Goodbye

June 6, 1992.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, as soon as I get there,” Tom was telling me.  We were laying together on my bed, quiet, the house still around us.  Zachary was long since asleep; it was late.  My mother was at the hospital receiving her second round of chemotherapy.

I knew this day had been coming from the day he and I had started dating.  I kept pushing it back in my head, that somehow I would just deal with it when the time came, because he was here now and so incredible.  I knew that he was only home for three months for an internship for his degree.  It had been out there from our first date; that was why it was supposed to have just been a casual, fun few dates while he was home.

Tom had held my hand from the very first date and dove right into the serious relationship that he’d always said he’d never wanted.  We hardly ever fought, we spent as many minutes as we possibly could together, and we freely talked and planned about the future.  My son, my mother’s cancer, my crazy didn’t seem to phase him.  He was steady and calm and lifted me out from the Pig Pen like swirl of chaos surrounding me.

“Will we be able to do it?” I asked, looking into his eyes for reassurance.  “A whole year?  Can we do it?”

“Sure we can,” Tom answered easily.  “When you feel like we feel, that doesn’t go away just because we’re not together.  We’ll write letters, we’ll call, I’ll come home on breaks.  No, it’s not ideal,” he mused, looking at the worry on my face.  “But we can do this.  We’re Tom and Amy.  We can do this.”

He seemed so sure.

Tom was returning to school in Northern Michigan, in a town in the Upper Peninsula about ten hours drive away.  The town was so far north that they often had snow from September to late April, and the biggest event of the year was a Winter Carnival.   He had already given me his address and phone number up there; he lived in a house off campus with some of his fraternity brothers.  Not a frat house per se, but sort of.

“I just need to know, Tom.  I am sorry, because this isn’t your fault, but this has happened to me before.  Please don’t do that to me too.”  My voice broke as the tears started and my throat closed.

I was thinking of course, about the two had come and gone before Tom.

Of course, there was Joe.  Joe, who had loved me so completely that I was still shocked at his absence, even today while I was in love with someone else.  I had thought perhaps that while things looked bad at the time, that when we both calmed down he would have somehow done some soul searching and decided that both of our strong words and careless actions were less important than the security and growth of the child I had been carrying.  Every time I looked down at my son’s brown hair, his olive skin and dark eyes, I was reminded of the promises Joe had made to me.  He’d said he loved me, would always be there for me, that our love would last forever.  And then he disappeared, literally, never to return, not even after the birth of his son.

And then there was Ray, of whom I’d later stated:  “His shadow will haunt me the rest of my days.”   Our rocky relationship had gone from the highest highs, to the lowest lows, peaking when he’d asked me to marry him.  He’d promised the day he left to call when he’d arrived at his destination, to set things up, to ensure that the year we would spend apart while I finished school was a time of preparation for the rest of our lives together.  But the call never came. He’d left and I’d never heard from him until the day I tracked him down myself.  He had never returned either, and I was left a second time with the memories of promises that were never kept.

“Tell me something,” he answered, his hand running reassuringly up and down my arm, gently stroking it.  “I know your past is part of who you are, and it’s made you who you are, and I can’t fault that because I love who you are.  But have I given you any reason, any reason at all, to think that our situation is going to end up the same as theirs with you?”

“No,” I sniffled, my eyes cast downward.

He pulled my face up to meet his.  “Say it like you mean it,” he insisted.

“No,” I said more strongly, my eyes meeting his.

“We are different,” he said.  “I’m going away, but my heart will always stay right here with you.”  His hand lightly touched the center of my chest.  “I know this will be hard for you, and it will be hard for me, but we can do this.  Promise me you’ll believe it.”

How on earth was I going to get through my days without his calm, steady assurance?

“I promise,” I whispered.

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