THE LAST KISS
The sun had set in golden orange, and reds, fading now into blue and violet as the first stars revealed themselves. Today, he thought with a smile, was day number thirty thousand, he would be eighty-two in a few more days. He had always naturally thought of odd little things like that throughout his life. He glanced and smiled toward the lovely silver haired woman sitting, rocking slightly, in the chair on the front porch next to him. She was still as lovely as the day he had first kissed her nearly seventy years before.
He rose, gathered a shawl from the small living room, and gently covered the legs of his lovely bride and dearest friend in the world. He smiled looking deep into her brown eyes and told her once again that she made him wish for younger days. She playfully slapped his moving hand away from her thigh, telling him to hush and not to start something neither of them had the energy to finish. They both laughed as he told her once again that she still was the only girl that did ‘it’ for him as he seated himself in the rocker next to her. Reaching across he gathered her hand in his and fell into his own thoughts of days gone by.
He found himself back as a twelve-year-old boy, standing at the foot of the school stairs on that elementary school graduation day evening. This now silver haired woman, once again there, standing at the top of the stairs in cap and gown, smiling beautifully at him, despite a mouth full of braces. Her eyes were dancing with emotion, and her long brown hair flowing, ever so slightly in the evening breeze.
She had just become an actual teenager a few weeks beforehand. She had had no problem asserting her elderly status upon him, or anyone else for that matter. She possessed a fierce and sure spirit that had drawn him to her back as a child. He had grown to love and rely on it as a man over these many years. He had always loved her from the first moment he had seen her, but had been much to shy to say a word of his feelings toward her.
That evening when to their young minds and hearts, they felt their known world was forever changed; she called out to him as he passed the steps. Commanded was more of an accurate description by true account of it. She has a tendency to do so without intention still to this day. She had demanded he ascend those stairs and kiss her.
Shocked stone still, he had been mortified with embarrassment that such would be her request now, right in front of his parents and siblings. He had never kissed a girl before; he had no wish to kiss any other girl. Only her, that had been his hope, dream, and desire in that innocent time of life, He smiled to himself now as he thought of how little, if any, of the important things in life ever actually change over time. He still felt the longing to kiss this silver haired woman; it was a basic life’s need to him, he decided smiling.
The elderly couple rose as one, no word spoken. Too many days together had started to end this way for words to be wasted. He made his way to the old wood stove and began making a fire. She walked slowly into the kitchen filled the kettle for her evening tea, placing it gently on the stove. Returning she looked at this old man, stooped and gray. His body a shell of the strong man he had once been. She smiled as she came up behind him and with a lover’s touch placed her hands on his shoulders. As the kindling caught, she leaned down and kissed the centered baldness on his head that had once held enough hair for two men. Though he was no longer that tall, strong, lean man, she still saw him as such. He would always be her hero in this world and perhaps the next.
She turned on the television and asked if his Yankees were playing ball tonight. He mumbled something about them being in a slump and it was a good day for them to be not playing. She never did understand the fascination with the game he held but she adored the excitement it brought him.
She drifted back to her childhood and remembered this man as a child. He had grown up as a poor child, feisty and strong willed, always too small for his age. He had tried so many times to make a place on the local and school sports teams. He had always tried as hard as he could, but had always been cut or if not that, barely made the third string and never played in a real game. All because his body had taken so long to develop and grow in adolescence.
She wondered if that had somehow given him his devotion to this silly game, and driven him to do the hard physical labor that had been his life’s work. He had become an accomplished stonemason, a master craftsman in the trade, more an artist she thought now.
She thought back on the many times he had shared and shown her the beautiful things he had built. He was well known and respected for his work in the area. Often people would approach her and tell of the projects he performed for them, as well as their appreciation for his work and generous nature. He was not much of a businessman by any account. He had told her repeatedly he would do the work for free, if he could afford it.
She always counter-mended this statement with the fact that at the prices he charged he might as well have been. She had stepped in, gently and wisely, later in his life to help guide his finances. She had lovingly helped him see he needed to be fair to himself, as well as his customers. It was not about the money for her. She felt strongly she needed protect a man many said was too good for his own good.
His love and passion for the work had just naturally blinded him to it’s true worth. He attained his reward and satisfaction by the joy his creation had given to his clients in seeing the finished product for the first time. Yes, he was truly an artist, she admitted. She never had difficulty understanding he was a rough man with a poet's heart. Something she loved, recognized, and had never changed in him since childhood.
She felt the familiar pride well in her chest as she thought of the love and passion this man had given all things in his life, especially her. Yes, he was a man’s man. She smiled to herself, as she once again mentally staked her borders, proclaiming to herself that he was indeed her man, and God help anyone who thought differently. This fleeting thought still made her feel like a young schoolgirl, as she rested her head on his shoulder, as they sat on the couch waiting on the kettle to boil.
As the old man unconsciously, softly ran his weathered hands over her shoulder and arm, he thought of the long and strange roads their lives had taken together and apart. Their lives changed by a single event and a few small-unnoticed decisions, which had separated them for almost forty years.
He still harbored the regret of failing to overcome his shyness and telling her how much he adored that young girl who had demanded a kiss on the steps all those years ago. So many years lost in between it now seemed to him.
Throughout their early school years, they had been friends, good friends, almost best friends. Even in high school, they remained close. Remaining so through an age where branching out socially and establishing other friends and relationships was the required social standard of being accepted or not. Adolescence was an age where talent and intelligence had very little to do with being accepted and respected. He mused upon the thought again that in life very little changes with age after all.
Whether on a job site or a boardroom, advancement did not often go to the most talented or skilled, but to the most successful socially. He supposed that was natural in life too as it was more important to him to be a good man and get along with others, than to step on others to asserting himself and parading his abilities. He felt that was beneath his character and hoped it was actually true about him. He knew he had never had a problem asserting his thoughts and opinions after he reached manhood.
He thought back of a time when he had been too introverted and again felt the cost of not speaking from his heart. He remembered the pain and loneliness the subsequent years contained, where thoughts of, what if’s in life, had crossed his mind. He thought of this wonderful woman resting now on his chest watching the television. How she had become lost to him for all those many years. He held his regrets to himself yet he still carried a twinge of guilt for all she had to endure in her life’s path without him.
He remembered making a decision and a promise, very soon after their paths had parted. He had decided he would never again be afraid to speak of his thoughts and feelings to anyone.
He never has since. The wisdom, grace, and skill required in expressing himself properly eluded him for many years. How to expound upon his thoughts, opinions, and feelings correctly toward others, in kindness and understanding, was a slow process. He always wrestled with the passion that resided in him. His passion, and intensity, more often than not, worked against what he actually wished to accomplish with people. Many a broken nose or heart occurred before fully understanding this lesson.
As the old woman waddled her way to fix her tea, the man, restless in his thoughts arose. After absently poking at the fire, he stood before the front window staring up the dirt road that ran back to town. His eyes were not focusing on the dusty road or the small stonewall bordering their property. He saw only that rainy high school graduation night so long ago.
The two graduates had remained friends through those years, despite having found different circles of regular friends. Voting her in as the prettiest girl in school by their peers came as no surprise to him. He believed she was the prettiest girl in the entire world, and the smartest. She could have any boy she chose and done anything she decided on in the future.
This knowledge only lent itself to his feelings of inadequacy and continued reserve. How could he ever approach someone as wonderful as her? He was a poor kid, living in an abusive household, with a father whose violence only escalated after the death of his dear mother. He could never dare to say a word to her of how he felt toward her.
That night he and his friends had celebrated visiting one home to another and one party after another. He had drunk his fill of beer as they all had. He had somehow caught up with this now silver haired beauty at the last party. Still shy but both fairly well intoxicated, he had offered to walk her home. A place not terribly far from where he stood.
Somewhat stumbling along that empty road he had held her close to him as they walked. The night had been overcast and chilly that spring, and the warmth they shared as they walked came not only from their bodies, but from deep within the both of them.They laughed in the memories they had lived together and they grew silent with the unknowns of their futures. He had yet to reveal that he was leaving for the armed services in the morning.
He knew he would have tried to working his way through college if things had been different with her back then, but he had never given her the slightest hint of his true feelings for her. He had been much too afraid to risk so deep a feeling. His feelings of inadequacy had been rooted in the abuses and neglect he had come to accept over those young years as validation to his worth. He simply felt that he did not deserve being loved, and rather than risk trying to be he held his tongue. Besides everyone said she was seeing someone now.
He knew he could not stay their in that town with his father. He had few choices and no real opportunity, so he had enlisted, and was due to be inducted the day after graduation.
The old man with his brows furrowed looked over at the woman slipping her tea on their old sofa. Tears welled at the corners of his eyes as he thought of that night so long ago. He smiled though them and softly asked his same question of her, for what now seemed the millionth time.
“Have I ever told you I love you?” he said with a boyish grim on an old man’s face.
“Oh, I don’t know, not sure. You just might have let that slip out once or twice. But tell me again anyway!” She said with a playful and loving look meant only for him.
“I love you with all that I am. I love you with all that I shall ever be, and I love you with all that is in me, My Love. For forever and a day.” He professed, staring into her eyes.
Slowly he turned back to the window, her eyes staying on him with a quizzical look.
“Are you okay, Sweetheart? What’s the matter Honey?”, she asked sincerely.
“I’m fine. Just thinking about some things is all. Not to worry, Dear.”, he replied.
She knew him and knew that at times he just needed left to his thoughts alone. She knew of the pain and sorrows this man had suffered in his lifetime. Some still endured in his heart. She had tried over the years to comfort and help him bear this private unspoken burden. She knew how to reach him, as no other person ever could or would, but there was a deep river in him, one that she could never cross to reach him.
The stories of his life without her caused her heart to ache. Hearing of the tragedies, sorrows, and disappointments life had inflicted upon him, which he had to bear alone, since they had first parted, always unsettled her. Not being able to ease his sorrow, or shield this wonderful man from them, hurt deep in her heart. These were not hers to take away she knew, but her love for him would allow her to feel nothing less than the will to do so for him. Such was the love they shared.
Overcast and damp, the two graduates walked leaning on each other for a combination of guidance and support. Laughing in mild slurs and hearts full of the many things that life only affords to the young and young at heart, they suddenly found the skies opening up above them. They ran up the road to an old ram shackled shed just off the muddy track. The space available in that broken down door-less shack offered no more entrance than to barely escape the pelting rain.
Close and wet, he had brushed her hair out of her eyes, as he felt his heart swell with what had laid there for all these many years. She must have recognized the look in his eyes and the love that lay in them. She slowly put her arms around him and pressed herself into him. He melted against her soft body and held her against him. She pulled her head back and then leaned in and kissed him, not as the child that had kissed him years before, but as a woman kisses her man. That was the first time she had ever placed her cheek upon his chest, just as she had done this evening.
He had held on to those memories all the days of his now long life. Many a time, the memory of them had helped keep him going when life beset him and threatened to swallow him from every side. To this day, he never felt as safe and at peace in the world as he did with her cheek upon his chest.
The old man smiled in remembrance of those kisses and the holding of one another. They were to him one of his greatest treasures in life, but she was his greatest treasure.
He remembered her now, those cold and wet clothes causing her head to spin. Her emotions amplified from the alcohol. Starting to cry she began revealing to him how lonely and afraid she was. Baffled by the news that she had no boyfriend or had even had a date to accompany her to prom, he held her in silence and listened to her.
He remembered her frustration and hurt, as she spoke through her tears, feeling so alone and unloved, feeling so much attune to what he himself had felt. His heart broke in the hearing of it, and yet he could not utter a single word that lived in his heart for her. He would be angry and ashamed of himself for that for a long time to come.
They had held each other close through the entire storm, how long he did not know, minutes or hours he could not honestly say. He did know that he was still proud and thankful to have been the one with her that night. He had been noble and selfless toward her, returning her to her home untouched, despite his desires for her and her induced willingness for him.
He believed she deserved the best of him and that night he had given the best of his heart even though his words had failed him. There would be many a cold and lonely night to come, where he questioned himself that night. Yet he has never once regretted his decision to act honorably toward her. His love for her would never allow less than that toward her.
After the storm had passed, he escorted her to her home. They sat on the pouch and talked as they always had as friends. Sleep was overcoming her as he found the courage to tell her that he had always loved her and would always do so. She stirred in her sleep and mumbled that she loved him too. He then got up, rang the doorbell, and knelt in front of her placing his hands on her knees. He spoke softly to the sleeping girl announcing he was leaving in the morning and most likely bound for a place called Vietnam. She wrinkled her brow and flopped her hand toward him, which he held for a long moment, kissed it and left in silence.
He had not seen or heard from her for almost forty years from that day. Yet he had never let her out of his heart or thoughts. At times in the jungles of Southeast Asia, thoughts of her were the only real thing to him amidst the fear, madness, and noise. She had become his safe place, the place where nothing could touch him. How ironic he thought, that the first mission back, two days after losing her picture along with his wallet in Saigon, a mortar round had taken him down. Blown against a tree, he remembered nothing until he awoke a week later, bandaged and half-deaf, in a hospital. He found out weeks later he was the lucky one; three of his buddies were not. He had dreams of that place for years afterward, and felt that he was lost to himself for twice as long.
Unwelcome, alone, and unable to find work or fit in, he traveled aimlessly for many months. He lived off the small disability pension he received. Having it deposited directly into his account gave him the freedom to travel as he wished. Although the seizures had subsided, he still felt uneasy driving. He hitchhiked across the nation, meeting folks from all parts of it. Always searching for a place to fit in and call home.
He would work as he found it, spending a summer helping during calving season in Montana, or a winter picking fruit in Florida. What he did wasn’t important as long as it was honest work, nothing was beneath him.
He had finally found that place in the mountains of Idaho. Hitchhiking he had come across some people that had had compassion and true generosity toward him. They had provided a week’s lodging for him in their home as well as home cooked meals. He had returned their hospitality by finishing scraping and painting their modest home at no charge. He had to insist that they allow him to finish it for them. They had begun the project, but the process was slow when done in such limited periods, since they both worked and had small children.
He felt a natural kinship with these people whom during the course of the job had introduced him to a man who had the property rights to a wilderness cabin. The remote cabin lay two miles off the nearest dirt road and five miles from the nearest human inhabitants. The man had offered him the cabin to use and live in for as long as he should choose.
He had gladly accepted the offer, which he felt was nothing short of a miracle in his life. Gaining the advice of his new found friends and borrowing a few horses he had packed in supplies to the small one room log cabin, which had sat abandoned and abused for over fifty years.
The old man smiled as he thought back of the story or legend of that cabin. Suddenly a thought occurred to him he hadn't seen before. He realized the similarity of his life, love, and relationship with this silver haired beauty and that of the cabin's original builder some hundred fifty years before.
The legend the old man had heard from the families of the original homesteaders and miners of the area alleged that the cabin's builder had been an Irishman come to find his fortune in the rocks of Idaho in the mid eighteen seventies. Mining in a place call Warren Idaho, he was known in throughout the area more as a mountain man who tried his hand at mining for gold . He had on several occasions stated the fact that he had never slept a night under a roof in his adult life.
It is not surprising that his fellow miners and wilderness brethren, were shocked when he announced one early spring that he was he was heading to the French Creek drainage to build a cabin.
To Be Continued
Ending: The Last Kiss
The night had turned chilly as the old man added wood into the stove and closed down the dampers. His mood was still sullen and aloof as he sat for a moment next to his silver haired lady. He studied her face as she watched the conclusion of her celebrity dancing show. He remembered her as a younger woman now. He was seeing her again moving with grace and elegance as she danced in those days gone by. She could glide across a dance floor as smoothly as any figure skater could on ice.
He marveled at her every time she would dance. He, on the other hand, had never had the flexibility or natural rhythm to be an adequate dance partner for her. Although she had never once mentioned any shortcoming in this, he knew she deserved to dance to her potential and he had never held her back from exercising her full ability. He would do his best at any time and opportunity for her. However, he as well as all who had ever witnessed them agreed, he was far from ever being in her league.
Through his love for her he had even secretly taken a few dance classes to augment his lack of natural skill for her. He just did not possess whatever it was she did as far as dancing went. He knew her well enough to know that this love of graceful rhythmic movement bordered on a need in her. He had always supported it with her. He had loved to watch her, as other more skilled men would accompany her across the dance floor with such fluidity that he was awed and captivated by her. He had honestly shared her joy of it in a manner that only two who truly love each can. Perhaps he had enjoyed watching her more so, since he could enjoy her graceful movements from afar. Jealous had never once entered into it. It was the one thing she had held onto that had not been tarnished or diminished by the past that had corroded this woman of substance.
What had happened to her since she had first kissed him? What had stifled and arrested that passion, drive and ambition in her? He had learned some, but not all of that answer over their years together. He mused upon what he knew of her. She was very much like himself really. All that wonderful woman ever wanted out of life was to love someone truly, with all that was within her heart.
The old man had be stunned and filled with admiration when she had first confided that fact to him. It was a soft summer night. The two of them had been holding hands walking down a country lane not far from where he stood tonight. They had wanted to sit by the lakeshore to see the full moon rise up over Lost Mountain. They two of them had never had any reservations in communication. They would share the truth as they saw it on any subject and to any depth until they had satisfied one or the other’s interest and curiosity.