We sit at the table to enjoy a nice, quiet, lengthy dinner with plenty of conversation and enough wine to keep the words flowing.
We meet our usual food server and exchange pleasantries with him, we ask about his kids and he reminds us that one of our favorite dishes is featured tonight.
We are in one of our secret, neighborhood places where refuge and comfort are always part of the menu.
Sitting off to the back, in a fairly isolated space, we prepare to partake of an introduction of sorts – will the place charm our guests as much as it did us the first time we visited?
My heart is tentative and filled with anticipation, hoping that the place, the food and the service do not disappoint.
This is a celebration of sorts – a birthday for the girl and a promotion for the boy – it all has to go perfect.
I warn them about the things I consider basic fare on the menu and just as I expect, he orders them regardless of my disclaimer.
I’m prejudiced in favor of my local hangout and I don’t want anything to tarnish its reputation. My wife, Yvonne, is talking up the place as well, beaming with joy that we are sharing this with ‘the kids’ tonight. She, as well, prejudiced in favor of our setting.
Everything is going well, compliments for the food are being lavished, our empty plates echo the opinions and we pull off the evening we wanted to have without a hitch.
The table, however, feels crowded. As I look at the boy to my right, it is almost as if another chair has been placed between us and someone is sitting there.
This is the boy I saw on the day of his birth, the boy who grew up by my side in a series of nerdy misadventures only I could describe, this is the boy who consumed my worry for most of my twenties and thirties and some of my forties. This is the boy who grew tall beyond my heights and in the span of our mutual lifetimes became this complex, solid, driven human being. This is the boy who married the girl who changed everything. Everything.
The boy is no longer a boy. The boy exists only in the shadow of memory that lines my history. The girl, is now a forever part of that history.
It is only after this realization that I determine why I feel crowded, that I acknowledge what has filled the gap between us.
There he is, clearly next to me, occupying the imaginary chair that only I can see between the boy and me. Between us, silently sprinkling our conversation with talk of accomplishment, dedication, determination and perseverance, he remains.
He’s been with us all night. He’s been with me for years. He makes me beam.
As we finally leave the table, Pride gets up along with us and walks out of the restaurant as we all stroll toward the tomorrows that await.