He sat across from me. This was new. Typically, he stood. He always seemed ready to run. I was learning his life in pieces. I knew some of those pieces were harder to give up than others, so I understood his need to run. But today was different. Today, he wanted to tell me more.
I stayed quiet. Afraid if I said a word, he would stop. The look in his eyes was so far away, I wasn’t sure what I was about to hear. I played a game with myself. I tried to guess the year before I knew. I guessed 1964.
He took a deep breath and began:
“There have only been two loves in my life. The first was from the age of two until I graduated high school. And that one sort of warped my brain. She was an Aquarius.” (He winked at me)
“But the other..”. (he drifted off for a moment)… “You know, you can do anything you want with a relationship. You can date, marry, raise a family. Anyone can do that. You can control that. But you can’t control love. It just happens. It just hits you.”
At this point, I knew he had left the building. He sat across from me, but I could tell he was visiting another place. Another time.
He continued. “I knew the moment I saw her. She rounded the corner, and there she was. Her hair in a French twist.” He lifted his hands and gestured above his head as he said this, and a twinkle found his eyes. “I remember her white blouse, that black skirt, the cigarette hanging from her lips, the stack of books under one arm and the dead cat under the other.”
I tried not to react, but it was impossible. He had not said that for effect. He was simply describing the first time he saw the woman who owned his heart.
He saw my face and realized an explanation was probably necessary. I had been holding my breath, so I let out a quiet sigh as he came back to the present and half-giggled. “She was studying to get her degree in zoology, and was running between biology classes.”
In any other circumstances, the image would have been disturbing. But in this case, I could picture her vividly. And the man who sat across from me was 19 again. And I felt emotion welling up and threatening to leak out.
“I saw it in her eyes. Defiance. She was a rebel. I fell hard and there was no turning back.”
This time, it was his emotion that threatened to escape his eyes.
“She had only ever wanted to be two things in life. A mother. And a nun. And during our life together, she managed to do both. Just in the wrong order.”
I realized he was talking about his ex-wife. And I was a goner.
We were interrupted when my friend showed up to take me for drinks. I think we were both equally grateful for the moment, and the interruption.
And I had been right about the year.