I pledged my life-long commitment to a man, nine years ago, proclaiming, "I do."
Today, I drive back home as a widowed mother, in a darkness as loathsome as death himself, with two precious little princesses, so still, in the backseat of my car.
I last saw my parents on Christmas; my circumstance was different then. My only battles were against the financial strain of mortgage payments, and the cost of ballet classes at the private studio in town, for Angel and Scarlet. They were asleep now, but when they awoken, the questioning would begin, again. "Where is daddy, mommy?" mentally, I could hear Scarlet ask gently.
"When will he come join us at Grammy's house?" Angela would frown, baring her now aged, six milk-teeth. I do not know where I will begin, in explaining his disappearance from their lives. My heart has not made sense of it yet: it refuses to.
Gerald was a real hero. Even the day we met, I had watched him solve a dispute, outside a vibrant cocktail bar at the beach, between two impetuous men, who had resolved to, "take it outside," when a casual conversation turned into a mindless debate. I could not interpret the movement of his lips, into words, but his body was relaxed and his face was calm. The men walked away from each other, defeat painted heavily on their faces. I had obviously forgotten that I was staring at him, because he now walked in my direction, with a kind, curious expression on his face. He was not too tall, he wore black Havaianas, red shorts folded at the knee, and a white v-necked vest, Che Guevara staring sternly at me, framed perfectly by Gerald's lean arms. As he approached, I noticed a scar on his chin, I could not begin to imagine the story behind it- he already seemed so courageous, selfless.
He spoke, saying, "Hi- Gerald," he smiled, nodded and extended his hand. His voice was like gentle thunder, in a mild storm. His teeth were white, and told the story of a boy who wore braces throughout his schooling career.
Eight months later, we were sitting in my parents' dining room. My mother was beaming, she was undeniably fond of him. At that moment, I was as happy as I imagined a newly wed bride would be, yet we had only spoken about marriage twice, and sometimes just in passing.
Twenty-seven months, two weeks and five days after meeting each other's families: he invited me to coffee at our favorite café. When I arrived, the place was empty. I was early, Gerald would probably come soon, and we would drive to another coffee spot. Waterfront was beautiful. Perhaps Myatt Café & Chocolatier, had closed business in preparation for a special event later. I turned around, walking towards my dirty, once white Opel hatchback. I heard Gerald call my name, I turned, again, only to see him beckoning me to come join him inside the little shop. It looked as though they had closed for an auspicious event as I had predicted.
My heart began to dance.
The setup inside was whimsical. All the tables had been taken out, hidden elsewhere I assumed, except one, set in the center of the room. Gerald's guitar was in the newspaper corner, and Norah Jones sang, softly suggesting to come away with her, through the speakers mounted on the walls. Our table, had places set for two. The tease aroma of butternut, Danish feta and other lovely ingredients, led me to believe my favorite bruschetta was served, but hidden from my sight, by a glass jar, containing aged squares of paper- I looked in closer, curious. Every note, every little doodle and sometimes verse, that I had playfully written or drawn for him, was contained. I made a habit of leaving these little notes in his car; sometimes on his kitchen counter, or on his desk at the office.
He pulled my seat out for me, I sat, and he kneeled down beside me. At this, my heart did a dance I could not name: it was a strange fusion of the salsa, zulu dance and ballet.
"Love, we make a good team. I am okay alone, but I am better with you- see, you add to the quality of a person I am. The greatest things about us is, we're not just united in love, but we're purpose driven, by something greater than life itself. You are the essence of beauty. We are flawed, differently, and connect, more than just physically and mentally. This glass jar is yet a fraction full, with only my half of our memories shared, I want to add to this collection, together, for the rest of my life.
Join me in the challenge of filling it, and marry me?"
Dumbstruck, I looked deeper into the jar, then back at him, and reached out my hands, exclaiming,
Nine years later, and our marriage had only grown better with time; like a bottle of wine left to age in the security of a wine cellar.
Now, after spending two days on the road, I had finally reached home. My mother welcomed me with the warmth I had always known as unique to her alone. Emotions tugged at my heart's strings, sadness against joy, brokenness against deep pining. My vision became blurred, and my cheeks began to heat up, tickled by a warm, trickling sensation, "Hi mom."
"Grammy!" Angel and Scarlet had woken and raced out the car, to greet their grandmother, whose face now shone with a joy so sincere and great, it squeezed my heart tightly within.
We walked into the house, lugging our suitcases behind us- Gerald always took care of tasks of this nature. I felt a deep pain in my chest. The reality of his death was only beginning to settle now. His absence from our lives, now made permanent, dawned on me. At that moment, something in the substance of my soul shattered, broke. It gave in like a single pillar, left to withstand the pressure, and weight, of a structure fit for the support of four counterparts. I fell to the ground, letting out a moan that slowly turned into cries of agony, heartfelt anguish. I had wanted so badly, to be a pillar of strength for my daughters, but I had reached my breaking point. I was home, my mother would take care of things: she always managed to solve problems as they presented themselves.
My bedroom had not been interfered with since I left for University. Its pastel green walls, brought back memories of a teenage girl who had her future planned, right to her funeral. My story was not going to end the way I had hoped. Gerald, my dream husband and more, was gone. He had been shot while helping a teenage boy into the back of an ambulance. The gangs were out that night, news about their initiation of hopeful new members had been broadcasted frequently on the radio. Gerald was caught in the crossfire: they shot at him for attempting to help a victim of their wild behavior.
The aroma of freshly baked bread, and cinnamon butternut soup, wafted into my old room, through the door which Scarlet had left open as she dropped her luggage off in a hurry.
This would do. Being home always simplified even my most complex of situations. I would mourn, and then heal- right here, now as a widowed mother of two, and daughter.