I squeeze her tighter in my arms, unwilling to let her go just yet. I try to memorize the way she feels in my embrace. Her smell. Her skin.
“It’s time,” she whispers, her voice dull and low, and the way it cracks, I know she’s holding back tears. “I’ll text you when I get in,” she says, turning away so I can’t see her running the sleeve of flannel over her face. Her hair is a mess, dyed blue and black locks whipping around her head. I want to smooth it for her. To tuck it behind her ears like I’ve done so many times before. I want to kiss her bright red cheeks.
She pulls away so abruptly and a cold that has nothing to do with the flurries of snow coming down around us steals into me. I shiver, breath fanning in front of my face.
I want to look impassive. Unaffected by the fact that the woman I love is getting into her car, her bags packed, her mind set, and driving away from me. Even if it’s only for a little while, I can’t stand the thought of being apart.
I shove my hands in my pockets and pull out a crumpled cigarette and light it, focusing on the nicotine and menthol filling up my lungs and brain.
As a joke, I’d doodled a heart on a scrap of paper and pinned it to the front of her shirt. ‘When you go,’ I’d told her, ‘you’ll be taking my heart with you.’
I’m regretting it now because it’s still pinned to her shirt and, more than ever, I realize how true it is.
Without looking at me, she slips from my arms, tosses her over-stuffed purse onto the passenger seat and slides into her beat up Grand Am that’s been idling in the parking lot. ‘I’ll text you,’ she says again and out of all of the thoughts rushing through my head: ‘be safe’, ‘I love you’, ‘I’ll miss you’, ‘don’t go’, ‘stay with me’, ‘I don’t want to let you go’, ‘I can’t believe you’re really going’, ‘why are you leaving?’… nothing comes out.
I flick the ash off my cigarette, hoping I look more relaxed than I really feel and nod.
As her car slides out of the lot, down the street, and out of sight, I’m still standing there. Waiting. Hoping this is some kind of twisted joke. Hoping she’ll change her mind and turn around. I know she won’t, but that doesn’t stop me from standing out in the snow til I’m out of cigarettes and my whole body has gone numb. Anything else is incomparable to the void in my chest.
And, five hours from now, when a car skids, swerving into on-coming traffic, and crashing into an old, beat up, Grand Am, killing the driver instantly, I don’t feel a thing except that void.
I don’t feel a thing when, for the second time, I’m forced to say ‘goodbye’ to the only girl I’ve ever loved.
I don’t feel a thing.
I don’t feel a thing.