“I like your chain,” she said.
I looked up at the redhead, then down at my neck to see what I was wearing: a simple and inexpensive silver necklace.
We were standing in the CVS Pharmacy for pick-up of prescription drugs. I was in line. She stood off to the side. She was close to my height, about 5 foot 5 inches tall, and slim but not skinny. I guessed her age to be somewhere in her forties, but it was hard to tell. Her face exuded youthfulness despite fine wrinkles evident around her mouth and eyes. Her features were perfect, and yet there was something imperfect about her.
“I wanted to hang something from the chain but nothings fits,” I said. The redhead looked confused so I added, “I mean, nothing fits over the clasp, so I have to wear it plain.”
She nodded and smiled.
She had a full head of hair, in a stylish old-fashioned cut: medium short, just below her hairline in the back, brushed high up on top of her head and flowing down the sides and over her ears. A version of a 1970s shag cut, I thought, decades behind the times, but it looked good on her. Her red hair was beautiful: so full and shiny, more carrot-orange than red. Despite the obvious cut, her hair gave the impression of being windblown and natural. She seemed windblown and natural, like some higher power had just blown an angel into the CVS Pharmacy.
I stared. I smiled back. I felt goofy and mesmerized and could think of nothing further to say. Soon an older version of her, which turned out to be her mother, cut in front of me in line at the CVS.
“You were supposed to be waiting in line,” she said to her daughter. She said it with kindness.
The daughter spoke, “I know, but…” and that’s when I noticed the speech impediment, subtle but there. She had a slow pace to her speech, as if she were retarded, which she was not as far as I could tell, or as if she’d had a stroke, which perhaps had been the case.
She smiled again, this time at her mother. I caught the full-on smile, and my heart melted all over the floor. I wanted to know her. There was something wrong with her, possibly several things wrong with her – in a medical sense – and yet she was perfect: beautiful blue eyes, a little chiseled nose, and small straight white teeth. I gawked. I began to feel like a creep so I looked away and used my peripheral vision. I became a creep peering at her from the corner of my eye.
She took a step and when she did, she revealed a serious limp. Beyond a limp: her left leg moved up off the floor in a big half-moon circle as she walked. When she finally removed her left hand from her jacket pocket, it, too, was messed up. Once we would have used the word “gimpy.” I’m not sure what the correct term is now. She put her gimpy hand back in her pocket. I wondered again about stroke.
“Do you remember this song?” her mother said. A seventies song by the band Chicago, “Only the Beginning,” played in the background.
“Of course I remember,” she said.
My eyes remained focused on her, sometimes directly, sometimes not. I wasn’t sure if she noticed me watching, but I could not help myself.
She sang softly, “Only the beginning, only just a start…” She hummed and sang throughout the song. I listened to her soft singing, riveted. She was singing because she was happy. She knew all the words. Maybe she was even older than I was. She was a red-headed joyful, spirit. Maimed yet perfect. I was un-maimed yet so imperfect. She sang the next song that played over the speakers, another song from back in the day.
I imagined myself walking over to her, to hold her in my arms, for a moment, ten minutes, for an hour, forever. I wanted to absorb her love and beauty. Is this love at first sight? Or this is the reaction when you spot an angel who walks the earth, or perhaps a soul you knew and loved in another lifetime? The law of attraction drew me toward her, although I did not budge an inch.
“What is your name?” Her mother asked the young pharmacist — a lovely young black man I’d seen many times before when picking up my own mother’s prescriptions. He said, “Tyreese.” It was an unusual name; at least to an older white mother, so she asked, not surprisingly, “Could you say that again?” Honestly, I needed to hear it again because I hadn’t quite caught it either. Simultaneous with her question to the pharmacist, her daughter said, “Tyreese” (perfectly) under her breath, and then louder, “Hello, Tyreese.” That’s when I knew she was brilliant and cognizant of all that happened around her. She continued to sing.
I knew I’d never see this woman again. She was just a moment along a chain of moments and events that make up a life – mine and hers, her mother’s, my mother’s (I was picking up my mother’s drugs, which is how I came to be standing in the CVS that day.) I’m writing this all down so I never forget the moment. Not wanting to forget is the reason I write anything, I think.
At the moment of seeing this love of my life, who I would never see again, I knew she’d come into my life for a reason: to remind me of what I need to feel.
She walked past me and looked at me as she left the store with her mother.
I said, “Have a good day.”
“You, too, hon…” she said.