"That's what I miss ..."
Once the pleasantries were over, that's what they kept returning to.
My girl and I were sitting in the booth behind them at Panera for two hours. My daughter had her headphones in, her attention buried in homework. All I had to do was busywork, so I did what I suspect every novelist does: I eavesdropped.
I couldn't see her and only the back of his head, his white hair carefully oiled and combed.
They talked about what they liked to do (movies, yes, bars, no), their past careers (both looked to be past 65), their families. How loved ones had died.
That's why she chose him on the dating website, she said. Because he'd been married a long time, and his wife had died. She thought that made him safer, that he's understand what she'd been through.
This was her first online date.
They both referred to "my husband" and "my wife" without irony or awkwardness. The part that crushed me and lifted me up was when they would be in the middle of a story and laugh and say, "You know, that's what I miss, laughing with someone." And the other would agree, and then they'd go on.
They went on for two hours and I kept glancing at the back of his head and being so happy for both of them, especially in the end when she asked him to please contact her again. They stood, and I finally saw them: her, a cheery looking white woman with bright lipstick and him, a tall white man with a plaid button-down shirt and skin that spoke of outside work. They hugged.
What courage it takes at any age to put ourselves out there, to meet someone new. With my husband traveling for work every week, I find myself vacillating between not leaving the house and making unnecessary and awkward conversation with strangers in public places.
My daughter finished her homework and my laptop battery died shortly after the older couple left, but I couldn't help but feel witnessing their encounter was the most important part of my day.
To be reminded, that in the end, what you miss about people is just the comfort of their steady presence looking out for you.