Stay with me and I’ll stay with you.
This catches me up short.
It came so effortlessly, but is it true? Because I can’t say that—I can’t even think that—if it’s not true. It’s not fair, to either of us.
After all, that was our one rule: be honest.
Maybe that means, first and foremost, being honest with myself.
And honestly? When I think of leaving on June 11, it feels as if I’m preparing to amputate an essential part of me. It feels sacrificial. Like death. Sudden death. The car-accident kind. The twig snap that drives so quick and true into your heart you don’t dare remove it for fear of how much it will hurt. You just leave it there. You walk around with it. And when people stare at it in pity, you look down at your chest and you shrug. No, really, it’s better this way.
This is what Antonia was saying.
Losing someone is hard enough. But death without the process of dying is an abomination. It takes nine months to create life; it feels unnatural, a sin against nature, that the reverse shouldn’t also have its time. Time to let go of the known as we take hold of the unknown.
Maybe in this, an Oxenford can be shared. Maybe it’s not just for the person crossing the river, but also for those left on the bank. Looking into a loved one’s eyes, seeing the knowing there, the inevitability, and telling them, I love you. My love is with you to your end; yours will be with me until mine.
Because the love doesn’t die, does it?
What Cecelia said at Oliver’s funeral: Love well those who are dying, so that they may die in love.
God, Jamie, please wake up.
I look down at him, his bony shoulders, his ravaged face, his chest rising and falling artificially, and I realize that there are two possible narratives: he can be a boy I knew during my Oxford year, the first boy I ever loved, who I heard went on to die sometime later.
Or he can be the boy I journeyed to the end with.
When I first found out Jamie was sick, I believed that his disease mirrored my obligations back in America. We were both otherwise engaged. We both had commitments we couldn’t get out of.
The difference is Jamie doesn’t have a choice. My father didn’t have a choice.
And when you get a choice, you’re a fool not to take it.
But, I’m going home. Come June, I hug Antonia, hug William (now that I can), kiss Cecelia, say farewell to my three companions, and leave. Click my heels three times and go home.
But what if I want to stay in Oz?
What if Oz is home now?
Here with this man before me, and everything that comes with him. Parents. A sister. Friends. Oxford.
It’s just not the plan.
My father taught me how to care passionately about things, how to fight for them. I love believing in something and fighting for it. That’s what I told Antonia and that’s true. It’s what I counseled Janet to do, on a national stage, no less. Believe in something and fight for it.
Well. I found my next fight.
That’s my choice.
“Eleanor?” The doctor’s soft, imploring voice cuts through my thoughts.
“Be right there,” I say. I swallow. I whisper, “Jamie. Please hear me. This isn’t your Oxenford, our Oxenford. But I promise, we’ll find it. Together. Because I love you and I’m not leaving you. You’re going to have to leave me first. Choose to stay with me, and I’ll choose to stay with you.”
I’m surprised how sacred these words are to me, like wedding vows.
And if you’re not surprised by life, then what’s the bloody point?
I look down at his hand lying beside him on the sheet. The same hand splayed across a book in the Bodleian, that offered me “Dover Beach” to read aloud, that helped me into a punt, that lay on my stomach last night when he told me he loved me for the first time.
I reach out, but stop just short of touching it.
I glance back up at his face. Sunken cheeks, shadowed eyes, a day’s worth of stubble.
I lean down, inches from his ear. “I will learn what everything costs.”
The story of the Oxford scholar poor,
Of pregnant parts and quick inventive brain,
Who, tired of knocking at preferment’s door,
One summer morn forsook
His friends, and went to learn the gypsy-lore,
And roam’d the world with that wild brotherhood,
And came, as most men deemed, to little good,
But came to Oxford and his friends no more.
Matthew Arnold, “The Scholar-Gypsy,” 1853
Hours later, while I’m distracting myself in the gift shop by perusing awful—truly, awful—“Get Better Soon” greeting cards, my phone buzzes. It’s a text.
As I read it, confusion quickly eclipses my surprise.
Congrats! Holy shit!
What is he talking about? For a crazy moment, I think that he must know about Jamie and me, about my decision to stay. Obviously, I’m a sleep-deprived idiot. I text back:
Hi! But . . . ?
He replies with a link to a CNN web page. I click on it.
I only read the headline before striding out the double sliding doors and into the parking lot, pressing call.
Gavin picks up on the first ring. “There you are!” he says. As if I’m a kid who wandered away from him at a department store instead of someone who didn’t answer her phone once—once—because she was deciding whether or not to kill her boyfriend.
“Yeah, I saw,” I say.
He’s barely listening to me. “It was the debate, his numbers tanked! We just won all five primaries!” I’d totally forgotten about the primaries. Is today Tuesday? I look up at the cloudy sky for a clue as to what time it is. “God, I wish I could see his smug bullshit face right now. Anyway, we’re officially in full-on general-election mode. Things are moving quickly, kid, and we’re gonna need you to come home. I know it’s early, but you had a good run. And I remember that I spent my Trinity Term just drinking.” He laughs. I don’t. “Look, I know it’s not exactly sticking to the plan, but plans are subject to change without notice.” I can tell my silence is unfamiliar to him and for the first time I sense discomfort in his voice. “Okay?”
I wasn’t going to do this now. I wanted to wait until I’d had some sleep, until I could be articulate and diplomatic, because, frankly, I’m a verbally incontinent mess at the moment.
But now, like Hillerson, my hand has been forced.
Here we go.
Gavin’s silent. He’s never heard that word come out of my mouth before. “I don’t understand.”
“I’m not coming home.”
“Let’s not make this a thing, Ella. You don’t want me to find an interim deputy political director, because, I gotta be honest, I don’t think that’s gonna be good for you—”
“No, I mean I’m not coming home. Period. Now or in June.”
More silence. Then he says, “What’s this about, Ella? It can’t be another job. There’s no better opportunity—”
“No, I wouldn’t do that to you. Or Janet. I’m so grateful to you both . . .” I can’t finish. I choke up. It turns out, the act of making a choice, of choosing a path, doesn’t mean the other path disappears. It just means that it will forever run parallel to the one you’re on. It means you have to live with knowing what you gave up. Which isn’t a bad thing; if anything, it only serves to strengthen my resolve.