Heartache For The Holidays
New York – Trying to hail a taxi on a street corner in Manhattan at 5 in the afternoon is like trying to get one Buffalo’s attention as an entire herd rushes past.
You stand there like an idiot with your hand in the air, and the great yellow procession ignores you and rushes on by.
So I’m 20 minutes into this seemingly futile effort when a blue compact pulls in front of me and stops. There is a sign in the front window that reads: “Car for Hire.”
I don’t know if this is some sort of renegade cab driver or not, but at this point I don’t care.
I climb in the back seat and told the man in front where I wanted to go.
He is an elderly man, wearing a hat and thick glasses. We stop at a light as we go through Central Park.
The driver, who hasn’t spoken a word to this point, suddenly says, “It was five months today I lost my dear wife.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I reply.
“Five months ago today,” he repeats. “It’s tough, you know, this time of year.”
I imagined that it would be. For all the joy and hope Christmas brings to some, it can mean the searing pain of loneliness to others.
“How long were you married?” I ask.
“For 45 wonderful years,” the driver answers.
I’m sure I detect his voice breaking.
The man begins to cry. He takes off his thick glasses and wipes his eyes with his handkerchief. And we’re in rush-hour traffic. I’m concerned for my safety, but here’s an old man crying over his dead wife a week before Christmas.
He finally stopped crying and put his glasses back on.
“Before she died, ” he begins again, “she told me I would be OK. She had leukemia, you know. She knew she was dying, but I couldn’t accept it.
“She pulled me close to her and said, `You’re strong as a bull, you can make it without me.’ But it isn’t easy.”
“Any kids?” I ask.
He holds up four fingers. And then he starts crying again. And the glasses come off again and out comes the handkerchief again. This is a terribly delicate situation.
I thought about changing the subject to get my driver’s mind off his dead wife and back on the traffic. But what would I talk about – the weather?
“I met her in 1944,” he goes on. “Ever heard of Roseland?”
“The big dance place?” I ask.
“That’s the one. It was big back then. That’s where I met her, my wife. I walked in and she was the first girl I saw. She was wearing a white dress.
“I saw her and I noticed she was looking at me too, so I walked over, put my fingers under her chin and said, `Hello, gorgeous.’ That’s how the whole thing started. I just can’t believe she’s gone.”
“How old are you?” I ask the man.
“Sixty-six,” he answers.
“You’re still young,” I said, groping to keep up my end of the conversation. “Maybe you will find somebody else.”
“That’s what she told me before she died. She said I’d meet somebody else. I believe she’s up there in heaven looking down at me now. Maybe she’s even trying to find someone else for me.”
“Could be,” I say.
We arrive at my destination. I pay the guy, give him a generous tip and say, “Hang in there.”
“I was doing good until Christmas,” he says. His voice broke again. Off came the glasses again. He dried his eyes with the handkerchief again. Then he says goodbye and drives away.
Home alone in New York at Christmas. Only the movies could make it seem like anything but hell.