They stand next to each other barely talking. Neither of them really have much to say; it’s all been said, over and over. She’s moving away; he will stay with his wife. She never for a second thought differently, he never for a second felt differently. Their affair had been brief and the affair had done what it was supposed to do. She was made to face the fact that the man she lived with was not right for her; he was able to live outside of his world for a brief time, to put a little distance between himself and his past.
They’ve only known each other seven weeks, not such a very long time for two people who already have a lifetime of living between them. Her story began when she was very young; his began in a country far away. They felt for a time, a small moment in time that all that mattered was now, but now was up.
The affair began in the same spot it would end, the city’s park by the water’s edge. That first day was not unlike this day, a few more clouds, a little colder. The ducks were still there, possibly the very ducks that had brought them together. She hadn’t even noticed him at first; he had been crouched down looking out over the lake tossing out pieces of bread. A cigarette dangled from his lips, his hair looking as if it was just starting to grow out. Dark hair, slicked back. She had wandered up next to him, drawn to the birds gathered along the shore. The day promised nothing but gray and cold for her, she couldn’t help but shiver despite her heavy coat. She lit a cigarette and tossed the match into the water, it floated for a moment, and then was lost, taken out by the ripples created by the birds. He looked up at her and smiled. His eyes squinted fighting the glare off the dark water; his smile was expansive and immediately genuine. He stood and taking his cigarette from his mouth said, “Howdy.” That was all, howdy. She couldn’t help but smile, nobody said howdy anymore.
He was tall, over six feet, and lean. Lean like the cowboys you’ve seen on television; old black and white movies. His boots looked worn, the straight-legged jeans, snug, but comfortable. When he extended his hand to her she noticed his eyes. They were nearly as dark as the water. Too dark, she couldn’t help but notice, against a too pale face. His features looked as if they had been carved from porcelain and she would find out, although he was only twenty-two, the creases around his eyes told another story. She stood tall next to him, all of her five feet seven inches. She always stood tall; it hid so much about her, a mysterious girl of eighteen. Her long, light auburn hair fell crazy around her shoulders, wisps catching a breeze and flying across her face. Her own pale, green eyes looked straight back at him as his approving smile took all of her in. Too quickly he seemed to come to a conclusion about her and extended the bag of bread. “Want to help me feed the ducks?” His voice, smooth as warm butter, spread across her face. Blushing, she smiled and took the bag. That’s how it was in the beginning, two lonely people sharing a dreary, winter afternoon. Neither one of them it seemed had anywhere to go.
After that first meeting they would steal as much time together as they could. He needed to work; she needed to do something with her life. His commitment to his spouse was not his main concern; her long time boyfriend did not seem to matter. It was never physical between the two, it never really is. He felt disconnected when he was with her; she had lost all feeling of being connected. Often they would meet in a small Mexican bar on the north side of town. It was far enough away from wherever and they liked the dark, cool interior. It felt like something close to meeting in a cave, gloomy and forbidding. She asked him about his other life; he hesitated to tell her at first. But as a floodgate will open with very little prompting, his mind gave way and the stories flowed, not unlike the wine.
His time spent in Vietnam began in the summer of ‘69. He had volunteered along with a high school chum; she had never known a soldier. She had known battle though; she told him of her own personal scars. She would never feel his equal in sorrow, she never felt anyone’s equal. He spoke soft and slowly like his first words to her. She would try and imagine a place she could not comprehend; he still could not grasp it. His four years there were spent on watch, watching out for your buddies, watching out for yourself. He had walked away from a watch one night; his friend was blown away right before his eyes, those dark eyes. She thought maybe he had seen too much. He drank as much as he spoke and for a while he spoke a lot.
She spoke often too, with him, to him. She told him of her parents, the father who loved her too much, the mother who would hate her for it. She explained how often and hard she had tried to please them and how often she failed. Matching drink for drink with him, she complained about parents who were alcoholics. She never saw the irony; he didn’t seem to care.
Sometimes when the day promised warmth they would walk through a wooded park, pick wildflowers just beginning to bloom. Speaking to each other in hushed voices, telling each other secrets. She helped him heal the scars left over from the war; she hid her scars, newly carved into her skin. She would carry his name on her arm etched forever with a razor blade, he would never know, she didn’t care. He reshaped her and gave her a new name, a foreign name. She would become forever someone remembered from another country.
He would wonder, will she remember me; she would know him forever. She thought he will forget me; he would remember her always as something from his past.
So things end as things do and love ends, as love will. He sends her off to find a new future; she took with her his pain.
They promise to write and they do for a time, a short time and it was a short time. A very long time ago.