I never thought I'd get to the things
That all those other sons do, and they do.
Pine Brook, New Jersey, 2016
A long stare into the large mirror seemed to do little to bolster Hannah’s courage, but neither did anything push hard against her resolve to go. She smiled at herself, tempted to stick her tongue out at her mirror image in playful determination, as if to say, ‘okay, you got me.’ She finished getting ready by strolling into the living room where her Corgi lay calmly in her crate.
“Wish Momma luck, Ida?” She laughed softly before walking out to her car. As she drove away, she thought about the reunion, and the words to an old song came to mind, goddess only knew why. She hoped that her gift, such as it was, would not intrude on the evening, but she also expected it would situate itself as the evening required.
An age ago my maker was refusing me
The pleasure of the view
The Hanover Manor, East Hanover, shortly thereafter
The large room was filled with nearly-familiar faces. It was hard to be there after so many years, but never more so than after seeing all the women who had been admired classmates decades before. Hannah was overwhelmed.
A quick scan of the room revealed the unpopular finally interspersed with the stars of the Montville High Universe. Freaks and geeks and jocks and all the kids who would fade into the background of a teen movie. Like there had never been any barriers. But Hannah felt the old walls hinder movement anyway and after a few minutes the safety of an out-of-the-way table beckoned. Words floated over the clatter of plates and forks and knives and the clinking of beer glasses and wine goblets. And thoughts.
“I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”
“Are you here with a spouse?”
“You look awfully familiar…”
She turned and noticed that the clusters of diners seemed to echo each other; banal mixed with wonder mixed with disappointment mixed with relief, as if they had all read her mind. She poured a glass of water from the pitcher sitting on the table. The water was brackish, a disappointment considering the cost of the meal. She sighed and scanned the faces of the women sitting at the adjacent tables, hoping to find a friend or even a long-forgotten acquaintance among the sea of strangers. She put the water down and thought about walking to the bar when a soft nudge on her shoulder grabbed her attention.
“You did it. You really did it.” The gentle voice was acommpanied by a welcome and unfamiliar smile. She nodded and smiled back.
“I….” The woman hesitated. Hannah heard the woman’s thoughts and she struggled to filter them out. Reading a mind, however unintentional, and holding a conversation banged hard against each other.
“I was so mean to you, and I just wanted to say how sorry I am.” At one time, Hannah would have dismissed Grace’s words as insincere, but the woman’s smile was accompamied by increasingly dewy eyes. Grace continued.
“It was so horrible…what you went through.” She paused, and her expression seemed to grow a bit angry, but it wasn’t with Hannah.
“What we put you through.” Easy enough to say after twenty years, but Hannah felt Grace’s heart in spite of the hurt Grace’s words provoked. Almost as if a switch went off, Hannah found herself barely hearing Grace even as glimpses of the past twenty years played out like video in her mind’s eye. The gift….
“You never will amount to anything. You’re just like your mother,” the eleven year old Grace recalled. Hannah winced at the meanness coming from the girl’s father. She sighed as the little girl vowed to try harder. And drive coupled with meanness as an example pushed the girl into needing to put others down just to stay afloat in her own family.
“You can’t be serious, Len,” the twenty-three year old Grace said as she pushed the engagement ring back across the table. Striving to succeed took its toll, leaving the woman on dual fast tracks of success and loneliness. Hannah bit her lip and nodded absentmindedly as Grace continued to speak while her thoughts revealed the hurt she felt.
“I’m sorry, Grace, but you’re pre-menopausal,” Hannah heard the Doctor say to a heartbroken Grace. Only thirty-one with no hope for any child from her own body and no love to support her as the career gave no solace and no satisfaction. Hannah returned her attention to Grace’s voice.
“I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me?” Grace put her head down; her right hand covering her face. Hannah pulled her close.
“Let’s start anew? Can we…Why don’t I call you later this week and we can go for coffee or lunch?” Grace nodded slowly. A moment later she placed her business card in Hannah’s hand before pulling back.
“Yes,” was all she could manage before she walked up the steps to the exit. Hannah shook her head.
“Do I know you?” Another voice split the brief calm away from Hannah. She turned to find a very elegant looking woman who sported a very nervous frown.
“Allie?” Hannah steeped closer and hugged the woman. She had always looke more mature than any of the kids in their class. That distinction was almost enviable at one time, but now it was almost sad. As that expression goes, the years had not been kind to Allie.
“My name is Hannah now,” but the first few words sparked the most interest and recognition.
“OH, God,” Saint John’s?” Her voice quieted as she added “AA.”
Allie’s face grew a bit red and hot, but the frown had quickly changed to a knowing grin. Once again the gift inserted itself as Hannah found herself flooded with memories of sad moments in Allie’s home. And tragic. And outrage welled up as she saw the sixteen year old Allie barely derive comfort from the bourbon stashed behind her dresser as a woefully ineffective rampart against her father’s attention.
Hannah took a breath and realized Allie was weeping against her shoulder; that commonality of alcohol which failed them both. The recovery that slowly nudged Hannah from a life as David had also drawn Allie into a life filled with hope and reward that can only come from helping those souls just a little bit behind her on the trail.
“I don’t remember anyone except you, Davey,” Allie said and immediately shook her head.
“What’s your name?” A simple question that set the past aside as Allie rejoiced in embracing Hannah’s present.
“Hannah,” she answered.
“Oh gosh, yes….My name is Hannah, and I’m….” No need to finish the sobriquet, since they both knew that they saw each other on occasion at meetings. Allie smiled and reached over to the table behind them and grabbed the plastic water tumbler, holding it up with pride.
“Five years next Friday,”Allie said. Hannah pulled a coin from her jacket, ten years of sobriety yet another moment of commonality.
“Let’s do coffee at Paul’s Diner after Wednesday’s meeting?” Allie said. Just then a tall, balding, and entirely friendly handsome man stepped close.
“This is my friend Hannah, sweetie.” Hannah extended her hand.
“Hannah Cohen,” she said.
“Jack…Jack Bielski. Allie’s … well, we just got engaged. I’m sorry, but we have to run. My son’s due in at Newark and…. Really sorry, but glad to meet a friend of Allie’s,” he said. Allie stepped closer and kissed Hannah’s right cheek.
“I’m so glad we ran into each other,” was followed by a quick hug and ‘Gotta go!’ and then Hannah was alone, but only for a few moments.
“Is that you?” Hannah turned to find herself face to face with the only crush she had ever
endured throughout high school.
“Rina? Rina Spitalny?” Hannah practically gushed. The woman returned the favor with a hug and a whisper in Hannah’s left ear.
“I can hardly call you David,” she said; her laugh soft and welcoming.
“It’s Hannah now, Rina,” she answered. As Rina went to speak, the envy and desire that had jammed together to fuel the seventeen year old David Cohen’s confusion returned only long enough to be swept away by a flood of compassion. She listened as Rina explained that she hadn’t planned on attending the event, but something pulled her out of her reluctance withan almost magical urge. As her voice seemed to fade, Rina’s heart seemed to reach out to Hannah in a desperate need. No longer the aloof eighteen year old home coming queen, the adult Rina needed Hannah Cohen.
“He’ll feel no pain, Ms. Edelsohn,” the doctor said as they looked down on the still figure of Rina’s son. No amount of understanding could hold back the grief, made doubly horrible by the absence of the boy’s father. She put her hand across her eyes and wept for the loss of a son named for a beloved friend rather than the man who left before the boy was born. The image dimmed and blurred as tears fell freely from Hannah’s face.
“David Steven Spitalny, 1997 – 2008, My Hero”
Hannah shook her head. Had she inspired so much as to gain that kind of connection? Bu then she recalled a moment in time from their shared past.
“You don’t ever need to explain a thing, Rina. I’m just someone who is here now, and I just want you to know that I think you’ll be a great Mommy.” David had wanted to offer more than understanding, but Rina was vulnerable and he was struggling with issues too involved with which to burden a single teen mom to be.
And while time dragged on in David’s journey to become Hannah, life sped all too quickly with Rina until she had become a mother of a dying child and a widow only two years after the death of David's namesake. Kenny Edelsohn had become the stalwart support for Rina and the boy and the love of Rina’s life before dying suddenly at twenty seven.
And Hannah found herself weeping. Memories of both their lives overwhelmed her as she cried for the little boy. She found herself swept along and almost falling in love with Rina's husband, such was her connection with Rina Spitalny, the only person David and Hannah would ever love. Tears are never quite out of place at reunions, so no one really took heed to Hannah’s and Rina’s sobs. Just two old friends reconnecting after twenty years.
As the cascade of the hallmarks of both their lives abated, Hannah found herself staring into Rina’s eyes.
“Can we…would it be okay?” They almost spoke as one before each nodded with a half smile. Rina kissed Hannah on the lips like two sisters might do before squeezing Hannah’s right hand.
And Hannah smiled to herself as she watched Rina depart. It dawned on her that her gift, as much as it had been meant to understand the women she’d admired…even envied, was meant so much more to understand herself. And that all this time she had sought for the one thing she was capable of grasping – freedom….
I never thought I'd get to be the thing that
All his other children see. Look at me.
I Never Thought I’d Live to Be a Hundred/Million
From the album
To Our Children’s Children’s Children
Words and music by Justin Hayward
As performed by The Moody Blues
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