It was time to be announced.
“I guess we have to go, then,” Jesse said to me, smiling with the knowledge of what we’d been doing as we kept them waiting.
“I guess so,” I said in the same spirit.
“Yeah,” Marie said, none-too-amused. “I guess so.”
She walked ahead of us as we made the short walk over to the inn.
“Looks like we’ve angered the Booksellers’ Daughter,” Jesse whispered.
“I think you’re right,” I said.
“I have something really important to tell you,” he said. “Are you ready? It’s really important. It’s breaking news.”
“I’ll love you forever.”
“I already knew that,” I said. “And I’ll love you forever, too.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ll love you until we’re so old we can barely walk on our own and we have to get walkers and put those cut-up yellow tennis balls on them. I’ll love you past that, actually. I’ll love you until the end of time.”
“You sure?” he said, smiling at me, pulling me toward him. Marie was just up ahead, grabbing the door to the reception hall. I could hear the din of large-scale small talk. I imagined a room full of my friends and family introducing themselves to one another. I imagined Olive already having made friends with half of my father’s extended family.
When this was over, Jesse and I were leaving on a ten-day trip to India, courtesy of his parents. No living out of backpacks or sleeping in hostels. No deadlines or film shoots while we were there. Just two people in love with each other, in love with the world.
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “You are my one true love. I don’t even think I’m capable of loving anyone else.”
The double doors opened and Jesse and I walked through, into the reception hall, just as I heard the DJ announce, “Introducing . . . Jesse and Emma Lerner!”
Hearing my new name felt jarring to me, for a moment. It sounded like someone else. I assumed I would get over it in time, that it would grow on me, likening this moment to the first few days of a haircut.
Besides, the name didn’t matter. None of that mattered when I had the man of my dreams.
It was the happiest day of my life.
Emma and Jesse. Forever.
Three hundred and sixty-four days later, he was gone.
The last time I saw Jesse he was wearing navy blue chinos, Vans, and a heather gray T-shirt. It was his favorite. He’d done the laundry the day before just so he could wear it.
It was the day before our anniversary. I had managed to snag a freelance assignment writing up a piece on a new hotel in the Santa Ynez Valley in Southern California. Despite the fact that a work trip isn’t exactly the most romantic way to spend an anniversary, Jesse was going to join me on the trip. We would celebrate one year of marriage touring the hotel, taking notes on the food, and then squeezing in a visit to a vineyard or two.
But Jesse was asked to join an old boss of his on a quick four-day shoot in the Aleutian Islands.
And unlike me, he had not yet been to Alaska.
“I want to see glaciers,” Jesse said. “You’ve seen them but I haven’t yet.”
I thought about how it felt to stare at something so white it looked blue, so large that you felt small, so peaceful you forgot just what an environmental threat they posed. I understood why he wanted to go. But I also knew that if I were in his position, I’d turn down the opportunity.
Some of it was travel fatigue. He and I had spent almost ten years grabbing on to every opportunity to get on a plane or a train. I was working at a travel blog and writing freelance on the side, doing my best to get placed in loftier and loftier publications.
I was a professional at navigating security checkpoints and baggage claims. I had enough frequent-flyer miles to go absolutely anywhere I dreamed of.
And I’m not saying that travel wasn’t incredible, that our life wasn’t incredible. Because it was.
I had been to the Great Wall of China. I’d hiked a waterfall in Costa Rica. I’d tasted pizza in Naples, strudel in Vienna, bangers and mash in London. I’d seen the Mona Lisa. I’d been inside the Taj Mahal.
I had some of my most incredible experiences abroad.
But I’d also had a lot of them right in my own home. Inventing cheap at-home dinners with Jesse, walking down the street late at night to split a pint of ice cream, waking up early on Saturday mornings to the sun shining through the sliding glass door.
I had predicated my life on the idea that I wanted to see everywhere extraordinary, but I’d come to realize that extraordinary is everywhere.
And I was starting to yearn for a chance to settle in somewhere and maybe, perhaps, not need to rush to get on a plane to go somewhere else.
I had just found out that Marie was pregnant with her first child. She and Mike were buying a house a short commute from Acton. It seemed all but finalized that she would take over the store. The Booksellers’ Daughter realizing her full potential.
But here is what surprised me: I had the smallest inkling that her life didn’t sound quite so bad.
She wasn’t always packing or unpacking. She was never jet-lagged. She never had to buy a phone charger she already had because she’d forgotten the original thousands of miles away.
I had mentioned all of this to Jesse.
“Do you ever just want to go home?” I said.
“We are home,” he’d said to me.
“No, home home. To Acton home.”
Jesse looked at me suspiciously and said, “You must be an impostor. Because the real Emma would never say that.”
I laughed and let it go.
But I wasn’t actually letting it go. Case in point: If Jesse and I were going to have children, were we still going to be hopping on a quick flight to Peru? And maybe more important: Was I ready to raise children in Los Angeles?
The very moment these questions occurred to me, I started to realize that my life plans had never really extended past my twenties. I had never asked myself if I always wanted to be traveling, if I always wanted to live so far from my parents.
I began to suspect that this jet-setting Jesse and I had been living had always felt temporary to me, like something I knew I needed to do and then one day would be over.
I think that I wanted to settle down one day.
And the only thing that shocked me more than realizing it was realizing I had never realized it before.
Of course, it did not help matters that I was pretty sure Jesse hadn’t been thinking any of this. I was pretty sure Jesse wasn’t thinking this at all.
We had created a life of spontaneous adventure. Of seeing all the things people say one day they will see.
I couldn’t very well change the entire modus operandi of our lives.
So even though I wanted him to skip Alaska and go to Southern California with me, I told him to go.
And he was right. I’d already seen a glacier. But he hadn’t.
So—instead of preparing to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary—I was driving Jesse to LAX so that he could hop on a flight to Anchorage.
“We’ll celebrate our anniversary when I get home,” he said. “I’m gonna go all out. Candles, wine, flowers. I’ll even serenade you. And I’ll call you tomorrow.”
He was meeting the rest of the crew in Anchorage and then getting on a private plane, landing in Akun Island. Most of the time after that, he’d be filming aerial shots from a helicopter.
“Don’t stress out about it,” I said. “If you can’t call, I totally get it.”
“Thank you,” he said as he gathered his bags and looked at me. “I love you more than anyone has ever loved anyone in the history of the world. Do you know that? Do you know that Antony didn’t love Cleopatra as much as I love you? Do you know that Romeo didn’t love Juliet as much as I love you?”
I laughed. “I love you, too,” I said. “More than Liz Taylor loved Richard Burton.”
Jesse came around the side of the car and stood at my window.
“Wow,” he said, smiling. “That’s a lot.”
“All right. Get out of here, would you? I have errands to run.”