My friend returns from a weekend in New York and we meet up late, at the restaurant across from the park, to catch up.
“I was glad to be there, but I am so glad to be back,” she says. “That’s good, right? That I feel like this is home?”
She has moved back, not too long ago, after several years in the city. She tells me of the places she went, the galleries, the concert halls. The brunches with friends, the breathless pace of it.
And then, she tells me of the man she sees there. She no longer asks him whether he is moving forward with his divorce.
“I think it needs to be over,” she says. She is drinking a glass of sangria - bright mauve with a wedge of orange perched on its rim. “It’s just making me so sad all the time.”
“He says that he’s not good for me. That he’s damaged. But we have this connection,” she says, “I think he’s afraid of it.”
“Do you think he’s just not ready to be with someone right now?”
She says maybe. She says but when they are together, he is so tender, so intimate. “He opens up to me,” she says, “I think that’s real.”
We are quiet as the waiter comes over and clears our plates.
I ask: “Why does he say that he’s not good for you?”
“I think he’s scared of what he’s feeling,” she says. “I think it’s his way of pulling back - of keeping me at a distance.”
“It’s possible that it’s true,” I say. “Maybe you should take him at his word.”
“Yes,” she says. “I know. It’s just sad to think it’s over.”
“Maybe don’t think of it as over forever,” I say, as I reach for the check. “Maybe just for right now.” But even as I say it, I know it is untrue.
M. is traveling again - for work this time, and at night, while my children sleep, I wander the rooms of the house we share, keenly aware of his absence.
This house - so full of him, of us all - of the objects and stuff of our lives together. We are so careless in this house. We leave coffee cups in every room, on every surface. A newspaper, opened, its sections spread out across the couch. A small plastic tub full of marbles on the floor, waiting to be spilled. Our lives are haphazard, rushed. We are moving in all directions.
When he is here, when we are together, there are times when I enter a room, and I am surprised to see him there, standing at the kitchen counter, or sitting in a chair. As if I have forgotten that I do not live alone.
And when he is gone, I see him all the time - ghost versions of him in every room, in every hallway, lingering there, everywhere I go.
After several days of rain, bright sun one morning as I drive down the wide tree-lined boulevard. The gray road stretches out in front of me to receive the great swaths of light cast through the branches.
Later, I walk up the hill to an afternoon appointment. Trees are in bloom so full that they drop their blossoms to the sidewalk. The sweet scent of their decay wafts up as I crush petals beneath my feet. It is a warm afternoon. There is a light breeze which delights the skin. It is difficult - all the senses aroused as they are - not to feel a particular, urgent pulsing. If not joy, then something akin to it. Even if only for a moment.
I stop at the bakery for coffee. We stand in line, my son and me. I offer him a treat as reward for his patience with the morning chaos. He chooses a cookie in the shape of a heart. We walk back to the car, and I hand him the paper bag. He clutches it against his own heart, beaming. “Heart cookie, heart cookie,” he sings, and there on the sidewalk, he does a little dance - kicking up his feet, twirling around, his bag in hand, the happiest boy in the world.
He is still smiling as he climbs into the car. He holds the cookie on his lap until I say, “Go ahead, you can eat it.” And I watch as he takes it from the bag, holds it up, turns it around in his small hand, admiring it before finally, he lets himself taste.
It’s been several days since I have seen K., but she is there at the library talk, and so after, we walk down the hill together for a glass of wine at the restaurant that burned down last summer. It has since been restored and when we walk in, it is as if the fire never happened. Not a trace of it - the fire, the damage, the events that followed - remains.
She tells me about the new man she has been dating. “It’s great,” she says. “It’s really pretty amazing.” She shows me a photo. He is sitting down on a low wall. He is smiling. His face is kind.
“I think I’m really falling for him,” she says.
Then: “But I think if G. asked, I’d go out with him again.” She is talking about the man who broke up with her over email.
“No, you would not,” I say. “No one would let you. There are people all over this town who are just furious with him. We would never let it happen.” I say this like I am joking, but I am not.
“Anyway,” she says, “it’s going really well. I want you to meet him.”
“I’d like that,” I say.
C. joins us, later. She is back from New York. I haven’t spoken to her in weeks. She tells us: I was with an old friend who for the last ten years has been married to the best man in the world. The most perfect, most wonderful man. We all adored him. He comes home last week and tells her that he’s been having an affair for the past year. So, I spend the weekend with her in freefall.
She uses the word freefall, and I think yes, of course, what a perfect way to describe the feeling of suddenly not knowing what comes next. How you plan, how you spend your time thinking you know the way your life will unfold and then without warning, you are falling. Wondering if you will ever stop falling.
There is more to say, of course, and more to ask, but K. is distracted and it is getting late. So we hug each other, walk out into the cold, damp night.
Late at night, we talk, M. and me. He makes a joke that I misinterpret and I respond with petulance. I pout through our conversation. I hang up sad and tired. How wearying it must be to love me.
I drive through the rain this morning, thinking of our conversation. Thinking about the work of love - its tending.
How we think we know each other, how we think we know ourselves. How we think we understand why we do the things we do, that we can know what others will do in response. When really, we are just making it up as we go. Creating and destroying and re-creating love, as we go.
Without a map, we keep driving - cautiously at times, and at other times, recklessly. Veering away, when we can, from the falling.
That is: when we can see it coming.