Never did the notion of love appeared as alien and as bittersweet as in one late September as I was driving back from my grandfather's friend's house. The location was just thirty minutes outside of Chicago but it left the impression of an area somewhere in the grip of no man's land. And I had just discovered that people carry enormous weights and that life sometimes leaves them taunting and tantalizing over things in the past. It started out a fine bright day, the sun spreading its dazzling beam over the little town. But now clouds were building over the horizon and seemed to be speeding up, almost intentionally wanting to embrace the echoing houses, the jumble of shops, and the silenced voices in the evening. There was an eerie feeling in the air as if I was leaving behind not a small town in the twenty first century but something of a phantasmal community of estranged and alienated people. My grandfather had asked me a favor the day before. He wanted to know if I was willing to drive him to a place south of Chicago where he was supposed to visit an old friend he had not talked to in years. He was very mysterious about the event, he would not tell me anything of his friend neither about the purpose of this sudden interest. Of course I was willing, there was nothing more I wanted to do than to escape the Victorian house in Old Town where our family was reunited at the initiative of a distant uncle I had neither met nor heard of before.
Something about family reunions had kept me uneasy and it has always been like this since my childhood. I could never tell why though; after all, I didn't think the worse about my family; I was proud of my grandparents; I had cousins I was getting along with just fine. We may not have been the closest of families, but there was no tension between us. And still it was like having a pinched nerve in my foot every time I heard news about a family reunion. It started with a numbness first and it gradually turned into feelings of havoc thinking about the bombardment of questions I associated reunions with. There was one person though I knew I could count on to make those moments worth and that was my grandfather. But ever since he had gotten the mysterious call from his friend, he sank into thoughts like a submarine into sea and seemed to have departed a million miles away where I would have loved to join him but unfortunately couldn't. We told everyone not to expect us before supper as we had planned a full day just for the two of us. Everyone was preoccupied either with baking ?fabulous recipes for a family reunion? that one of my aunts had notched on my cousin's tablet or with having a laugh in the shadowiness of the back garden, a rather narrow but long space fenced in bottle green hedges that only made the chill of the morning feel even chiller. A quick and easily agitated goodbye waved by my grandfather and we were off, me, eager to unclose the mystery and the man in the right seat, anticipating the moment.
Thoughts about my grandfather revolved around my head like Renaissance looking children in colorful carousels as I was gazing in the rear-view mirror at the two ghastly silhouettes I left behind. The laughter that children produce in moments of exciting commotion like when riding a merry-go-round dissipated as I reckoned there was so little I actually knew about the man I thought I new everything. Since I could remember, my grandfather had always taught me about love. He often spoke of love as something of a lesson, like it could be learned despite not being struck by it suddenly and irremediable. And, when I was six years old, I thought he meant about my birthday present. When I grew older, I took his advice into account when my parents gave me a fish although I wanted a dog. And, as I reached a more mature age, whenever I came across someone or something I did not like, I always remembered his words. But it was not until two hours after we reached his friend's house that I started to glimpse the implications of what he truly meant. How often had my grandfather thought or talked about love in relation to the person now sitting at his side on the front porch of the house?
It seemed like such a small one, the thing attracting attention being the vault detail and it almost looked like the gingerbread house in fairy stories. The entrance was tall and the whole house resembled, in miniature, a castle. Indeed, my grandfather completed, ?it's made of bricks, she always did fancy antiques. She?
I thought and I realized then I had not once, since my grandfather confided in me about his friend, thought of a ?she. In my mind, my grandfather's friend had always been a man. The door opened and a slender woman appeared, her mouth opening to form a welcoming smile, easing the strain on my face and producing who knows what in my grandfather's heart. Her name was Anne, ?a very good friend, ? I was cautioned. And hours later, as I jumped into the car to return to Old Town, leaving my grandfather at Anne's place until I would return the next day to take him back, I thought about their story and about love and about learning to love. Their story was simple, tangible, bittersweet and, in the end, it was impossible. Anne had fallen for my grandfather, ?the tough boy, broad-shouldered, with a bright face, perfect teeth, and deep eyes. But, when he was called for duty, her parents seized the opportunity and married her with a hard working man, with a good heart, and a pair of eyes that got him refused at enlistment. Nothing out of the ordinary really, such things happened often in those days, ? Anne referring to prearranged marriages. My grandfather eventually met my grandmother and moved a year after that to the place I always thought was my grandparents' birth place. Anne eventually grew fond of the man she married although there had been nothing special in her heart at the time of their wedding. But living with him, sleeping at his side, sharing routines, gradually made her accept him in her heart and as part of her life. In the meantime, my grandparents also built a life of their on. They had their first child in a year, my father was next after another seventeen months, and another year after that my aunt was born. Synchronicity or coincidence, cosmic forces or perhaps a random occurrence resulted in Anne and my grandfather meeting in a bus station ten years after they parted ways. Anne, with her eyes, my grandfather with a calm voice told me it was the moment when they relived all that could have been but was not, everything that both had buried away in a subconscious corner of their mind and heart. It lasted briefly but it could have continued for eternity had they each not committed their life to someone else. Anne never had children while my grandfather had three and he felt also in debt toward my grandmother who had known and learned to accept that she was the second. They left it at that, both conforming to the situation and returning to their previous lives.
That morning Anne and my grandfather met for the first time after the affair. And it felt alien to me that people can go about in their…