The love of my life reincarnated a few days short of our fifth anniversary. We hadn't gotten around to the wedding part yet, because we weren't in a hurry. It was nearing his 31st birthday, and had just passed my 30th.
I say reincarnated. He died; but I think his spirit, his soul, his whatever, immediately returned. If you're sitting in a room with just one other person, and they get up and walk out of the room, it's obvious to you, right? That's exactly how it felt when Grayson passed away. It was as though a part of him got up and left the room, left the serene half-smile on his old body's face as his grip on my hand slackened.
He'd been in the hospital for over a week with some sort of fever he couldn't shake. He hadn't even felt out of sorts until he'd collapsed upon our kitchen floor, in the middle of making dinner with me. Just the day before he died, my best friend Alice was admitted to the hospital to give birth to her first child. It's almost too much for a person to take, moving back and forth between happy expectancy to fear and a rapidly diminishing hope.
I didn't grieve the way maybe I should have, since that "he just got up and left" feeling persisted. As the nurses rushed into the room, I followed the feeling out of it. I immediately lost whatever trail I'd been on, and burst into tears in the hallway. More nurses rushed in the general direction of Alice's room, so I followed them for a distraction. I couldn't bring myself to be happy about the new baby, but at least I could pretend for a few minutes.
When I passed the threshold of Alice's room, I was overwhelmed with the sense that Grayson was standing near me. I looked down to see the wailing baby in her arms, who had abruptly ceased crying as soon as I showed up. My friend looked so exhausted, so happy, and a little out of it. She'd opted for a drug-free birth until the contractions started, then quickly changed her mind.
"What's his name?" I asked her. She looked down at her new son.
"We're going to call him Alex." Alex and Alice. Well, that would never be confusing.
Grayson's funeral, every day leading up to it, and a few days after it, felt like a dream to me. I cried until I couldn't cry anymore, and then I manged to find a new reserve of tears and kept going. I found myself drawn to visiting Alice, her husband Nathan, and their new baby. She returned home, both mother and son with a clean bill of health. The nursery was painted with the browns and greens of a forest. I knew Alex would grow up well-loved, and I was both hesitant and delighted when Alice asked me to be his godmother. I didn't know what implications that would hold for later, but it at least allowed me to stay close to the family and watch him grow up.
I babysat him when both Alice and Nate had to work to support their house payments, car, and baby. I lived only a few blocks away, so it was never an inconvenience for me. I picked him up from school for a few years, listening to his incessant and excited babble about stars, oceans, other kids, and bugs. He loved playing with bugs.
I listened to his awkward and clumsy stories about girls he had crushes on at school, and strangely enough, had to resist the feelings of jealousy that crept up inside me. I was a middle aged woman, for god's sake! I couldn't think of a more inappropriate feeling to have.
I alternated between deep depression, and joy that Alex-Grayson was growing up in such a blessed home. Alice started getting worried. It's been 10 years; isn't that long enough to grieve and move on? Shouldn't I be finding someone else to be with? I told her I was happy, and she let it go. I don't think she ever believed me when I said it.
When her son turned 16, he started becoming moody. He'd lash out at his parents, especially his mother, and occasionally me. I had a hard time scolding him like an obnoxious teenager instead of treating him like an adult I'd fallen in love with just over two decades previous. As he grew older, I found he was more and more like the Grayson I remembered.
I never told anyone about the situation. Who'd believe me? It would sound like the death of my boyfriend had broken some tenuous hold I had on reality. Sometimes, I even doubted myself. Deep in the night, with one half of my bed remaining cold, I wondered if I'd just talked myself into believing in reincarnation to comfort myself. Surely Grayson hadn't just disappeared into the ether. Surely, the only reason I found myself impatiently waiting for some sort of milestone in Alex's life was because he was actually someone I'd known before he was born. I rejected the advances of other men, I craved contact with someone and had nothing. I was waiting and suffering for something that was pathetic at best, and insane at worst.
Alex kept growing. Went to college, where I could no longer really keep an eye on him without actually stalking him. Alice found me in his room once while he was away, looking through his things to see if he kept a journal. She joked with me about it, but was uncomfortable with me after that. She was a little more wary when I was around. Nate hadn't changed. Alex wrote me letters as if I were his best friend, telling me he missed my advice, and my cooking. He talked to me about women he was having trouble with, and said he felt like he was missing something. I couldn't tell him that he was missing me.
I went to his college graduation, him 22 and me a ripe old age of 52. The age he should have been, had he not been taken away from me. What if he never remembered who he'd been? What if he never remembered me the way he should have? I tried to fill my life with new hobbies and my work, but even more so now that Alex was grown up, I found myself distracted. Impatient. Was I waiting for nothing?
We lost touch for a few years, then. I could no longer have children, and I was opening myself up to the idea of attempting to find someone. He no longer sought my advice, and had been with someone for at least three years. I was lonely. Terribly lonely. The pain of losing Grayson the first time around really hit me then, because I'd finally let go of the hope that I'd meet with him again in my lifetime. I sobbed myself to sleep on a nightly basis. Alice and I no longer spoke, and Nate and I were barely more than casually friendly with each other. Other friends of mine suggested I get an animal, that it would cheer me up. So I did; a cat and a dog who managed to get along well enough to share my couch with me.
At 61, I couldn't get out and do as many of the things I used to love. I could still work in the garden, but I couldn't go hiking nearly as often. I did a little bit of traveling, but was mostly content to do old lady things. Knitting, reading, baking. I knew that I could have done more with my life, I could have let Grayson go and moved on. Anyone who reads this story might call me foolish. I waited for love... for nothing. But I had no regrets; I'd never desperately wanted kids, and the pets were handfuls enough. I'd learned bits and pieces of other languages to utilize when I'd gone traveling. And ultimately, I liked to think I helped raise Alex to be a good man.
My doorbell rang. It was just a few days into autumn, and the light coming through the windows was golden and low in the sky. My house smelled like apple cider and hopefully not like old ladies. I'd always made a point to make sure I never smelled like an 'old person'. When I opened the door, I nearly dropped the mug I'd been holding. Instead, I just splashed drops of hot cider all over my shirt.
"Alex!" He regarded me seriously, and didn't smile even after I reached out to hug him. "What's wrong? Is everything okay?" I asked, concerned. I hadn't heard from him in years. He looked at me, into me, and through me.
"Natalie. I know who you are, and I'm so, so sorry." Without hesitating, he leaned down and pressed his lips against mine. 31 years of waiting disappeared in that instant. I'd lost valuable time, but he'd found me again. The wait was over.