I arrived to park under the 27th Avenue drawbridge, as an old man, holding a bouquet of flowers he appeared to have picked from the curbside, wandered under the bridge, looking lost, with sparkling blue eyes that I haven’t seen in a Spanish man since I’d sailed to Cuba. I parked my car, then walked over and asked if I could help him with anything.
He turned around and sat down on the stack of 6” x 6” ‘s that sat beside the bridge’s spare drums of hydraulic fluid. He looked confused as his eyes wandered from the ground, then to the steps, then to the underside of the bridge. He was wearing a name-tag, with his name, Pedro, and the name of the medical facility I thought he might have wandered from.
“Do you know where you’re going?” I asked him.
“17th Street. It’s where I live. I’m going home.”
He spoke broken English, which was further exacerbated by the fact he had no teeth.
I asked if I could help him home.
“No, no, thank you. I will be fine.”
Then he extended his hands, full of the local flowers that I should know by now, but I don’t. I honestly didn’t know what to do at first. After helping care for my grandmother with Alzheimer’s for five years, my first thought was that he’d picked those flowers for his wife, whom he’d probably lost years ago. On first instinct, I didn’t want to take them, but I didn’t know what to say.
I hesitated a little too long, and so he dropped them on the ground.
I quickly gathered them up, and said, “Thank-you, they’re beautiful… can I call someone for you?”
He sighed, and said no. He knew where he was going.
He started walking towards the gate, and I said, “I’ll walk you home, it’s not far,” and again he said no, he was just fine. Before turning to walk up the grassy ledge that lines the east side of 27th Avenue Bridge, he turned around and said, with confidence, “I’m going home”.
It will be one year next week that I withdrew from a relationship that was doing neither one of us any favours. I remember, initially, one of my fears of leaving was the feeling of having wasted so much time. I somehow felt that by leaving, I would lose the handful of good memories that we had made during our 4 years together; that they would be rendered meaningless. Now that I’m out, I can’t understand how I once felt that way. Staying together would not have changed what we already shared; staying together was not the solution. Those memories will linger either way, and each and every one had their place in our story while we were together.
It’s funny, the careless little phrases others may say in passing to us; words we cling to that come to define our thoughts. If we only knew their motives, we might feel better about ourselves; or know where we stood with those who said them. We all come from a unique history, and cannot ever judge another, or allow ourselves to be judged, by how we might interpret someone else’s words or actions. The way we interpret what others share with us can be a reflection of how we feel about ourselves, or be a result of our own personal experiences thus far in life. Someone else might have taken those flowers from Pedro’s hands, before they fell to the ground.
My new mantra, in regards to many aspects of my life, has become if not now, then when? I’ve put off dozens of boat projects all winter, telling myself I’ll get to it tomorrow. But knowing my personal happiness is hampered when I feel trapped, I decided to bite the bullet with the essentials (fuel tank, check!) and was actually able to leave the dock last weekend for the first time since my divorce. With a new tank to replace the dirty one, I hoped things would go smoothly. They didn’t entirely, but I have no complaints about the outcome. Anchored out for a couple days, I made a few new friends, and I think received a bit of clarity on others.
Motoring back up the river Sunday night, I looked ahead to a setting red sun, perfectly centered between the spans of 17th Avenue Bridge. As the sun was sinking and the spans were rising, the world fell silent for a moment. Time stood still. Whether it’s out of love of the river, the one thing that has kept me in Miami this long despite all my personal circumstance, or apprehension of leaving a place I’ve spent more time in than anywhere else since high school, or fear of starting over alone... I’ve found myself not wanting to go. I have plenty of reasons to leave this city, and fewer to stay.
But it comes down to a question of quality, not quantity.
I have stopped thinking about what might have been had things worked out with my marriage. I’ve been forcing myself to spend time alone, if only to prove that I will be okay alone, if that’s how my future is written. I have, with no small effort, let go of the anger, the frustration, and the disbelief of the dishonesty that my marriage was based on. In the process, I feel in some ways that I’m back to where I started when I first met him, aside from the fact that I am now too old to romantically die young. While life is decidedly more worthwhile when you have someone to share it with, and cooking for one is just not worth the dishes it generates, going it alone is still preferable to being in a bad marriage.
Life goes on. Everything is so temporary, and life is all too short. We might all be surprised at how quickly we could become that gentleman under the bridge, with a handful of flowers and no one to give them to, just trying to find our way home.