Friday, November 10, 2006

The Last Time

I’m not sure why, maybe it’s the afternoon darkness creeping in, but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the end of things.

Like the last time you saw a certain person or place. . .the last time you did something ordinary only to realize later that its action was suddenly no longer relevant to your evolving existence.

My husband Craze and I talked about it. We agreed, more or less, that while we frequently make big fanfare over what we know to be an official “last time,” it is more often the case that a “last time” goes by unnoticed. Quietly slipping by you. It's only later, when subsequent knowledge spells out the enormity of that overlooked moment, that we strain to remember it. Or more poignantly, we recall it all too clearly—and the present knowledge that we let it pass by makes it sadder still.

I can think of several official “last times,” most governed by a schedule or contract—the last days of high school and college, the last night I slept in my single-girl apartment eighteen floors above Dearborn Street, the last day at my “real” job after I resigned.

Each of these “last times” brought their own moment of nostalgia at the recollection of times past. And yet still, they were tinged with a greater sense of expectation. The brightness of the unknown sometimes added a sense of hopefulness and excitement that the next stage along might be even better than the last.

But I remember other “last times,” too.

The last time that I saw my mother she was being carried from the house where I grew up on a stretcher, her slipper falling from her foot to the green, sculptured living room carpet below. I remember picking up the embroidered beige satin slide and thinking that I would have to retrieve the other one at the hospital.

At that moment, I had no way of knowing that she would never wear those slippers again. That she would never be in our house again and that I would never see her face or hear her voice ever again.

And each time I think of that particular “last time,” it is always that silly slipper that still comes to mind—even after more than twenty years.

I remember too the last time I saw Lee on the final day of my sophomore year in college. I recall how it felt as we held each other and kissed in the parking lot of the brown Women’s Spanish House where I lived. And then how I took his keys and threw them onto the grassy lawn in a vain attempt to make him stay, if only a little longer. We laughed together at this, but the keys were all too easily retrieved. Then he got in his parent’s blue Datsun, started the engine and drove away from me all the same, not pausing to look back.

At that moment, he knew this was a “last time,” that he was leaving me for someone else and, he hoped, for some other, brighter future. And as I ran back into the house as quickly as I could, I held back an avalanche of tears. Finally in my room away from prying eyes, I began to sob loudly, my whole being racked with the most profound sadness I had ever felt. I thought I could not bear to be parted from him even for a little while. That I might not actually survive it.

I still remember that pain. How it ripped through me unabated. How it was so hard just to catch my breath. God only knows what I would have done at that moment if I had actually known that he had just left me for good. That this was the “last time” I would ever see him this way—young and beautiful, his black, black hair shining in the sun. So full of the future in front of him and, as I wrongly believed, in love with me.

I guess that’s the thing about “last times,” the ones we ceremoniously mark often blend into the background of our lives. Easily forgotten. Unremarkable in how they make us feel as we recall them—if, in fact, we bother to do so at all.

But the “last times” we overlooked at their happening, hold more emotional weight with their recollection. And even the most incongruous elements, the beige slipper, the blue Datsun and the keys lying in the green grass, only make a particular “last time” truer and harder to put behind you as you face each new day that follows it.

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