Days later, butterflies battled their wicked wings inside my stomach as I got ready for our first (socially distanced) date. Did I even know how to date anymore? What should I wear? In fact, where had all my nice clothes gone?
I met Vera at a riverside park in Brooklyn; a picturesque setting for a stunning glowing morning. I had become so alienated and sheltered from my own city that I felt like I was discovering its beauty again for the first time. My heart pounded loudly in my ears as I parked my bike.
“Hey! It’s nice to meet you.”
The sun suddenly beamed on Vera and the city disappeared. Even behind her half-masked face, I could tell she was beautiful.
“I’m so impressed by what you do, my job is really not creative compared to yours.” Her eyes looked directly into mine.
“Well, it’s tough right now because my industry is closed, but at least this means I get to work on passion projects.” I mumbled, surprised that she actually admired and listened to my PSA idea to save the lesbian bars from disappearing due to COVID. This really couldn’t compare to her work in one of the highest level firms in the world.
Yet, time passed very quickly, and the conversation was easy. We agreed to meet for another walk two days later. I biked home feeling like a new woman.
After that, we met almost every day. Our conversations were limitless, intimate.
“I haven’t even told my therapist this!” she declared as we marched through the streets of Brooklyn. We looked into each other’s eyes, longing for more. My roommates wouldn’t allow me to go to her apartment for fear of risking Covid, and I felt as though I was a castrated teenager being teased with a beautiful token.
One night, she came to one of my Bedstuy stoop parties, and I couldn’t resist temptation any longer. After a few glasses of Spritz, I gave in and kissed her.
Our arms embraced, she held my face, our tongues colliding at just the right moments.
“It’s about time,” she smiled gleefully. I felt small and protected in her embrace. I shrieked like a little girl.
While the world was falling apart, our romance and our connection grew stronger. There was very little car traffic in New York and it felt as though the city was making way for our romance.
One day, Cuomo announced a city curfew at 8:00 PM. At 7:52 PM, Vera and I were still furiously making out on her couch.
“Why do you have to leave?” her hands were sliding sensually up my hips from underneath my dress.
“My roommates will get upset with me, I shouldn’t even be here —” I tried to detach myself but I wanted her to take full control of me.
“F*ck them, stay. They’re not your parents! You don’t owe them anything.”
But it was a pandemic and I did. I could hear the Cinderella clock ticking. 7:58 PM.
“Let me walk you home. It’s dangerous out there.”
She kept kissing me. “I have to go! Don’t worry about me!” I skipped out of her building like a lost ballerina.
As I set off for my trek through Broadway Avenue as there were no Ubers available, it dawned on me that the streets were completely empty, without a single soul. Suddenly, a high-pitched honk interrupted me, and a car appeared out of nowhere.
“Get in!” It was Vera, my knight in shining armor, coming to rescue me from the great emptiness. She opened the passenger door.
“How did you do that? Where did you get this car?” I was in disbelief. “I borrowed it from Frank.” Frank was her doorman.
As we drove into an empty Brooklyn, the world fell silent around us, while our love exploded within us.
Two months later, we decided to fly to France. We both had European passports — I grew up in France, and my family and friends live in Paris, and she happened to have a cousin who lived in Paris.
The evening before our grand escape, Vera had dinner with her ex. I didn’t hear from her all night. I woke up with a rock in my stomach.
A text message appeared, a beam of hope.
Hi love, sorry I fell asleep last night.
My heart skipped a beat. That’s it?
I called her. “Hey! I was a bit worried since I didn’t hear from you at all and I knew you were with your ex.” My dignity was shedding quick, and I was growing more vulnerable every moment.
“Worried about what?” she shot back.
“Well…We usually check in on each other and I didn’t hear from you at all. I got nervous.” Why do I feel like crying?
“You could have texted me if you were worried. Why didn’t you text?”
“I tried to call you but your phone went straight to voicemail.” I felt like a kid pushed into a corner at recess.
“I’m sorry but I can’t apologize for falling asleep,” she spat.
“You’re right, I’m overreacting. Sorry. Glad to hear you’re okay, and I hope you slept well!”
I’m being dramatic, I can’t project these insecurities onto her, it’s not fair. Why is she being so defensive though? These questions grew like thorns.
It was a sweltering hot summer day in Brooklyn. I sat down at a terrace, my eyes blinded by the sun reflected on the concrete.
Out of nowhere, I received a phone call from an unknown number. It was my gynecologist, announcing that my annual health results had come back with some worrying news that needed immediate attention.
Struggling to breathe, I texted Vera:
Do you have time for a quick call? What’s up?
I’d rather tell you over the phone.
What’s going on?
It’s something to do with some bad cells detected in my cervix , I’m not really sure what it is.
You are being dramatic. It’s nothing, it happens all the time. Doctors always say that to scare you and to prepare you for the worst.
I was back on the rough ground at recess, defenseless and gut-punched.
I silenced the voices in my head that were telling me something wasn’t right. After all: I had fallen in love during a pandemic. I wasn’t going to let two hiccups get in the way of that. I hopped in an Uber and rode to the airport.
When I realized Vera had already gone through security by herself; my romantic lovers-hand-in-hand-braving-the-apocalyptic-airport-check-in-adventure-dream began to feel like a nightmare.
I finally saw her, waiting for me next to an old Coach commercial campaign I had worked on right before the pandemic started. Vera stood still, stiff as a marble statue. I rushed towards her as if I was running my last lap at a marathon. I reached in for a hug. Her body felt cold but I held on tighter, desperate to squeeze some warmth out of her.
“I can’t wait to sip rosé by the Seine!” I spurted out, with a fake chuckle that sounded more like a snort.
“I really don’t like the way you’ve been acting today,” she interrupted as we entered the private swanky lounge she had access to with her job.
“Your card is expired,” the woman at the reception told her.
So we sat quietly at our gate.
When we finally boarded, Vera slept through the whole flight.
Why was Vera so tired? Had she not slept last night? Do I have cervical cancer? I felt as though a frigid demon was taking over my whole body, paralyzing my brain.
We landed, exhausted. We dropped our suitcases off at my minuscule apartment near Bastille and headed out to a cafe for lunch. We didn’t say much as we ate our steak tartare with French fries.
Over creme brulee, she announced, “My firm told me that I could work from abroad. I found this out yesterday. I think I’m going to stay here for a while.”
My throat felt like it was closing. After a heavy moment of silence I was finally able to muster up some words. “Well, I’m definitely going to have to go back, my industry is opening up again.”
“You don’t have to go back, you can find work here too.” Her suddenly pretentious tone puzzled me to my core.
The day went by, and Vera and I were finally lying in bed in a claustrophobic windowless Parisian bedroom.
“What’s going on?” Vera broke the deadly silence.
“Nothing,” I was afraid to tell her the truth.
“Come on, there is something going on.” She turned around and faced me directly.
“Everything is fine, really.”
“You know what I think? You’re not happy here, in your own country. You are obsessed with your career and this pandemic has made you so disoriented since you haven’t been working as much as usual….I think you should go back to New York. You’re a workaholic and I can tell that you’re having a really hard time winding down and realizing you are meant to be on vacation…”
Everything she had until now admired about me was being turned against me. I felt stripped to my bones, more vulnerable than ever. I remained speechless, facing a woman. A woman I perhaps didn’t know at all.
My heart raced. The icy plane demon roared inside of me again, and tried to push itself out of my chest. I breathed loudly, exorcising it out of my nostrils and mouth to the best of my ability.
I squirmed over to the living room where I curled up like a fetus on the couch. I could see a ray of light from a streetlamp, peering through the closed curtains. I shook with anxiety. Vera suddenly marched into the light, and cast an overbearing dark shadow on me.
“Does this happen to you often?”
“No, never, I promise.”
I was telling the truth. I rarely had panic attacks. But why was I trying to justify my emotions?
I need my space she texted me the next day. I was out meeting my best friend for lunch.
Ok, why don’t you sleep at your cousin’s tonight so we can talk after getting a good night’s sleep? I was courteous even though my heart was bleeding.
I mustered up my courage and strength to return home. As I unlocked my front door, I had a faint hope that she would be there. I noticed that the door to my closet was open. I looked inside. It was empty.
I walked up to my living room table and saw that she had left the spare key as well as a folded note. I opened the note discovering it wasn’t a note at all. It was just our train tickets to leave for the south of France the next day. I felt numb.
Fully dressed, I fell onto the couch and into a deep sleep. I dreamt of Vera and I saw flashes of her, as a figment, back to an image on an app, just as fast as a swipe right; a flash of a person who never really existed.
She agreed to meet me the next day. I chose our rendezvous spot, the romantic Place des Vosges, home of Victor Hugo, just to keep it cinematic. She arrived, and went straight for the bise, that cheek kiss that French people do to greet each other. It felt like a slap in the face.
We ordered wine. Vera sat opposite me, with an unfamiliar straight posture.
“I’m not ready to do this. This relationship is way too intense… I came to Paris hoping to have fun and I’m having a really bad time. I’m done.”
Her hands gestured at every sentence, orchestrating her own speech, depriving me of my humanity. At the end of it, I was nothing but a ghostly figure, the sun blazing and blinding.We said goodbye for the last time on a busy street of the Marais, a casual meaningless Parisian goodbye. I tried to make a joke, my way of avoiding the temptation to embrace her one last time.
“Let’s not forget all the good times we had, even though the gods were laughing and making fun of us all along…”
“That’s pretty harsh,” her eyes were cold and jaded.
“No, it’s just a joke!” I said energetically.
She didn’t get my humor; in fact, I don’t think she ever did.
The streets were no longer parting for us. We blended into the monotony of city life. Our backs turned away from each other as we went our separate ways. A tension I had been unaware of suddenly lifted from my chest. As I walked, I could feel my reality resurging around me, a reality I had been so distant from during the quarantine with Vera.
I never heard from Vera again. I came back to New York and found some post-it notes on my wall that she had left me. One of the notes said “I love you” and the other one said the Brazilian word – “saudades.” I looked up the definition: “A deep emotional state of nostalgic and profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. It often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again.”
Our romance was a mirage. It had been written there on my wall all along.
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