Happy Anniversary

"You hit the wrong note."

"Since when do you know piano keys?"

"Don't you remember how much I loved to sing?" Tommy said, as he nudged me over on the piano bench. "You'd play a song from your 'Easy Rogers and Hart,' and I'd croon, like Sinatra."

"Of course, I remember," I said, as I conjured his lean hip next to mine. "You wanted to be a lounge singer, right? It's sad you never got your wish."

"Who's sad," he said. "Do I look sad?"

I lifted my fingers from the piano keys and turned to take him in. It was only his apparition, for he had been dead for more than three years, but I welcomed his occasional appearances with his restored voice.

The image I selected was not the one from his last days in our home with hospice. Instead, I chose his likeness from our wedding day in Las Vegas -- January 13, 1998, 18 years ago.

"Actually, you look happy. Is it because it's our anniversary? Is that why you've dropped in for a visit?"

"Bingo," he said. "Our wedding day was the second happiest of my life."

"And the first?"

"When I met you," he said. "Two years before our marriage."

"It was a whirlwind romance, wasn't it?" I remembered how we had bumped into each other early mornings when he was out for a jog, and I was walking Sasha, my Golden Retriever. When I learned Tommy was about my age, and also divorced, I boldly asked him out.

"One date; that was all it took," he said, turning around on the bench to lean his elbows on the keyboard. "I knew right away I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you."

I was pleased to see him so relaxed. It felt familiar; for Tommy was an easy-going guy. Even when he was challenged by his brain degeneration and aphasia, he was a low-maintenance husband. "So, sweetheart," I said, continuing our chat to keep him near. "I assume you've been monitoring me. What's your view from on high?"

"First the good stuff," he said, as he pulled out a scorecard and pencil before shucking his suit jacket that had the boutonniere still pinned. I smiled when I saw the tiny golf pencil that he often stowed after games. Evidently, Tommy had been keeping score on his wife.

He studied the card and said, "I love that you're still wearing your wedding band. Eighteen years. Quite an accomplishment for a second marriage." Then, he reached over to touch the inexpensive gold ring we purchased at Service Merchandise. His left hand was clear, for I had removed his own ring and saved it with his watch, wallet, and other long-favored possessions.

"So even though you're no longer around," I said, "I should consider us married for the full eighteen?" I didn't think this was accurate, but I liked the sound of it. "Okay, what else is on the plus side of my score?"

"I'm happy to see you at the piano again," he said, "but I don't see much progress." He tousled my hair and smiled, just to be sure I knew he was kidding. "And, I'm relieved you're surrounded by so many friends. I don't have to worry that you're helpless without me."

"So, I take it you're glad I left L.A. and returned home?"

"Actually, I understood why you moved there," he said. "I saw that my death left a hole in your life and you missed being married. I think you believed your L.A. family could fill that void. But of course, no one could replace me." Then, he rose and danced a bit of a shimmy, as he often did when he wanted to show off.

He placed the scorecard on the piano's ledge so I could read more. It was lovely to see his familiar handwriting, the same script he used for daily post-it notes to me, and the matching loops and curves in the long, joyful letter he wrote after our wedding.

"Let me play this piece I'm trying to learn," I said. "Remember?" Then, I plunked out the notes to I'm Glad There Is You.

Tommy grinned. "Faith and Jill walked me down the aisle to a CD of Johnny Hartman. How could I ever forget?"

As I started to play and sing, In this world of ordinary people, I felt a kiss on my cheek and then a draft on the piano bench. "Wait, sweetheart," I said, grabbing thin air. "Happy 18th Anniversary!"