Quite the make-out spot, he says.
It’s her old high school nearby; she chose the spot next to the parking lot. He’s playing music; she’s playing music. Taking turns on his phone.
You’re a closet romantic. An observation after several of her song choices which ranged from “Bed” by J. Holiday to “Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait.
That’s false. How could you even gather that? His knowing eyes. She’s defensive and gets embarrassed by it. She picks another song to disprove his theory.
Do you wanna make-out? He says abruptly. She says nothing. A girl that always has a comeback has nothing to say.
He dropped her at her house later that evening.
I’ll see you tomorrow.
She jumps out of the pick-up unable to hide the smile.
Minutes later . . .
I left my jacket. My keys. And everything in your backseat, reads her hurried text message.
I’m holding them for ransom, his message reads.
That was back when they were good at goodbye: kept it short and sweet with a promise to reunite. Less than a month later, the goodbye that entailed a month of long distance, undefined terms of a relationship, and a lot of passion was the first of many hard goodbyes to follow.
It was around Christmas, she was leaving him—leaving the country, to be exact, for a month. He walked her to her pickup, leaning in the window they talked, trying to get to goodbye. They were leaving their almost relationship as it was, undefined. Kisses, one after another. A pause, he’d back away and instantly return. Finally, she drove away toward a steep snowy hill. Her four-wheel drive didn’t kick in so she rolled back down to him, and the careful process began again.
We were seated next to a couple a table over. A fancy restaurant, nearly every customer was on a date. Looking around we tried to guess their statuses. First date? Friends? Hook-up? Across from us was an older gentleman, well-dressed and sitting alone. He looked married; we guessed waiting for his wife. An older couple was seated behind us in a round booth. They sat with distance between them, their drinks refilled rapidly round after round. Her hand played with the stem of the wine glass, a massive diamond ring and wedding band shone in the dim light. His own band stood out, much fancier than any wedding band I’d seen.
The couple next to us asked each other timid questions about the menu. Definitely a first date, we thought. The older man across from us was now seated closely to a very young woman. A blonde, her make-up penciled in, her dress riding up, stilettos unreasonably high. The pair leaned towards each other disgustingly so. He was too old and she was too naïve. Maybe she’s an escort, he said. I slapped his hand on the table and gave him a stern look. Probably, I said rolling my eyes.
I wonder what people think when they see us, I said. The older couple still sat avoiding each other’s eyes, probably talking about mortgages and other adult issues.
The couple next us stood to leave. Hey, how long do you think we’ve been together? he asked them before they were too far away. They smiled knowingly and said a year maybe? What about us? He told them we thought it was a first date and they laughed. They’ve been seeing each other on and off for 5 years. They didn’t hold hands as they left; he grasped her arm momentarily in an awkward attempt to touch her.
I get dressed quickly and called him as I run upstairs. Baby, come back.
One last kiss goodbye.
I reach the door; his pick-up isn’t there. A sinking feeling. I can’t keep turning around, he says. I check the mailbox aimlessly. A sleek black Dodge turns the corner. He opens the door, and I wrap myself in his embrace. Minutes pass. It’s getting harder by the second to let go. I imagine an onlooker, perhaps a neighbor peering out the window, for a second time to see his return. Her hand pushing the kitchen window curtain back. She wonders if it’s a permanent farewell. A departure of forever. Maybe he’s dying and this is the last embrace. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s something else. A simple love. A lasting longing.
I turn my back willing myself not to turn around. I trudge to the door dragging my feet with each step and pulled the hoodie close to my neck to hide my face. Don’t look back, I think.
Suddenly his arms wrap around my waist with urgency. One last kiss goodbye.
That’s not even how that last sentence happened. I did turn around. I turned around just in time to see him running, no ambling, more like gimping toward me. I laugh. He slowed down so I could meet him halfway. His back was ailing him all weekend; there were moments so painful I thought I’d have to rush him to the ER. One last kiss goodbye.
He carries her purse slung over his shoulder as she dances around him, her drink precarious in her hand. She hung the moon like a girl in that country song; it’s obvious in the way he looks at her. Rap music plays and she can’t dance to it. But she’s moving to the music, never far from his embrace. His gaze following her as he matches her awkward movements. It looked like neither of them wanted this moment to end, drunk on whiskey and each other.
The people around them notice, too. They notice the look in his eye and her carefree dancing. The dance floor is full of writhing bodies, the music vibrating through them. A song with a line dance everyone knows erupts through the speakers. People crowd the dance floor to fulfill the choreographed dance while the pair looks around and thwarts the others’ efforts at rhythmic unison.
He takes her hand leading her away. They stand by the door as she quickly tries to finish her drink. They embrace and kiss several times as though to part ways. But he takes her hand again and she follows outside. How carefree. So simple.
Do you love me? Yes, baby. How much? With all my heart; you’re my everything. Promise? He asks again searching my eyes. My annoyance obvious. I promise. He’s nervous. Awkward. Olympic swimming on the TV before us. There’s picnic tables and Christmas lights draped above us. A starry sky. It’s crowded. There’s people surrounding us on either side. I notice a shiny silvery ring on her hand, a girl next to a guy. They’re facing another couple. The people on the other side left; we scooted down. A girl on crutches sits on the edge by me. She’s jittery and talkative. I was an English major, too! Have you read the something something by what’s his face? No, let me write that down. What about this other book by another author you should know? He is anxious across from me. We might walk around the food trucks down the street, we say. I just left there. I think its closing, but it’s worth a look.
We walk holding hands. Do you love me? The street is closed down, vendors and food trucks are shutting down. We stop several times. Kiss me. Why do you love me? We reach the end of the street and turn back around. I walk on the other side of him, our arms looped. I lean into him as we walk. Let’s go down here. We turn down the street. He points at a fountain, illuminated. I splash my hand in the water, twirling around to face him. There’s something I want to ask you. Have wanted to ask you for some time.
He kneels and holds out a twinkling ring. He says my full name . . .
Will you marry me?
I’m stunned. Shocked. Mind racing, realizing how all the signs were there. I think I black out.
I have a question for you. I place my hands on his shoulders. Is this real life?
Yes. It’s not candy. He says examining it.
Yes. I say. YES.
He places it on my finger. I can’t stop looking at it.
Now my questions. How? When? What? I thought I’d know the whole time.
Later, he says.
We walk, hands intertwined. I can’t stop smiling. Would you like another beer, fiancé?
Yes. I say. YES.
Later that evening we were watching our TV series cuddled up on the couch when his phone rang. The job was calling; he had to leave. On this night of all nights. He got dressed quickly. I didn’t want him to leave. Not tonight. Sleep well. If you miss me, just look at your left hand. A kiss on the forehead and he’s out the door.
I knew he was getting close to my house. I was about to get up when my phone lights up. Stay in your room. I sit back down. Okay?? he says. Okay…
I hear the door open, close. Then his sounds as he descends the steps. He peeks around the corner. Close your eyes. He places a box in my lap. My eyes flash open. I open it, it’s my favorite cheesecake; he pulls out a bottle of wine then sits next to me and holds out another box, a smaller box. It’s not like the box from the ring on my hand, but he’s nervous as the time he got on one knee. I put a lot of thought into this. Mmhm. I opened the box.
It’s a necklace with our initials intertwined and a turquoise stone. Our brand. Not unlike one placed on the hip of a heifer. Our brand that one day might be placed on one too. He watched me with careful precision, calculating my expression, searching for something. False enthusiasm, perhaps disappointment. You might like this one better, or you get two, dangling another pendant, a black stone by our brand. His.
What do you want for dinner? He asks. He probably knows the answer, knows that she’ll list all of the options and wait for him to choose. But he asks anyway. They sit at the table across from each other. He watches as her eyes continually glance down at the sparkling diamond on her hand. He smiles each time at the thought. Neither of them were talking; he was leaving after dinner. They’d delayed the inevitable long enough. As much as they wanted to enjoy the last moments of the weekend together, they could find no words worthy to fill the silence. She moves to the seat next to him and rests her head on his shoulder. He takes her hand in his lap, both somber.
Later that night after he got home they Facetimed, an app that aids the long distance. It’s late; they both have to get up early. He says Goodnight, baby. I love you. I love you, too, she says. Call me in the morning to wake me up? It’s the closest thing they have to waking up to each other, a phone call in the morning, their ritual. He asks about her day tomorrow and the conversation resumes. Alright, baby. Go to sleep. You need it. He nods. I love you. I love you, too. This happens several times: the goodnight and then the unspoken don’t go yet.
How lucky she is to have found someone that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Goodnight. Neither of them move to hang up the phone. They lie there, in their separate rooms miles away from each other. He turns on How I Met Your Mother for them to fall asleep to, and it's almost like in that moment they're united. Countless goodbyes, limitless goodnights, and they're still no better at it.