The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self).
It’s July, 2004 — hot and sticky. We’re sitting in his backyard drinking Gin & Tonics and taking turns reading the latest issue of Vanity Fair.
“You have any beer?” I ask.
“No,” he replies, reaching for his wallet, “but I’ll buy if you fly.”
I stand up and take his money, my arms are full of freckles, and I’m wearing those Nine West flip flops with the little black bows and a shirt he later says makes me look washed out. My hair’s pulled back in a ponytail, and I’m wearing the cinnabar earrings I love. It’s before I lose one getting out of a car. It’s before the last time I ever see him.
In August we go to France together and eat plums right off the trees. In October he shows me New York City for the first time and I lie on the grass in Central Park and pick a window in one of the skyscrapers and imagine it’s my bedroom. In November he invites me to his family’s house for Thanksgiving but I stay in Chicago and host my sister instead. In December he goes to Morocco without me.
In January we try to break up. I tell him I’m done and then I see how long it will take before he calls or texts me again, every minute a point toward his ultimate victory. It takes two days. “This is dumb,” he says when I answer the phone, and I smile to myself. “We don’t need to break up.”
“Ok,” I say, relieved. I know we need to break up, but this right now, it feels like a victory and it’s January and I’m cold and I’ll take one where I can get it.
In February he takes me to a French restaurant and does all the ordering. We drink cappuccinos with our dessert. We hardly talk. I take a picture of him across the table not looking at me because I want to remember.
In March he dumps me and I cry and say it isn’t fair.
“But, you’re what I’ve been looking for!” I say, and even as the words tumble out I know it isn’t true. But what if I never find what I’m looking for? And what if this is the best I can do? And what if I’m always alone?
It’s February, 2013. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and notice my freckles have faded. I try to remember if they fade like this every winter. I try to remember eight years ago. I try to remember that back yard and those restaurants and the plum trees in the South of France. I can see myself on the grass in Central Park, but it’s not him I’m with, and I remember February four years ago when I got engaged and I remember July and our wedding and I remember snowy walks with my baby through the park. And I remember that every winter precedes a summer, year after year after year.
It’s February, 2013. My freckles have faded, my color is pale, and I’m waiting for July and sun and heat.