Long ago, we sat in this same booth. I wore this same jacket. Same shoes. Same everything. I was younger.

Baker, Florida—the Gator Cafe has a full parking lot. There are horse trailers, utility vehicles, trucks with red clay on the tires.

Inside is your all-American eatery. The kind of place where you can get a decent burger, or fried catfish.

My wife sits across from me in a booth. We’re having a conversation. It’s probably a good one. But the truth is I have no idea what we’re talking about. I am too caught up in the past right now.

Long ago, we sat in this same booth. I wore this same jacket. Same shoes. Same everything. I was younger.

That day, we were on our way home from Birmingham. We were tired.

Only the night before, we’d fallen asleep in a hotel bed, holding each other. Bouts of anxiety were mixed with moments of sleep. Every few minutes, we’d wake, press our foreheads together, cry, sleep, repeat.

They put her in one of those gowns. Before they wheeled her back, she squeezed my hand and said, “I’m scared.”

“There’s nothing to be scared of,” I lied.

The waiting room was Purgatory. There was an old woman in the chair beside me. She was knitting. I asked what she was making.

“Nothing,” she said. “I’m only doing this to keep from worrying myself sick.”

Right.

And since I didn’t have any yarn, I spent the waiting hours watching a hospital television.

I wasn’t in my body. I was ten miles behind my own eyeballs, thinking about the woman I married.

A woman who loved pink until one day she decided she didn’t want to like pink anymore.

“You can’t CHANGE your favorite color at your age,” I explained to her.

“I can do whatever I want,” she pointed out. “It’s my life.”

And she did. She hates pink now.

This woman wasn’t like other women. She had a loud voice, strong opinions. She stopped her car for turtles that were crossing the highway.

She was a girl who wouldn’t kill spiders, but caught them in paper towels and placed them outside.

She was the one who stood beside me when I told my crooked boss I was quitting. He screamed at us. Before we left his doorstep, she looked at him and called him a very bad name.

Her temper is legendary. So is her charity.

They rolled her out of the double-doors, I helped her into the car. I asked how she felt.

“I love you so much,” she answered.

We left the ugly hospital. We put the big city behind us. I was sick to my stomach, and strongly considering signing up for knitting classes.

She fell asleep with her head against the window, I cried as quietly as I could. I cried because this world does what it wants. It takes who it wants, when it wants.

Then.

Her phone rang. It woke her. I pulled into the Gator Cafe parking lot to answer it. It was the doctor.

She pressed the phone against her ear. She nodded. She covered her mouth. The dam broke. She dropped the phone.

When her face contorted into a full-fledged cry, she looked like a toddler.

“It’s NOT cancer,” she said.

We held each other for an hour. No theatrics. No Hollywood kisses. Just two people in a truck, holding each other.

“I’m starving,” she finally said.

“I love you,” I said.

This cafe isn’t much to look at. But the food here was the best I ever had.

17 comments

  1. Cathi - January 8, 2018 12:53 pm

    Sean, I love you & your wife! And pink. Don’t judge me but I’ve loved it since I was a child. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Diane Enloe - January 8, 2018 1:32 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for being real…..you give us hope, love and smiles!

    Reply
  3. Shirley J Brown - January 8, 2018 3:40 pm

    No words except ‘this is beautiful’.

    Reply
  4. wendy - January 8, 2018 4:06 pm

    💖

    Reply
  5. Patricia Schmaltz - January 8, 2018 5:07 pm

    I swear.. each and every day… you make me laugh, and you make me cry. Sending you love.. and suspecting you have stock in Kleenex tissue.

    Reply
    • theholtgirls - January 8, 2018 11:11 pm

      Patricia, you are brilliant! I had not considered the possibility of stock dividends in Kimberly-Clark or Kleenex, but you may be on to something! I may need to invest! 😀

      My husband hands me my box of “Seankerchiefs” and shakes his head at me. He often stops to read over my shoulder, if he’s already wearing his reading glasses…

      Reply
  6. Jack Quanstrum - January 8, 2018 5:20 pm

    Exquisitely written. Beautiful story! But your absolutely right the world does what it wants. That’s fact that no one that had ever lived can escape.

    Reply
  7. ponder304 - January 8, 2018 5:37 pm

    Three powerful words…..so real! It’s not cancer……..blessed! Two powerful words….it’s cancer….worlds apart by one three let word….NOT……….I am blessed as this makes me think of the times I heard it’s cancer and my loved ones struggled, some lost, some won, but God was victorious through it all…..Thank you Lord for Sean and his writing that helps us bear our hearts to others….

    Reply
  8. Ellen - January 8, 2018 5:56 pm

    I don’t like pink either. And it’s probably for the same reason she doesn’t like it either.

    Reply
  9. Jack Darnell - January 8, 2018 7:47 pm

    Ahhhhh, three words that spell relief!! Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  10. elainenkarrh - January 8, 2018 9:53 pm

    Sean,My precious husband is waiting with me for my phone call.The doctor told us we will know today or tomorrow if mine is cancer or not.It was so weird when I saw this in my in box today.Thank you again for all your posts,and I am so happy that Jamie is cancer free.Hugs to you both…

    Reply
    • mrsdkmiller - January 12, 2018 9:06 pm

      Elaine, I have waited with my husband for his call and heard the news that made my insides turn to jelly and my mouth go dry. If you feel comfortable sharing with the world (or at least, Sean’s readers), was the word NOT in your phone call? This compulsive prayer wants to know how to draft her petition.

      Reply
  11. Teresa - January 9, 2018 3:19 am

    I’m sorry you had to go through this

    Reply
  12. Jody - January 9, 2018 6:15 am

    Blessings ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
  13. Debra - January 9, 2018 2:33 pm

    You guys make me believe in real love again. So glad for the good report! Blessings…

    Reply
  14. Jo - January 9, 2018 5:55 pm

    I am so glad that Jamie got that wonderful news! Thank you for the story.

    Reply
  15. Sharon - January 9, 2018 9:01 pm

    Sean, beautifully written. I was by my husband’s side when he heard the words, “I’m sorry, it is cancer”, in 2013. I was by his side when we were told there was nothing left to be done. And I was by his side in 2016 as he joined his parents in heaven.

    I am filled with joy today, reading your words, to know that your wife heard the words “it’s NOT cancer”. I am celebrating the wonderful news with you both!!!

    Reply

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