See You Later

I loved her, sure. But love doesn’t keep the water out of the bottom of the boat, does it?

(It ended and I moved away.)

Abiding by the unspoken contract written when you go and break someone’s heart, I was careful to not contact her. The days went on, the weeks marched by. I was so sure that I was important. That I was the love of her life. Wasn’t I? Months passed, and nothing. Once, I got a late night call from an unknown number. Convinced it was a drunk dial, I waited a full two days before calling her back. It was a window cleaning service.

She’s moved on, I thought. Good for her, good for her. Good for us both, really. Yes. Good for us both.

I went on dates, sure. Of course I did. But the porridge was always just a little too hot or a little too cold; the beds too hard or too soft. And I was always gone before morning.

Years went by. No contact.

The dates went on, endlessly. Nothing stuck. Good for her, I would think as I ordered another late night Uber home. Good for her. I thought of calling. Maybe sending a fake drunk text to test the waters. But I never did. No; even if he’s lucky, a man only gets a few chances in a life to tell someone else an absolute truth. And I told her that she deserved better than me.

I’ve never had a problem saying goodbye. Some people hate it, some are terrible at it. Not me. I prefer the finality: Goodbye. That’s it. That’s all. It’s done. Most people try to soften the blow; they’ll say “see you soon” or “see you later” or “I’ll text you and we’ll get together”. But there are never any texts. There are never any get togethers. They don’t see each other soon, later, or ever again. They’re all just pretending, afraid of the sad truth: That this will be the last time they’ll be together. That their story, the straight line drawn from when they first met, ends here.

Better to just be honest. Say goodbye. Let it end. Let it go.

Regret: The curse of the modern man. You can’t change the past — it’s set in stone, carved in concrete. You can’t escape it — its slippery coils surround us day in and day out. Look up at the night sky; you’re not looking at what’s out there now, you’re looking at light that existed millions of years ago. You’re wishing on stars that have long since burnt out. The night sky is a vast tapestry of the past of the entire universe — a stifling cloak, woven thick with the endless black of night, hanging above us all while we sleep. How are we to dream of the future? How are we to wish for something new?

Of course, you can’t see the stars when you live in a big city. Too much pollution to see the sky, to be reminded of the past. How convenient for the man who wants to escape from himself.

So I moved across the country, to Los Angeles. It had been years, too many to count. I was single, alone, and — for all my outward self confidence and bluster, defeated — so it felt a bit unfair that Life would suddenly invite me to a wedding of our mutual friends. But invited I was. It would seem that Karma has no statute of limitations.

So then comes the inevitable: “Is she single?” I ask our friends. “Married? Kids? Where does she live? What does she do for work? Is she happy?” — all the right and appropriate things to ask after a former lover. But of course, there’s always one question left out. The most important question: “Does she still think of me?”

The years since I saw her last have been good: I’m in shape. I’m still charming. I can afford a nice watch and a nice belt. The word comes back from friends reluctantly turned spy: Yes, she is dating someone. Yes, they are serious. No, they don’t live together. Yes. She is happy.

They offer up nothing else.

Jealous, yes; nervous, yes — but telling myself I’m neither of these things — I go out and spend way too much money on a brand new black suit. For the wedding. Because I am not jealous and not nervous. Of course.

The weekend arrives. I fly to the wedding. It is out of state, in a remote location — so I have to take a big plane to an airport that’s the size of a local library then a small plane to an airport that’s the size of a two bedroom apartment. When I land, it’s hot and humid. I do terrible in the heat. But luckily, I’m armed with a new suit, muscles, and a nice watch and belt. The armor of the modern man.

I play AC/DC’s Back in Black back to back nine times while in the shower, singing along to every line. I feel good. I have the belt. The watch. The muscles. But most importantly, the too expensive tailored suit hanging on the back of the closet door. Hitting repeat and ready for round ten, I towel off, unzip the suit bag, and find myself staring at a gray suit. A gray wool suit. The wrong suit.

I put it on, already knowing what I’m going to see; it is a suit from when I was ninety pounds heavier. Luckily, there’s a white shirt in the bag. Unluckily, it’s the same size as the suit. I look at the clock; there’s no time to do anything but put it on and go. Fuck. Fuck.

Fuck it.

I put on the pants, tie the tie, don the watch, and take my nice expensive belt and cinch the whole fucking thing up. I turn off the AC/DC and look in the mirror. I look sick. I look like a sick joke. Karma incarnate: The end of a straight line that began when I told her I didn’t love her on the blue couch in her apartment. I nod to myself; of course. I turn off the lights and head down to the lobby. The door locks behind me.

There’s a bus that takes me, my gigantic floppy wool suit, and fifty strangers out to a barn in the middle of nowhere — because my friends apparently wanted to get married in a fucking barn in the middle of fucking nowhere. I close my eyes and rest my head against the warm glass of the bus window. It must be ninety degrees outside. I silently will myself to die.

As we are walking up to the barn, I see her from behind. She’s standing next to someone who looks like he was made in a lab: tall, ripped, cut jaw, nice watch, perfect suit. Great belt. Fuck. Of course. What did we expect? I stand up a little straighter, and open my suit coat to try to tuck some of the long flowing fabric back behind my waist. She doesn’t turn around. She doesn’t even look around, actually. Didn’t she know I was coming? Didn’t she ask our friends? I don’t say anything, and follow everyone else as they go to sit down. I take a seat in the very back. In direct sunlight. In my wool suit. It’s a full thirty seconds before I’m soaking wet.

Depressed, I spend the entire ceremony thinking of what I should open with — a story about a celebrity? Something glancing but direct about how in shape I am now? — but that’s not what happens. What happens is that she sees me halfway through the ceremony and smiles and waves, so I wave back. She looks happy. Happier than I’ve ever seen her. For some reason, I’m even more depressed.

After the ceremony, she comes up and introduces me to her boyfriend. He’s not the tall ripped guy she was talking to; that was an old lab partner from college. No; her boyfriend is short and normal looking. And extremely nice. And extremely funny. I like him immediately. He compliments her in his every breath, she teases him in hers. They are perfect together. It’s obvious. Were we ever like this? Have I ever been like this with anyone? I realize the answer to both is no.

They dance with me, drink with me, and welcome me into their gang of two the entire night. We all scream along to Sister Christian. We all laugh about my suit. I catch myself at one point actually having fun. But then, inevitably, the slow songs arrive. I excuse myself to the bar.

I invite any couple who says that there is nothing better than being single at a wedding to watch an ant burn under a magnifying glass in the sun. Weddings are a singular and specific kind of torture. I talk to someone’s mom. I dance with someone’s niece. I talk to a single girl named Rachel, but she doesn’t think any of my giant ridiculous suit jokes are funny and would rather talk to a guy with giant ridiculous sideburns. I talk to a cute bartender with short hair who is nice enough to listen to my story about the celebrity, and later is nice enough to not raise her eyebrows when I ask for my eighth straight tequila. I order it on the rocks, to match the rest of my life.

I drink too much, of course. The night has somehow suddenly spun away from me; the cake is cut, the bride and groom long gone. No sign of my ex or her man. Telling myself that I’m just getting some fresh air and not going outside to try to sadly make out with whatever’s still left and willing, I stumble into the night, fabric billowing behind me. But once out of the square of bright yellow light that spills out of the barn, the night gets very dark very quickly. I put my hand on a tree to steady myself — before realizing that it’s actually the back of Giant Ridiculous Sideburns, who is making out with Rachel. Perfect. I throw out a hasty apology and lurch away in the other direction, down the hill.

Half walking, half sliding down the short hill in the dark, I finally give up and sit down with a thump. The grass is cold and wet, soaking through the thick wool of my pants. I taste blood; I must have bitten my tongue at some point. I don’t care. I don’t care about much of anything anymore. Or maybe I care too much about everything. What a mess, what an absolute fucking mess. In my wet pants on the side of the hill, I’m still close to the barn — but out here you can barely hear the party. I look up at the stars, lost in the past. I never get out of the city much anymore, and I have to admit, it’s a beautiful sight. Millions of years ago, that light left on a journey — a straight line drawn from way out there to here, to me, sitting in this big floppy suit on a wet hill in the dark. What a waste, to have it all end like this. On me, here. What a waste.

I’m letting the last of the ice numb my tongue when I hear an odd shushing noise. I stand up, brush myself off, and head around to the side of the bottom of the barn; there’s a door with light coming through. I look around. There’s no one watching but the stars, and they’re all dead. I heave open the door.

It’s a stable.

There’s a horse, all alone, standing there in a stall. We look at each other evenly across the low room. He makes a shushing noise and stamps. The air is full of loud noise —the music and dancing from upstairs. As I get close, I realize that the horse is scared. So am I. I reach out and try to calm us both down.

It’s said that the gods of old would disguise themselves as animals whenever they would come down to walk among us mortals. Zeus, a bull; Hera, a peacock — the gods would take the forms of different beasts to try to tempt and test Mankind. To see what we were made of. To see what we would do when we were all alone, our backs to the wall, our worst fears realized. I look into the eyes of this big powerful creature, searching for something I can’t name. It gazes back, unblinking, as if considering me for the first time. The room grows silent; the earth slows on its axis. It feels as if nothing else exists in all the world. Is that what all this is? A test? The horse says nothing.

There is a crash from upstairs, and the horse starts. I step back. It’s time to go home. I slowly walk out and struggle to close the big door behind me. I turn and she’s there, standing by herself in the moonlight. The woman who I said I didn’t love, all those years ago.

Mark and I were worried about you, she says. I should’ve guessed you’d be down here with the real party animals. She smiles, the light from millions of years ago softening the wrinkles around her eyes. She looks like she always has. Beautiful.

I’m okay, I hear myself say. I’m always okay. You know.

I know, she says.

I want to ask her if she ever thinks about me. But I don’t.

Mark and I are driving back tonight, she says. So I came to say goodbye. She comes over and gives me a hug. I hug her back awkwardly in my coat that’s too big and still a little damp, knowing that this is it. The last time I’ll see her.

See you later, I say, stupidly.

She smiles again, but for the first time there’s sadness in it. She kisses me on the cheek, and without saying anything else, walks back up the hill and out of sight.

After a few moments, I sit back down on the hill. I stare up at the sky; the past stares back. It’s beautiful. You can’t escape your past. It’s set in stone, carved in concrete. We are, each one of us, a vast tapestry of all the things we’ve done and all the things we’ve lived through; a flowing fabric woven from both the obsessive black of our mistakes and the bright white moments of our happiness. That’s all. That’s it. And that’s okay. You can draw a straight line from a broken heart on a blue couch in a New York apartment right to this moment.

But who’s to say where the line ends?