Every couple of years after he was the cause of the break-up of my first marriage, Hal would show up at my front door with a bottle of Scotch which I didn’t drink and then try to ingratiate himself into my life as my primary advisory and counselor, ready and willing to help me out of the jam du jour, his silver Corvette parked across the street the whole while of his visit so he could keep a good eye on it.
It had been many years since his last surprise visit and I kept wondering if he would show up again. Would my husband answer the door or one of the seeming dozens of children living with us? Would the dogs bark, jump up and act crazy like they do when the mailman comes every day even though his visit was no surprise and Hal’s certainly would have been? The biggest question was would he still bring Scotch and would my husband drink it? Would he share our troubles and find Hal a good listener and ready helper?
No visit would ever happen. I knew that. Word had gotten around that I was happily remarried, had moved to a better neighborhood, had more kids. Hal never appeared again on my doorstep but he did call me for lunch and so I met him in a dark Italian restaurant on the west side of town. It was there, some 15 years removed from our relationship, that he told me he had loved me very much. It wasn’t a come-on, it was sweet, maybe a truth telling a long time coming, a salve on a wound long since healed over, no scar even visible. It seemed like a kindness to say what he said. I took it at that and said goodbye.
Every now and then I’d wonder when I’d run into him again. Years passed with no word and I figured that the declaration in the Italian restaurant was the closing statement. There would be no more visits with or without the Scotch.
As it often does, late night boredom turned to searching for long lost people and things on the internet. That night it took an hour or so to find any trace of Hal. He was twenty years older than me so the footprints of his life weren’t displayed on Google. I had to go deeper. On Ancestry.com, I found the paper he signed to re-enter the country from Army duty in the middle east during the Suez crisis. I found a newspaper article about his daughter who had taken her own life several years before. And then in the dark of night and the still of a house with four other people sleeping soundly, I found the location of his grave.
Hal had died six years ago. He died, I thought, and no one told me. But who would tell me? There was no one to tell me but him and he hadn’t. Or had he? I don’t know.
I know that part of me liked thinking he was out there, that his silver Corvette just might pull up in front of my house and he would alight with his bottle of Scotch in a brown paper bag, ready to come inside, sit on my couch and solve my problems, and tell me, once again, that he had loved me very much. Not now, but then.
It was a nice secret to have.