The two old men purchased a pitcher of beer at the bar and then moved into the very back booth of the quiet neighborhood tavern.
“I’m tellin’ ya, I can’t do it any more.”
“Drive down here… it’s too much, the traffic, the trucks…”
“You were born and raised in this city for chrissake. What’s the matter with you??”
“Ya, so how many times a year do you drive up to see the wife and me?”
They smiled and the conversation turned to grandchildren.
After a while they lapsed into an easy silence and looked each other in the eye.
* * *
The two young teenagers worked hard at their cleanup assignment in the ROTC drill hall. They had met as incoming freshmen and immediately sensed a bond. They worked well together and enjoyed one another’s company. The chairs were folded and stacked. The flags covered, wastebaskets emptied. They stopped and admired their work.
“I want you to be best man at my wedding,” blurted out the one youngster.
“And I want you to be best man at my wedding,” replied the other, dead serious.
They looked shook hands and looked each other in the eye—and there it was—the silent connection: “We don’t even have girlfriends.” They laughed. It was at once the most ludicrous conversation and the most poignant pledge two fourteen olds could put together. And it was their first connection but they hardly noticed.
* * *
The two high school seniors mopped the basement floor in preparation for the evening graduation party. There were girlfriends now and other close friends that did not approve, resulting in a big time eighteen-year-old type crisis. They worked in total silence but the connection was humming this time. They finished and brought their mops over to the twin utility sinks. They stopped rinsing for a moment and looked each other in the eye and for the first time spoke aloud.
“Why are we thinking what we’re thinking?” By now the connection was a natural phenomenon.
“We know what we have to do… but after the party. No point in spoiling everybody’s night.”
The connection came more frequently and naturally now, not continuous of course, but from time to time, always unspoken. It was often enough and ordinary enough that they never stopped to question it or analyze what was happening.
* * *
The two servicemen sat in the back seat of the sedan, heading back to base after a night of more than too much to drink. It started with an elbow to the ribs, and then some closed fists to the torso. Neither would back off or retreat and it soon escalated to bare knuckle punches to the face and head. Now there was blood and the driver and front seat passenger pulled off the road to tug them apart.
“Hey you assholes! If the MP’s come by we’ll all wind up in a cell…”
There was a bloody lip and the other had an eye that was purple and starting to close. They winced when they touched their faces but the two reached out and gave one another a playful cuff on the back of the head. They caught each other’s glance and connected briefly. “Hey, that was fun!” They laughed.
* * *
It was the ultimate guy’s getaway road trip and Yellowstone National Park was the midpoint. The two young men drove off road onto a fire trail. The old Buick’s suspension creaked and groaned over the ruts, but they found a spot to pitch the tent for the night. Park regulations strongly encouraged the use of designated campsites, but then that wouldn’t be the wilderness. Bears were their most serious concern so they parked the car some fifty yards from the tent and left all the food items locked inside. After dark the starlight and moonlight actually cast faint luminescent shadows through the trees. But they had driven for the past twenty hours and could barely climb into the tent. It was a warm night and they lay atop their sleeping bags and were instantly asleep.
In the middle of the night came the unmistakable sound of scratching at the foot of the tent. He worked his foot free of the sleeping bag and scratched the inside of the canvas. Yep, that was the sound and it was instantly answered by another scratch. Bear! What to do? His heart was pounding now. Was he sure? Try it again. Scratch… answering scratch. Suddenly the connection clicked in.
“Is that you?”
“Yeah, is that you?”
“Jagoff!” he said aloud.
“Me? You’re the jagoff…”
They laughed. They would tell the story many times over once back home, but neither of them would mention the connection.
* * *
The widower stood near the front of the funeral parlor close to his wife’s casket. He was in control, or maybe just in shock. His three young sons would not be allowed here he had decided. His friend approached and a tentative handshake turned into a hug and then the two of them embraced and sobbed. They found that tears came more easily with age. They parted and looked each other in the eye. They were both overwhelmed and neither could speak, but they connected.
“It’s not supposed to be this way.”
“I know, I know.”
* * *
The old man broke eye contact and refilled his friend’s glass and for the first time in several minutes spoke aloud.
“We’re not there anymore,” he said, “And we can never go back”
“I know… that’s probably a good thing. There were good times and bad times. Funny how you tend to remember mostly the good times,” he said staring intently now, into his friends eyes.
“Stop it! You know it’s not just the eyes… it comes when it wants to.”
“Wouldn’t it be neat if we could turn it on whenever we wanted?”
“No, that would be creepy. Leave it be. This way it’s just a natural kinda… kinda…something.” He filled his own glass, set the pitcher down and glanced across the table.
“See! It is the eyes!”
“No is isn’t!”
They laughed aloud.