By Jim Woessner
I took it out of the box and held it up to the light. The two of us are sitting on a park bench. I forget where. We’re both smiling. I’m looking at the camera, she’s looking at me. We look nice together, sitting side by side, arms wrapped around each other. There are oak trees behind us, perhaps a bit of coastal forest. I must admit I looked rather rakish back then, handsome even, like a young Sam Shepard, my hair coarsely swept back with my fingers. Or her fingers. She had a different sort of beauty, not like a movie star. I suppose that sounds derogatory. It’s just that, you wouldn’t say she was Hollywood. She had the undefinable “it.” And she had a lot of “it.” If you didn’t know better, you’d say there was genuine affection between us. Which is ironic. I mean, there was a time when we were genuinely that happy, but not when this was taken. By then we were deeply into pretense. Lips frozen into unnatural smiles for friends and family, but rarely for each other.
It’s hard to imagine, but just two years before this was taken, we had fallen in love so quickly, so effortlessly. And we fell out almost as fast, although it took forever to say goodbye. I suppose we stayed together as long as we did because of shame or embarrassment. Neither of us wanted to admit that we had somehow failed. How does that happen? How do you get to be a grownup without knowing how to reconcile your feelings or own the choices you’ve made. I want to say we did the best we could. But I can’t.
I heard from her recently. Total surprise. She had googled me, found my email address, and wrote to ask how I was and how my life had gone. I started to write back, but couldn’t find a way to summarize forty years in an email. So I called. I barely recognized her voice. She told me she had divorced and moved to Cape Cod to be near her two children and grandchildren. I confessed that I never had children. I had remarried, divorced, and was now semi-retired. I told her about my career. Ups and downs. Fits and starts. We laughed, although it was more like audible smiles. After a few minutes, she said she had to be somewhere. Me too, I said. We promised we’d talk again soon, but that was a couple of months back. I suspect she felt as uncomfortable as I did finding old strings still attached.
I looked at it again, the smiles, the warmth. Then I put it back in the box and put the box back on the shelf.
Jim Woessner is a visual artist and writer living on the water in Sausalito, California. He has an MFA from Bennington College and has had poetry and fiction published in numerous online and print magazines. Additionally, two of his plays have been performed in community theatre.