I had to get out of the house.
Ever since the breakup, I’d had these moments of clarity amidst the swamp my emotional life had become. I knew the reasons we separated. We had separated amicably – even wanted to remain friends. Still, somehow, a gnawing hole had opened up in my life as the distance between us grew.
I found them all around the house: memories which had insinuated themselves among my personal belongings. Gifts. Cards. Pictures. Sometimes they provided a bittersweet glimpse back into the life we had shared. Sometimes they left me feeling betrayed; a promise of something that was never meant to be. Sometimes it was a feeling of doubt; could something have been that died?
So much, it seemed in the end, had been left unsaid.
I put them all away, these lost and shipwrecked mementos, in a safe place as soon as I found them; each within its own time, but they were everywhere. The only things I could not put away were my memories… and my sadness.
I had to get out of the house.
Getting out of the house had been a part of the narrative of our relationship. Ours was a long-distance relationship. She was in love with the lights of the big city. I still lived in the small town where I grew up. We met at the art museum. We ate lunch together and from then on, I found myself on the road, every weekend, just to be with her.
Wonderful were the things we shared, as anyone who’s been in love would know. But, the distance between us one day became more than miles to travel.
I came to know her story. That’s not the story I want to share with you. I keep my confidences. Suffice it to say she came from a hard background and fought tooth and nail for her dreams – dreams that were becoming more concrete by the day. I loved her for her story and her struggle as much as the chemistry between us. I found myself living through her dreams; for it seemed I had none left of my own.
I was caught in a dead-end job and she was a woman of drive and passion who knew where she wanted to go. I was running to keep up, and it was exhausting me, physically and financially.
I was floundering. I, too, had followed a dream. At one time I, too, was becoming all I had wanted to be… only to find one day that it had all blown up in my face. A war of doubt raged inside me. I had an idea of the direction I wanted my life to go, but how could I be sure it wasn’t just another time bomb, waiting to explode…
She couldn’t wait to see if I would find out. The longer it took for me to live my own life, the more we pulled apart – and I knew it. The depression that insued drove a wedge that separated us further.
But, that is not the story I want to share with you. Suffice it to say, I keep my own council.
My story starts on the day I had to get out of the house.
I drove up to the city and I went to the park for what I told myself was the last time. I wasn’t even sure why… It was a nice day, if a bit overcast. The sun hurt my eyes, so a bit of shade was welcome. I took a stroll around the lake. Daffodils had begun to open and a flock of geese were stopping over on their way back north, honking wildly amidst the eiders and the coots. Fountains were leaping into the air, their waters falling and leaping back again. The burgeoning of spring may be a balm to the broken heart but it’s also hard to see so much life when a part of you is dying inside…
She loved Saturdays in this park. My proclivities tend to lead me into wilder places, less manicured. But I, too, loved this place. It has a history to it. So many people have trod the paths of this park since it was founded shortly after the Civil War. You could feel their stories seeping out of the rocks, the trees, the bits of neo-classical architecture scattered about. It was a place stuck in time yet oddly outside of it.
That’s when I saw him – the old man in the rumpled grey coat and brown cap. His face was pale, lined with too much thought and too little action. Something of intensity was sharp in his blue eyes. He sat on a park bench staring out over the water. A single red rose he held clasped in his hands. The thorns, no doubt, must have bit deeply.
A bit winded, I sat down next to him.
“Nice day, isn’t it?” I ventured. I could sense in him a kindred spirit. Besides, he had my curiosity up which kept my mind occupied.
Somehow, his reply was not what I expected. That may sound strange, but what I had expected was the resigned, disinterested, “Yep.” typical of the elderly. To me, his reply sounded more like the release of a long held sigh.
“Waiting for someone…?”
He didn’t reply right away. I wondered if I should go. I looked over at him for some sign of a desire for solitude and noticed his eyes brimming with tears.
He turned to me with a nod of his head, a slight smile on his face, and spoke in a voice half of laughter and half quavering with sadness:
“Ive been waiting for her for thirty-five years.”
He glanced away. “Funny who finally shows up.”
“Who was she?” I said. “I hope you don’t mind me asking.”
Gently, he set the rose down beside him. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his nose. Then he blew a blast to which the geese gave a startled reply. He put the kerchief away and again took up the rose, more gently this time.
I started to think i should get up to leave; my presence felt intrusive. He put out his hand and patted me on the knee. He cut me with his keen blue eyes but softened it with his smile. His voice seemed to come from far away as he said, “She was the most amazing woman you could ever know…”
That afternoon, as the shade of the magnolias slanted across the pavement of the sidewalk, we shared our heart with one another, as only lonely souls can do. He was guarded about the details, but his story was much like my own.
“…so, you’ve been coming here for thirty-five years, waiting to see her again?”
“Yep.” Old codger… I smiled inwardly to myself… I knew there was a “yep” in there somewhere…
“Oh no, not every Saturday…” He sniffed back a tear. “…maybe at first but, after awhile, just special times, mostly. Valentines day. The anniversary of our first date.. Have you seen the museum? Her birthday…” He chuckled. “…my birthday sometimes, when no-one was left alive who remembered it. Work kept me from coming as often as I would have liked. That, and the distance. I don’t live around here.”
The sun had slanted momentarily behind the model of the Parthenon on the far side of the lake. The blue haze of twilight was beginning to hint at itself as a chill bit at the air.
“Did you ever see her again?” I found myself holding my breath…
“Oh yes.” He said, nodding methodically. “From a distance, once in awhile.”
“But you never spoke, in all these years?”
He turned to me, slowly shaking his head, the smile on his face conveyed sadness in the way that only old people know how to do.
“No. I never did. Nothing I could say would gap the distance that had grown between us.”
For a moment we sat in silence, staring out over the lake as shards of the setting sun reflected off the water.
“All I ever wanted was for her to be happy, even if that meant I could no longer be a part of her life. But, I could never let go of the last goodby, you know what I mean?”
I nodded my head. I could feel my own tears welling up.
“It’s like,” I said, “If there’s always one last goodbye, it’s never really over. That’s why you’ve been coming back here all these years, isn’t it? It was never to win her back. It was always just to say goodbye, one last time.”
There was a pregnant silence.
Yep. We understood one another.
I heard a voice in the distance. It was coming closer, but indistinct.
He seemed to wake from some reverie and spoke to me fervently, as if he hadn’t much time left:
“I wanted to be a writer, you know. Long as I can remember it’s what I really wanted to do. I gave up on it – gave up on myself… Don’t you make the same mistake!!”
I could hear him, but I was preoccupied by that voice… Closer now… What was it saying…?
“Flowers! Flowers for sale!”
I’d never seen anyone selling flowers in this park. I wasn’t sure it was even legal to do so. But, there she was, a middle-aged Hispanic woman pushing a cart filled with fresh flowers. Tulips. Orchids. Lilies…
Never in all the times we’d walked in this park, my love and I, had we seen anyone selling flowers. If we had… If we had I would have…
“Would you like to buy a flower?” She said coquettishly, batting her eyelids, “They’re pretty… Surely you got a nice girl to give a flower to?”
It began to dawn on me… Was this when it began… or should I say, would begin…? Thirty-five years… But, I had to be sure.
“No, but surely you know my friend here. He’s been coming here with a rose for thirty-five years…”
She gave me a dumbfounded look. It was then I realized that she and I were alone.
As I said… Something about this place is stuck in time – yet curiously outside of it…
Who could this man have really been? With blue eyes…
Just like mine.
As she trundled off, I looked down at the park bench. Carved into the half-rotten wooden seat in large block letters were the words:
LET IT GO
I drove all night. I pondered my reflection from some possible future which was mine to choose, or to reject. When I got home, I booted up my old PC and, for the first time in a long time, I began to write again. It started something like this:
I had to get out of the house…
About the Author: Joe is the collection of memories and sense-perceptions of one member of the species Homo Sapiens whose existence is inherently emptiness.