There was always an after. Always that moment when I was certain something would follow. After we met became after we fell in love became after we broke up became after we got back together. After repeated. After made me believe in a future. Happily ever after. That kind of after.
The last time I saw him it was August. The limbo month. Not quite summer, not quite fall. When sunflowers bloom and sidewalks hold onto heat like I should have held onto him.
We were in my apartment. It was the morning after and he was ready to leave. But, as we stood in the doorway, he turned back and said, “I love you.”
It had been at least seven years since he said those words. Those words that I knew he didn’t mean, not the way I wanted him to mean them but the way he would always mean them.
He said, “I love you.” He said those words then left, as if he would be back. As if he was just running around the corner to grab coffee. Honey, I’ll be right back; I love you. Like that. Just like that.
I let him leave. I didn’t run to him. I didn’t say I love you, too. I stood there, and maybe said, “Yeah, I’ll see you.” I said something stupid, I know, because I didn’t say I love you. Because I didn’t pull him into an embrace.
Instead I let him go.
I let him go because there was always an after. There always had been; there always would be. That’s the way it worked. There was no way I could have known, not in the moment by the staircase covered in emerald green carpet, that each step he took that morning was a step away from me – forever.
How was I supposed to know?