I saw Mr. and Mrs. Thomas today. They didn't see me. I was in my car, and they were at their van, loading and unloading Mr. Thomas's scooter and wheelchair, then getting in and driving away. I knew it was her because I had crossed paths with her a few years ago at the YMCA pool and we spoke briefly. Mrs. Thomas was my 10th grade math teacher. Mr. Thomas had been the school sports team photographer who remembered the name of everyone he'd ever met even once, including mine. As I watched them from a distance, they were all smiles and ease with eachother, just like I remembered them from high school.
Mr. and Mrs. Thomas were the first black/white interracial couple I knew. I met them individually before realizing that they were married. (The photo of their teenage son on Mrs. Thomas's desk led to the ah-ha moment.) I knew nothing of the state of their marriage, of course, but they seemed happy when I saw them at school, and once when I ran into them at the mall when I was still in high school. In college, I thought of them when I started to date Firmin, and then later when a fellow student informed me (with that smug tone that girls half in love with their professors adopt) that Professor So-and-So didn't believe interracial marriages could work in the United States. Of course Professor So-and-So was a black man divorced from a white woman who apparently found it easier to be a psudo-victim than simply a failure at marriage. But I was only 20 then, and his pronouncement gave me pause. The memory of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas gave me hope.
When I met Mrs. Thomas at the pool a couple years ago, I wondered about her husband. It had been so many years -- enough for even a once-happy marriage to have bottomed out or for death to change everything. For fear of causing pain or embarrassment, I didn't ask. So today, when I saw her with the man on the scooter, I leaned forward and squinted. He was in shadow that made his skin color hard to discern and I didn't have a good view of his face. Plus, I saw Mr. Thomas less frequently than his wife when I was a teenager. She stood in front of me daily for a year, while he took my cheer leading photos a few times and said "Hi, Stephanie!" like he was really, truly glad to see me on the rare occasions we crossed paths. I couldn't swear in a courtroom that the man I saw today was Mr. Thomas, but when the spring sunlight caught his brown skin, his salt and pepper hair, and his warm smile, I was as sure as I needed to be. Most of all, the two of them together just looked like Mr. and Mrs. Thomas. They exuded the same easy camaraderie and affection, the same friendliness and sense of stability. I was so happy to see them. They still give me hope.
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