Christmas is over for another year and already I think how quickly it will be here again next year. If things work out as I have planned, I will be in Maine. My retirement dream has always been to have a cabin in the woods, surrounded by flaky, frosty snow and tall pine trees. I will sit in front of a large, brick fireplace with one or two husky dogs at my side while the icy wind howls outside my frosted windows. I wonder what your dream was for retiring. Somehow, we never discussed the future. Was it because we were always so happy to have just one day?
That last morning you left me in Tokyo, did you know? Did you know it was our last moment? I thought it might be, but I didn’t want to accept it. What I wouldn’t give to have that last night back. If we had known, would we have held each other tighter? Would I have begged you to stay?
Sometimes, timing is everything. At first I wasn’t free and you were, and then I left Danny and you were back with Kathie. And now Kathie has you with her again. I didn’t understand at the time. I guess I didn’t want to understand. I wanted to hang on to the pain. Sometimes the pain of losing is all you have left of someone. And, now, when I remember, it is like it happened yesterday. I still see you so clearly, the way your smoky brown eyes looked at me that last morning. The way you held me as we walked down the hallway to the funny, little elevator with the squeaky door. I was still in my kimono and you were so handsome in your uniform. With one last kiss, you stepped in, turned to me and smiled that sweet, lop-sided smile of yours. I stood there and smiled brightly back as the squeaky door slowly slid shut.
We had planned to meet back in Cleveland the next night at Brady’s Pub. We had first met and then lost our breath there one snowy night in December. Running in to call a cab that evening, I had literally tripped over your feet. My 10-year-old car had broken down and there were no cabs that night. So I sat beside you on the cozy sofa in front of the fireplace and tasted brandy for the first time. We talked for hours about our love for travel and discovered we both worked for the same airline. You told me you were separated and I realized I knew your wife, Kathie. In fact, she and I had gone through flight attendant training together. We also noticed the heavy snow outside the window and realized it was turning into a blizzard.
When you lived in Cleveland, you either learned to love the snow or you left. You said you could never live without snow or the beauty that it brought to even the most forgotten ground. I agreed with you and said one day I wanted to move to a new apartment that had a huge fireplace. That was the first time you touched my hand. We sat there until the snow stopped and then you drove me home.
Brady’s Pub became our place and we spent many a winter’s night there in front of the fire. I began to pick up Tokyo flights to be with you and once we settled in our room, we never missed the snow. I’ll never forget the night we burned the noodles in the noodle cooker. And it was so much fun flying in on different flights and meeting at The Black Pebble Restaurant. I wonder if it’s still there?
That night I knew you were gone, I sat in Brady’s Pub on the same sofa, staring at the fire, praying you would show up. When closing time came, I left. I continued to go there the next few years, occasionally, hoping to see you if only for a little while and to tell you, it was ok. I understood why you went back to Kathie and I wanted you to know. It’s hard to leave, even for what we had together. It’s hard to leave, but even harder to be left.
I moved a few years later back to South Carolina. Two aunts of mine had passed away and my Grandmother was ill again. When she, too, was gone, I stayed on to watch my nieces and nephews grow up, marry, and have children of their own. But I have missed the snow. I miss the quiet peacefulness of lacey snowflakes falling on the ground. I miss the solitude and crunchiness of long snowy walks. But most of all, I miss the smoky smell of wood burning in a fireplace and the strong, biting taste of brandy that takes your breath away.
So I discovered Maine and its snow covered trails and its acres of tall forests, its frosty lakes and mostly, its seclusion. I found myself embracing the peace that it could bring me. For when everything else is gone, the least and the most that you can hope for, are your precious memories and a small cabin in the snow.