Behind my sunglasses and paperback, on the patio of a beachfront hotel last summer I underwent a transformation.
I am attempting to describe the connection I was a silent witness to during those weeks on the coast last summer. I was changed every day just a little, simply by absorbing the part of their lives they spent together just below me. I saw and heard enough in those two short weeks to write a book about.
Sometimes they sat holding hands, watching the sun duck below the horizon and behind the surf, leaving a pink- and orange-
streaked sky behind. Sometimes they talked slowly and quietly with long, heavy, familiar pauses in between. Other times they sat at the tiny table while they animatedly discussed some topic or another. If wine came out, within a half hour, she was up on her feet pacing around the patio and gesticulating wildly as she spoke.
Sometimes they sat with their chairs pushed together and a huge quilt pulled around them both. Sometimes she sat on the ground on a cushion and leaned her head on his knee while they talked, idly stroking his hand and eyes fixed on him. Other times one or the other would come out alone and then when the door opened and the other walked out, both faces lighted up at seeing one another, even if they had just been inside together five minutes before.
One night I watched her come out of their hotel room and quietly approach him from behind. She leaned into him as he stood, forearms resting on the patio bars, looking out at the ocean. He turned around and wrapped his arms around her, then stroked her hair and whispered into her ears something I couldn't hear from my chaise. It was the kind of embrace you would see and think was a goodbye, it was so tender and full.
These two knew full well the nature of growth: that you can't tell someone else which way to grow or make them grow in a specific direction except by stunting their growth or worse. I had come to that realization on my own before that summer but I'd never seen it in a real relationship.
They talked long about the wonder they each felt at being able to witness and experience the magic of the other's authentic growth. I began to understand that they loved experiencing the other's growth and movement more than they loved safety, stability, or an unchanging and mutual address. I couldn't even tell if they shared a home or if they'd rendezvoused at that hotel after a long journey from opposite directions.
They talked only sometimes about the future but not in the way you'd expect two retirees to talk. I learned over the weeks that they couldn't even conceive of planning their elderly lives together unless it was to say, as he so eloquently put it one starless night.
"I can't imagine us interfering with one another's growth. It's unthinkable." He shook his head and then leaned toward her. "That's why I can say, my dear, that when we are old I am almost sure I will be in your life. Though we can't see where our individual trajectories will take us until then, I am sure I will be your lover or your friend. Or both!"
They both chuckled and then she pulled his head toward her and kissed him long and hard. He pulled away and held both her hands in his.
"No matter where I am standing in relation to you," he continued, looking intently at her, "watching you grow and process is one of the most beautiful, magical sights I've ever seen. I trust us to be our authentic, individual selves, even if that means we naturally grow apart. But you, sweet girl, with your eyes and hands and mouth open wide for whatever is next ... You are breathtaking. I will never be able to stop thinking so. And the way your whole self rushes fearlessly into what is next, no matter how terrified you may be ... Darling, you are the strongest and most beautiful to me in those moments."
My eyes blurred with tears. I watched as she took him by the hand and led him through the sliding glass door. I sat in silence, tears rolling down my cheeks.
"It's too late now," I whispered to myself. "I know now that two people can love one another like those two do. I can't unknow it now."