“Hey there. Mind if I sit next to you? I don’t much get to sit next to pretty girls anymore.”
I look up into the smiling, friendly face of an older man with twinkling gray eyes deeply wrinkled at the corners.
“Of course. If for no other reason that I am a sucker for compliments from handsome men.”
I move my bags off the chair next to me so that he can sit.
“Where ya headed?”
“Home. Just helped my best friend move across country.”
“Oh, where’d she move?”
“Beautiful up there. I once went camping in the Ozarks.”
“How was it? That sounds amazing.”
“Incredibly stupid. I shoulda died out there half a dozen times. But I never woulda known that if I hadn’t tried.” He laughs a full, jovial laugh, that makes his eyes crinkle even more.
We chat a bit more, mostly the kind of superficial airport talk that happens between strangers, until he tells me his wife recently died.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. She died old and happy and healthy and in her most favorite place in the world.”
“Well, with me of course!” We laugh, loud and boisterously.
“How long were you together?”
“Hadn’t spent a day without her ’til the day she died since I was ten years old. We got married when I was eighteen and stayed together for 57 more.”
“57 years? Wow.”
“Aw, 57 ain’t nothing. Not if you’re living it right.”
“You’re lucky. Lots of people can’t find someone they wanna be with for 57 weeks, let alone 57 years.”
“That ain’t all luck. That’s love. And work. They gotta coexist. And don’t let nobody tell you nothing different.”
“How are you doing? Without her, I mean.”
“You know, I’m okay. My kids and my grandkids, they keep asking me this. And I won’t lie to you, I miss her something terrible. But we had a wonderful life. We were happy. We had beautiful kids who gave us beautiful grandkids. We went all over the world and made love in every country we set foot in,” he tells me with a mischievous wink that reduces me to laughing and coughing at the same time, once again drawing the ire of the strangers around us.
“It wasn’t always easy. But it was worth it. And so, when I woke up that morning and made her coffee and she didn’t come down, I was heartbroken to tell you the truth. But I knew I’d kept the promises I’d made to her when we were just kids; I promised I’d give her whatever life she wanted with me, and that I’d never leave her side. And I didn’t.”
I hadn’t even realized I was crying until a tear rolled off my chin and splattered on my hand.
“Well, I didn’t mean to bore you to tears.”
“Ha! You didn’t. That was just… Really lovely. You hear a lot about how marriage changes things and makes things worse and how everyone stops liking each other and having sex and enjoying each other. It’s nice to hear something different.”
“They just don’t know no better, I reckon. Marriage is the best thing I ever did. You married?”
“Well, what are you waiting on?”
“I…” I trail off, increasingly unsure of how to answer this question when faced with it. “I don’t know, honestly. I’ve just… I’ve been alone a really long time. It’s… Comfortable.”
“Nothing amazing was ever described as comfortable, young lady.”
“I have no argument for that.”
“You can’t argue with old people anyway. You might kill us,” he says with a laugh. “Well, I hope you weren’t planning to seduce me and come after my pension. My kids will never allow it.”
“Damn! You figured out my plan.”
“I’m pretty smart, even if I move slow.”
“Don’t you think some people just aren’t meant to get married?”
“I dunno. I think “meant to” can be trap of sorts. People choose not to get married all the time, and that’s okay. But when you get into evaluating your worthiness, if you are somehow someone “made for” marriage as if you can only be one thing and marriage can only be one thing, well, that don’t sit right with me.”
“But you, you’re not even trying.”
“That’s not true!” He gives me a knowing, skeptical look. “Okay, maybe that’s a little true.”
“Are you really okay if you never find someone?”
This too is a thing I’ve been considering; that I might very well be getting to that age where all the things I’ve said about how I’d live my life without a significant other in it could very well come to pass. When it’s time to turn the theory into practicum; am I sure?
“I guess I’d better have a life I can love alone.”
“And do you?”
“Well, you better get to it, young lady. 57 years is nothing. And you’re behind!”
An agent calls for boarding for his flight to Ixtapa, and he gets up, gathering his things.
“What’s in Mexico?” I ask.
“It’s our last trip together,” he says, patting the sealed box he’s been cradling in his lap. “Her second most favorite place in the world. Going to sprinkle her ashes at her favorite beach there. I’m ready.”
My eyes tear up again at how devoted he is to her, even in death.
“Is there a thing you say to someone who’s scattering ashes? Good luck? God bless? Don’t inhale?”
“HA! I reckon if you say anything you say, “You’re lucky.” Cause I was.”
“I was. And I thank god everyday for it. Live some life and make it good. I gotta feeling you’ll get lucky too. And not only in the fun way.”
He leaves me with a warm hug and a squeeze of my hand. As I watch him amble toward the gate with his wife held reverently in front of him, I wonder how many people really get to get that lucky.