It had only been two days since we saw each other and now, he is calling me. Before that it had been 19 years since we last saw each other. So much has happened since that last time.
“Is it ok that we meet?”
“Today, if possible. I would really like to talk to you and I don’t know when I will be up this way again.”
“Ok. I uhh….let me think if I have anything scheduled for later….”
What is his urgency? I don’t see you for like 19 years and now you have to see me now?
“….ok, how about in an hour at the Far Out Coffee shop on Grand? Do you know where that is?”
“Yeah, it’s by the park, right?”
“Ok, I’ll meet you there. You will be there, won’t you?”
“Yeah, I will be there! See you in a bit.”
What is going on? What on earth does he need to talk to me today about? Oh, crap he must know about what happened after he left town all those years ago. But how could he have found out about that, I certainly didn’t mention it when we had met the other day.
I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles because I had left my car registration to the last minute, once again. And of course it was the Thursday afternoon before they were to be closed on Friday due to budget cuts so they were busy. I usually bring a book because I know I’m going to have to wait in line for who knows how long, but at least I’ll get my registration sticker at the end of my wait.
But I forgot my book in my rush to get out the door. So there I was, having to stand there and look around the office. I don’t know how many times I read the notices on the walls that tell you to not drive drunk; to buckle your seat belt; have vehicle insurance; don’t text and drive.
There were Christmas decorations strewn throughout the building. The employee cubbies were all decorated in some festive manner. Santas, elves, angles, strings of lights tapped to cubby walls and computers; standard holiday decorations for government offices. There was a Tour of Duty wall that showed all the local employees that were active duty in the military right now and a wish that they all return safely home. I wonder if they did this for Josh at his job.
As I’m making my way through the line I peruse the pamphlet table. The new registration book is out so I grab one and flip through it to see what is legal and not legal to do behind the wheel of a car now. As I’m reading I can hear people musing about how long the wait has been for them. Someone is yelling at one of the clerks about not having to pay penalty fees and now wants to talk to her boss now. A woman is telling the child that is with her that he needs to settle down or he is gonna get it when they get back to the car and then her attention is turned to the monitor hanging from the ceiling that tells the customers who is next. She glances at her ticket and sighs and shakes her head. I remember being in her place and I tell her in my head that he will grow out of it eventually but only to get into some other type of trouble and that you will long for the days when he just wouldn’t settle down in his chair.
I hear a man in line say, “I look around nowadays and I don’t know how you mom managed to deal with all you kids.” People in line chuckle at his comment. The frustrated mom looks over in my direction. She must have realized who said that and she smiles embarrassingly. I follow her gaze over and see an older man about five people behind me. He looks to be about in his 60’s or 70’s, I have never been very good at telling peoples ages. He speaks as if he is addressing a crowd at some honorary dinner and he is at the podium giving a speech, “We had four kids and I was never home. To this day I don’t know how she kept her sanity!” Some of the people within earshot shake their heads or give out a little laugh including myself.
Then I remember that I had grown up with a family that had four kids, 2 boys and 2 girls. The Robinson family! I had not thought of them in so long. We did everything together. We lived on the same block and our parents were friends and all of us kids were friends, too.
As I’m moving along the line, tons of memories start to come back to me about my childhood and the Robinson family. Our dad’s met in Army basic training, sometime in the mid-sixties. When our dads were not home, our moms were each other’s support. I had two brothers, so you could imagine what it was like to have seven kids running around. My mom would say that it was a good thing we were all close in age because at least we had constant playmates. It also didn’t hurt that we lived on the same street.
As the line moves along, it is snaking around in the standard zigzag queue line to make the most optimal use of limited space. I hear the man talking again. For some reason I turn my head towards his voice and realize that I’m standing next to him now, facing the opposite direction as them. Another man walks up next to him looking at a driving manual. And then something about them strikes me, something about the older man looks familiar to me. Trying to look like I’m not eavesdropping, I try to listen in on their conversation. I hear the younger man say to the older man “Thank you for holding my place” and the older man pats him on the shoulder. The younger man asks him if he is ok standing for so long and the he replies that he is alright. The more I listen to them speak, the tone and inflection of their voices start to sound familiar. I watch them out of the corner of my eye as they stand in line next to me, each one is silent now. As I look at the older man, his facial features become more recognizable to me and then the realization hits me that it’s Mr. Robinson! But who is the other man? I hadn’t really gotten a good look at his face as his back was turned looking at the various pamphlets on the table next to the wall.
Curiosity had me now. So I turn towards the old man and speak to him. “Uhh, excuse me? Your last name wouldn’t be Robinson would it?”
Both men turn to look at me. And BAM, I knew it, it was them! The sudden realization of familiarity flashes across his face and simultaneously we realize that we do know each other.
“Marci?!” the older Robinson yells out my name.
“Yes, it’s...” The old man grabs me and gives me the biggest hug before I can finish my sentence.
“Wow, I guess it is you!” I say, muffled by his coat which smelled a mix of musk aftershave and cigarettes. Some things never change. He lets go of me and holding me by the arms from him, looks me over. Then starts a barrage of what seems like a hundred questions.
“How are you? It’s been so long! How are your parents? How are your brothers? What have you been doing all these years? Do you live here? Oh my God it is so good to see you! Look Robert, its Marci, can you believe it? Oh man, it’s been what 20 years? Oh, you look good….”
He continues to talk but when he says Roberts name his words start trail off in my mind. When I look over and see him standing there with his eyes wide it feels like my heart has stopped. His face has changed from when I last saw it 19 years ago, older, more masculine. I feel Mr. Robinson let go of my arms and feel my body being propelled towards Robert. Instinctively, I throw my arms around him and kissing his cheek, as is my standard greeting when I see my friends and family. I feel Roberts arms come up behind my back as he returns the greeting. And then as quickly as the hug began it ends, both of us stepping back awkwardly. I take another step back and then look at them both as more memories start to flood in my mind.
“So how are your parents? After their divorce we lost track of your dad.” Mr. Robinson asks.
“My mom still has her house in Marshall and she is doing ok. As a matter of fact, she just retired from her job at the post office. My dad has been battling cancer for the last 10 years so it has been pretty rough on him. Mom had your address in Ohio, so I sent you a couple of letters to let you know what was going on, but I never got a reply.”
Mr. Robinson’s big smile slowly turned into a look of disbelief at the news of my father’s illnes and that I was unable to reach him.
“I’m sorry to hear that about your dad.” He somberly replied. “We had moved to Virginia in ’95. I thought we had forwarded our new address to your mom.”
“You may have, but you know my mom, she was lucky if she remembered where she put her gas bill every month!” We all laughed apparently they did remember how my mother had a habit of misplacing even the simplest of items.
As the line progressed, Mr. Robinson came over to stand next to me and we continued to reminisce about the time our families had spent together and update each other on what our families have been doing since the last time we had seen each other. I glance back at Robert once or twice since he remained in his place in line. With Mr. Robinson doing most of the talking he tells me that his twin daughters Lacy and Tracy are both doing well and that each of them has a set of twins themselves. Lacy has two boys and Tracy has 2 girls. He tells me that his youngest son Darrin, their youngest child, was killed about 15 years ago in a motorcycle accident and how he and Mrs. Robinson were devastated for years and that Mrs. Robinson had suffered a breakdown, but now she has come to terms with their loss. By this time it was my turn to see the clerk about my registration. As I went up to do my business, Mr. Robinson went to stand back in line with Robert.
I don’t remember much of what had took place during my transaction with the clerk, just writing the check and getting the sticker is about all I can remember. When I turned around I could see that they were now standing at another clerk’s window doing their business. I then see Mr. Robinson look around the room for me and that I am now standing by the door and motions for me to wait. I point to him that I will be waiting outside and he flashes me the OK sign.
I step outside. The cold wind hits my face and body. I hadn’t realized that I had taken my coat off during Mr. Robinson’s conversation with me. As I put my coat on, I look inside the building and I just see Robert now standing at the counter and he is looking towards the door. I realize that I have managed to avoid eye contact with Robert since our reunion moments ago. I also realize that Mr. Robinson didn’t talk about what Robert had been up to the last 2 decades. It had been so long since we have seen each other I don’t think that he had picked up on my nervousness at meeting him again after all this time. Standing there looking at him through the glass doors, feelings and memories much deeper and sweeter start to consume my thoughts. Before I can start to remember the more intimate details of those memories I hear Mr. Robinson coming through the door and walking up to me.
“Do you live here in town?” he asks.
“Yes, I do. A few blocks from here actually. I would invite you both over now but I have to go to be someplace else by six. Do you live back here now or are you just visiting?”
“No, I don’t live here. Actually, Robert drives long haul trucks and I’m along for the ride this time. He had a couple of deliveries to make in California so I thought I’d come along with him this time and check out the old stomping grounds, we will be here for a couple of days. His mom’s going to be surprised when I tell her we ran into you!” he says beaming with the smile of seeing a long lost relative.
“Oh, I bet she will be surprised! So will my mom and dad when I tell them I ran in to the both of you. But I’m not going to let you get away without getting your address and phone number.” I take out my cell phone and as I start to open it up, Robert comes out of the doors.
“All done?” Mr. Robinson asks.
“Yep, got it all squared away now. I don’t know how I managed to not get this taken care of. You know it’s not like me to leave things to the last minute.” He looks over at me and the corners of his mouth rise up slightly and his brow lowers, “But it looks like it turned out to be a good thing this time.” His grin lingers for a moment on his face and then a look of melancholy replaces it and he takes a deep breath. A huge puff of vapor expels from his nose. I feel like time has stopped at this moment as we look at each other. I want to shout at him where have you been all this time, what have you been doing, why did you leave like you did without saying a word to me, but I suddenly realizing that we are not alone and I pull it together real fast.
“I’m getting your parents address so we don’t lose contact again.” I shot out trying to regain my composure at the same time.
“Junior, get her information, too. You know your mom is going to be asking for it once I tell her we ran into her.” Robert and I exchange our information as Mr. Robinson continues to talk about what a coincidence that they had stopped at this office the same day and same time as I did and that it is truly a small world.
“Well, if you have time before you leave town call me so we can get together or let me know the next time you are in town and we can get together then. I’m so sorry but I really have to go now.”
“It was so good to see you again. And don’t be surprised it my wife doesn’t call you tonight!”
“Well I gave you mom’s phone number, too, so she can call her as well. Ok?”
I step to Mr. Robinson and give him another hug good-bye. He pats me on the back and then holds me at arms length to another look at me. “It was so good to see you again! And next time we are this way or you come our way we will get together, ok?”
“Ok!” I say to him. I look over to Robert and step over towards him to give him a parting hug as well. “And you don’t work so hard! You’re only 3 years older than me and it looks like your pushing 50!”
He replies, “Hey, I am only pushing 40! But you always looked better than I did, for a girl that is!” He then reaches over and grabs me in a bear hug and hoists me up off my feet like he used to when we would horseplay as kids.
“Oh be careful old man!” He puts me down and we all laugh. “I hope you don’t feel that in the morning.” I then give him another hug, this time taking in the smell of his cologne with the hint of diesel fuel mixed in and rubbing my hands along his back. I feel him squeeze tighter than when he did when we first hugged awhile ago. I step back holding his hand and then taking the hand of Mr. Robinson, flash them both a smile. “Well, I have to go, be sure to stay in contact and give Mrs. R a hug for me and tell your sisters I said ‘Hi’, ok?”
“Oh I sure will”, Mr. Robinson replies. “And tell your mom ‘Hello’ from me too. Now you drive safe the roads are getting crazy out there!”
“I will. Take care!” And with that, I turn and walk to my car. I can hear the older Robinson tell the younger Robinson something about how life is funny sometimes and that when you least expect it a nice surprise happens. As I get to my car I see Robert helping his father into a blue sedan. He then walks behind the car and flashes me a wave. I smile back at him and wave back as well and then pull out of the parking lot and drive to my next destination.