“Christmas Eve 2010” by Judith Rogers, NYC

Connected November 13, 2011 14:43

topic: CONNECTED medium: TEXT

as submitted for the “Connected” contest

When I reach the corner he is there, smiling. As always, he has appeared from nowhere. He waits for me to approach; I cross the street and walk straight into his arms.

It is the same corner, the same encounter: sudden appearances, unplanned but intended. A decade earlier I walked the streets longing for these moments, which I held together like the pearls of a precious necklace. For years I thought of him ceaselessly, until, ever so gradually, the running dialogue began to fade. I gathered the strength to move away. Our last encounter was four years ago, the day after I closed on my apartment. “It’s a brilliant move,” he said.

“I never thought I could do it,” I said. “I never thought I could leave the neighborhood.” His eyes dimmed at the words I meant but did not say.

He hugs me tightly and kisses me next to my mouth. I look up at his face, which is more deeply lined but still ruddy. His hair is silver, but retains a darker streak that recalls other moments of warmth and daring. Judith, I feel so vulnerable. Suddenly it is 1998 and he is standing before me, his arms spread wide, his face and hair illuminated by the lamplight of that spring evening. “It’s been a long time,” I say.

“Yes. A really long time.” In silence I relive other moments, some angry, some anguished. The next-to-last encounter was a July night when we ran together down 86th Street to my front door, then clung to each other feverishly.

I move back slightly to regain my footing. I have forgotten that I am carrying packages and holding a paper Starbucks cup. Before he can speak I begin to fumble with my bags.

“I have to show you this,” I hand him a small plastic bag while I dig through the packages. I pull out the photo of Matthew standing with President Obama, both grinning broadly.

“Wow! How did this happen? Look at Matthew, all dressed up!” Judith, I love your son. I tell him about Matthew, now a junior a Vassar—did you know that? –and the story behind the photo. My words seem to emerge without conscious control.

I move in a semi-circle, chilled by the wind passing over my wet cheek. He speaks about his children:—no, Mike, the youngest, is not in college but in boarding school to repeat a year, Margot still at St. Andrews. Each word reverberates with echoes of past affection.

The conversation dies briefly. “By the way, I have taken up yoga.” I look closely at his eyes.

“Yeah? It’s great stuff.” I nod in agreement. “Where do you do it? Up in the—are you still—“

“Yes, I’m still in the Bronx. I love it there.” He nods. I feel my body straighten. “After all these years, I have become a yogi.” I smile, recalling a day years before, the two of us in a class at the gym, in which I gamely asked to be his partner for an acrobatic pose. Sweat poured from his face and he chattered as my crotch arched above his face. “Are you still doing it?”

“Not a stick.” He laughs and turns his head. “No, I’m not doing anything that resembles exercise. But yoga—it really evens out the moods.” He draws a line in the air with his hand.

“Yes, it’s really good for—it’s helped me a lot.” My heart beats fast as we sift through the layers. A jolt of longing passes from my lips to my fingers. “Here. I’m giving you this,” I say urgently, and hand him my half-drunk gingerbread latte, now almost cold. I watch his lips as he sips it slowly.

“I’m giving it back to you.” He hands me the cup and we fumble some more: he is still holding my plastic bag from the photo store. He takes me into his arms again, and kisses me in the same spot. He moves past me now, and I turn around to face him as he backs slowly away. “I’m going to buy bread,” he says. His words die in the wind.

I turn, stand straighter and taller, and walk in the direction of my car. In the driver’s seat, I fall forward with tears of grief or joy. The tears stop as other thoughts crowd in: I always had discipline for the two of us. Mike was always too young. Yoga helps me love my life, without you in it. I smile and turn the key. The engine goes on.

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