I stood on the edge of the ice and watched the wind blow across it

on

This place, a single building, would have no lasting effect on me, so long as
the sun rose in the East and the frost in the west. The place was a single
thing and that was where I felt at home. It was, indeed, one of the few places
I’ve ever been in which I could truly call ‘home’. But it would prove a
place of which I would only see the top and never the whole. It would hold me
only until the day the ice began to slip and one day that day would break on
my life and shatter it into pieces beyond repair.

“Where are you from?” asked a low voice.

It was a man who spoke. I didn’t need to turn to find out who he was.

“From over the hill,” I said.

“And you have come here many times?” he asked, his smile warm.

I nodded.

“You want to stay here for a while?”

I shook my head, but I couldn’t keep the smile from my lips.

“I want to come back,” he said softly.

I opened my purse and pulled out a coin. It was a silver dollar of
fifty-five years old, but it would always find me good in its way. I’ve spent
money like nobody’s business, but this one coin is what I’ve always felt it
should have been. I’ve learned to respect every coin given or earned. They
provide for the most basic of my needs.

I handed the coin to the man.

“For you it is more than one night and your journey home,” I said. He
reached to take the coin and I spoke with my hand behind my back.

“For me, there will be no home without you.”

I turned in my tracks just as that cold wind came down in a howling frenzy.

“If we should meet in the next hundred years, you may know me then.”

I smiled to myself. It always brings me a special happiness when I’m with
somebody. It’s like a small bit of magic and it always makes me happy. I
turned to look again at the tall man. He was walking in front of me, his eyes
fixed on the ground. There was a moment of silence between us. No one ever
asked me to say good-bye, and I really don’t want to, but this moment in which
a man walked up as if he had all of my life ahead of him was more than I could
put into words.

“May the wind be your friend,” he said simply. He reached up into the chill
air, took my hand and held on tightly. I can’t imagine what he went through
during that moment of cold and pain and desperation. It might have been a
moment the likes of which I’ve never experienced. He led me away from the
building and out of the freezing mist where there was still enough snow to
make everything a little bit warmer. From the hilltop we watched the last
snowflake fall from the sky to a black-green field. He let go of my hand and
moved in my direction.

“You go on,” he said.

I looked up at the building. I wasn’t sure if it was my place to say goodbye
to a man, but I couldn’t just walk away.

“I’d like to see you again,” I said.

The smile returned to his face, but he didn’t take my hand and I could see
that it was a different kind of smile.

“I know you will see me again,” he said, “but I hope we can stay together a
bit before it’s over.”

He turned to walk off with that same kind of lightness of spirit. Perhaps the
most important thing is to never lose the capacity to make new friends.

I watched his figure with fascination. What a perfect man. I wondered if
another had ever walked into my life so completely. I wondered if he knew the
power of the simple expression of friendship. I wondered if he and I had ever
met another who didn’t want to part.

I never said goodbye to anyone, but when I do part it will be a very final
part.

I thought of the first time we met. I was a child of six. I must’ve been
five years old or so, because I can’t remember. My parents had gone to
Newfoundland in the summer to do some work on a new bridge and I stayed with
someone’s parents. We had to leave after they finished, so my parents came to
stay with me. My parents and I were staying in an old farmhouse that was
brought down from the hills for a winter in the fall. You could see the old
timber through the screen and curtains. The house was always cold and it was
hard to believe it was a house and not a barn. We didn’t have a TV, we didn’t
know what to do with a radio and it’s hard to come up with a name for a boy
of five.

Everything was very different back then.

I remember the place. The furniture was broken and the old woman who lived
in the house with us had to watch my sister and I play with all that furniture
because it was too heavy for her to push. We spent most of our time sitting
up in the kitchen and staring at whatever might show up from the old radio on
a table in the corner.

We lived in the kitchen.

My parents were very young then. They had lost both of their mothers within
the year. They wanted me to be like them, but I can only tell you what they
wanted me to be like. I was too small to have a real voice. I’ve worked in a
store during my life, but I found that the customers wanted a lot more
information from my employees than they were likely to get out of me. That
was a disappointment to my mother, as she had been dreaming of having a
daughter who would stand up and say ‘yes’ when she was told but never do
anything about it either. She wanted a daughter who could handle a job, not
fear the future. She wanted a daughter who would get me into school but not
fear I would get expelled or killed by a train or drown while swimming, or
something like that.

She wanted a daughter who would grow up healthy and strong. I was too small
to know that there’s always a chance for that. I’m not sure there’s a child
who’d grow up healthy and strong; not one who’s still alive today. There’s
the possibility, but the future for any human being is never certain or easy.

Anyway, I learned a very simple fact at the age of six.

Don’t tell me anything, because I can’t handle it.

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