The Light We Lost (Page 31)
“Mama!” Violet said.
“Violet!” I answered her. She turned back to the toys in front of her.
“I just want so many conflicting things,” you said, your eyes on my daughter, watching her flip the pages of her book. “I don’t know if they’re compatible.”
“You’re just in a bad spot right now,” I said. “You’ll figure it out.”
“I haven’t so far,” you said into your coffee cup. “And I miss us, you, what we had.” You looked up at me. “I watch your shows whenever I find them on the air. Whenever I’m afraid, I dream about you. Whenever I’m sad, I wish I hadn’t left.”
My heartbeat sped up slightly. “Please don’t do this,” I said, holding tight to Violet.
You ran your fingers through your hair. “I’m sorry,” you said. “Forget I said that.”
I flipped Violet around so I could pick her up. “Listen,” I said, “it was great to see you, Gabe, but Violet and I should probably go.”
“I hope you find everything you’re looking for.”
“Thanks.” Your voice cracked. “Me too.”
“Say ‘bye-bye,’ Violet,” I told my daughter.
“Bye-bye,” she said, and reached out to you again.
You hugged her. You looked at me, clearly wanting to hug me too. But instead, you looked down and walked away. I zipped us both into our coats and snapped Violet’s hood. Even though the day was overcast, I fumbled in the diaper bag for my sunglasses. I didn’t want anyone to see the tears in my eyes, just like you didn’t want me to see the tears in yours.
That summer, Darren and I got dressed up for the first time in a long time and went to Gavin’s wedding. We hadn’t seen him much since Violet was born, and I barely knew his fiancée at all.
Darren wolf-whistled when I walked into the living room in a navy dress with a plunging neckline. “Hot mama,” he said.
I smiled. “Let’s go, handsome.”
We had to get to the wedding early because Darren was a groomsman, and Gavin greeted us when we walked in. “I got my own paper doll now,” he said, laughing.
I hadn’t thought about that in years, how he’d called me Darren’s paper doll the first time we’d met. “So what does that actually mean?” I asked.
“It’s not important,” Darren said. Then he turned to Gavin. “What do you need me to do, man?”
The guys walked off, and I headed toward the wives and girlfriends of the other groomsmen who were standing by a tray of champagne glasses. Very thoughtful. Very Gavin.
• • •
LATER, AT THE WEDDING, I found myself next to Gavin at the bar. We’d both had a lot to drink. Everyone at that wedding had.
“So really,” I said. “What is a paper doll?”
He laughed. “Darren’s going to kill me for telling you this, but he had a girlfriend checklist that summer. You ticked every box. Brunette. Ivy League educated. Brooklynite. Between five-two and five-five. Grew up on the East Coast. Good body. I don’t remember the rest. But anyway, you worked on paper, so we called you—”
“The paper doll,” I finished.
“Exactly!” Gavin said, clinking his Johnnie Walker against my vodka martini before he took a sip.
Making a list like that was such a Darren thing to do, and I shouldn’t have been surprised. But it somehow made his love for me seem less real, more calculated. I didn’t like how it made me feel, reduced to a series of attributes.
Darren walked over. “I heard I worked on paper,” I said to him. “Good thing I’m not an inch taller, or I would’ve been disqualified.”
He laughed. “You’ll never find what you want unless you know what you’re looking for.” The Jäger shots he and the other groomsmen had done had made him less measured than he usually was. Louder. “I was looking for you that summer.”
“Or someone just like me,” I answered. I was less measured than I usually was too.
“Stop it, I wanted you,” he said, sliding an arm around my waist and pulling me close. “The checklist just helped me focus my attention on women who were worth it.”
“Women who were worth it?” I echoed.
“Come on,” he said, knocking back another shot Gavin had handed him. “Let’s go dance.”
I let him lead me to the dance floor, and once we started to Twist—which we were both terrible at—the two of us began laughing and thoughts of his girlfriend checklist vanished. But I’ve been thinking about that list a lot recently. If I’d made a list back then, I don’t think either you or Darren would have ticked all the boxes. And if Darren made a list now, I don’t think I’d still be his paper doll.
I once read that birthdays are celebrated more elaborately in New York City than they are anywhere else in the world. I have no data points, no study to cite, which is what I’d ask someone at work to provide if they made a statement like that, but from anecdotal evidence, I wouldn’t dispute that claim.
For my thirtieth birthday, Darren treated me, Kate, and Julia to a spa day at Bliss, and booked the two of us a weeklong trip to Australia.
“It’s on your bucket list!” he said.
At least this time he asked first. Darren and I were doing pretty well on our bucket lists. He’d even gotten to ride a Segway at a bachelor party in Miami a few months earlier and crossed off number 1. “But what about Violet?” I asked. She was almost two and a half years old, and while we’d left her with my parents or Darren’s parents for long weekends before, we’d never been away for longer than that, and had never been farther than California.
“I think Violet could probably use a vacation from us,” he said.
Violet was on the floor next to Annie, with triangle-shaped safety crayons. She loved those things—could scribble for hours. I’m not exaggerating.
“Hey, Vi,” he said.
“Hey, Daddy,” she answered.
“I have exciting news. You’re going to get to stay with Nana and Pop-Pop for a whole week while Mommy and I go on a trip!”
“Pop-Pop!” Violet’s eyes opened wide. “Yes, please,” she said, and went back to coloring.
“I think she’ll be fine,” Darren said.
And so we went. A plane from New York to San Francisco. Then San Francisco to Hawaii. Hawaii to Fiji. Fiji to Sydney. I don’t love planes. Have we ever talked about that? The smallness of them, the recycled air, the inability to leave—it all rattles me if I think about it for too long. So Darren figured if we took a lot of shorter flights, there would be less time for me to panic while flying. I think it was a good idea, actually, because each time a flight started to feel too long, too constraining, we were just about to land. I’ve tried to employ that flying strategy ever since. Though I did fly direct from New York to Tel Aviv. It was the fastest way to get here.
Anyway, we landed the day before my birthday, and a limo picked us up at the airport, taking us to the Four Seasons.
“I booked us a suite,” Darren told me as we relaxed in the back of the car.
“You’re ridiculous,” I said.
He shrugged. “We haven’t really traveled anywhere exciting since our honeymoon. And who knows when we’ll have the chance to do it again.”
When we got to the room, I hooked into the Wi-Fi and called my parents. “Violet’s fine,” my mom said. “Jason and Vanessa are here with the triplets. She’s having a blast on your old swing set.”
I wasn’t sure if it would be better or worse if we talked on the phone, and since she was having fun, I figured I could call back later.
“You have to see this!” Darren was saying from the bedroom.
“I’ll call again soon, Mom,” I told her. “Give Violet an extra kiss from me.”
“Of course,” my mom said.
I walked into the bedroom, and on the dresser were chocolate-dipped strawberries and champagne. There was a box of a dozen long-stemmed roses on the bed.
“What did you tell them?” I asked Darren.
“That we were celebrating,” he said. “And to send their best.” Then he kissed me, and I relaxed into his arms. Being with him felt like kicking off a pair of heels after a long day at work. Natural, freeing, effortless.
“I love you,” I told him, as he slid his hand under my shirt and unclasped my bra.
And those beautiful roses ended up scattered all over the floor.
• • •
I WOKE UP in the middle of the night feeling panicked, like I’d forgotten something. I went through a list in my head. I’d packed my phone charger and the outlet adapters. I’d remembered bras and underwear and socks. Makeup. Deodorant. Sneakers. I’d called my mother, I’d spoken to Violet. Then I realized what it was. I poked Darren.
“I forgot my birth control pills,” I whispered to him, when he was awake enough to hear me.
“That’s good,” he muttered. “It’s a good time for a second baby.”
Then he went back to sleep, but I didn’t. I spent the night staring at the ceiling, wondering how upset Darren would be if I asked him to wear a condom.