The Last Time I Saw You is a series dedicated to those I’ve met on the road, those fellow ships passing in the night. For all of the instalments of the series, please click here. Please note that I often change details in these stories as to protect and respect the individuals mentioned.
The last time I saw you, you were driving away from me, your taillights glowing in the dawn. The sun was just barely above the horizon; there was a still and quiet in that tiny prairie town, the trees bowing slightly in the wind. I stood at the window to watch you drive away, and I blew you a kiss.
We met in the heat of summer in the heart of the country. I instantly liked your glasses, your goofy laugh, the way we were both too nervous to eat any of the food we’d ordered. I talked too much – I always do when I’m nervous, especially on first dates – and an hour in I stopped myself, apologised for waffling.
“Don’t apologise,” you leaned in close. “I’m utterly enthralled by you, if I’m honest.”
I hadn’t had a first date that good in a long, long while. We both didn’t want the night to end; you came back to my house, where we drank beer on the porch and listened to records, the twinkly lights I’d hung up in the backyard illuminating all that was good. Our first kiss happened when we were listening to Sam Cooke, my favourite singer of all time, and life – for that one tiny moment – seemed perfect and real.
The next few weeks went by in a blur. It felt good to be liked like this, so completely, so overwhelmingly. You brought me flowers. We drove around with the top down, got ice cream cones. It was so hot outside that we took cold showers in the afternoons. I taught you how to wash a girl’s hair.
“It’s like Out of Africa,” I laughed, “minus the lions.” You didn’t get the joke.
We drank whisky and wine, played music together: you on the guitar, me on the ukulele. You took me camping, cooked for me over the fire. It was just so… Canadian, all of it, the wilderness and the stars and the matching denim shirts, that we laughed about it.
“I’ve never really dated a Canadian before,” I told you, and you took me in your arms under that night sky, neither of us minding the rain.
When we got home from camping, you texted, “I can’t remember being this happy.”
I always give so much of myself in relationships, maybe too much. I’ve often thought of holding back, but it doesn’t feel very natural to do that; aren’t we supposed to be ourselves, after all? Aren’t we supposed to surrender? Or is it called falling in love because it feels exactly that: a forward motion we can’t stop, an outcome we can’t control?
Despite being single for most of my adult life – sometimes by choice, sometimes not – I love being somebody’s girlfriend. I love cooking for someone, and buying them gifts. I love spending all day in bed, watching movies we’ve seen before. There’s nothing like those first heady months of a new love, when you never run out of things to talk about, never run out of ways to find a reason to touch each other. There are no red flags. Any hint of trouble is quickly suppressed by hormones, any niggling doubt is quickly excused away. You can’t talk sense into someone overcome with lust and love and everything in between.
I didn’t stop to think that perhaps it was too much too soon, the flowers and the camping and the declarations. It felt too good to give up, to question. Sure, it annoyed me that you were a bad texter, or that you’d change plans on a whim, but I made a thousand excuses, told my friends and family it just came with the territory of modern dating. But in person, too, you had started to feel distant over the months that passed, the conversations stilted. As time went on I began to feel like I knew you less, not more.
The truth is, red flags look normal when you’re wearing rose-coloured glasses.
We hadn’t seen each other in a while – I was on holiday – and when I got home I drove straight to your house in the country, ran straight into your arms. Your dog was just as happy to see me as you were. Even the notoriously grouchy cat stayed around, slept beside me on the couch. It was a warm autumn evening, one of those late September days when summer shudders its final goodbye.
You had to go to work the next day, and so I spent the day walking your dog, tidying your house, cooking dinner. When you walked in the door you told me that, even though it had only been a day, you had missed me while you were at work. You held me in your arms and we danced in your kitchen, even though there wasn’t any music. I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe we’d find our way back to that first summer night, the night the moon shone so big you said you could see it reflected in my eyes.
I went back to the city, and you were going to drive out to visit a few days later. The day you were going to arrive, I was lying in bed when the phone rang. I knew what the conversation was going to be before I even answered.
“Hi Brenna,” you said. And in one quick moment – a few short sentences on either end – it was over. There were no kind words, no apologies. Only both of us agreeing that something was missing before you abruptly hung up. We didn’t even wish each other well. A summer of romance reduced to a measly one minute phone call.
But it made sense that something felt missing. Perhaps we had never actually tried to get to know each other, too in love with the idea of being in love to care who it was we were supposed to be in love with. I wonder if I could have been anyone that first night, as long as I had that porch and those beers and that willingness to laugh and take your hand. I wonder if you could have been anyone, too, so long as you let me shine under a brilliant silver moon.
In reality, I had started to question it all myself in the previous month. My rose-coloured glasses had started to slip, and the things I tried not to let bother me in those early days – the inconsistent texting, the cancelling plans, the fact that you never asked me any questions about myself – were no longer excusable. I had even rehearsed breaking up with you with a friend, with a family member, out loud to myself in the shower… the same shower where, only a few months ago, you’d washed my hair, careful not to let the shampoo get in my eyes.
The truth is, sometimes the fires that burn the brightest are those that die out just as fast.
The last time I saw you, I stood at the window of your house with your dog at my side and your cat in my arms. I waved to you, made the cat wave goodbye, too. We had just cuddled in tangled sheets, the early morning light streaming into the bedroom as our bodies lay intertwined, but I knew something was off. You kissed me goodbye at the door as you headed off to work.
“I’ll see you in a few days,” you said to me, smiling, and I remember thinking it would be the last time I ever saw you.
As you drove off into the sunrise, I blew you a kiss. I tried to make the moment linger, holding on to that bittersweet sadness that comes with a moment you know you’ll never have again. I watched as you drove around the corner, and somehow, looking out at the dusty country road in the morning light, I knew I would be OK.
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