I finished a good workout at the gym tonight. It was much needed after a very long day at work. Rewarding myself with a smoothie, I went in search of a seat to relax and watch people play basketball. I spotted an empty area on the bleachers next to an older white gentleman. I went over to sit down as he said hello. I smiled and responded and asked if anyone was sitting next to him. He said it was open for me.
I settled in and observed the adults and children dribble balls across the court. I could not detect an actual game, just basketballs flying around. Yet I began to sense the older gentleman staring at me. My guard slowly went up, the deep worries I have now a days rising.
Why is he looking at me?
Is it because he sees that I am a minority?
Is he trying to match my features to an ethnicity?
Does he want to know what country I am from?
Is he wondering if I am a refugee?
Is he concerned that I may be an illegal alien and is he anxious to call someone immediately?
“Do you come here often?” he asked. Ok, so the questions have begun. Maybe he is in search of an accent?
“I try to make it to the gym a few times a week. Though it can be difficult at times.” I glanced at him, noting he looked to be in his 80s with silky white hair and nice greyish blue eyes.
“Are you from around here?” Well thank goodness he’s being subtle instead of shouting ‘FOREIGNER’!
“Yes, I live nearby.” I kept my responses short, and did not ask anything in return, not knowing where this was going.
He volunteered his location. A conservative rural area.
My heart started to beat faster. I readied myself for a possible political debate, scanning my lethargic brain for rebuttals. And here I was expecting a relaxing night.
“What do you do?” Oh my, does he think I am unemployed and on welfare, abusing the system? Does he want proof of my citizenship? Who even carries that information on them?
I answered him. He immediately followed up with how long I had been with my employer.
Is this what interrogation is? Or is this the softer version of it?
I responded and he came back with more questions.
“Are you married? Any children?”
My paranoia was running out ideas of what he could be thinking. I answered both questions but had no clue how it would be perceived. I braced myself for more probing. I wish he would just come out and say what he truly wanted to say.
Deep breath. Be strong. Stand your ground. You can handle anything he has to say.
“I was married to my wife for 60 years.”
Huh!?! I didn’t expect this.
“She was a wonderful woman. I lost her a year ago. We had a great marriage and two sons.”
Oh my God, I am going to cry. This man was not interrogating me. He was just being friendly, looking for someone to chat with. I completely misjudged the situation, letting my fears run amok.
I turned to him and said, “I am so sorry for your loss. How incredible that you had a 60 year love. That type of devotion is rare.”
“It took commitment and communication. We both had to compromise for one another. But it was worth it.” I could sense the sadness in his words.
“Do you live alone now or with family?” I asked, hoping he had a support system around him.
“I actually have a new lady friend,” he said with a bit of pride in his voice.
I chuckled in surprise, “well good for you! I am glad you have found someone that cares and is there for you.”
“But we do not live together. We both have our own homes. She sometimes comes over and I cook and I sometimes go over and she cooks. She wants to marry, but I am not ready yet.”
His comment made me laugh.
“Yes, we ladies, regardless of our age, do seem to want marriage.”
He let me know that he and his lady friend video chat on their phones often when they are apart and that she is pressing for a June wedding.
The surprises were endless tonight. This older gentleman went from being a suspected foe to an actual friend. A technologically-advanced Romeo no less, who is apparently enjoying his new found bachelorhood.
Our encounter was heartening. Two people of different generations, different ethnicities, different lives, different religions, different genders, sat together, smiled, laughed, and enjoyed each other’s company without the prejudice and bias that surrounds us. Tonight we were just two friends.