The Last Time

We moved into the new place officially last week (hooray!), and when the Partner loaded up our bikes on the back of his car to take them over there, I thought how we hadn’t ridden them in a while and that it was funny – at some point, we took a ride on them through the neighborhood of the old apartment, and came home and probably had a shower, and put up our helmets and propped up the bikes, and that was the last time we would ever ride around that neighborhood, but we didn’t know it.

The walking path behind our soon-to-be old house. It makes a loop around some fields and I have walked countless circuits around that loop by now. I’ll very much miss its golden sunsets that feel like taking a deep breath after a day at my computer.

Similarly, a few months ago, we had my group of friends over for lunch in the garden for the first time since covid, and as we were washing the dishes and putting them away, I commented that between business trips and a visit to my grandmother, most of our weekends were taken up for the foreseeable future, so maybe we had just had the last big friend meal in this apartment. So that time, we did kind of notice the last time.

So often, though, we aren’t conscious of it in the moment. I’ve read that before with regards to people’s children growing up, but as we’ve moved into the new place over the past few weeks, I’ve been really aware of how true it is of other things in life, too. At one point, we took our last walk through the old neighborhood, but we didn’t know it at the time. At one point, we sat on the sofa in the apartment that was our refuge for all of covid and watched Netflix over dinner for the last time, but I can’t even remember what we watched. (Fun fact: the internet has been down since I got back from the US, so no Netflix recently). At one point we walked to the neighborhood pizzeria (a walking distance place where you can eat pizza outside surrounded by fields is a top notch situation and I will miss it!) and had pizza while waiting for the heat to die down and a little breeze to come up. At some point we left the house at 6 for morning shift at the Red Cross and stopped for cappuccino and a pastry on the way, and it was the last time we would leave from the house to do it. (Now we live 20 minutes further outside of town, so that will be a whole different situation… that will hopefully still include breakfast!)

This came into my mind when I landed in the US in May, too – every single time I’ve come back home from here in Italy or from visiting family in France as a child, my dad has been standing there waiting for me/us. It’s always been easy to spot him, because he’s very tall, so he’s always been there, a solid head over the rest of the crowd, breaking into a big smile when he sees us. It brings a smile to my face just thinking of it; it’s always been an integral part of going home. This last time, though, he wasn’t there. I still have great hope that he’ll come through this health situation okay, and that he’ll be there waiting for me again one day, if not this next one. But someday it will have been the last time he came to pick me up at the airport, and I likely won’t know it at the time.

Another one is my grandmother: at one point, it was the last time I saw her walk. At another point, it was the last time she told me stories about her past, about our family; now she doesn’t remember them anymore. The last time I was here may have been the last time that I sat having dinner with her and chatting about my life – she asked after my work, my students, my partner. She was a little confused at times, but she laughed with me and congratulated me on the new apartment. We talked about the colors that we might paint our walls, and hers. I told her my partner would come next time and paint the ceiling of her bedroom. This time, she can’t really hold a logical conversation anymore, and it’s hard to catch her in a happy mood.

I did get a smile this morning when I went in to give her her breakfast, though, and she greeted me with her usual “Bonjour, mon enfant” and as I write this, it’s hard not to wonder if perhaps that will have been the last time. It’s a guarantee that one day, sooner or later, it will have been the last time. As I sit here with a heavy feeling in my chest, though, it occurs to me that maybe it’s better not to know. It’s bittersweet to look back and notice the last times that have already gone by, but it feels untenable to live with the fear of a current or upcoming last time hovering over my shoulder.

More golden sunset goodness. I have a ridiculous number of similar photos, but it’s just irresistible to try to capture the moment!

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