The Lives I Promised, and the People I Promised Them To

On the flight back from Venice, somewhere above the Atlantic, she put her head in my lap and whispered, “Are we almost home?”

“I think so,” I yawned, running my fingers through her hair.

We decided to split a cab home from the airport, but she instructed the driver to keep going as we rolled by her apartment. “One more night for good luck!” We bought 2018 Chablis and turned my kitchen sink into a champagne bucket.

Standing on the balcony, smoking Italian cigarettes, she said, “I don’t know what this is, but I hope it lasts forever.”

Her blood dripped down my walls for weeks.

A year earlier, it was another woman in the same apartment. I remember the way she smiled when I fell in love with her for the last time. As I packed the last of her things into a suitcase, keeping the NBA 2K game she said was for me, I wondered who would be the first to forget.

“This way we can play together when I come back to visit!”

I watched through the peephole while she waited for the elevator. I thought of every promise I swore to keep the nights we drove to the ocean at midnight. I tossed the game into the donations box. Someone will really love it.

I stopped working on my monthly report at 10:34 p.m. when my alarm went off: “Takeoff.” I walked out to the balcony and watched her plane takeoff back to the east coast, where we met.

Where I had run to from yet another woman. Beer bottle scars turned to ocean bonfires, sleeping at bus stations turned to romantic weekends away.

In a new place, with new people, could you become new? How much of your old self needs to be lost, or purged, before a new you can be found, or crafted? Who is the new you for? Who is the old you for?

When no one is there to hold you to old promises, you can fall in love again. You can make anything look like home with a few trips to IKEA. You can be the kind of person who gets tied up in the woods now. “Once more for good luck,” she laughs as she loops around the tree again.

There were others, of course. I remember mornings, her laying in my arms, watching the planes takeoff over the lake to places we’d never go. I remember wishing all her beauty could make her mean something to me.

“You’re always gone before you leave,” she told me. She was right. I’ll leave you grasping at someone you haven’t held in months. A closed door, another flight. It will shock you how quickly it’s gone, how easily it never happened at all.

On the flight back from Los Angeles, somewhere above Texas, I wonder if I’ll always feel almost home, if I’ll always need to try once more for good luck.