I remember I once saw this old movie with Lindsay; in it the main character was talking about how sad it is that the last time you have sex you don’t know it’s the last time. Since I’ve never even had a first time, I’m not exactly an expert, but I’m guessing it’s like that for most things in life—the last kiss, the last laugh, the last cup of coffee, the last sunset, the last time you jump through a sprinkler or eat an ice-cream cone, or stick your tongue out to catch a snowflake. You just don’t know.
But I think that’s a good thing, really, because if you did know it would be almost impossible to let go. When you do know, it’s like being asked to step off the edge of a cliff: all you want to do is get down on your hands and knees and kiss the solid ground, smell it, hold on to it.
I guess that’s what saying good-bye is always like—like jumping off an edge. The worst part is making the choice to do it. Once you’re in the air, there’s nothing you can do but let go.
Here is the last thing I ever say to my parents: See you later. I say, I love you, too, but that’s earlier. The last thing I say is, See you later.
Or actually, to be completely accurate, the last thing I say to my father is, See you later . To my mother I say, Positive , because she’s standing in the kitchen doorway holding the newspaper, her hair messy, her bathrobe hanging wrong, and she says, Are you sure you don’t want breakfast? Like she always does.
I look back when I’m at the front door. Behind her my father is at the stove, humming to himself and burning eggs for my mother’s breakfast. He’s wearing the striped pajama pants Izzy and I got him for his last birthday, and his hair is sticking out at crazy angles like he’s just put a finger in an electrical socket. My mom puts a hand on his back while she squeezes past him, then settles at the kitchen table, shaking out the newspaper. He scoops the eggs onto a plate and sets it in front of her, saying, “Voilà, madame. Extra crispy,” and she shakes her head and says something I can’t hear, but she’s smiling, and he leans down and kisses her once on the forehead.
It’s a nice thing to see. I’m glad I was looking.
Izzy follows me to the door with my gloves, grinning at me and showing off the gap between her two front teeth. A feeling of vertigo overwhelms me when I look at her, a nauseous feeling lashing in my stomach, but I take a deep breath and think of counting steps, think of running leaps, and my dream of flying.
One, two, three, jump.
“You forgot your gloves.” Lisping, smiling, wisps of golden hair.
“What would I do without you?” I crouch down and squeeze her in a hug, as I do seeing our whole life together: her tiny infant toes and scalp that smelled like baby powder; the first time she tottered over to me; the first time she rode a bike and fell and scraped her knee, and when I saw all that blood on her, I almost died from fright, and I carried her all the way home. And I see beyond it, strangely, glimpses of her in the other direction: Izzy grown tall and gorgeous with one hand resting on a steering wheel, laughing; Izzy wearing a long green dress and picking her way in heels toward a waiting limousine on her way to prom; Izzy loaded down with books as the snow swirls around her, ducking into a dorm, her hair a golden flame against the white.
She squeals and squirms away. “I can’t breathe! You’re crushing me.”
“Sorry, Fizzer.” I reach back and unhook my grandma’s bird necklace. Izzy’s eyes go huge and round.
“Turn around,” I say, and for once she’s totally quiet and does what I say with no complaints, standing perfectly still while I lift her hair and fix the charm around her neck. She turns back to me, her face very serious, waiting for my opinion.
I give the necklace a tug. It falls halfway down her chest, sitting just to the right of her heart. “It looks good on you, Fizz.”
“Are you giving it to me—for real real? Or just for today?” Her voice is a hush, like we’re discussing state secrets.
“It looks better on you, anyway.” I put a finger on her nose, and she twirls away with her hands in the air like a ballerina.
“Thanks, Sammy!” Except, of course, it comes out Thammy .
“Be good, Izzy.” I stand up, throat tight, an aching in my whole body. I have to fight the urge to get down on my knees and squeeze her again.
She puts her hands on her hips like our mom does, mock-offended, sticking her nose in the air. “I’m always good. I’m the best.”
“The best of the best.”
She’s already turned around, running and sliding in her slippered feet back toward the kitchen, yelling, “Look what Sammy gave me!” with one hand cupped around the charm. Tears are blurring my vision so I can’t see her clearly, just the pink of her pajamas and the golden ring of her hair.
Outside the cold burns my lungs and makes the pain in my throat worse. I take a deep breath, sucking in the smells of wood fires and gasoline. The sun is beautiful, long and low on the horizon like it’s stretching itself, like it’s shaking off a nap, and I know underneath this weak winter light is the promise of days that last until eight P.M. and pool parties and the smell of chlorine and burgers on the grill; and underneath that is the promise of trees lit up in red and orange like flames and spiced cider, and frost that melts away by noon—layers upon layers of life, always something more, new, deeper. It makes me feel like crying, but Lindsay’s already parked in front of the house, waving her arms and yelling, “What are you doing?” so instead I just keep walking, one foot in front of the other, one, two, three, and I think about letting go—of the trees and the grass and sky and the red-streaked clouds on the horizon—letting it all drop away from me like a veil. Maybe there will be something spectacular underneath.