The crisp, autumn air bit my cheeks and quickly chilled the hot tears that relentlessly flowed, as I rode my bike down the familiar path. My tires spun furiously, kicking up and displacing the vibrant orange and yellow offerings of the tired trees that stood as sentinels on the sides of the road. This route, that only a few days ago held such joy, was now a harsh reminder that autumn comes for everyone. Leaves change and fall to the ground when they are their most brilliant and beautiful. Just as the souls of the ones we love wither and float away when they are their most enchanting.
My breath hitched as I slowed to take the final curve that would open to the sight I dreaded and longed for all at once. The lake, placid and peaceful, held my heart hostage as the uneven cobblestones rattled my tense frame. Only after I stopped completely, did I realize that my body shook of its own accord.
This morning, like all the others before, held a majestic quiet that echoed through the mist. The soft sound of the water lapping at the rocks was like a natural lullaby that soothed the soul. I wish I had been able to understand the draw to this place sooner. So much time had been lost through my ignorance.
Closing my eyes for a moment, I tried to chase away reality and for one more day, just one, open my eyes to see him there. Sitting, to the left side of the bench overlooking the lake, as he had everyday for the last twenty years. For much of it, there was a lady to his right. But not in five years time. The cancer that stole him from the earth, had stolen her already.
I can still see him there, watching the birds with intense fascination as they squawked and fought over one small scrap of food. I imagine his seat is still warm and his peppermint and soap scent hangs in the air. Tugging my coat around me tighter, I take my first walk to this hallowed bench alone. He had always been there, beckoning me to join him and to hear the stories of his youth. The adventures were almost too fantastic to believe, but my youthful exuberance and hero worship had me hanging on every word and begging, “please Grandpa, tell me more.”
His responding chuckle would warm me like the summer sun, and I would be engulfed in another fantastic tale. I think my favorite though, was when he would tell how he met my grandmother. It was the most tame of his stories, but the most heartfelt as he told of the day he traveled the same road as I had just travelled this morning, for the countless time and had his life irrevocably altered.
It was bright out; much brighter than usual, and the sun blinded me from time to time as it peeked between the thinning branches. The road, already littered with autumn’s cast offs, was so familiar to me that it greeted me like an old friend. The sputter of the playing card in the spokes of my bicycle tire sliced through the silent morning with precision, announcing the arrival of another carefree day. It was joy, in its simplest form. To be so young and untainted by the world. To fly with the birds and run on the wind. So open and so free.
I was so enveloped in my freedom, however, that I almost missed the sweetest sight these eyes have ever seen. She was a vision of beauty as she sat lazily under the tall oak. As I got closer though, I could see that her posture was not so much lazy as it was defeated. Adrenaline laced panic surged through my veins as I hastened in desperation to see what could possibly be tormenting such an angel.
The steady cadence of my tortured playing card announced my arrival, and she glanced up with such hope in her eyes that I found myself instantly vowing to see her happy for the rest of our lives. Our greetings were shy and awkward as we each seemed mesmerized by the other. She indicated to her bicycle, and I had to work to tear my eyes away from her long enough to take in the flat tire that had stranded her. Ever so slowly though, our trances lifted and our conversation began to flow with ease. Such ease in fact, that it was only her shiver that indicated the lateness of the hour. And once again I found myself on the familiar road. But this time I walked, carrying on my back with pride, the mangled catalyst to my destiny.
My tears were gone now, for no other reason than I was no longer capable of producing them, as I sat and stared out across the water. His presence was strong there, much stronger than amongst the mourners back home with their endless stream of sympathies. I don’t want those. I want him.
Drawing my knees up under my chin, I hugged my legs with vigor, clinging to the tiny comfort it provided. Time seemed to stand still, and yet I knew it wouldn’t. And as the sun began to finally break through the clouds that had it trapped, I was startled by a throat being cleared behind me. Stunned, I looked up and into the most enchanting blue eyes. They held wonder and concern, as their owner cocked his head slightly to one side.
“Are you ok?” he gently asked.
“Not really, no.” I rasped out in reply.
“May I sit with you?”
A nod was all I could muster, and he slid gracefully in next to me. The silence was comfortable for a while, but soon he began making benign comments and asking simple questions. He never pried, or said anything that was remotely intrusive, and before long I actually found myself laughing a bit and enjoying our easy conversation.
The sun eventually began to lose it’s battle with the clouds, and I knew I needed to go home. I could face it now. I knew I could.
The familiar path greeted me once again, but this time with hope. Hope for renewed joy and amazing adventures. Hope for a future enhanced by the past. Hope for love, true and deep. My grandfather’s time was done. But as my destiny now walked beside me, I knew that my time had only just begun.