My deceased wife used to sing Elton John’s “Your Song.” And whenever it played on the radio, we’d look at each other romantically. She’d sing the lyrics, and I’d stop whatever I was doing and give her my complete attention. “It’s our song,” she said.
I think of her often. Not only am I reminded of her when “It’s a little bit funny. This feeling inside” plays on the radio, but when I look at other women. There’s one person that’s been on my mind, however. Her name is Joan, and she always flirts with me during our stretch class at the YMCA. She lays her mat beside mine, stretches her hamstrings, and we talk before the session starts. We chat about superficial things like her boat or the weather in Santa Barbara — will it ever rain? I don’t know how I feel about her, but I think she wants to know me better. It’s strange. I don’t feel like I’m an attractive guy, but after class, she invited me for a cup of coffee. I hesitated at first. I wasn’t sure I was ready to date and thought I’d be cheating on my wife. I know she’s dead, but I still feel loyal.
“It’s just a cup of coffee. It’s okay if you don’t feel like it,” Joan said.
“I haven’t been out with a woman in a while.” My voice cracking, feeling like a nervous schoolboy.
“Don’t worry, Harry. I won’t bite.”
I agreed, and we walked around the block to the Coffee Bean. As we ordered our drinks, I thought, Am I supposed to be here with her? What if “Your Song” is playing? How am I going to react? Forty years with the same woman was a long time. You know her likes and dislikes, the way she moves around the house, and what her expectations are. I wasn’t sure I wanted to start over, learn about another person’s habits, wants, and needs. What if she doesn’t care for my music or hangs her wet stockings on the shower curtain? My wife was so neat; she’d never do that.
We met in college and got married at the end of our senior year. We were both Poly Sci majors, and discussing politics was something that we both enjoyed. I’m too old to date a woman who doesn’t share my political beliefs or my values.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to start over, learn another person’s habits, wants, and needs. What if she doesn’t care for my music or hangs her wet stockings on the shower curtain?
“I have to be honest, Joan. You’re the first woman I’ve been out with since my wife passed. I’m having a tough time. Nothing against you, but I don’t know what to say or how to act. It’s like learning to walk again.”
Joan laughed, but it wasn’t disrespectful. She thought I was cute.
“Harry. We’re two stretch class friends having a cup of coffee together. No need to get all stressed about it or think you have to impress me. I like you. You’re a sweet guy. I thought it would be fun for us to chat without all that gym noise.”
It eased my mind a bit, knowing that she didn’t have any expectations of me. I relaxed and began to appreciate spending time with her. As she ran her fingers through her blond curls, I saw her in a different light, almost looking at her for the first time. Her eyes were green. She had a pretty button nose, and her mouth was soft and sincere. I didn’t know what to feel, except to let it happen and not feel guilty about it.
“Thank you for being so understanding,” I said, holding the coffee cup in my cold hands.
“My husband died five years ago, Harry. It was crazy. We were having coffee on the balcony, and I heard something break. My husband dropped his coffee cup and passed out. I shook him a few times, but he was unresponsive. I called 911, knowing he was already dead. I watched the ambulance take him away, and the memories flashed across my mind like a ticker tape. It’s funny. I kept wondering where his spirit would go, and I hoped he’d be happy.”
I watched the ambulance take him away and the memories flashed across my mind like a ticker tape.
“That’s a good way of looking at it, Joan. I don’t think I told you how my wife died. She was walking across the street to the CVS, and a truck hit her; he didn’t stop for the red light, just kept plowing ahead. She died on impact. I got a phone call at work, and I was in shock. My boss had to console a crying employee and refused to let me drive home by myself.”
“That’s terrible,” Joan said and took my hand.
It was the first time a woman touched me in three years. It was nice. I didn’t want to let go.
“We all have our sad stories to tell, Harry. But we can’t lose ourselves in our tragedies. We are lucky to be alive and need to move on from our losses. Start new friendships. Allow ourselves to have fun.”
“It seems so easy for you, Joan. How do you do it?”
“I was only five when my mother left us. My dad had raised my brother and me alone. I was too young to understand the impact of the loss, but I saw how well my father did. He lived his life like a normal person and never complained. So I guess I learned from him how to move on when terrible things happen.”
I talked with Joan for another hour. Had two more cups of coffee. It became apparent that Joan was compatible, and I could trust her. I hadn’t laughed with a woman since my wife was alive. Joan told me I worry too much and carry the burden of my wife’s death and that talking to a good friend had helped her. Excited at how easy it was to be with Joan, I asked her out. It was instinctive. I didn’t have to think about preparing how to say it or worrying about what my wife might think. I opened my mouth and asked her to have dinner with me.