Home > The Light We Lost(7)

The Light We Lost(7)
Author: Jill Santopolo

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.


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.


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.”

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