He sat on a bench in the shade, smiling at my best sister friend as she lugged their suitcases and plastic bags filled with T-shirts and sandals and other items bought in hopes of preserving a memory in time of a magical time.
More than one passerby gave him a second glance, clearly wondering why he sat so still as his girl did the grunt work. I glared at anyone who looked like they might say something. My best sister friend was oblivious, intent only on getting their stuff together before they had to board the ferry that would sail them away from the magic.
I walked over and hugged him. He hugged me back, something I know expended energy he didn’t have. I held him at arms length to look at him again–to memorize his half smile and beautiful eyes and curly brown hair flecked with gray.
“Okay, I think we’re organized,” sighed my best sister friend. I hugged her, too, and we held onto each other a little longer because we knew this was the end of a magical time that we would treasure later, need later.
“I love you,” I told her.
“I love you, too, ladybug,” she told me.
“Bye you!” I smiled at him, rubbing his thin shoulder. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. You can’t cry during a magical time, even when you know it is a last time.
I didn’t cry later when I remembered how my best sister friend and I danced with him the night before as he sat on a barstool and we twirled around him, holding his hands.
I didn’t cry later when I remembered the incredibly sensitive local guy who took time to sit with him and talk about hunting and fishing and all the other mountain pursuits he loved but could no longer do. Talking was difficult for him, despite his bright mind and ongoing thought process, so most folks chose not to engage him in any conversation at all. For that half hour, however, he felt like any other guy sitting at the bar, because a local guy I’d never seen before gave him a magical gift of gab.
I didn’t cry later when I remembered how Rouletta sat quietly at his feet and never moved for more than an hour as he lightly patted her head. Or how this man who used to drink bourbon now sipped champagne through a straw because the bubbles felt good on his throat. Or how good he looked despite how sick he was.
Now, I am letting myself cry as I remember these last times and all the other times we’d shared–from standing up for them at their wedding so many decades before to sitting quietly on the beach with him as our then-young kids dug in the sand to hoisting a beer and picking blue crabs on our D.C. deck one muggy July evening long ago.
I cry for his daughters who’ve lost their dad. I cry most of all for my best sister friend who has lost her beloved soulmate of a lifetime.
Sometimes, you look back and wish you had known at the time that a time and place was a last time. You wrack your brain remembering things you wish you’d said or done or felt. I thank God I knew at that time three months ago that I should treasure every single moment of that time. One last time, we said and did and felt it all.
Godspeed to him.