To be honest, all I really wanted was to go back to folding laundry on a regular Tuesday afternoon. Back to that day when my life was simple and ordinary. But as I sat on the ornate sofa inside the lobby of the Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, nothing was ordinary anymore.
Boone, my husband, had been dead sixteen months. Don’t you hate the word dead? Passed? Departed? Vowels and consonants strung together as synonyms for suck.
It was July. The weather was hot, humid, and stinking miserable in Memphis. A man I’d come to meet sat opposite me in a fancy, gilded chair and looked nothing like I’d expected. But then, I really had no idea what to expect. After all, I hadn’t seen the guy—my college boyfriend—in years.
His hair was still brown but now peppered with gray around his temples. His beard was well groomed and matched his hair color. He looked scholarly.
The top buttons of his untucked shirt were open at the neck. I was relieved to see no gold chains. His two-toned loafers without socks peeked from beneath his black silk trousers. He had an appealing city look, as though he’d stepped off the cover of GQ magazine. A beautiful smile—the one I remembered from our past—beamed from his tanned face. But it was his ocean-blue eyes that captivated me. They always had.
I watched him watching me. He leaned forward, an elbow on each knee, rhythmically tapping his fingertips together, then stilled them in a tepee formation. The heel of his right foot started rocking up and down. I could tell he was nervous. Maybe more than I was.
I studied his oversized hands, remembering how they once felt gliding over my body. In our silence, his smile broadened. We both stared and waited, neither one of us saying a word. I couldn’t. It was so uncharacteristic of me not to be babbling. But seeing him again was surreal.
I picked up the tasseled pillow next to me on the couch and tucked it behind the small of my back. I cushioned against it and yanked my polka-dot dress over my bony knees. I glanced back up to see his blue eyes boring into me. Oh God! I hoped I looked calmer than my fast-beating heart felt.
A few months earlier, Dale—that’s his name—sent me a condolence letter. I answered, and our writing began. First a letter or two, then emailing. We would write every few days and share stories of family, friends, and work. Soon our email exchange became more frequent. Then it progressed to every day. Before we knew it, we were emailing each other several times a day.
We never once talked on the phone or exchanged pictures. So, technically, one could say we were strangers.
As I read his emails, nostalgia filled my heart. I was transformed to the young girl he once knew. The one who believed—with innocent naïveté—bad things happened to others. In those days I was sheltered by a physician father and housewife mother. I believed life was safe, wonderful, and certain, as only a tenderfoot would, before the brutality of life knocked me flat.
Thoughts of Dale transported me back to the days when anything seemed possible. And since I had no idea how he looked, my brain pictured the boy’s same face, physique, and manner, even though I was communicating with someone much older. The brain, well, it’s a funny thing.
After three months of writing, he suggested we meet in person somewhere between our two cities—Indianapolis and Tallahassee—and try to pick each other from a crowd. It would be fun, especially since we had no idea what the other looked like.
A cat-and-mouse game ensued, with clues and guesses, teases and temptations. Each day he emailed a hint about where our reunion would take place.
I flew to Memphis from Tallahassee, Florida, to meet the boy I once loved, having no idea what awaited. It didn’t matter. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and taking a chance.
My heart raced as I walked off the elevator and looked around the spacious mezzanine level. It was vacant and quiet. There was not a soul on the floor where I stood. As I leaned over the brass railing, I could see over a hundred people below me.
I watched a flock of ducks, hens, and drakes splashing and skimming the fountain water.
I studied the tops of the men’s heads. They were short and tall, skinny and fat, and so many nationalities. No one looked like the boy I remembered.
I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to find his smiling eyes. We stood motionless, his blue eyes melding with mine. A jazz band was playing the Miles Davis version of “Some Day My Prince Will Come.”
We had both slipped down to the mezzanine level early in hopes of spotting the other first, neither of us wanting to wait thirty minutes longer. After all, it had already been thirty years.
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