Friday, March 23, 2012
by Gary Carter
Her gloves are lying on the top of the low garden wall, pressed together as if clasped in earnest prayer. I can see them through the window from my chair at the dining room table, which offers a perfect view of the little patch over which she claims queenly dominion, giver of life, nurturing spirit. She must have forgotten them yesterday afternoon after weeding some of the beds in anticipation of spring.
“I know they’re under there,” she told me later as we sipped wine in what has become an early evening ritual over the last few years. “I can imagine the bulbs nestled in the soil, splitting open to allow a shoot of green to wiggle out, and already they’re pushing upward toward me. Any day now.”
I smiled at her gardening fancy, and I remember the wine as blood red and hued with the kiss of the dirt from which it had come. When I held it on my tongue I honestly could summon the pungent aroma of a vineyard in Umbria where we had stood alone one day, a little rented car ticking away beside the road, pushing our shoes and then our fingers into the flinty soil that broke apart and gave up its soulful nose. From that day, I found new meaning in Italian wines, and it also was the day, in that place, she told me finally I had waited long enough and patiently for her to heal, and now she would marry me.
“You’re getting to be an old man,” she teased. “Past sixty last month and definitely on the down slope to a dirt nap. I’ve decided to take pity on you and let you have me, mostly so you’ll stop begging, which isn’t very manly.”
I was surprised since she had told me repeatedly of her conclusion she would never marry anyone again, not after her husband had dumped her for a much younger woman, leaving only a terse note to state he had fallen out of love with her, needed something else, couldn’t wait any longer to start a new life. I’ve always had a smoky image of her at the moment she read that note, head bowed as the reality of it rolled over her. She became broken at that instant, she told me later, after we met by chance at the home of a mutual friend. She was broken and was certain she could not be fixed. But that challenge drew me to her in a searing way that actually frightened me. I was in my early fifties at the time, a hardened bachelor who had rationalized that I just never found the right person, when the truth was the right person, one willing to take me as I am, never found me, or was never willing to bear with my stubborn, willful ways and belief in taking life as it came rather than rushing about trying to remake it to suit some fantasy.
But she was like me, damaged by what we had been dealt by life, and therefore a worthy adversary with whom to battle over how a daily existence could unfold that would satisfy and nurture two dented, slightly out-of-order human beings. I’m sure we both knew we had love in us—we did love ourselves—but were uncertain how to extend that to the other without exposing our soft parts and placing ourselves in a dangerous place.
Somehow we hung together, and actually surprised ourselves at how simply and easily we integrated into a unit of two, merging our individual and independent selves into a single body that walked and talked and managed to survive each day as it came. At night, I know I disentangled myself long enough to savor the blessing of this strange, unexpected union.
And then, there in that ancient vineyard on a hill overlooking a patchwork of fields, she took my hand and said she wanted all of me, in every way she could have me.
In the next village, we cajoled and pleaded with an old priest to marry us. “But you do not have a license, you do not live here,” he protested. “We don’t care if it’s legal,” she told him in ragged Italian punctuated with that smile of hers. “As long as God knows and we know, that’s all that matters.”
With that, and the wad of lire I forced into his wrinkled paw, he relented and blessed our union, even I think enjoying watching us react like giggling teens. As we prepared to leave the shadowed chapel, just before we stepped into bright sun as new people, he laid his hands lightly on our heads and looked deeply into our eyes. “I feel you are special together,” he said. “Go with my blessings and live well in your joy.”
And that’s what we tried to do, and I believe we’ve done well at it now for almost sixteen years. I find it hard to believe I will soon be seventy-seven years old, but the hand on the coffee mug will tolerate no lies, no vanity. Nor will the vision I have of an old woman rising slowly, her knees aching, to strip off her gardening gloves and lay them there on the wall. Bending once more just to stroke the crust of the newly turned dirt with the tips of her fingers, which she then raises to her nose, closing her eyes to allow the pure life of it to enter and nourish her. There is an ever so slight smile turning her lips.
But now there are only her gloves, and my silence. I don’t hear my own breathing, but I can feel the thump of my heart against the wood of the old chair. In our bedroom, no more than twenty paces away, she is lying in bed, curled on her side—her favorite position—a strand of silver hair sliding along her cheek. It’s past the time now when she usually stretches like a long-limbed cat and whistles, letting me know she’s awake and in need of what she calls “her blessed morning kiss.” There will be no whistle this morning, nor again.