This story is not (entirely) autobiographical. More on this at the end of the piece.
It started one Monday morning when I looked up from the book I’d been reading for just long enough to notice the people on my morning commute. That’s when I saw him looking at me. At first, I was taken aback. I wasn’t used to being noticed. Or maybe I wasn’t used to noticing I was being noticed. I quickly returned to the safety of my book.
Through a series of sideways glances, I confirmed to myself that he was there the next day. And the next day. And the next. By Friday, when I saw him there again, I began to wonder whether he’d always been there.
I decided eventually to eschew my sideways glances in favor of a head-on peek. When I saw him peeking back, the tiniest smile appeared on my lips. It wasn’t until he smiled back that I felt the smallest flutter of butterflies in my stomach. Quickly following those butterflies was a twinge of guilt.
The next twinge didn’t come until a couple of weeks later when I noticed that his usual seat on the bus was empty. Not only did I notice his absence—I missed him. That’s when I felt it. I felt the third twinge when I saw him fill his seat the next day, a stuffy nose and a half-empty box of tissues likely explaining his previous day’s absence. I was relieved.
We exchanged our first words on a particularly busy day when the only remaining seat on the bus happened to be next to me. When we pulled up to his stop, I knew that we were finally about to take a step that we couldn’t take back. He got on the bus, saw the empty seat next to me, cracked a smile, and sat down. I asked him his name. Since then, the seat next to me has always been his.
I know you know. I’ll spare you the details because I’m sure you know me well enough to know how it developed after that. I know you’ve noticed the pep in my step. I know I’ve been acting differently. I know my smiles have been genuine. I know you can tell I’m finally excited to go to work in the morning. Or rather, to be going to work in the morning. You know I was unhappy for such a long time. I eventually managed to convince myself that it was okay to get to know him, and now look how happy I’ve been. How could you not want this for me?
He and I began to talk about everything on our mornings together. Things you and I hadn’t talked about in years. I stopped telling you about work ages ago. Talking about the weather with you is pointless. They sometimes feel like just words into a void.
I think I felt the most guilty when I took my ring off for the first time. I looked down at the tan line where the ring had been for over 25 years. The ring that you had put on my finger. The ring I’d decided to take off that morning on the bus before getting on to his stop.
Funnily enough, that morning was the morning I decided I should probably tell him about you. I suppose it speaks volumes that, despite knowing about you, he still came to sit next to me the following day.
I was so grateful that telling him about you hadn’t scared him away. At our age, most people aren’t looking to be involved like this. I’m still hiding it from the kids—I’m afraid they wouldn’t understand. He told me to take my time.
Anyway, I’m telling you all this now because things are getting pretty serious. I like him a lot, and I don’t want to sneak around anymore. At our age, that just feels childish. I’ve spent night after night crying silent, conflicted tears. It’s time.
So…I’m bringing him to meet you. This weekend. I know it’s strange. It may be unorthodox, but I feel like I owe it to you. I need your blessing.
I’ll see you tomorrow, my love. I’m sorry I haven’t visited in a while. I know you’d tell me there’s nothing to be sorry about, but I say it anyway. I’ll bring that polishing cloth that cleans the marble really well, and I think I’ll allow those flowers that have sprung up to keep growing. I know you know I love you. And I know you don’t want me to be alone. I’m so glad he understands that you’ll always have my heart. Thank you for having loved me in such a way that I know this is okay.
This story is about a lot of things. It isn’t my story, of course. I’m not a widow. I wasn’t married over 25 years ago like this narrator was. And to all the aunties and uncles reading this: no, I haven’t met the love of my life on a bus in Barcelona!
For me, believe it or not, this story was inspired by my journey through my mother’s death and the grief process. I miss her so much that it sometimes feels irreverent to enjoy life when she isn’t here to enjoy it with me. Falling in love with life, this life that I am still learning to navigate without her, is a journey that I know I will be on for a long time. Whether it’s a guy on a bus or a new tv show I really like (so far, it’s been loads of the latter) I have to keep reminding myself that she wants me to love life and to live it without being sad all the time because she’s gone.
Please let me know what you thought of my story. What did you feel while reading it? Could you tell what I was getting at from the beginning? I really wanted to play with reader expectations throughout the piece. Leave me a comment and let me know.
Thank you, as always, for reading. Feel free to subscribe if you’d like to see more of my writing each week.