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  • Writer's pictureNicholas Vichinsky

The Longest Second

I've heard that each person experiences the longest second of their life. For all intents and purposes, it is to be clear that a second will always be a second. The same amount of time it will always be. It just feels longer. Like the moment of death. It takes seconds but you feel as if you’ve lived a lifetime. Perhaps, this is a lot like dying.


I was on the corner of Greenleaf and Maple. At that coffee shop that I become entirely too familiar with. The college students who work know my order, when I come up they know I’m going to try to convince them to give me a “free one”. Instead of arguing, they now roll their eyes, grab my cup, and fill it with what I asked - black coffee. Thank you, with a nervous grimace.

I have made this a routine. Mostly to people-watch and to be alone, but occasionally I'll go with one or two select people. There is a plaza with a Whole Foods grocery store, an ice cream shop, a small pub, and a “boutique”, all in a strip. Tucked in the corner, the wide windows and porch of this coffee shop sits here.

A small family goes by and a small kid trips, I laugh to myself and watch it like an episode. Two couples sit at the ice cream shop in the withering heat - I try to read lips. One is obviously enjoying their time, potentially a second date. The other one, the opposite. An ending. She had tears and he looked lost for words, you never know in these situations who broke up with whom, nor does it matter. Just that in that second there’s this odd feeling that all your muscles had slipped away and your heart pumps in a loud echo that spoke for you. I looked away and drank my coffee.

It had come time in the afternoon when the light showed through the glass-paneled windows. The temperature dropped two degrees, but made a significant difference in the feeling of the day. The sky changed to orange. Everything seems to stand still. As routine, I close my eyes and take a deep breath in. In these feels seconds I feel as if I can transport. It was then, upon opening my eyes on a deep breath in, I made eye contact with her. The clock started. The longest second. 


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0.02 Seconds

Eye contact and the start of a smile, a stretched lip. Time seems frozen.


⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗

I was on the coast of Lake Michigan. I was looking toward the horizon, and the lake was dark blue. The afternoon sun sparkled on the water. My toes sank into the rocky sand ledge, it created a clear barrier between the dry and hot sand and the wet and warm sand. 

I remember the beach was empty, rare considering the temperature, we were lucky. I remember we walked, anyway, and continued to walk down the beach away from the public entrance - no one was around. The few on the beach looked like raisins, now, in the distance - only the wind and sun touched us. The only smell was her, mixed with coconut sunscreen. I look down and I am in my underwear, remembering that this was a sporadic trip. 

Underwear, instead of a sun dress and a light over-sized shirt, would serve as better attire for the walk, don’t you think, she smirked with this comment. 

Orienting myself I looked to the right of me, ahead of me, on the beach. She had her hair up in a bun, she wore her white underwear and her floral bra, my favorite colors on her, and no makeup. Pink, round, sunglasses put a shade over her eyes.  

I remembered, on the way here, she talked about her love for the beach, how we don’t go often, and that we should go again soon. She used to say that there is beauty to be had in seeing the waves crash onto the sand repeatedly. I missed the smell of coconut sunscreen. I guess this is what sold me and It felt good to be back.

She looked back at me with a smile. Come on. She held out her hand out and I hustled grabbed it.

When I caught up, she started the conversation.

You know, my dad and I used to come here in the summers. She paused for a second, and then continued, we would look for lucky stones.

I gave a confused face, then with a smile, was he in his underwear too?

She gave me a stern look.

I'm joking, continue, please.

She bent down, smiling again. They are these gray, flat, stones. She fiddled with the sand and the rocks under our feet. She continued. But, they have this perfect little circle all the way through them. I allowed the wind and the sun's warmth to comfort her for a second. Her shoulders were getting red from the sun, and I could feel my nose getting tight.

          I looked down digging my toe into the warm, wet, sand, and then looked up smiling at the coast.

          What are you smiling at? she smiled back a little.

          I looked at her and let a moment, the same smile on my face, I bet I can find more.

          She let out a breath of air, a laugh. She shook her head from side to side with her arms crossed and released them. She stood up.

          Well… She said, and then she pushed me down into the water and started running down the coast.  We will see! She yelled as she ran away down the coast looking for her spot to start looking for the lucky stone.


           We spent the rest of the day looking for lucky stones. We splashed, we pushed, I threw her in the water, and she smiled more than she wanted to. At some point, we stopped looking and we sat in the shallow end of the water and splashed around to cool down. We raced up dunes and at one point, she jumped on my back and we fell down the hill and rested. At the bottom, we looked up at the sky and pointed to things we thought looked like magic. We also looked for ones that looked like dicks. We laughed and kissed, and sand got in every crack.

           When the sun started going down we were tired from our laughs, burns, and rash. We decided to call it a day, somewhat distracted from our goal that the day was dedicated to. I carried our bags as we walked up the beach her arm wrapped around mine and she jumped on my back when we got close. I would carry her as she kissed my neck and I walked.

     We got in the car and ran out of energy to say a word. Her eyes were closing as we drove with light music in the back. She fell asleep in the passenger seat. The light breeze messied our greasy hair. She held my free hand to her heart as she fell asleep, just whispering, let's go to the beach more, okay? I smiled.

   

⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗

0.05 Seconds


She lifted a hand with a soft - hesitant -  smile on her face, she was parallel to the table now. My jaw was half open, half in a smile, eyebrows stretched on my forehead.


⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗

It was getting dark and there were storm clouds on the horizon. The green leaves turned yellow, and the yellow turned orange. It was flannel season. I was driving her home around 9 pm, but I don’t remember from where. She had a big entrance test in the morning and she has to get to bed soon, she said. 

One stop, come on. 

If we stop, I won’t make it to bed in time. 

We left a joint to smoke, that we forgot about, in her purse but when I saw the clouds I remembered. 

You will. I whispered now, We planned ahead… I looked at her and gave her an obvious wink.

It’s already nine o’clock, and then, fine.

Yes!

I took the detour down 10th and onto D Ave. She talked about the nerves of her exam, what it meant for her and for us. I was inclined not to say anything - I had nothing to say, I drove and reassured.

After fifteen minutes of rounded back roads, we pulled into our secret place, a boat launch in the middle of nowhere. I’ve been here multiple times over the years living in the area and I’ve never seen any owner. I never seen new tire treads on the dirt road that leads down to the water. Just mine. I suspected it was forgotten over time. I had to stop going in the years later as a tree fell down in the path and no one cleaned it up. 

We roll down the windows and the night is heavy and wet, little rumblings and flickers come from behind us as I point the front end of my car in the direction of the lake. We can see the moon reflecting in a straight line from the sky to the car. Like a path laid out to it, just for us.

She pulled out the joint and flicked it a few times. We were comforted by the light sound of the radio and each other. She pulled the smoke in and out as if it weighed 10 pounds. The radio played:

I say let it be, let it be (oh)

Forever’s a long time, yeah 

She passed it to me, and I hit it. Everything is more beautiful on the other end of that door. Gentler, less violent. The storm, now over our heads, became a dance - entertainment -  and we were the only ones watching. Her face looked calm and her head pushed back against the headrest. Her eyes closed. We talked of our dreams.

I want to write, I think. 

I could see that. 

You?

Botanist. 

I smile. 

My blue jeans

Will last me all my life

Oh, yes

So should we

I'm spending all this time

We laugh about the time we snuck out in middle school to see each other. I walked three miles at night to just go swing at a school playground, to show her I would. The cops came and we were both terrified. 

The conversation turned to the memory of the first New Years either of us kissed someone. The awkward count down as we stood next to each other. 

So, uh…. I said at the time.

Yup, she said at the time. Eyes wandered. 

I grabbed her hand, at the time and she smiled. We kissed. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

You don't even know me

You don't even know me, yes

I'm hanging from the tree

I'm hanging from the tree

Do you think this will last? 

I don’t know. I want it to.

I love you,  she says. 

Another smile and a kiss that, under the intoxication of the evening, could not be described. There was no better moment. 

That was the first love. Ever. For me, and for her. 


We watched the storm move over the sunroof into the horizon, for the most part, in silence. The exam didn’t matter at that moment. 

For what it is worth, to say the least, she didn’t get to bed in the expected bed time. She woke up late the next morning, barely made it to the exam, and passed. 


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0.09 seconds


She tries to look back but can’t. You raise your hand to wave, but it is too late, she has, for the most part, walked past you. 


⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗ ⧗

You just pulled into her apartment complex parking lot. She exits her building three minutes after you’ve been sitting in silence. There’s a snowstorm and it makes her look pixelated as she slides to the door. This time she enters with tears streaming down her cheek, she opens the door softly, uninsured, and says nothing.  The only sound is the running SUV and her sniffling for a minute. It’s cold, it’s night, it’s midnight. 

For the first time, since that first time, the quiet is uncomforting. You wait for something to be said. You turn toward her. 

She looks at you like she wants you to forget tonight and all the nights before this. She wants you to forget that you have loved her your whole young life. She wants out, but she doesn’t want to hurt you. So, you feel guilty about feeling sad, and that hurts more.

She’s about to say the hardest words, the ones that are supposed to be the warmest, most assuring. They hit you so hard, and even harder because you know it’s the last time, she has to say it that she has to say anything. 

I’m Sorry

That’s all she says and cries. You don’t though, you’re cold and you feel like pinching yourself and you think of nothing in particular but of how you feel at this moment. 

The teardrops hit frozen black leather and are the only sounds for milliseconds. At the same time, you’re trying to think of a million ways to get this to work – you and her. Looking for one more reason to forgive her sorry, but deep down you know. You know, you can’t. Not this time. And if you did, that’s not what she wants. 

She turns, red-faced. Still, no word has been spoken, since. No words really need to. She retains a moment of calm, and says with the biggest lump in her throat, wet eyes, red cheeks, boogies slobbering down her nose,

I’m really sorry and gently shakes and lowers her head. 

Then she turns, hands shaking, and reached for the handle of the door. She broke the frozen seal, took one step, two steps out. She turned and gently closed the door. Before walking she bends halfway down and she looks into the window, one last look, the way she did the first time. Her heavy breath and warm tears blur her image. After you lock eyes, she nods, she stands up, and she walks away – she didn’t look back. She slid into her front door, and that was it. 

  You might meet up later but never how it used to be. A few months, a few years, and you and her are different. She’s seen other guys. You’ve seen other girls. Her favorite coffee has changed. Her perfume is a different shade of darkness, and you have a couple more tattoos. Your car is totaled, and you own a different one.

You small talk until you run out of topics. You remember a couple of good times. You wish each other luck in future endeavors. 

And then you go your separate ways. 


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1.00 Second

I am sat like a statue. Coffee in one hand and a hand slightly up at my shoulder. My mouth is split. I notice this and all of a sudden my surrounding comes back to me. I notice the coffee grinder turning, the empty conversations, and the bird tweeting around me. She has walked off. You drop your hand, close your mouth, and look up into the sky.


The store porch door opens next to you.

Who was that, love? She says. She sits next to you.

An exhale, slow and quiet. 

Um. A stranger… just saying hi. 

That was nice.

It was a nice thought, yes. 



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