We Didn’t Know It Was the Last Time

Later, at home, I saw a photo on my phone from Dec. 12, 2022, exactly a year earlier, of Kiki flopped on the couch in sweats, hair in a ponytail, smiling up at me. A cardboard box of ornaments on the floor beside her, our tablecloth with the elves and candy canes draped over the armrest by her head. We had been laughing about how Christmas is hard work, all that decorating, and how we needed to eat and rest and make pecan squares and watch some old “Wife Swap” episodes.

Eric was away. She had come up for the night to our home in Keene, N.H., from hers in Northampton, Mass., to put up the tree with me. And now this was all I had: a picture of her on the couch, and another, of the finished tree.

We often don’t get to know when it’s the last time. There must have been a last time I played tennis with my father, a final trip to the movies with my mother, before I lost them both to dementia. A last dinner with my friend Julie before her cancer diagnosis changed everything, our daughters still little, the four of us laughing around the table when we thought we had so much time.

I wasn’t paying attention then; I didn’t think I needed to.

The last time I was with Kiki was the day after Christmas when she was getting ready to head home. I had put an art book out on the coffee table for us to look at together, one I had bought months before, knowing she would love it. We had the same taste and could love things in the same way; I didn’t have that with anyone else.

“Let’s look at this now,” I said, “before you go.”

We sat on the couch with the book between us, turning the pages and talking about each picture, laughing in the way you do when you know the other person sees something exactly the same way, sees why it’s funny and sad at the same time.

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