The Light We Lost (Page 17)

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I wanted to ask if you were coming home to stay. If you missed everyone enough to give up on the idea of living in Iraq. If you missed me enough. But instead I said, “I miss you too, Gabe.”

Then Phil was standing in the opening of my cube and saying, “Lucy? Do you have the notes from that budget meeting yesterday?”

And then I was nodding at Phil and telling you that I had to go, and you were saying you’d get in touch soon, and I was saying okay, we’d talk more then.

But I didn’t hear from you again until the last day of your trip to visit your mom when you wrote me a quick e-mail saying that you were feeling better and looking forward to your return to Baghdad. And then all the worry for you, the concern I’d felt when I heard your voice—it hardened back into anger. How could you have called me like that, brought those feelings back to the surface, if you weren’t planning on following through? It wasn’t fair, Gabe. So much of what you’ve done, what you’ve asked of me—if I were a referee, if life were some sport, I’d stand up and shout, Foul! or Do-over! like we did when I was in summer camp. But there are no referees in real life, no true do-overs.

I kissed Darren extra hard that night.

• • •

BUT I COULDN’T GET YOU out of my mind—I kept thinking about how you were trying to show people everywhere how similar we all are in the hope it would combat violence, and instead you got hurt.

There had to be a message there. Wisdom I could share with the next generation. I wanted to turn something awful into something helpful, carry on your mission, in a way.

A few weeks later, I proposed a new storyline for an episode of It Takes a Galaxy. The story was about Roxie, the gray alien, going to another planet and taking pictures for her Book of Caring, the pamphlet she’d been putting together and sharing with her friends and neighbors in earlier episodes. When she got there and started to take pictures, some of the people on that planet didn’t understand what she was doing, why she was taking their picture. And they beat her up because of it. There was a huge debate about it at the office, but violence among children was on the rise, and Phil decided we should go ahead and make it.

I don’t know if you read any of the coverage it got, but that remains the most-talked-about episode of It Takes a Galaxy in the show’s history. It was the first time physical violence was depicted in a cartoon kids’ show on network television. There were debates on the Internet, pundits speaking about it on the news. It raised the profile of our show and opened up a channel for us to tackle other difficult issues. That episode took It Takes a Galaxy in a whole different direction. And it got me another promotion.

I should have thanked you for that. For the inspiration. I’m sorry I didn’t do it before. But I’m thanking you now.

xxxv

It’s funny, when you and I were together I sometimes daydreamed about the future—but not in a concrete way. Thoughts would come in snaps and flashes. I’d imagine meeting your mom—which I’m sorry I never got to do in person. Or I’d imagine us moving into a bigger apartment so you could have an office that wasn’t the coffee table. Or I’d imagine us going on a long vacation together—another thing I’m sorry we never did.

With Darren, the future didn’t come in flashes like that, it was discussed over and over. Darren has a plan, always. He plays chess, and I’ve come to realize that he treats life a bit like a chess game, thinking six or eight or ten steps ahead so that he’s sure to reach whatever goal he’s set for himself. Close the deal. Capture the queen. Check. Mate.

That first year he and I were dating, a couple of weeks before my birthday, he asked me if I had a bucket list.

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“A what?” I asked.

“You know,” he said, “a list of things you want to make sure you do before you kick the bucket.” He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and unfolded a list that was tucked inside. “I started mine—wow—almost five years ago. When I turned twenty-five. I’ve been crossing things off and adding to it ever since.”

There was something nice about being with a guy who was almost five years older than I was—seeing that careers move along, people pair off, things end up okay—but once in a while the gap between us felt even wider, like he’d done so much more living than I had. This was one of those times.

He spread the paper out in front of us on the dinner table at Teresa’s on Montague—his favorite Sunday night dinner place. I looked down and saw:

Bucket List

     Ride a Segway

 Run a marathon

 Go island hopping in Greece

 Learn to scuba dive

 Go on a cruise

 Get a rescue pet

 Learn to speak Chinese

 Drive a racecar

 Get married

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 Become a dad

 Visit Australia

 Race in a triathlon

 Buy a beach house

 Ride a bike from Brooklyn to Montauk Point

“That’s an impressive list. And an impressive bunch of things you’ve crossed off. How was Greece?”

“Beautiful,” he said. “I went with my cousin Frank. He lives in Silicon Valley. Good guy. We drank a lot of ouzo and went snorkeling and sailing. Ate a lot of fantastic food, too.”

“So what’s next?” I asked, hoping he wasn’t going to say “get married,” hoping this didn’t mean he was going to propose to me right then, right there.

He studied the list. “I think either the Segway or the bike ride,” he said. “Or maybe the triathlon, but that’s a lot of training to commit to if I decide to do it.”

“How far is it from Brooklyn to Montauk Point?” I asked.

“About a hundred twenty-five miles,” he said. “I’ve mapped it, but I’m not sure I’m ready.”

“But now that we have our new bikes . . .” I said, smiling.

He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Would you ride that with me?”

I shrugged. “How about for your birthday?” I suggested. “That gives us from now until June to build up our stamina. We can train in three months.”

He leaned across the table and kissed me. “That sounds like the best way to spend my thirtieth birthday I can think of. But I was really asking about your bucket list because of your birthday. Is there anything that you want to do?”

I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head. “Maybe I should start a list and see what comes to me,” I told him, pulling a pen and an old Duane Reade receipt out of my bag. My bucket list is still written on the back of that receipt. I don’t think I ever showed it to you. I should add that to my list right now: Share this list with Gabe. And maybe: Ask Gabe to make his own bucket list. But if I add those items, I don’t think I’ll ever get to cross them off. Prove me wrong, Gabe. Please.

I wrote Bucket List at the top of my receipt and then cribbed a few points off Darren’s—even though numbers 2 and 3 seemed more to me like eventualities than desires.

Go to Australia

 Get married

 Become a mom

 Go to the top of the Empire State Building

 Drive a boat

 Go to Paris for a long weekend just because

 Become an executive producer on a kids’ TV show

 Get a pair of Manolo Blahnik pumps

 Own a dog

“I ran out of things,” I told Darren.

“You’ll think of more,” he said. “I think of more all the time. But that’s a great start.” He pulled my list toward him. “Oh, some of these are easy! You know what we’re doing for your birthday? Top of the Empire State Building. Then you’ll get something crossed off right away.”

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“Yeah?” I said.

“Oh, absolutely,” he answered.

It was like I could see the wheels turning in his head, trying to figure out what else we could do. I wonder if that’s when he decided he was going to fly us to Paris so he could propose. Or if he was already planning my thirtieth-birthday trip to Australia. Or plotting to buy me a pair of Manolo Blahniks. He really is a planner. And he’s not afraid to wait, if he thinks his plan will work out. It’s actually something I admire about him.

But then he looked at my number 7.

“You want to be an executive producer on a kids’ TV show?” he asked.

“Yeah.” I nodded.

He smiled. “That’s cute,” he said.

I was taken aback. “What?” I asked.

“Your job is adorable,” he said. “Just like you.”

I blinked. It seemed so . . . demeaning . . . but I knew he didn’t mean it that way. At least, I hoped he didn’t. I couldn’t help but think about how seriously you took my dreams. How important they were to you.

“My job’s not cute,” I said. “It’s not adorable.”

Darren seemed at a loss for words. I’d surprised him. He had no idea he’d said anything wrong. Which almost made it worse.

“Would you tell a man who was an executive producer on . . . Law & Order that his job was cute?” I asked. “What is it, exactly, that makes my career aspirations cute?”

Darren recovered his voice. “Whoa, whoa,” he said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m sorry. That was the wrong word. You know how adorable I think you are—everything is adorable when it has to do with you. Your shoes, your hairbrush, the pack of gum in your purse. All of it—because it’s yours.”

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