They said their goodbyes over two cups of soup, in a narrow joint with floors filthy from the slush just outside the door. Instead of a doormat, the management had placed down sheets of cardboard. Not a pretty picture, but it was all somehow very… New York.
And the lines of their dialogue did not resemble any tragic love affair from the best of the world’s cinema. He was civil but not tender, just maintaining a casual conversation. It had been a chronic anxiety, for her, when others relied on the arrival of tomorrow. Since childhood, she was silly with her goodbyes, always making room for them. Just like she did that day: Insisting on sitting down for it, instead of aimlessly walking through the City that had seen way too many unhappy endings prior to theirs.
She had made a mistake of ordering something that sounded the most exotic, with yellow curry; but then she discovered ground chicken in it. She was a vegetarian. To save herself from the embarrassment — in front of him and the tired black woman working the line alone, during the rush of lunch hour — she pretended to eat around the white meat. Until he noticed it.
“You’ve gotta order something else!” he scoffed; and for the duration of their entire pathetic meal, which they’ve spent fully clothed, in their coats and he — in his hat, her mistake would be enough of a diversion from what was actually happening: He was leaving, like so many before him; looking for a graceful exit that no longer existed due to his cowardly procrastination.
“Oh, c’mon!” he kept trying to make her the pun of the joke. “You can’t just eat around the meat! You can’t keep doing… this thing that you do!”
A few months into the affair, he had begun reminding her of someone else. That day — on the repeatedly reiterated subject that suddenly so obviously annoyed him — she finally tracked it down: Someone else had happened to her, in this same City, nearly a decade ago. Someone else who had no intention of sticking around; who often got shamed of her in public — and in front off much chicer dressed young women, with whom he had to think he had a chance. Someone else who had hidden her from his family and friends, who pleaded for only private getaways; who gave her slivers of his time — if any — during the holidays. Someone else who’d made a good use of her youth and sex, but had no courage to end it.
Even back then, in her much younger — less jaded, more innocent — self, she felt something was akimbo. Not right. The intuition kept scratching on the ventricles of her heart. In those days, she wouldn’t call it that: Intuition. Not yet. She needed a few more disastrous repetitions and embarrassing endings — to become more in tune with her self-respect. But the sensation was already there: Something wasn’t right. By the universality of her gender, she knew: Not right.
Now, a decade older, she still couldn’t name it: that feeling of not being enough. Too poor, too orphaned; with not enough stock or family inheritance to her name. Pretty enough and selfless in bed — that was the only thing that made them last. But the awareness of that same feeling was beginning to land in the corners of her eyes with a melancholic recognition of the pattern: He — was leaving. Maybe not that day, and maybe not even after they would reunite at home, on the other coast. But eventually.
This trip had to end abruptly for him. He had to go. Maybe it could last a little longer: She could walk him to his town car. They could grab another drink at their hotel’s bar. But he would finish his cup of soup — and hers, with the chicken — then hug her outside the door, in the snow, among the locals who, just like their City, had grown indifferent to the sight of all endings. He would be clumsy, as that earlier someone else, trying to avoid meeting her eyes. Their height difference made it impossible though, so he would scurry off as soon as he couldn’t help but notice her face: Heartbroken.
“That’s right, fucker!” she thought of him meanly for the first time. “You will NEVER forget me!”
What else could she do to repair herself, in that moment — but to gloat in the peacefulness of her lack of guilt? She had been good, to this someone and the other one. To so many others, she had been good, or generous at least. It could’ve all been simplified in their honest communication of intentions. Instead, they had chosen to drag her along, while offering just enough attention but never too much of it. They procrastinated past the moment when she would fall in love; they scurry off into the landscapes of her Cities.
And the bloody New York — was still there. Like a background action shot, fabricated meticulously by a film crew, it continued to happen: with the never ending honking of cabs and beeping of closing and opening bus doors; with people coming and going — toward their dreams, careers and sex; or running away from love. Nowhere else did it smell or sound like this. And even with the strange sensation of something ending — something snapping and curling up to catch a breath — she knew she was still glorious: Because she loved it — all of it — so much!
“Never, never, never! You will NEVER forget me!” the City was humming along with her. And she didn’t even care about the already vague memory of someone leaving her behind, in it.