It’s raining today. I can smell the familiar earthy smell, wafting in from my window, alongside the mist of droplets scattering over my messy desk, and the steady pit pat pit pat, which never skips a beat.
I pull my light blue comforter up to my chest, and reach into my bag of chips. Like the steady rhythm of rain, barbeque chips won’t ever leave; they’re a comfortable constancy that I can rely on.
Knock, knock, knock. “Ali?”
It’s Sarah. This is the second of her biweekly appearances, probably to make sure I’m not a rotting corpse. I guess she’s trying to help, but I can’t help but feel like her “help” is a lot more self-motivated. Maybe she wants to feel altruistic, and throw a little “pity party” for me to show everyone else how “good” she is.
“Ali, let’s go out tonight!”
See what I mean about self-motivated?
“I don’t want to,” I grumble and I try to bury myself in my blankets further. If I could, I wouldn’t respond at all, but I don’t want to have to deal with her thinking I was actually dead. Though, I might as well be.
Sarah sighs. “Come on, Ali. We haven’t gone out in a while.”
“It’s only been three days since you’ve dragged me out.” Boo-freaking-hoo.
She’s quiet on the other end of the door. Maybe I was too harsh on her.
“Can I come in?” She sounds meeker than her usual confident, brash self.
I sigh and roll out of bed to open the door. Sarah gives me that same look of pity she’s been giving me for the past three months. It’s the look you’d give to a kicked puppy.
She stares at me, clearly contemplating how to respond to… whatever was afflicting me.
“When’s the last time you had a good night of sleep?”
“Last night.” Lie. It’s relentless nights of cold sweats, and feeling haunted by the remnants of you.
“When’s the last time you got out of bed?”
“Today.” Well, technically I got out of bed to, y’know, pee.
Sarah looks at me, and I can tell that just being in my presence is exhausting for her.
“Come on, you can’t keep moping in bed and eating… barbeque chips.” She looks slightly disgusted as she pulls a chip out of my knotted hair. Honestly, I’m kind of disgusted with myself.
“You can’t let this consume you, Ali…”
“I- it’s not consuming me. I’m perfectly whole by myself.”
She pauses. “Look Ali, I’m worried about you and I don’t know how to fix it.”
“Fix what? I’m fine.” It’d take a thousand years to put all of my shattered glass back together.
“You’re such a liar.”
I’m honestly surprised Sarah hasn’t given up on me yet. She probably couldn’t live with the guilt of letting me slowly waste away into nothingness.
Sarah runs her fingers through her hair. “Fine. Just come out for me. Girls’ night. It’s the last time, I promise.”
I’m used to false promises, so I agree. But under one condition.
“Can we go to Copacabana?”
I throw on jeans and a shirt and somehow tame my mane of hair. I hop into the driver’s seat and find Sarah holding a large box of Krispy Kreme donuts.
Sarah seems especially happy about coercing me out of my usually sedentary lifestyle. “Ali, take a donut! I got your favorite -- glazed jelly.”
It’s a rainy day in New York City, and the rain always brings out something in me. It’s nostalgic, whispers of memories supposed to be left behind flutter back with the pit pat of the rain. I glance over at Central Park on my left side, and it’s like the ghost of our past selves has stumbled into the muddy bright green grass. I can still picture us walking around the park that first month (and many more to come), hands intertwined, smiling and talking. We were sitting on our jackets and gazing at the clouds, making invisible shapes and memories all out of thin air. And when the rain came pouring down, we both ran, shielding ourselves with flimsy jackets, and eventually embracing the way that the rain washed away all of our impurities.
It’s been a month since it happened. It’s been a month since you boarded everything up, slammed the door, and called it quits. We spent nine years building a house of bricks together, but you only needed fifteen minutes to leave me with disintegrated rubble.
HONK. “Move already, you slut!” the driver behind calls out in the most New York fashion.
“What’s so special about Central Park?”
I miss you.
“I just like it.”
I continue driving down the crowded roads.
Red light, green light. Which will it be today? Do you love me? Do you love me not?
I cross my fingers and hope it’ll stay green as I push the gas pedal a little harder. I find disappointment as the lights turn yellow, just as I was about to finish crossing. A resounding I don’t know. The universe doesn’t know because I don’t know. I don’t know because you don’t know. You thought we needed a break, when I thought we needed a forever. I can’t help the tears streaming down my face, and I know Sarah can see them. But what can she say? I’m sorry the light didn’t stay green? I’m sorry your love isn’t on?
Sarah puts a hand on my shoulder, and somehow, that feels like enough.
Deep breaths, Ali. In and out. In and out. A traffic light has no ties with the matters of fate.
Sarah doesn’t bring up my little outburst, and I’m grateful that she doesn’t. My affliction is unexplainable to a person who switches lovers by the season.
“You know what we haven’t done in a long time?”
“What?” I sniffle slightly.
Sarah’s grinning from ear to ear. “We haven’t done carpool karaoke in a really long time.”
“Karaoke?” We haven’t done that since… college.
“Do you remember our senior year road trip? We jammed out to every single song on the Red album.”
I can’t help but laugh. “Do you remember our cover of the goat’s version of ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’?”
“Pfft, how could I forget!”
For a moment, I feel like everything might be alright. Sarah plays ‘I Knew You Were Trouble’ and starts miming the guitar as I drive. We, of course, gave the goat a run for its money, when it came to the screams. We’re laughing and smiling like we’re young again, and we can’t possibly run out of time.
But then, I stop at a red light, and look to my right. And… it’s you. You’re sitting behind the long windows of the cafe, furrowing your eyebrows as you read what’s on your laptop. I’m not sure what compelled you to look up in that split second. Maybe you could sense that I was there, and that I wasn’t quite finished with you, nor would I ever be finished with you.
Your bright blue eyes pierce through the windows separating us, piercing into the measly layer of bricks I had began to rebuild in your absence. I wanted to say something to you, scream ‘I love you’ through everything keeping us apart. But it’s not like you would hear me, anyways, through wailing NYC traffic and the increasingly angered pit pat of the rain and the distance tearing us away. And even if you could hear me, I’m not even sure what I would say.
I wonder if I will ever see you like this again, or if you will only visit me in my memories. And I’m afraid that those too may fade away. I can’t frequent California, just to hope to bump into some version of you, some version of you that has nothing to do with me. I want to go back to when we were great together, and you were imprinted in my mind and I in yours, and we had the world left to explore. But, I’m only left with the remnants of something great, and the whispers of you that haunt me every corner that I turn.
I can’t remember a part of me that you didn’t touch. Every part of me was tainted by you, and I can’t go back to strangers holding me for a night, and disappearing by morning. I just can’t forget you, your hands grabbing my hips and pulling me closer, your lips kissing me every morning and every night, your voice teasing me, your legs tangling with mine as we slept... But I don’t even want to forget, because that means the story is over. You told me it was a great love. Was being the key word here. You said was, which means that you closed the chapter on me. But, why can’t I do the same?
You continue to stare back at me for what feels like a lifetime, until the driver behind me gets a little honk-happy. I drive on to Copacabana, as ‘All Too Well’ somberly thrums through my car.
We park, and Sarah tells me everything will be alright. Though I’m not sure how it’s alright that two people who loved each other were reduced to nothing but strangers in this small town. At this point, she only has empty words, and I can’t even blame her. She saw him too.
Sarah links arms with me as we walk into the club. We awkwardly dance to an EDM remix of a Billie Eilish song, and make small talk with the people who bump into us. I can’t help but stare at the one thing that brought me here -- the unnecessarily extravagant chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
Why am I in Copacabana, dancing with all of these strangers? Why am I here, watching this goddamn chandelier quietly flicker, unnoticed by everyone except for me? I should be drinking to forget, dancing to regret. Instead, I’m just staring at this stupid dysfunctional chandelier, wasting my nights completely sober.
“Ali, why do you come here?”
For the chandelier.
“This is the most crowded bar in all of NYC. And you hate crowds.” Sarah looks increasingly suspicious.
It’s the only place with any semblance of a sign.
“I like the decor.” It’s a half-truth, I suppose.
She follows my gaze and notes the flickering chandelier. It looks like it’s on the verge of flickering into dark, but it still holds onto the light.
“They should really get that chandelier fixed, huh. Maybe I should talk with management.”
“NO. No. No. You can’t.”
“Why not? Ali, it’s a chandelier.” Sarah looks absolutely lost.
Because she wouldn’t have noticed that chandelier if it wasn’t for me and if she fixes it, I won’t get my sign from the universe.
“Please Sarah. Just don’t.”
I know she doesn’t understand why my breaking point is a chandelier, but she lets it go.
I sigh in relief, and all of a sudden, the chandelier flickers out.
And that’s when the sobs erupt out of me, like a volcanic, uncontrollable eruption that could not be stopped. Sarah helps me out of the club, amidst all of the confused, lost, drunk people stumbling in the pitch black dark, guided by the loud thrum of avant-garde pop music.
I sob and I sob on Sarah’s shoulder as the rain pours down, because that stupid chandelier finally gave out, and I have to wash away my heartache. I want to drown myself in alcohol; maybe blurring my existence could wipe the ghost of you from my memories. I want to find a different sign, a different sign that tells me it’s okay to keep waiting for you, a sign that tells me our story hasn’t run its course and there is another tomorrow.
Maybe that’s why I keep searching, maybe I just want to find an excuse for another page in our love story, and in my search, I convince myself that we should have had enough love for a lifetime of pages. Every person in that club is searching for something, whether it’s something that can be found in the physical comfort of another lost person’s arms, or to forget everything that’s ever happened and replace it with blurs of memories not noteworthy enough to remember. But, I don’t want to forget you, and I can’t ever replace you. You’re permanently etched into my brain for eternity, and the memories we shared and the love we shared can’t just disappear like that. No amount of distance can wash away your existence.
I want to hate you for leaving. I want to hate you for not even trying long distance. But the truth is, we’ve grown into different people; we’re not the same people we were in freshman year of college. And this is the part where we fork into our separate lives, and grow into our full selves - without the other. I want to keep wishing for one last moment, one last kiss, one last gaze, but all I have left are the broken remnants of our great love.
But after the rain stops pouring, the stars finally shine on the ghosts of our past selves, drenched from the rain, but lucky enough to be in love. And it’s beautiful.