Standing beside you, waiting to walk the stage for graduation, I realize that this is the last time we’ll do this. Since the day we started high school, it’s been you and me beside each other. I fell in love with you freshmen year when we lined up alphabetically, your Bryan to my Bryant.
We shared classes and friends, moved in the same circles, but you never seemed to see me. I suffered through your girlfriends; Stephanie was the worst. Her unnecessary PDAs made me want to vomit. We drifted apart for a while in junior year which hurt, but after Joey and I broke up things got better.
Now here we are. You look back at me and grin “Last time we do this, Sarah.”
“I know,” I whisper. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I slowly move my hand toward yours, gently brushing your fingers.
Your eyes fly to mine in surprise and then … our fingers are entwined and you lift them for a kiss. I smile as you lean forward and say softly,
“Sarah, will you be my girlfriend?”
“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated” – Confucius
To the casual observer we look happy and in love. He has his arms around me and I’m laughing into his face. But, if you look closer, things are different, kind of like one of those Magic Eye pictures.
His hand is grabbing a little too tightly at my waist. His fingers digging hard enough to leave bruises.
My lips aren’t parted in joy, but in a grimace at the pain he’s causing now, and what I know is to come.
He’s not leaning towards me to kiss me, I’m pulling away from him because I’m scared by the words he’s just whispered to me.
My hand resting on his chest, is not on its way to slide around his neck and play in his hair, but to push him back, so he’s not so close.
We look like other couples but nothing could be further from the truth.
Because sometimes what looks simple is more complicated than you can imagine.
They say the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. So why did we take the meandering path, the road less travelled?
In the cafe where I got my coffee each morning you were always at the same table. The first thing I noticed was your eyes — the lines in the corners that I just knew were from smiling. I’d sit at a neighboring table and pretend not to watch you. One week you’d be reading Dan Brown and I’d judge you, the next week, E.M. Forster, and I’d swoon.
I loved the glasses you sometimes wore, your overcoat in winter, the way you folded your shirtsleeves up to your elbows, showing off your forearms. You took your coffee black and occasionally you’d treat yourself to a brownie. You used a green fountain pen to scribble notes on scraps of paper.
I hated weekends and the days when, for some reason, you weren’t there.
Almost a year after I first saw you, I looked up, and there you were at my table, smiling.
“Hi,” you said. “May I join you?” I nodded and I knew.
We took the road less travelled and it has made all the difference.
We should never have happened, but we did. She was the daughter of a wealthy American industrialist and I was a struggling artist. We met at the home of my patron, another wealthy American industrialist — Paris was awash with them. When I first saw her, the world stopped. We were inseparable from then on.
I was late to our favorite bistro. She and her sister, Cecile, were already there, heads together, Cecile scribbling furiously. Audrey was bubbling with excitement, she was breathtaking.
They’d received a cable from their father. He needed them at home and had booked two tickets on the next boat to New York. It left in three days and they were in a frenzy of preparations.
My heart dropped. She was leaving me. When Audrey saw my face, she kissed me.
“You’re such a silly,” she whispered in my ear. “Let’s get married before I leave. I’ll book you on the boat after ours. It’ll give me time to prepare Daddy.”
We married in Southampton the day before she left.
The next morning I dried her tears. We’d be together soon. Their ship was new and unsinkable, and our lives were just beginning.
I looked through the viewfinder and adjusted the focus. I wanted to make sure I got the Company’s mascot, Duke, in the right light. Happy with the composition I snapped the photo and put my camera down. Looking around I shook my head, my mind still trying to adjust to my new environment. I’d only been here for three days and I think I was still in shock. I walked off towards my tent to change out the film, trudging through the mud that sucked at my boots.
A week ago I’d also been ankle deep in mud but the surroundings couldn’t have been more of a contrast. There, I’d snapped photos of bodies twisted around each other in ecstasy, but here they were twisted in pain. There, I’d listened to the music of guitars and drums and voices raised in joy, but here it was the music of mortars and machine guns and agony.
Last week I’d been enjoying the free love of Woodstock, this week the hell of Vietnam.
I went where they sent me, documenting the world through my camera. I just hoped I made it out of this assignment in one piece.
What is it with my mother and high places? She insisted on meeting me at places with more than 20 storeys whenever she had something momentous to tell me. I could usually judge how extraordinary her news was by the height of the building. I’m sure there was a PhD thesis in there somewhere, but I wasn’t going to write it.
The last time mom had come to visit me in New York she’d taken me up the Empire State Building to tell me she was getting married again. The thought of what this news could be was making me very nervous.
As I walked out on to the observation deck I spied her leaning on the railing looking out over Central Park. I went and stood beside her, leaning against her gently.
“Hi Mom,” I whispered.
“Livvie” She smiled as she hugged me.
“So, Mom, what’s the news?”
“Oh Liv! I’m having a baby! I’m so happy.” She hugged me even tighter.
“Wow Mom! That’s …”
I was stunned. At forty-five my mother was having a baby.
I had to stop meeting her on top of tall buildings, because one of these days I’d throw myself off one.