Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Last One

I met him somewhere between the ages of 18 and 20.
He was the first one to ever break my heart.
Shattered it.
As I watched him walk away from me, never to be seen again, I wept.
And could not stop.

***

I was working my way through college at the grocery store.
The sun was starting to set.
Just a few more hours before closing time.

I had, by this time, decided that my specialty as a cashier would be to make eye contact with everyone to come through my check-out. To make each customer smile before they left.

I was kinda full of myself.

Until he walked into my lane.

He was an old guy.
Seventy? Seventy-five years old?
Old.
Had just a handful of groceries in his shopping cart.
Very quiet.
Moved slow.

I greeted him enthusiasically, and got a half-hearted mumble in return.
Not a grumble. A mumble.
He was not grouchy/old.

He was sad.

Bubbly me spewed some nonsense about the sun shining and birds singing.
And got nothing.

Quietly, slowly, he said to me, "My wife died a couple weeks ago."

My smile vanished.
My heart sank.

"I'm sorry."

"It's been... hard."

I nodded stupidly and rang up his few purchases.
The last thing on the conveyor belt was a cherry pie from the bakery.
As I rang it up, I could see through the plastic window on the box that the pie had slid to one side and broken.

"Oh, your pie is ruined," I told him. "Let me get you another one."

"You can't," he choked. "It was the last one."

I begged him to let me go look for another, maybe there was one in the back that hadn't been put out yet, just let me please go look.

I looked.
There weren't any cherry pies anywhere.

"But there are plenty of others. Can I bring you an apple? Or a blueberry?"

"No. I really wanted cherry. My wife used to make the best cherry pie, and I just thought... I just wanted... I don't want any other one."

Oh God.

I watched him walk away.
Only, I didn't see him pushing a shopping cart.
I could clearly see him in an empty kitchen serving one lone slice of broken pie.
Quietly eating it with a shaky hand.
Thinking of all the pies his wife had made.
Swallowing hard while tasting this last one.
Tears falling onto his plate.

His lovely wife.
He didn't want any other one.

***

I never did see him again.
I couldn't possibly know, but I imagine he joined his wife shortly after finishing that pie.

The last one.

15 comments:

HapKiDo said...

That is just heartbreaking. I don't think I'd ever be able to handle that kind of loss. Of course, I've pretty well signed myself off of even dating forever. Maybe because of exactly this reason. Once I put all my heart into something, losing it would crush me.

Roses said...

Hapkido: I hear you. If this is how you feel about stumbling across the perfect woman, just imagine if you had children.

Love is such a strange beast.
To crave it, yet to fear it.

Thumper said...

I've seen my dad try to cope with just the *idea* of losing my mom... the old guy in your story--in my head--looks like my dad, and yeah, if she goes first he'll be following soon after.

But...hopefully that old guy was more like my mother in law--broken beyond belief at first, but after a few weeks she sucked in a deep breath, got back to life, and is thriving.

I hope he was more like my MIL, and you didn't see him again because he realized things can be good again.

Roses said...

Thumper: I hope so, too.
But I stopped being so sickeningly chirpy to sad people after that. :P

Richmond said...

Oh my...

I have tears.

Roses said...

Richmond: You can sit by me.

Priscilla said...

Yes, I know him. He was my uncle. When his wife (my aunt) died, so did he. A little at a time. They were married for 50 years, had 6 beautiful children. They couldn't replace the loss he felt. We all tried to comfort him. He said, half of me is gone. I don't feel right in this world anymore. We hated to see him go but he needed to be with her again.

Cherry pie man wasn't really my uncle. But he could have been.

Roses said...

Priscilla: Yup, that's exactly right. Thank you for sharing.

jaj said...

So sad. So very sad. I hope they're both together and happy now.

roses said...

jaj: Absolutely broke my heart. They must be together by now.

Bou said...

I was at breakfast with VW over at One Happy Dog Speaks. We go once a week and have for about five years. Morning after morning I would see the same man, an old man, sitting there with a newspaper, eating alone. One day another old man came in and just blurted to him that his wife had just died. The old man looked at him and said, 'Mine too. We had 40 years and it wasn't enough time.' I got choked when he said it, and I still see him around. My heart still breaks for him.

Harvey said...

Great... this one's going to cost me at least 20 kleenex.

I can't even contemplate losing my wife. Hell, I do nothing but mope if we're even apart overnight.

Roses said...

Bou: That's him! Good to know he went out for coffee with a friend after eating that pie. ;)

Harvey: I've read your love notes. Here, take the whole box of tissues...

TNT said...

Woosh! I've never read your site before, but I will definitely be back. You have an amazing way with words, feeling, and tempo.
Beautiful!

Roses said...

Thank you, TNT.
A lot!