back in 2005, during the no on 1 campaign, i was the northern maine lead field organizer. and i'm talking NORTHERN maine, as kevin of the posse will attest. as a result of many, many miles of driving, my car became a casualty of war. i coaxed it through part of the following winter, but eventually she went to that great junkyard in the sky, a sacrifice of winning 5 rights for The Gays. a year and a half and a fairly expensive relationship break up later, i had to choose between wheels or first and last month's rent and a security deposit for my own place. peace of mind and room to breathe won out.
living in portland is convenient for the wheel-less: i've managed to master the public transit system, i've developed a respectable set of 40-something-year-old calves from walking a lot, and when a car becomes a necessity, the posse and other friends have pulled through for me. interestingly, they all have subarus...go figure...and my dad has asked more than once when i visit him in Shapleigh "why do all your friends drive the same kind of car?" my stock answer: "it's a lesbian phenomenon dad", at which point he says "aaaah" and we leave it at that.
so this weekend i'm using the subaru outback of the Smith-Hoopes Lesbians, and i've been running the kind of errands that walking simply doesn't allow. this morning i spent some time at the bottle check out at hannafords. which is always a fascinating experience. what i like MOST about the bottle check out line is that you end up having conversations with people you normally would never talk to. what i like LEAST about the bottle check out line is that you end up having conversations with people you normally would never talk to. yeah. it's a crapshoot.
today, i got lucky.
those convenient auto-machines were on the fritz, and so there was a long line of us waiting for the lone checkout guy, and we were a motley gathering. a few were very obviously cashing in on last night's consumption (tell tale signs: bloodshot eyes, shaky hands, and cotton mouth so bad that you can actually SEE it.) a couple others were upscale women who looked as though they had spent 2 hours getting ready in the bathroom for just this occasion and who were clearly offended by the aforementioned hung-over returners.
standing next to me was an elderly man, and his cart was filled with empty pomegranate juice bottles. i mean there were cases and cases of them. and he looked tired. and a little overwhelmed. he had the bluest, saddest eyes i had ever seen. those eyes gave everything away to me...they looked hauntingly like my mom's eyes did last winter when my dad was so sick.
pomegranate juice mystery solved.
he caught me staring at those bottles.
"my wife. she drinks lots of pomegranate juice. doctors recommendation."
really? my dad drinks a lot of pomegranate juice too.
"is your dad sick?"
yeah. he was sick. last winter, with prostate cancer.
"but he's better now?"
yeah. we were worried for a long while. but he's getting better every day.
"good for him. my wife has breast cancer."
oh no. i'm sorry to hear that.
"we've been married for 52 years. four kids, 13 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren."
wow. i'll bet holidays are a lot of fun.
"they always are. all the kids fly in from all over the country and we have a ball. mary, my wife, is in her glory, running around, cooking up a storm for everybody. she loves taking care of people."
she sounds very nice.
"she'd have to be, to put up with me for 52 years." he laughs at that.
oh i'll bet you're not so bad.
"it's been a good life. not so much lately of course. she's had...a hard time." pause. "she's had chemotherapy, radiation, all of it. good days and bad days. and i do what i can. it never feels like enough, but i figure she's been taking care of me and everybody else for so long, it's time for us to take care of her. and i don't mind taking care of mary at all."
the line moves up, and it's my turn to cash in.
"are you married?"
no. not yet. maybe someday i hope.
"well you're young."
ha. not so much. but you're very sweet to say it.
"well, when you find it, just make sure you enjoy it. you start out thinking time is your friend. and the next thing you know... it goes by too damn fast. the thing about growing old together is that even though your bodies change, you still look at each other and see the same exact person you married. you still feel the same way inside. but time...time is not your friend. remember that."
i sure will.
the clerk hands me my slip, and as i move out of the way, he says one last thing to me.
"so your dad is better. that's good. it's never hopeless right?"
and i look him square in the eyes. touch his shoulder lightly.
you know, after all that the doctors did for my dad, the tests and the surgery and the medicine and all of it, he will tell you that there are two simple reasons why he's getting better every day.
his eyes do not move from mine.
and pomegranate juice.
and he looks at his cart, filled with all those empty bottles, and lets out a big sigh.
he puts his head down for a second or two.
then he turns back to me.
looks ME square in the eyes.
touches MY shoulder lightly.
and gives me a big smile.