THE OLD UNCONDITIONAL LOVE
Mary Jacobs sat on the park bench by the jogging path, her hands folded like fragile little birds in her lap. I didn’t know her personally but knew that she lived at the top of my street and it always bothered me that we never spoke in the eight years I lived there. She was perhaps close to eighty, I guessed from the bend of her body and the crinkle of her once bright blue eyes that now hazed pastel. It just so happened that I had some time to spare today so I walked over to her and introduced myself.
Mary drew her face up in a pixie-like smile, “Oh I was just wishing for some company! Please, sit for a spell. I love to meet my neighbors.”
We talked about the unpredictable spring weather and about her daughter, son and grandchildren. I shared with her my gardening secrets and she talked about herbs.
After a small pause in her merry chatter, her face darkened with a sigh and quietly said “I buried my beloved three weeks ago and I’m at such loose ends. I just don’t know what to do with myself anymore. I rattle around in that big house like a marble in a tin can. I miss his company and the security of having someone there to keep me safe. Charles was everything to me. He was a wonderful companion, loving and kind.”
“Oh Mary,” I said taking her hand in mine “I’m so very sorry. I had no idea. What a terrible loss. Was he sick?”
“No. He was just old. He had trouble getting up and started to lose weight. His body just gave out and I had to let him go. He was hardly sick in all the years I had known him. Age and death hold hands like lovers…” Her voice trailed off.
“I can’t remember ever seeing him,” I said “but then I hardly ever went past your place. Tell me about him Mary.”
Mary brightened and started to talk excitedly squeezing my hand for effect “Oh, you would have loved him! Charles was outgoing and fun, and I must say, quite the charmer. He came from a wealthy family in West Chester and I guess had some royal blue blood, or so they tell me, but to me he was always just my Charlie.” She laughed and I smiled. She continued, looking into the sky in front of her for the memories.
“We loved to walk this path. We’d saunter along and he’d listen to me prattle on about my day until he met a stranger he could engage for a while. He made friends easily wherever he went and everyone loved him. He wasn’t like me. I used to be very shy and kept to myself, but I found that I could tell Charlie anything. He opened me up, made me laugh. He comforted me in my fears and tears. He made me go out and meet folks.. On Tuesdays we’d hop in the car and go visit people, the homeless and those in nursing homes, and kids in hospitals. He was a great listener and I swear, those kids felt better just being around him. He brought out the best in me and everyone else.”
I smiles and said “Charlie sounds like he was a wonderful guy, Mary. I wish we were friends sooner so I would have gotten to at least meet him.”
“Well, we traveled quite a bit so we weren’t home a great deal. He loved road trips especially to different parks. He was avid about the outdoors and loved to hike. When he took off through the woods or up a mountain trail, it was all I could do to keep up with him” Mary laughed. “I’d always have to stop and catch my breath spoiling his fun, but Charlie never complained. He’d just sit beside me on an old log until I rested then we’d be off again. He adored all the seasons, but especially the winter snows. He would play with the grand children all day long chasing around after them in snow ball fights.” Mary giggled and leaned into me with glee. She took a deep resigning breath then looked at me seriously.
“Charlie was by my side through, hip and knee replacements, flu, and bad moods. Nothing fazed him; he loved me so. I tell you my Charlie cherished me like no other being on this earth. I loved him with all of my heart and then some. He was my life, my soulmate. Now he’s gone, but I have the knowledge that he loved me as well as others beyond any care for himself. ”
She fell quiet and I saw her fill with sad tears. I held her hand in silence and then softly said. “Mary, you have been so blessed to have someone like that in your life, to love and support you for all these years. I can’t imagine what you must be feeling. I can only feel your pain and offer you the hope that you will be comforted by the sweet memories you hold of Charlie. I wish I had known him. It must be very hard to lose your husband.
Mary spun towards me as if she had been stung with a bee. “Did you say my husband? Oh my dear, I haven’t had a husband in thirty years! Charlie wasn’t my husband. Charlie was my dog!”