Eighty-eight was not so great for Marty Arons. There was a birthday party swirling around him in the senior facility, but he was mentally elsewhere, though physically imprisoned in his bed by the tubes and other indignities foisted on the frail body and spirit of a dying old man, tortured even more by a mind that was as sharp as it was that day so long ago…
It was 1944 and the world was at it again, shooting and bombing. And for Marty it was truly personal. This war had sent him all the way to a little one-horse air station in the California desert, 3000 miles away from his beloved Kate in Philadelphia. Now finally, after almost begging his military superiors, the Army had given him leave to return to the east to get married.
“Whoa! Good job Arons! You dog! What a catch!” said Marty’s barracks mate Lt. Tony Borg, as he looked at a photo of Kate.
“Yeah, Borg, she is. But you don’t know Kate. Her beauty isn’t all physical. It’s, it’s something else. Well, what it is…” Marty looked at Borg seriously. “She saved my life. Really. I was, I never told anyone this before. I was about ready to use a train to take me away from a useless existence. Before I could step on the track I heard someone call to me. I turned and thought I’d seen an angel, all in white. It was Kate. She was in her nurse’s uniform. She grabbed my arm and asked what was wrong. We went for coffee.”
“Well, why’d you want to kill yourself?”
“Borg, I just don’t know. I was lonely, I guess; always had been. My parents were immigrants and worked all the time, just to survive. No joy in the family. School meant nothing to me. I wasn’t the kind of kid other kids wanted to be friends with. What was the point of living?”
“But Kate made me see things differently. She also did something no one had ever done before- she listened to me- then thanked me for taking the time to talk with her!”
“So now you’re getting on a train instead of thinking of walking in front of it. Congratulations, Buddy. You’ve come a long way. How long since you’ve seen her?”
“Eleven months…three weeks...two days. Too long.”
“She is my angel. My angel will be waiting for me at the station.”
And waiting she was. The train pulled in at a fast clip as the tall, thin dark-haired Marty beheld a stunning radiant blur, an angel in a long red coat with a fur collar, and a black pillbox hat on top of her cascading brown hair that shown in the sunny, cool late winter Philadelphia morning.
The first look at his beloved after so long was overwhelming to Marty. As soon as the train stopped he dashed down the stairs and into Kate’s embrace.
Their reunion was interrupted by Kate’s father, Jack. Handing keys to Marty, Jack said, “I’ll take the trolley home. You kids take the car. Get your license and go someplace nice for lunch.”
The train that brought Marty home now pulled away leaving the pair standing on the platform on the brink of their life together as husband and wife.
“Mr. Arons…wake up. We’re ready to cut the cake! You want a piece of cake don’t you?” His caretaker put a plate in Marty’s shaky, bony hands. Around him blurry faces gathered.
“Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you…” Kate and Marty were married on March 18, 1944, which was also Marty’s 27th birthday. The wedding cake had candles on it.
Just days later the train did a U-turn and took Marty away again, back to California and a war that was on track to go another eighteen months. But soon it was Kate’s turn to take her leave and travel across the country to California where Mary had found a job and a little house for the two of them.
“What do you mean you want to leave, Mr. Arons? You belong here, with your new friends. This place is perfect for you!” But Marty was having none of it. “There is nothing here for me. I miss my old life. I miss my Kate, my angel.” Till death do us part. Marty couldn’t accept parting at death.
“What do you mean you want to leave, Kate? You belong here, with me and your new friends. This place is perfect for you!” But Kate was having none of it. “There is nothing here for me. I miss my old life.”
“I’m so sorry, Kate. I thought you would be happy here. Listen, why don’t you take the train back to Philadelphia for a few weeks to visit with your folks. If you like it better there, I’ll sell the house and join you.”
This time the train took Kate away from Marty, and he wondered if he’d even see her again. For a week, no word from her.
It was a phone call to Marty’s daughter. “You might want to come. Mr. Arons is fading. Be assured that he is in no pain, and we are keeping him comfortable.
It was a phone call to Marty. It was Kate. She was crying. Philadelphia was not like she remembered it. She wanted to come home to Marty. She missed him so much. He could not contain his joy, but decided to play a little. “Well, Kate, I think you should stay another week or so just to make certain you want to make your home with me in California.” Kate could not see Marty’s smirky smile through his stern-sounding admonishment. Then…”Oh, Kate. I can’t wait. I’m coming to see you! We’ll haunt our favorite hangouts from before!” He hung up the phone in gleeful anticipation, with a loud, clear “Yippee!” breathing deep and fast.
“Mr. Arons, your daughter will be here soon.”
“Oh, I miss you, my angel,” Marty said through raspy voice and half-closed eyes.
The caretaker knew the signs. She knew, “He is getting ready to go. It is normal for a dying person to speak to dead loved ones, just as if they see them. Just a trick of the mind.”
Marty’s eyes closed and his breathing became shallow and fast.
Marty was out of breath as he ran to catch the 88 train. “Eighty-Eight is great,” he smiled to himself as he leaped up the steps.
“My angel will be waiting for me at the station.”
And waiting she was. The train pulled in at a fast clip as the tall, thin silver-haired Marty beheld a stunning radiant blur, an angel in a long red coat with a fur collar and a black pillbox hat on
top of her cascading brown hair that shown in the sunny, cool late winter Philadelphia morning.