“Melancholy,” he said when he entered the motel room. A blast of cold air prompted me to tightly close the door behind him. The sand and snow on his shoes left wet footprints on the cheap, brown carpet. “Yes, that’s it…melancholy. I can’t think of any other word.”
The shallow, winter sun peeked through the picture window and lit up the sadness in his pale, distant eyes.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered. “I didn’t know this place would make you sad.” I sat on the edge of the unmade bed. The room had taken on an entirely different aura than when we had arrived two days earlier, laughing and joking about the dated décor and the musty smell of the overpriced “resort.” We ate chocolate and drank champagne and promised that next year we’d take a proper, beach vacation.
“It hits you sometimes. Someone told me it would happen like this.” He peered out the window staring at the ocean below. “It’s like a two by four to the back of the head. You feel the blow when you least expect it.” He didn’t turn to look at me and I dared not interrupt. “I guess there’s something about the magnitude of the waves and the coldness of the sand and the bleakness of the sky. It’s overwhelming.”
“I guess Montauk wasn’t such a good idea.”
“I came out here with my sister. It was the last time she had come down to see me on Long Island. We went for a drive. I thought she was feeling better. She seemed happy.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Are you packed?” He finally turned to me. His face was expressionless. His eyes were lost.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Where do want to go? What do you like to do?” He had turned and smiled, keeping his eyes on me and off the road for far too long. Six months earlier we had been strangers driving aimlessly on our second date. The wind had tangled my hair and the loud music had muffled his words.
“Do you like the beach?” he had practically yelled.
“Yes, the beach?
“I love the beach.”
Six months earlier he never spoke of melancholy. We were new lovers, wishing we were old lovers. Wishing we had met at nineteen or twenty-five and had created a life together, instead of putting together the pieces of each of our broken lives. He occasionally spoke of his pain as if he had packed it all in a glass box. You could see it swirling around like a tornado, but he had sealed it tightly, hermetically. I didn’t know the prompts that could unleash such dangerously strong winds.
He had parked the car illegally on the side of the road. We had jumped out and had skipped barefoot on the sand like silly teenagers. He had packed a blanket, a bottle of wine and two glasses in the trunk. We had kissed and talked and giggled and marveled at all the strange coincidences and times we nearly crossed paths in 1994 or 2010.
Fate can be punishing.
Montauk had seemed like a good idea as a last minute escape from the frenetic pace of our lives and the ubiquitous piles of dirty of snow on the streets of New York City. I needed a few days of peace and quiet.
I wasn’t completely solid. I had my own past. As we walked on the cold beach in Montauk I could hear the laughter of my children. Just a few years earlier they had played in the summer sand, carefree and unaffected. I was relaxed. Surfboards lined the streets and the vibe was California-like. My then husband graciously unpacked the SUV and eagerly ran out to get milk. I was naïve. I later learned he was sneaking away to call his Russian, girlfriend. He had met her on a business trip in Shanghai. He had a friend trying to get her an apartment in Hoboken. All of the sweet memories of my babies on the beach with a pail and shovel in hand had been tainted by the image of their father balancing a vodka tonic as he pulled down his pants in a hotel elevator.
My new lover put our bags in the car. By the time we left Montauk the sun had completely lost to the clouds. We drove west without saying a word. How many questions could I ask? How far could I delve? I thought I had known all there was to know about grief. I had been floating in the swimming pool when my father walked out the door and died of a massive heart attack. I had walked to school that September on the first day of third grade with one hand clutching my Wonder Woman lunch box and the other pressed against my broken heart.
“Life is for the living.” I overheard our neighbor tell my inconsolable mother in an attempt to lure her off the living room sofa. I went to my bedroom and pulled out the painting kit that topped my Christmas list that year. I gave up dance classes to join the art club. I hung my old, creased ballet slippers on a rusty nail and I painted them in pink.
We stopped for lunch at the Indian Wells Inn. Amagansett seemed like a ghost town shrouded in the gray winter sky. But the world turned like a kaleidoscope when we entered the restaurant. The football game lit up the flat screens and a winter coat hung on the back of every chair. We squeezed onto stools at the crowded bar and ordered drinks.
“Would you like another, Jim?” the bartender asked the local retiree sitting next to us.
“I’d like another, but I know my wife wouldn’t like me to have another.” I sort of laughed and we all chatted and the wind gradually subsided.
I wanted the six-month man back. I wanted back the gregarious storyteller, the ball of energy and the life of the party. Could I possibly lose him that quickly? I knew he was widowed young when we met. I mistakenly thought I could navigate that grief. But, I had seen that blank, checked-out look before. His blues eyes were glazed and lined in red and I wanted to cover my ears like a scared child when he talked about the chemo failing and his wife leaving the house in a body bag.
“I have something else to tell you.” He said, sipping his second beer and turning the bar stool to face me. This story wasn’t fit for dinner parties or backyard barbeques. “I had two sisters.”
“Had?” I sipped my wine.
“They both died.”
The noise of the bar and restaurant almost overtook me. Yet, thankfully forced him not to speak of the details. Those could wait for a different gray day. His few words raced through my mind like a complex math equation and then that dark, selfish affect of human nature set in. Was he cursed? If I married him someday would I become another female casualty in the Greek Tragedy of his life? Or would I most certainly be rocking on a porch somewhere at the age of one hundred ten?
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“Am I okay? Yes.”
“Good, I feel better now that I told you.”
“Are you okay?” I asked him, gently rubbing his arm.
“Yeah, I am.” He smiled and kissed my hand. “I am.”
The local had another and we paid our tab and headed back out into the cold. He opened the car door for me as I waited, in my warmest boots, on a pile of dirty snow. He grabbed my chin and turned my face towards his, gently kissing my winter-chapped lips.
“Magic,” he said. “That’s what you are to me. Magic. I can’t think of any other word.”