photo courtesy of pexels
By Grace Augustine
Ben and Hildy sat at the park from mid-morning until the sun went down. It wasn’t uncommon to see the couple every Saturday, choosing just the right spot to spread out the blanket. There was always a book, always laughter, always a picnic basket filled to the brim with snacks to share.
Theirs was a unique relationship. Ben, twenty years Hildy's senior, had lived a hard life, a life of prejudice at work, at church, and many other societal situations. He'd worked in the coal mines until age got the better of him. Retirement sent him into a deep depression, for which he was hospitalized. That's where he met Hildy.
Hildy, a sassy thirty-year-old, loved her work as a therapist on the psych floor of Trinity Hospital. She’d seen many come and go, and smiled when she remembered her part in their healing. She’d stopped by Ben’s room the day he was admitted. Her heart sank when she saw the uncommunicative, handsome older man sitting near the window.
“Hi, Ben. I’m Hildy. It’s nice meeting you,” she greeted, taking the older man’s hand in hers and smiling brightly.
Her greeting met with no response.
“I can see we’re going to have to do something to cheer you up.”
Ben turned toward Hildy and looked at her compassionate blue eyes. He shrugged his shoulders.
“What’s the use?” The deep voice questioned. “I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“Oh, now, that is just a lie, sir, and you know it. Before I snap my fingers, you’ll be waltzing out of here. I promise.”
Hildy continued meeting with Ben daily for the next two weeks. Each day she read excerpts to him from her favorite books. By the end of the second week, she noticed Ben smiling and engaging in conversation with her.
“I have a surprise for you, Ben. Get your sweater and come with me.”
Ben followed Hildy from the room. Soon they were walking hand in hand to the gardens at the hospital where they sat on a bench in the noon-day sun.
Hildy opened her book and read several poems from Edna St. Vincent Milay. Her voice was sweet and positive and soothing. She glanced at Ben and smiled when she saw him smiling, eyes closed, as he took in every word she read.
Each Saturday, Hildy led them to the same bench. Each Saturday, Ben held one side of the book and Hildy the other. Each took turns reading. Then, one day, it was time for Ben to be released from the hospital.
“You’re going home today, Ben.”
Ben sat with his elbows on his knees, hands folded, and head lowered. He wasn’t sure he should say what he was thinking, but went ahead anyway.
“Why did you do what you did, Hildy? Why did you read to me? Why were you kind to me? Not once did the color of my skin matter. Not once did my former profession matter. Not once did you judge me.”
Hildy patted Ben’s arm then grasped one of his hands in both of hers.
“Ben, I only see your heart. I see a loving, kind man who needed to be shown his worth.”
A tear fell down Ben’s cheek.
“Hildy, I don’t want to say goodbye to you.”
“Who says we have to say goodbye?”
Every Saturday, for the past five years, Hildy and Ben met at the park at 10 am. They sat on a blanket, they laughed and read books, they shared a meal and their souls with each other. And, when the sun went down, Ben walked Hildy to her car and hugged her tightly.
“I love you Hildy.”
“I love you, too, Ben.”