This story is by Wendy Maston and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“It’s time,” I said to my daughter, Kathy.
We were sitting at the kitchen table across from each other, sharing a cup of coffee and brownies I’d made yesterday. Ever since my husband died almost a year ago, I couldn’t decide what to do with the rest of my life. Ronald always made every decision for us and now I had to do it for myself. I knew I could not live in this house for the rest of my life. But I was afraid to leave.
“I know, Mom. It’s not going to be easy, but you need to start healing, and this is the way.”
“I guess selling the house is the first step. I called a real estate agent, and she is coming this afternoon. I hope she’ll tell me what to do. That’s what she does, right?”
“Yes, that’s what she does. Do you want me to be here with you?”
“You would do that? What about the kids?”
“They’ll be fine. The sitter said she can stay all day if necessary. I’ll give her a call.”
We bought this home when I was pregnant with Kathy. We celebrated our forty-ninth anniversary the day he died, by going out for dinner at a prominent restaurant. I always had to look my best whenever we went out in public. While drinking our coffee with dessert, he gasped and looked at me. They told me it was a major heart attack, and nothing could have been done to save him. He was probably dead before he hit the floor. Fortunately, Kathy was able to handle the arrangements as I didn’t know what to do.
Kathy helped me look for a smaller place to live. I wanted to be close to her and her family. A new community for older adults was being built three blocks from Kathy. I could decide on the finishing such as appliances and flooring. My condo would be ready in a month. I had doubts about the move, wondering if it was the right thing to do. I’d been alone for almost a year, but the house had so many reminders of the past that I had to let go. Especially the bad ones.
“Now, which room should we start with? The guest bedroom should be the quickest. I’ll get the boxes from the car,” Kathy said.
I’d have to decide what we were going to move and what would be given to charity. Most of the clothes in the closet were seasonal and all of Ron’s would go and I had a lot I didn’t wear anymore, especially the fancy dresses. Kathy agreed to take them directly to the charity today. The furniture would stay until the house sold.
When I walked into the room, I stood there, looking at the pictures hanging on the walls. All the family in various stages. The tears began again. I hadn’t cried in several months, but this was the first real trial for me alone. To prove to myself that I was somebody after all the years of being told I was a nobody. I gently lifted the pictures off the walls and laid them on the bed. I would let Kathy take what she wanted and wrap the others for storage. I’d already taken the pictures of Kathy and the grandkids I wanted. There wasn’t much left to pack.
“Mom let’s go through your clothes first. While you’re doing that I’ll take Dad’s clothes out to the car. I’m keeping his ties because I plan to put them in a quilt. One for you and one for me. We’ll talk about them later.” I would wait until later to tell her I didn’t want one.
There were only a few things that I wanted to keep. I found my wedding dress in a box on the shelf. I’d forgotten it was there. When I opened the box, I looked at the yellowed white. It took me back to the day we got married. That had been a wonderful day and I thought I had the best man in the world. Little did I know about the monster that would appear when Kathy was born. Kathy asked if she could have the dress for the quilts she was making. I packed it back in the box and handed it to her. She began taking things to the car but left the things she wanted on the bed.
“We have time to pack the kids’ room.” The room had been Kathy’s when she was still at home and then became a room for the kids when they spent the night. Many things were packed up for them to take home and what they didn’t want would go with the clothes. It took longer than I thought because the children couldn’t decide what they wanted to keep. Kathy and I laughed as we played with some of the toys. Finally, Kathy made the decisions, and the job was done.
We heard the front door open and the kids yelling ‘Daddy.’ I envisioned years ago when Kathy would meet her Dad when he got home from work. He would pick her up and swing her around before asking her how her day had been.
“Mom, where did you go?”
Douglas had stopped and picked up pizza for us all to share. The six-year-old twins almost knocked the boxes from his arms while Ronnie, the oldest at twelve, waited quietly. He loved his dad. He’d had a hard time when his grandpa died, and he told me that he was afraid his father would leave him also. Now his fear was transferred to me. I didn’t know how to reassure him because it would come true someday.
Over the next few weeks, Kathy and I continued to pack and clean the house. It had sold ten days after listing, but the new owners were moving in from out of state and we had a couple of months to get it ready for them.
Moving day came for me. The workers carted boxes and furniture out to the truck to move only three blocks. Kathy supervised while the kids played for the last time in the backyard. They loved the playground that was across from my new building because they already knew it. Once the house was empty, I stood in the living room and looked around. I was leaving so many memories, but they would live with me until it was my time to go. I turned to see Kathy waiting at the door and walked toward her.
“You okay,” she asked.
The workers made good time unloading all the items for my new place. They even helped unpack some of the boxes for the kitchen. The breakfast nook with a large window overlooked my small yard. Douglas, Kathy, and the grandchildren worked the rest of the day helping me put things away and arranging the furniture. We shared pizza again and when they left, I knew I belonged here. I would start a new chapter of my life.
A month later, when I was comfortable and loving my home, the day came that would have been our fiftieth anniversary. I carefully set the small table with two settings. I put a candle in the middle of the table and two wine glasses with a bottle of wine we bought on our honeymoon. It had been stored properly all these years and it was time to open it. I poured two glasses and sat down.
I picked up my glass and toasted the empty chair. He’d been gone a year. I finally felt free. Leaving the old house wasn’t that hard. There were a few good memories, especially with Kathy. Thankfully, she didn’t know some of the things her father did to me. They weren’t important now.
“You bastard. You couldn’t stay around for this day, but I’m grateful. One year more and you’d have probably killed me. I know you took out a large insurance policy on me, but you didn’t know I did the same thing on you. Now I can live a better life. A golden one.”
I threw the glass at the empty chair and sat down and cried. Tears of relief.