Unsteadily, they walked towards one another, neither looking directly into the other’s eyes. They stared forcefully at the ground and silently met at the same place. They turned to be side by side, facing the same direction. He gently moved his cane from his right hand to his left hand; she clutched her bag, filled with gifts she planned to offer to this spot.
They stood in silence for a long, long time. They hadn’t spoken actual words to each other in over 46 years.
It had taken him quite some time, but after a life-altering experience abroad, he had sent her a letter some 30 years earlier. When she received that letter, the return address revealed his last name and an unfamiliar address, far away from where she was. She wasn’t sure how he had found her then, she wasn’t anywhere where she had been when the incident had happened.
That letter rested on her office desk for many weeks, sealed as tightly as the day it arrived.
As tears silently began to fall from her eyes, she remembered the day she opened that very letter. It was a cold mid-February day; it was his day.
She had sat at her desk for hours, fingering the unopened letter, staring at the handwriting of the address. She pondered what she would see if she read it. Would it be more hurtful words? Words she still hadn’t gotten over in the last 15 years? Words that still haunted her, left her unsure of herself, left walls built tightly around her, keeping others out – protecting herself.
Or would it be an apology? And apology she had hoped for when it had happened? An apology she no longer required as she had long since forgiven him for the strength he did not have.
Life was still lonely for her. She had never recovered or been able to replace (a poor choice of words) what she lost.
For weeks after sending that letter he awaited a response. He had never needed something so badly before in his life.
He needed forgiveness, redemption. He needed to hear that she forgave him. He knew he didn’t deserve it, but he hoped she would.
He constantly checked the email address he gave her. He constantly checked his phone for chats from her. Every time the phone rang with an unfamiliar number, he prayed it would be her.
It was on this day, he laid his head in shame, and he cried. He cried for all the pain he had caused, for being unsympathetic, for not being there for someone who needed him so badly.
He cried for not being a real man for a woman who had needed comfort from him.
He had told her when he first met her he had never been in love, that he had never told anyone he loved them. And then he proved to her how cold and unloving he could be.
And the coldness never dissipated. He remained icy cold, never allowing anyone to get close to him, ever. Not after all that had happened.
He, too, was alone.
He knew he didn’t deserve a response form her. He could only hope that she had enough forgiveness in her heart to give him what he needed: forgiveness.
After finally conceding to read the letter, she slowly opened it. She took a deep breath and a long drink of whiskey. She lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply, and began reading…
Months passed before he got a response. He had nearly given up on her.
Her response came into his email box. The note was short.
It read: “I forgave you a long time ago. I hope this gives you the peace you require.”
He honestly had expected more. Back in the thick of it, she would be relentless. She could type for hours, expressing every emotion possible. When she had a thought, she sent it. She didn’t hold back.
It wasn’t that she had moved on in her life. He had found her because he had hired a private investigator. He knew what she had been up to, he knew she had never married or had children. Maybe she blamed him.
If so, he expected her to let him have it – to go off as she had done many times before.
She hadn’t responded to his request to meet. He wanted to see her, to offer what he couldn’t back then.
What should he do next?
Tears started to slip from his eyes. It had taken thirty years from when he wrote that letter and she had responded to get to this point.
He began after her initial response, writing her every week. Sometimes begging, pleading for forgiveness. Sometimes just explaining what was wrong with him. He let it all out – just as she had done years before when he had ignored her, when he had blamed her, when he had been so cruel to her.
Her responses would always be one sentence, maybe two, long. Basically the gist would be that she forgave him, he should forgive himself.
Though tired of having to consistently give him what he had never given her, she couldn’t stop herself from it. She was better than him, and even if she didn’t want to reply, everything that was her, everything from the inside of her, would urge her to respond.
Always telling him to forgive himself. It didn’t become automatic; it was a thoughtful response each time.
It began once a month, about a year after the first letter was opened. A single flower would be placed, hand-delivered on the porch, on the same date of each month, the single stem tied with a purple ribbon.
No one discussed the origin of the flower. There was never a thank you or a question of why.
When random chores began to be completed, even though no one could ever see the do-gooder, no one had to wonder who it was.
This went on for years.
After the loss of her puppy, now clearly an old dog, a new puppy arrived at her doorstep, tied with a purple ribbon. There was no note.
Presents were placed on her doorstep for holidays: Mother’s Day (though she didn’t have children), her birthday, Christmas.
Flowers, large beautiful bouquets would arrive erratically, after their messages became longer. More information and life’s perils and joys were shared.
The “For Sale” sign on the property across the street from her was barely up before he snapped up the property, paying cash and moving in silently and unseen. This made it easier for him to do more – to accomplish more.
After all this time, thirty years of rebuilding a relationship that likely could never have been resolved without this amount of time and commitment, she sent him an email.
She sent the geographic coordinates, a date and a time, that was all.
That is how they got to here. Both reflecting for hours in this spot on all that was lost and missed, on how lonely and separate they had lived their lives. Not speaking, not sharing these thoughts out loud with each other. Just standing next to each other – staring at the same thing. Thinking silently to themselves.
He slowly reached for her left hand with his right, and squeezed it tight. He wouldn’t let go.
They stared together at the large lilac bush, his bush. As spring had settled in, they both stared at the new blossoms of a bush that was 46 years old.
Planted in honor, in memory of, the son they never knew.