Last time, I came with a heavy suitcase but tonight, it’s just me and a small backpack in tow.
Last time, I had more time. We had more time.
I drop my bag next to the tubes that line the floor in all directions, keeping you captive to your oxygen tank.
I don’t know what took me so long to get here.
I think you forgive me though—in fact, it seems there isn’t anything to forgive. You act as though no time has passed at all, in spite of your thinner hair and waistline.
As we sit outside on the porch—one of your more recent pastimes—and I take in our surroundings.
There is one particular hummingbird, red-breasted, that hovers in the bushes a couple yards away from the feeders. He waits there while he isn’t drinking the sugar-water mix but the moment another bird nears the feeder, he darts out from his hiding spot to defend his watering hole.
I wonder if you see it. Your eyes, so blue, are much glassier than I last recall. I wonder what escapes your sight.
I can’t read your mind, but I’d like to think that you’re reflecting on the thought that the air you breathe in now is the same air you took in more than 30 years ago.
Trees give off oxygen, and there’s nothing but trees as far as the eye can see. I inhale it.
Did you watch these trees grow from the ground up when you first bought the property?
What made you stop the car here, on this parcel of pasture?
Supposedly my grandmother Ivy, a devout Catholic, had been considering a life in the convent before meeting Reese. Even at 19, that might’ve been an option you’d consider if you weren’t already snatched up or had at least one child on the way.
It was a Labor Day weekend, 63 years ago to this day. She and her girlfriends were headed to a dance with their beaus—or at least she would’ve been, had it not been for her lack of one.
A young, fresh-faced Air Force cadet would change that. Although any hope of dancing would quickly be fizzled out (as Reese instead opted to do maintenance on his car while making conversation with Ivy), the encounter would culminate in a dozen red roses at her doorstep just seven days later, and a proposal in November of the same year.
Do you suppose chivalry and flowers are antiquated art forms seldom practiced nowadays?
How much did a dozen roses go for in the 1940s?
What was it that she said or did or was that made you know she would be the one for you?
There’s another story about you I remember with pride.
While stationed in Thailand, you were one of the few men in your unit that declined to partake in the “services” of the ladies working at a local brothel.
Although the other men paid for one night for you, you spent the night having conversation with the young girl, who was ever grateful that that was all you wanted.
I’d like to think it was more than the sense of duty that came with having a wife and six children at home that kept you on the straight and narrow. I’d like to think that even if that hadn’t stood in the way, something within you would have.
Did you know I went to Thailand to somehow take with me that part of your life?I only wonder how much it’s changed since your time.
Leaving this place as a young girl always took its toll on me. Until I was probably ten or so, I’d shed a few tears at the knowledge I’d soon have to go back home from what I considered the best place in the world.
“Remember the good times,” was your well-intentioned advice to me. I thought as I grew older it would be easier to follow, but it’s proven quite the opposite as time’s gone by
The words haunt me as I count the steps you take each day and trace the outline of the impression you left in your recliner.
Outside on the porch, you’re here but somewhere else at the same time.
Where are you going? Can I come with you?
You and I both know the answer to these questions.
Even though you’re the one who’s leaving, I feel as though I’m the one preparing for the journey.
Beyond the material items I’ve collected from you over the last few years of my life—a still-unspent $10 you gave me for performing chores 13 years ago, a tube of Chapstick from the winter of 2008, and various black-and-white photographs from your younger years—I also take home with me everything I can remember.
Did you know I snuck one of your flannel shirts into my luggage to somehow keep you close? It was mostly for that reason, but also because of my inability to let any part of you fade away. I slept with it on last night, your scent keeping me awake through the early morning hours.
As I stared at my ceiling in the darkness, I remember your soft whistles at nothing in particular.
I remember your hands that used to guide me through a waltz or foxtrot long before the stroke. Not long ago, they rested gently in mine as I held on to you, to this.
I finally, finally begin to fall to sleep, and my mind goes back to your gentle voice over the phone struggling to form the very last words I’d hear you say:
“I love you.”