How Did I Get Here, And Where Is The Next Turn?

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Brought up Nov 25, 2014

A Short Story

A Life Well Lived

She stood on the very edge and looked down. Everything looked small from up so high, quiet and peaceful. There were no voices nagging at her, no one tugging her in different directions, begging for her notice. Just the wind caressed her face, whipping loose strands of her dark auburn hair.

It was a cliché of course, the start of it all. There was that knock at the door that cool spring like day the end of February, three years earlier. She had been scrubbing the bathroom tile, her bubblegum pink gloves, the kids teased her about, covered in a foamy goo. It seemed that the kids teased their mother about everything now that they were all grown, or mostly grown. Her youngest would graduate high school in just three months.

The knock at the door interrupted her thoughts of the party her son wanted on his graduation night, which would also be two days after he turned eighteen. She was planning the list of things they would need for decorations, a cake large enough to feed at least his football and baseball buddies, the cheerleaders, and all the family that would come. She made a mental note to call the new bakery in town to get the prices and such.

She stopped her hand in mid air as she reached for the shower head hose to rinse the tile. There it was again, knocking. She pulled off her gloves and tossed them on the side of the tub. Jake must have forgotten his key again.

Her bare feet made little noise as she trotted down the stairs, ready to playfully scold her son for his forgetfulness. She grinned as she turned the deadbolt and threw the door open.

It wasn’t Jake.

“Mrs. Norman? Mrs. Theodore Norman?” She saw the tan of the state trooper’s uniform, his badge, his gun.

She nodded, “Sara,” she said as the smile faded. She felt her knees buckle as the trooper began talking.

“Accident… hospital… someone to call?” his voice faded in and out as he reached out and caught her.

In the car, she called her daughter, who was at a friend’s house, working on a class project for their biology class. Kate was at a college twenty miles away, and lived at home to cut the cost. She called her oldest son at his job at a local garage where he was the youngest to manage it in it’s history, and it’s most successful, the owner said. Sara asked him to go pick up Jake at his baseball practice. She trusted Jamie to be gentle with Jake as he told him of the accident. Jake’s phone was off for practice.

Sara told both the same thing. Their father had been crossing the parking lot at home improvement store when a car going too fast had hit him. That was all she knew. That was all the trooper had told her.

She gave her name at the nurses‘ station, and was quickly led her to the emergency room cubical where her husband lay.

Ted wasn’t moving. His eyes were closed. A blanket covered him from the chin down. Machines stood quietly against the wall, wires coiled uselessly on the floor. There was blood on the blanket.

Jamie, Kate, and Jake came rushing in ahead of the same nurse. A doctor in bloody scrubs was talking, but Sara couldn’t understand his words that came in fractured sounds to her brain. “Too much damage. Nothing… do… “

She heard gasping sounds, a sobbing sound, deep voiced from her left and right. A feminine voice almost screaming, “Daddy!” over and over.

It was growing dark as Sara and her children walked out of the hospital. Kate, sedated, was being led by her younger brother, Jamie had his arm around his mother’s waist. She could hear him talking, bits and pieces. Sunday, have to make arrangements Monday. Sara was dry eyed, but her mind was reeling.

How could Ted be dead? He had just gone to get some screws for the old garden bench he had rescued from the trash of some family down the street. He was going to fix it up and put it under the old maple tree in the back yard. He had bought white paint, had already cut the boards to replace the rotted ones. It was going to go so well with the little iron tables he had bought for her at a garage sale, and painted white. How could he be dead? He only needed eight more screws. How could he be laying on that bed not moving, not breathing, pale, his eyes closed?

The next days went as that day. Later she would remember bits and pieces, but it was a jumble. She thought of a movie she had seen where the wife had predicted her husband’s death a week before, and her days until his death had been mixed up like hers seemed, only all of hers were after, not before the death.

All the children went with her to the funeral home that Monday morning. Jake and Kate both missed school for a week. Jamie missed work for three days.

The funeral was on that Wednesday, and all the family and friends milled around in the church’s fellowship hall after, eating and telling funny Ted stories. The time he went fishing with his brother and two buddies and all they caught was an old lawn chair that Ted wanted to bring home and fix. The first car that Ted and Jamie rebuilt that Jake and Jamie had retrieved from the store parking lot . The camping trips, the trip to the planetarium where Ted had asked if they could have a lunar side seat. Everyone had stories. They all agreed that Ted knew how to really live.

Sara sat mute. She still had not shed a tear.

The tears did come, that Wednesday evening as the boys were carrying in potted plants from the funeral. Sara had sat down on the couch, looking at Ted’s old recliner. They had fought last week over that chair. He loved it. She hated it. She had found a new one exactly the same color as the other furniture that had been new the year before, and she wanted to buy it for his birthday. He had said he wanted a new drill instead. She had bought the drill and the chair with money she had saved from her part time job. A surprise. Ted loved the drill, hated the chair that now sat in the garage waiting for Jamie to take it to his place.

The boys and Kate were arguing over where to put a large peace lily when Kate happened to see her mother. They all turned, then crossed the room and fell around their mother as she sobbed, still looking at the chair where Ted should be sitting, drinking iced tea and yelling at the football game on the television.

She could smell sawdust, his cologne, car oil. Ted. She could smell him in this room. That wax looking figure that they had buried did not have that smell. Even the suit that had just come back from the cleaners had not smelled like Ted, but the figure wore it in that box.

Sara clung to her children and sobbed for the first time, but it would not be the last.

The wind whipped more hair into her face as Sara thought of those days after Ted died. She had returned to her job on Friday, and worked all weekend, after church on Sunday. She cleaned the house from top to bottom during the evenings.

That Saturday she had come home from working to find her sons finishing the bench. They were painting it.

Sara thought of that bench as she looked out over the tiny landscape below her. For three years it had sat under that maple tree. She had sat many a day reading on that bench, feeling her sons’ love for their father in every bristle stroke, every screw indention.

A week after the funeral, she answered the phone with an attorney on the other end, asking her and her children to come to his office. There was a will to be read.

They all sat open mouthed as they learned the mortgage was paid, the two youngest had their tuition for grad school in the bank waiting for them. There was also enough in an account for Jamie to buy the half of the garage the owner had offered him a year earlier. Sara could give up her job at the convenience store if she wanted, and never worry about money. Ted had bought life insurance over the years, and had put away money in a 401 K at the plant where he had worked for nineteen years.

They also learned that the driver of the truck that had killed Ted had plead guilty to reckless driving and man slaughter at his first hearing, sobbing how sorry he was for killing that good Mister Norman. Turned out Ted had coached him in little league.

They had gone to dinner after their visit at the office. They were all quiet. Dad had taken care of them one last time.

Sara’s best friend had come to stay for the week of the funeral. Sara called her after they had returned home. Jeanie was as shocked as Sara and her children. When the shock faded, Jeanie said, “Now you can visit me when ever! It’s only an hour drive. You and I can go to the beach! You and the kids can go see all the things you missed. I know Ted would want you to keep going on those trips to see the wonders of the world.” Sara chuckled for the first time since Ted’s death.

It was a family joke, those trips. Every summer, Ted would load up the latest SUV with his family, luggage, and a map to the home of his latest obsession. One year it was the baseball hall of fame, another football. One fall they all loaded up and went to an Alabama game when the children were still all in school. Ted still held five season tickets. They rarely missed a home game. Once an obsession grabbed him, Ted never let go of it. He had his own room off the garage with all his ‘treasures’ he collected over the thirteen years they had lived in that house. No one had even opened the door to that room until Ted had been gone nine months.

That had been a hard day. The holidays of that spring and summer had been largely ignored, but thanksgiving could not go by unnoticed. Jeanie and her family came to stay for the weekend, Ted’s brother and his family came over. Each of the children had brought a friend. Sara cooked for three days.

After dinner, the boys had football blaring from the television. Sara, Kate and her friend, Jeanie and her daughter cleaned up. Once the dishwasher was going, the pans and such scrubbed and put away, they all went to watch the game. Jake and his friend were debating with Jeanie’s son about how Alabama would smoke all comers when Jake remembered something his father had in his room. With out a thought, the boys all ran from the room.

Sara followed and watched as the boys reverently entered the dusty room. It smelled of dust of course, but there was that smell. Sara felt tears running down her face, and saw the boys were crying as well. Jake sank into the chair his father had always sat in to ‘chill’ with his treasures sometimes. His face was buried in his hands, almost between his knees as he sobbed.

After that, the room was entered often. Jake insisted on packing his father’s treasures so they would not get dusty. By February, the room had become Jake’s room for homework.

Jake passed on the football scholarship he had been offered, and instead went to the same school as his sister. They drove together every day. Jake made the second string team for football and studied hard. Kate kept her grades up, getting ready for her future as a psychologist.

Sara kept her job. People finally stopped telling her how sorry they were, and things went back to normal, of a sort. The kids were home for dinner, often having it waiting if she had worked the afternoon shift. Jamie ate with them often. He offered to give up his apartment and move back, but Sara nixed that idea. He came over instead and mowed the grass, serviced the cars, helped Jake carry their father’s treasures to the attic.

On her days off from work, Sara would meet Jeanie half way and they would have lunch or dinner, sometimes shopping or going to a movie. Jeanie was the only one who saw the lost look in her friend’s eyes. Well, the only one to get her to talk about it, anyway.

Sara sobbed as she told her friend how she missed Ted. How that old chair still sat in it’s place, the new one in the garage covered in plastic. How Ted’s clothes were still in the closet.

One weekend, Sara came home from work to find Jeanie’s car in the driveway.

They spent the next few days packing Ted’s clothes for charity donation. The old chair was hauled away to the dump by Jamie, the new one to his apartment. They found a great old chair at a thrift store that Sara loved and bought for her own birthday. They rearranged the furniture, bought Sara a new mattress for her bed, pillows and a comforter she liked. For a week, Jeanie helped Sara bring a little life back to the house. No one said it, but they all felt a bit of relief to take away most of the sadness.

Still, Sara grieved in her quiet, private way. She visited the cemetery often. She was there when the headstone was placed. A single stone, but she had bought the plot next to Ted.

Sara pictured that headstone as she looked at the clouds overhead. Ted would have picked out that stone. Simple, no frills to mark the place where the body of a simple man rested. The boys had insisted on nothing fancy. Their dad had hated such headstones.

The anniversary of Ted’s death came and went. They all remembered it, of course, but they ignored all impulses to make it anything but what it was, the day Ted died, not a reason to celebrate or remember with some sort of dinner. They had celebrated his birthday that way.

The second summer came, and with it a trip to the mountains. They hiked, fished, and went to a few shows in the neighboring areas. They often mentioned how Ted would have liked this and that, and Sara began to feel less sad.

Jamie began dating a nice girl after the trip that summer. He brought her to dinner some nights, and every Sunday. Life was moving on for them all.

Jeanie began dragging Sara on crazy outings. They spent one Saturday at a spa getting massages and facials. Jeanie talked Sara into dying her graying locks a vibrant auburn that was reminiscent of her youth. Sara admitted she looked ten years younger with the gray gone, almost like the girl Ted had married. The kids loved it.

They went to the football games, keeping Ted’s season tickets.

Jeanie and Sara learned to line dance. They went to the ocean and lay in the white sand. They ate squid and sushi. They almost got into a drunken brawl with some fans of an opposing team as they watched Alabama demolish them. They learned to ride horses.

Sometimes the ladies brought their daughters on their outings, but for the most part, it was just the two old friends.

Sara knew Ted would have approved.

Jeanie came up with the ideas most of the time, but sometimes, it was Sara who would suddenly burst out with some crazy scheme. Some of these, Jeanie said no way. When that happened, Sara would enlist one of her kids. She and the kids went canoeing since Jeanie didn’t care for the rapids. It became a sort of game to find a way to get Jeanie to do something even crazier than her ideas.

Sara felt more alive than she had in a long time. She realized that she had gotten old before her time, really. Ted had been this larger than life figure in their family, and she had been content to just follow. She had been the one to do the packing for the trips as Ted would have forgotten to pack the little things like clean underwear and socks.

Then it happened. The store was sold, and Sara was let go after five years of working. The new owner had a large family that would work the store, and they didn’t need outsiders. Sara was crushed.

The kids encouraged Sara to find a new job. She began working at a nursery, and loved the plants. Soon she was almost running the place. Still, sometimes a customer would find her sobbing among the potted trees.

Sara missed Ted. She missed the smell that had faded away. She missed his booming voice as he came in from work. She missed his boots by the garage door. She missed his toothbrush and razor tossed carelessly by the sink, or in it. She missed the sound of power tools in the garage.

The kids worried about her sometimes, but they were wrapped up in their own lives now. Jake joined a fraternity and moved to their house. He came home once in a while. Kate had just graduated, and was looking to get her PhD at Alabama. She was also looking at apartments near campus.

Three years was a long time, considering all that had happened. Sara and Jeanie still met for a girl’s day, but the craziness subsided a bit. Sara still came up with ideas, but most of the time everyone was too busy now to join her. It became lonely in the house when no one was there but her.

Sara took a class or two. She roamed the woods near the house. She drove to nearby landmarks where she and Ted had sometimes had picnics with the kids.

Then, one day, she sat down and wrote four letters. She timed it so that each would get the notes on that same day. Sara looked out over the landscape again. She took in the small town down there, where she and Ted had raised their children, and built a life. She could almost make out their church, their house.

The wind blew her hair again. This was the time for it all to change. It was time to stop missing Ted with her every breath. It was time for her to let go of all her doubts and fears of life alone, or of the possibility of another man in her life. She was not sure of anything anymore but of this moment being right.

Sara took a deep breath. The air was crisp, clean. One hand at her waist, the other loosely hanging by her side, she looked at her feet. One step. All it took was one step. She smiled gently, and closed her eyes. Another deep breath.

She jumped.

“Goodbye, Teddie, my love.” she whispered as the air whipped by her. “I will always love you.”

The hand at her waist pulled the rip cord as Sara thought of all that the kids and Jeanie would say as they watched. She let out a whoop of joy that was carried away on the wind.

Comments (3)

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Mark » 3 years ago

This is a good story, well told - with a neat little twist at the end. Thanks for sharing.

BecomingMe » 3 years ago

I totally lived this story losing a loved one is my biggest fear, I got a divorce, one i THOUGHT i wanted and moved away my boys were "better off" in their home town,, i have been estranged from them more often than not....that was more than 18 years ago, I remarried5 years ago, i 51 now he 66, i pay God let us have many more years together, i stay away from most everyone, but my husband. ..."If they're not around you can't miss them when they're gone" (dumb, i know)....Thank you so for your story if strength and hope in the face of pain and loss. Live, laugh, love, but live!!!

cuz » 3 years ago

I enjoyed that very much. Keep up the writing.HUJ