I am no good at saying goodbye. It remains to me the worst part of getting to know people. I’ve yet to figure out how to effectively tell someone who once meant something that they no longer mean anything, not in that way, and I’ll have to go now. Most take offense if you don’t at least wallow in their melancholy. Some can’t believe another person doesn’t want to be in their company forever. It’s never as personal as they make it seem. My girlfriend has been asking a lot of questions lately. Serious questions. She wonders about our future, my ability to care and support her for an extended period of time. She’ll ask me things like do I see myself at my job for much longer and when do I plan to get a bigger place, then I watch as her mind wanders off when I tell her I’m not sure. I’ve seen this behavior before. Unfortunately I can no longer do anything for her or her for me. The game has to end. The game always ends. It’s a matter of quitting while it’s still fun or going around and around until you’re both shouting over the rules.
I agree to join my girlfriend, her friends, and their boyfriends at the track to watch the night races. These are true thoroughbreds blazing under the bright lights with amateur bettors throwing away half a week’s pay to cheer on their horse’s fourth place finish. Clouds of smoke accumulate overhead, and the popcorn smells stale tonight. These beasts deserve better. Entry is fifteen dollars and watered down drinks start at ten. All I really want is to lie in bed and stare at the ceiling thinking of how I should be packing for my one way flight abroad. I can see my girl now, crying hysterically to anyone who will listen that everything seemed ‘fine’ and ‘good’ even, and how she thought there was a real future there. There is a fine line between being aloof and being a monster, and well, I just hope they’ll understand.
I wrap my arm around her and bring her in close as she struggles to find the card for the next race. I watch as her hands flip through the booklet and her eyes dart through the text, completely unaware that her visa carrying boyfriend is no longer gainfully employed as of 5:00 pm this afternoon. I had been subtly sneaking things from my desk home with me for the last month, stuffing my pockets with little trinkets and using grocery sacks to transport the larger items with sentimental value. Today, I stayed later to unhitch the more obvious items in plain sight, my plaques and certificates and postcards and a framed photo of the happy couple. I left a note for my manager to find Monday morning. It reads: I’m sorry I couldn’t be a better employee. I taped it to my chair and told my computer goodbye, it didn’t seem to mind.
Our crew is coupled up and cozy on this humid night, we got a box and wear stickers on our chests so security knows we belong. Two couples sit in one row, and two of just below. The guys complain how they might as well be drinking water and rotate buying rounds while the girls use the break to hit the ladies room. I take a pull from my flask and offer up a hit, but they each make these faces and refuse. One of the guys, Micah, sits this drink run out and begins mumbling to himself. My girlfriend is talking about a taking a trip to Santa Monica to end the summer, her friend Emma, who is seated down next to us, eavesdropping, is busy nodding her head as they dance around the expectation of an agreeable answer. I sense I’m the last person in the group to hear of it, so I say yes and they leave me alone. My girlfriend asks me why I hadn’t laid a bet and I tell her something about not feeling the magic. In my prime I would walk away with two-hundred a visit, easy money, but I feel too distracted to turn a profit. I am sticky and riddled with guilt. To be in the zone I need an early afternoon start, I need sunscreen, I need time to tailgate while I study the program and work on the perfect drunk or else it becomes one long depressing and expensive party.
The rest of the gang returns acting funny. They hold two drinks a piece and big smiles on their faces. The horses for race six are being loaded into the starting gate. My girlfriend shakes me and I turn to see Micah on his knees offering up a sizeable diamond ring. A gunshot goes off and everybody at the track is on their feet cheering. Micah and his girlfriend take turns crying. His best man passes around the celebratory drinks and we all huddle as close as the incline will allow before anyone loses their balance. The crowd dims to a soft roar while everyone focuses on the jumboton. Horse number three wins by a neck. After the replay, a message passes through the board that says ‘Congratulations to Micah & Jen!’ Nice move I think. I raise my drink to the newly engaged couple and tell Micah he did good. My girlfriend nuzzles into my sides, I look down to see what she is after and get a peck on the lips. I pull back and find myself lost in her eyes, the voices in the crowd become muffled, and her full, dark hair flows angelically with the passing wind. I ask her if she knew this would happen all along. She giggles and nods her head yes. This time I steal a kiss, but cut it short once I realize how much I’ll miss her. Something about not feeling well all day escapes my mouth. I tell her I’ve got a ride on the way to take me home, that she should stay and celebrate with her friends and we’ll get together later. I don’t want to let her go, but I know I can’t stay. I have to leave without as much as a goodbye. On my way out I place a wager on pure instinct.
She tried everything. She worked hard, she got ahead, she joined professional clubs, she went to happy hours, she rescued dogs, she paid visits to the nursing home, she went vegetarian, and then pescatarian, she tried co-ed volleyball, and yoga, and painting. She went off the grid, she practiced meditation, she made funny faces in the mirror, she looked up at the stars, she got enough rest, she let drivers go ahead, she reached out to old friends, she made new ones, she learned Portuguese, she went on vacation, she read books, she made music, she watched movies, she drank lots of red wine then switched to vodka, she took her coffee black, she got up early to run, she took pictures of the sunrise, she bought new clothes, she dressed drab, she dressed colorful, she went on dates, she made commitments, she said I love you, and it all worked for a little while.
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