T has known Mr. Etiquette for coming up on close to a decade by now. She knew him back when he was a drummer from the most popular cover band in his region over Germany, when they were regularly playing crowds of over 1000 people. She was the band’s number one fan and tried to come to as many shows as possible. A fixture at their shows, she developed a good friendship with Mr. Etiquette, coming to know his family, as well as the other band mates. A Skype call away, she’s been a great source of encouragement and comfort during his struggles with his marriage and in the aftermath when his former wife went back to Germany, taking his children, his biggest heartbreak.
For over two and half years T’s been planning this visit to come out and visit the U.S. and spend time with Mr. Etiquette. She and her caregiver were going to be staying for two and half weeks, so I was warned that I wouldn’t get to spend time with him for a while. We had our last time together this past Monday. Though his guests hadn’t arrived yet, he was having the most stressful week possible. I was starting to miss him, but what could I do? A man who needs his space needs his space.
Then on Thursday, he called me, needing to hear my voice, super-stressed over a situation he felt was out of his control. Friday morning he called me again to vent and also find out how I was doing. Friday evening he admitted he missed me, while he was waiting for his long overdue guests to get out of hellish New York City traffic to arrive. He ended the call with his typical, “I’ll be in touch.”
This weekend was a celebration of sorts in our state, thus entry to state parks and forests was waived on Saturday and Sunday. So my mom and I decided to drive down to this place called Gillette’s castle, this castle built by an old playwright and actor over a hundred years ago, overlooking the Connecticut River. The castle itself is unique and impressive in its white craggy beauty, but the view, with the snaking foresting trails and the winding river just induces a state of calm. I had been the castle when I was a kid with my best friend, and only remembered the castle and playing on its very luscious green grounds. My mom couldn’t remember having been and really wanted to. So we were on our way down, making a late start, as usual for our Saturdays, when the phone rang.
“Hi. I know this is kind of last minute, but it looks like T and M want to go see a baseball game tonight. And I’m kind of like a third wheel,” he said. For the record, T and M did date, eight years ago, but there is nothing romantic between them any longer. “So I was wondering if you might like to come along?”
He sounded eager and even a little nervous, which I found endearing. I said, “I think I might be able to swing that. Sure, sounds like fun.”
After a quick visit to the castle, Mom brings us back up to Mr. Etiquette’s and drops me off. Here I am warmly welcomed, and Mr. E admits that he may have been talking about me all day, “Well, not all day,” he corrects with a big grin.
T is wheelchair-bound, but the extent of her disability had never been described because I honestly don’t think Mr. E sees people by their limitations, which is part of why he’s so accepting of me. It’s quite amazing, really. Anyway, T was so warm and friendly and was already invited me to the barbecue, she, M, and Mr. E. were planning for the next day. I glanced at Mr. E and shrugged. “Well, it’s up to the Captain here.” Every time we’re together he tells me how amazing we are together, and how much that scares him for various reasons, so I am doing my utmost to honor his space.
“You’ll come, won’t you?” he replies. “If you don’t have other plans.”
We head to my first minor league baseball game, and it’s pretty awesome. It’s Block Party night, the crowd is totally packed, all the kids in the crowd are being celebrated, entertainment is in high gear, and we’re explaining baseball to two Germans who have no concept of the sport. We do leave a little early, to make sure we’re not crowded out and have an easy exit.
I get the chance to see DVDs of Mr. E’s band, which T insisted on, and we all really enjoyed. He comes alive with music, and he’s played for me before, but seeing him with his band in front of such an adoring crowd was awesome. By this time, Mr. E has also asked many questions about Gillette Castle. “So it was really nice there?” Yes. “Is it wheelchair accessible?” Yes. “Would you be able to direct us there?” Sure. “Would you want to actually come again and go with us tomorrow too?”
My mind does a tilt, but I keep my cool. “I know, two days in a row, scary,” Mr. E. says, with a grin.
“Okay. Sounds like a plan,” I said. He drives me home. We find out spot under the tree at the park where I learned how to swim at approximately age five, and then we proceed to “park” like a bunch of hormonal teenagers.
Though I wake up to cloudy skies and drizzle, after far too little sleep, I’m in good spirits. I navigate us to the park perfectly. We can wheel T up just fine, and we take plenty of pictures and enjoy the view. Then we sit in the picnic area and just have a peaceful time. Mr. E whips out his cooler, with his diet generic cola—and candy: Nerds, LaffyTaffy, SweetTarts, M&Ms. The running joke is that I look 12, despite my being solidly into my 30s, and Mr. Etiquette even got M cracking the jokes. But I’m looking at Mr. E’s “snack” and say, who’s the 12-year-old here? We consume lots of sugar, act like a bunch of fools, and after we reminisce about pop rocks, Mr E decides to mix up the Strawberry and Grape nerds and pour them into his soda. There is an impressive fizz, and then it goes horrible flat. On that note, we head for home.
We stop by the store for some meat, and then go home to barbecue. Perfect weather, Mr. E and I work well as a team to get everything out on the patio table at the right times, and we enjoy our cheeseburger, garlic mash potatoes, and steak. Later we dip into our four different kinds of Ben & Jerry’s since T has told us the sad story of how limited the flavors are in Germany.
Then we watch some home videos of Mr. E’s 9-year-old daughter and 10-year old son. His daughter reminds me ridiculously of me, especially when I was at that age, which he had already commented on a great deal before. Those kids are amazing. He said he thinks they’d love me, in fact he knows they would.
The night before, when were talking at the park, we actually talked about how the kids wanted Papa to find happiness and thought he should remarry one day (to a younger woman, preferably without children of her own, at least not older than them—such funny little kids) and that they liked the idea of having a younger brother and/or sister. Mr. E carries around a lot of guilt, but his kids have given him the blessing to find his happiness.
Today when we did our park talk, he said he actually felt really happiness today. He said how nice it felt to be with a woman in the house again, how he wouldn’t have been able to host and entertain T and M as successfully without me. He told him how T observed that we have so much fun together, that we fit really well together. “She likes you a lot,” he said. “Her opinion means a lot to me.”
He didn’t sound scared at all tonight, which naturally scares me. Not because he’s any more certain, because things are still so early, he still needs to heal some more, and we have only spent a millisecond together. Yet we both acknowledge something very special and powerful is here, whether it lasts for a long time or it’s just something to enjoy for the moment. That’s all anyone really can do—enjoy the now.
P.S. T and M already invited me to go to NYC with them for the day next week; unfortunately Mr E has to work, but I can be a better guide than them wandering aimlessly about, and T was so excited about me going with them. I’m excited. Mr. E. actually is too.