It is a chilly Sunday afternoon in late October 2007. We’re in my hometown, a small suburb of New York City that smells like freshly baked cookies, at the train station in Radburn. You are going home to Maryland after a quick trip up to see me, and two trains and a four hours from now you will be two hundred miles and four weeks away from me. Your first train — to Manhattan — doesn’t come for another 45 minutes, but we’re bundled up in my Nissan, sitting in the parking lot, and waiting anyway.
We’ve been here many times before, saying our goodbyes in various iterations: to the tune of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters,” to Queen’s “Killer Queen,” to the sound of of dull windshield wipers on rain-streaked glass. Your leaving has become so familiar to me, though not familiar enough to stop the tears that inevitably stream down my cheeks each time you leave, or the tears that now sting my eyes as we sit here again, waiting in the cold, dark sunshine.
“I’ll be back so soon,” you say as you turn to me and grab my right shoulder, your eyes wide, and voice undecided on the tones of feigned optimism and real sadness. My hands are wrapped around my mysteriously ice-cold steering wheel, its leather cracking from winter dryness, and crumbling off as I slowly, nervously, run my thumb across the surface. I haven’t changed position since we arrived, and I haven’t yet looked you in the eye. As soon as I look at you sitting next to me, as soon as I speak, as soon as we make the tiniest motion towards the future, we’ll be saying our goodbyes when all I want to do is just exist — with you — always.
It takes me several seconds to react to your words: a couple to dislodge my heart from my throat, a couple to stifle the sobs that threaten to escape with each exhale. I manage a silent nod, and a hug over the center console with a rotated waist, seatbelt still buckled across my shoulder. I’m feeling too sad for small talk, but I’m anxious not to waste a single second that I have left with you, savoring the sweetness that is speaking to you in the flesh. I mumble something about your return — about eating more Turvino’s pizza, more walking through the woods, more 2 AM burger dates at the diner, more museum-hopping in the city — with an urgency in my delivery, as if the quicker I spoke the quicker time would pass and materialize it.
The minutes float right up and disappear in thin curls as we talk and scan the radio one station at a time, hoping to find a song with a good beat to get lost in. We settle for the 50 Cent CD stashed in the compartment of the passenger side door when even Hot 97 lets us down, and I hear the coin drop intro as I check the time and see that we have about 10 minutes before the train comes. I decide not to point this out to you, and we listen to several minutes of “What Up Gangsta,” my heart rate increasing with every beat of the music until I finally start to shake uncontrollably. You turn off the stereo with a swift left-turn click of the dial, and speak to me in the soft, careful tone that one uses to address a grizzly bear or a individual with a gun in their hand. You are saying that we should go up to the platform, but I can barely hear you over the thundering cry of loneliness in my heart.
Reluctantly we step out of the car, and I zip myself up to the chin in my army green bomber jacket. I walk around the back of the car to meet you, grab your thick wool coat by the lapel, and reel you into me. I nuzzle into your neck and say weakly, “I don’t want you to go.” You say that you don’t want that either, but remind me: four short weeks. You’ll be back soon.
We walk hand and hand to the tracks, and turn in for a several-minute-long embrace. “I really don’t want to go,” you say as you pull away to look at me. I take my turn injecting positivity into an overwhelmingly negative scenario, comforting you with the same reminder you gave me, and a whole flurry of reasons why this wasn’t so bad: after this, we’ll have two visits in a month. After the second visit, I’ll be moving to Maryland. After I move to Maryland, we’ll never have to say goodbye again. Those thoughts are an immense source of comfort in these last excruciating moments as your train pulls up.
As passengers file into the cars, you pull me in one last time and squeeze me tight. We steal a few last kisses before you release me, saying in the happiest tone you can manage, “Bye! I’ll talk to you soon!” You start towards the open metal doors, your hands shoved in your pockets, and give me a quick look before you board. I stand at the platform, wiping tears from my right cheek with my right hand, and watch the train leave. I feel the Earth shutter violently to a halt.
I walk in cold silence back to my car, find track five on that 50 Cent CD in CD player, and challenge myself not to cry during the one mile drive back to my house. I find myself glancing at the passenger side as frequently as I glance at my mirrors –noticing the way the air vents are positioned, the way the seat is tilted — missing you so terribly. The earth is no longer turning, the sun is now black, and even still: time is passing, life is going on. You’ve already been gone for five minutes, and I’m already pulling into my driveway and opening the door to the house which is empty now, and quiet.
I’m sitting, numb, on the edge of my bed. I screen a call from a friend, and answer a call from another, and after a five minute pep-talk, I’m feeling decidedly better. The sun looks yellow and warm from the window, the earth sputters, and shutters, and starts to spin, and my heart and stomach are in their necessary positions. I’m getting up to make myself a cup of tea, and hear my phone ring: it’s you. I answer. “Hey baby,” you say impishly. “I just got to Penn Station, and I don’t know what happened, but I guess I timed everything wrong, and I just missed my train. I’m going to get on one in five minutes back to Radburn. Can you come and get me?”
I’m rushing back to Radburn Station, green lights all the way. I arrive several minutes before you are due to, and I am standing in the cold at the same platform you just left from, anxiously waiting for you to return. Not two minutes later, I’m sprinting down the pavement and into your arms. This is the way it should always be.
I couldn’t be more thankful that you are here, and honestly, Alex: I don’t think I could love and adore you any more than I do right now.
* * *
Weeks later, after those two visits, and after I made that move to Maryland, you told me that you got to Manhattan that day and couldn’t make yourself leave. You called your boss, told him you wouldn’t be at work the next day, and immediately called me to get you. I don’t think I can explain what that day meant to be, but it changed my life. Thank you for coming back to New Jersey for me. Thank you, most of all, for loving me so much, and being my best friend. It has been a truly wonderful eight years with you. To infinity, and beyond!