He died of cancer and he died rather quickly. They had airplane tickets to see Paris for the first time. It was going to be their thirtieth anniversary present to each other. You know how people say, “We’ll always have Paris”? Well, my parents won’t. As far as I’m concerned, Paris is every missed dream, every broken promise. You only have Paris when you didn’t get what you actually wanted. That’s when people say, “We’ll always have Paris.” When it’s over. When everything is ruined.
– Benny, Why Moms Are Weird by Pamela Ribon
I have this vivid memory of the last time Brian and I broke up, when he told me over the phone that he wasn’t going to move to St. Louis. Much of that moment is a blur, but the part that I clearly remember is just saying over and over, in between sobs, “We were so close.”
I remember him scoffing, “What does that even mean?” and it hurt so much that I couldn’t even explain. But I meant that through our whole long-distance relationship, there was always a day looming where we had to say goodbye and return to our own parts of the country, hundreds of miles away from each other. There was rarely, if ever, a time where we could relax and look towards the future, completely content. I wanted that.*
He was planning (or so he says) to move here. So we could have that. And then at the last second, he changed his mind. That’s why. We were so close. And somehow, that’s what made it hurt the most.
That day was also my parents’ anniversary.
I don’t know if I’ve ever explained this part of my parents’ story to you, but they were planning to move to Arizona. They would’ve moved in a few weeks, in fact, after my mom’s scheduled day to retire. They were actually in Sedona looking at houses when my dad had those initial pangs in his leg.
Which leg? It doesn’t matter. They’re both gone now. And so is Arizona.
On one hand, I should be grateful that they didn’t move. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if they were stranded out there when all of this went down. Without their friends there to make him laugh. Without me to run to the store and the pharmacy every day. Without my dad’s team of doctors and specialists who have been with him since the beginning, or at least since the first toe had to go. Did you know that my dad’s surgeon came to their house the day before AND after Thanksgiving to clean out his bedsore? Or that the neighbors secretly mow their lawn and shovel the driveway while my mom catches a few hours of sleep? They wouldn’t have that in Arizona. They would probably have to move back and live in a strange, unfamiliar house, which is 100 times more heartbreaking, I think. So usually instead of being sad about what almost happened, I’m happy about what didn’t.
Still, sometimes when my dad is having a discouraging day (or a day where he’s hallucinating and like, asking me if I’m enjoying high school), my mom and his friends talk to him about Arizona. Because even if it’s not there anymore, we have to give him something to look forward to after this. Because I don’t think anyone could get through what he’s going through with the knowledge that this is it.
But I can’t listen or talk about Arizona without getting angry. Without hurting to the point that words choke in my throat and my eyes sting and I have to leave the room. All I can hear is myself a million years ago, crying over and over, “we were so close.” Because Arizona is all they wanted and they had certainly earned it, and they were almost there. Somehow, sometimes, that’s what makes it hurt the most.
(I should note that I’m actually having a really good day? A great day, in fact. So is my dad; he’s watching baseball. Maybe this was the only time I could spit this out. I’ll make a funny tomorrow, I promise.)
*And thank God, I finally have it, with the person I was supposed to have it with.