This story is by Elizabeth H. Ricci and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“I’m half way through the fall of my life.”
The unobtrusive sounds of the female cardinals calling to their mates from their hemlock apartment houses behind me augment my meditation on the importance of relationships. Here I sit in a comfortable chair in front of a table as I continue to reflect on matters close to my heart.
It has been almost six months since I have put pen to paper.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life!”
In times past, this saying directed me to get up and go. But lately I feel paralyzed. In fact, Joseph has wanted us to discuss setting retirement goals – I keep procrastinating.
A gentle breeze brushes my writing arm. Startled, I look around.
Leaves of aged deciduous trees surround our home. The Oak, Sugar Maple, Black Maple, and Red Maple display an array of colors: maroon, golden yellow and orange leaves before descending to the ground – signifying the beginning of another fall season.
“At the end of each decade I would reflect upon years past and always felt I was blessed. Why am I in a tizzy this year? What is different this time?”
In the last six months people close to me in age and importance have died – four of my friends have died within one month of each other. Recognizing what has been causing such emotional pain, I start to weep.
Feeling some relief, I close my journal and quickly enter the house.
Once inside, I notice dust has gathered on the dining room furniture. With transformed energy, I hastily clean and polish the walnut table and chairs, refresh the pale pink chiffon curtains, wash the windows, and polish the oak floor. I allow myself a few minutes to wipe away the sweat from my brow before it splashes into my eyes, take a drink of water, pause and re-enter the dining room once again. Placing the curtains back on the rods, I sense someone’s presence behind me. Swiftly turning around, I spot Joseph staring at me from the entrance to the dining room.
“The room looks inviting!”
Sobbing, I run into Joseph’s open arms.
Holding Mary Lou close,
“What possessed you?”
“When I realized how much I miss my friends, and at the same time thankful for my friends’ lives having crossed my path, and the many years they’ve graced me with their companionship, I felt reborn.”
Embracing each other, as warm tears flow down my face, Joseph gently wipes away the tears with his handkerchief.
“You tried to console me these last few months. My sorrow was so strong I couldn’t let go until today.” Her body melts into his, serenity infuses Mary Lou.
Weeks go by. Turning on the computer, Mary Lou then opens Facebook,
“Who can that be?”
Unexpectedly she detects someone from her past looking at her Facebook page.
“Could it be?”
Utilizing the search engine on Facebook, Mary Lou types in the person’s name she thinks it is. On the page it says, the person grew up in a rural area where she lived growing up.
Closing down the computer, Mary Lou deliberates,
“Can it really be him?”
Mary Lou’s thoughts span almost 60 years,
Back in the 50s Jacques and I had a friendship based on mutual respect and trust for one another (Almost Amish in nature.) We met in high school.
One day I was practicing a part relating to an historic piece for my play production class. Jacques opened the door to the auditorium while balancing his musical instrument on his shoulder. As he proceeded down the side aisle, I boisterously delivered a line in the play,
“Speak for yourself John Alden!”
With a grin on his face he continued on to band practice.
During one particular year of high school, our dates were like mystical experiences. The date always started after Jacques came to the door of my home. I opened the door (enthusiasm written on both our faces),
“Good to see you, Mary Lou!”
Jacques always spoke to my parents for a few minutes then said,
“I think it’s time to go or we’ll miss the train.”
Once a month, like Cinderella and her prince, we would eagerly travel on public transportation to our destination. We attended performances at Madison Square Garden in New York City: The Ringling Brother Barnum and Bailey Circus, Ice Capades, Rodeos, and any other attractions going on when at Madison Square Garden. How could Jacques afford such sensational dates? His brother, Reverend Roger, received tickets for these monthly events. Not able to use the tickets, he passed them on to Jacques. Lucky for me!
Besides these monthly dates, Jacques would come to my homeroom at the beginning of every school day and we would chat before the first bell. The meetings before school helped us focus on school activities and gave both of us the assurance that all was right with our world. The homeroom teacher’s acceptance of our morning ritual supported these feelings within us. Smiling, Miss Perretti would nod a greeting when Jacques entered the room and then pretended she was shooing Jacques out of the room before the bell was about to ring announcing the start of homeroom. We were teenagers learning about boy/girl relationships.
The first time I didn’t accept an invitation to go on a date, our relationship ended.
“Come with me on a hayride?
I froze and gestured “No!”
“A group from my church will be there.”
I became reticent and again motioned with my head “No.”
I don’t remember Jacques response.
A few months later we came across each other, our eyes met and Jacques quickly looked away. At that time, I couldn’t understand the abrupt ending of our friendship – I was stunned for quite some time.
I grew and developed and went about learning and evolving: summer jobs, school dances, high school prom and high school graduation, work in New York City, learning how to ski in Vermont, travels to Europe, marriage, accepted for adoption, and then abruptly widowed.
At that pivotal point in my life, a friend, Rosemarie, from my church suggested,
“How about joining Sally, Helen and me one Saturday a month? We volunteer at Suffolk State.”
At that time, children and people with special needs were given up to the state!
Singing, helping to feed patients, taking walks, I found my new calling – Teacher of Early Childhood and Special Education. I received my college degree. In time, I remarried and in good time gave birth to two sons.
I have noticed a change in my attitude since spotting the person on Facebook – Life IS worth living!
Memories, like a video of my life, play on. I appreciate all the happenings in my life, the good moments and the bad moments, the sorrowful moments and the joy-filled moments.
Is it conceivable, in the autumn of my life a cherished friend from the past can come into my world of today?
Anticipation of a possible reconnect is taking place,
“Do we communicate? Do we have anything to say to one another?”
Cautiously I message this mysterious person,
“Is this Jacques who graduated in 1954 from Curtis High School?”
Next day I check his Facebook message center, no response, second day, no response. Just when I think maybe he’s the wrong person, not Jacques, and now feeling foolish…
The third day Jacques responds with,
“Yes! Mary Lou. I did graduate from Curtis High School in 1954. How has life been treating you?”
Like a teenager again, my heart skips a beat.
At dinner I look up and notice Joseph staring at me.
“Do you remember my telling you about my friend Jacques from high school?”
His chair clattering to the floor, Joseph rushes to Mary Lou encircling her with a bear hug.
Jacques and I exchange messages that are similar yet different.
Jacques has been happily married for fifty-five years to Lucille, whereas, I have been contented in my marriage of forty years to Joseph after being widowed for nine years, he has two sons and so do I, though, he has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Happiness encompasses my thoughts knowing Jacques is alive and in good health at this time in his life with a fine wife and family.
Autumn this year is significant for both of us.
After exchanging a few more messages, Jacques writes,
“Anxious to know: what you’ve been up to since high school graduation?”
Wow! That would take a book – much writing.
“Okay! How about filling me in with almost 60 years of your life’s experiences?”
“I’m game!” he responds.
In a flash my mind’s eye perceives sparkling, colorful leaves reflecting our renewed friendship in the fall of our lives.