He leaned back in the chair, careful not to fall over. His eyes closed and in a moment, he was there. He could see her face as she turned to look at him. He was young then, strong, smooth, supple. He had a mop of hair that, while always clean, was rarely combed, like him, it just kind of did what it wanted to, unaware of rules, or the wishes of those around him.
His eyes were alive with curiosity, and the twinkle in them was a permanent fixture. When he scanned the room and the people filling it, his eyes did not dart furtively or evaluate everyone prior to dismissing them. No. His eyes looked at everyone as equals, as people he hadn’t met yet, as stories to be told. When his eyes first rested on her face, that is exactly what they did. Rest. It was time to stop, linger, and belong.
The chair squeaked a bit as the memory of their first meeting, more than forty years ago, reenacted in his mind as if it had just happened. All the feelings of that moment were as new and fresh now, as they were then. He savored them for a moment, like a sweet strawberry shortcake, licking the spoon with great care to get every crumb of memory covered with the exact right amount of sweet feeling.
He went back to work on his letter. It was a letter to her. A letter that he wanted her to read when he was gone- and if she got sick and he knew she was going to die before him, well, then he wanted her to read it while he was still here. It was a love letter, and should only be read while you are still in love. He was hoping to tell her all the things she meant to him, and all the things he wanted to mean to her.
He thought back to his poor first choices of husbandry. Back when he was a rookie husband, and gave almost no thought to the wedding, the reception, or the honeymoon. If he had to do it over again, there is no way on God’s Green Earth, he would have taken her to a Civil War Battlefield for their Honeymoon. Nor would he have let his younger brother hitch a ride with them so he could go home and visit the family.
He didn’t know (then) how much he didn’t know about being a husband, a lover, a friend, and her partner. He was head over heals in love with her, she knew that, everyone knew that, but especially her. That is why she took the time, patience, and quiet talks to explain to him what she needed to feel loved, not just be loved. It took years. Some particular things took decades for him to understand and learn. She was a private person, he was not. Learning to keep her secrets, and stop telling his, was one of the things he worked on most of their marriage.
He stopped writing again. This time he just stared off into space, the memory of their first child being born, the entire pregnancy played out in some fantastic futuristic film style that allowed all nine months to exists as one long moment. Then the moment of birth when their daughter was born. She wasn’t breathing and her tiny body was a deep blue when she came into the world.
The Doctors and Nurses hurried the newborn to a side table and worked with furious intent to get the baby to breathe. He remembered his wife’s quiet question: “What does she look like?”
He watched as they worked on the tiny body, he had no idea what to say to his wife. The baby was beautiful, but not breathing. Perfect in every way, except its little lungs were not clear, or functioning. It was the longest minute of his life.
Suddenly a wail worthy of an Opera Singer of some note, broke the intense blanket of worry and fear that had hung over the room. The new life went from deep blue, to a healthy skin tone and color with that single loud wail. He turned to his wife and said:
“She is beautiful.”
A moment later, when she held her baby for the first time, he remembered two magnificent looks. The first look was the awe of seeing her child, HER child, looking back at her. Tiny little fists already gripping her finger, as her small well formed head nuzzled up against a br*ast that would soon feed the gift of life. He loved that look. It is the look of angelic beauty captured in a smile.
The other look was when she tore her eyes from the baby to look up at him. She reached with her free hand to pull his face close enough to kiss. Just before that powerful kiss was given, she looked deep into his eyes and said: “Thank-you.” It wasn’t an eager kiss, or a sensual kiss, it was a kiss with all the gratitude in the world crammed into it. It was a kiss that said: “You gave me a child. Our child. Stay with me forever.” And he did.
He remembered the second child, born just a year and half later, as if the two events were simultaneous. This time however, the baby was born wailing and screaming. He was mad at the Doctors who followed half century old outdated sterile rules- making contact with the new baby impossible for many minutes. Finally he pushed them aside and held the tiny hand in his. He didn’t care about the disgusted looks of the Nurses and Doctors. He wanted to touch his baby, and he made them place it on her mother’s stomach to finish their duties.
“It isn’t sterile.” They told him with acid tones.
“It’s safe and loving.” He told them in a “don’t mess with us anymore,” tone. He often wondered if that child’s colic was because of the negative energy that staff brought to the birth. His wife had the same smile for this child, she had for the first, along with the same kiss for him.
Then his mind whipped through all the experiences and joys that four decades of being in love with your true love bring. The passages of life, from youth, to middle age, to the Golden years, unfolded in a long collage of snippets of time, place, or people.
He flashed back to the whole family on the beach- when the kids, (both toddlers) were riding on his back as he crawled on all fours in the shallow water.
He was the whale, and they were riding it. His wife sat on their towels further up the beach in the deep dry sand. She was watching the three of them play, with that same kind of pleasant smile she saved for joyful interludes. He felt a nip on his hand, bolting upright and gently dislodging both toddlers. They landed softly next to him standing in water that came up to just their knees.
Hanging from the hand that got nipped, was a giant crab the size of a dinner plate, hanging on for dear life. He raised his hand so his wife could see why he stopped playing whale. His two children got so wide eyed they looked like this strawberry girl cards that sold in gifts stores. The took their little lithe three and four year old bodies, and ran full speed out of the water to their Mom. It made him laugh out loud, the crab still hanging on, but forgotten. When they got to their mom, holding her so tight the might have all just been a single organism – they turned and pointed to the giant crab.
Years later he remembered standing with his bride under the Eiffel Tower, a passerby was gracious enough to take a picture of the two of them kissing. The same scene was repeated two days later in Scotland in an ancient Castle. Then yet another kissing scene , three days after that, on a cliff side in Ireland. All three kisses fulfilling a promise he had made his young bride 25 years earlier;
“We will got to Paris for our 25th wedding anniversary. Then we will got your ancestral homeland- Scotland. Then my ancestors homeland- Ireland. “ He kept that promise, and she kept the memories of it close to her heart.
He wanted to write more about her. About her smile, her gentle disposition, her calm even personality. Her abundant joy for her children, grandchildren, and yes, even him. She was a walking testimony to the power of living in the now. For her, today is the day you have, so you give it your all. If her family was safe, fed, and okay, her day was perfect. She loved loving them all, and all of them loved her.
He wanted to write the things her children said, when they told her that without her in their life, they wouldn’t have been as kind, as smart, and as caring as they turned out to be. They told her she was a Hall of Fame mother, and they could only hope to be one half the Mom she was, when their turn came. She soaked up those compliments with a shy blush, as they were carried to that special place in her heart where being loved, just the way you are- get stored.
When her grandkids came along, both of them made her laugh, and made her day- every day she spent with them. The two year old boy stating: “I want to live with Nanny forever!” The four year old girl saying: “I want Nanny to live with me when I get older.” Those kinds of comments were so common as to be banal, but they weren’t. They were words of honey and dripped golden sweetness directly into her heart.
He wanted the letter to contain all the little moments where he was so thankful she chose him. How he would wait for her to fall asleep so he could admire her without her going : “Don’t look at me like that, I am not perfect!” Yes, she was. Yes, she is. When she slept and all the worries and stressors of the day dropped off, her face got younger, prettier, and her lips curled up in that smile he loved so much. He called them “Angel Smiles” and he could make them appear on her face when she was sleeping, by merely squeezing her hand.
Somehow, their hands, hands that always sought one another whenever they walked together, or sat next to one another, hands that if not burdened with groceries, or children or some other required necessity, were always linked together. It was those hands that would find each other while laying next to each other. All he had to do was squeeze her hand when it found his. No matter how deep in sleep she was, an Angel Smile would appear. His face couldn’t mirror it, but it did reflect it, and he would melt inside.
He hasn’t finished the letter. For they haven’t finished life yet. He put the pen down. There isn’t enough paper on earth, or a poet strong enough to carry the weight of the words he needed. So he did not finish the letter, he just got up, went over to her and kissed her lightly, held her hand, and knelt down so he could put his head in her lap.
“What were you working on so hard at your desk?”
Her hands making tiny circles on his now bald head, replacing the motion she used to use to run her fingers through his hair.
“Just a letter I was working on.”
“What kind of a letter?
“Well, a love letter to you.”
Her hands caressed either side of his head, he felt the weight of her body shift, and then her lips pressed on the back of his head.
“I don’t need a love letter, honey. I know you love me.”
His tears fell with her words.
He would write the letter some other day.
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