I never really did anything to deserve it all. By the time that she met me, I’d left off trying to get the hang of how other people lived and I was content to merely sit by the bridge and watch the water, sleeping wherever my fancy took me. Most people wouldn’t talk to me, much less write something for me. Of course, she wasn’t most people.
I suppose it was a while before I really understood how things were going. At first she’d just stop by and say hello, ask me about the river, offer me a sandwich or a cup of coffee. One day, I guess it was autumn, she brought two coffees and sat down with me. She made some small talk, then asked what I’d done before I came to this “leisurely existence,” as she put. I thought about it for maybe a minute, then I shrugged and said “nothing.” I didn’t feel like explaining myself, because anybody’s response to “nothing” is “Oh surely you don’t mean that, now really answer my question,” but I did mean it and I could see that very sentence hovering on her lips, so I asked her about what she did. She told me, and I have to say that I never knew life could be so interesting. She did have more brains and more heart and more money and just about more anything than me, but still, she did things with her life even the richest man alive might not think of. For one thing, she took a lot of chances -- like talking to me -- and she wasn’t afraid of trying again. “If I hadn’t been willing to ask the same question twice,” she told me “I wouldn’t have gotten the extra money I needed to go to college.” What guts.
We talked more after that, and things kinda changed. I know that I’m not the only person she ever talked to, in fact, she used to tell me about the lives of people from all parts of the city. It used to make me wonder how she ever had time to work and do her writing.
I can’t say how I knew that we loved each other. For a long while we didn’t talk about it, love being the deep and soulful thing it is, but something changes in the way you are with a person, so we both knew without having to be told. I wasn’t sure I approved of her loving me; it seemed more like she should marry someone with money so she could just write all she wanted. Still, I knew what it was like to love someone and not know if you’re loved back, so I tried little ways to let her know. I’m not good at courting, but I did what I thought would make her happy. I didn’t have the money to buy her the things that most sweethearts buy, things like chocolate, roses, and jewelry. I just did what I could. One day, I got a scrap of butcher paper and drew her flowers with a magic marker; she told me that she’d frame them and I think she did. I tried to compliment her on her hair or her clothes, and I found she liked hearing me talk about the river in the morning or what I dreamt last night. She kept bringing coffee, and sometimes there were cookies, and once in a while a couple of poems that she’d copy out by hand for me, both her poems and other people’s.
Then one day she handed me the poem. She gave it to me shyly, like the little girls in my elementary school gave Valentines to the boys they liked. “Read it?” she said, like she was saying a question, her voice full of hope and caution. This was something bigger, I knew, so I opened the folded paper carefully and read the poem slowly. I read it through twice and then I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just smiled a soft smile down at the ink and let my eyes go teary. She reached down and got a hold of my free hand, her soft little fingers wrapping themselves tight around my hard ones. “Thank you,” I whispered, and I meant it to the depth and breadth and height of my soul.