Sometimes it is almost as if we share a secret that neither of us knows.
I liked him the first day we met. He was easy. He was also brilliant, a PhD in some arcane area of chemistry. He impressed with that accent close enough, to my American ear, to British, suggesting the refined, authoritative, dignified and staid persona of a Brit, yet relaxed, fun seeking and wide ranging.
He was not yet married to the sister who had brought him along for introduction. Food, drink, and conversation. And laughs. The sisters were and are always good for happy laughter, one of many qualities that attracted me to the sister I had married. Perhaps it should, then, have been no surprise that he laughed as readily and happily as did we.
Fun happened. Conversations serious and silly. He knew a lot about a lot. Music and film, politics and history and current events. He was also remarkably handy, good at fixing things and building things, so different from me.
He became a brother-in-law when we already were friends, on one major holiday sneaking off together to a fast food drive-thru when our mother-in-law's dinner threatened to be hazardous. And other adventures until the day he took his half of the sister combo and returned to the other side of the equator, the other side of the date line, the other side of the world.
Contact was infrequent -- no internet, email, discounted phone calls -- and visits rare, years apart. Visits always happily fun, enjoyed, savored, perhaps shared with slight reluctance with other family or friends.
After more than four decades we are all retired. The most recent visit seems better than ever. The four of us and the two of us. Some old stories repeated, others told for the first time. He and I discuss the husband of an aunt of the sisters, the uncle a minor artist whose life details fascinate my friend. We plan a trip to a gallery that offers for sale some of the uncle's work; the pieces have remained unsold for years. That must await the next visit.
We come upon, by accident, a small collection of the uncle's photos dating from the 1920's before he became a husband and imagine his life then on the subtropical island. We find more photos taken by uncle and aunt from behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960's and for fun speculate about a life of espionage -- and for whom. Double agents, perhaps?
The visit ends, goodbyes are simple and straightforward. A long hug and short kiss for the sister, a handshake for him. And they are off.
Hooray for technology. From the other side of the world we see and speak to each other. The sisters start, chatting away as women, as girls, as sisters. His glance meets mine and nothing is said, no eyebrow lifted, no wink or nod. Perhaps a slight smile from each of us. That unknown secret.
It probably has something to do with being married to the sisters for so many years now. He knows the stories; he is a part of many of them. And after all these years of knowing our in-law family, its characters, its history, its idiosyncrasies, he can appreciate even the stories of which he was not a part in a way nobody else can.
I suppose he might say the same of me.
Originally appeared in the print publication, Existere.