A wizened old man in a black trench coat sat on an old wooden park bench. He watched the children playing in the grass, parents resting on blankets and people with pets walking or jogging past him with a blank stare. But the couples with their smiles and their innocent hand-holding, they sent cold knives through his heart. They were the most beautiful and the most painful pictures to watch not because they were smiling or the fact that some even wore matching outfits, but because they dredged up old wonderful, horrible memories.
He was hiding behind a tree. He had been hiding behind that same tree every day for the last week. He wasn’t a felon, he wasn’t wanted by the law although his actions could suggest something to that effect, and he felt just as guilty. He was hiding from her, the girl reading on the park bench. A week before on his way to work, he had caught a glimpse of cerulean eyes looking up from a page and stopped. It was like the world had frozen in place, two pools of blue that almost caught him staring before he managed to right himself. Since that day, he was hooked. Everything about her caught his attention. The way her hair got in the way when she was absorbed in her reading, the way she smiled at her favourite parts. God, that smile. He knew from that first moment that her smile was the one he wanted to wake up to for the rest of his life.
But how could he approach her without looking like a creep? He had spent hours practising the scene in his head; he had role-played with his mirror and even sent a message to one of those phony love doctors in the newspaper. Nothing helped his nerve-racked brain. With no other option, he returned to the park, trying to formulate some sort of plan but nothing came. He just stayed behind the tree and wished for a golden opportunity that never came.
It was the Friday since he had first seen her and he was still clueless. Haplessly, he wondered why it was so hard to go up to girl and ask her out. Why was it so hard to even walk up to her? He had done it before with a few high school girls when he was younger and it had worked out fine most of the time. Why was she any different? His hands clenched unconsciously into fist as anger turned to frustration. What the hell was wrong with him? He felt like some kind of Perv or voyeur, not to mention the way stared when they noticed him in his hiding place. Sick to his stomach with anger, frustration and most of all shame, he was about to turn away and never come back when someone tapped him on his shoulder. He turned to give whoever had disturbed his pity party a piece of his mind when blue eyes paralyzed him like the first time. The girl. She was even more mesmerising in person. The he noticed the frown and his heart anchored into his stomach. She must have noticed him, now she probably thought he was some kind of creeper. This was not the first impression he wanted to make.
He smiled at the memory. Every time he thought back to that particular memory, he realised what an idiot he was.
“WHAT is wrong with you?” the way she said it sounded more like a demand than a question. She spoke softly, I nearly sighed in relief. She wasn’t making a scene. Despite the softness of her tone, he flinched. He was about to utter and automatic apology when she pushed a finger against his lips, silencing him. “When were you going to come and talk to me?” She said, her hands on her hips in the quintessential female pose for “Well?”
Any answer he could have thought of went out the window with that epiphany. She had been waiting for him? His brain could have melted out of his skull and he wouldn’t have noticed. The girl leaned forward, smirking as she got close enough to see the rosy tint on his cheeks as he gagged on a response.
“Are you shy?” she asked, pressing pale pink lips up to his ear. He couldn’t answer, breathing was hard enough. She stepped back and raised her hand. He flinched backwards expecting a slap but instead of a harsh impact, he felt a gentle caress to his cheek. He cracked open closed eyes and was once again stricken silent by her smile. “I like shy boys” she said plainly. She turned around and started walking away, swaying her hips to impressive effect. “Meet me here tomorrow. And bring flowers.” She added as she strolled away.
The only thing he could think of after she had finally disappeared into the distance was “How did she get behind me?”
The laughter erupted from his mouth like a hand erupting from beneath the earth, a corpse rising from its grave. It was loud and uninterruptible despite his efforts. It was the type of laugh that polished the world, making the sun shine brighter and the leaves greener. By the time he had finished, red-faced and puffing, the people around him were all smiling in response. He hadn’t laughed like that in years, not since…
He felt the cold blanket over his heart. His head shifted automatically to the empty space beside him. She was dead. In a twist of fate, a tiny piece of her lung made its way into her brain and began to grow. And as it grew, it drained the life from her. The world was a hard place to live in after she died. Things like getting out of bed were now tantamount to cutting a limb off and the very thought of the word “future” made him shudder. He was tired. Most nights he considered razor blades or cyanide. However, the thoughts of suicide were quelled as soon as they came. He had made a promise.
He held her hand. Skin, once pure and porcelain white, was dried and cracked with age, her hair had wizened and bleached after four children and a lifetime of happiness. Even as the disease ravaged her body, she was still the most beautiful person he had ever met. She was propped up on the pillows and despite the horrible pain she must have been in; she kept smiling that beautiful smile.
In their final moments together, she had taken in upon herself to give him a list of rules to follow after she was gone. He listened intently, not commenting on them. He wanted to savor the memory of her voice. By the time she had finished giving him his instructions, she was out of breath. Her lungs vented papery wheezes as they struggled to fill with air. “No crying” he did a double take on her last words, not because he didn’t hear them properly but because he couldn’t believe she uttered those words. He loved her. She was being taken from him and she expected him not to cry? He wanted to respond in outrage but her words stopped him. “No crying…promise me.” She said, wheezing out a poor ghost of a breath. She went still. That was the first time he had ever broken a promise to her.
A finger tapping on his shoulder broke the old man from his reverie. “Are you okay?” he turned to where the voice was coming from and had to squash the short moment of despair from showing on his face. A young woman with blonde hair who was tucked under the arm of a taller bespectacled young man, was now looking at him in concern. He could already hear his wife scolding him for making the girl worry. It’s nothing. Just thinking about my wife.” He replied. He had to clear his throat twice afterwards. He wasn’t use to speaking after nearly a week of silence. The young couple looked at each other, then back at him, then at the flower beside him. He winced when their concerned looks turned to sad, almost shameful glances. He cursed under his breath. They had offered him their concern on such a wonderful day and he had in-turn given them nothing but grief. This was not what he wanted!
Then it all clicked. This was how his wife must have felt. She didn’t want to leave him with sadness; she wanted to leave him with smiles. She wanted him to live his life and he had ignored her dying wish. As he desperately tried to think of a way to alleviate their empathic sadness, a voice popped into his head.
“WHAT is wrong with you?”
“When were you going to come and talk to me?”
“Are you shy?”
He smiled. Even in death…
He stood and placed a hand on each young lover’s shoulder. They looked up and their own sadness began to melt. His wife had always told him he had an infectious smile. “Me and my wife met here.” He cleared his throat again to swallow the heavy slab at the back of mouth.
“This was our spot for almost 50 years. Now it’s yours.”
His smile widened as the young woman flicked tears from the corners of her eyes.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have children to visit.” He squeezed their shoulders comfortingly and turned to leave. He walked away and waved the couple goodbye. Children whizzed by him, parents on blankets laughed and chatted amicably as he strolled out of the park, a thousand times lighter than when he arrived.
He never came back.
Today’s task was to address my ideal reader. This story is my way of conveying a message through words without being as blunt as hitting you over the head while yelling ”get over it!”. We all have pain, be it emotional, mental or physical. My blog will be dedicated to fighting pain, learning to overcome it through the power of community and building trust not only in others but also in ourselves. My ideal readers would be people who are in pain and on the verge of giving up. I want to tell you that you are not alone and that you are worth it. As someone who suffers from depression (I say suffering because I view depression as a disease which, unfortunately, has no easy cure. Only temporarily remedies.), I feel that if I should write anything, it should be something that may help others in times of need.
I have to try…