Home > The Light We Lost(9)

The Light We Lost(9)
Author: Jill Santopolo

Did you ever change your mind, Gabe?

I wish you could answer me.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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