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Kicking and Screaming (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of washingtonpost.com

image courtesy of washingtonpost.com

My friend passed the newspaper across the table and pointed to the article in the bottom corner. The headline read, “Georgia claims it has world’s oldest person, 130.”

“This is who I want to be.”

“You want to be an old woman?” I asked him.

“No,” he said. “Read it.”

I did. Antisa Khvichava is her name. Has a son, ten grandchildren, twelve great grandchildren, and six great, great grandchildren. And according to local authorities, she was born on July 8, 1880.

The article went on to say that a birth certificate was lost and so would not be forthcoming. Proof, it seemed, had been reduced to a few old Soviet documents and the word of local officials, neighbors, and descendants. She lives with her seventy-year-old son in the mountains near her birthplace.

I looked up at my friend, who was in the middle of a sip of his coffee. “That’s what I want,” he said. “To be that old.”

“Really?”

“Sure. Can you imagine being the oldest person in the world? How cool would that be? Do you have any idea how much wisdom that lady must have?”

I wasn’t sure. About any of it.

“She’s a hundred and thirty,” I said. I checked the article again. Ms. Khvichava’s fingers were cramped and deformed by age, but people said she continued to have a sharp mind. Somehow, that didn’t bring me much comfort. “You really want to live that long?”

“Absolutely,” my friend said. He picked up the sports section and thumbed through the baseball scores. “I wanna live a full life and then be dragged kicking and screaming out of this world.” He folded the paper and placed it in the middle of the table. “Don’t you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “What’s a full life?”

He shrugged. “Wife, kids, good job, retirement, grandkids. Maybe some golf.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll buy that. But still…a hundred and thirty?”

“Why not? How old do you want to be when you die?”

It was a question I’d never been asked, and one I had never thought to ask myself. “I don’t know,” I said.

He looked at me and sneered. “Better start thinking about it, then,” he said. “You ain’t getting any younger.”

He was right. I wasn’t. It could be said that I was now officially pushing forty. I’d never thought about that either. And maybe it was time. We never know how long our lives will last, but most of us at some point reach a place in our lives when we believe we’re at some imaginary halfway point, that our next step will mean there’s more behind us than ahead.

I did want a full life. I had that much figured out, which was good news. And I thought I was well on my way to one. More good news.

My friend had picked up the newspaper to read the article again. “Wonder what she knows?” he asked. “Bet that’s a wise old lady.”

I was silent.

“Yep,” he said, “kicking and screaming. That’s how I want to go.”

The article didn’t include a picture, so I just formed one in my mind. And then I imagined what she’s seen over her nearly century and a half. Two revolutions. Two world wars. Hunger. Strife. Stalin. Death and destruction and hopelessness. It didn’t matter how long you last in this world, things weren’t going to get any better. You couldn’t wait on people to suddenly wake up and realize they’re a mess, because most never have and never will. That’s what I think she’d say.

I used to think about death a lot. I don’t much anymore. I think that has a lot more to do with the fact that I once thought of it as a period but now I think of it as a comma.

A waking up.

Kicking and screaming, my friend said. That’s how he wanted to go. He’d made up his mind about that. Maybe I should make up my mind about that, too.

My mind wandered to an old Native American saying I heard once. Smart people, those old Indians. They knew how to die well. And it wasn’t by kicking and screaming.

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

Yes.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Best friends (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Every morning on my way to work the road takes me up a hill that offers what may well be the best possible view of our town. It’s a scene I never get tired of appreciating, though for the past week or so I haven’t taken the time to turn my head and do so. Because that’s just about the time Randy crests that same hill in the opposite direction, and I want to see if he waves.

We worked together in my previous job, suffering alongside one another through shift work and factory life. We were close in the way guys are, which means we’d laugh share our gripes and make fun of the other’s favorite sports team and punch each other in the arm. Male bonding is a complicated thing.

When I quit to take my current job, we kept in touch through phone calls and emails. A few months later, the phone calls stopped. The emails stopped soon thereafter.

He was laid off from the factory about a year ago and took a job that brought him my way every morning. I’d pass his jacked-up Chevy along the road and we’d both throw our hands up and wave. That’s the way it was for a while, our once close friendship reduced to a two second mention of the hand every Monday through Friday.

Then last Monday, I was fiddling with the radio station and he snuck up on me. No wave.

The next day, he was on his cell phone. No wave again. The day after that, I sneezed. Another no-wave.

There were no complications the day after that. We saw each other coming, my radio was good, there was no cell phone, and my nose was clear.

We passed each other as strangers.

I was thinking about all of this yesterday as I listened to a message on the answering machine. Thirty-seven seconds of observations that covered everything from lunch to clothing to the newest must-have technological doodad. I played it twice to catch it all and was impressed to notice that it had all seemed to be done in a single breath. The caller identified neither herself nor to whom the message was for, but her tinny, high-pitched voice could only mean it was one of my daughter’s classmates.

Her rambling continued, brushing up on the latest Suite Life episode and some juicy classroom gossip. Satisfied that all bases had been covered, she then said goodbye, but not before offering this one promise:

“We’re going to be best friends forever, I just know it.”

I smiled to myself at those words and saved them on the machine for my daughter to hear later. It may not have been the most important message of the day on our telephone, but it was without a doubt the most interesting.

Such phone calls have become pretty regular in our house in the weeks since school has started. My daughter is quite the social butterfly, a facet of her personality she did not inherit from her father. As such, she has a steady influx of friends who seem to have our phone number on speed dial.

But the girl who left a message? She’s different.

Her and my daughter have been classmates since kindergarten. There have been sleepovers, play dates, birthday parties, and even an exchange of gifts every Christmas. Given that both of their names begin with M, they are known by students and faculty simply as M & M. Where you see one, you will see the other. To say they’re close would be an understatement.

At seven, they’ve known each other for more than half of their lives and about three quarters of their memory. It stands to reason that to them, it will always be such. There are no doubts and no hesitations. Life is simple, like one long and unbroken line that stretches on forever.

That’s how it is when you’re young. Everything seems so certain because there’s so much you don’t know. And a friend is a friend forever.

Maybe M & M are right. Maybe second grade will turn into high school and then college and then, one day, bridesmaids. I hope so.

One of the harshest lessons we must learn is that the tides of time will wash some into our lives and then out again. There are those in our lives destined to remain on our shores, and others meant only to find rest there before sailing upon other seas.

But rather than mourn the many those tides take away, we should rejoice in the few left behind. For they are the ones who walk alongside us.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Playing Catch-up (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Jason is my Saturday morning Starbucks appointment, though coffee is merely a façade used to hide our true purpose. The real reason we meet is so he can catch me up on whatever it is he’s learned the previous week.

Having any sort of conversation with a college student majoring in philosophy is a bit of a crap shoot, especially when that student is just smart enough to get himself into trouble.

For instance.

Our subject of conversation today concerns the basic truths of getting by in life that are found all of the world’s religions. The Golden Rule, for instance, is found in each of the major faiths. So is the commandment to love thy neighbor and take care of the less fortunate.

And somewhere in all that commonness is the idea that we should all live in the present. That past is done and the future is beyond our knowing. All we have, all that we can sense, is the now. Jason has a problem with that. Which is not so amazing.

“We can’t live in the present,” he tells me. “It’s impossible.”

I take a sip of coffee and a deep breath, knowing I’ll need more of both before I get to leave.

“Sure we can,” I tell him. “I’m not sittin’ here yesterday or tomorrow, I’m sittin’ here now. And so are you.”

“Not really,” he answers.

Another sip and another deep breath.

He continues: “You’re looking at me now, but it’s not me you’re seeing.”

“You hurt my brain, Jason,” I say. “It’s way too early for this. Why can’t we ever talk about trucks or mulch like normal guys?”

“Shut up, this is important. You’re looking at me now, right?”

“Uh-huh.”

“No,” he says. For a fleeting moment he takes on a spastic look of someone both thoroughly confused and happy to be so. “You’re not! You’re looking at me, but not me now.”

“I’m pretty sure I hate you,” I answer. I can say these sorts of things because Jason has always ignored them. He ignores it this time, too.

“It takes nanoseconds for the electrical impulses from the eye to reach the brain and translate what’s being seen. By that time, the moment’s gone. Don’t you see what that means? We’re all stuck in the past.”

I wrinkle my brow.

“That sunshine out there? That’s not sunshine now, that’s light that left the sun eight minutes ago,” he said.

“So that sunshine is from the past?”

“YES! And you’re hearing my words, but you’re really not hearing them now.”

I was starting to see where he was going with this. “Because it takes microseconds for them to get from you to me.”

“And microseconds more for your brain to process them.”

“It’s taking longer than microseconds, Jason.”

He takes a long sip of his coffee and studies me. “This stinks, doesn’t it?”

If Jason is right (and I have no reason to suspect he’s wrong), then I suppose it really is sort of awful. Maybe we can’t live in the present. Maybe we’re doomed to exist in a perpetual state of not-quite-here. Maybe the best we’re ever going to be able to do is always lag just a little behind.

We sit together in silence, contemplating roasted beans and the depths of reality.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“I think you’re a strange little man.”

“Funny,” he says. But as he says it rather than laughs it, I’m starting to think that maybe he’s taking this much more seriously than he should.

“This is really bothering you?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “I know it shouldn’t. I know it’s really pretty stupid. Right?”

“I’m gonna go with…yes.”

“Can I tell you something?” Jason whispered.

“As long as it isn’t anything like what you’ve just told me.”

“I hate philosophy. I thought it would make me a better person, you know? Get me thinking more. But I don’t like thinking more.”

(I understand. I don’t think much a lot of the time. It doesn’t suck.)

“What’s the use?” he continues. “I mean, why bother? With anything?”

We sit and sip. Eventually the conversation does change to things I can understand—the trucks and mulch. But in the back of my mind, I’m still thinking about what he said.

Maybe Jason is right, we can’t live in the present. Maybe we’re all in a cosmic game of catch-up.

It would explain a lot.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Pardon me while I rant incessantly…Ring bell for good service

I don’t know what it is about grocery shopping that turns me into a grumpy ho, but I dislike everything about it–the meal planning, the list making, the coupon clipping (HA!–As if)–I’m already stressed out and I haven’t even left my house yet! Now, with most chores I find unappealing, I find that once I stop procrastinating and just do them, they’re really not so bad after all.

Grocery shopping? Not so much…

My disdain for the grocery store is well documented. In my post I do not heart grocery shopping, I took you along as I trudged through the aisles of the local Kroger, where you met the beloved Pornographic Cheese Buttler. You then shared in my outrage at the removal of said PCB in Say it ain’t so, Kro! Say it ain’t so!

Is it any big surprise that the same local grocery store would be the object of my latest incessant rant?

Back in March of this year, Billy Coffey wrote a post called Grocery store goodness where he describes the latest phenomenon encouraging excellent customer service: the “Ring bell if you received excellent customer service” bell. 

In a nutshell, here’s the concept at my store: 

  • There’s a bell with a sign at each register.
  • If your cashier gives you excellent customer service, you ring the bell. 
  • Upon hearing the bell, the entire staff of store stops what they’re doing and applauds for the cashier a-la Pavlov’s dog. 

In his typical style, Billy ends the story with an important life lesson on the importance of doing good not for the sake of recognition, but simply to give of yourself without expecting anything in return. And while I could also go this route, I figured he already covered it, so I’m just gonna gripe. You’re welcome.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m all about appreciating good customer service. Especially since it seems so rare these days. I’m not one of those people who are rude to store employees because I’m having a bad day. I worked retail back in the stone ages when the customer really was always right. Believe me, I’ve smiled and bit a hole through my tongue more times than I care to remember rather than telling some jerk with a superiority complex who talks down to a sales associate what I really thought of them. I get it. I go out of my way to be nice to people who often have jobs I suspect they would rather not have.

But this bell crap? Not a fan. Now, if they had an option for bad customer service I might be more inclined to participate in the celebration of the good service. 

For example:

Cashier carries on conversation with bagger about how many hours the manager screwed him out of this week without acknowledging the customer whose groceries he is ringing up…

Ding!

Employees park grocery carts in the covered walkway of the shopping center instead of in the designated shopping cart area inside the store, forcing customers to push their grocery laden carts in front of the store where all the thru traffic is. For some reason, this only happens when it is raining.

Ding!

Customer seeks assistance checking out groceries from one of the five cashiers standing around the customer service desk and is told, “The self-service lines are open.”

DING!

Store management removes the Pornographic Cheese Buttler display from the store and ruins any remote possibility of me having fun at the grocery store…

DING! DING! DING!

Enough with all the positivie reinforcement stuff already if you’re not going to acknowledge and correct all the things that make grocery shopping an unpleasant experience. And bring PCB back. His public awaits…

The Way of Walking Alone

Kazuko Hosokawa Dishman (aka - my mom)

This past Sunday, in celebration of Independence Day, I posted the Declaration of Independence in its entirity along with my own personal reflection as to importance of what that historical document set out to do. I am proud to call myself an American first and foremost. My ancestors on my father’s side arrived and settled in what is now the Commonwealth of Virginia in the 1600′s. But that’s only half my ancestry.

My father met and married my mother in Japan. She was born Kazuko Hosokawa. The Hosokawas were one of the ruling samurai clans of Japan for many generations, and the family coat of arms (my mother was happy to report after a recent visit) is proudly displayed in the Tokyo National Museum.

So, while I am VERY much American, I am also very proud of my Japanese heritage, and I wanted to share a little of it with you today.

Miyamoto Musashi

In the second month of 1641, Miyamoto Musashi (considered to be the greatest samurai who ever lived) wrote a work called the Hyoho Sanju Go (Thirty-five Instructions on Strategy) for Hosokawa Tadatoshi. This work overlapped and formed the basis for Go Rin No Sho, more famously known as The Book of Five Rings.

The Way of Walking Alone
(or The Way of Self-Reliance)

Do not turn your back on the various Ways of this world.

Do not scheme for physical pleasure.

Do not intend to rely on anything.

Consider yourself lightly; consider the world deeply.

Do not ever think in acquisitive terms.

Do not regret things about your own personal life.

Do not envy another’s good or evil.

Do not lament parting on any road whatsoever.

Do not complain or feel bitterly about yourself or others.

Have no heart for approaching the path of love.

Do not have preferences.

Do not harbor hopes for your own personal home.

Do not have a liking for delicious food for yourself.

Do not carry antiques handed down from generation to generation.

Do not fast so that it affects you physically.

Do not be fond of material things.

Do not begrudge death.

Do not be intent on possessing valuables or a fief in old age.

Respect the gods and Buddhas, but do not depend on them.

Though you give up your life, do not give up your honor.

Never depart from the Way of martial arts.

Second Day of the Fifth Month, Second Year of Shoho (1645)
Miyamoto Musashi

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything as either a blessing or a curse.” – Don Juan

P.S. – If you haven’t done so already, head on over and wish Billy Coffey a Happy Birthday!

Billy Coffey: The untold story

Many of you know Billy Coffey as a small town southern man. Lover of all things country, from his cowboy hat, to his boots to his choice of music. But it hasn’t always been that way.

Billy was once an affectionado of screaming guitars and heavy metal music. In honor of his birthday today, I present Billy Coffey: The early years:

Billy Coffey: The Early Years

Happy Birthday, Billy!

(Sorry/you’re welcome)

Three People (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of photobucket.com

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Though my workdays are normally filled with all the commotion and stress that a thousand college students can generate, the days between June and mid-August are mine alone to enjoy. It’s only slightly ironic and more than a little unexpected to me that summer break means even more to me now than it did when I was in school, but it’s true. Never let it be said that a little separation between yourself and others is a bad thing.

Despite the fact I have plenty to keep myself busy, I also have plenty of time to myself. Time that will be spent writing. Which is what I tried to do just a bit ago, and with unfortunate results.

I had just started typing when the buzzing began. First in one ear and then the other and then back again. My right thumb punched downward on the space bar and trampolined my hand upward, waving through the air.

“Stupid fly,” I muttered.

The buzzing returned, and this time the fly actually bounced itself off my head. More waving. More missing. Then the creature circled around and landed right on top of my computer screen, staring at me.

Black, juicy one. Hairy legs and monstrous eyes. And a wingspan that seemed almost unnatural.

Where it had been and how it had gotten into my office escaped me, and I really didn’t care. All that mattered was that I went back to work. I shooed it away and went back to my typing.

SMACK!

Against my head again.

I wheeled my chair around and swiped at it, missing the fly but not the stack of books on the opposite table, all of which tumbled to the floor.

SMACK!

“Dang it, you come back HERE!,” I yelled. “I’m gonna KILL YOU!!”

I roamed around my office for the next five minutes. Found nothing, of course. No buzzing, and no kamikaze attacks. So I sat back down and started writing. Four paragraphs later,

SMACK!

And then after that SMACK!, it stuck. To my head. And I swear, I swear to you, that fly made a beeline toward my ear. I was convinced it was going to burrow in and eat my brain.

I jumped up, slapping at my head and flailing my arms in every direction. The fly somehow managed to retreat back to whatever hell it came from and left me alone. For the moment.

But I knew it would be back. Oh yes, I knew. Which is why I put on my cowboy hat (to prevent any future burrowing) and started to fake type.

Two minutes later, buzzing again. And just at that moment I transformed myself into some strange Jedi/Mr. Miyagi/redneck hybrid, sliced through the air with an open palm—

—and connected.

The fly tumbled backward through the air and crashed against the far wall.

That was five minutes ago.

I’m back at my computer now. Order has been restored. But now I’m suffering through the fits and stops of trying to write, because every sentence I’m trying to type is interrupted by more buzzing.

The fly is still alive, though just barely.

It managed to right itself a bit ago by flopping back onto its legs, but it can’t do much else. Every attempt to take to flight has been both paltry and meaningless.

And now I feel guilty.

There are certain religious adherents who would say I sinned a bit ago, that every creature is worthy of respect and life and that by denying those things to them I deny them to myself. Others would say the sin was letting both haste and anger lead me to do something I now regret.

I suppose a sort of atonement is called for now, though I’m not sure what the proper course of action is. Should I walk over and euthanize it with my boot. Or should I try to nurse it back to health with small tweezers and bits of rancid meat? I’m not sure.

I am sure of this, though. We can try to model our lives to the Good, to walk straight and never wander, to be our very best selves. And sometimes that will work. But who we truly are deep down in our broken souls will always be there, ready in an instant to bare its teeth.

That is, I suppose, why we are all three people in one—there’s the person we want to be, the person we are, and the person who must daily choose which way to lean.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Katdishionary Part 8

Ah, yes gentle reader. It is once again time for another installment of the epic and never-ending series of blog fodder known as the katdishionary. For your convenience, I have combined all previous posts in one place. (See the katdishionary tab) If there are other words you have observed me using that have yet to make it into the katdishionary, please feel free to share them in the comments section of that page. And as always, sorry/you’re welcome.

And now, on with the katdishionary:

Awesome Cat(pronounced: Ah-sum-kat)

Definition: Awesome Cat defies definition. He is awesome. The end.

Origin: My friend Shaun sent me the picture, which he found on Digg. As soon as I saw it, I knew Awesome Cat must be the unofficial mascot of the brain trust that is the Fellowship of the Traveling Smartypants.

Badgertastic(pronounced ba-jer-ta-stik)

Definition: Very definitively and enthusiastically having to do with badgers.

Origin: Sleep Talkin’ Man Blog - a blog that chronicles the nocturnal ramblings of a seemingly mild manned English chap by day who tends to get a tad profane whist sleeping: “My badger’s gonna unleash hell on your ass. Badgertastic!” (Note: not suitable for all audiences.)

Example: Did you read SCL’s post about proposed VBS games? My favorite was Badger in a Bag. Badgertastic!

Badger in a Bag(pronounced: ba-jer-in-a-bag)

Definition: A VBS game concept described as follows: “Let’s hide pieces of caramel in a bag and then put a really angry badger in the same bag. To win, you have to successfully grab a piece of candy from the bag without losing a finger.” ~ Jon Acuff

Origin: Stuff Christians Like Post #275 – Playing Red Rover at VBS

Example: To heck with our liability insurance! Let’s bring badger in a bag back to VBS this year!

Faction(pronounced (fak-shun)

Definition: A memoir written by a relatively unknown and unpublished author with no ties to celebrities (in or out of rehab) which is rewritten as a novel in order to draw a larger audience.

Origin: Very savvy and smart publishers. (And no, I’m not being sarcastic. It’s brilliant marketing.)

Example: Snow Day by Billy Coffey. Available October 11, 2010 at bookstores everywhere. Buy one. Heck, buy 100. They make great stocking stuffers!

HRM(pronounced: H-R-M)

Definition: Acronym for Helen of Random Musings. HRM is used to differentiate Helen when she interviews herself on her blog.

Origin: “I first thought of interviewing myself when Former Governor Blagojevich was causing a media circus by going on any show that would have him claiming that he shouldn’t be impeached because he hasn’t been convicted of a crime. (And that he is innocent, and Rahm Emmanuel should be subpoenaed to testify on his behalf at his impeachment hearing, blaj blaj blaj (sic)….) His antics were driving me crazy, and it occurred to me that by using a split personality as a literary device, I’d be able to demonstrate to people reading just how crazy. My friends liked the interviews and suggested I do them more often, so I have.” – Helen (aka HRM)

Examples:

Blagojevich Part I

Blagojevich Part II

How I Didn’t Become a Nun

Dancing With the Kumquats (My Supermarket Salsa Post)

About My Fortieth Birthday

My New Year’s Resolutions

Midyear New Year’s Resolution Update

Skunkalicious(pronounced: skun-ka-li-shous)

Definition: The state of not wanting to leave the house due to an excess period between root touch ups which gives me the appearance of wearing an odoriferous rodent on my head.

Origin: Genetics. Asian DNA which causes premature graying. I started going gray in my late 20′s. Sadly, the math gene was not passed on to me.

Example: Sorry. I can’t meet you for lunch today. I’m feeling a bit skunkalicious.

This concludes this edition of the katdishionary. Always a pleasure to educate the internets.

Building your Platform

“You need to build your author platform.”

If you’re a writer seeking agent representation and/or looking to get your manuscript published, those words rank right up there with:

“It’s not you, it’s me”

and

“We need to talk.”

But it may not be as difficult as you might think. I’m certainly no expert, but I’ve learned a thing or two about how to effectively market an up and coming author on the internets over the past year, and I’m sharing a few of my secrets over at Author Culture today. Hope to see you there.


Billy Coffey’s debut novel Snow Day will be released in October of this year. Stay tuned for more details…

The People Next Door (by Billy Coffey)

image courtesy of photobucket.com

I never knew their names, never even saw their faces, and so for a week they were referred to as The People Next Door.

That sort of thing tends to happen a lot when you’re on vacation. You share space with people who are on different schedules and live different lives. The one thing that ties us all together is the fact that we’re all sharing a building that overlooks an ocean.

There is an implied non-intervention pact between the temporary residents of the hotel. We nod and say good morning on the elevators and in the hallways, but that’s where our societal responsibilities end. Aside from that, we are ensconced in our own familial lives.

The only loophole as far as The People Next Door and me was the late nights, when we found ourselves on the balconies outside our respective rooms. I was on mine to get some writing done while the family slept inside. They were on theirs to watch the people on the boardwalk below and the dark blue water. All that separated us was a five-inch wooden partition that offered much privacy of sight but little privacy of sound.

So I typed and listened, and they stared and spoke.

Husband and wife. Older, by the sound of them. Empty nesters, perhaps. Enjoying life or trying to.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it?” the woman said on the first night.

“Very,” said the man.

“I think I could sit here and listen those waves all night.”

“Hmm.”

I divided my mind between the sentence I was writing and the analysis of the man’s answer— “Hmm.” Not necessarily agreement. That would have required a “-mm” at the end: “Hmm-mm.” But there was none. I supposed that last little part could have been drowned out by the series of waves that crashed just below us, but I doubted it. It was just “Hmm,” and nothing else. Not an agreement. A question.

The next night brought more and livelier conversation. Two towels had been draped over their railing, peeking at me as they flapped in the warm breeze.

“Did you enjoy your day?” the woman asked.

“I did,” the man answered. There was more conviction in his voice than the night before. A good thing. “The book I’m reading is getting good.”

“The book?” she said. “You can read a book at home. What about the weather or the beach? The dinner?”

“Oh they were fine,” he said. “Really just…fine.” And then, perhaps to steer the conversation another way—

“Did you enjoy your day?”

“Yes,” she said. “Those teenagers don’t have much in the way of modesty, do they?”

“No,” he said, “they surely don’t.”

“It was crowded today.”

“Yes.”

“And sandy.”

“Well,” he said, “it is the beach, dear.”

“Yes.”

“So did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes.”

But I wondered.

I’ll be honest—the next night I went out onto the balcony more to listen than to write. I wasn’t disappointed. They weren’t simply speaking more, they were saying more.

“Three days left,” the man said. “Will you be sad to go?”

The woman left that question unanswered by saying, “I’ve had a nice time so far.”

“Do you think we made the right decision?”

Silence, and in that silence was her answer—not a no, but not a yes either. The in-between answer of a divided heart.

“Do you remember the night you proposed to me?” she asked him. “You gave me that ring and I cried like a baby.”

“I seem to remember I was doing my own share of crying,” he said.

“I don’t think we should have sold it.”

More silence. Then the man said, “We don’t need a ring to let people know we love each other. And you’ve always wanted to see the ocean. It’s a long drive from Missouri. Gold’s worth a lot nowadays.”

“Three days left,” she said.

There was no towels draped over the railing the next night. No teasing. No conversation. Just the silence. So much so that after a while I did the unthinkable and craned my head around the wooden partition. Darkness.

They had left a day early.

I supposed the man was right. They didn’t need a ring. Taking his bride to a place she’d always wanted to see was a wonderful gift. A loving gift.

But I wondered. Making new memories that comfort us is a good thing, I thought. But not by sacrificing old memories that sustain us.

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

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