March 23, 2009
I remember the day I met you in Central Park. It was that January day when I was sitting on a bench watching the people passing by... passing by without a care in the world. As I sat and watched, I saw you coming from afar. You were alone, with a certain stride that was unusual and slower than the others’ in the park. You were nicely dressed, carrying a brown box in your arms, and I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be items of personal significance. You walked past me, our eyes clearly avoiding contact, it may have been on my part or yours, or maybe, a mutual decision of both of ours.
You sat down on the bench next to mine. I heard you exhale slightly as I turned to see your breath in the cold air. I wasn’t sure where you came from or where you were going, but you sat there, like me, looking at the lives of the people walking by. Minutes passed, and there were moments I could hear the stillness of the park. You sat there uneasy with the brown box on your lap... and after a moment, you moved with a slight hesitation. You rested back into the bench as you realized that same stillness around us. You coughed slightly; I cleared my throat. Stillness. The cold air. You leaned forward; still grasping the box, and said something.
I turned to look. You asked me kindly for the time, and I gave the exact time in case you needed to be somewhere or meet someone important. You thanked me, and remarked how nice the afternoon sun was -- despite the weather. You noticed my camera in hand, and asked if I came to the park often to take pictures. I pulled my baseball cap up slightly, smiled and said, “I do. Every chance I get.” I told you that this was my favorite place in the entire park. You looked around, and with a faint smile, you agreed. You asked about my photos -- what I had taken that day. I turned, stood, and walked over to you, handing you my camera to view the images. You smiled, and said you were impressed with my work, especially since it was just a hobby.
You took your time as you examined each image with a creative, thoughtful eye. You came upon my photos of Seattle, San Francisco, and the rest of my fine art collection. You told me how you loved San Francisco, and when you lived there long ago. Your eyes lit up as you talked fondly about your journeys from the west coast to New York. I listened intently. You asked about me. We introduced ourselves, smiling, realizing how much we had in common -- the same movies, books, creative interests, the arts.
Some time had passed, the sunlight faded. You then mentioned you loved New York City, and came here to start a new life and career. That is when the smile on your face faded, and I glanced down at the brown box that was now sitting next to you on the bench. I saw rolled up posters; calendars; notepads; small framed pictures; books; a freshly used coffee cup. You saw me looking, and you glanced down at the box, and then back at me. I could see you tried to keep your composure as you looked me in the eye, telling me you lost your job earlier that morning, affected by the recent layoffs. You tried to smile, I sat down next to you.
I felt bad, and told you how sorry I was, and for you to keep your head up. You said you had a funny feeling it was going happen. Then you perked up and said you were going to be okay, that you were going on a long overdue, extended vacation. Something you had been planning for quite some time. I asked where to, you said somewhere far away, someplace nice. I told you that it would be good to get away, to think, get things in order for yourself, and to focus on the future. I asked you when you were leaving for your trip, you said, “In a week.”
It was getting dark, the sun was setting fast, and I needed to go. I stood, and I could see the uncertainty in your eyes as you sat there. I felt so bad for you. I asked you if there was anything I could do -- anything, before I had to leave. Your eyes wandered for a moment, and you gave me a slight nod. You faintly smiled and asked me if I could pick you up that next coming week, to give you a ride, so you could be on your way for your trip. Without hesitation, I said, “Yes,” and that it would be no problem and it would save you the cost of public transportation. You reached into the brown box, and grabbed a pen and a piece of paper. You wrote down your address, phone number, the time to pick you up, and gave it to me. I remember shaking your hand, you thanking me, and that we would see each other again in a week. I turned to leave, you -- still sitting there, in the setting sun. A few days later I called you, but you never answered, so I left a message just to confirm that I was still coming to pick you up.
Exactly one week later, I got in the car and ventured outside the city, to the address you had given me. I was more than pleased, and looked forward to visiting with you on the short duration that was ahead.
It was a while later, I arrived at what I thought was the address. I thought I was lost, and thought maybe that I had taken a wrong turn. I checked the address again to make sure and knew it was correct, but it did not seem like the right location. I got out of the car, and walked towards the nice brick building, and I clearly saw the numbers of the address on the outside... but I wasn’t sure about the sign posted outside. I was confused. I thought maybe you were staying with a relative that lived there or you were working there part-time. I continued, walking towards the building, opened the door and went inside. I stopped and looked around the slightly dark entryway. There was a nice, older lady sitting at a desk nearby. She asked if she could help me, and I walked over. I told her I was there to pick you up. She graciously smiled, look off to her left, and said you were in the room... I turned to see a doorway that lead to a room with large red curtains.
I walked slowly to the doorway and entered inside. I took two steps up the aisle and stopped. I didn’t see you, but I saw something from afar. I turned back around and continued out the doorway. The nice lady saw me standing there. I was confused and she sensed it. I shook my head, turned back around, and went back into the room. I stood there; took off my ball cap; then walked up the aisle slowly; my eyes locked on what I had seen earlier from before. I took a deep breath, my hands clenching tightly...
As I approached the front of the room, I saw the beautiful wood casket in detail, and the flowers nearby... and then, I saw the form of the person inside it.
I stopped. I tried to breathe, but I couldn’t.
My legs felt weak. My eyes started to water, it was hard to see, but I knew...
I knew it was you.
I stepped closer. You were nicely dressed. Nicely dressed and just lying there as if you were just sleeping. My mind started reeling... I looked around the room. It was empty. Just me and you. I felt dizzy from all the thoughts swirling inside my head. I didn’t understand. How? Why? I thought maybe this was some kind of cruel joke. I looked around and after a moment, I realized it wasn’t. It was all too real.
My body was shaking from the emotional shock that surged through my heart and soul. My eyes teared up even more as I tried my absolute best to keep some composure. Just as I tried to take a deep breath, a gentle hand touched my shoulder. I turned to see the nice lady standing there. She gave me a soft smile and said she was sorry for my loss. She raised her hand, and gave me an envelope. The lady told me that if there was anything that she could do, to just let her know. I nodded, thanked her, and she turned to leave.
I walked over and sat in the front pew. I looked down at the envelope and saw my name handwritten on the front. I opened it and inside I found a letter. A letter you wrote to me dated the day after we met in the park. Upon reading the letter, it was clear... clear that this was the trip you had planned for quite some time. The extended vacation long overdue. The vacation that I realized... that was now permanent.
It was in your elegant handwriting that you told me of your trials and tribulations; that you tried your best to work them out... but to no avail. You had no family left, and there were some people in your life, who you thought were your friends, who wouldn’t care, or understand the outcome of your current situation. You said you were tired. So tired that you knew the world had nothing more to offer you. You used your remaining savings to purchase your funeral arrangements, and then made the decision... the inevitable decision that would change your life and mine forever more.
At the end of your letter, you thanked me, thanked me for taking the time in getting to know you that day in the park, on what you called, “The worst day” of your life. You stated that if things were different, that we would’ve been the best of friends. As I continued to read, you appreciated my generosity in picking you up to take you on your trip. You wanted me to make sure that everything was on schedule... that you would make your destination, outside on the hill by the large oak tree.
I folded the letter back up and placed it in my coat. I stood to my feet, and walked over to you. You looked so peaceful, even with that slight smile, the same one that you had the day I met you. My fingers touched the cold wood and grooves of the casket. I started to shake, my eyes tearing over. It was hard to see. I couldn’t breathe. It took forever, but I managed to call your name as I started to cry... to tell you that I was there, “to pick you up... for your trip.”
After some time with you, I said goodbye, and wished you a safe journey. I then turned and saw the nice lady standing in the doorway. I nodded to her and she smiled comfortingly as she walked over to finalize your arrangements... to make sure you arrived at your final destination.
Days, weeks, months passed by. Not a single day or minute went by that I did not think about you and the circumstances that prevailed. I wondered how this could’ve happened to you, how I could’ve changed your course for the better. I wish I could go back to that day in the park. I really wish, but realistically, there are times when I want to cry. I can be in a crowded room, on the subway, in the library, and I want to cry. Why? Why did it come to this? I want to cry and tell someone how I feel, but I can’t, they wouldn’t understand. So I had to write you this letter, and as I do, I can finally cry. I cry as these written words can only be understood and felt by you, and only you.
Every now and again, I go back to my favorite place in the park. I sit there with my camera in hand. There are times, when I see something in the corner of my eye -- I turn to look, only to see the empty bench next to me. My mind giving me a glimpse of you sitting there. But, I’m there, just as I was for you that cold January day, and maybe, just maybe, I can be there for someone else when they pass on by.
Forever & sincerely yours,