A cold march wind danced past me carrying leaves in to the air, pulling me back from a place where my emotions and memories swirled around like the resurrected fall leaves. The muted colors were a testament that the once vibrant gift of nature had become a lifeless shadow of itself under a blanket of winter snow.
I was sitting on a gray bench next to a statue of an angel looking toward the heavens. Directly across from me was a grave with the name Beth Eastland, beloved mother and wife. She was the only woman I ever loved, the mother of my child our daughter. This was the third anniversary of her death, March 12 and my third trip back down to Westchester County, NY.
We lived in a small village not far from the cemetery; it was settled in 1786 and still retained much of the charm from the period when it was incorporated. I was an investment banker and commuted to New York City daily by train into the financial district. When our daughter Emily was born we decided to move from New York City and found a beautiful old house on twenty acres of land in Westchester County.
The memory of March 12 three years ago still plays in my mind deep into the night and I wake up reaching across the bed for Beth, in a panic. I got a call for our family doctor a few hours after I had arrived at my office. Beth opened a small shop near our house that sold locally made items to the many tourists that visited. The doctor quickly explained to me that a customer came in to the shop and found Beth on the floor unresponsive; she was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
I left my office and took the first train I could, when I arrived there was a taxi waiting to take me to the hospital. The elevator took me to the seventh floor; the doors opened just as Emily turned toward me. She just stood there looking.
“What is it Emily? Say something to me!”
“It’s Mom.” She was crying uncontrollably “She’s gone Daddy.”
I clearly remember thinking I must be in the middle of a nightmare, this can’t be happening. “Where is the doctor? I want to talk to him right now!” I walked right past Emily not wanting to talk to her; I wasn’t going to accept what she just told me.
The doctor rounded the corner and saw me, “Mr. Eastland…Joshua…” We entered an empty patient room and he closed the door. “Beth died about ten minutes ago, she had a heart attack.” I could hear Emily outside sobbing, I opened the door and she held me tight as we both cried. Dr. Travis said it was likely that Beth had some type of heart problem from birth that was never diagnosed.
Emily was finishing her freshmen year at the State University of New York at Oswego, which is located right on the eastern end of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes. We had visited her several times and fell in love with the beautiful mountains and lakes in northern New York. After the funeral Emily and I took a long weekend and stayed at a resort near lake Placid. It was the first step in my journey to a different life.
I took inspiration from my wife and about a year later bought a small store in the community of Mirror Lake, NY which is about two hours from Emily’s school. The store was a popular place with people looking for outdoor equipment; camping, fishing and hunting gear. Running the store was a welcomed change from having a demanding job on Wall Street. The management and financing of a small store word be like a vacation. Emily and I sought each other out and visited regularly Emily spent the summers helping me with the store.
Emily walked into the Trading Post, the new name of my store. “Hello, Dad where are you?”
“In the back, our shipment just arrived. I got a great deal on canoes.”
Emily walked in to my stock room “Look at the canoes, what you think?”
“Ah…they are rugged looking?”
“That’s the only ‘guy’ word that I know Dad.”
I smiled and said, “Ok, we’ll have to work on that if you’re going to help out here.”
Laughing she said “I can scratch myself and spit if that will help.”
I went with it and responded in a serious manner, “I haven’t had a situation where that was necessary but we might as well be prepared.” We both laughed and I hugged her. “What brings you here this time, you need money?”
“Now that you mentioned it, yes I could use some money but that’s not why I came here! I want to remind you that graduation is in a couple of months. I will be a fully certified science teacher.”
Pausing for a moment I thought about my recent visit to Elizabeth’s grave, the time passed so quickly but the memories still seem so recent.
“Dad did you hear what I just said?”
I was quickly back in the moment, “Yes…I did you’re going be looking for a teaching job I’m sure.”
Emily said “Yeah, that’s why I went to college Dad” and smiled.
“Have you thought about where you want to work Emily,” I asked hoping she would stay close enough for us to see each other regularly.
“Funny you should ask me that Daddy,” Emily told me and laughed. She laughed just like her mother, it was the same spirit, emotion…I don’t know how to explain it exactly but they could finish each other’s sentences. “Part of the reason I came up for a visit was to see my Daddy and the other reason is I have an interview Monday with the Mirror Lake Central School District.”
“That’s great Emily!”
“The superintendent will be meeting with me along with Ms. Duffy, the Principle of the high school.”
“Is she the one that supervised your student teaching?”
“One and the same Dad, she encouraged me to apply so I think I have a good chance of getting hired. Plus the students really liked me…of course.” Emily smiled again; she was always smiling like a glimpse of sunshine on a cloudy day.
I enjoyed asking Emily questions we both knew I already had an answer to and she always played along. “If…ah excuse me. When you get the job have you decided where you are going to stay?”
“Oh of course, I have carefully considered my many options Dad. The ‘All Night’ dinner on Center Road has an apartment up stairs that’s vacant.”
“Gee Emily; I wonder why it’s still unoccupied. It looks and smells like a nice place to live.”
“I can always count on your opinion to help me make a decision Dad. I never even took into consideration how I would want my new residence to smell.’
We both looked at each other and kind of snickered. “Ok, it seems like you have given this some thought. What would be your backup plan Emily if the attic of a twenty-four hour a day greasy spoon restaurant isn’t available? I mean most of the information I have seen from retaliators indicates ‘smell’ is a deciding factor in selecting a place to live.”
“I planned for something like that happening Dad.”
“I knew you would sweetie. So what is the other option?”
Emily did her best to act like I didn’t know what was coming next. She slowly moved her head back and forth and raised her hands up and announced, “With you!”
I faked being surprised and said sternly, “What?” We both hugged each other and I told Emily “You can have the bigger room now; I moved my things out of it thinking you might move back home. What a lucky guess.”
Emily looked at me and said “Yes Dad it is home”…her voice trailed off and she added, “sort of.” Emily was crying softly and I hugged her once more. No words were necessary because we both understood no place would ever really be ‘home’ again.
Monday arrived and I left the house about 8:30 in the morning to open up the store, Emily had not gone to her interview yet. About 11:30 she busts in to the store and yells, “Dad…Dad where are you? You’re not going to believe what happened!”
“I am right here at the counter, you ran right past me. You’re all excited!” I knew why she was excited but played along “what happened?”
She looked directly at me slowly moving her hear back and forth raising her hands out, she did that a lot. “I got the teaching job at the high school!” We hugged and laughed for five minutes.
“When do you start?”
“I have to go to new teacher orientation a week before school starts and set up my room. The interview didn’t take long and Ms. Duffy, the principal, told the superintendent I was the best person for the job. You have to meet her Dad, She is so nice! Ms. Duffy has red hair and is very pretty.”
Emily made the transition from student teacher to a full time professional teacher with ease. It was the middle of October and the fall foliage was at its peak. Northern New York and the Adirondack Mountains are one of the most beautiful places in the world; this is especially true in the fall.
We made it a habit to have breakfast together every day before going to work. “Our open house is next Thursday night, I want you to come see my class room and meet the staff.”
“I wouldn’t miss it, I am very proud of you and I know Mom would be too.”
Open house came fast; Emily and I decided to drive there together. The high school was ninth grade through twelve with about five hundred students. I was given a very nice welcome by the Superintendent and Principle, Ms. Duffy. Emily was right she was very pretty and sincerely nice.
The open house was a big success, after it ended the staff returned to the cafeteria for refreshments. Everyone got to visit with old friends and got to know the new staff better. I was sitting at a table with Emily and two friends, they got up get refreshments.
I was sitting alone when Ms. Duffy came over and sat down. “Did you enjoy the open house Mr. Eastland?”
I reached out and shook Ms. Duffy’s hand, “please call me Josh and yes I really had a good time Ms. Duffy.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed our open house and I would like it if you called me Kate. Your daughter is a wonderful young woman and is going to be a great teacher, she is a natural.”
“That’s very nice of you to say Kate.” We talked for about a half hour, it turns out we have some things in common including our age.
Just before we ended our conversation Kate said, “I have lived here for a long time so if you want somebody to show you the places only local people know I would enjoy doing that.”
It was as if time had slowed to a stop for me, I didn’t know what to say. I can’t imagine the look I must have had on my face. I pulled it together and managed to say, “That’s very nice of you.” This was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Smiling I said, “It sounds like fun, let’s do it.”
She had a big smile on her face and asked me, “How does next weekend sound?”
“My whole weekend is free.” I was concerned I wouldn’t sound interested enough or to interested. I was shaking inside; I realized I had just made a date!
When I got home I told Emily what happened and it seemed like she didn’t know what to say. She raised her eye brows and her hands this time and said “Ah, well I told you she was very nice, it will be fun. Ms. Duffy has lived around here for a long time.” Then she just looked at me hoping that would be enough to calm me down.
Saturday morning arrived and we were meeting at the diner Emily considered living above at 8:00. I had changed clothes four times and asked Emily, “how do I look, be honest.”
She said with eye brows raised “Well dad this is a bit of role reversal. You look just fine, relax you’re going sightseeing.”
“Ok I am leaving now, bye.”
Emily couldn’t help herself, “All right Dad, remember keep your cell phone on and don’t be out late.” I wonder where she gets it from.
“Very funny, you’re a hoot!”
I got to the diner about five minutes early and Kate was already there talking to several people. I told Kate I had never been in the diner and she introduced me to everyone. One woman said, “My niece has your daughter for science and really likes her.”
“Thank you, that’s very nice to hear.”
Breakfast was good and we made small talk. It was so easy to talk to her. Kate then suggested the first stop, “there actually is a Mirror Lake, have you been there yet?
“No I haven’t but I heard it’s beautiful.”
“Great, that’s our next stop.”
After a short drive we pulled off the road and walked about five minutes. When we rounded the turn I got my first glimpse of the lake and it was absolutely a gift from nature. The lake sat on the very end of a mountain slope, the water was still and there is a silence that gradually surrounded you.
As we walked up to the edge of the water Kate told me the story of Mirror Lake. We both silently looked at the lake and she explained, “This is the perfect time to be here. The water is calm and the morning sun reflects images off the lake.”
I looked down and saw the two of us together, as if they were being reflected off a mirror. Kate told me “the Native Americans believe that at this moment, when the reflections are so clear you can speak to the spirits of the dead.” We were silent for a few moments and Kate said “let’s take a few pictures to show Emily.” We spent the rest of the day sightseeing and had a really good time.”
Kate dropped me off at my house, “I had a really good time Josh, and I hope you did too.”
I was full of emotions, “Yes, I really had a good time thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome; there is a great restaurant with a mountain view near here. Maybe we can have diner sometime soon.”
At this point I was totally overwhelmed; I smiled and nodded my head up and down “Yes, that would nice.” We said our goodbyes and she left.
I walked through the front door and Emily was waiting, “Did you have a good time Dad?” I sat down in a chair by the fireplace and didn’t say anything. “Is everything all right?”
“I looked down and spoke quietly “I did have a good time and enjoyed being with Kate.”
Emily saw tears coming down my face “you’re thinking about Mom aren’t you?”
“Yes, I have been all day. It doesn’t seem right to be feeling like this Emily.”
There was a long silence and she said “Dad just because you had a nice day with a friend doesn’t mean you stopped loving Mom. I don’t have all the answers but I am sure Mom wouldn’t want you to suffer for the rest of your life.”
“I have been so lonely since Mom died, I feel so empty inside.”
Emily sat down next to me and we hugged each other and cried.
I stood up and told Emily “I am going to bed I have to check some inventory in the morning and get it out for Monday.”
The week started out busy, hunting and fishing season were both open now. It was only Wednesday and I had already done a week’s worth of business. Right before I was ready to close I heard the door open, I figured it was a last minute customer. “Hi Josh, I was hoping you had not closed yet.”
It was Kate; Ok I was prepared this time. “Hi Kate,” I joked with her “You here for some live bait or ammunition?”
She was laughing and pointed her finger at me, “That would be no to both.” We laughed in a polite way and smiled. “Remember I mentioned the restaurant that has an amazing view of the mountains?”
Of course I remembered, I remember almost everything we said to each other. “Yes, I do. It sounded very nice.” I wasn’t surprised Kate followed up on her suggestion. I didn’t want her to know I was in an emotional turmoil, she was being so sweet and I had to admit I felt comfortable with Kate beside it had nothing to do with her.
“I know this sort of a role reversal but I wanted to invite you out for dinner Saturday night at the Pine Hill lodge.”
“That’s been happening to me recently.”
Kate looked puzzled and asked, “What?”
“The role reversal thing,” I just shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Thank you for the invitation, I always like checking out a new restaurant.”
I didn’t expect the response and was caught off guard, “I was hoping the motivation would be my company.”
Emily and I had talked about this and she said just be honest so I was, “I’m sorry Kate, of course your company very appreciated. I haven’t done this in a long time and I feel awkward and hesitant.”
Kate had a serious expression on her face and in a soft voice told me “I haven’t either so we are experiencing the same emotions at the same time.”
What do I say now, right, right just be honest “I felt like I had known you for years five minutes after you sat down with me in the cafeteria, one step at a time.”
“I’ll pick you up Saturday at 7:30 if that is ok? It can be hard to find if you haven’t been there before.” She slowly walked closer, leaned over and kissed me on the cheek then whispered “one step at a time.”
I watched Kate walk out the door and stared at it for some time until the phone ringing startled me back in to reality.
As soon as I walked in the house Emily noticed my mood and asked, “Dad, did something happen?”
“Ah, no nothing happened. I mean something did but nothing to be concerned about.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about can you give me just a little more information?”
“Kate came in to the store and invited me to diner at the Pine Hill Lodge. Don’t move your head back and forth and raise your hands, I am never sure what that means.”
“We can discuss that some other time, are you going?”
“Yes, I am going.”
“This time it’s a date Dad.”
“How fortunate I am to have an advice columnist, Dear Emily living with me.”
“I only mentioned it because there are certain expectations on a date.”
I pretended to be surprised, “are we going to have the ‘sex talk’ now?”
“Aren’t you the funny one, I’m trying to bring you up to speed on dating in 2010.”
“Uh ho, next you’re going to tell me the condom I have been carrying in my wallet since ninth grade is past its expiration date.” I had Emily well past the point where she usually shakes her head and raises her hands. I had to use total control so I didn’t do that to see if she noticed.
“I just want to make sure you are taking this seriously Dad!”
“You’ve very helpful and supportive sweetie. I haven’t dated in more than twenty-five years but I did notice that things have changed socially. You are much closer to the subject than I am so I would welcome a short briefing before I leave.”
“Thank you, you’ll be happy that I did. I have one more question.”
“Ok, go ahead and ask.”
“You don’t really have a condom in your wallet do you?”
This time I couldn’t resist, I slowly moved my head back and forth, raised my hands up in the air and said “no.” We both hugged each other and laughed.
The store was busy all week and time went by fast. Emily was upstairs and yelled down “are you ready, it’s almost 7:30? Guys don’t keep girls waiting; it’s the other way around.”
“Yes, I am ready and I know what time it is.”
I heard her coming down the stairs, “let me see what you’re wearing, oh good you look nice.”
I was starting to like this role reversal thing, yep you guessed it I moved my head back and forth then raised my hands in the air.
Emily just nodded her head and said “good.” Had it really come to this? I know as parents get older their children a more active role in their life, we must be in the transition stage. Oh well.
A few minutes later there was a knock at the door, I opened it and Kate was standing there. She looked so nice and smelled great. We both stood there without saying thing and just stared. Emily was behind me and brought us back in to the moment. “Your dress is so pretty Kate, come please.”
I got my coat and as we walked out to the car and Emily yelled “you kids have fun.”
As the car began to move Kate said “you will like the restaurant, I’m sure.”
I told her very sincerely, “As soon I opened the door and saw you it became one of the best nights I have had in years. The diner will be a bonus.” Kate smiled so big and didn’t say anything; we were both mostly quiet during the drive riding along with only our thoughts.
The restaurant was even better than Kate described it. The Pine Hill Lodge sat on the side of a mountain overlooking a valley. It was understated elegance and had a comfortable feeling. As soon as we sat down it became dream like. Dinner was excellent; we both relaxed after having a few drinks then moved to an area that had a better view.
We were sitting by a large window that Kate was looking out she turned and said “I have gotten to know Emily better since school started. She told me what happened to her Mom, I want to say how sorry I am for sorry you Josh.”
I sat quiet for a moment and looked at Kate “that’s very nice of you to say. It has been very difficult for me and Emily. Beth is the only woman I ever loved it is not something that goes away.”
Kate looked at me for a minute then answered “losing the love of that person, the only one you ever loved I can certainly relate to.”
We were both baring our souls and I understood her need to talk “please tell me what happened.”
“About twenty years ago I meet charming man at an educational workshop in Lake Placid. We hit it off right away, at least I thought so. His name is Connor and we became inspirable after only a few months. I loved Connor very much, I have told myself over and over that I don’t love him anymore but I’m not sure that’s true. We were engaged, he asked me! We agreed that marriage will happen when we were ready.”
“It was almost the second anniversary of our engagement and I asked him where he felt our relationship was going. I had seen a change in him over the last few months and wanted to clear the air. Connor seemed a little evasive but said that he still loved me. I didn’t press the issue and suggested we talk about it when he came back from a conference in California the following week.” At this point she started to cry and couldn’t continue.
“You don’t have to tell me any more Kate, please it’s upsetting you.”
“No it’s alright, I want to finish. The day after he was suppose to come home from the conference I went to the house he leased to see him. It was empty and there was a sign in the front that said House for Lease. Just as I was leaving a woman came out and asked if I want to see the house. I asked her where Connor was and she told me he got a new job and moved to California.”
“Kate that is terrible, I don’t know what to say.”
“Listening is good enough Joshua. I was so hurt and embarrassed I took a short leave of absence from work and stayed with my sister. I went back to work in September and tried as best I could to put it all behind me. Everything happened so quickly and I blamed myself for letting someone do this to me.”
“It wasn’t your fault Kate.”
“I haven’t been able to convince myself of that. I dated on and off casually for a while then I decided I didn’t need anyone to be happy.”
Many of the things she experienced and the emotions she felt I had also experienced. We talked for hours and took a longer way home. Kate dropped me off and walked to the door with me. “Josh I have never told anyone what really happened.” She moved close to me and put her arms around me and kissed me. I held her close for a moment experienced inner peace for the first time since Beth died.
I got up real early the next morning; there was something I had to do.
“Where are you going Dad?”
“I need to talk to your Mom.”
“What? Talk to Mom, I don’t understand where are you going?”
I got to Mirror Lake just as the sun was rising up over the trees. My reflection was as clear as the blue sky above. I talked to Beth and said I would never stop loving her, explaining that I didn’t want to be alone anymore. As I was leaving an eagle left its perch in a tree and began circling around the lake above me.
I left the lake and called Kate, I asked if I could come over to her house. She was a little surprised but said she would really like that. When I got to Kate’s house I told her about going to the lake and why I went there, we held each other and I kissed her. A weight I carried for a long time was lifted off me.
“We aren’t that different from each other Josh, we have walked a similar path.
“No we aren’t Kate. Will we ever be able to say I love you to each other?”
“Yes, we will one day at a time.”
Our relationship grew and filled the empty space we both had. We were going to celebrate the second anniversary of our relationship on Saturday. Emily came downstairs, “did you get something for Kate?”
“Yes, I did and have been meaning to discuss it with you.”
“Oh really, that’s nice Dad thank you. What did you get her?”
I reached in to my pocket and pulled out a small box, there was a little case inside. I opened it up and showed it to Emily. She looked at it and then looked at me and then looked at the case one more time. “It’s beautiful Dad.” Then she looked at me without saying anything.
Finally I asked her “well say something.”
“Is that an engagement ring?”
“Yes, it is.”
“You’re going to ask Kate to marry you?”
“Isn’t that what comes next? I wanted to talk to you first.
“I think it’s great, I was wondering when you were going to ask her.”
“Yes, really Dad”
We had just finished our diner at the Pine Hill Lodge and walked outside on the deck overlooking the valley. “I have something for you.”
“You do, you’re always so thoughtful Josh.”
I took the ring case out of my jacket pocket and handed it to her.
Kate set it on the table, “Oh Josh” She just looked me.
Kate looked down and opened the case and took out the ring. She put it on her finger and told me “I don’t know what to say.”
“Yes, would be acceptable.”
By now she was crying, of course. “Yes, I will marry you. I have one more thing to say.”
“I love you.”
Without hesitation I responded “I love you too.”