Chocolate Chip Cookies, Cancer
I wave at him across the street to catch his attention. He recognizes me and immediately smiles. We walk towards each other quickly, almost running. I have to stop myself from walking too quickly, otherwise we will meet in the middle of the street and neither of us wants to hug there. So I cross the street as he stops at the sidewalk and waits for me to come to him.
We hug for a long time. The kind of hug that tells the other person all the things you know you won’t say in the next few hours. What you’re feeling, how much you care, how much you missed him, how many people you have hugged while thinking of him, and how many other people you’ve hugged since him that you didn’t want to. You don’t want to stop hugging because once you do the other person won’t know how you feel any more. Real hugs remind you that most hugs are fake, the same way that real moments remind you that most moments aren’t real.
Then we are walking down Broadway Avenue together with New York City all around us, four years of a relationship followed by four years of silence behind us, the next few hours looming in front of us, and mostly the rest of our separate lives ahead of us.
We choose a small coffee shop and walk in. He orders two espressos and a cup of ice, so that he can make his own ice coffee, because he’s like that. I can’t make up my mind about what I want to drink, because I’m like that. So I say I don’t want anything, because I can’t decide. He laughs and asks if I am really still that indecisive. I laugh too. “I am really still that indecisive,” I say. And, I really still love you, but that I don’t say.
Once, when we were living together, we got into an argument in the grocery store because he was in a hurry to get to his friend’s apartment, and I wanted to buy some mugs but couldn’t make up my mind about what color I wanted. My indecision was making him late and he was annoyed. He thought the color of the mugs was stupid. I thought the fact that he was in a hurry to get to his friend’s apartment was stupid, mainly because I wasn’t invited. Instead of telling him I wanted to come with to his friend’s apartment, or that I didn’t want him to go, or that I wanted him to care about the color of the mugs too, because they would go in our apartment and he should care about our apartment, I took too long to decide on the color, and I made him late and angry. I bought the mugs, but we ended up getting into a fight in the store. Those mugs were some of the only things I took with me from the apartment we shared when I moved out. When my sister moved to Boston she took the mugs with her, but they got lost in her move back home. That’s okay though, because I kind of got lost in my move back home too.
Now, in the coffee shop, I can’t make up my mind about what to order. It doesn’t matter that I’m indecisive this time, and we both just laugh. Then I see a big chocolate chip cookie and I say that I want it, because chocolate chips cookies are my favorite and they are familiar, and I am feeling nervous and need something familiar.
We sit in the coffee shop and sit and talk and joke and laugh a lot. The time passes quickly, and I’m not surprised that we once spent four years together. I ask him about his friends and his brother and sisters and he tells me about the weddings and recent engagements. I ask about his parents. He pauses for a long time, and I think he is finally going to tell me that his parents are getting a divorce. A year ago I had heard rumors that they were getting divorced, but he hadn’t mentioned anything when we spoke six months earlier. I wanted him to tell me the truth, to feel like he could still talk to me about real things, but we hardly talk anymore, so why would it be about anything real.
Instead he says, “My mom has cancer.” I gasp. I study his expression and try to read his emotions but, as usual, he is hard to read. He is calm, explaining when she was diagnosed and what kind it was and the treatment and prognosis. I nod and put my hand on his leg, to steady myself, and because I want to touch him and hug him again, but I can’t.
And suddenly I am crying. The tears well up in my eyes and I know I won’t be able to stop them. I try to keep talking as though I’m not crying, but I am. He starts laughing, and I start laughing and crying at the same time. We laugh harder and the tears come harder, but not harder than the laughter. I look at him and smile apologetically. I’m sorry I still care about you and your family so much, is what I want my smile to say. “I’m sorry,” is what I say.
He just looks at me, shaking his head and laughing, and says, “Eat your cookie.”
I look at him like he’s crazy. “I don’t want this cookie anymore!” And I don’t know why, but this is funny and it makes us laugh harder.
His mom has cancer, but she makes delicious chocolate chip cookies. Her cookies were my favorite. When he and I broke up she left a bag of them in my mailbox with a note that said, I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure what she was sorry for, but I brought her cookies inside and put them on the kitchen table and stared at them every day for two weeks. I think eventually one of my friends threw them out because she knew I couldn’t. I wonder if when people get cancer it’s okay to bring them chocolate chip cookies.
Eventually all the tears turn back into laughter and we return to our conversation. We catch up like we are old friends. We are old friends, but we aren’t really. We are much more than that — at least, he is much more than that to me.
Then it is time to go. He has to go to Brooklyn to meet his friends and I have to go to my yoga class. We stand up to leave. “Tell your mom I’m sorry?” I ask. He shrugs. “Don’t forget your cookie.” We both start laughing again. I wrap up the cookie and put it in my purse to make him happy, knowing that when I get home I will throw it away.
“It was really good to see you,” we both say. He means, “It was really good to see you.” I mean, I still love you, but I’m not in love with you, but I don’t understand why we aren’t still in love.
We part ways — he goes to Brooklyn, and I go to yoga, and his mom has cancer, and when we say goodbye we hug for a long time.
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