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Authors: Jodi Picoult

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BOOK: Wish You Were Here
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“Was that your boyfriend?” she asks.

“Yeah.”

“Does he miss you?”

I sit down beside her. “Yes,” I say. I watch her create a hashtag on a rock, and color in each alternate square like a chessboard. “What are you doing?”

She slants her gaze my way. “Art,” she says.

I lean my back against the sharp stones of the wall. There are endless ways to leave your mark on the world—cutting, carving, art. Maybe all of them do require payment in the form of a piece of yourself—your flesh, your strength, your soul.

I reach for a rock. I start to carve my name into another loose stone. When I’m finished, I write
BEATRIZ
on another. Then I stand up and pick at some of the pebbles and sand in the surface of the wall, making space to wedge the name rocks into it. “What are
you
doing?” Beatriz asks.

I dust my hands off on my thighs. “Art,” I reply.

She scrambles to her feet, following me as I step a distance away. The rocks I’ve carved are pale gray, completely different from the bulk of the dark wall. They are, from back here, unnoticeable. But when you walk closer, you cannot miss them. You just have to take those few steps.

The first time I saw impressionist art, I was with my father at the Brooklyn Museum. He covered my eyes with his hands and guided me up close to Monet’s
Houses of Parliament
.
What do you see?
he asked, removing his hands when I was inches from the canvas.

I saw blobs. Pink and purple blobs and brushstrokes.

He covered my eyes again and drew me further away.
Abracadabra,
he whispered, and he let me look again.

There were buildings, and smog, and twilight. There was a city. It had been there all along, I’d just been too close to see it.

Squinting at the lighter shards in the wall that have our names on them, I think that art goes both ways. Sometimes you have to have the perspective of distance. And sometimes, you cannot tell what you’re looking at until it’s right under your nose.

I turn to find Beatriz with her face tipped up to the sky. Her eyes are closed, her throat stretched like a sacrifice. “This would be,” she says, “a good place to die.”

Dear Finn,

By the time you get this postcard, you probably won’t even remember what you said when we finally actually got to speak to each other, even if it was only for a minute.

I never chose to go anywhere without you.

If you didn’t really want me to go to the Galápagos by myself, why did you say it?

I can’t help but wonder what else you’ve said that you didn’t really mean.

Diana


Toulouse-Lautrec rarely painted himself, and when he did, he hid the flaws of his lower body. In
At the Moulin Rouge,
he put himself in the background next to his much taller cousin, but hid his deformed legs behind a group of people at a table. In a self-portrait, he depicted himself from the waist up. There is a famous photograph of him dressed as a little clown, as if to underscore that people who focused on his disabilities formed an inaccurate impression of him.

All of this made Kitomi Ito’s painting even rarer. This was the only work of Toulouse-Lautrec’s where he was literally and figuratively baring himself, as if to say that love renders you naked and vulnerable. There were other differences, too. Unlike most of his work, which had been exhibited after his death in Albi, his birthplace, at a museum funded by his mother, this one disappeared from the public eye until 1908. Until then, it had been stashed away with a friend of Toulouse-Lautrec’s, an art dealer named Maurice Joyant. With the painting had come the express directive of the artist: sell this only to someone who is willing to give up everything for love.

The first owner of the painting was Coco Chanel, who received it as a gift from Boy Capel, a rich aristocrat who bought it to lure her away from her first lover, Étienne Balsan. Chanel fell madly for Capel, who financed her foray into clothing design and her boutiques in Biarritz and Deauville. Their relationship was intense and sizzling, even though Capel was never faithful to her and married an aristocrat and kept another mistress. When he died at Christmas 1919, Chanel draped her windows with black crepe and put black sheets on her bed.
I lost everything when I lost Capel,
she once said.
He left a void in me the years have not filled.

Years later, Chanel had an affair with the Duke of Westminster, who took her aboard his yacht, the
Flying Cloud
. Long after that, the duke offered up his yacht for a friend who needed a place for a tryst—Edward VIII, briefly the king of England, who was obsessed with the American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Although they didn’t wind up using that yacht, they did have an affair—one that led him to give up the throne. Months later, in 1937, Edward VIII bought the Toulouse-Lautrec painting for Wallis Simpson, negotiating with Chanel through their mutual friend the duke. Chanel wanted it out of the house, she said, because it broke her heart.

In 1956, Wallis Simpson was said to be jealous of Marilyn Monroe because Marilyn had pushed her off the front pages of the newspapers. She invited her nemesis for tea, choosing to keep her enemies close. While at Simpson’s home, Monroe was left breathless by the Toulouse-Lautrec painting. In 1962, when Joe DiMaggio was trying to get Monroe to remarry him, he convinced Simpson to sell him the painting. He presented it to Marilyn three days before she died.

No one knows how Sam Pride and Joe DiMaggio crossed paths, but in 1972, Pride bought the painting from DiMaggio, and gave it to Kitomi Ito as a wedding present. It hung over their bed until he was killed, and then she moved it into the hallway of their apartment.

There is a small matte smudge on the frame of the painting, from where Kitomi Ito touches it as she passes, drawing her like a lodestone, or a statue you rub for good luck.

Provenance,
in art, is a fancy word for the origins of a work. It’s the paper trail, the chain of evidence, the connection between then and now. It’s the unbroken link between the artist and the present art collector. The provenance of Kitomi Ito’s painting is devotion so fierce, it scorches the earth with tragedy and lays waste to those who experience it. Starting, of course, with the man who’d caught syphilis from his paramour…but who stared at her from the corner of the painting with single-minded focus, as if to say,
For you, love, I would do it all again.

To: [email protected]

From: [email protected]

Six of my patients died today.

Their families were allowed to come in here and say goodbye the hour before they died—and that’s an improvement over what it was last week, when they had to do it over FaceTime.

This last patient was on ECMO. Everyone’s talking about vents and how we’re running out of them but no one is talking about ECMO—which is when your lungs are so bad, even the vent doesn’t work anymore. So you get a giant-ass cannula in your neck and one in your groin and the blood gets pumped through a machine that acts like your heart and lungs. You get a Foley catheter and a rectal tube and a nasal gastric tube for nutrition—we are literally outsourcing their bodies.

This woman was twenty years old. TWENTY. All that bullshit about how the virus is killing old people? Whoever’s saying that isn’t working in an ICU. Of my six patients who died, none were over 35. Two were Hispanic women in their twenties who developed Covid bowel necrosis, which required surgical resection—they made it through surgery but died from complications. One was an overweight man, 28—overweight, but not obese. One, a paramedic, bled into her lungs. One guy I thought was gonna make it, until his pupils blew out—the heparin we gave him so the ECMO could do its work without clotting gave him a brain bleed.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I need to tell
someone.
And because it’s easier than what I
should
be saying.

Which is: I’m sorry for what I said to you. I know I’m the reason you’re where you are now. It’s just that nothing’s the way it is supposed to be, goddammit.

Sometimes I sit and listen to the whir of the ECMO machine, and I think,
This person’s heart is outside his body, and I understand completely
.

Because so is mine.


The night before my two-week anniversary on Isabela, Abuela throws me a goodbye dinner. Gabriel comes with Beatriz, who clings to me when I leave to go down to my apartment. I’ve given her my cellphone number, but also my address, to stay in touch. Gabriel walks me to my door that night. “What will you do back home?” he asks.

I shrug. “Get on with my life,” I tell him. But I am not quite sure what that is anymore. I don’t know if I’ll have a job, and I am nervous about seeing Finn again, after our weird phone conversation.

“Well,” he says, “I hope it’s a good one, then. Your life.”

“That’s the plan,” I say, and we say good night.

It does not take long for me to pack—after all, I have nearly nothing—but I clean the kitchen countertops and fold the towels I’ve washed and fall asleep dreaming of my reunion with Finn. Normally, I would have checked on my flight home, but without internet, I have to just hope for the best.

The next morning when I open the sliding door, my tote stuffed and settled on my shoulder for the walk into town to the ferry dock, Gabriel and Beatriz are waiting. Beatriz looks happier than I have ever seen her look. She throws her arms around me. “You have to stay,” she says.

I look over her head at her father, and then hold her at arm’s length. “Beatriz,” I tell her, “you know I can’t. But I promise to—”

“She’s right,” Gabriel states, and something deep in my chest vibrates like a tuning fork.

I glance at my watch. “I don’t want to miss the ferry—”

“There is no ferry,” Gabriel interrupts. “The island isn’t opening.”

“What?” I blink. “For how long?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “But there aren’t any flights out of Santa Cruz…or even Guayaquil, for that matter. The government isn’t letting any incoming planes land, either.”

I let my tote slip from my shoulder to my elbow. “So I can’t get home,” I say. The words feel like they’re being torn from my throat.

“You can’t get home
right now,
” Gabriel corrects.

“This isn’t happening,” I murmur. “There has to be a way.”

“Not unless you swim,” Beatriz says, sunny.

“I have to get back to New York,” I say. “What am I supposed to do about work? And
Finn
. Oh my God, I can’t even tell him what’s going on.”

“Your boss can’t be mad at you if there’s no way for you to get back,” Beatriz reasons. “And you can call your boyfriend from Abuela’s landline.”

Abuela has a landline? And they’re just telling me
now
?

My life has been a series of telephone poles one after the other, benchmarks of progress. Without a road map of the steps that come next, I am floundering. I do not belong here, and I cannot shake the feeling that at home, the world is moving on without me. If I can’t get back soon, I might never catch up.

I’ve been on an island for two weeks, but this is the first time I’ve really ever felt completely at sea.

Gabriel looks at my face, and says something to Beatriz in Spanish. She takes the tote from my arm and carries it into the apartment while he leads me upstairs to Abuela’s. She is sitting on her couch watching a telenovela when we come in. Gabriel explains to her why I’m here, again in language I don’t understand.

Oh, God. I’m stuck in a country where I can’t even communicate.

He bustles me into the bedroom, where there is a phone on the nightstand. I stare at it. “What’s the matter?”

“I don’t know how to call home,” I admit.

Gabriel picks up the receiver and punches a few buttons. “What’s his number?”

I tell him and he hands the phone to me. Three rings.
This is Finn; you know the drill
.

When I glance up, Gabriel is shutting the door behind himself.

“Hi,” I say out loud. “It’s me. My flight’s been canceled. Actually, every flight’s been canceled. I can’t get home now, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry.” A sob rises like a vine through my sentences. “You were right. I shouldn’t have left.”

I am so mad. At Finn, for telling me to go. At myself, for not telling Finn to go fuck himself when he said it. So what if we would have forfeited money on a vacation? In the grand scheme of things, losing dollars is nothing compared to losing time.

I know I’m not thinking rationally—that Finn isn’t the only one to blame. I could have told him that if things were going to be worse, I would rather have shouldered them by his side than been somewhere less risky without him. I could even have been smart enough to get right back on the ferry that was dropping me off on Isabela as soon as I learned that the island was about to close.

What I’m truly angry about is that when Finn told me to go, he meant the opposite. When I said I’d leave, I wanted to stay. And even though we’d been together for years, neither one of us read between the lines.

There’s really nothing else I have to say, which surprises me, because it’s been so long since we have truly talked. But Finn is drowning in reality and I’m in a holding pattern in paradise.
Be careful what you wish for,
I think. When you’re stuck in heaven, it can feel like hell.

“As soon as I find out more, I’ll tell you. Not that I know how,” I mutter. “This whole situation is just insane. I’ll keep sending postcards. Anyway. I thought you’d want to know.” I stare at the receiver for another moment and then hang it up and afterward realize I hadn’t said
I love you
.

When I step into Abuela’s living room, Gabriel is sitting next to her on the couch. He stands when he sees me. “All good?”

“Voicemail,” I say.

“You’ll stay in the apartment, obviously,” he says, as if he’s trying to make up for his reaction when he first found me here.

“I don’t have any money—” That jogs a new worry in my mind—as sick as I am of eating pasta, I don’t even have enough cash to feed myself.

BOOK: Wish You Were Here
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