Weeks into our relationship, Robert and I found ourselves in New Orleans for a week in the middle of my two-month internship at Tulane. When he left, I had three weeks left in the program. We’ve bid farewell so many times now that I look back coldly on the pain of that particular goodbye. What was I thinking, breaking my heart in two over three weeks in separate cities? Robert’s shuttle took him to the airport around four in the morning and I waited with him on the stone bench outside the dorms. It was damp and sticky and the sidewalk was crawling with cockroaches. He left and I cried myself to sleep in a damp and sticky room, pulling the single sheet tight over my shoulders because there were cockroaches indoors, too.
That morning I dragged myself to work and home again that afternoon and hurried right away to the computer, looking for an email from Robert, telling me he was home, telling me he missed me already, telling me we were meant to be. Instead I found a folder Robert had created and hidden, made invisible somehow, so that I wouldn’t find it until he was gone. Inside I found every shot he’d taken that week. I clicked through those photos twice a day for the next three weeks, amazed at everything he’d caught — the first squirrel outside my dorm room, the waitress at the diner on our last day. I must not have been paying any attention at all. He documented the trip so thoroughly that when I got back to Arizona we clicked through them together, just wanting to go back. We looked at them every week, then every two weeks, and then eventually not at all because we had new pictures from new adventures. Now I dig them up about once a year because I don’t want to forget the way the city looked. I look through them for the landmarks: the junk food we stockpiled when the hurricane warning came in, the aftermath of what turned out to just be a tropical storm, the crumbling cemetery vaults, and the food, the food, the food.
When I pulled them up tonight, though, preparing for a lazy photo post, I saw photo after photo of this girl. Well, they’re photos of me obviously, but it’s been long enough that it’s like looking at a different girl. And it’s like seeing the way Robert saw me. I was a mess, right? Those jeans, that hair, and am I dancing in that last photo? It’s remarkable to me that Robert loved these things enough then to catch them. It’s also remarkable that we’ll never look this way, or look at each other this way, again. I guess we don’t need to. At the time, the details — my knees, his lips — were so new that we wanted to reach out and grab them. Now we’ve got them and we don’t need pictures, except that looking at these make me think maybe we do. It’s less about remembering what we look like than remembering the way we see each other.