The first date read Sept 9, 1986 – Carmine’s. Being that it was their first date, they weren’t sure what to toast to exactly so they awkwardly raised their glasses while he mumbled, “to the future” and they both laughed thankful the waiter approached to take their order. They were young and hopeful, in love with the idea of love. Yet, by the time their Tiramisu arrived she had slipped the wine cork in her purse. Now, she rolled the cork around in her hand, not wanting to let go of the memory or the faint smile on her face.
She listened for sounds down the hall, before reaching for another. This one made her blush before it even made it out of the jar. Dec 31,1987, Hilton Times Square- a night she would never forget. Not a big fan of New Year’s Eve celebrations, she’d always watched the ball drop while cuddled up on the couch in her favorite jammies. Just like him not to ease her into it, instead going all out for their first New Year’s Eve as a couple. He had made all the arrangements and delivered a magical night she would relive every year on December 31. Watching the ball drop amid a sea of people was a bit nerve-racking at first, but when they embraced and shared their first kiss of the new year it was like they were the only two people in Times Square. After a little too much champagne they stumbled back to the hotel where she was greeted with a trail of rose petals down the hall leading to their room. It was in that same hall, where he pretended to drop the room key and got down on one knee to propose. A sigh escaped her lips as she dropped the champagne cork back in the jar.
She never tired of this trip down memory lane, one cork after another, though she seemed to do it more often these days.
December 31, 1988 – Wedding Toast
July 8, 1996 – 1st Cruise Vac
Dec 13, 1993 – Our son
Thanksgiving 1995 – Lake Tahoe
June 7, 1990 – Our daughter
Feb 14, 1989 – V Day
January, 2005 – Dave Matthews
May 1, 1991 – Promotion
So many memories contained in this jar, memories of love, of family, of perseverance. They weren’t all celebrations, but even the bottles uncorked after an argument led to a celebration of sorts in the end. Off to the side, she stared at the blank cork she refused to date. She pushed it with her finger, and over and over again it rolled back toward her. Mockingly, as if to say, “there’s no denying my existence.”
She had prepared a special dinner that night, his favorite. The kids were away at camp, and it had been way too long since they had a night at home alone. He was due any minute having left the office early for once. She imagined he was as anxious about their evening as she. As she heard his car pull into the driveway, she was overcome with a nervous feeling. She almost rushed back to her closet to change clothes, suddenly feeling silly for putting so much effort into her appearance tonight. As she went to greet him, she wondered if she’d gone too far with the new red lipstick she had spontaneously picked up today.
Seeing his face as he walked through the door, all those thoughts were replaced with a gut wrenching fear in her stomach. In a couple of steps, he had crossed the living room and wrapped her in his arms. Words tumbled out of his mouth no matter how hard he tried to keep an even tone. Doctor’s appointment. Test results. CANCER. More tests. Follow up. She knew he was providing details, diagnosis, and prognosis yet all she heard was CANCER and still somehow she refused to process what was happening. Walking away from him, she headed to the kitchen to pour them some wine, catching a reflection in the mirror of a woman she didn’t recognize…a woman who just hours before had dressed and primped without a care in the world only to have that same world come crashing down around her.
She remembered him standing in the kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame, quietly pleading with her to listen. If she closed her eyes, she could still hear his voice telling her there was hope…there was always hope. He was going to fight this, and he believed they would be okay in the end. It was the first time she had ever doubted him in the years they’d been together.
After many tearful promises, a forgotten dinner and empty bottle of their favorite wine, they had made love all night as though nothing could ever separate them.
She quietly slipped out of bed and into his work shirt like she had done so many times before. She stood in the kitchen looking out the window, imagining all their neighbors sleeping peacefully tonight while she faced the scariest day of her life. Inhaling deeply, she closed her eyes trying to stop the wave of tears she knew would eventually come. As she placed her hands on the counter, her finger brushed up against the cork. A sob escaped her as she reached for it and unlocked the dam that held her tears.
Months had passed, and many a night she had stood rooted to this very spot. Some nights she prayed, some nights she argued with God, some nights she felt nothing…so numb was she from the pain. The nights she journeyed through the corks providing her the strength she needed to face another day. Now, she stared at that blank cork once more knowing she would never date it, yet also knowing she would never throw it away.
She wiped the tears and took a deep breath. She dropped the single cork in her jar of memories. As the sun came up once more, she quietly walked back down the hall to wake her children for their father’s funeral.
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