That summer and early fall, she was wounded by a breakup. I was bruised by an embarrassing misreading of the pulse of a fling, the sharp sting of being rejected. She was a very fine writer and, as far as I know, still is. She made me promise that if I ever wrote about her, I would call her Ophelia.
We took refuge in a friendship that blossomed after summer. Eventually, it gave way to curiosity, affection...and her lips, tart with cold champagne, finally on mine. It gave way to the first glimpse of the thin, firm newness of her body--soft smoothness here, taut warmth there--and feverish undressing. And then 3am came and I knew she was still hurt, still thinking of someone else's touch. I realized that she could not kiss me, not then, and be lost in the same place I was. And so she left, leaving no trace, not even a taste left on a glass, a reminder of the bittersweet impossibility.
When I met her for coffee the next morning, I felt a profound sadness. I was in love and she was saying goodbye. Perhaps I only thought I was in love. Perhaps I wanted to be in love with someone who could not possibly love me so as to not have to deal with the reality of having to love someone or something possible. It is easy to love the impossible because the impossible can never disappoint you...and you can never disappoint it.
I did not sleep with her. We did not make love. We did not discover each other, delight in the novelty that comes with a new lover, did not fall asleep as the sun rose and wake to smile at each other in a dawn-dimmed room. She did not belong there. Her body was present, but her heart was not. We both knew it, especially me.
I never went back to the place where we met. It will always be the city where she left me at 3 am, the city of a wobbly table and her hands and the end of fall. I leave it there, untouched, in an eternal November, an eternal impossibility. She left a few months later. I cannot imagine that there is anything there that reminds her of me.
We later lived in the same city for nearly three years, but never spoke. We never met for drinks. We never texted. I never ran into her by chance coming out of Zabars or buying a bottle of wine for an apartment warming party. I emailed an apology once, just in case I had done something wrong. Should I never have kissed her? Should I have asked her to stay? Should we have had another martini at dinner or not had martinis at dinner? She replied in the gentle, even, archaically agreeable way that she had always replied to my emails--"Dear Sir..."--and she did her best to thin whatever residual shame I had in losing a friend in an attempt to find something more where nothing more could exist. After that, I never heard from her again, never tried to contact her again.
I think of her now only because, in a way, I am where I am because of her. The day she said goodbye to me, I sat at my desk in the hotel and I wrote "Engaged," an essay that, to this day, people have told me is the best thing they have ever read.
In it, I ponder the impossibilities that we face and how time blurs things: were her eyes blue or brown? Did she actually care for me? Who will she be with? Does she remember me? Will she?
Those aren't just questions we ask in the past tense. They flood our minds in the present tense. What will happen? What is possible? Who is this person who feels so natural? Why can't I commit to this night, these kisses, drink this mouth like Lethe and forget?
The answers come weighted with the impossible. Those last kisses at 2:45 am murmur the end of everything possible and the beginning of everything that cannot be.
You know this because you hold her still, but mostly you know it because you cannot hold her and you will not hold her again.
But not yet, not yet. Those things will be, but not now.
Put them away, then, and feel her fingers circling yours.
And kiss her again. You have no time.
No one ever really leaves. They persist as impossibilities: always there, always out of reach. They shine light on the things that are possible, the loves that we must suffer for, the hearts that we hope still beat for us and that call us into our eternal Novembers at 3 in the morning.