I reached in my purse and dug for my business card holder. "Here, this is my contact information," I said handing him one of my color cards with my guitar on the front.
"Wow, that is a beautiful card," he said, pulling up his sweater to access his shirt pocket. He slid a small spiral notebook and pen out and scribbled his name and phone number on the first page. He tore the page out and handed it to me while little pieces of lined white notebook paper fluttered to the floor.
I extended my arms, leaned in to hug him. He was tentative so I straightened up and enlarged the space between us. We shook hands instead, but he put his free hand on top of mine. Holding hands had been safe, a moving expression between us.
Would you be as tentative about a good-bye hug as Andrew was?
We knew it was time to get going. When Andrew looked at his watch he shook his head and smiled. We both slid out of our sides of the booth.
"This time with you has been such a gift to me," he said. I could see tears in his eyes again.
"Me, as well."
What do you think he will take away from our meeting?
I asked Andrew if he had the ability to make me a copy of the wolf photo. "I'd love to see if I might also sense the wolf's spirit."
"When I get all moved and set up in my apartment I'll find the the photo on my hard drive and make you a copy. Actually, there are two photos of the wolf I'll make for you."
"Let me pay for the copies, your time, " I said. I knew Andrew was short on cash after taking care of his wife for so many years. He couldn't leave her to go to work.
"We'll see," he said.
Do you think Andrew will allow me to pay for the photos? Given his financial circumstances should I insist?
Andrew must have seen me look at my watch. He looked up when I spoke. "Wow, what a wonderful afternoon meeting you and sharing our lives with each other."
"This meeting was no coincidence," he said. "I think it was meant to be."
Do you concur that our meeting was "meant to be?" Why?
Andrew remained lost in the remembrance of Cody's eyes, Cody's presence. My mind shifted to wondering how long we had been talking. I felt guilty about glancing at my watch, but I lifted my sleeve and looked anyway. It had been over three hours since I asked Andrew to eat lunch with me at the KFC.
Why would I feel guilty about looking at my watch?
Andrew continued, "I think that wolf's name is Cody. He's gone now. But he let me get that close to him. He allowed me to raise my camera and capture that communion between us. I have that photo moment framed and on my wall. When I look at it, it's almost like God ----- I believe in God ----- in those wolf's eyes."
Have you ever experienced such a moment with an animal?
"There are one or two photos I would have shared with the Photo Club.
You know about the Western Carolina Nature Center?"
I nodded that I did. Andrew went on to tell me about his love for the rescue wolves at the Center. How one day the older gray wolf and he stared into each other's eyes and that something spiritual happened in that moment.
Do you have a spirit animal? Mine is the jellyfish.
Andrew spoke readily. "You live up in North Asheville, right? The photographers don't happen to be Don and Bonnie?"
"Yes," I replied with a huge grin on my face. "How do you know them?"
"I greatly admired their work in the photo club. They probably wouldn't know me. My wife and I stayed in the background. Just in case they might remember us, tell them how much I love their work."
"Will do." Andrew perked up.
How can all these coincidences be happening to us?
"You are a generous man," I said after Andrew told me how he had taken care of his wife, his sisters. "What are you doing to take care of yourself since your wife died?"
He said he was going through the motions of being alive, but had no interest in much of anything. "She and I shared a love of nature photography. We joined the local photography club but we didn't own the fancy cameras that most of the members had."
"Two really good friends of ours are nature photographers. They're our neighbors. We've gotten to be quite close," I said.
I hoped I did not cut him off, move the conversation in a different direction too abruptly.
Do you think I changed the conversation direction too fast?
Andrew didn't need to explain that his money was tight after taking impeccable care of his ailing wife for many years and not going out to work. He spared no expenses for her. But he added more about his money situation.
"I supported my sisters for way too long. Like my mother, they were helpless. One is an alcoholic and can't hold a job. I helped them out like they were still my kid sisters. I finally had to cut that out and now they barely speak to me."
What led Andrew to take care of his sisters for so long?
"I'm moving to a smaller apartment this week," he said looking rather downtrodden.
"So, you have to touch all her things, the things you shared."
He nodded slowly indicating that he knew I understood.
"I'm cutting back. My money's really tight," he added. This time he looked forlorn.
Can you guess why Andrew's money is tight?
Andrew told me he had family. "They're busy and mostly far away. They've been good to me, though. My wife, their mother, and I were only married ten years. We both wished we had known each other sooner so we could have been together longer."
"A big loss." After I said that I felt stupid. I almost apologized.
Why do you think I felt stupid?
After Andrew told me about his wife's recent death, I felt my shoulders sag. He was still holding my hands, more for his sake than mine, this time. We stayed like that for a long time. He needed the touch. We were silent.
When I felt it was okay to speak I said, "Dang," while shaking my head. Then I asked if he had family.
How did timing play a role in this scene?
"I haven't talked intelligently to anyone for over a year. My wife, my soul mate, has been very ill for several years. The last two years I have done nothing but take care of her. Exactly what I wanted to do. She was unable to carry on much conversation this last year."
He took a deep breath.
"She passed away eight weeks ago."
Have you been the recipient of such raw sharing from a "stranger?"
Andrew reached across the table and took my hands again, eyeing me to take in my reaction. "You are a real gift to me today. Your asking me to eat lunch with you is not a coincidence."
I saw the rims of his eyes redden, become watery.
What do you think Andrew is going to tell me?
Andrew turned back to the table. "I hope I haven't offended you by telling you all this about myself," he said.
I raised my eyebrows.
"I can tell you are an intelligent, sensitive, well-educated woman," he added.
I felt my face blush. "Thank you," I said.
He continued, "I'm honored you told me these things about your life. And, it's not often that I can talk about my story with someone who 'gets it'."
Do you think Andrew is going to tell me more?
"I think my dad was wounded emotionally by his war experiences, " I continued. "He was so young. In fact, the youngest Marine aviator in WW II. He, like your dad, could become violent. And he drank heavily on and off."
Andrew and I let these new coincidences rest between us. I pushed my drink cup around in a circle. Andrew looked out the window.
What was I doing pushing my drink cup around?
"Sounds familiar," I said. "Only my mother was not weak. She was the other colonel in the house. A tough one. She should have never had four kids. Her heart wasn't in it. She especially resented me--the only girl and the oldest and the apple of my dad's eye. She was easier on my brothers."
Did/do you have unequal treatment of female and male children in your family?
"My dad was a tough one. Gone a lot of the time, an alcoholic, a violent man," Andrew said. "I was the oldest and expected to take care of my mother and two sisters. Mom drank her fair share, too. She was weak, distant, helpless. I couldn't wait to get out of the house." Andrew's eyes were fixed on mine.
Can you imagine Andrew's home life as a child?
We sipped our drinks then looked up at each other.
I spoke first. "My father, the Marine Colonel, was devastated. You know the Marine Corps espirit de corps thing. Dad kept wondering out loud "why Henry and not me." He had been shot down three times as a pilot in the Pacific during WW II.
Do you have any WW II heroes in your family?
Andrew replied. "I was gung ho, too. Until I got there and saw the truth. The US government was lying to us. Then I became gung ho in only one way..........to get my men the hell out of there, home to their wives, mothers, kids."
When did you learn truths about the War?
I spoke. "Henry was so gung ho about the War. He was sure he could make a difference. I've wondered how the War might have affected him if he had lived to return home."
Do you personally have a story about someone deeply affected by the Viet Nam War? Are you willing to share it?
Andrew took my hands again. "As if Henry's death wasn't enough for a newly-married, very young woman to handle. His parents' behavior was horrible toward you." He looked down, then back up. "I am so sorry." When he saw my eyes were dry, he slid his hands away.
Why do you think my eyes are dry at this point?
Happy New Year to you and welcome back to the story of me and Andrew over a spontaneous lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. You may recall that the last event I posted was when he cleared the lunch table contents between us and took my hands in his. I had just told him about my young husband Henry's death in Viet Nam in 1968.
That's where I'll start.
After I recovered from Andrew's kind, tender holding of my hands as I wept, I said, "And maybe even worse. Henry's parents turned against me over an insurance policy. They were so angry I thought they might harm me. That's when my own PTSD began, fearing they might blow my brains out. I was not far off the mark when I learned his father was an alcoholic and owned an arsenal of guns.
Has fear ever gripped you to the point of illness? I hope not.
With the clear space between us Andrew slowly reached across the table and took my hands in his.
That's when the tears came.
• • •
Can you picture this scene in a KFC with two strangers deeply connecting across a table?
Click here to add your name & email for:
Open For Lunch
Award Finalist in the "Health: Alternative Medicine" category of the 2017 Best Book Awards