That was so long ago.
Twenty-seven year old Maria ran her hands through her shoulder-length brown hair, pulling it back into a short ponytail as she lay on her double bed, still fully dressed in her office clothes. Resting her head on her elbow and kicking off her flat, black shoes, she watched five-year old Courtney asleep next to her, completely unbothered by the loud traffic that buzzed outside the Staten Island studio apartment. She loved watching her sleeping like that, as if there weren’t a care in the world. Maria rolled onto her back and closed her eyes.
They’d met their first semester at CUNY. Freshman sweethearts. Over the course of their first one and half years there, they’d gone to every school formal together and every Sadie Hawkins event. He’d even taken her back home to a family reunion in upstate New York and although it was never declared, they were a couple. That’s what she’d thought.
Courtney rolled over. Her tiny arm reached out for her mother’s face and feeling it, she rolled away, her sense of security confirmed. In her arm was the tiny blanket Maria’s father and mother had given her when she was first born.
Maria sat up, not wanting to continue in that last thought. She kicked her shoes under the bed, all the while knowing she’d regret that decision when looking for them early the next morning. Pulling off her earrings and necklace, she proceeded into the bathroom, where she changed into a t-shirt and a pair of pajama pants, then stood sullenly in front of the mirror. She sighed. Since when did I start looking so old? She felt just that. Old.
It would be six years ago next Thursday, April 18th – why did she still remember that date like it was yesterday? – since they’d broken up. How can you break up when you were never anything to begin with? But they had.
She remembered that day; he’d never showed at lunch – his regular spot across from her had remained empty. The others in their usual group of friends had acted awkwardly, staring and whispering until Maria had turned around and seen him eating three tables back with the new transfer student Jodie.
Maria clicked off the light in the bathroom and made her way through the familiar dark room to her bed, where she climbed in, pulled Courtney to her, and closed her eyes, her thoughts still recalling that painful memory.
They’d talked about it that night, when he’d walked her back to her apartment after soccer practice, the way he always did. They’d walked the long way, as always, away from the soccer field, dribbling the soccer ball back and forth to each other, across campus, across the street, through the small park, past the basketball courts, not really walking, just ambling—talking, always talking.
Did he have a good lunch with Jodie? She remembered herself asking him. She’d tried to hide the hurt in her voice, but he’d known her all too well. He’d sensed her jealousy. He’d stopped, the way they commonly would, when they didn’t want to rush, when they wanted to talk more. In some ways, Maria now wished she had not stopped, wished she had kept walking, never to hear him speak those words.
She could remember every word he’d said, and they played back to her as she lay there, listening to the traffic and stroking Courtney’s blonde curls. She sighed and felt herself press fast-forward in her memory to avoid hearing him speak of her that way, his sister, his best friend, but nothing more, never could be – they wouldn’t work. He hadn’t want to hurt her; he had cared for her – just not that way. His reasoning hadn’t made sense; after all, wasn’t their friendship the perfect basis for a relationship?
Maria thought proudly of how she’d held herself together all the while as he’d talked about love and finding a girl who respected his leadership, who needed him, in whose eyes he could look and never need to search anywhere else for love – he was talking hypothetically, she could tell. He wasn’t in love with Jodie or any other girl they knew – that didn’t even matter to Maria, for neither was he in love with her.
Another date flashed into Maria’s mind, and although she fought it and kissed her daughter as if that would erase the pain, Maria remembered it just as clearly: May 4th, one year later…..
Tune in next Sunday for the completion of Five Years Too Late.
Photo taken from stockvault.net