Home > The Light We Lost(8)

The Light We Lost(8)
Author: Jill Santopolo

“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?


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.

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