Today, sitting on the boardwalk at Long Beach with Mr. Possibility eating the unhealthiest lunch you could imagine (Italian ice, nachos and hot dogs with a side of Red Bull and Vitamin Water), I was so distracted by an elderly couple a few benches down, I hardly heard a word Mr. P said.
The couple, probably in their late 80s, wearing matching yellow polos and khaki pants ate chocolate ice cream cones while they watched the kiddos (yeah, us 20-somethings) frolic on the beach below. It appeared the woman wasn’t completely there, as a nurse aid sat feet from them, observing sorta-intently. But the couple talked, the woman laughed. The man looked at her with love in his wrinkled eyes. She smiled up at him. And ice cream dripped from her chin to nearly her knees, staining her Land’s End-inspired attire.
He didn’t notice at first and neither did the nurse (who was now engaged in an intense conversation on her cell phone in Spanish), but then he saw the destruction. He grabbed his own napkin and opened it to reveal the clean part inside and started rubbing her face before he realized he just didn’t have enough. He looked over at the concession stand and then at the nurse helplessly, probably thinking he couldn’t leave her alone but needed to get something to clean up the mess.
Maybe it’s my Southern manners or my tender heart that leads me to tears during Animal Shelter commercial with Sarah Mclahlan singing, but I instinctively stood up in the middle of Mr. Possibility going on about something (as he usually does) and ran to get a handful of cheap quality paper towels. By the time I reached them, the nurse had came to the rescue but without proper tools. She looked relieved when I showed up with my gift and thanked me profusely. I grinned at the couple and they returned the gesture to me.
“It’s good ice cream, isn’t it sweetie?” The man asked his wife. She nodded sweetly and looked up at me, maybe trying to find words, maybe unsure of what was going on. I wished them a good day at the beach and the man labeled me a “kind young woman” as I walked away to rejoin Mr. Possibility and his miniature pile of nachos.
Though we enjoyed the rest of the day by the shore and now both have sunburns to show for it (apparently an Irish background doesn’t serve anyone well in the blistering sun), as we caught the LIRR back to Penn, I couldn’t get the image of those woman’s eyes out of my head. They were light blue and freckled with specs of green, just like mine. There were lines and ages spots lining her lashes like liner, but she still breathed an air of youth and naivety. She was beautiful in a way someone can only be beautiful once they’ve loved a lot, lost a lot and have found a peace within themselves and their lives. It’s not a beauty I’ll ever claim, but maybe some 20-something will see that same luster in me one day.
Looking over at Mr. Possibility as he reads his second book of the summer, holding his bookmark (a picture of us) in his hand, I thought about age. Could I love someone through decades of trials? Through career and baby bumps, mortgages and struggles, carpooling and soccer games, ballet lessons and retirement funds? When they start to lose their hair or when it turns nearly all gray instead of wisdom-inducing highlights? When their belly competes with Santa’s, when sex isn’t as passionate or frequent, when illnesses strike, when miscarriages happen, when kids grow and then leave, when houses rot and things and people fall apart?
And will someone love me that much?
To sit by me on a bench as chocolate ice cream dribbles down me and still want to take care of me? To protect me and stand by me, no matter how many wrinkles I sport or when the time comes that my boobs rest near my knees? To see me through menopause and the battle to keep myself in one piece, as I’ve read in dozens of magazine is something that’s difficult with a house full of kids and a husband who needs more attention. To support my career and support me if it doesn’t go exactly as planned – or if it does, to not be intimidated by my success? To hold my hand when I feel unsteady and one day, when I need it to even walk? Will someone see through the age and still be able to picture the same face they fell for when I was 20 or 30-something, full of vitality and courage, unbothered by the world and uninterested in its damnations?
I don’t know the story behind that couple. I don’t know if their romance was fiery and complicated, or if they were high school sweethearts or letter writers from some war. I don’t know if they have children or if those children have children. I don’t know where they’re from or why they decided to sit on Long Beach on a Friday afternoon, right before the clouds encompassed the never-ending blue sky.
But I do know that regardless of where my life takes me, how many magazines I write for, how many loves I have, or how many days I spend at the beach, listening to the sound of the ocean and feeling the sand crinkle between my toes, one day many, many moons from now, I hope to be standing by the side of a man who would rather eat ice cream with me and think about all the love we have and the memories we’ve created – like the time I showered myself in a chocolatey mess – than be anywhere else in the world.
Daily Gratitude: I’m thankful for those Louie Armstrong moments that just keep coming.