The bar is crowded and loud. A man on a small stage plays music, wearing a cowboy hat. His style is a cross between progressive electric rock and a short barrel Howitzer.
A silver-haired man sits next to me. He orders two beers. He sips the foam from one. He doesn’t touch the other.
“This beer’s for someone very special,” he remarks.
He’s worked up a healthy glow. He bobs his head in rhythm with the nuclear explosion that’s passing as music.
I introduce myself. He adjusts his hearing aid and says, “This band’s pretty good.”
“Did you know,” he goes on. “My wife’n me were married when we were little kids?”
I discover that he’s telling the truth—sort of. They were nine-year-olds. She was a tomboy. He lived in town and built model airplanes. It was love at first sight.
“You know how you can remember stuff, like your first cigarette, or a first kiss? That’s how it was when I first saw her.”
“In fourth grade?” I point out.
“Yep, even in fourth grade. She was THAT special.”
When they were nine, he kissed her on the cheek. She slugged him and threatened to tear his throat out. The next day, she kissed him.
They were married that same year in the court of Camelot. The Knights of the Round Table were in attendance. The royal ceremony took place behind the pumphouse.
They dated all through high school. He went away to college—living apart was misery.
One evening, he will never forget, he was on the steps of a fraternity house, missing her. A taxi rolled to his curb. The door opened. She was carrying packed suitcases.
“I can’t live without you,” were her first words.
He goes on, “Have you ever loved someone so much you can’t breathe when they’re not around?”
She lived with him through college—their parents never knew. Neither did their parents know they’d driven across the county to marry.
But that’s water under the bridge. They built a life. He had a good job, good kids. Little League games, family trips to Disney.
His kids were high-school age when he developed his autoimmune disorder.
“Doctors said it was gonna kill me,” he says. “My whole body was attacking itself.”
He spent a month in the hospital. She was beside him. During his waking moments, he remembers her silhouette beside his bed.
He recovered. It was nothing short of a miracle.
Years later, the world stopped again. This time it was her. They installed a port near her collarbone. They operated. Radiation. Chemo. They waited.
“They say you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone,” he says. “That’s a bunch of crap. I always knew what I had. I have her. I have life. I’m the luckiest man alive.”
She went into remission. Another textbook miracle.
They decided to go see the world. Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, England, Ireland, Japan. They couldn’t afford it. But then, they couldn’t afford not to, either.
They just celebrated their forty-ninth tonight.
A woman walks into the bar. She has pure white hair, brown eyes, slender. Dressed in black.
He hands her the beer. She wants to dance.
He’s in no condition to refuse. He kills his drink. They wander to the dance floor. You ought to see them shimmy. They’re not bad.
“I’d like to pay their tab,” I tell the bartender.
She laughs at me. “Who, that guy? You’re too late. He already paid for yours.”
Long live true love.