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I don't know exactly when she showed up, but something seemed to suddenly take the chill off, and I was nudged out of my funk for a moment. I looked to my left, and there she sat, perfectly still, gazing sweetly into space.
I couldn't help but wonder about this little, old lady. She must have been at least eighty years old. The weather was lousy, but she looked picture perfect.
A slight lady with lips pursed in a modest smile, she wasn't wet or cold. Her huge umbrella could have sheltered at least three people. She held herself erect, certainly a woman of dignity and grace. She looked like a classic grandma from the 1950s. Covering her snowy white hair was a dainty felt hat with a mesh net across her forehead. Her light blue spring coat covered a brightly flowered voile dress. She wore thick-heeled pumps. Indicative of the days of garter belts and non-stretch hose, her nylons showed subtle little ripples at her ankles. She smelled of lavender.
The large shopping bag at her feet was just begging to be snatched by the first thief to run through the park. I immediately felt protective of her. Clearly, she had no idea how to take care of herself. Considering the way I looked, she should have worried about me taking her bag, but she seemed totally oblivious to any threat to her safety.
'I'd keep that bag a little closer, if I were you,' I said flatly.
She leaned over and patted my hand. Her own fragile and wrinkled hands were as soft as silk. 'Don't worry, dear. It will be all right.'
We sat on the bench, not another word between us until she got up some time later to leave. She smiled sweetly and proclaimed, 'This was such a lark. I do hope to see you again sometime.' And with that, she was off, clomping softly away, her shopping bag in tow.
The chill seemed to return suddenly, so I bent over to retie my shoes before running back to the loft. Even that wasn't mine anymore. Due to the lapse in mortgage payments, foreclosure was eminent. The drawn-out legal process may buy me another month or two at best.
Since I was broke, with nothing better to do, I spent a lot of time running. Running and thinking. Actually, wallowing in self-pity was more like it. I thought it would help me get back in shape while taking my mind off my problems. In years gone by when I ran, I could get in the zone and feel so free. So I drove myself to find that place of abandon again, but to no avail. Now running had become its own hell. No matter how I fought to avoid it, all I did was relive the past over and over again in my head, reminding myself of all the ways I'd fallen short.
Today was no different. You stupid, stupid idiot, I berated myself once again. How has my life been reduced to this mess? Trudging on, I worked hard to empty my mind. For a few minutes, I was successful.
I slowed down to a walk. It was then that I noticed the bright splash of color through the trees. That little, old lady was in the park again. Her back was to me, but I would recognize that umbrella anywhere.
Seeing the 'baglady' took my mind off my troubles for a few minutes. It's truly ludicrous, this label I've given her, and all because of that shopping bag. I wonder why she's there on that bench again. It doesn't add up, her hanging around in the park like this. She looks like the type of woman who would be on the arm of a princely older gentleman, a man who would open doors for her and even throw his cape over a puddle, so her feet would not be muddied. She certainly seems like she's been cherished in her day. I wonder where her prince is now.
With that, my mind wandered back to the man, my ex-husband, who had once cherished me. We had been high-school sweethearts. Well, not at first. Actually, at first he hated me. I was a headstrong, no-nonsense young woman. I worked at night and slept through history class where Craig sat behind me. One day he banged my chair with his foot, and I woke up with a start, turned around, and told him off. That was his story. I didn't even remember it.
The following summer, when I was sixteen, I changed jobs to work at McDonald's, and we ended up working together, much to his chagrin. Since he was the best at counter sales, Craig was chosen to train me. He had won all the sales contests until I came on the scene.
Soon after that, he was promoted to the lead position. I appreciated the fact that even after I stole some of his glory, he still treated me fairly, and I found myself attracted to him. We flirted a little bit, and eventually I asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance. After that we were an item.
He liked me, but his parents didn't approve. I was from the wrong side of the tracks. I wasn't good enough for their son. But no matter what they did to break us up, our bond grew stronger. I followed him to college, and we were married during our second year.
In our early twenties, we started our first business, moving across the country three times in pursuit of entrepreneurial and financial success. He had never wanted children, so our business and our employees became our children. Craig just loved being a business owner. And I loved Craig.
But over the years, we grew apart. And, in the end, the only thing we had in common was the business. When the business was sold, there was nothing left of the couple who had once been so in love. After twenty years of marriage, it was over.
So many regrets. We should have had children. We should have paid more attention to our personal lives, to each other, but our careers, our success, took all our effort.
I always thought we could weather any storm. I saw other marriages split up after the kids left home, and I swore that would never happen to us. I thought not having children would save us, but it snuck up on us like a thief in the night.
The pulling apart was so gradual. As it turned out, work had the same effect on us as children had on some of our friends. When all our energy was put on other things, and little attention was focused on the relationship, it disintegrated, so slowly, so silently. I didn't realize it was dying until it was already dead.
Oh, there were warnings, but I refused to see them. Betsy and I had been friends forever. On one of her visits she told me that she thought Craig was having an affair. But at the time, I was so sure of him that I just thought she had been reading too many romance novels.
Later, one of my employees told me that the production crew thought that Craig and I had a 'marriage of convenience.' Still, I thought it was everyone else who was blind instead of me. What a fool I was.
Even now, I have a memory of the love and longing that was once there, but it's only a memory. We didn't want the same things anymore. In fact, our wants and needs became so different that it was impossible to stay together. It's sad. I know our time together is over, but I still remember the boy with whom I fell in love all those years ago. That boy is gone, and, sadly, that girl is gone, too.
I don't know how long I had been walking and reliving this failure in my life when I noticed that the day had all but passed. My heart had broken as the marriage began to unravel, but the final filings and signing of the divorce decree had devastated me. Hope for love everlasting was soon replaced with bitterness and loneliness. So much for running to get my mind off things! I practically dragged myself back home in a depressed stupor.
By the time I got back to the loft, I was starving. Pulling a cheap TV dinner out of the freezer, I slid it in the microwave, opened a can of Coke, and just sat there. The timer went off. Mechanically, I pulled out my supper, peeled back the top, took one look at the institutional square tray and the empty chair across from me, and turned my eyes to the ceiling. Why me?
©2008. Dina Dove. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The Baglady's Guide to Elegant Living. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442