She had chosen the table by the coffee shop’s front window, small square panes now aglow with the light of morning. Though the air was filled with the sumptuous aroma of the day’s first fresh pot of coffee, it was not the hour she’d have chosen for this meeting with the past, but he had mentioned a plane he was catching later in the day, so morning was best. Stranger still was her agreeing to this meeting at all. Hadn’t she always been the one who’d said reunions of any sort, no never? Actually, she had said never, ever. Let’s face it, if you walked off from someone without a backward glance fifty years ago and no contact since that moment why would you imagine either of you well served by meeting now? But strangely, here she sat waiting on a classmate of some fifty years back. This was stupid. This was insane. She stated to push her chair back and gather her purse and book. She’d write a note, leave it with the young man making the coffee. Quickly, she scouted through her pockets for a pen that would write on a napkin. Her fountain pen was of no use, and her writing tablet pages were sewn in. With her head down and her attention now focused in the dark inner reaches of her purse, she didn’t notice him standing at the door looking directly at her, his face softened by the whirl of memories flooding his mind.
When he noted her frantic search, he stopped and leaned against the door jamb, arms folded, one foot casually in front of the other. His eyes crinkled with the smile that was deepening on his face. He waited.
When she paused for a second to raise her head and search for a barista, her gaze flash over him and slammed to a stop about five feet further on. Slowly she retraced her path and sat staring at him. Her embarrassment showed on her face, and her eyes, those beautiful dark eyes glinting in the morning light, they too acknowledged being caught in the act. He mouthed, “You can’t run. You can’t hide.” Words that took her back decades with the speed of light such that in that moment his hair was its usual dark brown and his face abloom with youth. Is that possible, she wondered. She shook her head slightly to clear her vision and then felt the youthful sense of impertinence that possessed her back then come within reach. It grounded her. She dropped her panic and boldly met his gaze as she had routinely done so many times in those years of long ago. He pushed off the door frame and walked slowly to her table, his eyes never leaving hers.
Her only thoughts as he came near were, how could I have forgotten?
She was confused as he sat down, because she still felt caught somewhere between then and present day. Before her sat a man who felt like he still lived in the prime of youth. The sensation was so powerful she kept thinking she even saw him as a young man. She glanced at the backs of her hands and noticed they were still old. She chuckled to herself thinking, it doesn’t seem to be transforming me. Neither said anything for what seemed forever. She knew what was keeping her speechless, but she had no idea what was going on across the table. He’d always been fascinating that way. He was what her mother used to call a dangerous man.
“Why did you want to meet me?” she finally asked.
“Who wouldn't want to meet you again?”
“You of all people. I thought would never want to see me. And why now when I’m old, my attractiveness but a memory even to me.”
“You were a stunner, I have to admit. But as you knew, I had my choice of many raving beauties of the day. Your attractiveness, your real attractiveness to me was what lived inside you.”
“Is that what you were referring to when you always signed off with, ‘you can’t run; you can’t hide?’ He smiled broadly, his head tilting back a bit. “But I did run, I apparently just didn’t hide very well. Hell, I changed countries and live in this huge city. How did you find me?”
“My work makes me good at that, finding people.”
“It doesn't sound like I should ask you what your work is.”
He sat silent still staring at her, reading her it felt like.
She started in again. “I never could figure you out back then. You appealed to my wild side, but there was always something between us, like a wall I couldn’t penetrate, or rather you didn’t want penetrated.”
“Neither is true. You just didn’t know what you were dealing with and thus how to interact with me.”
“So what’s the interest now?”
“Those things that drew me to you, they don’t change with age or wither away. Sometimes they need to be stirred up like embers being brought back to flame. People have so little understanding of themselves.”
“And you think I do? I feel like I have lost ground, like I’m much more concerned, than I enjoy admitting, with stodgy sentiments such as security, health, financing my old age. Boring things that seem to take on such significance with increasing years.”
He was still so vibrant, so intense. It was vexing to her, confusing, yet she was afraid to ask now just like she had been afraid to ask then about the many oddities this man presented.
She changed the topic attempting to get back to the sort of things people discuss at reunions, or at least she thought, since she’d never been to one. “What have you been doing over the years?”
He looked at her, his eyes laughing with the knowledge of what she was doing. But he could ride that horse too, so he replied, “Traveling, learning, meeting interesting people.”
She realized immediately what he was doing and now a bit frustrated, responded with a an edge of sarcasm. “You see, there you go. Doing it again. Big wall there.”
“How badly do you want to know?”
“Well tell me this first. Why did you contact me? Why did you want to see me? The truth.”
He leaned back in his chair, stretching his long legs off to one side, laced his fingers behind his head and looked at her hard. “I looked all my life for someone who might be able to run with me.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“Just hush,” he said softly. “You asked. Now give me time to answer. I’ve always been a tad different. When I looked out on life, I obviously didn’t see what others saw. I don’t mean I saw fantasy worlds or golden glitter in the air, I mean the things they said weren’t true and yet they acted as if they were, acted as if they were brave when they were scared shitless, acted as if they loved when all they were was a seething mass of needs. I didn’t understand. I just knew I couldn't play that game.”
“I would have thought I was one of them too.”
“Oh you were, but to a lesser extent for, what I call the spark of reality, still flamed up in you.”
“I remember now,” she said with certain wistfulness. “You used to talk about such strange things. They enchanted and frightened me at the same time. You quoted people I’d never heard of who said things I could barely wrap my mind around. But it felt to me like I would only ever be the wake behind you ship at sail, and I remember now.” She nodded slowly. “God, I remember now. My ego didn’t like that. I didn’t want to live in your shadow. I wanted my own corner under the lamp post. It was the ‘60s for pete sake. Women were supposedly on our way up.”
She stared off, above his head, out through the window now letting in the brightness of a noon sun. She got her first stab of a sensation she’d never allowed before. She felt how destructive it could be–to consider what might have been. She raised her eyes and stared into his. The memories were flooding in now. What it felt like to be with him. How she had to practically beat herself back to work, to her studies, to accomplishments, to degrees and fulfillments of what she thought were her dreams, after any hours spent with him. Only they weren't her dreams.
“I can only imagine the pain of that realization you’re undergoing,” he said with utmost kindness.
“Do you read minds?”
“No. I read life. It writes itself, its desires, its hurts, its longings into our eyes, on our faces, throughout our bodies. It’s always all there, if we but take the time to look.”
She sat agonized by what she was letting herself understand about the life that she had chosen. One that she kept justifying as one she wanted. That should have been a clue. Who justifies anything but someone trying to convince themselves. Her voice now quiet and pensive, she asked, “Tell me now why you are
He saw what was going on across the table. It was exactly what he’d dreamed was possible. For the first time, she might now be ready to hear his proposition. So he began. “I don’t need anyone. But what I would like to experience before I die is what it feels like to walk the earth at the side of another who knows me and yet still loves me. You are the closest I’ve ever come to someone who might be able to do that. It is not an easy thing, but I sense it could be the adventure of a lifetime…even now. You can’t plan for this. You can’t figure it out and then enact it. It is the most spontaneous experience you’ll ever have. It will scare you. It will as well profoundly beguile you. My plane leaves in two hours. You can pack one small bag. When I reach across the table and offer my hand, if you take it, we’ll start the life you’ve been waiting for as well as me. If you don’t take it, I’ll understand.”
She sat stunned. She was 70 years old. She had little family, just her novels and one or two close friends. She didn’t have a dog to consider or a house she owned. The thought that she could tie up her life in 30 minutes or less with a few directed notes and one month’s rent was crushing. In that moment she saw how there was nothing in her life that warranted her loyalty. She watched the second hand on the large wall clock tick off more moments of her life. She kept her eyes on it until she was sure. Yes, this might be the first and final chance for her to live an honest life. The one that still lived within her, pretty much in its original box, so to speak. She let her eyes slide off the clock and stop squarely on his. “This isn’t an affair or a Disney fantasy is it. This is a one-way ticket to what I turned my back on long ago, provided I have what it takes.” His smile assured her she was indeed right.
Just as he would have preferred it, she reached across the table
Late that afternoon, their plane left Sea Island from the Vancouver Airport. The crazy group of plane watchers, who daily came to view the planes take off and land right over their heads, saw it lift into the sky. Then it began a long circle back around to the west, toward the Pacific, toward the Far East, toward the unknown as she watched from the window, still smiling, still holding his hand.