Home > The Light We Lost(3)

The Light We Lost(3)
Author: Jill Santopolo

You squeezed my fingers. “Thank you for making this day about something more,” you said. “Lucy. Luce. Luz is light in Spanish, right?” You paused. I nodded. “Well, thank you for filling a dark day with light.”

You’d put into words the feeling I couldn’t express. “You did the same for me,” I said. “Thank you.”

We kissed again and it was hard to tear myself away from you. It was so hard to leave.

“I’ll call you later,” you said. “I’ll find you in the directory. I’m sorry about the nachos.”

“Stay safe,” I said. “We can always eat nachos another time.”

“That sounds good,” you answered.

And I left, wondering if it was possible for one of the most horrific days I’d ever experienced to somehow contain a small nugget of goodness.

• • •

YOU DID CALL ME a few hours later, but it wasn’t the conversation I’d expected. You said you were sorry, so sorry, but you and Stephanie had gotten back together. Her eldest brother was missing—he worked at One World Trade—and she needed you. You said you hoped I understood and you thanked me again for bringing light to such a horrible afternoon. You said it meant a lot to have me there. And you apologized once more.

I shouldn’t have been crushed, but I was.

I didn’t speak to you for the rest of fall semester. Or spring semester either. I changed my seat in Kramer’s class so I wouldn’t have to sit next to you. But I listened every time you spoke about the way you saw beauty in Shakespeare’s language and imagery—even in the ugliest scenes.

“‘Alas!’” you read aloud, “‘a crimson river of warm blood, / Like to a bubbling fountain stirr’d with wind, / Doth rise and fall between thy rosed lips.’” All I could think about was your lips and how they felt pressed against mine.

I tried to forget that day, but it was impossible. I couldn’t forget what happened to New York, to America, to the people in the towers. And I couldn’t forget what happened between us. Even now, whenever anyone asks, “Were you in New York when the towers fell?” or “Where were you that day?” or “What was it like here?” the first thing I think of is you.

• • •

THERE ARE MOMENTS that shift the trajectory of people’s lives. For so many of us who lived in New York City then, September 11th was that moment. Anything I did that day would have been important, would have been burned into my mind and branded on my heart. I don’t know why I met you that day, but I do know that because I did, you would have been a part of my personal history forever.


It was May and we’d just graduated. We’d handed back our caps and gowns, trading them for diplomas written in Latin, emblazoned with our names, first, middle, and last. I walked into Le Monde with my family—my mother, my father, my brother Jason, two grandparents, and an uncle. They seated us next to another family, a much smaller family—yours.

You looked up as we filed by and you reached out, touching my arm. “Lucy!” you said. “Congratulations!”

I shivered. All those months later, feeling your skin against mine did that to me, but I still managed to say, “You too.”

“What are you up to?” you asked. “Are you staying in the city?”

I nodded. “I got a job working in program development at a new TV production company—kids’ shows.” I couldn’t help grinning. It was a job I’d been crossing my fingers over for almost two months before I got it. The kind of job that I’d started thinking about soon after the towers fell, after I admitted that I wanted to do something more meaningful than advertising. A job that could reach the next generation and had the potential to change the future.

“Kids’ shows?” you said, a smile playing across your lips. “Like Alvin and the Chipmunks? Will they have helium voices?”

“Not quite,” I said, laughing a little, wanting to tell you that it was our conversation that led me there, that the moment we shared in your kitchen meant so much. “How about you?”

“McKinsey,” you said. “Consulting. No chipmunks for me.”

I was surprised. I hadn’t expected that, after our talk, after hearing your analyses in Kramer’s class.

But what I said was, “That’s great. Congratulations on the job. Maybe I’ll see you around the city sometime.”

“That would be nice,” you answered.

And I went to sit down at the table with my family.

“Who was that?” I heard someone ask. I looked up. There was a girl next to you with long wheat-colored hair almost to the middle of her back and her hand on your thigh. She’d barely registered, I was so focused on you.

“Just a girl I know from class, Stephanie,” I heard you say. Which, of course, was all I was. But somehow it stung.


New York is a funny city. You can live there for years and never see your next-door neighbor, and then you can run into your best friend while getting into a subway car on your way to work. Fate versus free will. Maybe it’s both.

It was March, almost a year after graduation, and New York City had swallowed us up. I was living with Kate on the Upper East Side in that huge apartment that had once belonged to her grandparents. It was something she and I had talked about doing ever since we were in middle school. Our childhood dreams had become a reality.

I’d had a six-month fling with a coworker, a couple of one-night stands, and a handful of dates with men I’d deemed not smart enough or not handsome enough or not exciting enough, though in hindsight there probably wasn’t much wrong with them at all. Actually if I’d met Darren then, I might have thought the same thing about him.

Without the constant reminder of Philosophy Hall or the East Campus dorms, I’d stopped thinking about you—mostly. We hadn’t seen each other in close to a year. But you did pop into my mind at work when I was skimming storyboards with my boss, when we were reviewing episodes focused on acceptance and respect. I thought about your kitchen and felt good about the decision I made.

Before long it was Thursday, March 20th, and I was turning twenty-three. I had a party planned for the weekend, but my two closest friends at work, Writers’ Room Alexis and Art Department Julia as you called them later, insisted that we have a drink on my birthday.

The three of us had become obsessed with Faces & Names that winter because of the fireplace and the couches. The temperature was hovering around forty, but we thought the bar might turn the fireplace on if we asked. We’d been there enough during the past few months, and the bartender liked us.

Julia had made me a paper birthday crown that she insisted I wear, and Alexis ordered all of us apple martinis. We sat on the couch in front of the fire, coming up with things to toast before each sip.

“To birthdays!” Alexis started.

“To Lucy!” Julia said.

“To friends!” I added.

Which devolved into: “To the photocopy machine not jamming today!” and “To bosses who call in sick!” and “To free lunches scrounged after fancy meetings!” and “To bars with fireplaces!” and “To apple martinis!”

The waitress came over to our couch with a tray that had three more martinis on it.

“Oh, we didn’t order those,” Julia said.

The waitress smiled. “You girls have a secret admirer.” She nodded toward the bar.

There you were.

For a moment I thought I was hallucinating.

You gave us a small wave.

“He said to say happy birthday to Lucy.”

Alexis’s jaw dropped. “You know him?” she said. “He’s hot!” Then she picked up one of the new martinis that the waitress had placed on the table in front of us. “To cute boys in bars who know your name and send over free drinks!” she toasted. After we all took a sip, she added, “Go thank him, birthday girl.”

I put the martini down, but changed my mind, taking it with me as I walked toward you, wobbling only slightly on my high heels.

“Thanks,” I said, sliding onto the stool on your left.

“Happy birthday,” you answered. “Nice crown.”

I laughed and slipped it off. “It might look better on you,” I said. “Want to try?”

You did, crushing your curls with the paper.

“Stunning,” I told you.

You smiled and put the crown on the bar in front of us.

“I almost didn’t recognize you,” you said. “You did something new to your hair.”

“Bangs,” I told you, pushing them to the side.

You stared at me like you did in your kitchen, seeing me from all angles. “Beautiful with or without bangs.” You slurred your words a little, and I realized that you were even drunker than I was. Which made me wonder why you were alone, lit at seven p.m. on a Thursday night.

“How are you?” I asked. “Is everything okay?”

You propped your elbow on the bar and leaned your cheek into your hand. “I don’t know,” you said. “Stephanie and I broke up again. I hate my job. And the U.S. invaded Iraq. Every time I see you, the world is falling apart.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that, the information about Stephanie or your assertion that the world was falling apart, so I took another sip of my martini.

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