I suppose I think about love more than anyone really should. I am constantly amazed by its sheer power to alter and define our lives.—Iris, “The Holiday”
There are some things in life for which people have a natural gift that can only be awakened and never taught in a classroom setting. For me, one of those gifts is friendship to the fatherless and widows. Having grown up in a multi-generational household, I learned at young age to relate to the elderly. Because of the heart-warming friendships I’ve developed through my lifetime with those sojourners who have spent more time on this planet than I, I am a better person for having known them.
As I recall some of my most special relationships, I remember the country club wife Ethel, the diplomat Alfred, the forgotten Mabel, and one very special man that I will never forget. My friendship with Bill is one that will be cherished for all my days.
I met him at church after he was widowed from one of the most influential ladies of the community. Marla, a decorator, casserole maker, flower arranger, and cake baker, was a hero of my community that I never knew when she was alive, but in her death, her legacy continued to make a name that testified to who she was. It was almost as if the entire community referred to events as Before Marla’s death and After Marla’s death. She was a real dynamo and a difference maker.
In the months following her death, I was introduced to Bill and his extended family. Bill made no secret of being lost without Marla. I was quickly educated over Sunday dinner with the family about Marla’s best dishes, of how she was so fit until her dying day, and of Bill’s delight of all the surprises he found upon arriving home in the evening to find his sexy bride. So much of what Bill told me was way too much information. I still cannot get the images of Marla riding her exercise bike in a bikini at the age of 65 or of their steamy fifty-year romance that included a hot tub just off the bedroom. Ok Bill, that is enough.
In Bill’s mind, there would never be another woman that lived up to Marla, though he also made no secret of how fit and virile he was. Soon to be an octogenarian, Bill was boldly praying for God to send him another wife. God wasn’t done with Bill yet and he let the world know it at the family dinner table to which I was a frequent invited guest. As we polished off our pie on fine bone china, Bill leaned over countless times and let me know of his so called affections for me. Somehow, they always were inherently inappropriate, and also quite insulting. We all just laughed Bill off as “that’s just the way he is.”
For instance, routine rhetoric from Bill to me or any other “pretty girl” that reminded him of Marla might be something like, “You know, if you were available I’d make you mine so fast your head would spin.” If I had happened to lay my tennis racquet down for the winter weather and put on a little weight he might say something like, “You are just as beautiful and perfect as a woman can be, even with that extra weight. You might want to lose about ten pounds.” It would have insulted my female sensitivities more if 1.) I hadn’t known Bill and 2.) He also didn’t just say the same thing to my friend Erin. Bill was a Romeo to all the ladies in his quest for finding his Marla again.
I knew that Bill was right some of the time when he made comments like, “You’re just too pretty to carry that extra weight, have you been working out?” He got my goat. In and out of season as my desire for burning those calories waxed and waned, I knew Bill, who held a Ph.D. in Health and Physical Fitness and had spent his life as a professor, was counting my progress for me.
One fateful day, Bill told me he was going to let me use Marla’s fan bike so I would have no excuses. Any other woman would have slapped him silly, but I came to understand Bill and all his quirky ways. He made me promise that I would use it. I told him I would. And I did. However, I did not wear a bikini.
That fan bike was a pain in the you-know-what. I hated Bill when I rode that thing. It wasn’t made for normal people. Eventually, you know what happened. It became a drying rack for my laundry though I never let Bill know it. I just kept my weight in check and pretended it was because of the bike.
God eventually heard Bill’s prayer and sent him a woman from out of state. She was about Bill’s same age and a lovely, retired, accomplished woman. I saw Bill and his bride in a funeral receiving line and we talked about everything from the discovery of his new bride, to how pretty I looked now that I was riding that bike, to how sad and unexpected this loss was.
A few weeks later, Bill sought my advice when he called me about a piece of property he was considering buying as an investment. We had a good talk, though we had played phone tag a few times. Little did I know, that would be the last time I would hear Bill’s voice. The man who had lived a life of fitness succumbed to cancer soon thereafter. His new wife left Bill’s life behind to head home to her family.
After some time, I had to walk through Bill and Marla’s empty bayou home to preview the property for an out of town buyer. Bayou homes are a status symbol in that neck of the woods. It was grand. There I saw Marla’s kitchen. The woman was a genius who had two commercial grade refrigerators. I reverently walked through each room and imagined where Bill and Marla would have put their Christmas tree and how the Christmas meal must have perfumed the air when I approached the dining room. I could hear the ringing laughter of all the children and grandchildren they had raised. What memories!
I opened the door to the master bedroom and there was the biggest most ostentatious hot tub anyone ever saw. I just had to laugh thinking about Marla waiting at home in that bedroom donning only a red rose between her lips, or so Bill said. Knowing the enduring legacy of those two lovers, I would not doubt what he said was true.
At some point after I had processed all of this, it was my turn to leave my home behind as my baby was off to college and life had dealt me some changes, too. The movers packed as much as possible into the moving truck.
They had one lingering question, “About that fan bike in the storage shed….?”
I finally took revenge on Bill for all of his snide comments about me and I told them they could leave it behind. Later, I discovered a voicemail from Bill in my phone from the day we were playing phone tag. It delighted me to no end. I remembered his voice, his way of complimenting me by enshrouding it with little critiques, and most of all the affection of his friendship. I knew it was a longing for his Marla, his lover, the spouse of his youth.
Bill had walked in a love that, once found, impacts a person and everyone they know for the rest of their lives. Because of this, Bill will always be counted in my heart as one of my favorite friendships of all times in my every remembrance of him.