What if I showed up in your driveway on the eve of your twenty-fifth birthday with a boom box in my hands and my heart on my sleeve and the words you always needed to hear no longer lodged inside my throat? What if you ran outside to meet me and I versed you brash soliloquies of everything I could never say when we were lying beside one another, too afraid that one wrong word or one strange movement could make it all come tumbling down? What if you listened? What if you took me in your arms and kissed me with the raw determination that you had at eighteen years old when we were still so goddamned shy around each other that we weren’t sure if we’d ever find a way to come together? What if we started all over again, right there in that driveway?
What if you’d never left? What if we still lived in that bachelor apartment with the sink hanging over the toilet and the knobby, skittish motions of our bodies never quite fitting into the space we’d carved out for one other? What if the zealous old landlady ruled over the building, spoiling evenings with her half-deciphered rants about salvation and redemption and the brimstone that awaits those of us who don’t believe? What if we believed in each other? What if I plotted out mistakes I’ve made over the years and when I stopped thinking of you there was an army of tiny, crooked lines drawn out in the sand? What if I told you I was sorry? What if you came home each evening to the TV tuned up to just the volume you like it, with your favorite dinner waiting on the table and your parents chatting with me through the other long end of the phone long because I had decided to try? What if I changed for you? What if you changed for me, too?
What if in a strange twist of fate we both ended up with amnesia? What if we forgot everything about each other – all our names and birthdays and secrets and failures and triumphs, like that movie where Jim Carrey had to hide under his mother’s kitchen table in his PJs hoping his mind was never going to catch up? What if my eye caught yours at the grocery store, walking by the section with the olives that you always had to buy and you caught me wrinkling my nose with disgust and you found that endearing instead of frustrating again? What if you asked for my name? What if I told you what it was?
What if you took me on a date – sweet and simple, at that old Italian bistro that we always used to love? What if my laughter felt familiar on your lips, what if my body curved too simply into yours, what if our minds failed to remember but our hands never forgot what it once meant to touch one another? What if it was stranger than we’d ever experienced but simpler than we ever could have dreamed?
What if we started again from the beginning – every first time, every slip-up, every speed bump that we hit along the way? What if we tried this time? What if we turned left at every place we once turned right, what if we fought through every bout we once gave up on, what if we screamed at one another so fervidly that all the neighbors flicked on their lights and paced outside our doorway with concern and yet we still chose to stay, every time? What if my hand clasped yours on our fifty-third wedding anniversary and I knew there was no better decision I could have made than spending my entire life loving you? What if we made it? What if our story lasted a lifetime and became the whole title of the book?
Or what if I’m wrong?
What if I knew, from the second that you walked out the door, that there’s only one ending to this story? What if we tried all there was left to try and we found that no boom box, no amnesia, crazy twist of fate would be enough to save us now? What if I let you go?
What if we went on with our lives and we were happy and fulfilled and sometimes lost within the chaos of it all but one thing that we never got to hold onto was each other? What if we found we didn’t need to? What if we someday discovered a kind of happiness so incomprehensible that we never even thought to try for it? What if our lives were only meant to intersect for just long enough to create the contrast we needed to go on living the rest of it? What if our hands gripped someone else’s weathered hands at the end of our incredible lives and re-lived memories we couldn’t possibly dream up from the place where we’re standing right now?
What if I never won you back?
And what if – as much as we’d hate to admit it – that was the happiest ending of all?