Monday, February 15, 2010

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN





We had a lovely Valentine’s day together---a long talk over tea and coffee early in the day, and out to lunch at one of our favorite family cafeterias, followed by a trip to the library and pet store.

I do believe it was the tastiest Sunday lunch we’ve ever had there---Chris had fried chicken, broccoli salad, deep-fried cauliflower and coconut pie. I usually share a few bites of his pie (well---OKAY---half the slice, probably, though at times, since I nip little forktips off “my” side while I’m eating my lunch, by the time he’s ready for his “share” it sometimes looks like one of those Old West buildings in a black-and-white movie---storefronts held up by 2x4’s and mere flat facades of saloons and general stores, but with a meringue roof).

I had a very tart, wonderful cranberry salad---somehow they’d sliced every cranberry into three separate little slices, and combined them with Granny Smith apples---very tart and delicious. And good low-cooked snap beans and some of that crunchy cauliflower---yummy. And I got a dish of dessert, as well. The sign on the counter said, “Valentine Special---buy one dessert, get one free.” So I chose a slice of “Chocolate Caramel Torte,” which was as beautiful as a magazine layout---a thick, rich slice of heavy chocolate cake, sorta halfway between brownie and fudge, with rafts of crisp-toasted pecans atop, a drizzle of golden caramel sauce, a pillow of whipped cream alongside, and chocolate shaved over all.

I took one tiny taste in the restaurant (having to save room to help Chris with the pie, and all) and it was delightful. It went somewhere into the back seat, and I hope it made it home.

We sat in the booth snugged right up in the corner, and to get to the booth from the aisle, we had to pass between two tables, both of which held a single diner, each facing out toward the main floor of tables, so they were sitting side-by-side, so to speak, but at separate tables.

She was a quiet young woman, taking her break and eating her solitary lunch in her cafeteria uniform, dropping in an “awww” or a headshake now and then as the gentleman told his tale.

I was almost expecting a big blustery tale of his exploits or his life, but as he spoke the first few sentences, I did something which I NEVER do---I eavesdropped. Chris spoke a couple of times, and I gave him that gentle small frown and pursed mouth with a headshake which means “quiet, please, for just a minute.”

And we ate quietly, listening to his regret for what might have been---I suppose the sight of all the families having their lunches together, or the holiday itself, or perhaps some lady in the room bore a resemblance to the one he’d cared for---I don’t know the reason why he felt led to tell a stranger his thoughts. His first few words were of having three children and a wonderful wife, and of her passing much too soon.

He spoke of raising the children into their teens, and then of meeting a lovely woman with four children of her own. His fondness for her and for them, the easy way their families enjoyed being together, the bonding with the children on both their parts---the voice coming from behind my right shoulder held such rueful sadness that I felt he might weep at any moment.

He seemed such a NICE man, and went on to tell that after a few months when they spoke of marriage, with her saying that his son was just the kind of brother she wished for her children, such a good example and big brother, and that she knew they could make it on their two salaries.

He said he had thought hard about raising seven children, and expressed his doubts to her. She said, “Well, you make 25 a year, and I make 12---I KNOW we can make it on that.” When he inquired HOW she knew, she said that her uncle worked for the same company and he told her.

I did not get it straight if the invasion of his privacy or the uncle’s nosiness, or her perhaps intimating that she’d checked on things---which of those turned the tide, or perhaps it WAS the seven children which daunted him (Chris and I are very lucky we didn’t feel that way---that’s the exact number WE combined when we got married).

The rest of the one-sided conversation was only of “What if . . .” and “I’ve always wondered . . .” and “I’ll never know . . .” I’ll never forget the sorrow in his voice, and it just put such a punctuation onto Valentine’s Day---the day of love and caring about the ONE you love, and there he was, sitting alone at a solitary table, telling his oft-remembered tale of Lost Love to whatever kind stranger happened to listen.

I’m glad to have heard, for it made me a thousand-times grateful for stepping out on Faith as we did, but so sorry to have witnessed his pain and his forever regret. I imagine the sorrow of wondering that What If can be sometimes as great as real loss.

6 comments:

Southern Lady said...

What a sad story, Rachel ... and I think you're right about the sorrow of the "what-ifs" and "if-onlys" in life being more painful than suffering the loss of a loved one. At least you had the joy of loving them while they were with you instead of going through life wondering how it might have been.

Keetha said...

That is a sad but beautiful story. I can't help but think that it's possible if the two had married, he's what ifs could have been even more painful. You never know!

Either way, thanks for sharing. I love the little things you pick up when you're out and about.

Maggie McArthur said...

I married a man I'd only been with (in off and on time chunks) for three months. Youth, foolishness and FAITH. I'm so glad, lo these many years later.

Tonja said...

A sad tale, indeed. How kind of the young lady to spend her break time listening to his tale of woe. She gave him the best gift, don't you think? The gift of just being heard...

Leah said...

Wow. I feel for him so much. Regret is a horrible mate. I met my husband online and we have been together for almost 9 years now. I'm so grateful for him and happy that I made the right choice.

Jeanne said...

Dear Rachel, your comment this morning made me smile. Our mountain is spectacular and I never take it for granted. We have what I call a wall of windows in which to view our mountains each day we get up in the morning. We are still in awe of our luck to find this property.

The cabin, really a trailer with logs, was on the property when we bought it. Lucky, lucky us. It has been a God send when company comes.

Your money order arrived yesterday. I emailed you. Thank you.

Your story was so sad yet I am sure the gentleman was better off sharing it as often as he could. It releases emotion to share. It was a good thing.

Bill married me with two children and we will be married 48 years this year. He is a blessing to me. We have five children and they too are a blessing. When you hear a story like yours, you are even more thankful for finding that special person to share your live with happiness... Especially after a bad marriage.

Somber thoughts this morning. I say we are blessed.

Hugs, Jeanne