Last night, I had dinner with two friends in San Diego, the two women who, with me and Tony, made up our Spanish conversation and reading group. We met every Saturday at UCSD, and Tony and I would get there early and walk down to the bookstore and get coffee at the little café there, Perks. The barista there knew us, she spoke some Spanish and we would always chat a little while she made our drinks. Once we had our coffee, we would go back upstairs, find a good spot for our meeting, and wait for our friends to arrive.
Most of the time, we would read aloud from whatever book was our current choice. We started with short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and then read three young adult books by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. When Tony died, we were working on “En el Tiempo de las Mariposas” (In the Time of Butterflies) by Julia Alvarez. We would take turns reading, puzzling through unfamiliar words and phrases, and taking special delight in figuring out the ones that weren’t in the dictionary. My personal favorite was “carne de gallina” which literally translated means “chicken meat” but, in the context of the book we were reading, meant “goose bumps.”
At dinner last night we sat at our table, and piled our purses and bags on the empty chair. The chair that should have been Tony’s. We talked about him a lot. I have spoken to these friends on the phone and by email since Tony died, but this was our first time seeing each other. As we talked and cried and laughed, my eyes kept wandering to the empty chair. Probably if Tony had been there, if he were not gone, he would have been seated next to me. The empty seat was diagonally across from me, but that didn’t change its emptiness.
There was another empty chair tonight. Another dinner, two more friends. More conversation, much of it about Tony. More glances across at a chair that will never be filled again, not by Tony. As the talk tonight turned to movies and music, I thought about how much Tony would have contributed to the conversation. He was passionate about both things, movies and music. He would have loved being there. It was a gastro pub with an extensive beer list. He probably would have ordered some variety of stout. He would have worried about the food, worried about whether what he ordered would cause him to break out. He always worried about his skin, and yet when I mention that now everybody says that they never noticed any acne. I never did either. I only saw him.
I wish those chairs hadn’t been empty. I wish I could look across a dinner table just one more time, and see him there.