It was a May-December romance.
I spied them sitting on the bench in the spring garden. Their heads were inclined, touching. One big wavy silver cloud of hair. They were holding hands. Arthritic, liver-spotted, blue veined hands, tightly joined; his second hand on top, softly patting. Naturally, they don’t hear me approach.
Christina sits upright, startled, when she sees me. They keep holding hands.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” she says. Then quickly, “This is Vincent.”
Christina can’t contain herself. “We’re in love.”
I could tell there was something special, but the proclamation of love took me by surprise. I had only heard his name for the first time three days ago. “I’m so happy for you both.”
“Really? Thank you. I didn’t know how you’d take it.”
“If you’re happy, I’m happy.”
Vincent joined the conversation. “I will be very good to your mother. I tell her, I’ll never lie to you; I’ll never treat you wrong. If I’m anything but a gentleman, you can kick me to the curb.”
“He’s such a sweet man,” Christina gushes.
I sit with them, happy in the glow of their new-found love. I ask how they met, although I assume it can’t be a dramatic story, since they both are residents in this assisted living facility.
“I spotted Christina her first morning here on line for breakfast. It was love at first sight.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“ I said hello.”
“Came on strong, didn’t you Vincent,” I teased him.
“She said hello back, and then went in to breakfast. I told myself that I wasn’t going to let her get away the next time. So at lunch, I offered her my seat.” He patted the walker that is also a portable seat. “We’ve been together ever since.”
I do the math and figure out my mother has been keeping this secret for six weeks. Interesting.
“We talk about everything. We talk about our dear departed spouses. Christina prays for my wife, and I pray for your father.”
Vincent tells me all about his life, his beautiful family, his proud service in the Navy, and pulls out his military service card and his driver’s license to show me. I do some more math and see he is 97 years old. Shock can’t begin to describe it. He doesn’t look a day over 80, my own mother’s age. I tease Vincent about robbing the cradle and stepping out with a much younger woman. “I’m the envy of every man here,” he proudly proclaims.
Now that their romance has been discovered, Christina and Vincent are openly inseparable. They are now the cute couple at Sunday family dinners, errands, and holidays. Every day, they meet for breakfast and don’t part until bedtime.
“Vincent and I are going to get married,” my mother tells me one day.
“You can’t, Mom. You’ll lose all your benefits.”
“We can’t live in sin.”
“Whatever you are doing, it isn’t a sin, it’s a miracle.” I add one more cautionary comment, “And don’t do anything that will break any hips.”
Every night at 9pm, Vincent and Christina kiss goodnight. Vincent and his walker head down the hallway, with Christina watching from her doorway. At the turn, Vincent looks back and they blow each other a kiss.
Late in December, Vincent isn’t downstairs at breakfast time. Concerned, Christina goes with an aide to his room. During the night, in a peaceful sleep, Vincent had gone to join all those who went before him.
Theirs was love at first and last sight. They gave each other the best they had to offer and took care of each other when the rest of the world seemed to no longer need them. Dementia has erased him from Christina’s mind, but her heart has not forgotten.