The Light We Lost (Page 32)
The answer was: very.
Liam was conceived in Australia.
One of the things I’ve found the most interesting about being pregnant is that no one seems to experience it quite the same way. And symptoms can change from one day to the next. I’d always heard that the same woman could have different symptoms with different children, too, which seemed especially odd to me. Shouldn’t a body react the same way each time? But it’s true. Each of my pregnancies has been slightly different—though the exhaustion and the nausea have been there each time. But with Liam, even though I was exhausted, I was also an insomniac. That’s how I ended up watching The Daily Show alone in the living room, while Darren was already getting ready for bed. That’s how I ended up seeing you.
After the commercial break, Jon Stewart came on and said, “Welcome back. My guest tonight is a photographer with the Associated Press who has just come out with his first book, Defiant, a pictorial narrative of the Arab Spring. Gabriel Samson, everybody.”
And there you were, in my living room, a year and a half after I’d left you in that Starbucks on Montague. As Jon Stewart displayed pages from your book, and you talked about your experiences, I couldn’t help but feel a small sense of pride. The recognition you’d gotten for your work was huge—awards, it seemed, lots of them—and from the questions you were being asked, it appeared that the response to your book was magnificent, too. Apparently a Times review was due out the following weekend, and you had some offers from museums and galleries to stage an exhibit of your photographs.
“It looks like they want you everywhere from London to New York to Omaha, Nebraska,” Jon Stewart said. “I’d suggest Omaha. Great steaks.”
You laughed, and then you said, “As much as I like a good steak, the offers I’m considering the most are in New York. That city means a lot to me.”
“New Yorkers get a bad rap,” Jon said, picking up the banter. “But we’re pretty great people. And I’d choose New York pizza over an Omaha steak any day, if you want to get down to it.”
“Absolutely,” you said. “New York women, too.”
And then the segment was over, but I kept staring at the screen. You looked great. You seemed happy. And I was glad for you. But I couldn’t help wondering who you were talking about when you mentioned New York women. Was it me? Someone else? Or just a funny thing to say on TV? I tried to put it all out of my head. But that’s hard to do when you’re lying in bed, still staring at the ceiling at three a.m.
As bad as the pregnancy insomnia was, the fact that by the time Liam was four months old, he had never in his life slept for more than four hours at a clip was even worse. I was a zombie. And the surest way to get him back to sleep was by nursing him. Which meant I had a lot more time to read the news on my phone than I used to.
At nine forty-five at night on May 2nd, while I was feeding Liam, an alert pinged that the president was going to address the nation that evening.
“What do you think that’s about?” I asked Liam. His only answer was to continue sucking on my nipple.
By eleven, with Liam back in his crib, I was reading articles from tons of different news outlets. By eleven thirty-five, I was in the living room listening to President Obama say: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.
And then I was on Twitter and saw photos you were tweeting—retweets of your colleague’s photos—of the jubilation at the gates of the White House. I didn’t feel joy in bin Laden’s death, but I felt relief. I felt whole, like his death completed a puzzle that had been left unfinished since 2001. I think you did too. The one tweet that was your own that night said: The world is a better place today than it was yesterday. #OperationNeptuneSpear
I watched your feed fill with more and more photos, links to articles, messages from politicians and journalists.
I opened up a direct-message box and sent you a note. I can’t believe it, I wrote.
I know, you wrote back. I feel like the world has shifted on its axis.
I did too.
Two months after that, I got a call from Julia at work. Since she left television and went into book publishing, we saw each other less than we used to but tried to get together at least once every couple of months to catch up. And we still talked on the phone a lot. Her life was pretty different than mine, though, since she was still single, still going out on dates, still taking advantage of what New York City had to offer in a way I hadn’t in years.
“Have you read Time Out New York today?” she asked.
“Oh, Jules,” I said, “I can’t remember the last time I even saw a Time Out New York.”
I turned my chair sideways so I could look out the window of my office. I’d had a window office for almost a year now, and never tired of checking out the buildings across the way and the traffic below.
“You’re going to want to get it today,” she said. “There’s an article on Gabe—your ex, Gabe. He has a photography show up at the Joseph Landis gallery in Chelsea. I haven’t had a chance to read the review or the interview they did with him, but the headline and pull quote are great.”
I watched a taxicab stop and pick up two passengers—an older couple with suitcases.
“Lucy?” Julia asked.
I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do.
“Do you want to go?” I finally said. “Today at lunch? Meet you there?”
“Just so happens my lunch plans canceled this morning,” Julia said. “Twelve thirty?”
I looked at my calendar of meetings. “Can you make it one?” I asked.
“One it is.”
We met at the gallery, and even though it was the middle of a weekday, we weren’t the only ones there. Between how successful your book had been, and the review of the show in Time Out New York, you’d drawn a bit of a crowd. Light, it said, stenciled onto the wall, A Photography Retrospective by Gabriel Samson.
Julia and I shuffled from photograph to photograph with a group of ladies-who-lunch in front of us and a few NYU students behind us. It started with images of the Arab Spring, some of the same ones Jon Stewart showed, from the interior of your book. They were arresting, like all of your photography—the kind of images that draw a viewer in right away, like Steve McCurry, like you’d dreamed about.
“So hopeful,” the ladies kept saying, at pretty much every shot. “Look at the hope in their eyes.”
It got to the point where Julia mouthed their words along with them and rolled her eyes.
But as much as she was rolling her eyes, she was also saying, “These are spectacular.” And they were, the way you captured emotion, the way you framed the people, the way everything seemed saturated with color and feeling and determination.
“I heard this guy’s a real badass,” one of the NYU kids said. “Like, he climbs on mountains of rubble and lies in puddles and s**t to get these shots. I heard he once got beat up in Iraq because he took a picture of the wrong person’s wife.”
I realized, when I heard those words, that I had no idea why you’d gotten beat up in Iraq. Just that you had. Just that you’d called me afterward. Should I have asked more? Is that why you never called me from Arizona?
I noticed, as we were walking, that the photographs were in reverse chronological order. You could actually see the hope and determination increase—the earlier photos even more powerful than the later ones. Then the accompanying narration on the wall told us we were going further back in time, before the Arab Spring, before the photographs in your book, and we were looking at images from Afghanistan, from Pakistan, from Iraq. I hadn’t read the review of the exhibit but had assumed it was all from Defiant. It was interesting to see the other countries in comparison. Then I took another step to the right and saw images I recognized from New York—the little girl behind the barred window was there, the one who inspired the dream episode of It Takes a Galaxy. And then I turned a corner and was confronted with a wall of myself.
“Whoa,” Julia said, when she turned the corner a moment after I did.
There I was, at twenty-four, laughing, my head thrown back, a drink in my hand. There I was on the couch, smiling, my arms reaching for you. I was in the kitchen, looking delighted, holding a plate of waffles. Then I was twenty-three, slipping on a pair of high heels, my hair loose, swinging next to me. The final image in the show was one I’d never seen before: me, asleep on the couch, with one hand still on my laptop and the other clutching the pages of a script.
Stenciled on the wall it said: A woman filled with light makes everything she touches brighter. Lucy, Luce, Luz, Light.
When we got to the end of the exhibit, there was a pile of books on the counter next to a little note that said: Signed by the artist. I stopped.
“Are you okay?” Julia asked. “I—”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
I couldn’t even name the emotions I felt then. What were you thinking, putting up a wall of pictures of me without telling me about it?