Our new place in the city did not feel quite like it was real. There were days when I stepped onto the pavement and breathed in the morning air and lit a fresh cigarette and thought that it couldn’t be real. This couldn’t be my life. This was just an escape. I would be there for a time and I would go back to where I came from. Go back to the place where there was cold and winter meant snow and spring meant new leaves.
Cities always have that effect. To step out into a new one and breathe and feel changed by it. To be a stranger.
I felt like a stranger in our new city for a long time. As many times as I walked down the street to work at the diner. As many times as I sat on the roof smoking cigarettes at night with Eve. As many times as I climbed up the stairs and opened the door to our apartment.
Sometimes we are just meant to be strangers. We are just meant to pass through. We are not meant to stay.
So it was with Eve. She was just not meant to stay. She was not meant to be in one place for too long. She was meant for leaving.
I should have known it. I should have put the pieces together sooner. She lived the way she did for a reason. She had to. She had to seize each moment and hold them with clenched fists. She had to laugh. She had to be joyful. She had to allow herself flight.
She simply couldn’t let a moment pass in which she was not experiencing something new because she knew that she did not have time. Time. So much time. We all have so much time, or think we do.
Eve knew that she didn’t have much time.
It came upon us quickly.
One day we were there in the diner, wiping tables and counting our tips, Mel teasing us about making eyes at each other across the room while taking orders, and the next–
The next, Eve was waking up paler in bed every day. It took me a long time to notice. Too long. Too long to notice her getting thinner and thinner. Too long to notice how quiet she became. Too long to notice the way her lids began to hang lower over her eyes. Too long to realize that life was slipping out of her.
I did not imagine that I would lose her that way. I did not imagine that she would leave this world. I imagined that she would leave my world. I imagined that she would run off with someone else. I imagined her heart leaving me.
Of course we can never predict or imagine what is really happening inside a person.
I asked her in those weeks, when she could no longer hide it, why she hid it from me for so long. Why she did not want to seek help. Why she did not want to see doctors or take tests or try– just try. If there were anyone who I thought would put up a fight for life, I thought it would be Eve.
But that was not her way. That was not her mind. She wanted to let go. She wanted to take whatever she was meant to have, and no more. Or at least that is how she explained it to me. She did not want to spend time begging fate for more time. She took as much as she could with the time that she was given.
I was angry. We could have found doctors. We could have gotten help. We could have found a way.
We could have gone to more places. We could have seen more together. We could have been more reckless. We could have been more comfortable. We could have done more exciting things.
“Everything we did was exactly what I wanted to do,” she told me. There was a cancer inside her the entire time, taking her life bit by bit, and she spent it waiting tables and walking streets scented with urine and searching for secondhand housewares.
“You are– I can’t believe you. All this time, and this–” I gestured around the room. The small room and the kitchenette with the kettle and a single pot and mismatched mugs and old plates. The half-size refrigerator that couldn’t make ice. The tiny closet that held what little clothes we brought with us. “This was what you wanted? This was all you wanted?”
And of course, her hand came to my cheek and she assured me that it was all. That it was enough. “Enough, enough. Everything is always enough for you. Just what we have is always enough for you. Whatever we get is always enough for you. Don’t you want anything? Don’t you want more than this? Haven’t you ever wanted more than this?”
I knew it was not the time to argue with her. I knew that there was no reason to. I knew that this was how her heart worked. I knew that she was telling me the truth when she said it was enough. But I was tired, so tired of being told that whatever we had was “enough.”
I was angry because I believed her. I was angry because I agreed with her. I was angry at her because I believed her and I believed we had enough and I believed I didn’t want more because she was there. Because she was always there, and it was her that made everything enough.
And she left. Took off. Without me. She left me behind. I never expected her to leave me behind that way. I couldn’t believe she left me behind that way.
And it was over. And I was alone. And I thought about going home. I thought about going to that place that once was home. But I knew it wasn’t anymore, and would never be again. I knew that I had to go elsewhere.