Before Lee died, she had told Amy, her good friend, that she regretted her death was going to seriously challenge my well-being. Of course, Lee was right.
Amy had shared this conversation with me in the context of another conversation Amy and I had some months later when I told her I was thinking about joining an online dating service. I felt ready to start dating but my feelings also left me riddled with guilt that I was betraying Lee. In relating her earlier conversation with Lee, Amy’s message to me was that Lee would be happy to learn that I was seeking female companionship, if not love. I was hardly surprised to hear that Lee had been focused on my future happiness rather than the dire condition that soon would end her life. That is just how Lee lived, putting others first.
In our many years together, I never doubted that Lee loved me with all her heart. Indeed, it seemed that anyone who met us could observe this simple truth. For what it’s worth, I was nuts about Lee, loved our life together, and had said as much to Amy.
My conversation with Amy occurred more than two years ago. A few months later, with a new year appearing on the calendar, I took the plunge to start dating online. Robyn was not among the first women I would encounter online but was one of the first women with whom I went on an actual date. While I had no expectations we hit things off, and now, after nearly two years, our loving relationship feels rock steady. As I might have mentioned here before, I feel like a fortunate and lucky fellow to have met Robyn.
There have been numerous other important changes that flow to me from Lee’s passing, for example, I have acquired a fine friend and a loyal companion in Lola the Pup. Surprisingly, I have become friends with several of Lee’s friends, Amy, for example. Equally surprising, I have lost contact with a few former friends who turned out to be nothing more than mutual acquaintances of Lee. In the immediate aftermath of Lee’s death, I took a huge step back from my professional career to focus on the world-at-large, and in so doing found new endeavors I might never otherwise have undertaken. To my surprise I have grown closer to certain members of Lee’s family since her death than ever was the case during her life. Such changes could not have been predicted.
So last evening my current girlfriend and I traveled to a toney downtown district, a place where even the dogs appear tall, slim and perfectly groomed, to meet my former brother-n-law and his wife for drinks and dinner to celebrate the holiday season. We met up at the home of Wendell, the architect whose services Lee and I had used to help us renovate the place where I still reside, and Wendell’s partner of thirty years, Steve, who is a designer.
As they led us on a room-by-room tour of their magnificent digs, Paul, Joanna, Robyn and I were sipping on cocktails that Steve had described as a “Millionaire’s martini.” Fortunately, unlike Robyn or Paul, I completed this tour without spilling so much as a single drop of the precious liquid. We ended up in a parlor where Steve served us flaky spanakopita on dishes that might have been his grandmother’s fine China.
It was at this point in the festivities that I decided to present Paul with a framed and numbered print of a fishing pier that Lee used to keep in our home in memory of their father. She often would speak to me fondly of her days growing up in the small, lakeside town where some of her most treasured memories as a young girl involved tagging along with her father while he fished the pier. I also handed Paul an envelope full of papers I had just recently come across, which, it would appear from the postmark, Lee had still been in the process of collecting at the time of her death. The papers marked an early stage of her research to construct a family history. The two items properly belonged to Paul and his family, and I told him so, adding that he might honor his sister’s memory by completing her unfinished project. I suppose time will tell.
Lee first introduced me to Wendell and Steve during our home rehab project, which took place four or five years ago. I had seen them once or twice in the interim, but tonight was the first time I was a guest in their home. I think it also might have been Paul and Joanna’s first visit to the place, despite the fact they have known Wendell since he was a twelve-year-old boy growing up in the same small town where Lee’s dad used to fish from a pier. I think Paul and Joanna knew Wendell’s parents even better than they knew Wendell. Wendell’s father had been a notoriously successful entrepreneur, who over the years advised Paul on business matters and might even have floated him seed money once or twice at reasonable interest rates. I do not know their complete history.
After finishing our cocktails and appetizers, we departed for a nearby French restaurant located walking distance from the apartment in a swanky tourist hotel. We might have been late for our reservation, but it made no difference since the dark dining room did not appear even half full when we arrived.
This lack of patrons belied the high quality of the food and its presentation. Each dish was delicious and fattening, from the traditional French onion soup I ordered to Robyn’s sinfully rich haricot vert salad. At one end of the table, Steve waxed eloquent regarding the “dos and don’ts” required to prepare a passable confit, and the relative merits of duck, goose, and chicken fat in this process. At the other end, Wendell and Joanna quietly reminisced. From time to time, Paul would pass around his telephone to show off photographs of the Italian lake country where he, Joanna, their two sons with their families celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary this past Summer. Between bites, Robyn and I held hands.
One by one we surrendered to the rich food, each solemnly declaring that he or she would not attempt to swallow another delicious morsel. The plentiful leftovers were packaged, returned to our table, and found their rightful owners. We split the hefty bill three ways. It was time to bring this thoroughly enjoyable holiday evening to a close, although my feeling is that it will not be the last time we share a festive occasion.
We exchanged warm hugs with our companions, then split off on our own. As we walked amongst the bright city lights back to our car on this relatively mild December night, I felt content and happy. Robyn said that she had very much enjoyed the party. And in my heart, I was certain that somewhere in the Great Unknown, my sweet, smiling Lee heartily approved.