Home > The Light We Lost(10)

The Light We Lost(10)
Author: Jill Santopolo


When we got home, I slipped off my heels and collapsed on the couch. You sat down next to me and took my foot in your hands, massaging away the pain of eight hours in stilettos.

“Oh, God,” I moaned. “Gabe, this might be better than sex.”

You didn’t laugh, though, the way I was expecting you to.

“Luce,” you said, your fingers still kneading the arch of my left foot, “we have to talk.”

I sat up and pulled my feet from your hands, tucked them under me.

“What is it?” I asked. “Are you okay? Are we okay? I thought things were great, but if there’s anything—”

“Lucy,” you said, my whole name. “Stop.” Then you took a deep breath. “I don’t know how to say this, so I’m just going to say it straight out. I got offered a job with the Associated Press. They want me to go to Iraq, embed with troops there for a feature piece, to start. With the possibility of a salaried position after that. Pete made a few calls, pulled a few strings. He knew I wanted to go abroad.”

For a moment I couldn’t breathe.

“When?” I whispered. “For how long?”

“They want me to leave in three weeks. The job is for two months at least. Maybe a lot longer.”

“When do you have to give them an answer?” I asked. I was thinking: We could handle two months. Maybe even longer. We could make it work.

“I already gave it,” you said, looking down at your fingers. “I told them yes.”

“You what?” I asked. I felt like someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub drain, like our life together was rushing away in a twirling tornado. My mind flashed to Kate, to what she said about the probability of you leaving and breaking my heart.

You still weren’t looking at me.

“It’s been in the works for a while,” you said, “but today all the paperwork went through. I didn’t know if it would. It seemed so tenuous. I didn’t want to say anything unless it was definite. I didn’t want to hurt you if I didn’t have to.”

I felt every beat of my heart, every pulse of blood as it moved through my body. I opened my mouth, but I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out what to say.

“A few months ago, when I saw that first article on Abu Ghraib that the AP put out, I just knew I had to go. Images can shift perspectives. They can change opinions and minds. I can’t stand back and trust that other people will do this work, not when I think it’s so important. I told you I was going to leave, Luce. You knew that was my plan eventually.”

And I did. But I don’t think I understood you meant forever. That it wasn’t negotiable. That we wouldn’t work to figure it out together. And even more than that, I wasn’t prepared. On that night especially. It was supposed to be a night of celebration, of happiness, of success. I was flying higher than I ever had in my life. The work I’d done had won an Emmy. And I’d let down my guard. I’d allowed myself to be completely happy.

How could you not have told me what Pete was trying to do? The phone calls you must’ve had? The plans you must have been making? How could you have made that decision without me? It still makes me angry, Gabe, that you didn’t include me. We were a binary star. We orbited around each other. When you decided not to tell me, you changed that, you weren’t orbiting around me anymore, you were circling someone else, something else. As soon as you started keeping secrets, we had no chance.

All at once, tears rushed to my eyes—tears of anger and sadness and confusion and hurt. “Gabe, Gabe,” I said over and over. “How could you?” I finally managed. “How could you not tell me? How could you tell me tonight?”

You reached out to me, and I fought you, pushing your arms away with more strength than I thought I had.

“It would’ve hurt less if I’d known,” I said, “if we’d talked about it. Don’t you understand? We were a team. You cut me out. How could you make plans without me? How could you make plans like that without me?”

You were crying too, snot dripping from your nose to your lip. “I’m sorry,” you said. “I was trying to do the right thing. I didn’t want to hurt you, I’m sorry.”

“But you did,” I choked out. “More than you would have. More than you needed to. It’s like I don’t matter to you at all.”

“That’s not true.” You wiped your nose and then reached for me again.

“Don’t,” I said. “Don’t touch me.”

“Please,” you said. “Lucy, please.” Now you were crying harder than I was. “I need you to understand. I wish I didn’t want this—I wish I didn’t feel like this is the thing I have to do, the only way I’ll feel whole. I never wanted to hurt you. This isn’t about you.”

“No,” I said. “It’s not about me. But it’s not only about you either. It’s about us. It’s about you destroying us.”

You looked as if I’d slapped you. And I wanted to.

“I’m not—” you said. “It’s not about us, Lucy. It’s really not. It is about me. I need to do this for me. There’s something inside me that’s broken, and this is the only thing that will fix it. I thought you’d understand. You always under—”

But I didn’t understand this time.

“Why can’t you stay?” I interrupted. “What about photographing New York City? There are so many stories here to tell. You were so happy when the New York Times printed your picture.”

You shook your head. “I can do more somewhere else. I can do better work. I can make more of a difference. I wish it weren’t true, but it is. You know what that means to me.”

“I do, but there has to be another way.”

“There isn’t,” you said.

“What about taking trips, but coming back home when they’re done?” I was begging. I knew it, and I didn’t care.

“That’s not how it works,” you said. “Pete said if I want to do this, I have to be all in.”

“Oh, Pete says.” I was furious now. “So you talked to Pete all about this, but not to me.”

“Lucy—” you started.

“You know what?” I said. “Fuck you.” Anger spread to the far reaches of my fingers and toes. I walked to our bed and threw your pillow and the extra blanket onto the couch. “You’re sleeping there tonight.”

“Lucy, we’re not done talking.” The blanket dangled from your fingertips.

“We are,” I said, unzipping my dress and turning out the light.

• • •

OF COURSE, neither one of us slept. I relived the conversation we’d just had over and over in my mind. As much as I hated you just then, I still wanted to walk across the studio and slide in next to you on the couch, to feel the solidity of your body next to mine. You were my comfort and my pain all at once.

At some point later you got up and stood beside the bed. “I have an idea,” you said.

I didn’t respond.

“I know you’re awake,” you said. “I can see your eyes.”

We hadn’t closed the blinds. You were backlit, illuminated by the city lights. It gave you a halo. Fallen angel, I thought.

“What?” I finally asked.

“Maybe . . . maybe you can come with me.” You reached out your hand tentatively in the semidarkness. “Maybe we could figure that out.”

I met your fingers with mine. For a brief moment it made sense. But then my mind focused on what you were asking. It focused on Baghdad. On visas. On apartments. On jobs. “But . . . how?” I asked.

You sat down on the bed, still holding my hand, and shrugged. “We could find a way.”

“But where would I live? What would I do? What about my career, Gabe?” I felt the anger flooding my body again. You were asking me to give up my dreams for you, when you would never do the same for me, wouldn’t even consider compromise, hadn’t even talked to me about it.

You shook your head. “I don’t know,” you said. “But I’m sure people do this. Maybe you could have a different career. You could get a job writing articles and make a difference that way. We could create the words and the pictures together. I should’ve thought of this earlier. It’d be perfect.”

“I thought my dreams weren’t disposable, Gabe,” I said. I loved you. I did. I do. So much. But what you were asking wasn’t fair. And it hurt then—it still hurts now—that you’d made this decision to leave without my input and weren’t willing to think about any alternatives.

“That’s not what I meant,” you said.

I sighed. It was all too much. “Let’s talk about it in the morning,” I told you.

“But—” you started. Then you closed your mouth. “Okay,” you said. But you didn’t move. You stayed put, sitting on the bed. You kept your hand on mine.

“Gabe?” I asked.

You turned to face me. A police car sped by, its flashing lights reflected in your eyes. “I can’t sleep without you, Lucy.”

I felt my tears pool again. “That’s not fair,” I said. “You don’t get to say that. You have no right.”

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