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first person

Illustration by Chelsea O'Byrne

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My best friend Bev pointed across the roadway to a white-haired man, well-groomed and bearded ambling along the sidewalk. “Will,” she said. And as I gawked at the man, she turned to go home.

He did indeed look just like my Will. I continued to stare, with one foot in my car. He was now watching me watch him, and stopped directly across from me as if to say, “Do I know you?”

Caught in the act, I stepped out of my car and shouted, “Sorry, I don’t mean to stare, it’s just that you look so much like my late husband.”

It’s what he did not say that I immediately liked. He didn’t say, “That’s creepy” or “Oh, okay, have a nice day. Bye.”

What he said was, “How long has he been gone?” That was empathetic and, actually, sweet. “Four years,” I called across the 30 feet between us.

“That must be difficult,” he replied.

“Yes, a tough couple of years, better now.”

And then, still within the 30-feet distance, he told me his name was William.

Could I have heard correctly? “That was my husband’s name, too,” I inserted into this already bizarre conversation between two strangers on a quiet street in the midst of a pandemic.

He continued the across-the-road conversation: “You’re an American, right?” I nodded. “Me too.” I asked if he was registered to vote in November. “Not yet.”

I could tell he was at least in his 70s, and handsome to my 79-year-old eyes, and, he was crossing the street toward me.

I backed away because neither of us were wearing masks, or maybe because my many years on Earth as a woman prompted caution.

He offered his business card and tried to hand it to me, but I opened my rear car door and suggested he put it on the seat. I wasn’t touching anything.

We chatted and chuckled for about 45 minutes. He told me his age, he was divorced, had sons and grandkids; I told him my age, had a son and a bunch of grandchildren.

I told him of the new – recently completed and published a children’s book, exercising daily, meeting friends in a park on Sunday mornings to solve the world’s problems. And I told him of the old – lived in Asia during the Vietnam War, wrote book reviews for radio and still speak really poor Mandarin.

He told me of the old – he had worked in a MASH unit in the late 1960s and, later, lived in Europe. And he told me of the new – he is still working three days a week, he’s a walker and he drinks a protein shake every day.

He said he was impressed with what I had accomplished, and I said I was amazed he was still working. And then he said: “I think we have a connection. You’re easy to talk to. I think we should go out. Can I call you?”

As simple as that.

People had been wanting to fix me up for the past two years. Being asked out now reinforced my belief that the synergy of connection does not dim with age as younger people, or cynical older people, might suggest. Flirting is flirting. Even at 70 or 80 there is a coyness, a teasing in conversation – especially with a new person.

My first marriage in my 20s was exciting as I trusted that love was forever. But 11 years is not forever. My next love was a 14-year relationship with a man 10 years older. It ended with one of us crying. Then I met Will, and for 25 years we went through ecstatic times; we celebrated great days and years filled with weddings and grandchildren, buying homes and selling homes, and travelling. But then, there were those awful times of health scares, losing parents, siblings and friends – and finally, the saddest of times, watching Will in an ICU, fading, disappearing.

Many women my age, nearing 80, might think, “Why bother with finding a new man? That chapter has closed. Older men either want to find a nurse or a purse.” But for me, that urge to kiss and hug, share a bed, a pizza, thoughts on a Netflix movie, make travel plans, dance in the living room, enjoy companionship and playfulness – well, those desires have not stopped.

“‘It would be better if I call you,” I told this handsome stranger. I needed to think. Other than my friends’ husbands, I had not heard a man’s opinion about anything, had not noticed the colour of a man’s eyes or looked at a man’s hands close-up in four years.

A few days later I called and we agreed to meet for on a patio for lunch. Staying socially distanced, we chatted easily.

Yet it was a real date. I looked into his brown eyes and he said he liked my green eyes. He liked my hair. He liked my skin. We ordered lentil soup and multigrain bread for lunch; he squeezed my shoulder as he walked past me to pick up our trays. Old school. I liked it – this familiar gesture of inclination.

And then after, on a brief walk around the neighbourhood, we learned our political bents. He was for Trump and I was definitely not. “Oh dear,” I heard myself say aloud, “and you seemed like such a nice guy.” Silence.

When he did call, we again went into easy chatter. A little about our religious upbringings, our grandchildren’s antics.

I suggested we wait to see each other until we are both vaccinated – and he becomes a Democrat. He laughs heartily.

When he calls, we learn more about each other. Now when he says “goodbye,” he adds, “honey.” Old school. Sweet. Promising.

“I’m fully vaccinated,” he recently texted.

I text back: “I am booked for my second.”

I am thinking: “Getting closer.”

Barbara B. Simmons lives in Toronto.

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