The Light We LostBy: Jill Santopolo
For New York City
We’ve known each other for almost half our lives.
I’ve seen you smiling, confident, blissfully happy.
I’ve seen you broken, wounded, lost.
But I’ve never seen you like this.
You taught me to look for beauty. In darkness, in destruction, you always found light.
I don’t know what beauty I’ll find here, what light. But I’ll try. I’ll do it for you. Because I know you would do it for me.
There was so much beauty in our life together.
Maybe that’s where I should start.
Sometimes objects seem like they’ve witnessed history. I used to imagine that the wooden table we sat around during Kramer’s Shakespeare seminar our senior year was as old as Columbia—that it had been in that room since 1754, edges worn smooth by centuries of students like us, which of course couldn’t be true. But that’s how I pictured it. Students sitting there through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf.
It’s funny, if you asked me who else was with us that day, I don’t think I could tell you. I used to be able to see all their faces so clearly, but thirteen years later I remember only you and Professor Kramer. I can’t even recall the name of the TA who came running, late, into the classroom. Later, even, than you.
Kramer had just finished calling roll when you pushed open the door. You smiled at me, your dimple making a brief appearance as you slipped off your Diamondbacks cap and stuck it into your back pocket. Your eyes landed quickly on the empty seat next to mine, and then you did too.
“And you are?” Kramer asked, as you reached into your backpack for a notebook and a pen.
“Gabe,” you said. “Gabriel Samson.”
Kramer checked the paper in front of him. “Let’s aim for ‘on time’ for the rest of the semester, Mr. Samson,” he said. “Class starts at nine. In fact, let’s aim for ‘early.’”
You nodded, and Kramer started talking about themes in Julius Caesar.
“‘We at the height are ready to decline,’” he read. “‘There is a tide in the affairs of men / Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; / Omitted, all the voyage of their life / Is bound in shallows and in miseries. / On such a full sea are we now afloat, / And we must take the current when it serves, / Or lose our ventures.’ I trust you all did the reading. Who can tell me what Brutus is saying about fate and free will here?”
I’ll always remember that passage because I’ve wondered so many times since that day whether you and I were fated to meet in Kramer’s Shakespeare seminar. Whether it’s destiny or decision that has kept us connected all these years. Or a combination of both, taking the current when it serves.
After Kramer spoke, a few people flipped through the text in front of them. You ran your fingers through your curls, and they sprang back into place.
“Well,” you said, and the rest of the class joined me in looking at you.
But you didn’t get to finish.
The TA whose name I can’t remember came racing into the room. “Sorry I’m late,” she said. “A plane hit one of the twin towers. It came on TV just as I was leaving for class.”
No one knew the significance of her words; not even she did.
“Was the pilot drunk?” Kramer asked.
“I don’t know,” the TA said, taking a seat at the table. “I waited, but the newscasters had no idea what was going on. They said it was some kind of prop plane.”
If it had happened now, all of our phones would’ve been blowing up with news. Pings from Twitter and Facebook and push notifications from the New York Times. But communication then wasn’t yet instant and Shakespeare wouldn’t be interrupted. We all shrugged it off and Kramer kept talking about Caesar. As I took notes, I watched the fingers of your right hand unconsciously rub against the wood grain of the table. I doodled an image of your thumb with its ragged nail and torn cuticle. I still have the notebook somewhere—in a box filled with Lit Hum and Contemporary Civilizations. I’m sure it’s there.
I’ll never forget what we said when we left Philosophy Hall; even though the words were nothing special, the conversation is burned into my memory as part of that day. We’d started down the steps together. Not exactly together, but next to each other. The air was clear, the sky was blue—and everything had changed. We just didn’t know it yet.
People all around us were talking over one another:
“The twin towers collapsed!”
“I want to donate blood. Do you know where I can donate blood?”
I turned to you. “What’s going on?”
“I live in East Campus,” you said, pointing toward the dorm. “Let’s go find out. You’re Lucy, right? Where do you live?”
“Hogan,” I said. “And yeah, Lucy.”
“Nice to meet you, Lucy, I’m Gabriel.” You held out your hand. Amid everything, I shook it, and looked up at you as I did. Your dimple came back. Your eyes shone blue. I thought then, for the first time: He’s beautiful.
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