I left her house, but instead of going home turned left and walked down to the waterline. I stood looking out over the Sound, letting the sand slip away under my feet. Last time, last tears, last pills. Ilana’s pills. Take them with the whiskey Ross’ uncle gave us last Christmas—make it easy. Lie down and go to sleep. Ross’ sleeping beauty. So exhilarating to be making this final decision, releasing him from the damage I was doing . . . it was always you, Ross, always you. My love for him was all-encompassing, spreading out behind the rumbling surf, filling up the sky. Too agitated for the tide to hold me, I turned and headed home along the road paralleling the beach.
As I glided home through the dark streets, Ilana’s bottle burning in my hand, I felt, ironically, more alive than I had in months. I felt the power of life and death, my life and death, throbbing in my clenched fist. I understood the immensity of her gesture only now. I started to jog, as light as air, tripping through the silvery-tinged shimmering blackness—I had to get back home. Trotting past the breakers, slipping through the quiet neighborhood, under the rustling leaves, past the blacked-out houses, I floated noiselessly along. If I could just keep my strength focused, my emotions charged, I believed I could outrun time, outrun love, and run up straight into the starry void.
But at the thought of never seeing that face again, with the reality of letting go at hand, my pace slowed, the capsules stopped pulsating and lost their spellbinding effect. Illusions of immunity vanished and the pain returned, gripping my skull, burning in my ribs. I had to stop and lean against a parked car, immobile and unmoved, for support. Looking up at the sky, so hopelessly far away now, I tried to think clearly, tried to catch my breath, my mouth so dry I could barely swallow.
Still earthbound, still here. I couldn’t give him up. Not yet . . . not for eternity. Time had caught me on my knees. I couldn’t pull some kind of stunt like this, leaving him without saying goodbye, one more connection cut without explanation. Abandoning him to the misery of having failed me somehow, the unspoken accusation of having screwed up, setting him up to come home to his no-longer loving wife, her no-longer yielding body—nice goodbye. I hadn’t thought about that, had I? It was all too gruesome. All my ingenious plans shot to hell. Just shot to hell. Once held in those arms, I couldn’t release my grip on him even though I could see I was petrifying him, turning our passion to dust. We were going down, the both of us. And there would be nothing—nothing extraordinary about it.
I didn’t ask for this situation. I looked back up at the black sky glittered with stars. The wind was stirring and shifting around. I didn’t have the stubbornness or the strength of will. I was just an ordinary person with an extraordinary love, not capable of extraordinary things. The stars blinked back in response. And I realized then that what I was doing was as ordinary as it gets—giving in was ordinary, letting go was ordinary. So ordinary . . . The wind picked up, making currents and eddies in the sky, causing the stars to shimmer and flicker. I thought of the people we stood witness for over the past years—holding on in cells, in jails, in the fields; I thought of people laboring, stuck among and hidden in their reeds, surviving in the outcast through a similar will. The extraordinary gesture would be to live, to suffer through. To live till you die. To live extraordinarily and pass it on, as Ross passed it along to me and provided safe passage. I had to keep this knowledge, not extinguish it. I needed to pass it down the line. That’s how I would leave my mark. How I would leave in my own time.
My thoughts billowed up one after another, joining the dark roiling mass in the sky. In my confusion, I thought the squawking overhead was the starlings I had disturbed earlier come back to surround and taunt me. The swirling and cawing cacophony continued round and round until, face turned upward, looking hard through my agitation, I saw, not birds, but creatures far more celestial, who would appear out of and vanish back into the turmoil, their forms indistinct, their effect seraphic. I looked through these turbulent forces, through these ever-changing figures, back to those extraordinary times. A tremendous will to bring back what I had then felt in my heart flooded over me. The wind died away. Their voices, low and murmuring, emanated from the center of the cloud’s inkiness, their whispers reverberated in my chest, “Pick any door, darling, any door. . . “