I remember the moment clearly. I remember the dim yellow lighting in the last car of the metro train as it pulled away from the station. I felt the buzz of my phone in my pocket. It was unusual that I felt it, especially on a noisy moving train, but I felt it this time. I had a new text message.
If I could have seen myself, I imagine I would have looked pale, bewildered and possibly even short of breath. As I read the message, my world suddenly felt like it was closing in on me from all sides. I got off the train at the next stop, â€śUniversity,â€ť and sat on the bench looking at my phone.
Ironically, just a month or so prior, Tanya and I had sat on this very bench waiting on a train after a hurried evening trying to get across town that involved, taxis, metro and mashrutkas, abandoning one for the next as traffic held up our journey. We were both tired. I had a flight to the States in the morning and she just wanted to get home to her apartment for the evening. We both sat on the bench in silence and she rested her head on my shoulder. It was only for a few minutes as we waited for the train, but I could feel a sense of calm come over me. I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. The air rushing ahead of the approaching train started as a subtle breeze gently blowing her hair against my face. Even over four years later I can still feel every strand and smell the faint scent of her perfume.
It was such a heightened sense of awareness that I donâ€™t think any drug could have produced it. It was euphoria without cause. It was a state of existence that could not be manufactured. It would become the definition of all I felt about her, from the moment I met her until the time of my last breath.
As the train got closer, the wind got stronger. I closed my eyes tighter in some vain attempt to slow down time, taking in the rush of the train in front of us, her hair blowing, the noise, the shadows and light pulsing through my eyelids, and my own pulse racing. It was like fighting from being pulled out of a dream you didnâ€™t want to ever leave. And then, like an alarm clock, the thunder of silence a split second before the arriving trainâ€™s doors opened made it clear that the moment was forever lost to the past. I opened my eyes.
Today would not be euphoric. The benches were empty. I was here alone. I sat and stared at the tiny screen for nearly thirty minutes, maybe longer, oblivious to the crowds that gathered and departed around me with every train that passed through. I looked at every character, word, possible hidden meaning or sign of it being a joke. I even checked to see if it could have been from another Tanya. But no, she was the only â€śSunshineâ€ť in my address book. This was reality and I couldnâ€™t run from it.
At the moment I canâ€™t recall the exact words she used. I know I have them committed to memory. I read them so many times I could have recited them in my sleep. Now they lie in a vault in my mind that I hope to never open again, unless of course to add new things, especially recent events.
To paraphrase with as few words as possible, the message read â€śEric, I got married today. I hope we can still be friends.â€ť
Had this been a story about anyone else, I would have ended it there. It would have been a great ending in just another tale of heartbreak. Had it been someone else, the story may well have ended there. But Tanya knew me and knew I would be upset. Even with me never saying a word, she knew I loved her.
She also knew that my life and her life were on two separate journeys. I was running away from all the things that she wanted. She wanted kids and a family. Stability. A Western life. I wanted adventure and to tame the untamable wherever I may find it. I liked my newfound freedom and independence. More importantly, I wasnâ€™t yet ready to leave Ukraine.
She waited patiently, as I vetted my anger in terse and unkind messages. She wrote me nice emails while I made stupid excuses as to why I was upset. But she knew I was heartbroken. She could have just cut me off cold, but we talked. We talked a lot over the next several months, regaining a sense of civility and making friendship in action, and not just words, possible again. Though we never got to take all the trips together that we wanted to, she got to make one that was best for her. She moved to Canada with her husband. Sheâ€™s expecting her first child soon, and I couldnâ€™t be happier for her.
Knowing what I know now, had I gotten what I wanted then, it would have made all her dreams impossible. I guess sometimes that is the selfishness of love. It doesnâ€™t care if its existence is really beneficial for anyone. It just wants to exist. If you donâ€™t tame it, love may kill your dreams or, even worse, the dreams of those you love.
A tiny footnote: I entered a photo in a photo contest in Kiev. It was a photo of the sun setting through the clouds over a field. Tanya was actually with me when I took the photo. I had to title the photo for the contest, so I chose â€śThe Day I Knew it Was Her.â€ť Everyone pestered me as to who the â€śherâ€ť was. I kept silent about it, never revealing and keeping everyone guessing â€¦ Well, now you know.