When I first met you, I thought “forever” would be so much longer.
You were already at the restaurant when I got there. I had finished my appointment, and we were scheduled to meet afterward. But of course, I hadn’t factored in an extra half hour to sob in my car. I checked the time.
Perfect. Now I’m fashionably late to my date with destiny.
You weren’t mad when I hustled over to your table and made my apologies. You simply cracked a joke about how you’d better get used to waiting for me and smiled that smile which always made it seem like you had something to hide. Of course, you usually did. Some surprise planned. Something witty to say.
Today, I was going to be the surprising one.
The small part of my brain which took in what you were saying sent up a prayer of thanks that you had taken the liberty of ordering for us. The letters on the menu were spinning and blurring, and I doubted I could have read it, even if it hadn’t been in French. But you were nervous telling me. You had ordered the works...five courses, a few cocktails... I usually hated it when you spent money like that.
That’s a lie. I loved it when you spent money like that—on me, without a care in the world. But I hated to admit it and was always urging you to think of the future—of course, always the kind of future in which fifty dollars means the difference between life and death. Not much use thinking of any kind of future now.
What would be the right time? While we split a crab cake? Over the post-dinner cocktail and dessert? What’s the etiquette for telling someone you’re dying?
That’s how I knew I really loved you. I had always wondered, and now I knew. Because hearing it, hearing that I had months to live, had hurt so badly because of all those years I wanted to have with you. Even more telling—as terrible as it had been to hear it, saying it was going to be much worse. Because it was going to hurt you, going to rip you up inside, and I couldn’t bear that.
That’s a lie. I was terrified it wouldn’t. That some part of you, no matter how small, would breathe a sigh of relief. Even after all these months, months of you being the perfect boyfriend—spoiling me, teasing me, giving me glimpses of what being beautiful would feel like—I wondered if you acted out of love or pity. Maybe you had been interested at first. I wasn’t completely repulsive. But now, you had lost interest but kept on being wonderful, trying to figure out how to end all this without breaking my heart.
Just like I was doing now.
It wasn’t fair. Why did I have to feel like this? I should either be full of self-loathing, ready to die and free you from me and the world from me because that’s what everyone secretly wants, or worrying that my death will kill you and hating myself for doing such a terrible thing like telling you you’ll lose me. One pain or the other. Both just isn’t fair. I hated being in love.
What if I didn’t tell you? What if I smiled my way through this date and disappeared completely, left town, and never contacted you again? What a tragically romantic story. And years from now, you’d be watching your grandkids frolic with puppies in your immaculately trimmed yard from your white-painted porch swing and think about that girl, that one you had almost loved but she disappeared one day and you never knew why but look at all that was possible because she had. A little bittersweet maybe, but not heartbreaking. Perhaps you'd write a book about it, one that'd make hormonal teenagers cry.
Or maybe in a few months, you’d see my obituary, and it would rip your heart out. Or maybe, you’d see it and whistle, Gee, fudge darn it, wish she would have told me and I wouldn’t have had to keep pretending.
But at least I’d never know how you’d felt.
I clutched my skirt desperately, smiling and pretending and nodding, while taking in everything about you. Stupid, isn’t it, how love makes everything so perfect? You have a wretched cowlick which makes you look like an arrogant high school jock, or like you ought to be playing a Marvel superhero and making bajoodles of money instead of grinding away as an accountant. No accountant should look like that. That cowlick reminded me that you were way out of my league. But I still loved it. And it was love again, wasn’t it, my liking that you still had acne because it made me feel better about my own?
I studied your face for the millionth time and wondered if you knew what color my eyes are. Meanwhile, I knew that one of your eyebrows was longer than the other and wanted to smack myself every time I caught myself thinking about it.
I wanted to tear at myself, my hair, my eyes and scream and laugh and whisper my secret to you and cry silently and pretend it would all go away.
I remembered our first date. How awkward we both were and how the only thing that gave me the courage to say yes to a second was that you were just as tongue-tied and horrible as me. Today, I was talking, and you were talking, but I had no idea what either of us were saying. Somehow, an auto-pilot had taken over my tongue, and so long as I wasn’t telling you that, I didn’t care what I said. But I hadn’t said anything in a while. You just kept talking, and I just kept desperately casting around for something, anything...
Suddenly, I snapped out of my head and back to our dinner. You were holding my hand across the table (when had that happened?) and waiting expectantly. You must have asked me something, and of course, my auto-pilot had failed me at a critical moment.
Conversational self-preservation kicked in, and I chuckled the old standby: “Oh, yeah. Totally.”
But the stream of conversation stayed blocked, and you didn’t go on with your monologue. Praying I hadn’t just confessed to murder or something and feeling the familiar sinking sensation which came with having to admit to not having heard the question and wondering why the most tragic scene in my life was turning into a comedy sketch, I asked, “What?”
You started to laugh. “Here I am,” you said, “giving the most important speech in my life, and you’re not even listening to me?”
“I’m sorry,” I said, feeling more and more wretched. This might be our last dinner together, and here I was, not even paying attention. At this point, I didn’t have time to waste, and my mental tornado certainly hadn’t gifted me with any inspiration anyways. Maybe I should just say it now. No, after dinner. I was determined to focus and enjoy our last normal date before I took a chainsaw to our lives. “Lots on my mind. But I am now—listening. What were you saying?”
“It’s your own fault you missed my romantic, touching, emotionally resonant lead-in,” you responded, still laughing to yourself, “But, love, I asked you to marry me.”
The world dropped out from beneath me. You didn’t notice.
You teased me. “And you said, ‘Oh, yeah, totally.’” You expected me to laugh. And I would have, had I not already been crying.
Your voice dropped lower and lost the laugh, “Sweetheart, I love you. I want to spend my forever with you.”
Euphoria and despair. Agony and ecstasy. You loved me. I loved you.
I opened my mouth to tell you how short my forever had become.