The old man’s throat tightened as he approached the door. It had never been easy for him in these situations; only getting worse since his wife passed. He had to force himself to leave the house.
Oh sure he went to church on Sunday; always at the earliest mass where few attended and he could sit alone in a pew with no one in the pew in front of him or behind him. It wasn’t that he hated people, it was just …
When he walked through the double doors he was looking at his shoes. The noise filled his ears and he fought the urge to turn tail and exit. It was if everyone had stopped talking and was staring at him.
Peering over the top of his glasses, his head still down, his eyes frantically searched the room for a familiar face. There was only a single person he recognized. She was standing to his left with her back against the wall talking to a group of a dozen people.
She was always the center of attention. But then she was attractive, with a voice that was at the same time calming and exciting. Her laugh was captivating, the type that compelled you to smile from across the room even if you couldn’t hear what the laughter was about.
Not that there was a lot of laughter. It wasn’t that type of situation. Still it was good to hear her laugh again. How long had it been – forty – no almost fifty years since he had heard that laugh. It echoed through his psyche. Memories flooded his thoughts – senior prom – that first kiss – that first blush of love. He was a different person then – happy – full of confidence – some would say an extrovert.
What had happened to him since those days?
He walked quietly to the other end of the room. There were fewer people; most were sitting in chairs, a few standing. Twisting his hands in front of his blazer, buttoned with a single button, he approached the coffin and knelt down. There in front of him was a woman he knew well in that previous life. He recited an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be then crossed himself and stood up. Reaching over he patted the woman on the hand, smiled then moved away glancing around to make sure no one saw.
So far so good. He wanted to say a final good-bye to his friend but somehow he lost the courage. He never could bring himself to say good-bye all those years ago when she broke up with him. Even when he saw her at her father’s funeral with his wife at his side he couldn’t bring himself to utter the words. A fact she had pointed out when they spoke that day. He was of course embarrassed to hear the gentle reproach especially since he was standing next to the only other woman he had ever loved.
He knew this would be the last time he would see her. Soon she would return with her husband to their home in North Carolina. He had lost the nerve and couldn’t, wouldn’t say good-bye.
Ever so slightly he inched closer to the door avoiding eye contact. As he reached his goal, his hand almost on the handle, he felt someone touch him on the shoulder. Frozen like a deer, he dared not move.
“You weren’t going to leave without saying good-bye were you?”
“Hello Dee. It’s so good to see you again. I’m sorry for your loss. Your mother was a dear, sweet woman. I always loved her and your father. God rest his soul.”
Dee didn’t wait for him to take the initiative. Even before he was halfway into the first sentence she had wrapped her arms around her old friend. Her body trembled as she sobbed quietly on his shoulder. By the time he had finished his nervous banter, tears were in evidence beneath his glasses.
He kissed her softly on the cheek and stroked her golden hair, movements that were once all too familiar.
“Dee, you said at your father’s funeral that we never really had the chance to say good-bye. Please forgive me.” He clutched her tight. He wasn’t looking at her. It was enough for him to imagine her eyes; eyes that danced like the flame of a candle. They would match its color he thought if the flame had been flecked with gold. And they were more precious even than that. “I couldn’t even bring myself to use the words at your father’s funeral. Now we both know that we will never see each other again so I need to say it. I will never have another chance.”
“I’m sorry about your wife. She was so full of confidence and love.” Dee had stopped crying and leaned back to look Wally in the eyes. Her tender voice caressed his ears.
“Thank you. Yes, she was always good to me. I do miss her.”
“I don’t know if you heard, but I lost Mike about a year ago.”
In that simple sentence, his entire future changed.
Author’s Note: Social anxiety disorder can make even the simplest task seem herculean. This particular story was inspired by a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do”.