“Lord, how I love my life.” The sun was shining, birds were singing, and the green park with purple and pink flowerbeds, brown benches, and scurrying squirrels, looked as gorgeous as any storybook garden. “So why is my heart so torn and ragged?”
The college buildings rose up before Victoria’s eyes, a U-shaped arrangement of stone structures built in imitation of the grand European universities. A tower with a clock set inside a green cupola bore testimony to stronger eyes. She couldn’t see the hands, much less the numbers. But it didn’t matter. Her son’s campus tour would take three hours, so she had plenty of time before the long trek back home.
Out of five kids, Thomas was the youngest. And now it was his turn to spread his wings and fly away. The older four had fulfilled their destiny—college, good jobs, and two were married now. The second child, the only girl, had had a baby last winter.
Victoria was happy for them. She was thrilled that Thomas had found a college that he really liked and was eager to start classes in the fall. Everything was terrific. Wonderful. Blessed.
So why did an aching depression choke her soul?
A white mini-van pulled into the parking lot, and three kids tumbled out. A toddler scampered forward into the arms of a young woman…a big sister? Victoria’s heart clenched. The father, thirtyish with greying temples, and the mother, wearing a long summer dress, joined the clutch around the young woman. Hugs and hellos and comments mixed together into a bright cacophony of delight.
Victoria felt the tear before she realized she was crying. Why on earth was she upset? Couldn’t she be happy for this family reunion? Even though it wasn’t hers…and never would be again?
Terry had passed away four years ago. Despite the agony of loss, she had shouldered her responsibilities and raised the kids as they had always planned. And the kids had surpassed their parents’ every hope and dream.
But she had never looked any further…to a life beyond the kids. Beyond marriage. Beyond her responsibilities. Once Thomas moved into the dorm and out of the house, he would live his own life. Have meals with friends instead of with her. Do his own laundry. Well, most of the time. And have fun elsewhere.
Would home be home anymore?
Certainly, there would be get-togethers. Family dinners. Holidays. But her heart sank at the thought of it all. How her eldest wanted to spend last Christmas with his wife’s family. Of course, it was her turn. And the grandbaby—grandbabies eventually—would have to be shared as well. She couldn’t very well snatch the little ones and relive her happy motherhood.
No. She couldn’t really.
The happy family moved off toward the main entrance, a celebratory look on all their faces, except for one. A teen girl. She moped. In a bad mood probably. Victoria wanted to grab the child and shake her, get into her face and make her listen. You’ve only got a little time. Don’t waste it! Don’t ruin the day for the others. Life is so damn short.
The father took the teen under his wing as they went through the doorway, and the child peered up with adoring eyes. The father glanced away, a cloud passing over his face. He knew. A shadow loomed.
But distant laughter broke the spell, the door shut, and Victoria was left with the birds. She reached into her bag and pulled out a novel. Some mystery or another. Anything to distract her thoughts. To make the hours pass so she could go home again and live…just a while longer…
An old woman toddled near, hobbling with the aid of a cane. She stopped when she saw Victoria.
Matching benches stood across from each other. Victoria looked over. A large splotch of bird poop marred the other one. She grimaced and scooted aside. There was room after all.
The woman nodded in gratitude and inched her way near.
Victoria stood and helped her sit, suddenly terrified that the frail body would slip and break a bone, and she’d have to call 9-1-1 and…
Once settled, the lady chuckled. “I used to be a long-distance runner. Never guess it now.”
Victoria eyed the spare figure with new appreciation. “Really? How wonderful! I mean; that must’ve been very exciting.”
“Ronda the Runner…that was my name. I was something of a star here…long years ago. There have all my trophies in their wall cabinet, awards and such. I donated them when I sold my house. No point in keeping them. I know what I did. Memories are glorious…for a while. Then it’s time to let go.”
A sigh erupted from Victoria’s aching heart. She gazed at the flowers. A sudden image of ice and snow—the park covered in frozen death—enveloped her imagination. She heard her voice before she realized she had spoken. “And go where?”
Rhonda turned, her gaze sweeping over Victoria like a buyer at an auction. “Where ever life takes you. If you’re still above ground…make the best of it.”
“But when your heart hurts like it is being ripped in two? What then? When your old life is over and you have no new life to start?”
Rhonda waved a wrinkled hand and peered into the distance. “I remember…the day my sister was killed in a car crash. We were twins. It was like my body had burned with hers in the flames.” She peered at her hands. “When I looked in the mirror, I saw a living being…but vacant eyes. Like I had died with her.” With a grunt, Rhonda straightened. “But it was a lie. I wasn’t dead. Rita was dead. I had to discover how to make a new life. Grow a new identity without my twin.”
Tears flooded Victoria’s eyes, and an ache swelled in her throat. She couldn’t have spoken if the Queen of England implored her to.
A bell tolled three times. Another half-hour and Thomas would be ready to leave.
Rhonda patted Victoria’s knee. “Lost everyone…or just someone special?”
“Everyone special, just one at a time.
“That’s how it goes…if you live long enough.”
“I’d rather not.”
“Not your choice. You could try to cheat. But that’d just pass things along down the road. You’re going to face loss and misunderstanding and death…in a million forms before the end.” She chuckled. “You know what they used to say to me during the long practice runs when my whole body ached? ‘No pain, no gain.’” She waved away a passing insect. “Stupid phrase. It isn’t the pain that teaches you…it’s knowing that it won’t last…that it’s just a part of something bigger. Something better. I never expected to win anything. Not after Rita’s death. But I did. I won medal after medal. I learned I could still love my sister…even when I couldn’t see her or feel her. I endured. And now my great-grandson is starting his career as a runner. Wonderful boy. I’m happy for him.”
“So you married…and had a family…and they moved on… And your husband?”
“Cancer got him fifteen years ago.”
Victoria stared at the ground.
A sparrow flittered on the grass before them, hopping about, as if doing a happy dance.
Rhonda shrugged. “Well, I best start back now…it’ll take me a while to get to the reception area. They’re having a little party for him.” She wavered to her feet.
Victoria stood and reached out. “You want a hand? I can walk back with you. It’ll be time to pick up my son soon.”
“If you’d like. We can share the path before we go our separate ways. Got to be glad for these little things.”
At the doorway, Thomas waved at his mother.
Victoria let go of Rhonda’s hand and watched the old woman unceremoniously disappear into a bright interior.
Thomas grinned. “Helping old ladies, Mom?”
Victoria took her son’s arm, the dull ache settling into calm acceptance. “The other way around, more like.” She wanted to tell him—”Don’t laugh, my boy. It’ll be your turn, soon enough.” But that would be cruel. Now was his time to smile and be glad.
A fresh wave of love comforted her soul. She was happy for him.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
“There are many excellent stories in this collection.” ~McEvoy
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