Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”
An old man rolled his motorized wheelchair near a grave and deposited a bouquet of white roses. He spent some time staring out at the faded letters that once bore her favorite quote from a beloved author. Slowly, he lowered his head and rested his chin on his chest in deep prayer. Some moments passed and the old man’s caretaker standing some distance behind him was worried the man might have fallen asleep—or worse. But gingerly, the old man raised his head, and without so much as a word, he started to wheel himself back to the car, but not before plucking a single white rose and tucking it in the breast pocket of his tweed jacket.
The caretaker scratched his head and wondered if the old man finally lost it. But he waited patiently by the car until the man was safely inside. He then started the car and made their way back to the nursing home. Against the staff’s wishes at the old man’s delicate health, the caretaker reluctantly drove him to the cemetery an hour ago to have the man pay his respects as he had done over the past 20 years.
Safely back in his room, the old man carefully took out the white rose and laid it next to a red envelope by his nightstand. He opened the drawer and took out an ornately carved wooden box containing his most prized possession, letters written by a lost love. He placed the red envelope on top of the box and proceeded to write to his family. After finishing, he left the box sitting on his desk drawer with the red envelope on top of the box and put the note on top of the envelope. He then quietly laid down on bed to sleep, clutching the white rose close to his chest.
An hour later, the old man passed away with a knowing smile on his lips. His small withered hands still holding on to a single white rose. The nurses and staff said he died peacefully in his sleep and surmised that he may have been having a pleasant dream. Only the caretaker seemed to notice a small tear that made it’s way pass the man’s bony cheek to splat over the side of the pillow. He knew that tear was a happy one, full of hope and meaning. With as much reverence as he could muster, he closed his eyes and prayed silently for the old man he had come to respect.
I am an old man now. Too old and too tired to find my lost love. My children are all grown up and my wife has long passed away. Very soon, I will fade from this world too. While I was happy and lived a full life, I can honestly say it wasn’t without some regrets. My biggest one is that I did not try hard enough to love you.
I want to lay my eternal rest next to you, as I was not able to do while you were still within my reach. But social conventions say a man should be buried next to his family. So with a heavy heart, I let my children and grandchildren bury me where they may with specific instructions to include this letter and the ones you wrote to me so many years ago. I’m sorry, my love. I couldn’t burn any of them as you told me to. I wanted the love you had for me to resonate for as long as I can make it last.
I have heard of your decades years ago. And to this day, I regret that I wasn’t there with you on your final days. I should very much liked to have held your hand as you took your last breath. There is so much that I wanted to say, so much I wanted to share with you. But as fate would have it, I’d lose my nerve every time I tried. Something or someone always seem to get in the way, a common friend who wants to be your suitor or another so-called friend flirting with you. But I confess, it was mostly my pride that kept me apart from you.
I went to your funeral and waited in the shadows long after your family and friends have gone home to mourn you in private. I laid a dozen, long-stemmed white roses in your tombstone, which was engraved with your favorite James Joyce quote, “I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.” I picked the blossoms myself because you have always remained pure and innocent in my eyes. I hope you approve. Every year, I visited your grave and left white roses on the day of our anniversary. Yes, I know you think I have forgotten it all those years ago. I should have because I chose someone else after all. But somehow, I couldn’t seem to forget that on one glorious day in the throes of our teenage years, you let me read your diary. That was the sweetest answer I’ve been longing for all year long. I know it was a lifetime ago, but that day is forever etched in my memory as vividly as if it was just yesterday.
My darling, I am so sorry to have caused you untold pain. I should have kissed you when you when you tried to send me away because you thought wrongly that you couldn’t make me happy. Should’ve wrapped you in a tight embrace when you returned all the letters I once wrote to you. Should’ve whispered sweet nothings in your ear to make you believe how much I wanted to be beside you always.
I finally had my eyes opened when our friends told me how much you cared about me. Your bestfriend in high school gave me some of the letters left over from the ones that you failed to return to me when we broke up. She said I had no idea just what our relationship meant to you and the extent of the suffering you endured because of my indifference. Even my own bestfriend told me of the lifetime of tears you shed for me. If I knew then what I know now, I would have moved heaven and earth to get you in my arms again. My honey, my dearest, my sweet . . . you were the love of my life. I just wished I have had the courage to admit that then. I would’ve fought with every strength I possessed to have you back in my life.
I know these are just words thrown in the wind but I pray dearly that you know just how much I loved you. That I still love you until my last dying breath and beyond. My only consolation right now is that I hope I would see you again soon. This time, please let me hold your hand and I promise you, I will never let it go.
Until then, I will remain yours eternally.