Present Day – Chicago
I roll over and find her still asleep beside me. This is a first. She’s usually gone before I even wake up—a luxury of working from home. I silently mouth the date out loud to myself. It’s been twelve years since I lost Nora. I make it sound like she died. It’s fucking pitiful. I should’ve moved on by now, I guess in theory I have, but in actuality, I’m living a life that everyone around me thinks I should have.
Next to me in bed is my fiancé, Bridgitte. We met about three years ago. One of those chance meetings in a bar, that somehow led to something more. We were both drunk and I watched her sing a sloppy karaoke version of “Goodbye Earl”, fancying the adorable way she slurred her words so confidently. I approached her following her less than Grammy-worthy serenade and offered to buy her a drink. She giggled and turned me down, leaving almost immediately afterward. But I wasn’t swayed and when she showed up at the same bar with the same friends the next weekend, I tried again. It was just as big of a failure.
Weekend after weekend, she’d end up at the bar and so would I, because by this point, I knew she’d be there and it had become a game to me. There had to come a time she’d agree to a date, to let me buy her a drink, or to even sit down and talk to me. She wouldn’t keep coming back each weekend, especially knowing I’d be there if she wasn’t interested. My perseverance proved accurate and after a month, I scored a date.
There was a part of me that believed she kept returning to the bar because I was meant to meet her. But even I knew that was bullshit. Fate isn’t real, because if it were, I’d have found Nora already. After meeting Bridgitte, I swore I’d give up, that I’d stop looking, but even I knew I was lying. Bridgitte became a distraction that turned into more.
I proposed a couple of months ago and she was over the moon, but I also felt like she wanted it more than I did. She became consumed with getting engaged and after a while, I gave her what she wanted, but I often wonder if it even mattered who it was that proposed to her. If it was the idea of getting married she was so enthralled with, yet I have no right to criticize her methods. The horrible part of it all is, while she was thrilled, I was thinking about Nora the entire time. I was down on one knee, looking up at Bridgitte wishing she were Nora, but it’s been too long to wait anymore.
I tried to find her. Searching every Nora in the greater Boston area, but with only a first name and nothing more to go on, it proved quite difficult. Fucking impossible, actually. And in my insane obsession to find her, I found myself traveling to the places she longed to visit. All of it fueled by the false hope that I would just happen upon her, like fate or destiny or some ridiculous string of amazing luck. I spent two weeks at the Great Barrier Reef the summer after I met Nora, staying in hostels and learning to scuba dive, and with each trip out to the reef, I begged for her to be on my boat. Obviously it never happened. But that didn’t stop me from spending a week scouring cafes in Amsterdam the year I graduated from college. I’d drink coffee and eat stroopwafels waiting for her to walk by, to stroll through a door or to notice me from across the street. Yet, I found nothing. You’d think I’d have given up, but no. I made it to China and then to London, all with no luck. They were all entirely pointless trips, but somehow completely necessary. No one knows why I chose those locations or why I insisted I go, but in the end, I knew.
It all came back to Nora. It always comes back to Nora.
Bridgitte knows about Nora, but she doesn’t know the depths of my obsession. No one does and no one ever will. The fact that I’m obsessed with a girl I spent twelve hours with one August night, is pathetic and sad, even more so now that I’m getting married. Bridgitte thinks it was a crush, just a random blip on my radar like all the other girls that came before her, and I want it to stay that way. She doesn’t need to know, because in the end I’m never going to find Nora.
My family still lives in San Diego, as does my best friend, Matt, and when I visit, I go to the beach, to the exact spot where I fell in love with Nora. I leave a note at the lifeguard tower in hopes that one day she too will return and find it. It’s so fucking ridiculous, and while Matt doesn’t know the full extent of what continues to consume my life, he knows enough to mock me every chance he gets.
It is stupid and I know it, but I still do it.
Twelve years later.
I’m leaving for San Diego in a few hours and Bridgitte stirs beside me. That explains why she’s still home. She’s waiting until I leave before she heads to the office. She wants to say goodbye. She’s good like that, thoughtful and kind and while I try to be, I’m anything but.
“Good morning,” she mutters, her voice hoarse with sleep. She’s the kind of girl who wakes up looking like she stepped out of a magazine. Flawless skin, shiny blonde hair and blue eyes the color of the ocean—a beach beauty trapped in the city. She is a polar opposite of Nora and maybe that’s how I ended up with her.
I sound callous and cold, but it isn’t that way. I do love Bridgitte, but in my life I’ve found that while you can love many people, there is just one who holds your heart, one who own a piece of you.
“Good morning,” I answer back, slipping from the bed before she has a chance to persuade me to stay. “My flight leaves soon. Gotta get in the shower.”
“I can come with you,” she says. She’s propped up on her elbow with her blonde hair swept over one shoulder as she smiles sweetly.
Bridgitte thinks I’m going to San Diego for work and it’s not entirely a lie. I do have to meet with a few clients regarding an acquisition that occurred last month, but it’s mostly because of the anniversary. I left that part out when I told her I was traveling.
How would I even approach that to begin with? By the way, I’m going to San Diego so I can leave a note on a lifeguard tower near where I fell in love with a random girl who I banged on the beach. I’m still currently obsessed with finding her, but no worries, I still wanna marry you. Something tells me that would go over like a fucking lead balloon.
“Thanks, baby, but it’s going to be boring. I have a few meetings, have lunch with my parents, dinner with Matt. You know, the usual,” I say, casually blowing off her offer.
“When do you get home again?” she asks and this time I can see the disappointment in her eyes.
“Thursday, only gone two days. I think my flight gets in early, like around noon.” She isn’t appeased by the two days gone so I add, “How about the next time I travel you join me?” I smirk at her before walking over and kissing her on the lips while she lies back on the bed.
“Okay,” she says and just like that, things are right in our world.
Five hours later I’m in San Diego and Matt is texting me that he’s here to pick me up. I step outside and flag him down as he coasts to a stop along the curb. I’m sure he’s been circling the airport for the last hour rather than park. It’s just what he does and I can’t complain. He picks me up every time I need him to.
“Hey man,” he says as I climb in the passenger’s side.
“Hey. Thanks for picking me up.”
We talk for a bit about his family and what he’s been up to, not that any of it is new information. We text pretty regularly and he was just in Chicago a few weeks ago for work, too.
“So, you have your letter?” Matt asks, a stupid fucking grin on his face. He’s making fun of me. He damn well knows I don’t write a letter.
“There’s no fucking letter, you ass clown. And if you’re going to give me shit, you can drop me off here.”
Matt laughs and shakes his head. “Sorry, you know I’m just fucking with you.”
“This is it though,” I tell him and he quickly turns to look at me, a confused expression on his face.
“What do you mean?”
I let out a long sigh because while I’ve been telling myself this for a while, I haven’t admitted it out loud. Matt would be the only person I would tell anyway, so saying it now makes it more real.
“I’m done. I told myself as soon Bridgitte and I were engaged, I’d stop looking for Nora. I can’t keep this up. It’s been twelve fucking years of nothing and every year I show up at the beach, leave my name and number at the tower and go home. It’s time to move on.”
Matt doesn’t say anything and I wonder what he’s thinking. I’m sure he’s thinking it’s about fucking time I quit this. He’s voiced his opinion on the situation many times, but more recently, he’s been coming to Bridgitte’s defense, playing devil’s advocate and I see his point. I’d hate to think she harbored feelings for another guy, that I was her second choice. Knowing what I’m about to do right now would crush her.
Matt drops me off at my hotel and we make plans to meet up later that night for dinner. My hotel is only a few blocks from the beach and with my note stuffed in my pocket, I make my way there. I stop off at a flower stand, picking up a bouquet of daisies just like I did on the day Nora left me on the beach.
The whole scenario is cheesy as fuck and the more I think about it, the more I hate myself for even continuing, yet I don’t turn around.
It’s warm even for August and the beach is crowded, so I quickly stick my note under the bent nail on the tower. I’m sure every year it blows away only seconds after I walk away, but it’s become part of all of this. This time, it’s part of letting go.
I’m looking out at the water as each wave crests and the white foam floods the beach, taking with it the sand and garbage that litter the area. I remember the beach being cleaner, more serene and peaceful. Now it’s cluttered with people and screaming kids, food wrappers and plastic bottles. Or maybe it’s just the way my memory likes to perceive it, like it was more than it was.
I’m angry with myself for standing here once again with nothing but a slip of paper and still clinging to the false hope of ever finding her. What if I did? I’m not even sure what I would do. It’s a fairy tale in my mind, running off and living happily ever after. I barely fucking knew her and we were just kids. I tell myself this all the time, but that nagging thought creeps in, reminding me that there was a reason I met Nora the way I did and why our connection was so intense. It’s a constant back and forth battle. I want to marry Bridgitte and forget Nora. I want to be happy and stop living with this secret.
I mutter a few curse words under my breath, still hating myself, but swearing up and down this will be that last time I stand on this beach with thoughts of Nora cluttering my brain. I’m done.
There’s a little girl building a sand castle just a few feet from the water and I stop in front of her. I hand her the flowers, telling her to use them to decorate the castle and she takes them happily.
“Goodbye, Nora,” I mutter as I head back to the hotel and it’s in that moment I know exactly where I need to be.
I need to be with Bridgitte.
I cancel all my meetings, apologizing to my parents for not making it over to see them and then again to Matt for having to pick me up at the airport, but when I tell him what’s going on, all he can say is, “Good.” He’s wanted me to forget it all and start my life with Bridgitte and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
It’s late by the time I arrive home, well after midnight and I know Bridgitte is probably asleep, but I still call her name and tell her it’s me as I enter the bedroom.
“What are you doing home?” she asks as she flips on the light, her eyes opening slowly as they adjust. She’s confused and sleepy and for a moment she looks as if she might be dreaming it all.
“I missed you,” I tell her, sitting down on the bed next to her and running my hand through her hair.
“I always miss you,” she says, the sleepiness still lingering in her voice. “Now come to bed.”
I turn the light off on her nightstand as I whisper, “I love you, Bridgitte,” leaning down to kiss her good night, but her lips are dotted with images of Nora.
Why can’t I forget her?