I had grown, which was one of the only things I knew for certain about myself in the years since returning to Revere — but how I had grown, I was far less sure. As pretty as I had been the first time, it was a prettiness that belonged squarely to my twenties and was gone before I knew to mourn it. My body had dealt with the consequences of cancer and misery; every year I was streaked by new stretch marks; my weight was never consistent for long; but it was my face that had really changed, and yet it had never crossed my mind that Eleanna wouldn’t recognize me. Rather, I had only wondered if that face would still provoke feelings in her.
I was thinking about that, and variations on that theme, during the flight to Albany and on the shuttle to the college town where I was to give a keynote and where Eleanna would be on a panel about, as I had learned from the Revere Book Festival website, Loss and Grief in Memoir. The festival was in October, the same month that Eleanna’s memoir — Night’s End — had come out, with the publication date only a few days before. I’d schemed to receive a galley, and even though I sped through the book, reading the entire thing the day it arrived, certain images still bled into my dreams: not images from her grief, mind you, but images from her marriage, the tenderness of it.
I had a gin and tonic on the plane. I don’t normally have alcohol on airplanes, and with my illness it is best to not drink alcohol at all, but I made sure to drink a cup of water every time one was proffered by a passing flight attendant. A young couple in the row in front of me soothed their howling infant throughout the flight. The child didn’t stop until we were about to descend and started up again as soon as we tilted toward the ground. Meanwhile, I was occupying myself by reading a new essay by Eleanna in Vogue — one of those promotional essays that comes out around the debut of a new book, which may or may not have much to do with the content of the book itself. The essay’s first line was “I was twenty-four when I met Ramit, and my father had just died.”
I was reading the essay for the third time when the plane began to slide and bounce along the runway. The infant was still screaming. I slid the magazine into my large leather bag and looked out the window at the airport, which seemed familiar to me. Even the taxi that took me to Revere felt like a taxi I’d been in before, and the driver someone I’d met years before.
The festival had arranged for me a room in a bed-and-breakfast near the college, which meant that I was on high alert as soon as I opened the front door. It was a small literary festival, and although I doubted I could avoid Eleanna forever (as if I hadn’t come simply to see her), I was too exhausted from cross-country travel for such an immediate shock. But I was shown my room after not too long, and soon I was alone in the room, wondering why I’d made this terrible decision. I’d made it, of course, because I hadn’t seen Eleanna in ten years, and though I’d thought she would fade from my mind over time, I missed her as ferociously as I had when we first parted ways. I hadn’t been in a serious relationship since I’d met her at another, more long-ago book festival in Revere, when neither of us had yet published our first books — which is a vague way of saying that I may or may not have considered my brief relationship with her to have been “serious” — but either way, I hadn’t had a serious relationship with anyone since we’d stopped speaking to one another.