This time around I wanted to make sure I did not fall for another smooth-talking/dirty dancing guy who came my way. One of the staff talked me into volunteering for a dinner theater company and getting involved with the play she was directing. I took on the job of head of stage decoration and spent all my spare time painting and hunting up furniture for the set. In my earlier years I had studied interior decorating and I threw myself into this project with much joy and abandonment – eager to let my creativity flow. I was in the middle of this when I was informed of the death of a close friend’s daughter who had died in her sleep.
My friend fell apart and it was the saddest funeral I have ever attended. Danielle was in her late 20’s and had always had medical problems. The church was packed and my brother and I slid into one of the last seats remaining. We had stopped at the beautiful white casket and I had pressed my hand against Danielle’s arm as I bent over and whispered, “Oh Danny”. As the ceremony progressed, her sleeping visage haunted me and I tried to wipe away the feel of her rigid body from my hand. Seeing my friend staggering down the aisle as she was supported by her husband and son was almost too much to bear.
We followed the white hearse out to the gravesite and I watched my friend closely, aware that she had slipped past reality and into a place where her daughter still lived. However, it was the silver balloons that haunted me the most. The three remaining members of their little family stood on a little knoll after the ceremony and each of them released a balloon into the brilliant blue sky of an October afternoon. Somehow I knew that my friend had chosen the balloons to symbolize their hearts, and I watched as they lifted into the sky to join Danny somewhere beyond the blue. Not only did those three balloons mark the end of my friend’s life with her lovely daughter, but they also became a turning point for me as well.
Danny loved roses more than any other flower. Her family had chosen a beautiful white marble casket with a lid that was a carved white rose, so she would lay underneath her favorite flower forever. When I returned to the stage I was creating, I stenciled roses across the top of the set - for Danny. Some of the roses were a little blurry as my tears mixed with the paint – but I didn’t care. I was the only one who knew what they meant, but they looked stunning against the pale green walls of the set. Comments came out later that proclaimed it one of the most beautiful sets the dinner theater had ever seen.
On the other side of the country, D struggled with Mono. Days and weeks went by when he couldn’t make it to class or even to the grocery store to get some food. By mid-November he knew he could never catch up with everything he had missed and he applied to have his year refunded. I was happy he had taken these steps, but inwardly I groaned that another year would be added to the long wait ahead of us.
D saw it another way. Sick and beyond tired, he took a look at his life plan and made some changes. “I’ve decided I’m going to pack up everything and move out west.”
“What do you mean by ‘out west’?”
“Well – if you’ll have me – I was hoping to move out west - and in with you.”
In the silence that followed we listened to the sound of buzzing wires as they stretched the 4000kms between us. We listened to the silence – each of us hardly breathing. D held his breath wondering if he had made a mistake. I held my breath, too stunned to do anything else.
“Will you have me?” he whispered.
I laughed and squealed and I think I said ‘of course’. He packed his few belongings and sent them on ahead by bus. Then he went and said good-bye to his family. His father gave him a letter and asked that he read it once he got on his way. He had chosen the joy of traveling across Canada by train as a special treat and he used his student status to get a cheaper rate. Once all the good-byes were said, he went and spent a night in a hotel in Ottawa as he waited for his train. He set his alarm clock and fell asleep.
On the same day that D woke to catch his train, 4000 kms away, Cid arrived to take me out for a drive in the country. We spent the day hiking alongside the river, holding hands when we could or walking arm in arm when the trail was even wider. We talked of the funeral and I asked Cid if he would come down for the opening night of the play. We laughed and kissed as we always did, and had a late supper sitting at a wooden table nestled in a group of trees. With our picnic spread out before us, Cid surprised me with two ceramic goblets and a bottle of wine. When the day gave way to the oncoming night, we wrapped ourselves in a blanket and watched the stars come out. In the silence that so often settled on us as it does with great friends, I thought of D catching the train and setting his sights for the west. A soft wind tickled the leaves around us and brought to us the sound of the river as it tumbled over its rocky bottom. Beside me, Cid cleared his throat.
“Will you marry me?” he asked.