Their love has always been a tragedy, and she knows it, even if she can’t explain it. They meet on a Tuesday in an upscale restaurant she takes all of her dates to, and he pays for the entire meal without complaint. She takes a picture of him, in his dress shirt and with his dark hair slicked back, eyes alight, and hopes he will always be this happy.
They make it official the next week over fro-yo, and his laugh makes her heart burn like a forest fire. He is kind and he is funny and he does his best to hold her broken pieces together, even though they both know scotch tape cannot repair shattered glass.
One night, he takes her to the river and they dance upon a picnic blanket to slow, heartbreaking songs. She thinks she could fall in love with him. They witness three shooting stars, and she wishes upon all of them, for this love to last.
They break up over text, because while she may not be actively trying to hurt herself, there will always be a self-destructive part of her. And he is handsome and patient and wonderful, but she knows nothing more than setting fire to every bridge she has ever built, and it tears them apart.
He offers to be her homecoming date, just like he was supposed to, and she turns him down with tears in her eyes.
A month later, he is shipped across the country for military training and she pushes him to the back of her mind.
They don’t talk for the next few months and she goes through a plethora of people as the seasons change and the summer warmth fades to an autumn breeze and eventually a winter chill. On Christmas, they don’t speak but as she lays in another’s arms, she wonders what it would be like if they had stayed together, if their relationship didn’t have a timer set on it.
The military would’ve torn us apart, she reasons with herself, we were always bound to be interrupted.
He sends her a text in the spring, and she responds, which spirals into non-stop texting. There’s a five hour time difference but they try to hold onto strings, walking across a tightrope above the ashes of their ruined relationship. She tells him of the people she’s dated, and how they could never quite complete her the way he did.
“Can I tell you something?” She murmurs one night, her phone pressed to her ear as her alarm clock changes from 1:59 to 2 a.m.
“Mhm,” he says and she imagines the way his eyebrows would furrow together when he listened to her, or the way his eyes would focus on only her.
“I think you’re my person,” she whispers.
“I think you’re mine too.”
Their flame of communication dies out over the summer, him being busy with his duties and her busy with work. They talk more infrequently, but she doesn’t worry about it. The timing isn’t right yet, she tells herself.
“I just want to see you again,” he tells her one night, their first phone call in a month.
“I want to see you too,” she says, “but I’m moving soon.”
“Well, then when I’m done here I’ll come visit. Or you can come save me from this stupid ship.”
“Okay, here’s the plan. I drive a boat out to the middle of the ocean, you jump overboard and swim to me and then we can basically live out a cruise while on the run.”
“But you can’t get too close or you’ll get blown up.”
“Guess you just have longer to swim then.”
He laughs, a low noise that always shook his entire body and she can’t help but laugh too.
“I miss you,” he says.
She smiles, “I miss you too.”
“Do you believe in soul mates?” She asks him.
“I don’t know, maybe to an extent. Do you?” He says.
“Maybe. I just want to believe that we’re made for each other, that if this life doesn’t work out we’ll find each other in the next one.”
“Don’t be so dour. We’re young, we have time.”
If only that were the truth.
She gets the call a week later and the details pass in one ear and out the other, but the general idea hits her. Something about a disease on board and how many of the soldiers succumbed to it, including him.
Her sobs rack her body so much that she starts to dry heave and she collapses into a chair. She doesn’t even realize the bearer of the news had hung up until thirty minutes later.
If love kept people alive, he would’ve lived forever.
When she sees his corpse her shoulders shake, but she has run out of tears to cry. Instead, she closes her eyes and remembers him at the table on their first date, him dancing with her in the dark, him laughing at her dumb jokes. She opens her eyes and breathes in, and the ache in her chest lessens a little.
Their love has always been a tragedy, and she knows it. She thinks about what would’ve happened if he hadn’t joined the military, if she hadn’t moved away, if all the little interruptions hadn’t changed their lives. Then, she remembers all of the good and falling asleep on the phone with her favorite person and she thinks maybe, maybe she will be okay.
Their love is a tragedy, but only in this life. After all, there is always the next one.