Heads turned when she walked into the dining room and into my life. Stunning. Straight blond Dutch cut framing an oval face. A warm face. A lovely face. Her eyes were blue. The top she wore was red. The stick she walked with was white.
I saw her in the dining room of what I like to call one of the many “final departure lounges” in the LAX area. (A retirement home.) I was there because I’m a resident. I’m a kid who’s well into his 80s who still drives and gets speeding tickets. And then, bingo, I’m suddenly besotted by this vision who, I later learned, was there to visit a new inmate, her mother who’s in her late 90s.
I made short work of checking out this magnetic woman. Google and YouTube both confirmed that she was special.
I learned she had been awarded the prestigious Purpose Prize in 2014 for her work with the blind and visually impaired while at the San Francisco Lighthouse for the Blind. Her own blindness, the result of a rare genetic condition, set in when she was 50. It progressed over the years to where it is now. She can kind of make out shapes, size and some color, but obviously her life had been radically changed.
I also learned that her gutsy acceptance of and approach to this life changer is what she passes on to the newly blind of whatever age, so that they too can once again feel whole, free and useful.
Other bits of useful knowledge through the profiles about her proudly self-sufficient ways, and other bits of background I found: Grandmother. Three adult children. Lives in a three-story walk-up in San Francisco with a laundry in the basement. (I thought about her hauling groceries, luggage. Shopping, cooking, handling housework, doing her makeup, throwing dinner parties.)
At her next visit to see her mother, I approached this Wonder Woman and sat beside her. I’m not one to waste time. I believe I’ve mentioned that I still get speeding tickets.
In a few months’ time, we were regularly emailing each other. Our pretext had to do with me helping her keep tabs on her mother who, aside from recovering from a stroke, was deaf. Our giant leap forward began with the following email exchange:
She: Would you be offended if I invited you to dinner next Saturday?
Me: I’d accept, but would prefer to take you.
She: All right, but allow me to pay for the transportation, to and from, so that you can enjoy a glass of wine or two. And please choose the restaurant.
Me: Since the transportation’s on you, your choices are Sardi’s in New York, Chez André’s in Paris or Colombo’s, with live music, in Eagle Rock.
At Colombo’s we sat side by side so that we could face the music together … and touch.
Afterward, back at my private flat in the retirement home, we sat side by side again. We chatted. We touched. We embraced. We kissed. Then more so.
When eventually we had to come up for air, she floored me with an out-of-the-blue question.
“Do you cry?”
I was so caught off guard that I simply said, “Yes.” She smiled and said, “Good. All the men in my family cry.” Then, to Alexa, she said, “Play ‘We’ll Meet Again’ by Vera Lynn.”
Uh-oh! How did she know?
The music began. Our cheeks caressed. We embraced. Tears began to flow. They began to blend. “We’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when ...”
I felt her tears. We held on tighter. And then, soft sobbing. “But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day. ...” It hit deeper. Sobs. Deeper and deeper. Convulsive. We didn’t care. We were safe. We trusted. Intimacy ... such intimacy. The music ended. We embraced the calm. And the wonder. And the love.
Eventually, as we separated, I noticed something, and because of it said to her, “My hearing aid is caught on the bridge of your nose.”
We thought we’d never stop laughing. She says this is her first time being in love.
But this is my second.
My first once-in-a-lifetime was Sarah. The divine Sarah. In our 55 years together we had only one major bump in the road. Alcoholism. Hers. Even with it, our marriage was far better than most. She joined AA and kept her alcoholism in remission for the rest of her life, and helped countless others turn their lives around as well.
Then, six years ago, came the appointment with the oncologist and the devastating words, “abdominal” and “inoperable mass.” Stage 4 cervical cancer.
Finally, the awful question. “How long?”
Then the awful answer. “Six weeks.”
I have a crystal-clear memory of just sitting on the sofa that day. Numb. Sarah wandered around a little and then sat next to me, taking my hand. “I’m so lucky!” she said. I don’t think that those words would have occurred to me. She continued, “I’m almost 81 and I’ve had such a happy life.” And then, “When I’m gone, I want you to have a ball. I want you to be happy, joyous and free. Free to love. Free to fall in love again.”
And on and on she went as I sat there in awe of her.
“But I will love you until the day I die,” I said.
She nodded, “Does loving your second child diminish the love you have for your first? Of course not.”
So many memories. And then, a few months ago a snippet of conversation from many years earlier cropped up. It, too, is crystal clear. These were Sarah’s exact words: “My all-time favorite name for a girl is Kate. I don’t know why, but I just love that name more than any other.”
If you haven’t already guessed, my second once-in-a-lifetime is named Kate.
Kate hasn’t retired yet, so we still see each other only a few days a month and on holidays. When she visits her mom here, who is doing nicely, by the way, she stays with me. And, I, in turn, travel up to San Francisco now and again. The coronavirus outbreak has suddenly put that on hold, of course, but like two teenagers we text like mad between phone calls. And when she does retire, the plan is that she will immediately move down here and then say “I do.”
Sarah, my divine Sarah, my gratitude knows no bounds. Thank you for making it possible for me to love two magnificent women until the day I die.
The author is a retired actor.
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