In New Orleans, I saw a reflection of myself in a stranger’s marbled tombstone. I turned away, but in every direction rows and rows of graves stood tall: bright reminders. I looked up and over the tombs and saw the building where my friend Harold lives, his windows facing a garden of stone and bones.
He had told me: “In my eyes, I’m already dead. I’m ten years older than my father when he died and twelve years older than my mama when she left here. They passed in the same year– Mama right after Daddy.”
Twice divorced, estranged from his children, Harold wanted to know: ‘Why am I still here? I ain’t got nobody.”
I attempted to reassure him, to convince him: “You still have much to look forward to, Harold. You’re only sixty-seven.”
But that old jazz artist, his dreamer wrestled down by his realist, slid me a half-smile and rattled off his health problems: diabetes, clogged arteries, arthritis.
More debilitating than the illnesses, he said, was the sadness that follows him home at night, no matter how much joy he’d gotten out of the jazz. How he wakes at four in the morning— to no one, no reason, no urge to live.
I fell silent, struggling to picture myself old and alone, remembering his words before my wedding: “You two make me believe in love again.”
It was hard for me— so shortsighted in my twenties, then— to imagine an elder yearning, turning over in his bed for another’s flesh, another’s soul, really.
Years later, when I was divorced and alone, I remembered the night I watched Harold performing on a stage with Lake Pontchartrain at his back. His lips and his fingers translated tenderness through his saxophone; his melodies penetrated me. I followed the emotions traveling the terrain of his face. As he played one song after another, his eyes, catching something in the distance, grew wide, wider, and then set. From the middle of the crowd, I turned to see what he was straining to see: a waiting lover— beckoning, promising, returning. Forming in the fog.