At the End of Osama bin Laden
Jaime and I started breaking up over coffee on a cold spring morning.
He’d been unemployed since the previous year and over the last few months I had been paying for most things—his Metrocard, our lingering brunches in Williamsburg, the entrance to museums; little luxuries like tickets to see Chromeo perform a sold-out show at Terminal 5.
It had become tense between us. As I prepared breakfast, I could feel his eyes on me, following my slightest movement. I carefully poured from the French press into a big mug and passed it to him.
He cleared his throat and told me he had big news.
He had bought a new bike—at a specialty shop in Brooklyn, a few blocks from my apartment. He’d had it customized and considered it to be a steal at $5,000.
I stared. “With what money?”
He answered, “With my savings.”
It was quiet between us.
He quickly took one last sip, then wrapped his checkered scarf around his neck before kissing my forehead and walking out my door—a morning ritual before he rode the L train to his own place—the one his mother paid for.
I didn’t hesitate as I walked into my bedroom, kicked open a suitcase, and packed in everything it could carry. Within minutes, I hailed a taxi at the corner of my building and directed it to JFK as I swiped through my phone for same-day flight deals.
“I’m going back home,” I said when he answered my call.
“I don’t have the money to follow you.”
I hung up before he could hear the sobs that escaped me in the back seat of a Rastafarian’s cab. I was grateful for his quick decision to play Marley’s “Three Little Birds”—now I’ll always say my tears taste like that song.
I was grateful for his quick decision to play Marley’s “Three Little Birds”—now I’ll always say my tears taste like that song.
Within hours, my plane touched down in Miami. I collapsed into my parents’ arms as soon as they opened the front door; both of them startled to find me there—a crumpled, soggy mess arriving to them just before midnight.
Over the weeks that followed, my parents mediated phone calls between Miami and New York City, in which Jaime and I screamed heinous things at one another.
My grandmother pressed me to make it work, despite the many fights she’d broken up between us over the years.
Once when Jaime had pushed me into a wall at my parents’ home, it had been my grandmother who had tried to help me stand up. I was so disoriented that when I saw a hand coming towards me, I bit into it as hard as I could. It had been hers, not his.
I was so disoriented that when I saw a hand coming towards me, I bit into it as hard as I could.
Despite all this, because we had been raised in the same city, been given the same education, the same privileges, grew out of successful Cuban families that tried to instill the same traditions and cultural values in us . . .
Because we were both young, imposing figures with strong DNAs who had the potential to make beautiful white Cuban babies . . .
Because he was studying law and the expectation was that I’d be a great journalist one day, and education and accumulation of wealth were so important to our Caribbean families . . .
Because of these things—class, race, culture—and despite the drinking and violence and destruction we seemed to bring into each other’s lives—because of these things, my family wanted us together.
I wanted us together.
I had never been with someone who was his brand of handsome.
He was stop-and-stare handsome, take-home-three-numbers-at-a-bar-without-asking-for-them handsome.
Waitresses would ignore me as they took the order from him at restaurants. Women he didn’t know would send him provocative Facebook messages. Once, at a party, a friend of a friend gave him an over-the-top lap dance as I stood by feeling a strange mix of shame, desire, and pride.
I returned to New York City.
I called him, he answered.
We made plans to meet up at the bar across the street from his apartment.
I arrived early, sitting at a table where I could look through the bar’s window into his—sheer curtains, soft lightning, the edge of an iron bed frame.
The light in his room went out and I knew I’d see him—his tall, wide frame, messy brown hair, sharp blue eyes—walking through the door within minutes.
I steadied myself by gulping the two shots of tequila in front of me, raising my fingers in a peace sign to the bartender, who quickly brought over two more.
Jaime smiled as he removed his jacket and sat across from me.
“Cheers,” I said, raising my shot, “to a civilized departure.”
“Between you and me? Never.”
We drank, again and again, throughout the night and avoided talking about the last time we’d seen each other, lost deep inside our individual thoughts.
A sudden burst of noise brought us back. The energy in the bar had become chaotic as people jumped from their tables and blocked the screens on the TVs mounted across the walls—breaking news.
Osama bin Laden was dead.
Jaime stood beside me, his face mimicking the others—utter shock.
We were—me and him—in New York City for this. In 2011.
We both remembered seeing the towers fall in 2001. We’d talked about it many times throughout our years together.
And now we saw them rise, all the people around us, crowded into this tiny bar.
I wanted to cry, but we cheered, everyone in that place. Something had changed in all of us. I now know that closure can come in many forms.
When the bill came, I paid.
When the bill came, I paid.
We made it up the stairs and into his bedroom. I crawled into the softness of his sheets, where the unfamiliar smell of honey and lavender surrounded me; other hints of a sweet spice.
A woman’s petite jacket hung on one of his bed posts.
He caught my stare and laid next to me.
He held me as I asked everything I’d ever been too afraid to ask:
“Do you even find me attractive?”
“Have you ever really loved me?”
“Have you used me all this time?”
We’d always settled fights through the pleasure and pain we’d inflict on each other on that bed, but there were no winners this time. We cried, our tears soaking through my hair, drowning in his pillow. I had loved him, as best as I knew how to love, in my early twenties.
The next morning, at a Jewish deli a couple blocks away, we took our time finishing our coffee. He paid for breakfast before hailing me a cab.
As the car neared the Williamsburg Bridge, I looked back through the rearview mirror.
He had followed on his bike, and I wondered if he would follow the whole way back to my apartment, before he slowed down and turned away.