I was at an airport coffee shop waiting for my flight, eyes glued to my book, “Hillside landscaping” a soft voice said, “Nice book, my husband had that too.” "Had?", I asked. "Yes, he is gone, was not able to finish his project", she said. I sensed loneliness in her voice as she tried to finish her sentence. "I am sorry to hear that…". "No, don’t be, he was happy even at his last moment. He was 67 when he passed away, a year ago." I looked at her, she could not be more than 40, size 7, 110 about 5’4” in flat shoes and very regal looking. Sporting a blue blazer and khaki pants, "You shop at Talbot", I said. "Must be your wife’s shop too", she said with a smile. She was looking at my finger where my college ring is instead of my wedding ring. "Oh, yes, she is at home recuperating", I said. She looked at the clock, "Oh! Gotta go, I am heading to Chicago. Good luck and take care of your wife." She grabbed my hand and handed her calling card as she walked away. I couldn’t help but follow her with my eyes as she faded among the crowd. A devilish thought crossed my mind, but instead of keeping the card, I tossed it away.
It was a two-day business trip. I couldn’t wait to get home. For two days, I reflected on my life and what lies ahead of me. My boys are gone, both on their own – all the promises I made to my wife had been accomplished. My spare time is consumed by the landscaping in progress and my penchant for carpentry. As I entered the house, my wife greeted me with a kiss. I looked at her and couldn’t tell whether she is in pain as she never complained. This is her second bout with cancer and just a week ago she was in the hospital. She underwent a mastectomy and still with drainage attached to her body. A year ago, she was confined in a hospital for broken femur and took couple of months to recover. Ten years ago, she had the same procedure, right mastectomy, and she had fully recovered.
That evening I cooked bitter melon with shrimps, her favorite. As we were eating, I asked her if she wanted to go to California for a trip with me. It will be a mini-vacation except for three full conference days. I gave her a set of Mikimoto pearl earrings and necklace, something that she had been eyeing. She looked at me and laughed, you are up to something, she said. No, it just looks good on you with your black outfit, I said. She did not finish the glass of Peju Liana, a late harvest wine, and I poured it with mine not wasting it.
After dinner, I excused myself to light a cigar – a reward to myself. She joined me at the porch and we talked of the days when we just started, a multi-colored car, under the constant surveillance of a tow truck, a studio apartment where you can view the whole living quarters including the kitchen. She held my hand and said, if I don’t make it, I want you to get married again. I know you will not have a problem looking for one, she said with a smile. She complained of the cigar smell, I hope you will quit those cigars, she said, as she left to retire for the night.
I have known her for 37 years now, including the four years of dating prior to marriage. She was petite, beautiful in a frail 97 lbs. She was the only woman I introduced to the family. In those 37 years of knowing her, I never heard her speak ill of anyone. Soft spoken, never heard her curse and never nagged. There are two cardinal rules my boys and I follow at home. Be careful with her orchids, and be ready for Sunday church. No excuses, if you are at home, you will be going to church on Sundays except when you are sick. So even when I catch the red eye flight and come home on a Sunday morning, I am ready for church by 11:00 am, and be wide awake. She wins the argument by not arguing - the silent treatment she gave us sufficiently scares the living daylights out of us. If I have to secure obedience from my boys, all I have to say is "you will break your mother’s heart".
As I sipped my wine, I realized that I draw my strength from her. I remember twenty years ago, as we were having our Sunday breakfast, the phone rang, I answered and calmly said wrong number. The phone rang for the second time, wrong number, I responded again. The third time it rang, she said she will answer it. I froze, she listened patiently and at the end she said, “If he is at your apartment this afternoon, you will never hear from me; if he is not, I hope you will have the decency of not bothering this household again,” then she calmly hang up the phone. She finished her breakfast..., tears running down her cheek. There was an eerie silence.
After breakfast, I apologized. I said there was no justification for what happened, and I couldn't retrace my step back for resurrection. I asked her to look at her contribution to this, but I totally accepted the blame. If she wanted me out, all she had to do was pack my bag and I would leave. I would give sufficient family support and would give her whatever she asked. If she wanted to work it out, to pack for an instant vacation – we would figure out our destination along the way. My youngest was just a month old and my oldest was three. We packed our luggage and into the Colt Station Wagon. We drove along I-95 into I-64 along the Eastern Sea Board. For ten hours, stopping only for rest and food, we drove without direction. She never mentioned what happened – we ended up somewhere in North Carolina.
For the past few weeks, I never lost sight of her. I asked her if she enjoyed our California trip, she said, immensely. I know that we are both in the autumn of our years and are now enjoying each others' company. With her pending chemotherapy, rough road is ahead of us. We were looking at the different headgear for her – and I assured her that she will look pretty in them. She said I always have wandering eyes – I told her that I see with my heart, and I see the important things in my life. She smiled – she is reminded of that bookmark she gave me. "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye." (Antoine de St. Exupery).