21 12 2011

We met on an elevator at work, of all places. I actually made a real effort NOT to notice him because I couldn’t bear having to tell my mother that I met a guy on an elevator. Mom has very specific ideas about dating and none of those ideas involve elevators, escalators, moving sidewalks or even the bus. As best I can figure she only approves of men that her daughters meet at cocktail parties or in line at the DMV. She’s nothing if not whimsical.

Point being, it was my third day of work. My arms were full of paperwork and a small bunch of flowers for my cubicle. I felt him try and make eye contact but I purposefully didn’t notice. I squared up my shoulders and resolve and promised myself I would not engage in conversation.

Of course, I underestimated James.

To this day he claims he didn’t do it on purpose. As the elevator started moving he pushed my elbow and my armful of papers and flowers fell to the ground. We both stooped to pick them up and I found myself staring right into the most perfect eyes ever made.

“I am so sorry!” He efficiently gathered my stuff and stood, still holding the pile. “Please accept my apology.”

More than a little flummoxed I smiled but said nothing.

“I’m James.” He holding the my papers carefully but made a move to hand them back. The elevator’s sudden stop knocked the flowers off the top of the pile. He handed me my papers then snatched up the posy.

It was my floor. I smiled again and reached out a hand for the flowers. “I’m Sarah.”

I left the elevator quickly, embarrassed somehow by the encounter.

It took me twenty minutes to get my mind back on my work that day. According to James it took HIM two hours.

For the next three months we rode the elevator together every morning. After two weeks I had figured out that he left much later than I. As a low-level programmer my shifts at the start-up software company were vastly different from James law-career-induced hours.

But we saw each other every morning. Exchanging a smile and maybe a few words. Once he brought a coffee that he claimed was “extra”. I took it and couldn’t bear to tell him that I never drank the stuff. The gesture was too kind for honesty.

After three months he joined me on the elevator at the end of my shift. It was a huge surprise and I felt a wave of dizziness that had nothing to do with our quick descent. He waited for the elevator to empty then held it open for me.

“Would you like to grab a drink? With me?” He swallowed hard but his eyes were smiling.

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes.”

We ended up talking for four hours over a series of beers and appetizers at a nearby restaurant. Small food is the quickest way to my heart.

At the end of our evening he hailed me a cab. As I slid into my seat he grabbed my hand and brushed a kiss across it. Quickly he let me go and shut the cab door. My hand tingled and I remember smiling for the rest of the evening.

From then our relationship was like most others, I imagine. A series of dinners, movies, shows and seemingly endless conversations. But at the end of every evening James always kissed my hand. Once we went running and I tripped over a tree root. That day he kissed both my hands, one after the other, brushing the dirt away and checking for scrapes.

We were married five years ago. On our wedding day I walked down the aisle to meet the best friend I’ve ever had. When my father handed James my hand James paused and kissed it, his eyes never leaving mine. In that moment I knew that I was safe. I was home.

Every day of our marriage, whenever James left, he took a moment to kiss me goodbye. On the lips yes, but also a quick kiss on my left hand, just above my ring. It was his way of saying “I love you. I’m coming home soon.”

He kissed me goodbye on that day, just like on each one before it. In stories there is always some sign, some hint that one’s life is about to take a swift turn.

Real life is not so tidy.

The hospital called me at 2:45pm. It was raining outside but not hard. Just enough to be noticed. The woman on the other end of the line said that James had had an accident and could I come.

My entire world froze, my body trapped in a muffling cocoon of terror. But I managed to call James’ parents and to get a cab. Twenty minutes later I was at the hospital and five minutes after that I was at his bedside.

The doctor told me that James had been hit while crossing the street. There was internal bleeding and they were going to rush him into surgery. An army of nurses and doctors swooped into the room and I was being shoved out the door very gently. Then I heard it, we all heard it, James was calling my name.

I pushed through to his side again and laid my hand on his wrist, the one not swathed in bandages. He didn’t open his eyes but he lifted his wrist and pressed his bleeding lips to my hand. Just for a moment, but long enough.

They took him away then. He was in surgery for seven hours. Seven hours I spent in the waiting room cradling my hand in my lap. I’d forgotten to wash the blood off and I focused on the pattern of my husband’s promise. A promise I would never let go. He loved me, he was coming back. He loved me, he was coming back.

His parents arrived from upstate. Then mine. I barely noticed them.

At the end of his surgery the doctors came out. I stood, still holding my own hand but this time as a shield.

“Mrs Simpkins?” The doctor’s face was kind, her eyes tired.


“He’s going to be ok. Honestly we weren’t sure. It was touch and go. But before we put him under one of our nurses heard him saying ‘I promised. For Sarah.’ Seems he had something worth fighting for.” She turned away and I watched her go, relief a haze over my heart.

Love is not perfect and it’s not easy. It’s not about big moments or poems or speeches. It’s about the thousand small promises we make to each other and keep. It’s about always coming home.




3 responses

21 12 2011
Jennifer James

I shall read this to you the day you get married.

21 12 2011

And I will listen gladly.

20 01 2012

Me likey!

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