He appeared before me after a long day behind the bar. I was walking home and had little focus on what I was saying to myself. I had become so used to my constant mumbling I had stopped thinking. He was tall and bright and in every way, attractive. His skin glistened in the snow covered street glow and his dark suit seemed to stand apart from the shadow. He was everything I had ever desired and every moment I had ever enjoyed. I felt like a child in front of him. The cold air turned warm and wrapped around me like a baby’s blanket. His voice echoed through my head without a sound leaving his mouth. His eyes saw into me and, as though lying was impossible, I replied without speaking. He had asked me to repeat what I had just muttered under my breath. I had given it such little thought, I barely remembered. But, as his eyes travelled through every memory I had, he welcomed my response with no judgment or care. I could feel his smile. And as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone and she was there.
I couldn’t breath. She looked just as she had that morning of our last fight. The scratch above her eye where one of her students had hit her with a plastic lion was still red. Her eyes were scared and ashamed. It was as though, for her, not a moment had passed. She trembled and I reached out and, for the first time in three years, held her. Her forehead brushed against my neck and every molecule of skin in my body tingled and lunged towards her. I squeezed tighter and tighter. Tears fell from my eyes. My hands shook along her back. I tried to speak but couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say. I had replayed what I would say had been given the opportunity to see her just once more, to spend just one more moment with her, to apologize, to thank her, to tell her how she was my everything and without her, life lost all meaning and time became just something clocks keep track of. But I couldn’t say any of it.
She pulled away from me and stared into my eyes. She reached up and touched my face and I muttered, “I’m sorry.” She smiled slightly and slid under my arm. She held my hand as she had on our first date after dinner.
“I think we should move the couch.”
Time hadn’t passed for her. She didn’t simply appear to be in the same moment. She was. And I suddenly realized that we couldn’t go to the apartment she knew. The memories that lived there were too painful. I had moved. Her parents had helped. Her sister now lived there. And I wasn’t about to share her. Not this time. Not when I finally have her back.
“Let’s go to the lake. Let’s just go, now, and watch the sunrise over the ice.”
I knew it was unrealistic. The trains weren’t running and I had sold the car. But, no matter the cost, the back seat of a cab with her would be worth every penny. She lit up and every memory of the fight that in her mind we had had but that morning disappeared.
The ride was long and warm. She nestled into my chest as she used to. We laughed and talked about how we met. She said that I looked so confused the first time she saw me, wet and shivering in the cold summer air, stranded on the front steps of the train station. She thought I was drunk. Every word out of her mouth was a song. I had nearly forgotten how perfect her voice and her slight accent were. I had become used to her mom’s and sister’s and had formed a memory of her voice that more closely resembled theirs. But there’s no comparison. Her voice was softer, more soothing, and her accent only showed up in certain words or when she laughed.
The lake was quiet and cold. We wandered out onto the ice and found the spot where we had eaten our first winter picnic. She danced on the dark, slippery spots. I sat and watched her move, taking in every moment, every image, every new memory. I suddenly felt awful that I’d kept her from her family. Watching her smile and laugh and tell me she loved me, I realized how much her sister and mom and dad had done for me, and how much this would’ve meant to them. But it was too late. We wouldn’t be able to get back to the city before tomorrow morning. The first signs of light started to peak out from the horizon.
She rushed over to me and settled in as though a movie was about to start. My arms wrapped around her and our breath alternated. I wished that we could be frozen in that moment, together, for some future evolution to discover and study as what past couples were. I wanted us to fossilize and be forever connected, her forehead nestling into the small patch of skin on my neck that wasn’t covered by the knit scarf she had made for me on our second Christmas together. We were both broke and agreed to not get each other anything. She made me a scarf. I painted her a portrait of Audrey Hepburn. Even when her mom tried to help me with my grief, boxing up and storing all of her old clothes and knick-knacks, I wouldn’t let her take the scarf. When her sister tried, for a short time, to get me to date again, I wore the scarf to two of them. I didn’t feel like myself without it, without her.
The first warmth of the sun reached our faces and both of us let out a soft “mmmm.” She laughed at me and I held her tighter. She looked up and I kissed her. Her lips were cold and shaking. The snow and ice and cold upstate air had taken their toll. We watched the sun for another ten minutes and then started to, slowly, walk towards the train station.
“Thank you for this. I know things have been difficult lately, but I do love you. And I didn’t mean what I said this morning. We are together in this.”
I wanted to tell her. Explain. But how? I’d wanted to hear her say those words for three years. I wanted to hear them as soon as she slammed the door that morning, tears in her eyes, anger in her voice, screaming that I didn’t get it and that we just weren’t going to work. I called and called that morning, leaving dozens of unheard voice mails and unread text messages before I decided to just run after her, find her, explain.
The path to the train station was covered with a fresh layer of power. She lay down in the middle of it and made a snow angel. I stood above her, holding back tears of true joy and told her I loved her more than anything in the world and that I never wanted to be apart again. The sun hit it’s peak and strong gust of warm air rushed passed us. She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me. Her lips were so warm and perfectly soft. I closed my eyes to remember that feeling, because I knew what the warm air was. I’d never forget the feeling. It was too perfect, too comfortable, too warm. When I opened my eyes, she was gone. The warm air had passed. And I was left, alone, again.
I screamed and yelled to the skies, asking God why he had done this. I replayed every moment, every breath of that night over and over. I replayed my walk home from work, the figure appearing before me, what I had said… What I said…
I rushed to the train. The ride back to the city was cold and lonely. My tears froze against my face as I walked to our old apartment. I couldn’t tell her sister what had happened, but needed to be near family. I knew she would be asleep, but I didn’t care. My mind was racing and my heart was re-broken.
The front door hadn’t locked properly in years. It just took a healthy push and it opened right up. I ran up the stairs to the third floor and pounded on her door. It took a few minutes before I could hear her shuffling around. “Who is it? Do you know what time it is?”
She opened the door just a bit. I could see the chain lock was still in place. Something was wrong with her. Her face looked different.
“Who are you?”
I didn’t have time for games. I was dying inside and needed her. Why was she… “It’s me. Mark.”
“I’m sorry. You must have the wrong apartment. I have no idea who you are.”
The door closed and I listened to her bare feet stumble back to what used to be my bedroom. She stepped on the broken floorboard that creaks from when her sister had dropped one of my dumbbells while we were moving in. We used to have a chest of drawers next to the doorway that I used to stub my toe on at least three times per week. It’s now in storage at her mom’s. How could she not know me?
My heart began to seize and throb. I replayed the conversation on the street with the figure that had brought her back to me. He had asked me to repeat what I had muttered under my breath. I hardly remembered at the time and never spoke it aloud, but he saw into me, he saw the answer and saw how I meant it. And now I see what it was I was doing. “I’d sell my soul for another night with her.”
I wandered out of the building, broken and confused. Why couldn’t he have just taken me? Kill me? Because this is worse. He erased me. He left me here, alone, without her, without her family, without anything.
I slipped and fell on the ice and lay in the street, allowing the cold pavement to reach its icy fingers into my spine. I closed my eyes and realized I was in almost the same spot as where she died. The truck had turned from right over there. She never saw it. She was crying and probably calling her sister. When I came down, ready to chase after her and apologize for what I had said but not meant, the cop car was parked exactly where I lay. She was so still and dark. And my world fell out from under me.
A taxi almost hit me and I wished it had. The driver yelled something as he honked his horn. I stood up and walked. I didn’t know where. I couldn’t go home. Nothing was open. The streets were starting fill with the morning commuters and breakfast customers. I just walked.
The wind got stronger as I neared the water. The buildings got smaller. The streets got less crowded. And before I knew it, I was standing on the bridge, watching the chunks of ice and snow flow passed me. I closed my eyes and replayed every moment of the night. The warmth of her forehead, the softness of her lips, the light that I felt inside when her eyes and mine met. I thought of what she said and how long I had yearned to hear it from her. I thought of her snow angel and the warm gust of wind that took her away. I knew I couldn’t do this without her. I was scared. I needed her. I loved her too much. I wrapped my arms around myself and imagined them as hers. I listened to the wind whistle through my ears and, for but a second I could hear her perfect voice. “I love you.” And that was all I needed.