I time traveled at work today. To 1950, Easter Sunday. It was the 9th of April.
I may not be very good at conversation starters in social gatherings, or rollerblading without constantly anticipating the fall, nor am I any good at coming up with slam-dunk comebacks. And I have the most difficult time riding an escalator without grabbing onto the handles. But asking people how they met the loves of their lives?… Pro. Ninja Beastmode. Hashtag, Do You…Even…Lift?
I pulled up to the front of a ranch home in a small town in Ohio. I sat in the car for about 5 minutes trying to think of a witty and effortless caption for an instagram photo I never posted. I slowly walked up to the screened front porch and rang the doorbell— no bell. “I’ve been waiting for you,” a deep voice very reminiscent of Morgan Freeman said. This triggered a flashback of myself snuggled in a blue Snuggie on a Friday night watching hour after hour of The Science Channel’s “Through the Wormhole”. End scene.
And there he was. In his Karate Kid waxed, burgundy scooter…rocking his nude, zippered, compression stockings modestly covering his bilateral lower extremities’ trace edema. He was rocking a button-down, short-sleeved flannel shirt, khaki pants which were far too short for his stature, and black suspenders that kept sliding off his shoulders like giant drops of roller coasters (specifically Six Flags’ Great America’s Raging Bull).
I sat out in the patio with him, on an outdated outdoor patio set in a deep mint green that didn’t exactly welcome my behind with open (steel, spray-painted white) arms. I asked my usual questions, already knowing the answers to most of them since I had met him before he was hospitalized. Before he suffered from third degree burns trying to burn remnants of past lovers in the backyard. Before he told me stories about the best days of his life.
It started off with me asking how he was doing with the loss of his wife. A stupid question, right? Because after being married to her after 62 years, how can anyone even begin to answer that? But I asked it, anyway…with full eye contact and a concerned crunching of the eyebrows. To show I cared. To show him that I wasn’t going anywhere. He went on saying he was doing “alright”, that he has friends and family constantly checking on him. An answer I’m sure he’s rehearsed innumerable times, in front of a mirror, silently hyperventilating trying to hold back an uncontrollable explosion of tears. You know, the kind that usually end with an ugly cry in the dark, under the sheets, until our faces are so salty and sticky it’s as of a thin layer of vanilla ice cream was left there to dry.
“How did you meet her?”
This is the part where I time-traveled. When I got lost in his stories. Like Googling “best allergy medications” and going so click-crazy you find yourself reading about 3D printers and having a mental debate whether or not you should invest in them. He brought me to a happy place. His happy place.
He had just gotten back to Mississippi after 2 years of service and was out celebrating with his friends. He was 21. He stepped out of the bar momentarily to catch up with his teenage cousin and her girlfriends. Shortly after, she asked him to walk them home 2 miles into the country. “She likes you,” his cousin said, about one of her friends. Her friend was 17.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” he explained, “she was too young”.
A few months of being “just friends” and driving her to school in a Greyhound bus that his friend bought for football games (“So we can roll with class”, his friend would say), it finally hit him. It just clicked and he suddenly found himself at a bar asking for a glass of liquid courage to ask her father for his permission to marry her. What started as a 2-mile walk home from the local townie bar was followed by whole lot of life and 62 years of unconditional love.
And then it hit me. These very stories? Having them to hold and cherish forever? That’s how he’s doing. It’s no temporary state of being that you can label with just one word, it’s a lifetime of memories that he got to talk about and experience again today because I asked him.
“Thank you for your service, and for sharing your stories,” I told him on my way out in which he responded with a mild smile and a slight nodding of his head. “Thank you,” he said so strongly in return. At that moment I knew, just how badly he’s wanted to have that conversation. And how lucky I was to have been a part of it.