The beach is empty this morning, and devoid of tourists. The weather is forty-nine degrees. The water is what we Gulf Coast people would call, “bathwater.” The air is what we thin-blooded Florida writers refer to as, “cold enough to freeze a dog’s pee midstream.”
I am dutifully typing on a laptop, working on another novel. Working on a novel is a lot like driving across Texas. You drive for an eternity until eventually you realize that, hey, you’re still in Texas. And even if you were to turn around and drive the other way, you’re still going to be driving through Texas for a very long time.
Not far from my chair is an older couple. I’d say early seventies, late sixties. They don’t have chairs, their haunches are nestled right in the flour-white sand. They are covered in a thick plaid blanket, sipping from a steaming thermos.
It’s a good day for beach-sitting. The sun is low, making its ascent into a pink morning sky. The Gulf is spearmint green.
The man has a mane of white; she wears the universal floppy straw hat all old ladies wear. Their arms are draped around one another, and they are watching seafoam.
I amble over and introduce myself to start the conversational ball rolling because I need a break from “driving across Texas.”
Our talk gets personal when I ask how long they’ve been married.
“Been married twenty-three years,” the man says. “We were both married previously, our spouses died.”
They both lost their significant others to brain cancer, twenty-some-odd years ago. It was the same rare kind of brain cancer, too. The odds were astounding.
“We were shocked to find that connection,” she says. “We took it as a sign from God, that we were meant to be together. What else could it have meant?”
They got married in a hurry. The day of their wedding was their three-month anniversary. After that, they moved into a trailer located in the hinterlands of Arkansas. But they’re never home. They started traveling.
“We’ve been to all fifty states,” says the man.
“We’ve been to all fifty states twice,” his wife corrects him.
They have taken two cross country trips in his F-150, towing their lives behind their tailgate in a fifth wheel camper.
They’ve done all the things all American tourists are supposed to do. They have cruised U.S. Route 101 from Washington to California. They have seen Acadia National Park at sunup. They have eaten peanut butter sandwiches at scenic overlooks in the Rockies.
They are quick to point out that they are far from well-off. In fact, they aren’t financially stable enough for either of them to consider retirement. But they both work from home, so they have freedom. And why not travel?
“We do it because our spouses didn’t get that opportunity,” says the woman, whose eyes are becoming glazed. “My first husband never did half the things he wanted to do. He never got to, you know, live.”
The old man draws her near as she speaks of her late husband. He interlaces his fingers with hers, then explains:
“We’re grieving partners. First and foremost. We’re here for each other, we talk about the good times, we share memories. You have to do that. ‘Cause you never quit loving someone.”
The woman looks off into the distance at the crashing breakers on the shore, but says nothing.
“Like I always say,” the man goes on, “there are really four people in our marriage: There’s her and me. And then there’s the two people we used to be. We still carry our old selves with us, our old lives. You never quit being the person you were.”
I ask if they have any more trips planned.
They scoot together so that their shoulders and hips are touching. He kisses her gently on the lips.
“We’re on one right now,” she says.
After our conversation peters out, I wander back to my little beach chair. I check my phone for texts, I gaze at the Gulf water, and I wonder about life in general. Namely, I wonder why life can be so unkind to some but so generous to others.
I wonder why pain has to be the central feature of being human. And I wonder how I was so fortunate to meet such an exceptional couple on the beach on a chilly Floridian morning. Maybe it was meant to be. Maybe there are no coincidences.
Then I open my laptop, once again, and begin typing my way “across Texas.”
Keloth Anne - November 1, 2021 10:14 am
I love how you are so attentive to feelings and emotions. Such a wonderful reading as my morning gets off to a great start! And you are so right—-you never quit loving someone 💕
Joe Dorough - November 1, 2021 10:18 am
The sun has risen, the sun has set and you ain’t got across Texas yet!
Noah - November 1, 2021 1:46 pm
That makes me smile.
Penn Wells - November 1, 2021 10:50 am
Real democracy requires empathy. You always do your best to spread it. Keep it up!
Candace - November 1, 2021 11:28 am
A lovely story and, while I know it is for context, I do personally grow weary of being called an old person. It looks different when I stand in this place than it appears from it did when I had lesser years. (I don’t wear floppy straw hats but I have a daughter who does.) I am older but I just feel as though I have more reference points in life than I did before. Other than that, my dreams and hopes are the same. Love your work, Sean.
franfluker - November 1, 2021 11:36 am
I started reading today’s story and had to laugh out loud. I often use that expression ‘driving across Texas’ to define some event that seems to take For-Ever. But in reality, one must have had the particular ‘Texas’ experience to be in a position to really appreciate the term. I expect that driving the ‘long way’ across places like NC or TN or VA are the same, but when you have experienced the endless terrain, vast nothingness of west TX, it is a unique experience -memorable and permanently embeded for a lifetime. Thanks or reminding me of my youth…
Kim Kennedy - November 1, 2021 12:20 pm
Jan - November 1, 2021 12:41 pm
Beautiful story. Love your ability to connect with people and get to their heart and soul. Thank you!
Karen - November 1, 2021 12:50 pm
I enjoyed this. Traveling the old roads is so much better. Interstates are bland and boring. I wish I had the confidence to approach folks and chat.
Shelton A. - November 1, 2021 12:55 pm
How many coincidences did those two have? Too many to be a coincidence. Glad they found each other and can work from ‘home’ (wherever home happens to be). You keep typing across Texas. God bless the couple on the beach and you and Jamie (and, of course, Otis Campbell and Thelma Lou).
Nancy Crews - November 1, 2021 12:59 pm
Linda - November 1, 2021 1:19 pm
This story is so touching because my husband and I are “grieving partners”..my husband loss his wife 8 1/2 months before I loss my husband..to cancer. I do believe that God placed us together, to be there for one another..and I’m so thankful that he did. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!!
Cathy - November 1, 2021 1:48 pm
A second chance at love is always a great story. I have been lucky to still have my original by my side . The older we get the more appreciative I am bc we are surrounded by bad news and loss. This getting old game is truly not for sissies so I love to hear stories like this . You are an observer and a man who is sensitive to the feelings of others. That is just one of the things I love abt Sean Dietrich. Just one❤️
Anne - November 1, 2021 1:59 pm
I love this, and I’m looking forward to reading what you’re writing as you “drive across Texas”.
Paul McCutchen - November 1, 2021 2:11 pm
I am scared I will wake up and “wish I would have”. Some things are off my bucket list but there are still a lot left. The pandemic and the fires have put some of them on hold and, at 70, a year or so is a lifetime.
Larry Wall - November 1, 2021 8:57 pm
So right, Paul. I am right there in my thoughts but 5 years ahead of you and likely too late to catch up with my list. But one never quits hoping.
Linda Chapman - November 1, 2021 2:17 pm
Keep writing, Sean!
Your story this morning reminds me of me and my husband. We were both married for 41 years – he happy – me not. His wife died in 2000 and I divorced in August 2004. We met through eHarmony in April 2005 and married in June. God saved the best part of my life for the last! I could write a book and I am. A memoir and it’s half finished. I’ve been ‘driving across Texas’ with it for 3-4 years now! And I LIVE in Texas! So keep writing…..I say to myself and to you…
Suellen - November 1, 2021 2:18 pm
My husband and I have now been married for 29 years but we were both married before and divorced. I’ve often likened it to a death but the corpse is still up and walking around. So it is the same but different. We both have other people in our lives and the people we were before with the hopes and dreams for our future that went up in smoke.
Christina - November 1, 2021 2:18 pm
While pain might seem to be the central feature to being human, love is what sustains our experiences and makes our lives beautiful.
And waiting for you to reach the other side of TX soon!
JonDragonfly - November 1, 2021 2:18 pm
The two themes of your essay today come together in that wonderful old Ernest Tubb song “I could waltz across Texas with you.”
beachdreamer1 - November 1, 2021 2:48 pm
Everything for a reason. Like Christina says in comments, basically if you haven’t known pain you can’t know true love. A saying I’ve come to know well in ‘my later years’, pain gets your attention! It makes you appreciate, makes you grateful and more aware of all those who are out there who keep going in spite of their suffering, and how they give me Hope. Thank you Sean for your words each day. It was no coincidence that you spoke to this couple …there are no coincidences, only pre ordained opportunities. God bless you ❤️
AlaRedClayGirl - November 1, 2021 3:11 pm
Beautiful story. Sometimes life does feel like I’m driving across Texas, and sometimes it feels like I’ve driven across Rhode Island.
Jackie Lavin - November 1, 2021 5:12 pm
I’ve read 2 of your books so far . Loved every word of each. I look forward to your next one. There’s something about your writing style, it’s like love and warmth and a bit of magic. Thank you and please keep writing.
studiosound3 - December 2, 2021 3:16 am
Read em all. A few of em twice. They’ll grow on you.
MAM - November 1, 2021 5:18 pm
Can I ever relate to “writing across Texas!” I’ve been working on a book for more than a year now. I have bursts of making progress, then life steps in. My latest plans are to REALLY work on it over the holidays. And to Joe Dorough, I remember laughing when I was a kid. My parents and I had been driving through Texas all day. We stopped for the night, and I saw the postcard: “The sun has riz, the sun has set, and here we is, in Texas yet.” That has stuck with me forever, probably close to 70 years now.
Nancy Carnahan - November 1, 2021 6:52 pm
I always say you drive for miles and miles across Texas and all you see is miles and miles. I like Texas. My Uncle Sam planted me in Ft Worth for a year and Austin for a year.. That’s after 6 weeks in San Antonio for basic training and 3 months in Wichita Falls for tech school about a hundred years ago. Texans are really friendly.
Mike Bone - November 1, 2021 6:58 pm
Linda Moon - November 1, 2021 7:44 pm
I’ve recently surmised that you might be writing another novel. Some of the people’s stories you’ve posted seemed like characters from a book. So if you write it, I will read it. I’ve already “Waltzed Across Texas” in Texas several times with my guy. And when the novel comes out I’ll be reading it and reminiscing about those times in Texas, too. There are very few coincidences, dearest Sean, so keep on wondering and writing.
Mark Stewart - November 2, 2021 2:06 am
Hey Sean. Your story reminds me of a couple in Murfreesboro. She told me about how her husband died and was buried in a local cemetery.While visiting the grave one day she met a man at the grave next to the one she was visiting. It turned out his wife had died and he was visiting her grave. So they got acquainted and fell in love. They have been married several years and give credit to their departed spouses for getting them together.
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