Walking the dogs this morning at the VA complex, sunshine bright, warming the air like Winter is a long forgotten memory. Even the boys feel it, dancing with a touch of Spring fever, exuberant in their canine delight to be alive on such a glorious day.
There is a short stretch where the pavement ends and we either have to walk in the road, skirting a long bit of shrubbery, or we can opt to head across the loading dock area—a shortcut of sorts that connects to the next sidewalk. We usually take the loading dock.
As we’re crossing this morning, walking parallel to the road, a car drives past then does this bizarre, rapid U-turn straight into the loading area. I wrench the boys back next to me as they were at the end of their leashes and directly in line with the car. I stop, wait for the driver to park, then make a wide berth around him until I reach the sidewalk.
Behind me I hear someone say “Titi.” (I don’t have a clue how you would spell that, but it sounded like tee tee). I ignore it, keep walking, nothing to do with me. Now, a bit stronger, “Titi!” I vaguely register the voice, but my mind is drifting elsewhere Then I am completely stunned when the name is said again, becoming a sort of anguished wail, so painful it's almost a physical force at my back.
Okay, something is truly wrong here. My first thought is that a vet is in need of assistance--after all, I’m walking through the VA complex and the loading dock is attached to the main hospital. I quickly turn, not sure what’s going on.
An elderly man has jumped out of his car, left the driver’s door hanging open and is hurrying toward me. Again, he says, “Titi,” but when he gets closer, he abruptly stops as if he’s run into a brick wall. He stares at me. I am horrified to see his eyes shimmering with tears.
“I’m sorry,” I say, unsure what I’m apologizing for. He swallows and I can almost feel the lump going down my own throat. Here is pain.
“I…I thought…” he mumbles, shakes his head then starts to turn away.
“Can I help you?” I ask. “Is there anything I can do?”
He looks at me, gives me a sad, weary, old man smile. “I’m sorry, it’s just you look so much like my wife.”
I wait a beat, but he just stands there, lost in his loneliness. “Titi was your wife?”
He nods. “Of course you couldn’t be her, she’s been gone a long time now, but you look so…it just surprised me, that’s all.”
I walked toward him until we were about a foot apart. He looked at me, I looked back, then I said, “I thought I saw my dead husband the other day holding hands with another woman in the grocery store and I almost flew into a jealous rage.”
He barked out a laugh as I grinned at him, then I put a hand on his arm. “It’s bad enough to lose someone, but to suddenly think you see them makes it worse, doesn’t it?” The old man didn’t say anything. “I’m sorry our paths crossed today,” I said softly.
“No,” he murmured, “it was good to see her again, even for just a minute.” He patted my shoulder, smiling as he said, “You’re a good girl. Thank you.”
I watched him walk back to his car, stood quietly with the dogs as he gave me a small wave before driving away.
I waited until he was out of sight before I let the tears fall. I think being a doppelganger might be worse than seeing one...