked well for me, too. “We visited Kate’s grandma here when we were in middle school,” I told you, as we sat on the couch with our breakfast plates on our bare knees. “She was a docent at the Met until she got sick. She’d studied art history at Smith back before most women even thought about college.” “I wish I’d met her,” you said, after a sip of coffee. “You would’ve loved her.” We chewed quietly, our thighs against each other as we ate, my shoulder grazing your arm. It was impossible for us to be in a room together without touching. “When does Kate come back?” you asked, after you’d finished swallowing. I shrugged. She’d met Tom about a month before, and that night was maybe the second time she’d stayed at his place. “We should probably get dressed soon.” I felt your eyes on my breasts. You put your plate down, done with breakfast. “You have no idea what you do to me, Lucy,” you said, as you watched me rest my fork on my plate. “All morning, you without any clothes on. It’s like being dropped into one of my fantasies.” Your hand strayed to your lap and then you were touching yourself slowly through cotton. I’d never watched you touch yourself, never seen what you did when you were alone. I couldn’t stop looking. “Now you,” you said, tugging yourself free of your boxers. I put my plate down and reached for you, already turned on. You shook your head and smiled. “That’s not what I meant.” I raised my eyebrows, and then I understood what you wanted. I slid my fingers down my stomach. You’d never watched me touch myself either. But the idea of it thrilled me. I closed my eyes, thinking about you, thinking about you looking at me, thinking about sharing this personal moment with you, and I felt my body shudder. “Lucy,” you whispered. My eyes fluttered open and I saw you stroking yourself faster. It felt more intimate than sex, the two of us performing this act for each other, an act that was usually private. The lines that separated “you” and “me” were blurring even more into an “us.” While I kept touching myself, you leaned against the couch, taking your boxers off completely, your eyes on me the whole time. Our hands sped up. So did our breathing. You bit your lip. Then I watched your grip tighten. I watched your muscles clench. I watched you come. “Oh, God,” you said. “Oh, Lucy.” I moved my fingers more insistently, to join you, but you clasped your hand around my wrist. “May I?” you asked. I shivered at the sound of your voice. Then I nodded and you shifted so I could lie down along the length of the couch, so you could slide off my underwear. You moved closer and the anticipation made me squirm. As you slipped your fingers inside me you said, “I have a secret.” “Oh, yeah?” I asked, arching to meet your hand. “Oh, yeah,” you said, stretching out next to me, your mouth against mine. “Whenever I touch myself, I think about you.” A shudder rippled through my body. “Me too,” I whispered between breaths. I came thirty seconds later. x In those first six months, I was always learning new things about you—things I found sexy, surprising, endearing. Like that day I came over to your place after work, and you were sitting cross-legged on the floor, piles of paper squares around you, each the size of a small Post-it note. I dropped my bag on the kitchen table and shut the door behind me. “What’s going on?” I asked. “It’s my mom’s birthday in two weeks, September nineteenth,” you told me, looking up from your paper sorting. “Since I can’t fly home for it this year, I wanted to come up with something meaningful to send her.” “So you’re making . . . a paper mosaic?” I asked, walking closer. “In a sense,” you said. “They’re all pictures of my mom and me.” You lifted up the squares of paper to show me. I looked closer and saw you and your mom at your high school graduation. The two of you in shorts, your feet dangling in a pool. You giving her bunny ears on your front porch. “Wow,” I said. “I spent most of the day printing them,” you told me, “and now I’m organizing them by color. I want to make it look like a kaleidoscope.” I sat down on the floor next to you, and you gave me a quick kiss. “Why a kaleidoscope?” I asked, picking up a picture of you and your mom, back to back, you a smidge taller. Your hair was the same curly blond—it was hard to tell where she ended and you began. “I was fourteen,” you said, looking at the picture over my shoulder. “You were cute,” I said. “My fourteen-year-old self would have had a crush on your fourteen-year-old self.” You smiled and squeezed my leg. “Without even seeing a picture of you at fourteen, I’ll go out on a limb and say the same would be true in reverse.” Now it was my turn to smile. I put the photo down. “But why a kaleidoscope?” I asked again. You rubbed a hand across your forehead, pushing your curls out of your eyes. “I’ve never told anyone this story before,” you said quietly. I picked up a couple more pictures. You and your mom blowing out candles on her birthday cake. Your mom holding your hand as the two of you stood in front of a Mexican restaurant. “You don’t have to tell me,” I said, wondering if your dad had taken the pictures of the two of you from before you were nine—and who had taken them afterward. “I know,” you said. “But I want to.” You moved so we were facing each other, knee to knee. “The year after my parents split, money was really tight. I would come home from school to find my mom crying more often than painting. That year, I was pretty sure if we did anything for my birthday at all, it would suck. I told her I didn’t want a party with my friends. I didn’t want her to worry about paying for it.” I was struck again by how different our childhoods were. There wasn’t a time I ever worried that my parents wouldn’t be able to pay for a birthday party. “But my mom . . .” you said. “I had this kaleidoscope that I loved. I would look through it for hours, turning and turning the disc at the end, watching the shapes shift and change, focusing on that instead of how sad my mom was, how sad I was that I couldn’t make her happier, how mad I was at my dad.” You couldn’t look at me while you were talking; all your focus was on getting the words out. I rested my hand on your knee and squeezed. You gave me a brief smile. “And?” I asked. You took a breath. “She turned the whole house into a kaleidoscope,” you said. “It was . . . it was incredible. She hung pieces of colored glass from the ceiling and turned a fan on low so they’d twirl. It was stunning.” I tried to imagine it, a house transformed into a kaleidoscope. “My mom and I lay there on the floor, staring up at the colored glass. Even though I thought of myself as a big kid since I’d just turned ten, since I was taking care of my mom as best I could, I started to cry. She asked what was wrong, and I told her that I didn’t know why I was crying, that I was happy. She said, ‘It’s the art, angel.’ And I think in some sense she was right, it was the art, but in another sense . . . I don’t know.” “What don’t you know?” I asked, unconsciously rubbing circles on your knee with my thumb. “I wonder now if it was relief. If I was crying because my mom was acting more like my mom again. She was taking care of me. And even though she was in this dark and broken place, she was still able to create beauty. I wonder if that art proved to me that she was going to be okay. That we were going to be okay.” You put your hand on my knee now. “She was strong,” I said. “She loved you.” You smiled, as if you were feeling her love right there, in that room. And then you kept talking. “My mom and I lay there, both of us crying, and I couldn’t help thinking about my dad. How if he were there, we wouldn’t have done this. Living with him . . . I told you, it was unpredictable. It was like I imagine it must have been in London during World War Two, knowing the air-raid sirens would go off and bombs would fall at some point, but never having any idea where or when they would hit. I whispered to my mom then, ‘We’re better off without him,’ and she said, ‘I know.’ I was only ten, but I felt like a grown-up when I said that.” There were tears in my eyes as you finished talking. I was imagining your ten-year-old self on the floor with your mom, thinking about your dad, feeling like an adult, feeling loved, surrounded by art that she created just for you. “So I want to make her something special for her birthday, since I won’t be there,” you said. “Something meaningful. Something that shows her how much I love her—how much I’ll always love her, no matter how far away I am. And this mosaic, the idea popped into my head this morning.” My eyes flickered over the tiny photographs. “I think it’s perfect,” I said. The apartment felt charged with emotion, from everything you told me, from the fact that you shared it, that fragile part of you. I leaned in to give you a hug, but it turned into a kiss. Our lips met briefly, then more insistently. “Thank you for telling me,” I said softly. You kissed me again. “Thank you for being someone I wanted to tell.” • • • LATER THAT NIGHT, you started gluing the kaleidoscope together. You seemed so happy in that moment, so content, that I put down my computer and quietly picked up your camera. It’s the only photograph I ever took of you. I wonder if you still have it. xi As comfortable as we were together alone, as intimate as our relationship was, it took a while to get used to going to parties with you. I always felt like I was floating in your wake. It was like you had this magical spell that brought people’s attention to you, your face, your words, your stories. Our world of two became your world of one, and then expanded into a world of many in which I wasn’t as important as I’d been before. Midstory I’d slip away to get a drink or go to find someone else to talk to. Once in a while I’d cast my eyes in your direction and see you holding court. You’d find me, eventually, when you were drunk and drained; it was like working that charm sapped all your energy. When we were alone together, you could recharge, and then we’d go out and mingle again. In those moments, it made me feel special that you chose me to recharge with. The epitome of Gabe at a Party was that night we went to Gideon’s birthday at his parents’ apartment on Park Avenue. There was that formal library that we weren’t supposed to enter, at least not with drinks in our hands. With our balance impaired by a few too many cocktails, Gideon was worried we’d ruin the first-edition Hemingway or the signed Nabokov. And seeing the way people were drinking at the party, he probably wasn’t wrong to worry. I’d been talking to Gideon’s girlfriend, who worked in advertising. I was interested in hearing about the life I’d once contemplated living. We were comparing methods of storytelling when I turned my head sideways to check for you—and you were gone. I assumed you went to the bathroom or to refill your drink, but then it was five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes and you hadn’t come back. “I’m so sorry,” I said to her, when I became too distracted to participate in the conversation any longer. “But I seem to have lost my boyfriend.” She laughed. “I imagine that happens often with him.” I didn’t laugh with her. “Why do you say that?” I asked. She shrugged apologetically, realizing she’d said the wrong thing. “Oh, I just meant that he’s charming. I imagine people like talking to him.” “Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I sure do,” I said. She was right, though—that was your magic. Everyone loved talking to you. You made them feel heard, cared about, listened to. I always figured that was part of why people who wouldn’t allow anyone else to take their photograph often agreed to let you do it. You made them feel seen. You made me feel seen. I wandered through the apartment and couldn’t find you anywhere, until I heard your voice coming from the forbidden library. I poked my head in and you were talking to a woman I didn’t know. She had red hair that curled like a lion’s mane around a delicate catlike face. My stomach dropped when I saw you leaning against the bookcase, absorbed in whatever she’d been telling you. “There you are!” I said. You looked up, and there was no guilt on your face. Just a smile, as if you were expecting me to join, but I was late to the appointment. “Me?” you said. “There you are! Rachel was just telling me about the restaurant she hostesses at. She said she can get us a deal—a discount on the prix fixe menu.” I looked over at Rachel, who was clearly less happy to see me than you were. She’d fallen under your spell. “That’s really nice of you,” I said. Rachel smiled a tight little smile. “Nice to meet you, Gabe,” she told you. Then she lifted up her empty glass. “Going to head back to the bar for a refill. But you have my number . . . for the reservations.” “Thanks again,” you said to her, your smile beaming her way now, instead of mine. Then she walked out of the room. I didn’t quite know what to say. I hadn’t caught you doing anything other than talking to someone about restaurant discounts. But why were you in the library with her? Why hadn’t you come to find me? “Whatcha doing in here?” I asked, keeping my voice light. You crossed the room and pushed the door shut, a grin on your face. “Scouting for someplace we could do this,” you said. Then you grabbed my wrists and held them above my head as you leaned me into the bookcase and kissed me hard. “I’m going to make love to you in this library,” you told me, “while the whole party is going on outside. And I’m not going to lock the door.” “But—” I said. You kissed me again, and my protests stopped. I didn’t care about finding you in the library with Rachel anymore. All I cared about was your fingers tugging down the waistband of my tights and the sound of you unzipping your fly. I wouldn’t put up with that now, and I shouldn’t have put up with it then—you placating me with a kiss, erasing my concerns with an orgasm. I should’ve made you explain yourself. I should’ve called you out for flirting with someone else, for not coming to find me. But you were like a drug. When I was high on you, nothing else mattered. “Shh,” you said, as you lifted up my skirt. I didn’t even realize I was making any noise. I bit my lip so hard to keep from calling out as I came that when I kissed you afterward there was a smear of blood on both of our mouths. I loved you so much—and didn’t doubt your love for me—but I’d never forgotten about Stephanie, and I think deep down I was worried that it could happen again, that you’d leave me for someone like her or like Rachel or a million other women you ran into on the subway or at Starbucks or in the grocery store. The seesaw of our relationship wasn’t always balanced. Usually we were even, usually we were equal, but once in a while I’d find myself down at the bottom, trying to spring back up, afraid that you’d jump off to be with someone else, and I’d be stuck without any chance of reaching equilibrium. But even if I’d said something in that library, I don’t think it would have changed anything. Because it wasn’t another woman that I should’ve been worrying about. xii Those doubts didn’t appear often, though. There was so much more to us, so much about us that fit together perfectly. We both cared about each other’s passions—about the careers we dreamed we’d have one day. You watched every single episode of It Takes a Galaxy, the TV show I was working on then, and gave me your thoughts on how the different aliens modeled social situations for kids. You seemed so into it that I started asking what you thought even before the shows went into production. I didn’t have any real power, then. Not yet. But I got to review scripts and storyboards and pass along feedback to my boss. I took that responsibility more seriously than I probably needed to. When I brought scripts home, you’d act them out with me so we could talk through them together. You always asked to play Galacto, the little green guy who looks kind of like a frog. My favorite was Electra, the dark purple one with sparkly antennae. It seems fitting, somehow, that reading an It Takes a Galaxy script is what helped you tell me your dreams. The show is supposed to help children communicate their feelings, but I guess it works on adults too. I remember the episode we were working on when our conversation happened. It was the beginning of November, and we were about a third of the way through the newest season. Galacto sits in his front yard with his head in his hands. Electra enters. Electra: What’s wrong, Galacto? You look sad. Galacto: My dad wants me to play on the starball team, but I hate starball! Electra: Does he know that? Galacto: I’m afraid to tell him. I’m afraid he won’t want to be my dad anymore if I don’t like starball as much as he does. Electra: My dad likes starball, but I don’t, so we do other things together. Maybe you could make a list of things you and your dad both like. Galacto: Do you think that would work? And then I wouldn’t have to play starball anymore? Electra: I think it’s worth a try. Galacto: Me too! “Do you think maybe Electra should like starball and her dad shouldn’t?” I asked, when we finished reading. “You know, flip the gender stereotype a little? Maybe I should suggest that.” “I think that’s a great idea,” you said, looking at me a beat longer than usual. In that moment it felt like you loved not only my idea, but every aspect of who I was. I made some notes on my script, then reread the scene silently. “Do you think Electra should name some things that she and her dad like doing together? Would that strengthen the dialogue?” You didn’t respond to my questions this time, so I turned to look at you. Your focus was on a pigeon cooing on your fire escape. “I’m afraid I’ll turn into him,” you said. I put the script down. “Turn into who?” Absurdly, my first thought was the pigeon. You rubbed your hand against the stubble on your chin. “My dad. That I’ll have all these dreams and I’ll never achieve them. That it’ll make me angry and bruised and broken inside, and I’ll hurt everyone around me.” “What dreams do you have?” I asked. “New dreams?” “Do you know who Steve McCurry is?” I shook my head, so you grabbed my laptop off the floor and put in some search terms, then turned the screen to me. I saw a National Geographic cover with a girl on it. She was wearing a headscarf and had stop-you-in-your-tracks green eyes. Her expression looked haunted, hunted. “This,” you said, “is one of his photographs. We were looking at his work today in my photography class, and I felt it. In my heart, in my soul, in wherever you feel things deepest. This is what I want to do. This is what I have to do.” There was a fire in your eyes I’d never seen before. “I realized that if I want to make a difference, truly make a difference, like you’re trying to do with this show, I’m going to have to leave New York. My camera and I can do more somewhere else.” “Leave?” I echoed. Of everything you said, it was the one word that lodged in my brain, glowing there like a neon Emergency Room sign. “What do you mean? What about us?” Your face went blank for a moment and I realized my response wasn’t the one you were expecting. But really, what were you expecting? “I . . . I wasn’t thinking about us . . . It’s my dream, Lucy,” you said, your voice pleading. “I’ve figured out my dream. Can’t you be happy for me?” “How can I be happy about a dream that doesn’t include me?” I asked. “It doesn’t not include you,” you said. I remembered what you’d told me a few months before at the park, about your parents. I tried to turn off that neon sign and ignore what the word leave would do to my universe, ignore the questions you’d just left unanswered. “You figured out your dream,” I repeated. “Your dream is not disposable.” I could see tears gathering on your lashes. “I want to make everyone here understand that people all over have the same kinds of dreams, that we’re not that different. If I can do that, if I can create a connection . . .” You shook your head; you couldn’t find the words. “But I need to take more photographs, sign up for more classes; I need to be the best before I go.” So there was time. We had time. And maybe it would be like you and your mom—you could love me from a distance while you were gone, and then come back when you’d finished an assignment. That didn’t seem terrible. That could work. I grabbed your hand with both of mine. “You will be,” I said. “If that’s what you want, you will be.” We held each other on the couch after that, breathing in each other’s air, lost in our own thoughts. “Can I tell you something?” I asked. I felt you nod. “I’m afraid that I’m going to become my mom one day.” You turned to face me. “But you love your mom.” You were right. I did. I still do. “Did you know that she and my dad met in law school?” I asked you. “Have I ever mentioned that?” You shook your head. “She’s a lawyer?” “She was,” I said, tucking my head under your chin. “She worked for the Manhattan DA before Jason and I were born. And then she had Jay and quit. And the whole rest of her life she’s been defined by her relationship to other people—she’s Don’s wife or Jason and Lucy’s mom. That happens to so many women. I don’t want it to happen to me.” You looked me right in the eye. “That doesn’t have to happen to you, Lucy. You’re passionate, you know what you want, you work harder than anyone.” Then you kissed me. I kissed you back, but inside I was thinking that my mother was probably all of those things too, and it didn’t matter. She lost herself anyway. I wonder if she wanted to. xiii Sometimes we make decisions that seem right at the time, but later, looking back, were clearly a mistake. Some decisions are right even in hindsight. Even though everyone told me not to, and even knowing what happened afterward, I’m still glad I moved in with you that snowy day in January. “He told you he wants to leave,” Kate said, as we sat on the overstuffed chairs in our breakfast nook, coffee cups on the table in front of us. “But there’s no date,” I argued with her. “He doesn’t have a job yet. It could take a long time for him to get one. And even if he gets one, who knows how long it’ll last? He could be gone for a little while, and then come back.” Kate gave me the look I imagine she now uses on the associates in her law firm, the one that says without words: Are you listening to yourself? Do you expect anyone to believe that? “Even if he gets a job next month,” I told her, “even if he’s gone for years, I want to spend as much time as I can with him before he goes. I mean, the world could end tomorrow. Or I could get hit by a truck and die a week from Thursday. I want to live in the now.” “Lu,” Kate said. She ran her fingers along the silver beaded Tiffany necklace Tom had given her. She’d taken to wearing it every day. “The problem with living in the now is it means, by definition, you’re not making plans for the future. And the probability that the world will end tomorrow or you’ll be hit by a truck is incredibly slim. The probability that Gabe will find a job as a photojournalist overseas and break your heart in the process is incredibly high. I’m just trying to help you manage your risk here. It’s less risky if you stay.” It was tedious defending my choice to everyone. I’d had a similar conversation with my mother the night before. And my brother Jason a few days before that. Alexis was on board with my decision, but even I knew that she had the most questionable judgment of all of my friends. I’d lost track of the number of men she’d slept with because of her personal “why the hell not” motto. “The thing is, Kate,” I said, “I’m already all in, whether I live with Gabe or not. So I might as well enjoy myself while he’s still here.” Kate was silent for a moment, then leaned over and hugged me. “Oh, Lu,” she said. “I love you no matter what, but . . . see if you can figure out a way to Bubble Wrap your heart. I have a bad feeling about this.” Kate was, of course, right. But at that point, there was nothing I could have done to change our trajectory—yours, mine, ours. I stand by that decision. Even now, I stand by it. I’ve never felt as alive as I did those five months we lived together. You were life-changing, Gabe. I’m glad we made that choice. Free will, despite our fate. xiv Soon after we moved in together, you signed up for a photography class where your assignment was to capture different feelings or concepts on film. “Capture beauty” was one week—you aced that one, no problem—then “capture sorrow.” Happiness and decay and rebirth were definitely in there. I don’t remember the order, but I remember you traveling Manhattan with your camera, bundled up in your scarf and hat. Sometimes I tagged along, zipping my coat up to my chin and wearing my warmest earmuffs. A lot of your assignments ended up being pictures of me, like that one you took of me sleeping, my hair dark and tangled against the white pillowcase. It was for serenity, I think. I still have that picture, framed, wrapped in brown paper in a box under my bed. When I moved in with Darren I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. Not even when I married him. Maybe I should unwrap it now, hang it in my office at last. Would you like that? The assignment you had that day was to capture pain. “I know where we have to go,” you said on that Saturday morning, making sure your camera battery was charged. “Ground Zero.” I shook my head as I ate the last bite of waffle on my plate. Your mom had sent you a waffle maker, remember? She bought it on a whim when she found it on a clearance rack, and we’d made that pact to use it as much as possible. Do you still have it? Did you keep mementos like I did, objects to remind you of our life together? Or did you outgrow us as you traveled, tossing memories out with matchboxes and coffee mugs? I still think about that waffle maker. It was a good waffle maker. “You can go,” I said. “I’m not.” “It’s for pain,” you said. “For class.” I shook my head again, scraping my fork across the plate to capture the last bit of syrup. “Your class, not mine,” I told you. “I don’t understand,” you said. “Why don’t you want to go?” I shuddered. “I just . . . I don’t need to see it.” “But you do! We need to remember—the people, the ones who died and the ones they left behind, the reasons it happened. All of it. We can’t forget.” “I don’t need to look at the remains to remember,” I said. “That day, it’s a part of me. It always will be.” “Then to pay your respects,” you said. “Like visiting a grave.” I put my fork down. “Do you really think that the only way to pay your respects to something—or someone—is by visiting the site of the event? The place they’re buried? You can’t mean that.” You were upset now, but trying not to show it. “No,” you said. “I don’t. But—I just feel like we’re not doing enough. To remember. To understand.” I bit my lip. “Us?” I said. “Everyone,” you answered. Your hands were in fists, thumbs clenched around fingers. “How can people walk around like everything’s normal when America’s at war in Iraq? When bombs are going off in hotels in Indonesia? When they were here in New York and saw what happened? How come they don’t feel it like I do? Why don’t they want to do more?” Your voice cracked on the last word, and I could see you struggling so hard to keep your emotions in check. You were right, though. Most people didn’t feel it like you did. I didn’t. At least not all the time, not every minute. It didn’t engulf my mind or capture my heart the way it did yours. “Maybe they don’t need to force themselves to feel pain to know it’s there. Just because they’re not doing it your way doesn’t mean they’re not doing it at all. And not wanting to go to Ground Zero doesn’t mean I don’t care.” I didn’t wait for your response. I walked toward the kitchen, bringing the dishes, sticky with maple syrup, with me. The plates were yours, the forks mine—the kitchen was a jumble of us. I turned on the sink and started washing the dishes, not able to stop the tears that overflowed onto my cheeks. I knew then, really knew in my heart, that you would leave me one day soon. This dream you had wasn’t a someday dream, it was a right-now dream. You would never be happy in New York. You would never be happy with just me. You needed to confront your disappointment in the world, to work through it, if you were going to end up okay. Even then, I understood that. I just hoped you’d come back. You walked over so quietly I didn’t notice you until I heard your camera click. I looked up and you captured me with my eyes full of tears, the instant one started to slip down my cheek. “Gabe!” I said, wiping my eyes with my forearm. I couldn’t believe you were taking my picture then. That you were turning our argument into art. “I know,” you said, putting your camera on the counter. You kissed the top of my head, then my eyelids, then my nose, and finally my lips. “I’m sorry. And I know you care. I love you, Lucy.” I put the plates down and wrapped my sudsy hands around your T-shirt. “You, too, Gabe,” I said. “I love you, too.” You went to Ground Zero that day without me and took dozens and dozens of pictures. Because I knew how much it meant to you, I agreed to look through them and help you choose the best shot, even though I kept thinking I smelled that acrid, charred air that floated uptown on September 12th. But in the end, you didn’t choose any of them. The picture you handed in for pain was the one of me, washing dishes with tears in my eyes. I never liked that picture. How would you like it if I took a picture of you now? xv After that story about you and your mom and your birthday kaleidoscope, I understood your desire for grand gestures, for thoughtful, heartfelt celebration. And I matched it. That year we went on a helicopter ride for your birthday at the end of February—and then ate the twenty-course tasting menu at that restaurant next to Parm. I’m blanking now on the name, but you know the place. The one where after about eleven of the courses I was so full that you ate a couple of mine—so you ended up with twenty-two courses and I ended up with eighteen, which was still too many for me. I felt like a snake who’d eaten an alligator for the whole rest of the weekend, but you were happy. You said that your birthday had been properly celebrated. Especially after I went down on you during the taxi ride home. And the day before my birthday that year you sent me flowers at work—a dozen stargazer lilies. I still have the note that came with them, hidden away with the wrapped-up photograph of serenity. Stargazers for my girl filled with starlight. Happy birthday. Happy anniversary. Can’t wait until tonight. Love you. Gabe. When I got home, there was a big box on the bed. “Open it,” you said, a huge grin taking over your face. Inside was an outfit from my favorite store back then—BCBG—the one that I shopped in only when they were having their seventy-percent-off sales. The top was turquoise silk, sleeveless with a deep V in the front and in the back. And the skirt was short and tight and black. “I thought this would look great on you,” you said. “It’s perfect for seeing Apollo at the ballet, and then I thought . . . we could go back to Faces & Names. You’ll be the sexiest girl in the room.” I threw my arms around you in a thank-you hug. Your gift was so thoughtful, tailored just for me. I pictured you combing through Time Out New York for the perfect night out, walking into BCBG, feeling slightly out of place, touching silk and satin and imagining it on my body. Choosing a color that would make me glow. “I’m so lucky,” I said. “Really and truly the luckiest girl in the world to be with you.” “I think you’ve got it backward,” you said. “I’m the lucky one. I wish I could do more to show you how incredible it is to be here, right now, with you.” “Well,” I said, grabbing your belt and tugging you toward me. “I might be able to come up with some things you could do.” We didn’t even make it to the bed that day. And we had the rug burns to prove it. Lying next to each other, our clothing strewn across the floor, you said, “Did you ever imagine that loving someone would feel like this?” I snuggled closer to you. Your arm tightened around my shoulder. “Never in my wildest dreams,” I said. “It’s like you’re my star, Lucy, my sun. Your light, your gravitational pull . . . I don’t even know how to say what you mean to me.” “I’d call us a binary star,” I said, slowly running my fingers up your thigh. I couldn’t keep my hands off you. No self-control. “We’re orbiting around each other.” “God, Lucy,” you said. “Your mind is as beautiful as your body.” You propped your head up on your elbow and faced me. “Do you believe in karma?” you asked. “Like Hindu karma? Or like, if I steal someone’s taxicab, I’ll be cursed to suffer the same fate?” I asked back. You smiled. “There’s definitely cab karma in this city, but that’s not quite what I’m talking about. It’s not Hindu karma either. I guess it’s not really karma at all. It’s more like . . . do you think we get to love each other like this—so much, so strongly—because my dad was an asshole? Is it my reward for living through that? Getting this?” You gestured at both of our naked bodies. “Or does having this now mean that I’ll suffer later to make up for it? Do we all get a finite amount of goodness in this world?” I sat up then and shook my head. “I don’t think the world works that way,” I said. “I think life is just life. We’re put in situations and we make choices and that’s why things happen the way they do. Taking the current when it serves. It’s that old question. The one from Kramer’s class.” You were quiet. “But you know what I’d like to think?” I continued, to fill the silence. “I’d like to think that it is karma. Hindu karma. That maybe in a past life I did something wonderful for someone and my reward is you in this life. I like that kind of karma better than your idea of a finite amount of goodness.” You smiled again, but this time it was rueful. I could tell you didn’t believe me. “I like that idea too,” you said. “I just . . . I worry that it’s impossible to have it all, for all parts of a life to be wonderful.” I thought about it. “I think they can be,” I said. “Maybe not everything all at once, but I think people can end their lives having gotten all that they wanted out of it.” And I do believe that, Gabe, I still do. “I hope you’re right,” you said. We never talked about it after that, but I got the feeling you still thought that no one person could ever have everything. I wish I could’ve figured out a way to shift your perspective on that—because what I think you were saying, what you believed, is that you have to sacrifice. This love for that love. This piece of happiness for that one. It was a theory that shaped your decisions, whether consciously or unconsciously. It was part of what pointed you down the road you traveled, what brought us here. But I really would like to think that’s not the case. That you can have a father who loves you and a girlfriend who does the same. A career that’s rewarding, and a personal life that is too. But maybe you’d say that if you have those things, maybe it’s your health that will go. Or your finances. Or God knows what else. Did you ever change your mind, Gabe? I wish you could answer me. xvi Soon after my birthday you signed up for that class with Pete. I always wondered how long you kept in touch with him after you left New York. I know he meant a lot to you. Clearly. He’s the one who jump-started your career. I always wondered if, in him, you’d finally found the support and guidance you’d always wanted from your father. You were the happiest I’d seen you while you were taking his class, selling photographs, with his help, to the Village Voice. It made me think briefly that maybe I was wrong, maybe you were wrong, maybe you could be happy staying in New York. You’d taken on dinner responsibilities, too, because I made it a point to stay at the office until Phil left, and he was working later and later then, trying to come up with a new season’s worth of ideas for It Takes a Galaxy. Do you remember the night I came home even later than usual—close to nine—and you’d made pasta with homemade pesto sauce? There was a bottle of wine open, and you’d already had a glass. When I walked in, you were setting the table. Ella Fitzgerald was playing through the speakers attached to your laptop. “Well, hello,” you said. Your kiss tasted like Malbec. “You’re in a good mood tonight,” I answered, shrugging off my denim jacket. “Guess who’s going to have his photograph printed in the New York Times?” you asked. I gasped. “You?” “Me!” you said, giddy. “Pete connected me with the right people over there, and they’re printing the one I took down our block, when the water pipe burst in the middle of the street. It’s for a feature article on the crumbling city infrastructure.” I dropped my bags on the floor and threw my arms around you. “Congratulations—to my talented, brilliant boyfriend.” As you lifted me up off the ground and lowered me onto the couch, I thought that maybe, just maybe, this could work long term. Maybe you wouldn’t leave after all. We ate dinner that night half dressed, and afterward I shared some news of my own. Phil had asked me to help him come up with some ideas for next season’s shows. “This is it,” I told you. “My chance to really influence what kids in our country see and learn and understand.” You sat up with me late that night as I brainstormed ideas in bed, acting as my incredibly supportive sounding board. But I wasn’t happy with my list. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw your camera. “Hey,” I said. “Any ideas in there? What’s on your memory card?” You brought your camera into bed with us, and we clicked through your photos one by one until I made you stop at a little girl in the window of a first-floor apartment, her hands gripping the window bars. “What’s her story, do you think?” I asked. “Loneliness?” you said. “Parents who left her while they went to work? A dreamer who’s yearning for something else?” “Dreams! We should do an episode on dreams.” It was episode one of our second season. And I got promoted at the start of the next quarter. But you were gone before both of those things happened. xvii Not long after your photograph was in the Times, It Takes a Galaxy was nominated for a Daytime Emmy, and I was invited to the ceremony with a date. I dragged you to Bloomingdale’s with me when I tried on gowns. Though I guess dragged isn’t really the right word, because you enjoyed it. Do you remember? You sat on a couch near the dressing rooms, an audience of one for a private fashion show. I came out in a strapless lace sheath first, with a slit up the front of my right leg. “Sexy,” you said. “Really hot.” “Not quite what I’m going for, at least not for work.” Then I came out in a pink ball gown. “Sweet,” you told me. “Like Cinderella.” That wasn’t right either. I put on a navy blue dress, all angles and corners. “Severe,” you said. “Beautiful and sharp.” I could see the other women at the store noticing us. The older ones smiled indulgently. Some of the younger ones looked jealous. When I saw their stares, I tried to tone down my smile, tamp down the feeling inside me that said, All is right in the world. That day happiness felt like our destiny, yours and mine together. I tried on a few more dresses until I got to a red silk dress, halter, with a low back, tight on top and then looser on the bottom, so it swayed when I moved. Do you remember what you said? I do. I can see you saying it right now, your eyes smoldering as they traveled the length of my body. “That,” you said, “is stunning. You are stunning.” You stood up from the couch and took my hand, twirling me in the middle of the Bloomingdale’s formal-wear section. Then you dipped me, and kissed me. “This one,” you whispered as you righted us. “And buy it as quickly as possible. Is there a bathroom we can sneak into around here? Or should we just take a cab home?” I laughed and whispered back, “Cab,” as you helped me undo the zipper. xviii When we got home that day, you gathered me and my bags into your arms and raced up the two flights to our apartment, fumbling one-handed for your key while I hung on to your neck, laughing. “What are you doing?” I asked. “You’re nuts.” “Couldn’t wait any longer,” you said, pushing the door open and tossing me onto the bed. You threw my bags on the couch and then came back, already pulling your shirt over your head. “Seeing you in those gowns, knowing you were naked in that dressing room . . . excruciating.” I pulled my T-shirt off, too, and unhooked my bra. When I slipped it over my shoulders, you moaned. “Luce,” you said. “Lucy.” And then you climbed onto the bed with me and your lips and fingers were everywhere and I was moaning too, my back arching, and then you were inside me and I felt complete, like I always did the moment you slid into me. “Gabriel,” I said between breaths, “you make me feel infinite.” You bent your head down and kissed me hard. “You make me feel invincible,” you whispered. Love does that. It makes you feel infinite and invincible, like the whole world is open to you, anything is achievable, and each day will be filled with wonder. Maybe it’s the act of opening yourself up, letting someone else in—or maybe it’s the act of caring so deeply about another person that it expands your heart. I’ve heard so many people say some version of I never knew how much I could love another human being until . . . And after the until is usually something like my niece was born or I gave birth to a child or I adopted a baby. I never knew how much I could love another human being until I met you, Gabe. I’ll never forget that. xix I think I glowed that day. I loved a man who loved me back just as fiercely. Who helped me pick out a dress for an award ceremony that would celebrate my accomplishments. I forgot about the fact that you wanted to leave, the fact that underneath the patina of joy I knew you weren’t truly happy. Because that day everything seemed perfect. xx The morning of the ceremony, I had my hair blown loose and wavy. I’d had my makeup done, too, with tons of eyeliner and mascara and red lipstick that almost matched my dress. When I slipped on the silk sheath, I felt enchanting. And excited. And like everything I’d been working for since college had truly been worth it. “Brains and beauty,” you said, with a half smile when you saw me. “You’re not so bad yourself,” I responded. You were in a single-breasted tuxedo with a vest and a tie, your curls tamed with some kind of gel that you used only on important occasions. It made you smell like you’d just left a hair salon. Sometimes I’ll walk by someone and catch that same scent, and it’ll throw me back to that day, even now. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever been rocketed back in time by a scent that made you think of me? As we made our way to Rockefeller Center that day, as we met up with my colleagues and took our seats, I could tell that your mind was elsewhere. You kept clapping a second after everyone else. You kept looking at me with your bottom lip between your teeth—the face you made when you were thinking about something hard, turning it over and over in your mind. What exactly was going through your head then? And then our award was up, and we won! I could barely breathe. The air was filled with joy. I imagined my parents watching, both of them crying, my dad pretending he wasn’t. I imagined Jason whooping, Kate cheering. Phil pulled me up onstage with him and the rest of the team, and I got to stand next to him while he spoke. My smile was so wide I could feel my cheeks stretch. I kept looking right at you in the audience, wanting you to share my happiness, but your eyes were glazed over. You weren’t even looking back. For a moment, I wondered what was going on, but then we were all turning and walking off the stage, and when I got back to my seat, right next to yours, you kissed me softly. “I love you,” you whispered. We all partied afterward, high on the rush of the adrenaline that comes from winning. We danced and drank and laughed and you made small talk with my colleagues’ wives and boyfriends and fiancés. But the whole time I could tell you weren’t really there. xxi When we got home, I slipped off my heels and collapsed on the couch. You sat down next to me and took my foot in your hands, massaging away the pain of eight hours in stilettos. “Oh, God,” I moaned. “Gabe, this might be better than sex.” You didn’t laugh, though, the way I was expecting you to. “Luce,” you said, your fingers still kneading the arch of my left foot, “we have to talk.” I sat up and pulled my feet from your hands, tucked them under me. “What is it?” I asked. “Are you okay? Are we okay? I thought things were great, but if there’s anything—” “Lucy,” you said, my whole name. “Stop.” Then you took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it straight out. I got offered a job with the Associated Press. They want me to go to Iraq, embed with troops there for a feature piece, to start. With the possibility of a salaried position after that. Pete made a few calls, pulled a few strings. He knew I wanted to go abroad.” For a moment I couldn’t breathe. “When?” I whispered. “For how long?” “They want me to leave in three weeks. The job is for two months at least. Maybe a lot longer.” “When do you have to give them an answer?” I asked. I was thinking: We could handle two months. Maybe even longer. We could make it work. “I already gave it,” you said, looking down at your fingers. “I told them yes.” “You what?” I asked. I felt like someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub drain, like our life together was rushing away in a twirling tornado. My mind flashed to Kate, to what she said about the probability of you leaving and breaking my heart. You still weren’t looking at me. “It’s been in the works for a while,” you said, “but today all the paperwork went through. I didn’t know if it would. It seemed so tenuous. I didn’t want to say anything unless it was definite. I didn’t want to hurt you if I didn’t have to.” I felt every beat of my heart, every pulse of blood as it moved through my body. I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what to say. “A few months ago, when I saw that first article on Abu Ghraib that the AP put out, I just knew I had to go. Images can shift perspectives. They can change opinions and minds. I can’t stand back and trust that other people will do this work, not when I think it’s so important. I told you I was going to leave, Luce. You knew that was my plan eventually.” And I did. But I don’t think I understood you meant forever. That it wasn’t negotiable. That we wouldn’t work to figure it out together. And even more than that, I wasn’t prepared. On that night especially. It was supposed to be a night of celebration, of happiness, of success. I was flying higher than I ever had in my life. The work I’d done had won an Emmy. And I’d let down my guard. I’d allowed myself to be completely happy. How could you not have told me what Pete was trying to do? The phone calls you must’ve had? The plans you must have been making? How could you have made that decision without me? It still makes me angry, Gabe, that you didn’t include me. We were a binary star. We orbited around each other. When you decided not to tell me, you changed that, you weren’t orbiting around me anymore, you were circling someone else, something else. As soon as you started keeping secrets, we had no chance. All at once, tears rushed to my eyes—tears of anger and sadness and confusion and hurt. “Gabe, Gabe,” I said over and over. “How could you?” I finally managed. “How could you not tell me? How could you tell me tonight?” You reached out to me, and I fought you, pushing your arms away with more strength than I thought I had. “It would’ve hurt less if I’d known,” I said, “if we’d talked about it. Don’t you understand? We were a team. You cut me out. How could you make plans without me? How could you make plans like that without me?” You were crying too, snot dripping from your nose to your lip. “I’m sorry,” you said. “I was trying to do the right thing. I didn’t want to hurt you, I’m sorry.” “But you did,” I choked out. “More than you would have. More than you needed to. It’s like I don’t matter to you at all.” “That’s not true.” You wiped your nose and then reached for me again. “Don’t,” I said. “Don’t touch me.” “Please,” you said. “Lucy, please.” Now you were crying harder than I was. “I need you to understand. I wish I didn’t want this—I wish I didn’t feel like this is the thing I have to do, the only way I’ll feel whole. I never wanted to hurt you. This isn’t about you.” “No,” I said. “It’s not about me. But it’s not only about you either. It’s about us. It’s about you destroying us.” You looked as if I’d slapped you. And I wanted to. “I’m not—” you said. “It’s not about us, Lucy. It’s really not. It is about me. I need to do this for me. There’s something inside me that’s broken, and this is the only thing that will fix it. I thought you’d understand. You always under—” But I didn’t understand this time. “Why can’t you stay?” I interrupted. “What about photographing New York City? There are so many stories here to tell. You were so happy when the New York Times printed your picture.” You shook your head. “I can do more somewhere else. I can do better work. I can make more of a difference. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. You know what that means to me.” “I do, but there has to be another way.” “There isn’t,” you said. “What about taking trips, but coming back home when they’re done?” I was begging. I knew it, and I didn’t care. “That’s not how it works,” you said. “Pete said if I want to do this, I have to be all in.” “Oh, Pete says.” I was furious now. “So you talked to Pete all about this, but not to me.” “Lucy—” you started. “You know what?” I said. “Fuck you.” Anger spread to the far reaches of my fingers and toes. I walked to our bed and threw your pillow and the extra blanket onto the couch. “You’re sleeping there tonight.” “Lucy, we’re not done talking.” The blanket dangled from your fingertips. “We are,” I said, unzipping my dress and turning out the light. • • • OF COURSE, neither one of us slept. I relived the conversation we’d just had over and over in my mind. As much as I hated you just then, I still wanted to walk across the studio and slide in next to you on the couch, to feel the solidity of your body next to mine. You were my comfort and my pain all at once. At some point later you got up and stood beside the bed. “I have an idea,” you said. I didn’t respond. “I know you’re awake,” you said. “I can see your eyes.” We hadn’t closed the blinds. You were backlit, illuminated by the city lights. It gave you a halo. Fallen angel, I thought. “What?” I finally asked. “Maybe . . . maybe you can come with me.” You reached out your hand tentatively in the semidarkness. “Maybe we could figure that out.” I met your fingers with mine. For a brief moment it made sense. But then my mind focused on what you were asking. It focused on Baghdad. On visas. On apartments. On jobs. “But . . . how?” I asked. You sat down on the bed, still holding my hand, and shrugged. “We could find a way.” “But where would I live? What would I do? What about my career, Gabe?” I felt the anger flooding my body again. You were asking me to give up my dreams for you, when you would never do the same for me, wouldn’t even consider compromise, hadn’t even talked to me about it. You shook your head. “I don’t know,” you said. “But I’m sure people do this. Maybe you could have a different career. You could get a job writing articles and make a difference that way. We could create the words and the pictures together. I should’ve thought of this earlier. It’d be perfect.” “I thought my dreams weren’t disposable, Gabe,” I said. I loved you. I did. I do. So much. But what you were asking wasn’t fair. And it hurt then—it still hurts now—that you’d made this decision to leave without my input and weren’t willing to think about any alternatives. “That’s not what I meant,” you said. I sighed. It was all too much. “Let’s talk about it in the morning,” I told you. “But—” you started. Then you closed your mouth. “Okay,” you said. But you didn’t move. You stayed put, sitting on the bed. You kept your hand on mine. “Gabe?” I asked. You turned to face me. A police car sped by, its flashing lights reflected in your eyes. “I can’t sleep without you, Lucy.” I felt my tears pool again. “That’s not fair,” I said. “You don’t get to say that. You have no right.” “But it’s true,” you said. “That’s why you should come to Iraq.” “Because you’re having trouble sleeping without me next to you in bed?” I pulled my hand out of yours. “I didn’t mean it literally,” you said. “I meant I love you. I meant I’m sorry. I meant I want you to come with me.” You didn’t get it. I sat up and turned on the bedside lamp. We both squinted in its harsh light. I saw the pain etched onto your face. You looked raw and vulnerable. Miserable. Lost. Like you did that night at Faces & Names, the night we reconnected. And there it was, my pomegranate seed, that part of you that still makes it so hard for me to turn away. When you show me that vulnerable piece of yourself, it makes me feel responsible. Because we only reveal our true selves to the people we care about most. I think that’s why our relationship jump-started so quickly. We had no barriers on September 11th—we revealed our secret selves to each other right away. And you can’t ever take that back. But that night it wasn’t enough. I needed more from you. I needed understanding and honesty and compromise. I needed commitment. It wasn’t even worth fighting anymore. I reached for your hand. “I love you, too,” I said, “but I can’t come with you. You know that. Your dreams are there, but mine are here.” “You were right before,” you said, your voice sounding strangled. “Let’s talk about it in the morning.” I watched you pad across the apartment, fold your long body onto the couch. I turned out the light and thought of all the reasons it made no sense for me to go with you to Iraq—and the one reason it did: because I couldn’t imagine my life without you. • • • WHEN I WOKE UP BLEARY-EYED, with a pounding headache, you were sitting on the couch watching me. “I know you can’t come,” you said quietly, the moment my eyes were open. “But I promise, we’ll stay in touch. I’ll see you when I come to visit the city. I’ll always love you.” Your voice caught in your throat. “But I need to do this. And the fact that I was ready to throw away your dream—I’m my father all over again, Lucy. I think . . . I think you’ll be better off without me.” My head throbbed. My eyes burned. And I truly fell apart then; I couldn’t stop the sobs, the shaking, the sounds coming out of my mouth that seemed prehistoric. Expressions of pain coded into our DNA from our preverbal ancestors. You were really leaving. You were really leaving me. I had known this would happen, at some point, but I never let myself imagine what it would be like when it did. And it felt like a nightmare. Like my heart was made of blown glass and someone had thrown it to the floor, shattered it into a million pieces, and then ground their heels into the shards. The fact that you invited me to go with you, it meant a lot. It always has. But it wasn’t a real offer, not a fully thought-out one. It was a middle-of-the-night apology, an attempt to fix your mistake in not telling me sooner, in keeping secrets, in leaving me out of the process. Though a part of me has always wondered what would’ve happened if I’d said yes. Would it have changed both of our lives completely, or would we still have ended up here, with me in this too-bright room, wishing I were anywhere else, and wishing at the same time that I never had to leave? I guess we’ll never know. You packed up your stuff that week and left to spend time with your mom before you took off for good. And I sat in what used to be our apartment and cried. xxii We never talked about what it was like afterward. I never told you how broken I was. How I looked at the spaces your books left on the bookshelves and couldn’t bring myself to fill them. How I couldn’t eat waffles without crying. Or wear the wooden bracelet you bought me at the street fair on Columbus Avenue—the one we stumbled upon and then stayed at all afternoon, eating mozzarepas and crepes and pretending that we needed a new carpet for our imaginary ski house. One night, two weeks after you left, I took a bottle of your favorite whiskey down from the shelf above the kitchen sink. You’d left it behind too. I poured myself glass after glass, first over ice, and then when the ice tray was empty, straight. It burned my lips when I drank it, but it tasted like kissing you. And it dulled the pain. For the first time since you left, I slept through the night. I felt like hell the next morning and called in sick to work. But I did it again the next week. And the week after. Making myself go to work, learning how to live with the pain. There were stores I couldn’t pass and restaurants I couldn’t eat in. I spent a month sleeping on the floor, because all I felt was your absence when I tried sleeping in our bed—and the couch was worse. It reminded me of the night after the Emmys. I donated half my clothing to Goodwill and threw away the posters we had on the walls. Six weeks after you left, I sat in the almost-empty apartment and called Kate. “I can’t stay here,” I said. “You shouldn’t,” she answered. “Come stay with me.” So I packed up the rest of the apartment and I did, for two weeks. Kate helped me sublet the studio and then I moved to Brooklyn. I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed a new borough, a fresh start. And even there I had to avoid Bubby’s, where we went to Kevin and Sara’s wedding, and the Red Hook Lobster Pound, where we went to celebrate July Fourth. You were everywhere. We’d only been together for fourteen months, but it was fourteen months that changed my world. I e-mailed you—do you remember? I didn’t tell you how I was feeling, how I was falling apart. I’m getting a share in the Hamptons with Alexis! Totally last-minute, but it should be fun. I wrote with false cheer. Just saw Ben Folds play on SummerStage—you’d have loved the show. How’s everything going? And then I waited and waited and waited for a response that never came. I kept thinking about how you said we’d keep in touch. How you said you’d always love me. Every time I checked my e-mail, I’d feel a combination of rage and sadness, disappointment deeper than anything I’d ever experienced before. I started letters to you. Diatribes, really. But I threw them all out before I sent them. I was afraid that if I yelled at you across continents, you’d write me off completely, and I’d never hear from you again. I didn’t think I’d be able to handle that. Looking back now, I know you were hurting, too, trying to move on, find your own path. My note fro