Jay Young Gerard
By Robert Haydon Jones
Jimmy O’Hara had already said goodbye to the widow. He had wished her all the best and was almost out of the concert hall walking slowly because of his wife’s arthritic knees – when the widow clattered up to them on her high heels and said, “I just want to say goodbye.”
She put her arms around Jimmy and hugged him.
It definitely was not a hug goodbye. It definitely was a cleave. She arched into him. He automatically gave it back. The third rail surge zapped through him head to toe.
He stepped back. Her eyes were shining. Her face was flushed.
“I just wanted to say thank you”, she said.
“It was good to meet you again. Thank you for listening.”
Jimmy said something routine and dull back like, “Good to see you.”
With that, the widow turned and headed toward the taxi exit. It had been a 10-second diversion. In three steps, Jimmy was back along side his wife.
It was a short walk to Clarkes West — where they had drinks and plate after plate of delicious oysters with his son, Randy, and his wife, Cindy. It was a lovely evening in early spring. Jimmy slurped his oysters and wondered how on earth he was going to fend off the widow. She was coming after him – he knew that for sure.
It had been a family event. His 17-year old nephew, Edward, was in a select high school chorus singing with the symphony orchestra.
Jimmy and his wife, Amy, sat with Edward’s mother, Julia, his younger brother’s widow and her younger sister Sarah – suddenly widowed a year back just two weeks after making a “mid-life fresh start” up in Boston.
Jimmy had driven in the fifty miles from Connecticut at a leisurely pace. He had planned their departure a full hour earlier than he would have a few years ago. So, he was able to enjoy the drive. He stayed in the slow lane. Once again, he had been pleasantly surprised by spring. At first, Randy kept urging him to go faster, but after a while, he gave up.
Jimmy relaxed and enjoyed. When they rounded the curve straight into that first view from the hilltop down at the Hudson River, he was astonished as always. What a river! He wondered what Hudson and his men felt when they had their first view.
The ladies got out right at the concert hall. Then Jimmy and Randy went to park the car a few blocks away at a discount garage Jimmy had scouted out.
On the way in the very heavy theatre district traffic, a white Mercedes cut them off. Jimmy wouldn’t move. The guy in the Mercedes honked his horn. Just like in the old days, Jimmy yanked his door open – stepped half way out into the street and snarled at the guy to back off. The guy backed off. Randy was very upset.
They parked and walked back to the theatre. Jimmy was feeling the fatigue that comes after a sudden adrenalin surge. He felt bad he had upset Randy.
Just when Randy thought it was safe to go out! Where was the justice? You work hard for years to change – and then in a second, you get triggered right back to where you started.
The concert hall was very pleasant. They were in an upper level, center stage, six-person box. They had arrived forty minutes early, so there was plenty of time to chat. After some seat shuffling, Jimmy was placed next to Sarah, the new widow. Jimmy said it was nice to meet her – and she told him that they had already met back in November at a Thanksgiving party.
Jimmy said that — come to think of it, of course, at the Thanksgiving party! He felt like an utter old fool. It was a lie. He had no memory of her at all.
She was a brown-haired woman of medium height in her mid fifties. Not easy to remember. Jimmy asked her how she was doing.
She hesitated for a beat and then told Jimmy that she was not doing very well. Her husband had been fighting cancer and had beaten it after a long struggle. A year back, they decided to give themselves a fresh start and had moved up to Boston. Each of them had a new job there. Their only child was living in Los Angeles. They had fun decorating their new, slightly downsized, apartment.
Two weeks after they moved in, she woke up at dawn and her husband was not beside her. She found him dead and cold on the floor of his bathroom. Heart failure. After the funeral, and the burial, she was alone.
For the first time in thirty years, she was alone in the bed. After work, she came home to an empty apartment. She ate food by herself. She watched television by her lonesome. It was dreadful.
Her work was saving her from screaming. She had contact with numerous humans. Regular contact. She took to looking very hard at people she encountered at work. She had never realized there were so many different sorts of ears. She watched her colleagues while they talked on the phone. She noted hands. She catalogued flirts. No one noticed.
Jimmy is an experienced mentor. When it comes down to it, violence is part of his job description. So, he knows what to say to survivors.
He asked Sarah if she was getting grief counseling. She said she was – once a week. He asked if she had joined a grief group and she said she had. She was in a group of ten that met Tuesday nights in a meeting room at her church. There had been six in the group a year back. Now there were ten – and nothing had changed for her.
Jimmy asked her if she was open to change. She didn’t answer. Jimmy said that one of the toughest parts of grief is that it is so huge and you are so alone with it — that it seems profane to even think of moving off it. To even think of not suffering.
Jimmy said this pretty automatically. Over the years, he had learned that big grief is everlasting and selfish.
He told Sarah the other automatic part. That the key to the rest of her life was what she decided about her grief. Unless she stepped in front of it, her life would be hard.
She looked at him and smiled. It morphed her from forgettable to memorable.
“I hate being alone,” she said.
Jimmy was ready.
“Of course, you do”, he replied.
“You’re not crazy. You are grief stricken. Bad hurt. You’re not supposed to like being alone. We are not designed that way. You need to comfort yourself. You need to give yourself permission to reconnect with life.”
“It seems wrong,” she said.
“It seems bad.”
“It is not bad. It is your life force surging in you. Please be brave and give it a chance. You may end up alone – but you will not be as lonely, I promise you.”
She said thank you and then her sister leaned in . The performance began and they did not talk again.
As Jimmy drove home, he worried about what Sarah might do next. He wondered if he had been truly supportive or if he had been looking to take advantage. Just when he thought it was safe to go out!
No, he had been trying to be supportive. Everything he had told her was standard. It had all seemed good until she had given him that hug. That was when the idea of taking advantage had bloomed in the midst of the electric shock. That and the look, the shining eyes, the flushed face, the arch at the center of the hug. Jimmy had seen them all before. Trouble!
That night, just before he fell asleep, he thought of Sarah’s smile. And the arch.
Big grief. There was nothing like it! He hoped when the time came, he would have the strength to decline. He thought he would. In a way, he hoped, that would feel good to her.
She was coming – that was sure. As he slipped down into slumber, Jimmy prayed for strength. After all, he was only human.
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