The Light We Lost (Page 33)
“I’m going to buy a book,” I said, pointing to the stack.
The woman who rang me up kept staring at me. Then she looked at the name on my credit card.
“You’re her,” she said. “Lucy.”
I nodded. “I’m her.”
She looked like she wanted to say something else, but instead she handed me a receipt to sign and slid a book across the counter.
When I handed her the receipt back she said, “He’s very talented.”
“I know,” I said. “He always was.”
My brain was still turning inside out by the time I got back to the office and slipped your book in my desk drawer. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. So I opened up an e-mail and sent you a message:
I saw your exhibit today at the Landis gallery. I don’t know what to say. It’s a lovely tribute, though I wish you’d asked. Or at least told me. It was a bit of a shock to turn the corner and see myself on the wall.
Your response came instantaneously:
I know I should have asked. But I was afraid you’d have said no. And the exhibit didn’t feel complete without you in it. I learned how to capture lightness of spirit while photographing you. You were my muse, my inspiration for all of those shots.
I’m glad you went to see the show.
I didn’t write back after that. Being in touch with you seemed too dangerous. And I still hadn’t untangled the knot of emotions, hadn’t teased out how I truly felt about seeing myself on that wall.
• • •
I READ THE INTERVIEW in Time Out New York on my way home from work. The interviewer had asked you about me. You didn’t say much, but you called me your muse, your light. In print. That was so brazen of you, Gabe. So . . . I don’t know. Is selfish the right word? Did you think about how Darren would respond? What that would mean for me? Probably not. Almost definitely not. I know you wanted to be true to your art, to capture your world in the way that felt the most honest, maybe to send me a message, I don’t know. But, God, you put me in an uncomfortable position. Because I knew I had to tell Darren about it before someone else did. And I knew he wasn’t going to be happy.
I waited until after dinner. Until the kids were in bed. Until Annie was walked and fed.
“Want a drink?” I asked him.
“Drinking on a Wednesday,” he said. “Look at you!”
I gave him a wan smile.
“That rough at the office?” he asked. “Sure, pour me in.”
We’d discovered raki on our honeymoon and both loved it, so I poured us some, a subtle reminder of the fact that we were a couple, together, married. I thought he might need that.
“So, which show’s giving you trouble?” he asked, when I handed him his glass and sat down on the couch.
He’d made peace with my work, finally started asking about it after I had Liam, when I made it clear that even with two kids, I wouldn’t stay home. And once in a while, when we passed by a store that had a Rocket Through Time lunchbox in the window, or a bus stop with a Sparkle On! poster—my girl-empowerment show, a nod to having a daughter—I could detect a note of pride in his smile that made me smile too.
Instead of answering him, though, I said, “I went to a photography exhibit with Julia today during lunch.”
“Oh, yeah?” He turned to look at me, already, I’m sure, trying to figure out where I was going with this. “How is she?”
“Good,” I said, carefully. “The show was Gabe’s. My ex, Gabe’s. She read about it in Time Out New York this morning, so we went.”
Darren’s body went still. “I see,” he said.
I took the magazine from the coffee table and opened it, then handed it to him. “There were pictures of me in it, Darren. I swear I didn’t know.”
“This is for real,” he said, quickly reading the words in front of him.
“It is,” I said. “I was shocked. I . . .” I felt guilty, like I should apologize, like it was my fault, but it wasn’t. It was your fault, Gabe.
Darren looked up from your interview, stricken. His face had gone pale. “Is this your way of telling me that you and he—”
“No!” I said. “No! There’s nothing between us. I haven’t seen him since that time Violet and I met up with him for coffee. Before I was even pregnant with Liam. And I exchanged one Twitter message with him the night bin Laden was killed. That’s it! Really. I swear.”
The color was returning to Darren’s face. “You really haven’t seen him. He really didn’t ask you.”
“I swear on the lives of both of our children,” I said.
Darren started getting angry then. He crumpled the magazine. “What a prick. What a self-important prick. Let’s call the gallery. We can ask them to take it down.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “We don’t have to do that. We don’t need to start anything.” My emotions were unknotting, and as angry as I was with you, I didn’t want the exhibit to come down. A part of me liked being up there. A part of me felt special. Chosen. Important.
He took a deep breath. “You’re right. I wasn’t thinking. We don’t need to make this bigger than it is.”
I took a sip of raki. Darren did too. Then he drained his glass. I followed suit, relieved that this wasn’t worse. I don’t know what I expected would happen, what I thought he would do, but this was okay. Darren and I were okay.
He rattled the ice in his glass. “Tomorrow night we’re going out for dinner after work,” he said. “I’ll get us reservations somewhere fantastic. And then we’re going to see the exhibit. If there are pictures of my wife in an art gallery, I want to see them.”
I nodded. “Of course,” I said. “Whatever you want.”
• • •
THE NEXT MORNING I put on a tight black dress and heels to go to work. It was an outfit I knew Darren liked on me. One that had once made him whisper, after a couple of glasses of wine at a dinner party, “I have the hottest wife in this whole damn place.”
After the promised fantastic dinner at Del Posto we took a cab straight to the gallery. When we walked in, I moved to the end of the line of people so we could go from country to country, following your journey of hope and light back in time. But Darren grabbed my hand and said, “Where are you?”
“At the end,” I answered, indicating the corner at the other side of the gallery.
Darren pulled me through the crowd—and there really was a crowd that night, so many more people than when Julia and I were there—until we turned the corner. And then he stopped. His hand went slack and dropped mine. He stared. And stared. And didn’t say a word.
I looked at myself on the wall. I tried to put myself in his shoes. I was someone he thought he knew better than anyone in the world, and he was seeing a different version of me. He was seeing Lucy-before-Darren, Lucy who loved someone else, Lucy who shared someone else’s secrets and dreams. Who inspired them. I don’t think I ever inspired Darren. And it couldn’t have been easy for him, seeing me through your eyes. I took a step closer to him, but he didn’t reach out to me.
When he finally looked over, I could see the anger simmering in his eyes. The jealousy. The hurt.
We fought about you for the first and only time that night. Darren wanted me to promise never to be in touch with you again, but despite understanding how he felt, I couldn’t agree to it. Eventually my reasonable, chess-playing Darren returned and he took back his request. But it was the most insecure, the neediest I’d ever seen him.
“Do you love me?” he asked.
“I love you,” I told him. “I do.”
Then his voice cracked. “Do you love him?”
“No,” I said. “Just you.” And it was true then, or I thought it was. I promised him that I loved him more than I’d ever loved you, that there’s no way you could compete, when he and I had a family together. By the end of the night, he and I were okay again. We had sex. We slept with our arms wrapped around each other.
• • •
I FORCIBLY PUT YOU out of my mind for a while after that. I focused on my anger at the position you put me in, my anger that you hadn’t asked first. I was doing it for Darren, for Violet and Liam, for our family. But I couldn’t stay angry with you. Because I really was flattered that you wanted me in your retrospective. Flattered that I meant so much to you, to your work. In that knot of emotions, a piece of me thrilled at being called your muse.
Sometimes life seems to chug along, moving forward at a near-glacial pace day to day, until something happens that makes you stop and take notice and realize that a ton of time has passed while you weren’t looking. An anniversary, a birthday, a holiday. On September 11th, 2011, Violet was almost four. Liam had just turned eight months old. I was a producer on three different kids’ shows and developing pitches for two more. And Darren and I had been married for almost five years. It was more than seven years since you left New York. And a decade, exactly, since the first time you and I met. A decade since the attacks that set both of our adult lives in motion and caused our individual journeys to intertwine and separate.