As Brenda walked alone towards the restroom she recognized several faces, they seemed to have aged a lot. When she washed her hands and caught a glimpse of her image in the mirror above the sink. She half-expected to see herself at the age of 17 or so – when she saw her 43 year old face looking right back at her.
She had noticed the aging on Daisy and the other graduates – she saw the weight gain, the varicose veins, the over made-up faces caked with what they hoped would be reverse aging powder. She still saw herself as 18 years old, still looked at the world the same way only with a lot more knowledge. When she actually thought to herself that she is really 43 years old – it hit her for the first time.
As she walked out she, of course, walked literally right into Eddie. Of course she would, fate has a way of peeking itself in and out of peoples lives at the peek of their vulnerability.
“Excuse me.” He smiled, looked at her and then did a double take.
“I cannot believe it, you look, amazing. You haven’t aged at all.”
Brenda took it all in quickly; he had gained a little weight and his hair had receded a bit but he still had that youthful look to him and those dimples.
They actually had not seen or spoken to each other since that night in the diner. He had tried to contact her but she knew that once she heard from him she would be in trouble.
“Brenda, I would like to speak with you and get some closure on some things. Can we meet for lunch tomorrow? Don’t worry, I am not looking for anything from you – I just have some questions I believe I deserve answers for.”
“After all these years you need ‘closure’?”
“Ok…are you here with anyone?”
“No, I am here alone.”
“Lets get a drink.”
“You lead the way…”
“I have a better idea…go wait by the classroom over there – I will be right there.”
Brenda walked slowly into the classroom and was transported back to 1979. She could swear she saw Mrs. Ackerman standing by the desk with a smile and a knowing nod. The classroom was decorated with English Literature signs – pictures of authors, “Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Harper Lee and Arthur Miller.” Signs stating, “Readers wanted” and “After School Book Club.” The walls were painted with what seemed like 100 coats of paint. The floor were tiles of black and white and the desks had connecting chairs. The teacher’s desk was placed in the front of the room with a green chalkboard as the backdrop. She could see her teacher standing there.
She turned and saw Eddie with a bottle of wine and two glasses.
Eddie had gone into a big funk after she climbed out of his life that night at the diner. He had turned to stone for a while – literally closing himself up in his room for weeks until one day he felt OK. He wasn’t sure what it was but it was as if a cloud had lifted and he was able to feel again.
“The thing that hurt more than anything was this feeling of being rejected, like a groom left waiting at the altar, you know? Besides that I missed you and being without you took some getting used to.”
“I am sorry, I just knew that-”
“I am not looking for an apology – I just wanted to express my feelings to you.”
“I don’t know what to say other than ‘I am sorry.’ I knew that if I gave in to my emotions I would have married you and I would have regretted it no matter how happy you might have made me. I needed to go to Yale without any attachments – I needed to break free from Brooklyn, I needed to forge my own identity. I wasn’t ready to forever be ‘Brenda and Eddie.’ I needed to be Brenda.”
“Yeah, well, I can understand that now – I guess sometimes in life the only way selfless act is the selfish one.”
“How did it all turn out for you?” She asked him with soft tears in each eye.
“What do you mean by ‘all’? Do you mean my life? My life has been good. I graduated from Brooklyn College, got a job with an investment firm, made a shit load of money and then lost it all just as quick. I got married at 26, had three kids and got divorced at 34.”
“Sorry about that…”
“Its OK – I just got tired of pretending to want to be married out of loyalty or responsibility. I love her but I need more than she is able to give me emotionally and physically. I just didn’t want to be the ‘Great Pretender.'”
“Yeah, well, I guess we all end up being Pretenders in order to just get through the day sometimes.”
“Or the years…”
She had been pretending for the past several years. Pretending to herself, convincing herself that she loved David and the life they had built. She pretended she was happy for the kids leaving the house – when in fact she was miserable about it. She was frozen from the emotionally and physically detached husband – he was a great man and did his best to make her happy. Sometimes, some people just are unaware how starved their loved ones are for the things they are either unable or choose not to share.
“We should get back to the dinner – I am glad we had this chance to speak.” Brenda said to him. She put her arms around him and whispered. “I am sorry…”
As they walked out of the classroom they were met by Daisy and some other classmates who embraced each other and exchanged updates on their lives. The dinner passed with toasts and reflections. Principle Goldberg spoke and made the first toast. He looked as he did 25 years ago – if that is possible.
“When I was your principle I was around your age now. I must have seemed ancient to you back then and now I stand before you, once again, 68 years old this time and welcoming you back home.”
Mrs. Ackerman walked into the room un-noticed and sat down alongside the Principal. When one student recognized her and then another – a wave of applause began and she stood up to acknowledge her students. Brenda thought to herself that she wasn’t only her favorite teacher – she obviously had a big effect on each of her students.
Brenda walked over to her and introduced herself to her.
“Hello Mrs. Ackerman, do you remember me, Brenda-”
“Of course I remember you. You haven’t changed, if anything you are even prettier than you were back then. How are you?”
“You look amazing and I am great. I am so happy to see you.” Brenda embraced her and began to cry.
She cried because she was given this opportunity to see the person who had the greatest influence in her life other than her mother. Her mother had died several years earlier and for some reason she had not allowed herself to grieve for her. But now it came out. “Sorry, I need to go now – I will see you tomorrow night, right?”
Brenda walked out the front doors and began to walk back to her Aunt’s house. She heard her name being called and turned around to see Eddie running towards her.