This story is by Renee King and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Until I See You Again
Lost in his heartbreak James mumbled out loud, “I’ve got to get myself together. I’ve got to figure this thing out, if not for me for my kids.”
His high school sweetheart and wife for the last nine years fought with all her might against colon cancer. She had a few wins but mostly losses to this brutal and unfair opponent. This uncontrollable, life changing and earth-shattering event robbed him of his wife and the mother of his children.
Putting his hands on his head and resting his forehead on the table he dozed off. He dreamed of their wedding day, June so stunningly beautiful in her long, white, beaded gown. She smiled so tenderly at him as they both said, “I do.” The sound of his own crying startled him awake, he jumped up and stormed out of the house for some fresh air and hopefully clarity.
Three weeks to the day of their final goodbye at the grave side, they were moving all their belongings into his mother’s house. She offered for them to come live with her, which was a no brainer for him. The kids needed a mother figure, and he needed her help.
A few years in and their sad little faces started wearing more smiles and the crying had turned to sibling fussing. School, church, friends, sports and dance helped piece their little lives back together.
One day James’ mother asked him, “have you thought about getting together with some of some your old friends? The kids are doing better and I want the same for you too. I ran into Amanda the other day and she asked how you were doing. She has been going through her own share of heartbreak since her separation, divorce and move back to North Carolina.”
James replied, “I’m good but if it makes you happy I will give her a call to check on her. June and Amanda were always great friends.”
His mother said, “that would be so kind of you. If you want to go out anytime I will be glad to watch my grandkids. They bring me such joy and to hear them laugh again warms my heart.”
James picked up the phone and called Amanda. When she answered, he could hear the sadness in her voice that reminded him of his own sorrow.
“Amanda, hey this is James. I know it’s been a while since we have talked but I was wondering if you would like to meet at the Coffee House in the morning?”
“Sure, that sounds nice, Amanda said. Are you thinking right after dropping the kids off at school? It would be good medicine for me to visit with you my dear, faithful friend. You sure do have great timing, I bet your mother talked you into calling me,” she laughed.
“Yes, and yes, you know her all too well,” he smiled. “But it works great for me. I’ll see you then.” James sat silently with his thoughts, thinking it might be nice to talk to someone who is dealing with grief as well. Death or divorce, it’s still loss and with loss comes grief.
First to arrive, James picked a table up front near the windows as he was drawn to the light. It had been years since he had a coffee date with anyone other than his wife. As he watched Amanda walk by the window he noticed a sadness on her face, the same sadness he saw in the mirror every day. It wasn’t until he saw that look on her face that he knew this was not where he wanted to stay. His children were beginning to find happiness again and he thought that would be enough for him. He suddenly realized the foolishness of his thinking. Life is a gift and to waste it by grieving the rest of it away doesn’t make any sense at all.
As Amanda walked to the table James felt a true smile rise from inside of his heart and onto his face. The place in his heart where a dark heaviness had taken ownership for the last couple of years started to feel a little bit lighter this morning. He just knew he needed to try and find happiness again and possibly help Amanda find hers too.
“Hi Amanda,” he stood to pull her chair out for her. “It’s good to see you again, it’s been a while.”
“It’s good to see you James. I’m glad you called. I’ve been thinking about you all. I was happy to hear that you moved in with your mom. June would have loved that. I know I am thankful that the kids and I are back with my mom. We all needed some stability after the crazy double life my ex was living. You and June tried to warn me about him but I wouldn’t listen.”
“Thanks, it’s been a long, hard process but I think we are starting to turn the corner. How about you guys?”
“We are okay. Good and bad days. It has cost us all a lot in many ways, but I am determined to make our lives better. We will make it to the other side of this stronger and smarter, that is for sure!”
“I’m so sorry I didn’t reach out sooner. I admit I have been struggling with my own grief lately. Even right before I saw you today, I had in my mind that I was going to do everything in my power to help my children become happy and successful adults even if I had to sacrifice my own. The heartbreak of losing June was so devastatingly intense that I didn’t ever want to experience that pain again. My heart became so hard, and I had withdrawn from my life. I didn’t realize it until I saw you walking up today. I knew in that moment I must get my like back and possibly help you do the same. We both had dreams to die, but we can’t waste the rest of our lives letting what we do have die also.
Amanda looked up at James with tears in her eyes and a small smile reaching the corners of her mouth. ” You’re so right! I’ve been living on automatic so long, surviving through the day just to get up and do it all over again the next day. I had lost my hope. Thanks for inviting me here today. It has given me a fresh perspective on my life. You have given me a gift which is really the reason I came today. June wanted me to give you this letter she had me help her write the last time I visited with her. She asked me to wait for a day when I thought it would really help you the most and be the gift she intended it to be. She still had dreams that you would live your life to the fullest after she was gone, for you, your children and this world. She always said the world is a better place because you’re in it.” Amanda slid the pink envelope across the table.
Tears trickled down his face as he reached for his wife’s last words to him. “Amanda,” his voice cracked, “thanks so very much for this. Thank you for being her best friend. She did love you so. I know you’re grieving her too, on top of everything else going on in your life. Please know I am here for you anytime or anyway you may need. And with that, they both stood up, wiped their tears, hugged goodbye and promised to stay in touch.
James held the letter with utmost care, just as if he was tenderly holding his sick wife. He raised the pink envelope up to his nose hoping to breathe in her scent. He knew where he had to go and read this unexpected gift from his wife. He drove to the graveside, the place where he said his last goodbye. He sat at her headstone and just held his head, cherishing the words he hadn’t read yet. As he opened the envelope and slid the letter out, a light floral, clean fragrance wafted by. He saw his name written in her beautiful but shaky handwriting. This moment was sacred to him almost as if she spoke his name one last time.
“To James, My Happily Ever After and our children’s as well. You have been an incredible husband and father. You have loved us with an unconditional love because that’s how you’ve been taught to love by your father. So please for me, never stop loving unconditionally with your whole heart. What you have inside of you is a gift to this world, don’t shut it down or hold it back. Live your life to the fullest. Show our children what real love looks like. Until I see you again,”