At twilight: A memory and a toast to a loved one at the ‘Abbey’

The author moves step by step on the journey-road of grief. Photo: Stained glass windows of Freemason Abbey Restaurant

WASHINGTON, January 8, 2013 — The hostess seats me at a table for two, upstairs in full view of the stained-glass windows, which had long ago looked upon a faithful congregation. In a different fashion, they still do. The “Abbey,” short for Freemason Abbey, grandly stands at the corner of Freemason Street in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. Its large hand-hewn wooden doors still guard the folks inside, who now dine at tables, booths or the bar.  The pews removed sometime ago to somewhere.

The atmosphere is not as austere as it might have been more than a century ago. The Abbey is now filled with giddy, playful and regular customers, while the kaleidoscope-like windows recall a different crowd and filter the twilight of evening.

I order a Tanqueray and tonic as you and I would have done. Yours always with lemon, mine always with lime. Playfully, we would order while laughs abound within the confines of our booth.  Usually, there would be at least four of us.

The Freemason Abby Restaurant, Norfolk, Va.

Suddenly, I become aware this is the second time I am here alone, since you’ve passed into the presumed and proverbial “better world,” after that Pac-Man disease devoured you.  Being here alone this time is somehow harder than the first, when I was still raw last January.

My drink arrives on time with lime. The waitress sets it front of me. I delay ordering food, as you would have. There was always the delicious catching up to do when we hadn’t seen each other for a while. I realize I don’t have the stomach for food right now, anyway. The waitress leaves.

She’s nice, I think to myself with a bit of relief. I raise my glass to the absent you as if you’re across the table from me, knowing you probably had imagined me, at the right moment, doing exactly this. Never wanting to disappoint you and always wanting to honor you, I silently make a toast to you.

It makes me sad, though, this act, this moment of remembrance. It is one more moment. Another step forward on the journey-road of grief I take with great reluctance because it feels like another step away from you.

I console myself with the knowledge that you would want me to keep moving ahead. Oh, perhaps, looking back occasionally with love and thoughtful reminisces of all the good times. You would want that, and I do too. 

Yet, it doesn’t soothe the deep, relentless ache of your absence.  There will be other steps, other memories. I wish with all my heart, you could be here to share them with me, when they come. I stifle a burst of tears and a nearly uncontrollable urge to run out of there.

Out of nowhere and at this precise moment, of all moments, a woman dressed in black, brushes past my table. I look up as she, unaware, slightly bumps my chair. There before my eyes, in bold white lettering, on the back of her black blouse, is written a single word, TWILIGHT. I’m not pre-occupied with the reason she is wearing this word on the back of her shirt, because its significance for me is indisputable.

My breath, momentarily, leaves me. You and I had shared so often, over many years, how twilight was our favorite time of day. More importantly, we spoke of it nearly every evening those last two weeks of your life, as curtains were drawn for you to watch twilight approach, and the mist in your eyes tried not to betray your thoughts. With a knowing nod and in searing silence, we had agreed once again on its lovely, heavenly light. I had turned to look out again so you couldn’t detect the anguish in my eyes.

I motion for the waitress. “I’ll have another Tanqueray and tonic, please, this time with lemon.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. Did I make a mistake before?”  

“Oh no, not at all, this one’s not for me.” I grin.

Puzzled, she nevertheless returns my smile and walks away. Gin and tonic with lemon in hand, I turn to gaze out the stain-glassed windows and tip my glass as twilight begins to slowly slip away.


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Geri E. Garnett

The versatile Geri Garnett is a writer, artist, and she was a cabaret singer and dancer, as well as a hands-on teacher’s aide to autistic and hearing impaired children; and served as Supervisor & Events Planner for an international law firm

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