Two years ago when he is sick and I am worried he might die, I tell his girlfriend to take him to New York for New Year’s. He’s always wanted to do the ball drop with someone he loves, and I’ll help pay; you can leave my name out of it, because I wish for him all those bright moments as much as I wish we’d never met.
And when that year I send too the unsigned flowers to his hospital room I hate a part of me for it, wish it was him I could hate instead of the me that never learns to be like him. Because he made walking away easy, and the truth is that I will forgive him for this long before I forgive myself for all that misplaced trust.
I have thought a lot in the three years since that New Year’s we spent together about what it is that I am grieving, and I think that it is me, because something breaks when he goes. Something breaks when he goes and so I drown myself instead in stories and drink and skin, drown in my own tears and in time, and it is not enough.
Because you cannot will hope back. You could, if you tried, do the work to be kinder or more giving, more truthful or more fair. But hope is not a thing that if you work hard enough you have, and in this, the living takes from me what all my dead could not.
In my home, there are more than a year’s worth of various essay drafts that I never publish. Because they are about all the parts of me that I hate. Because I am impatient with my grief no less the world is, both of us wanting a me as dead as my husband. I envy that married woman her optimism. It doesn’t totally break when her husband dies. She clings to some sharp edge of it like a blanket, and it is this that gets her through those first hard months after his body is ash. But I can tell you when it does, can tell you, if asked, his name.
This year on New Year’s, I have a dream that we are walking somewhere, and that living man tells me to wait, that he’ll see me soon. And then he walks away, and in the dream I keep standing there and standing there and standing there, and he doesn’t come back. And it is too close to the thing that actually happened, that other real New Year’s, when I leave with my son from his place and he tells me he will see me soon, and doesn’t, and so I cry myself to sleep again after. But it is not the loss of him I am crying for. It was that, when he had said I’ll see you soon, I had believed him.
It has been months now since New Year’s, and I still keep having these dreams. Of running into him in a parking lot. At a mall. In a movie theater. In each one of them, he leaves me standing there, waiting for an explanation, an apology, or a goodbye. I never get a goodbye. Not from the dead brother. Not too from the dead husband. Not finally, from that living man, who could have, if he had wished, given me less pain. In the dreams I keep standing there. The world is ending, from virus or fire or something unknown, and still I keep standing there, because he told me he’d return, and I believed him.
I’ll see you soon, he had said, on that last day, that Monday when I drove from his place, expecting to see him on Friday. I’ll see you soon, he had said.
I’ll see you soon, he had said, and yet, there are three years between us now, and a night where we occupied the same bar and yet he never spoke my name, three years between us now, and that phone that of mine which has never rang, three years in which my doorbell has remained silent, three years now in which I have learned to hate the part of me that took a man at his word because I had believed it to be something like my own—something which you try, always, no matter how hard, to keep.
Because, when he had said, I’ll see you soon, I had wanted to believe he had meant it. Because maybe then when he had said that I mattered, he had meant that too.
I’ll see you soon, he had said.
I’ll see you soon.