Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chance Encounter

Marcus sat in the dappled shade of a tall oak tree in Grand Park, a book perched on his knees. It was one of the few parks remaining in the city, many of the others having fallen to housing market demands. Condominiums sprouted where trees, shrubs, and small flower gardens once thrived. The sprawling foundations of high-rises ate up the crisp green blades of grass in the middle of wet spring like they were a salad to be enjoyed before the main course arrived. Having acquired a taste for the serenity of the outdoors several summers ago, Marcus grieved the birth of the developments and sought refuge where he could.

He breathed in the slight scent of grass cut early that morning. It tickled the top of his lungs while the smell of exhaust burrowed deeper down, reminding him that the green space around him served as an oasis from the cold shoulder of the concrete city, nothing more. A sigh escaped his thick frame. Marcus wondered how long before Grand Park would be reduced to a mirage. He shook his head and closed his book. Little enjoyment would be found in the park today now that his mind was cluttered with thoughts of its imminent demise.

Hefting himself off the ground, he began to walk home when he heard a vaguely familiar voice. It drew him in like the Pied Piper and like a young child, he found himself skipping along to the light sounds even though he knew he shouldn’t. Closer he walked until he found the source. It was her. Julia Swipter, the woman he believed he would marry until she broke the news that she was engaged to a man half-way across the world. She sat on a bench calling to two or three happy brunette children, laughing at their antics, and tickling them mercilessly if they taunted her from too close a proximity.

He hated the woman sitting thirty feet from him. She had destroyed his world without a hint of remorse or responsibility. Marcus had wallowed in shock and denial for nearly a year after her departure from his life. It took another year before he met someone he felt he could trust again. They broke up a couple of months later, but the relationship was the first of many that had slowly moved him back to a healthy sense of himself and confidence in others.

He stared at her, wanting to turn away, but unable to move his heavy legs. Curiosity, he decided; it was curiosity that kept him immobile. He wanted to know if she had failed in any regard without him. Quietly, he sat down to the side of the tree a few feet further back. He opened his book and set it on his knee, but watched her openly, turning to the book when the children showed even the slightest hint of interest in him or he thought she might look in his direction.

She looked older, but equally as beautiful as she had eight years ago. Her hair fell to her shoulders, a deep brown cascade over a slender collar bone. He remembered tracing it when they sat together on the couch reading or when they played in his bed. It had always attracted him and he could never get his fill of it, especially when she wore her dainty silver necklace with the black opal that weighed it down and swung with her movement. He’d felt cheated that another man had kissed those gentle curves and smelled the light perfume she wore. He felt his heart twitch at the fact and a bit of the betrayal bubbled up in it.

Suddenly she stood up from the bench, chasing one of the children playfully on the smooth lawn, her cream heels buried in the grass. He noted that she was still slender; her legs were long and lean. He remembered how powerful Julia had been on their morning runs together and late night dance parties. She had never tired. He felt every ounce of the weight he had put on over the years. After she left, his body rebelled, demanding sweets and wine and large portions to fill the void she had left. Not that any of it helped. Marcus stopped trying to control its spread until recently. Now he regretted giving in. Burying his face in the book, he tried to hide his embarrassment.

He sat on the grass, immobile, listening to the children playing and Julia’s joy at being with them. She was obviously happy, joyful even, beautiful still, and healthy. From his distant, she appeared to be a success. He hadn’t found the failure he had stayed in search of. He continued to listen to her voice, his eyes diverted to the book. Slowly, the sound started to drift away. Glancing up, he saw them walking past the shrubs another 10 yards off. Julia had a bag flung over her shoulder and the youngest children’s hands nestled in her own. The oldest child ran a few paces ahead. They were leaving.

Still Marcus sat in the shade. Yes, he thought, he had become a better person because of his experiences with her. He’d learned to value nature and to defend it. He’d pursued a Master’s Degree, something he never thought he could do until she encouraged him. Education was a lifelong commitment for him. She had taught him love and betrayal, the costs of each achingly high. She’d made him laugh, cry, explore, reconsider his life. Destroyed was their relationship, but she hadn’t taken his life away. Her gift was to show him a glimmer of what his life could hold.

He’d wasted it though. He’d wasted it in regrets over meeting her, in anger over his broken heart, in envy that someone else would hold her at night. Never had he thought of the relationship as a gift, one that could keep giving over many years. The resolution hadn’t fit him, but the life lessons he should have learned would not be entirely wasted. Marcus jumped up from the ground, the shade of the tree washing silently over his heavy body and the book falling to the ground. He picked it up, placing it in his backpack.

His first step was timid, but it strengthened his overall resolve. His steps quickened until he began to jog and then run and then sprint for the exit. She would be gone, he knew, but he wasn’t chasing her for once. He was finally taking control of his life rather than letting a single set of circumstances dictate who he was. The chance encounter, one he secretly wished for and dreaded, propelled him on. For the first time, he realized he was the one who held him back and she had just been where he laid the blame. He smiled and silently wished her luck in her life.


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