Home > The Light We Lost(11)

The Light We Lost(11)
Author: Jill Santopolo

“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.


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 from New York must’ve felt like it had been beamed in from another planet. SummerStage? The Hamptons? I can’t even imagine what you thought when you read that. But then? Then I couldn’t understand how you could ignore me. How one minute you could spin me and kiss me and tell me I made you feel invincible, and then all of a sudden you could disappear.

Two months after you left I got an e-mail from you. The first one since you landed in Iraq. Glad you’re doing well! Things here are crazy. Sorry I didn’t write sooner. It was a hard adjustment, but I love the work. The feature’s done and they’re keeping me on here for a while. Hope you’re enjoying New York!

I read that e-mail over a hundred times, maybe. It could have been two hundred. I analyzed every word. Every punctuation mark. I looked for the hidden meanings, any insight I could glean into how you were feeling or what you were thinking. Trying to figure out whether you missed me, whether you’d found someone new.

But here’s the thing: There was no subtext, no hidden messages, no secret codes. It was just a quick response sent in a hurry. I’d been waiting two months for nothing. I created a Gmail folder called Disaster and put all your e-mails in there, including that one. I didn’t write back. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear it if you ignored me again.


Sometimes I’m told things that I don’t realize are important until much later. That’s how it always seems to be when I talk to my brother—whenever we have any kind of serious discussion, anything more than the everyday How are you and How’s work, it takes me years to understand what he was trying to tell me. A few weeks after you left, Jason called. He was twenty-eight at the time and had been dating Vanessa for about a year. They’d met at the lab—she was working in communications for the pharmaceutical company, and he was trying to develop some kind of targeted cancer therapy that I still only half understand.

“Hey, Lulu,” he said, when I picked up my cell. “I—uh—I wanted to see how you were doing. Mom said things have been pretty rough.”

“Yeah,” I said, my eyes already filling with tears at his concern. “I miss him so much, Jay. I love him and I hate him and it’s just . . . it’s awful.” My voice wobbled on the phone. I wasn’t questioning my decision not to go with you, I felt secure in that, but I’d been replaying the conversations we had over and over in my head, trying to figure out if there was anything I could’ve said that would’ve made you stay. And what it was about me that made you keep secrets. I wondered if you would have acted differently if you were dating someone else. Kate said you probably would have left sooner. I didn’t believe her then, but now I wonder if she was right.

“Oh, Lu,” Jason said, “I didn’t mean to make you cry. I just . . . well . . . I know we haven’t talked about relationships before, but remember when Jocelyn and I broke up for the last time?”

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
Most Popular
» The Light We Lost
» More Than Words
» Scarlet Angel (Mindf*ck #3)
» Sidetracked (Mindf*ck #2)
» The Risk (Mindf*ck #1)
» The Risk (Briar U #2)
» The Chase (Briar U #1)
» Say You Won't Let Go (Return to Me #3.5)