LC Van Savage
Recently I went to visit an old friend. Very old, actually. Her name is Agatha and I guess we both knew this visit was probably to say goodbye to each other for good, or for Until, if there is an Until, and I'm hoping there will be one.
I sat by her bed and held her old hand. It felt like a naked, newly hatched bird, terribly fragile, blue-veined and cold now. I looked down at it and remembered how strong her hands had looked when I was a kid, baking cookies, digging small holes in the black earth to plant her pansies, currying her big old horse Digger and knitting intricate Irish knit sweaters somehow counting out the proper stitches without ever pausing in her conversations. She was amazing to me and I adored being in her company.
Fifty odd years ago Agatha had married her "Roj" (for Roger.) He'd died long ago, after spending the last five years of his life in a heart attack-induced coma. She'd talked to him every day as he lay on the big hospital bed, clicking away on yet another intricately designed Irish knit for a family member. Agatha made a large number of Irish knits in those five years talking to her darling Roj, telling him all about her daily life and their children and grandchildren.
"Tell me Ag," I said to her as I sat by her bedside that day. "Tell me about when you married Roj."
The old lady looked at me, smiled sadly and said "Yes. I'll tell you. It's a sweet story. Someday maybe you'll write about it, LC. I hope you will." Agatha settled back into her pillows, looked away from me and back into the l940's.
The war in Europe was heating up, she said, and Roj wanted to marry her in case American boys were called up, even though President Roosevelt promised they never would. The young couple had very little money, so a big wedding was out of the question. Agatha bought a plain blue suit and a small matching hat which she decorated with fake orange blossoms. Roj gave her a small bouquet of white roses and on a spring day, they stood in the small chapel, said their evermores and were married.
And suddenly, because these sorts of things are always suddenly, Roj was called up because some people bombed a place in Hawaii called "Pearl" and the young couple, so newly married and so deeply in love had to part.
She wrote to him constantly, and for three years, letters came back from Roj. Lots of them. And then they abruptly stopped. Agatha, frantic, thought she'd die from fright and worry when finally, a letter came.
Roj told her everything was OK, and that he was coming home. Agatha shrieked with joy at this news, and then read on.
"Actually," the words said, "I've been wounded, Ag. Nothing too serious. Don't worry. It won't interfere with our lives in the least. I'll heal after I get home and back into your arms." Her joy withered like a flower in a flame then, and she read and reread the letter to find out the sort of injury Roj had sustained, but he didn't say. He did say "I love you, Ag," at the end of the letter, and his PS told her to be at Grand Central Station in New York City on a certain date at a certain time when he'd get off that train and restart their marriage.
After an eternity, the day finally arrived. Agatha put on the blue wedding suit and the hat too which she knew would look silly at the train station with those fake orange blossoms, but she didn't care. She bought a small bouquet of white roses and arrived at Grand Central Station an hour early.
The train finally thundered in and squealed to a stop. The platform was covered with people, shoulders pressed together, all straining toward the windows and doors of the train cars. Agatha stood in the crush, clutching the roses. She felt her hat slide to one side but she ignored it. People were screaming as soldiers and sailors got down from the cars, running into each other's arms, crying. Agatha smiled. Any second now, she'd be holding her Roj. She stood on her tiptoes and craned to see him.
The crowd on the platform began to thin. Couples, parents, friends holding tightly to their beloved returned warriors began to make their ways up the steep staircases and away from the long, darkened platform.
Agatha was alone. The trainman yelled "All aboard!" and she heard the doors clank shut, the steam pop and the wheels begin to screech and creak as they started to move.
Agatha looked everywhere. The platform was empty. Roj had not been on that train. She squeezed the roses so tightly in her white gloved hands the stems left green streaks, and she began to weep. She turned to leave, then turned to take one more long look down the platform.
She could barely make him out, but he was there, way at the very end. Appallingly thin, his uniform hanging loosely on him, he squinted at her through the gloom. His voice, when he called her name, was weak and rough. His legs, nearly useless now, dragged behind him one at a time as he pulled himself toward her on his crutches, one labored step at a time. Agatha dropped the flowers, her hat fell off and disappeared as she ran, screaming and crying toward Roj.
Agatha turned back to me and smiled. "So that's how our wonderful marriage really began," she said. Her eyes began to droop. "Do you think you'll ever write that story, LC?" she asked, her voice small, like a tired child’s.
"Yes, Agatha," I said. "I will."