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After 40 Years
Some things have no end. The sky, for instance, has no end. Time has no end. Numbers have no end. My loneliness has no end.
The sky is gray today. Sun blocked out by the rolling charcoal clouds. There’s not enough light here- not in the sky, not in my soul. The clouds forever loom above me, never allowing sunlight to touch my skin nor joy to touch my heart. Despair is my only companion, the only thing that never leaves.
I walked past a couple sharing a coffee together, giddy with love. Holding hands, smiling elatedly, laughing lightheartedly. So much happiness, so much love. It made me sad just to watch that. I wanted it for myself, so badly I could hardly stand it. I yearned for the day that I found my own perfect union. But alas, the day seemed unlikely to ever come. I was 40 years old – the prime of my life was gone, behind me, and I hadn’t managed to find a match even then. I was doomed to a life of solitude. A life where I slept in my bed alone, came home to no living thing, had never once felt the warm touch of another’s lips. 40 years had come and gone, and never once had I kissed, not even held a hand.
My mother never kissed me. My mother died in childbirth. My father left before I was born. My grandparents were long since deceased. I had no aunts or uncles. I’d grown up in an orphanage, having never even laid eyes on a single relative, never meeting anyone who shared my blood. The children of the orphanage made a point of disliking me, solidifying my lonely existence. I was too depressed throughout my childhood to ever be adopted; I watched the happy, bubbly children be taken up one by one while I sat in a corner, unnoticed, my words stifled by oncoming tears. Too many nights, I had cried myself to sleep.
I wearily climbed the steps of my apartment building. Were there always so many steps? No one else was on the staircase. It was break time for all the employees. I listened to the pounding, hollow thud my food made as it descended on each step. One thud for each step. My footsteps were as alone as I was.
I flung open the door of my apartment.
“I’m home!”, I shouted to the room. “Did anybody miss me?”.
The room was empty, as always. My words received no response. I stood, listening to the ringing silence. I was sure that if I heard silence for my calls once more in this room, I would go mad. Crazed by the longing of a response, driven mad by the lack of thus. I switched on the TV, just to hear a voice. The sounds of bickering lovers and animated laughing did help to calm me some; it gave my ears something to hear. I sat down to my computer, and checked the e-mail account that received messages only from machines. I brewed myself a cup of coffee. I sat down at my desk, a new Document page opened on my screen, and breathed deeply. What to write about today? My finger were nearly about to touch the keyboard when there was a knock on the door.
“Delivery for a Mrs. Jenason!”, the man announced when I opened the door. Nice looking fellow. About my age. I sighed, knowing that I would never have someone like him.
“It’s Miss, actually. Thank you”. I reached for my package. He pulled it away.
“Miss, huh? A pretty woman like you?”, he asked teasingly. I felt the corners of my lips tugging up, despite my mental protest. He was obviously a flirt, but I couldn’t help feeling the slightest bit flattered.
“Yes, well. It’s just never really worked out. I’m not a dating sort of person”.
“Hmm. Single lady, huh? Why don’t ya come down to the bar down the street tonight? A group of friends of mine are getting together; it’s an open invite. I hate to think of being left alone on such a beautiful Friday night”.
“Why…why, thank you. I’d love to”. I hadn’t been in a bar since I was young enough to hold my alcohol, but I couldn’t deny it was a better way to spend the night than alone with my manuscript. Ugh, that manuscript. I loved writing, but right now it felt like the bane of my existence. I’d spent too many nights alone on my computer. It was time to get out of the house, for sure.
He handed me my package, flashed me a smile, and left. The door swung closed. I’d always flinched at the sound of a closing door, knowing it meant the rare company I had over was gone, but this time I didn’t. This time, I was left behind with something to look forward to. This time…I needn’t feel lonely.
I stood in the doorway, and began to grin. I smiled wider and wider, until I was laughing. I was overridden with giddiness. Oh, happy day! Who knew? Maybe if I acted charming, I could even score myself a date. I’d done my high school theatre; I could put on a show for one night. For the first time in decades, I felt genuinely hopeful. I forgot all about that Document page left up on my computer, and began to tidy things up with a new spring in my step. Who says 40 years old is too young for a fresh start?
That night, I put on my dancing shoes. Oh man, were those heels painful after 10 years of clogs. I delved into the back of my closets, beating the dust out of the old clothes that I’d bought to wear out to places I was never invited to. Tight strapless dresses I could no longer squeeze into, miniskirts that refused to zip up. I’d forgotten I even owned all these clothes. I had no idea why I’d kept them for so long.
After finally managing to dig out a suitable outfit, I limped down to the apartment lobby. How on earth did people manage in these things all day? I ignored the pain, and held my head high. The receptionist behind the desk stared when he saw me; I hoped it was because I looked better than usual, not because I looked like a clown. Nervously, I ventured out.
When I entered the place, I was shocked by the noise. So many people talking, so much music playing! So many shouts, so many yells, so many whistles and bad singing. I’d been to bars before; how had I forgotten this? I had 2012’s most horrified look plastered on my face, and I couldn’t wipe it off. Ok, Liz, I told myself. Pull yourself together. Give it a few minutes, and you’ll adapt.
“BOO!” someone yelled behind me as they grabbed my shoulders. I shrieked and nearly slapped the culprit in my face. Then my mind reminded me that this was not an attacker and I was not about to be eaten alive or viciously murdered. I laughed.
“You scared me!” I said to him, playfully punching him in the arm. Whoa. When had I gotten this flirtatious?
“I can tell”, he laughed. “I was afraid you’d take my eye out!”. He put his arm around my shoulder. “Come on, let’s have a drink”. I walked up to the counter with him.
“Do you do this to every girl you meet?”
“Nah. But you looked like you were about to have a heart attack. I figured someone had to calm you down”.
“Well…ok, fine. I haven’t been out in 15 years. I’d forgotten how loud these places were. Gimme a break!”.
“15 years? Dang. How old are you?”
“I’m turning 40 next month”.
“Wow. I’d have guessed…30?”. I smiled bitterly.
“Well. I guess it helps that I never wasted away my teenage years with smoking and drinking. I wasn’t invited out often enough. To be honest, my coming here was something of a miracle draw. I was invited by the postman”.
“The postman? Dave? I know him. Buddy of mine. He likes to invite random strangers places. Sometimes it’s annoying, but I can’t complain when a beautiful single woman shows up in my path”.
“Beautiful? Clearly you haven’t met many women”.
“Ok, fine. But for 40, you’re one of the prettiest.”
“Gee. I always dreamed of being called good-looking for a 40 year old. What a compliment!”. He laughed.
“You’re funny. I like that.”
“Hmm. Never been called funny before”.
“Well, from what you say, you haven’t been around enough people to hear it. Now come on; how about that drink? I think I’d like to chat with you a bit longer”.
The night wore on, and the man and I talked on. His name was Leon. He’d never been married. He was working at a publishing company, and told me I should try submitting my manuscript there. He loved children, but had never found the right woman to have them with. He told me he’s been on the waiting list for an adoption for the past 3 years. He talked, and I talked, and we learned each other stories. When finally the clock struck 11, we decided to part. We exchanged numbers, and walked to the door together.
“I’m glad I met you, Liz”, he said when we were outside. He smiled at me for a minute, and I smiled back. Then, carefully, he leaned down, and very slowly, kissed me on the lips. It was brief, but it was perfect. He got into his car and drove off, and I stood there. In shock.
My first kiss. My very first kiss. 40 years had gone by with nothing, and now…a kiss! I’d always wondered how I’d feel about that; 40 years was a long record to break. Now, there was no question. I was happy. No, no, no. I wasn’t happy; I was more than happy. Joyous? Ecstatic? Nope! My elation was greater than those words! It climbed up high, above the clouds! Pure, utter joy radiation from me, warming the bitterly cold around my heart and defrosting every last icicle formed in my brain. I was so happy I wanted to cry. I stood in the street, half-laughing, half-crying, doubled over and gasping for breath. It was ridiculous the amount of positive energy wrought by such a light, simple kiss. Absolutely ridiculous. And yet, it was lovely. I could feel my heart beating again, stretching its legs after so long being dormant and unused. I skipped – literally, I skipped! – in my 5 inch stilettos to my apartment building. Who cares if I was stared at? Who cares if I tripped and fell and sprained an ankle? I felt as though I were floating on clouds, not a care in the world. I settled into bed, and breathed out joy with every breath. I fell asleep, content, happy.
The next morning, I was woken by a call at 8 AM. I bolted upright, snatched up the phone, fumbled for a minute with the buttons, and hastily pressed it to my ear. My hopes skyrocketing out past stars in the Andromeda galaxy.
“Hello. Would you like to buy auto insurance? Because today-”. My hopes crashed back down to Earth, and hit the ground hard. I slammed the phone down on the cradle. Telemarketers. Giving people false hope since 1930, or whenever phones were invented. I’d researched that once, but I was too aggravated to care about historical accuracy this morning. Stupid, stupid, stupid. How had I gotten my hopes up? He was probably just a player. A stupid player. Who falls in love in one night? He was probably lying about everything. Lying about his marriage status, lying about his job, lying about my beauty. Who calls a 40 year old woman beautiful? I didn’t even have a beautiful personality! I got up and began furiously preparing myself for the day. As I slammed the coffee pot into the coffee maker, a little portion of my mind tapped on my shoulder and reminded me that it was still early in the morning and there was still a chance he would call. I slapped it down backhanded. I couldn’t afford to get my hopes up; they would just get slammed down again. It was best to just accept reality. Because reality would never allow this. It would never allow me to be happy. Reality was cruel, harsh, cold-hearted, vicious-
The phone rang. I snatched it up and nearly hurled it against the wall in my anger when I remembered that I was awaiting a call from a publishing company. I pressed my lips together and reluctantly answered the call.
“Hey Liz. How are you this fine morning?”
“Who is this?”
“You don’t remember me? It’s Leon, from last night. I’m calling you back?”. Wait, what?
“I…I…I didn’t think-”
“You didn’t think I’d call back? I assure you Liz, I’m not that kind of guy. If someone gives me their number, I give them a call back. It’s not always a nice or pleasant call, but I don’t like to leave people hanging”.
“You, Liz, are very fortunate. You are on the receiving end of one of my pleasant calls. I was wondering if you’d like to hike on over to the coffee shop down the road a bit and have a drink.”
“Ah, so I’m fortunate, huh? Someone’s confident.”
“What can I say? I’m a dish!”
I laughed. “Well, sure. I’d love a coffee”.
“See you there, then.”
“See you”. I smiled as I pressed the “end call” button.
5 hours later I was walking home, joyful all over again. We’d spent hours and hours talking, telling each other everything. He was the perfect conversation partner – talked whenever he wanted too, even interrupting me when I began to ramble, and yet being polite and listening whenever it was my turn to provide to the conversation. I loved it. I loved him. And – dare I say it? – he loved me back.
I unlocked my door and nearly skipped inside. Oh, life was so beautiful! Oh, happy day! I suddenly realized that I didn’t need to feel sad about the horrid loneliness inside this empty room. I could now content myself with reminiscing the lovely past events and looking ahead to a bright and happy future! I could be happy, even while alone!
I felt so joyous, it was nearly impossible to believe that just yesterday morning I had been so terribly miserable. I laughed out loud. Never again! Never again would I have to feel such pain! Relationships ended, I knew, but I at last had a source of happiness in my life. I could live, now. I needn’t spend my days eating and sleeping and working any longer, I needn’t only survive. I could truly, genuinely live. For the first time in my 40 years of survival…I was living.