Sucking a lollipop in the middle of Circle Road, I am waiting for you but thinking about him. To an 18-year-old girl, the nostalgia of her earlier liaisons is a form of comic relief enjoyed in secrecy. Loving him at 16 was a lot like sucking this lollipop, I think. I have tasted the sweetness of this cruel infatuation for the past two years. Today I am chewing it to bits, until nothing remains but the harshly bitten stick of white, reminding me of something that once was — something that no longer remains.
You arrive along the curb like a new beginning. Around us, the leaves are beginning to change color. The browning of the hawthorns signals the evanescence of a torrid summer. As you lean over to unlock the passenger door of your car, we are met with a rush of the crisp autumn breeze. I slide into your car, pausing to observe the specks of honey in your eyes. In the bark of the orchards and the stark husk of the mahogany branches beside us, I see a likeness to those gleaming flecks of brown.
You greet me with urgency. You taste like coffee.
The cityscapes in my wistful recollections wither to dust the way naïve memories do at the hand of sudden revelations. At 16, I was certain that he would never leave me hollow. At 18, the word hollow has taken on a new form as I envision the unformidable possibility of losing you. Now at 19, I am attempting to memorialize our love within the lines of futile literature because the world deserves to know that love is a fairytale. We are still living in the age of tenderness.
More than a year later, the anticipation of seeing you after a long day fills my stomach with butterflies. I find solace in your touch. In your late-night fascination with art and your gripes about society, I sense an understanding that flows with a greater urgency than the currents of time.
I find peace in the love letters we crafted for each other on thin parchment out of the blue. Then in our undertaking to write to each other every week until we had enough letters to bind into a book, my heart softens. On that September day when I told you I missed you and you drove 241 miles to see me, I see conviction — and when you did it every other week in the name of faith, I see an unspoken but bold declaration of love.
I see it in our adventures across the city, in the days of Barleycorn and Madman Espresso, when we got lost in the labyrinth of Manhattan’s jagged roads and even more deeply in one another. I see it in the seeming insignificance of passing assurance, in those moments of comfort within enclosed walls, when you promised me the universe would fall into my palms if I willed it to. I see it in those moments, now lost in translation, when we hollered “Home is wherever I’m with you” at the top of our lungs as we drove across long, unwinding roads into tangerine sunrises. I see it in our stolen kisses and our impromptu trips to Red Tiger Dumpling House at the end of every business week. I see it in the hope that never seemed to go astray.
At 20, I find myself sucking the same lollipop and I taste in its cherry flavor the remnants of my youthful innocence. I laugh over the stubborn convictions I once held about life and my foolish jurisdictions about love. I relish in a newfound certainty that is not as sightless — a certainty that begins and ends with you. It is a certainty I wish upon everyone when they are in love.
We laugh over nonsensical realities as time goes by. We find comfort in the habits we fall into. And I begin to wonder if our future will be as kind as our past. You do everything you can to convince me it will be. Even when I fly across the ocean in an impulsive pursuit to explore the world, you venture the 3,582 miles from New York City to Madrid to see me. We lose ourselves in the Spanish streets and find ourselves again at the taqueria in Calle de las Fuentes at ungodly hours, where we stay until we finally abandon the claustrophobic vicinity for the violet April night. We carpool to Cuenca with an absolute stranger, occasionally amusing him with our broken Spanish, and part with him to climb to the very top of the city, resting only to take in its unhinged beauty.
From the avenues of Madrid to the boulevards of Venice and Paris, we subsume ourselves in the adventures we pursue. It is hard to think, during our midnight runs for grappa in Firenze and our chillier days in Montmartre, when we explore the rainy Parisian hills with just your one umbrella as we wait for the cleaning lady to finish clearing our Airbnb, that what we have is not infinite. We do not consider that we are merely young and in love — and just as old age wears away the novelty of youth, perhaps our exuberance is a fleeting phenomenon confined to these moments lost to time.
I begin to consider this when you are away, when I am forced to reckon with my being independent of your presence. Still thousands of miles across the sea, I ruminate on the idea that maybe, just maybe, the woman you met two and a half years ago is no longer the person unraveling before you today. Yes, time has certainly changed the both of us, but I feel in me a newfound restlessness to break free: to experience the novelties of youth independent of the commitments that bind us — independent of this relationship.
So why is it that when I see you, I suppress my considerations into the forbidden recesses of my mind? Maybe it is comfortability. After all, comfortability is a lethal drug. We do not realize our acts of resignation until it is too late. I let you become my greatest act of resignation.
I tuck away my restlessness and leave for the suburbs every now and then to see you, but the summer is the hardest that it has ever been for us. Dare I admit that I am unhappy, even though I am home? But maybe home as I had envisioned it, the home I saw in you, was a mere rumination, a derivative of my yearning for refuge. And maybe home is not a place or an entity bound to a time and space, but the feeling of freedom that overwhelmed me while I was still in motion, finding myself along the endless beauty this world has to offer. Home as a person or a place to permanently occupy, home as stationery and tethered to time and space — maybe that doesn’t exist. And if it does exist, it does only as a form of bondage. Maybe I am a vagabond to this existence, born to roam freely; to find home in the moments that are so painfully ephemeral, moments in which I am whole. Maybe my home is my mobility. When I tell you this, you laugh. I was a language you could never understand.
It is a slow process — the process of decay — and it is painful even though it is right. It is only a matter of time before we part ways as lovers and find each other again that very night as friends. We accept that this is how our love story will end because although we are strangers to this existence, we cannot convince ourselves that we are strangers to each other. But maybe we are. Maybe that is why this is ending after years of swearing it never would.
I make a list of all the things I resent about you to make it easier, the reasons I should know better than to stay. But I know in my heart that the list is an effort in futility, for I do not need it to remind me of how you vanquished my idealism, how your precautions spoke me out of my convictions and how you understood me only as an intellectual concept, an ideation, but nothing more. What else would explain how we made it to so many cities but neglected a territory far closer, the territory of each other’s hearts? Swept up in the ember of our moments, I had given myself up to an illusion — but it is not all in vain. You teach me that some love stories are viscerally beautiful up until the very moment of their end, but that does not mean they are meant to last. They are meant to be experienced only as a precursor to the other things life has in store for us. So wherever this rich and unpredictable life takes you, I hope it finds you happy.
With endless possibilities swarming in my idealistic head, I bid you farewell and approach life the way I approached you that midsummer day when we first met, behind the pink ice cream truck by Central Park: full of hope, optimism and a trickle of fear. Somehow I find myself in aisle two of Stop & Shop, stopping before a bag of cherry-flavored Tootsie Pops. I pick them up by the bucket load. At 21, I finally buy myself another pack.