For Christine, on her birthday, a story.
"Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?"
— Terry Pratchett
There are far too many quotations, but this one resonates with me as it ties in with my personal philosophy, in that as long as we're telling stories about people, they are still alive in our hearts. There are so many stories, so many memories. I make no excuse today for telling a story of someone so dear to me, and keep her alive in my heart.
Happy birthday, Christine! I want to share with you the story we've told countless times. Not because you'd forget, but because I want you to know that I've not forgotten. It's about the day we met.
I was already in love with you in spirit, having read everything you'd written here. I was already in love with your heart, from hearing you talk about your daughter and your friends. Then the day we met cemented everything and I was hooked. Of course you'd already witched me by then, so I suppose I was powerless. We'd only really known one another for what, six weeks? But I need to tell this story, which I've never written down, because there are people who have never heard it before. They can listen in as I remind you of that day.
Of course you'll remember, when we finally planned my trip to California, that we'd meet by the baggage carousel at Sacramento Airport. By the time I got there I'd not slept for a day because, as you know, I find it hard to sleep on aeroplanes. I was tired and nervous, I'd had a beer at LAX because, y'know, nerves. I'd only ever seen two photos of you and to be honest I was also worried that you'd get cold feet and run for the hills.
I think I'd told everyone on the plane that I'd come to the US to meet this wonderful woman, and was so excited by the prospect that the cabin crew asked the other passengers if they'd let me get off first. I skipped over to Immigration; they must have thought me crazy. I skipped to the head of the escalator. I didn't skip down it because, foolish as I'd been before, escalators are unsafe beasts ever on the lookout for the unwary, and hungry for flesh. I held the handrail because it helped me not tremble; it was comforting.
Remember I'd told you once that I was breaking three of my rules flying out to meet you? I'd never wanted to come to the US because it was going to be full of dreadful Americans. I had told myself I'd never start a relationship with anyone I'd met online, and I certainly wasn't going to fall for someone after only a few weeks. Still, there I was, clutching this band of stuff moving downward to possible doom, a stranger in a strange land. I wasn't looking for you yet, of course, because we were destined to meet at the baggage collection. So when I saw someone who *looked* like you, I knew it wasn't you. She wasn't even watching the escalator, she was gooey-eyed at a family who were evidently reconvening after a long time apart. She was delighted at children meeting their grandparents for the first time, drinking in their laughter and tears of joy, relishing every hug, every kiss.
No, I carried on secure in the knowledge that you'd be waiting where we arranged to be. Here, it has to be said, I discovered the first wrinkle in your personality, that was to be both endearing and frustrating to me for seven years. You were not to be found at the baggage collection. There was a heart-rending moment when I thought your cold feet had kicked in, but even as I collected my suitcase I also collected my reason and courage and returned to the escalator.
And of course, there you were, scanning every face coming down, your eagerness radiating outward. Now I had time to watch you, even as you'd watched the family reunion. I drank in your poised energy, I felt the aura of expectation, I studied your dress, your hair, your face. Then slowly I moved into your line of sight. And our eyes met and we fell in love. We must have spent days then hugging and kissing and laughing. Surely dozens, hundreds watched us blend together in touch as we broke away to gaze into one another's eyes before we rinsed, repeated. I breathed your scent for hours before one of the airport staff came, chuckling, to tell us we should find somewhere else to continue falling in love. We were the Owl and the Pussycat, all setting to sea in a beautiful…well Toyota Camry. I was hooked, you'd witched me, I was yours.
By the time we got to your house I knew every hair on your head, all your laughter lines, the shape of your knee and the feel of your hand. I'd counted each strand of that delightful grey streak and fallen for your eyelashes. Green-grey your eyes, Elven (Elvish? Who cares‽). Your voice. Your scent. Then it was I discovered you could make a good cup of tea and it was sealed.
I'll draw a veil over the next few hours because there may still be people reading, but with Tessie having a sleepover, we had the time to relax together and tie the final bonds of love.
I made you tea in the morning and brought it to you in bed. You cried softly. I made breakfast while you readied for work and you laughed in delight. We kissed goodbye as you went to work, and I began to change my life forever.
Someone asked me what I was going to do to celebrate Christine's birthday. I replied, "Go to a bar, have them pour two beers,and drink to her health. Tell everyone there it's her birthday. Drink one beer and clink her glass. Invite everyone in the bar to do the same. Talk to everyone about her. No-one is truly dead until their story is not told."
Of course the bars won't be open as we're in Covid-19 "shelter-in-place", but I will pour one with my neighbours, who all knew her, and we'll laugh and cry and tell more stories. Because Christine, you're still alive in a lot of hearts.
This is saying thank-you for Tessie, too. Without her say-so, without her love for both of us, we'd never have finished the story. It's possible that without her, we'd never even have started.
Thanks also to Jet-Poop, wifey, npecom, Nemosyn for their help.