My time in France is rapidly coming to a close, and there's not a thing I can do about it. Up until this point, my leaving felt like some vague, faraway day that would never actually arrive, and so I hadn't spent much time thinking about it. Before, I had more than a month left, and honestly, with more than a month left, what can you not do? A month is endless. But now I have less than a month, three weeks, to be exact, and that is a whole different story. Less than a month is a rapidly escalating countdown, a slow, relentless death march accelerating quickly into a scrabbling slip-slide to the edge of a cliff, digging in your fingernails and holding on for dear life. Three weeks left with Hervé, a fact we spend most of our time pretending to ignore. Once and only once, he whispered, "You're abandoning me?" and pulled me tight. I fight the urge to start and end sentences with "after I'm gone." After I'm gone, who will kiss your neck and search out all your ticklish spots?" "Here, I want you to have these books. You can read them after I'm gone." It's starting to feel like one of us is dying. It's starting to feel like it's me.
The summer light here is a miracle of sorts, and the last lingering traces of daylight remain until almost 10:30. "And the days will keep getting longer until June 21," Hervé mentioned, ever the optimist.
"Yes, but then after that it's sad," I said, in my glass-half-empty way, meaning to explain how after the solstice I just can't enjoy summer in the same way, knowing that from that point it's just a long, slow slide into winter. But before I had a chance to explain, Hervé let out a sigh and pulled me close, and I realized his thoughts had automatically jumped not to what I had thought was the logical conclusion to my sentence, but instead to my soon and forever departure. I squeezed his hand and left the rest of my thought unfinished. It didn't seem to matter anymore.
I try to imagine leaving, I try to imagine saying goodbye to someone I will probably never see again. Instead I picture my toothbrush in his bathroom, him having to get rid of it after I'm gone, and the thought nearly brings me to tears. How many days would he leave it there before dumping it unceremoniously in the trash bin? I make a mental note to take my toothbrush with me when I leave, or to quietly dispose of it before I go. Or would that be worse? To be gone without a trace? I think of the last time I said a forever goodbye, how the toothbrush, deodorant, clothes remained after everything else had gone. It turns out that at the end of a relationship built upon brainwaves, neurochemicals, and millions of jumbled up words, the only things that last are the objects you leave behind. And even now we discover ancient societies from their pottery shards, their trash, the bits they threw away. A million years from now someone will find a Tampax next to a half-used stick of Old Spice, and think, Here a man and a woman lived together. But that will be all they can know, because for all their permanence, objects are strangely untelling. I left his clothes, his hair gel, his tootbrush untouched for a full two weeks, because their absence felt stranger than their presence. I cannot think of similarly inflicting Hervé with the presence of my objects in the absence of myself, and so, yes, I will take my toothbrush, my deodorant, and my moisturizer with me when I go, I decide, these few scattered toiletries the only physical trace I have left there. But, yes, I will give him my books to keep, after all. He can read them after I'm gone.
And so it is that I can only think in terms of the practical, the tangible, and not of the fact that soon we will whisper together in the middle of the night for the last time. That there will be a last kiss, a last touch, a last lingering gaze. And for all my talk about him not being my "soul mate" or "the one," he is dear, and quite possibly the most genuinely nice guy I have ever met, and I will miss him terribly. In the midst of the mess of brainwaves, neurochemicals, and jumbled up words, comes this thought: All things must end. But I don't want this to. Not yet. I have three weeks left. I have to make them last.