Friday, January 13, 2012
From Out of the Blue
As I read it I couldn't help but smile; my daughters picked up on it. I gave a mild response about an old friend in town with his wife. That night both you and she inhabited the blue, ethereal screen of my subconscious, a mildly anxious, crazy romp with a library as the backdrop - maybe one of the few I worked in during my short life as a librarian - and Kenny Wayne Shepherd or the Black Keys, or maybe both, as the improbable musical overlay.
Back and forth we wrote the next day, setting up the coffee meeting for that afternoon. I was on my way into town to drop off Anna at the airport. Serendipity. How about then, on my way back? So it was set up, as easily as that, with Emily at home to look after Dad, companionably watching a hockey game.
I was so nervous. Why? I don't know. What does it matter? We had met nearly forty years ago at school, were good buddies, and I hadn't seen you in well over thirty, possibly won't ever again. As I drove to the airport I didn't think about it much; I was involved in conversation with my daughter who was on her way home, to be terribly missed here at our home, as would her siblings. But once she was on her way and I was making my way back into town to our meeting, my stomach was tight with anxiety. Would you be alone or would your partner be there too? Would conversation flow after all these years? We'd only reconnected recently and hardly know each other now.
I parked the car just as you were texting me, warning me about turning restrictions in the area. You forget that I've lived here a long time but I appreciated your concern. At least I already know you are there before me. I'd hate to have been there first, waiting alone, cradling nervousness.
I see you before you see me. You look just the same, easy to identify after decades. And there is your wife. I think I am relieved. You are looking around, not yet seeing me. I think - I imagine - you look anxious too.
I wave just in case I am unrecognizable after years of childbearing and caregiving. You see me. An affectionate hug. A handshake with your wife. I make sure to make eye contact with her and keep the conversation light and equally balanced, not wanting to cause discomfort. Some awkwardness but not too bad. For a few seconds at the beginning I feel thrown back to those waning days of adolescence; I want to jump on you with childlike abandon, punch your arm, pinch your cheeks, but then conversation turns to Michael and I am again too much the adult. I can be uncomfortable talking about all that unless it is someone I know very well. I prefer to write about it, let people read rather than listen. The oral story seems more of an imposition than the written version. I have to see and take responsibility for the horror and sympathy breaking onto people's faces as they grasp the enormity of this saga, "scary stuff" as you described it.
An hour later, it seems time to wrap it up. Both women look at our watches nearly simultaneously. I could spend hours talking to you both without the constant reminder of Michael's needs before me, but we are grownups with commitments and it is time to leave. Home beckons. It is a warm good-bye with both of you; your wife is lovely and I am glad you are happily settled. Is it a forever-farewell?
The drive home, the whole unlikely encounter, is something of a dream, an interlude in my life, soon to be absorbed into the day-to-day grind, perhaps to disappear into the depths of the subconscious where all dreams go. A few details will remain, a vague impression of a happy sojourn.
Yet I sob all the way back. Lost and found friendship, only to be lost again? Vanished youth? Sadness over my return to a house emptying of family, leaving me essentially alone? Maybe, but I think it is more my overwhelming desire for a normal life, whatever that is, to be able to lightly agree to a coffee date without days of planning, to interact with new, interesting people and hear about their lives without an eye and an ear on Michael all the while. That and my usual undercurrent of sorrow and grief that only wells up when triggered by other emotions.
I arrive home, snap back into the here and now, and I'm fine again. Life continues.
(Painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Sunset at Sea)