My mind drifts as I watch my plastic straw chasing the chocolate syrup around the bottom of my coke float. It’s four o’clock in the morning, and nobody else is on the second floor of the 24-hour McDonald’s. It is my first time to be here alone.
For two years now I’ve been trying to say goodbye to him. I’ve been trying to escape the memories, trying to accept that the dreams we had would never be more than dreams. He is gone. Forever. The finality of it chills me, and I am starting to discover that there are some hurts that even time cannot erase.
I scoop up some of the sundae floating on top of the cola and I can’t help but reminisce about our long,easy conversations over this same table. For hours we would talk about anything that caught our fancy. We quoted movie lines and discussed books, we laughed about other people and about ourselves. But mostly we talked about dreams. And life. One night the mood turned philosophical and he told me that there are certain times when life itself resembles a coke float: soft and sweet on the surface but dark and acidic underneath. I looked at him for a long time after that remark, then he winked and tried to steal some of my sundae with a french fry. I laughed, but what I really wanted to do was to hold him and try to heal the brief flicker of painful memories I had glimpsed in his eyes.
Looking back, I wish I did. Because looking back, I know that I would never get another chance.
One week later, a split-second misjudgment of a taxi driver robbed me of the chance to hold him again. In one brief, life-changing moment, I lost the man who held my dreams and my heart in the palm of his hand. Suddenly, I was left with a wound that nobody’s embrace could heal. Suddenly, I had to learn how to say goodbye.
For two years now I’ve been trying to say goodbye to him. Tonight, in the place where he had taught me so much, I realize that I don’t have to. Because just now, as I remember the pain I once saw in his eyes, I suddenly recall the intense, irrepressible hope that also shone in them. No matter what bitterness lay in his past, he was determined to dream again. In that fleeting, unforgettable moment, even when he had no idea what it would mean, he had given me permission to move on. He had given me courage to take the pleasure along with the pain, and to see our memories not as a reminder of a future that we can never have, but as souvenirs of a past that is too precious to be forgotten.
He will always be a part of me. When love comes again, he will be that inner voice urging me to settle for nothing less than what we had: tender, spectacular, and real. And I will listen to him. He has, after all, taught me all I need to know about forever.
It is almost morning. I raise my empty glass to him in a silent salute. Then finally, after a long night, I smile and walk out to welcome the dawn.