He took out the handkerchief from his left breast pocket, the soft and smooth white silk a contrast to the aged hands that held it. They weren’t soft any longer, they weren’t smooth anymore, the were barely capable, they even shook gently and rhythmically now, not the slight shaking they used to do that convinced him all his years that he’d never be a doctor; this shaking convinced him that the process of aging is an old friend.
As his hand gently quaked he pulled it out, deliberately, like a magician making sure not to reveal his secret. His groomed nails were the only thing he could do to feel civilized with his veiny, frail, and spotted hands. His body revealed it’s age and he fought it away as superficially as he could, but he felt it every night and every day, as surely as the sun trekked across the sky, age trekked across his lonely life.
He had waited for this day like a military wife waits anxiously for her spouse to arrive. Time and again. Every time he answered the phone. Every time he checked his mail. Every time he heard the loud ping that indicated he had a text message. He hoped it was her. He hoped her voice would be on the other end of the phone or that her name would appear on the lock screen or that as he lifted the mailbox door he would see her unmistakable penmanship. And so he waited. For this moment.
And he remembered the day he walked out like it was yesterday.
Memories were not like they used to be in his mind. All those close to him knew he didn’t really have a great memory for most things not related to math. He could remember wifi passwords from 50 years ago, but time didn’t just surgically remove his faculties, it also scalpelled away the good times with her. But he did recall a few days now, sitting and rocking back and forth. He recalled the same eyes he saw now. Bright orange exotic fish swimming through pale green emerald lagoons. Her eyes were unexplored islands that he once discovered, but like the City of Gold, he couldn’t find his way back to them.
That day… She sat on the couch and told him she would do anything to save their marriage. And he told her he didn’t want it. He told her he didn’t care. Not in so many words, but surely with his actions. He broke her heart and tossed it aside, like an unrelenting storm breaks a tree and then carries it down river. And he hoped that in this moment, in this moment he waited for, in this moment he prayed for. He hoped for her hand. He hoped for her heart.
And like a speeding train with the brakes applied, his aged body attempted to slow the rocking of this chair so he could hand her his handkerchief. Steadying himself with those same frail hands, his legs attempting to coordinate with the rest of him, slowly planting one on the carpet and then adjusting his body slightly to plant the other one. He leaned forward and held out his white flag.
Their eyes caught one another like they were meant to be caught. A child with a net whisking butterflies out of the air, a mom outside on a warm summer night cupping the lightning bugs for her kids, the man dancing with his new bride on their wedding day, having that first dance as husband and wife. And in that moment as he extended his hand, her eyes examined him.
Her skin was no longer what it used to be. It was aged too. It’s elasticity had diminished like cognitive elasticity does in Alzheimers patients. It was cracked and it looked like crows nested in the corners of her eyes. Her posture was a little hunched in the chair, gravity working slightly against her slender physique. Her smile and eyes were what he remembered most about her though and they were brighter and grander than stars wearing purple robes, celestial magistrates that resided above the heavens.
He reached over and placed it against her as their eyes met and he knew that this moment would reveal what he wanted to know all these years later. He knew whether she would forgive him and see the man she fell in love with so long ago, or whether she wouldn’t.
Her eyes fastened on him. Seeking him. Searching through his soul and beyond for the man she fell in love with in college or the husband she divorced in their 30’s. She examined him quickly and with great effort. She squinted making sure his hazelnut eyes were the same ones she’d fallen for that fateful evening in a two by two square with her friend and his friend. She’d admired him from afar for so long, but now she saw his eyes. She saw the charisma and the charm, and she was. But his charisma and charm became arrogance and she fell out of love with that same man a decade later. He lied so much she loathed every word he spoke. He manipulated her so much she felt like a puppet; and she hated this feeling, so she took her scissors and cut the strings.
Would there be tenderness or would there be bitterness? He wondered. Would there be love or hate? Caring or disdain? How would she see him? How would she respond to this act of repentance? Many many years ago she took all his attempts at repentance as pure selfishness and narcissism; she no longer cared for this man she promised her life to, he didn’t deserve that. He broke her heart and she would never let him back in, not any part of it… Ever. She closed herself to him like a hermit closes himself to the world.
She extended her hand toward his and gently and slowly caressed it as she reached for the handkerchief. And on December 14 so long ago, she ended their life together when she made their divorce legal. And this moment was the moment he prayed for since then. This moment, that felt like a million painful years later, she undid his shackles, she untied the ropes, she took the chains off, and he saw the only woman he had ever loved once again.
“Thank you,” she said with a smile. And in those two words he felt more love than he’d ever felt in all the other words ever spoken to him. In those two words he knew he had found his wife again…