People are funny.

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Was so excited when I turned the page on my wall calendar to March and saw that daylight savings time begins on Sunday March 9th.

For those of us in the east for whom it has been a long, cold lonely winter I thought, “good news daylight savings time is coming!”
Days will be longer, brighter, more people outside and less gray days.

I thought when I mentioned this on one of my daily walks with Clinton that others would be happy to hear this news.
After hearing so much complaining about the dreary days we have had I was excited to share the good news. Longer days ahead. Time to celebrate we made it through.
To my surprise first words for several were I met were these ,”oh that means we lose an hour of sleep ugh.”

Hey, I thought look at the trade. One lost hour of sleep, one season of brighter days ahead. Funny, my yogi friends all got it even those with small children who are already sleep deprived, they saw the gift of the coming season of light.

Thank goodness.0

Here comes the SUN.

Lady Mary Crawley and me

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I never thought I would see the day when I have something in common with a member of the British aristocracy. The PBS hit series, Downton Abbey season 3 finale changed all that for me.  SPOILER ALERT IF YOU HAVE NEVER WATCHED STOP HERE.

Last season when Lady Mary Crawley’s  (Michelle Dockery) beloved (handsome, charming) husband Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens)  was killed in a car crash just when things were going so well- -I, along with millions of other viewers was knocked off my comfy sofa and spilled my biscuits and tea.

At the close of season 3 I had recently been cast in a new role in my life: Widow.  I was rooting for Lady Mary and Matthew to live happily ever after so that I could live vicariously through them and cry my eyes out at what I missed and then “boom” Lady Mary becomes a widow too.

I burst into tears and wailed,  “Oh no, not Matthew and “oh no, I miss Mark”. Matthew is a fictional character, I cried for him like I do over Mark.   

It took Matthew and Lady Mary six years of running the obstacle course of life to get married. The newlywed Crawley’s had one year of wedded bliss and the happy birth of her infant son George.  Matthew will never see his son grow up to be a man. A careless automobile accident took his life, (along with Dan Stevens desire to go work in film and on other projects)

Mark and I were married for 26 years and it took us under 3 years to get married. Like the Crawley’s who lived under the same roof at Downtown-before they were married, we lived together in a floor-through apartment in Park Slope before we got married.

Lady Mary and Matthew had a big wedding ceremony and party at Downton-Mark and I got married in a castle- like synagogue in Park Slope built around the same time that Downtown is set in. We had an intimate family dinner on Prospect Park West then we rushed off. to Shea Stadium to the 1986 World Series to catch the end of the 7th game when the Mets beat the Boston Red Sox sharing a box with Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley and the Mets’ wives.

Both Lady Mary and I wore off white instead of pure white.  I had been married before and Lady Mary did have that Turkish incident that despoiled her purity so to speak.

In the two-hour 4th season premiere of Downtown Abbey- Lady Mary is a young widow who has lost her true love or as Lord Grantham says, “When there is a great love and great loss it takes a great effort to recover. “

“I hear you your Lordship,” I said aloud. Tissue-box in hand. The episode had just started and I was already crying. Lady Mary is in the Widows club – the one no one wants to be in.

Now, Lady Mary and I are like sisters we are in the same “hood” know as “the widow-hood”.  I really feel her pain. Though she is a fictional character, in an English soap opera, younger than me,  residing in the early part of the 20th century in a country estate; I know I could sit down with Lady Mary at tea-time and we would be kindred spirits.

Widows “get” other widows. We know that time only ‘sort of’ heals the loss of a husband or wife. And grief is tricky there really isn’t a right way or time limit on how long you may be sad and miss the one you love. 

When season 4 opens for Lady Mary, only 6 months time has passed since Matthew was so abruptly ripped from her life just as they are (finally!) getting started, she is grief-stricken and mostly non-functional.

At 6 months the reality of loss hit me hard: Mark is not coming back, not walking through the door again. Absurd that I thought he might. There were moments I expected him to walk into the room like when the President was re-elected. I even jumped up and called out to him. But he didn’t show up.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at myself or cry right then so I did both.

In our modern American culture 6 months is just the time some people drop away from your life. Even though you might be barely ready to crawl, someone has to take care of the day to day running of the household.

(Luckily, my hubby set me up so I had a clue what was going on.  And, I have an amazing family and dear friends. )

Even so, this is where it is Advantage: Lady Mary.

In Lady Mary’s world her family lives at Downton Abbey and others are there with great regularity.  Even her desperately bereaved mother-in-law and fellow widow,  Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) is nearby and is ever so slowly starting to join the family again even in her sorrow and her disapproval of Lady Mary’s moving forward.

In Lady Mary’s world, there is a large and organized household staff to take care of the details of her life.  Lady Mary does not find herself plodding through reams of paperwork, having to do the laundry, remember to feed herself something healthy and try to get some sleep at a time of great confusion and even misery.

Thankfully there is taskrabbit.com, I have hired a “rabbit” or two to come and help me with organizing tasks too difficult for me to handle alone.

Lady Mary is sad and in shock. She had a life ahead of her with beloved. It is all she can do to sip tea from her breakfast tray and let her ladies maid Anna (Joanna Froggatt) dress her, “Only the black please,” and fix her hair.

How many times have I said to myself, “I would love to have a ladies maid right about now, she could help me pick out the best Spanx for my outfit, zip up my dress and help me with the clasp on a necklace.”  Mark used to help me with the latter two.

And how about Mrs. Patmore, (Lesley Nichol) and her kitchen staff. I do not love cooking and doing the dishes without Mark.   Mark was one of those rare men who liked to cook with me then do the dishes and even clean the floors with the Swiffer wet jet. I was spoiled. 

A friend once said, “Mark does all that? That’s better than foreplay!”

The great debate swirling around Lady Mary is whether it is time to get on with it.

Sir Paul McCartney described the English way of dealing with death after John Lennon was murdered, “Buck up man, stiff upper lip,keep calm and carry on.”

Easy to say;  very hard to do.  When you lose someone you love a spouse, a partner, the love of your life how do you “carry on” when all your hopes and dreams have died?

Lady Mary has a beautiful son. She is lucky that she has him- a gift from her beloved Matthew that she can raise him if she chooses, to have his kindness and values.  And yet she feels so sorry for herself that she calls him “poor little orphan” when in fact he has a large  loving family, a fortune he is heir to and a mother who is not quite ready to step forward and love him.  Lucky for her, she has a full-time nanny, except as it turns out she is a mean, nasty woman who ultimately gets the boot. A replacement will be found I am sure of this.

I just hope Lady Mary doesn’t make the mistake of getting involved too early on in a relationship she is not ready for. Widows have a hard time making well thought out clear decisions, quite often unsuitable suitors do come along who may not have your best interests at heart. And it seems they will be lining up.
Lady Mary is rich, young, beautiful and vulnerable and there are men out there who want to gain her affections to get their hands on her fortune.

Here’ s where I have the edge:  in Lady Mary’s world there are no bereavement groups, grief counselors or therapists, no yoga classes or meditation groups to help her find her way, express her grief and just be able to live into the sorrow.  Just by doing all those things I can get dressed, put on my lipstick and go outside and find the joy in life.

For Lady Mary her biggest ally and supporter is her grandmother, the Countess Dowager Violet (Dame Maggie Smith) and it could be her widower brother in law Tom (Allan Leech) if he would give up the idea that he doesn’t belong and count his lucky stars he got to move upstairs and join the family.

I am rooting for Lady Mary to find her way, though I am pretty sure there is going to be a lot of drama along the way.  There are more stories upstairs and down and you need a score-card to keep track of who is whom.

So stay tuned and I will keep my tissue box handy.

For a complete episode recap of Downton Abbey’s season premiere check out what my friend Diane Clehane has to say at dianeclehane.com.

 

 

Love on four legs

English: George Clooney at the 2009 Venice Fil...

English: George Clooney at the 2009 Venice Film Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On our daily morning walks Clinton and I often meet people who “gush” over my beautiful boy. One day it was like this: the baby with his strawberry blonde curls and saucer blue eyes sees us as we approach his house. Mom is unloading the SUV they just drove up and yet takes a moment when she sees how her baby wiggles and giggles with delight at the sight of Clinton.
Clinton my auburn-haired sleek golden eyed chocolate lab-pointer hybrid rescue dog is not just the “George Clooney” of dogs in looks, he is sweet, gentle and loves people.

The baby now held in his mother’s arms is reaching reaching his tiny white hands for Clinton- his face leaning spilling over his mothers’ arms. My gentle boy turns him self so that the baby can stroke his velvet ears.

The baby squeals with delight. Clinton lies down and mom lets the baby stroke Clinton’s soft fur for a few moments.

Clinton is ready to press on with his walk and mom and baby have a busy day ahead.

As we start to leave, the baby, disappointed, starts to cry and we promise to come back another day.

That is is the gift of my beautiful Clinton we meet people everywhere we go. He is handsome and well mannered and when loneliness comes creeping in – when I am missing Mark- Clinton comes to me and with a poke of his wet brown nose, a paw that says “lets go”- we have another adventure making new friends.

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Dance as if no one is watching you.

There is something about dance. There is a natural pull by us humans to want to move, to shake and shimmy our bodies.  Perhaps it is because in moving to music we connect to spirit or to that time we floated freely in our mother’s womb tethered to her yet free to move, grow and kick without censoring or feeling self-conscious. Whatever it is there is something so freeing about getting up and shaking your booty as often as possible .

Dance led me to Mark. He could Hustle, Slop and Lindy Hop and was a great freestyle dancer and in me he found a partner on the floor and on skates. At Ballroom and partner dancing we excelled. We even took lessons but that is a story for another day.

There was a part of me that dreamed of another kind of dancing and that was performance dance. As a child I studied Modern Dance with a student of the great Jose Limon which I excelled at,  but had a failed year long attempt at ballet at the Andre Eglevesky School of Dance. It was humiliating being demoted to the younger class because I was so awkward. I was built strong and slender and looked as if I might be a dancer but had flexibility problems even as a child. In retrospect,  I think I wanted to take ballet so I could get a tutu in a bright color with sequins on it.

When I would go to the Ballet or to a Broadway musical or the Joyce Theater I would often be moved to tears by what I was witnessing and wished that it was me up there that I had the talent, the gift to dance like they did.

When I turned 50 I wanted to dance again. Dissatisfied with the offerings at the gym I enrolled in classes at Silva Dance one very long treacherous flight up in an old building just next to the Long Island Railroad Station in Rockville Centre.

Mark was all for this latest adventure because any kind of movement  was a way for me to relieve stress and help address my constant flexibility issues and it also kept me in good shape for skating with him.

I started with an Adult Ballet class, an adult Hip-Hop class and a Modern Dance class.  What I was doing in Ballet again I thought? I wasn’t any better at 50.

I was awkward and stiff. I dropped the Ballet class and chose another.

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Theater Jazz with a tall stunning, curly-haired redhead by the name of Piper Arpan. Piper was destined for much bigger things than teaching at this little studio and she taught us each of the audition dances she had to perform for the parts on Broadway that she was going after. ( and one day actually got)

What a challenge she gave us.  I was probably the least proficient in the class at anything we did.

But being in Piper’s class it somehow didn’t matter. She never judged, she helped.  She taught, she patiently broke it down so that even I could eventually get some piece of the very difficult moves we did to numbers like “Billy Joel’s Big shot from Movin Out”, and “All that Jazz from Chicago” along with some moves she had to do when she auditioned for the Radio City Rockettes.

As a Theater Jazz dancer, I was a level just above pretty stinky and I was okay with that, except that I did have acting ability and Piper taught us that dancing is not just about the moves it’s about the heart and soul you put into it and part of that is acting.

My first recital (yes I did more than one) comes at holiday time, Piper choreographed our number, “Please come home for Christmas.”

I wrote down every single move, every single count, bought the CD, transferred the song to tape so I could stop and start it and at home played the song over and over and over again while I practiced my moves, trying to get the count, get it out of my head and into my body.

Mark heard that number by Bon Jovi a thousand and one times as I danced around the living room.  He even walked around singing it as I kept practicing and playing the song, stopping and restarting. We laughed about it– a lot. And I am pretty sure he was hoping this would all be over soon so that we could listen to a different song.

It’s important to note that the Theater Jazz class was considered an elite class (what was I doing there?) and our numbers were much anticipated. I practiced and practiced. I just didn’t want to mess it all up and let everyone down. We were 3 adults and the rest of the class was teenagers.

Meanwhile Mark was both encouraging and amused by it all. His wife at age 50 is in just a few short weeks will be in a dance a recital

It was surreal. But he went with it.

The night of the holiday show arrives and Mark comes to watch his 50 year old wife dance her first recital since she was 8 years old. Mark even brings his best friend Steve to witness what I hope is not a complete disaster.  There we sat all dressed in our holiday costumes. We were wearing (thankfully) black jazz pants, black tops, jazz shoes and Santa hats.

Slimming and forgiving.

Before the show begins Piper gives us  a pep-talk, which as it turns out is excellent advice not just for a dance recital but for life and worth remembering.

“Don’t worry if you mess up, no one but you knows what your are supposed to be doing, just keep going, don’t crash, stay in character and smile. Do your best to end together.”

It was over in a flash and I think I did okay. I went left when everyone went right one time,  but I heard what Piper said and at the end when everyone clapped I caught Mark and Steve out the corner of my eye, “Two thumbs up” and a big smile flashed across Mark’s face.

When we left Mark (who was never one to hand out fake compliments) said, “You were pretty good. All that practice paid off and your enthusiasm showed,  it looked like you were having a great time.”

I was honey, Thanks. I really was.

Who could ask for anything more?

Let the right one in and if he buys you shoes- marry him

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I’ve been doing a lot of closet clearing these days. It is a ritual I have done every year since I can remember from Thanksgiving through New Year’s to start fresh. There are a few things that while I may not wear them anymore they have a special meaning for me. When I was in my basement walk-in I took a look at these again and thought about the guy I was married to for close to half my life.

Mark and I as a couple were less likely to go shopping than roller-skating, biking, hiking, dancing or beach-walking. Mark enjoyed being outside, the beauty of nature, the challenge of a steep hill with city buses whizzing by or the mystery of why sea-birds all  face the same way as the wind blows together by species just hanging out there on the sand.

So it was an unusual evening that we spent in what used to be Abraham and Straus in downtown Brooklyn a few weeks before we were to be married in 1986. Mark had a soft blue two piece storm coat, it had a short under -jacket, the sleeves zipped off to become a vest and a longer over jacket and a nice roomy hood, the label inside said Bruce Jenner for SIM.

Mark knew how to pick well-made, practical and good looking clothes and this storm coat was just that but it lacked a little panache for me.

As his soon-to be new bride I thought it might be time for a more “updated” look, not to get rid of the Bruce Jenner (as we called it) but to have something a little more “spiffy” like a bomber jacket that while still practical, looked a little more stylish. More in vogue.

Mark was one to buy  the best that he could afford, preferably on sale so he could get an even better brand, but  mostly he preferred to get things for others rather than for himself.

On this particular evening 26 years ago, we got into Mark’s shiny blue Chevy Malibu, a perfect car for a guy who drove everyday to East New York, Brooklyn to his job as a school principal,  from our (then) apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn to Downtown Brooklyn to A&S.

Strolling though A&S we passed the women’s shoe department and right away Mark could see my eyes glaze over, I was mesmerized by the shoes.

“Do you want to look in here?” Mark asked me.

“Oh, no, we are here to find you a new jacket, this isn’t about me.” I said. I could feel the magnetic pull of the shoes as I walked into the department on aut0-pilot and starting browsing. Somehow magically I found myself seated trying on shoes and modeling them for a bemused Mark.

I tried on a pair of red suede ghille pumps with a Louis heel, “I like those a lot on you, how do they feel?” Mark asked.

They felt great.  “Why don’t you get them and what about those shoes that look like cars, those are kind of a fun shoe don’t you think?”

Within a few minutes Mark and I left the shoe department with 3 pairs of brand new shoes for me.  And oh, yes he did get a new khaki  bomber jacket that he looked very handsome wearing.

Mark would have bought me the whole shoe department if that would have made me happy. (And why not, everything was 25 %0ff. )

That’s how it went for 26 years.  Mark gave me all that I wanted (lucky him I didn’t need a Rolls Royce) but the heart of the matter is this.

It wasn’t about the things he gave me,  it was about the life he gave me. Like the shoes that we got that night which in hindsight was a clue to what kind of husband he would be.  Generous.  Thoughtful. Open. Fun to be with. Patient.

Mark  gave me all that I needed to become the person I wanted to be.  And I still have the shoes we bought that night the red suede Louis heels still look fabulous and I always get compliments when I wear them.

To me those shoes and the memory of how I got them are treasure from a moment in time that said so much about the man I was about to marry.

 

Skeptics, please don’t read this.

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After Mark died last year I went to see a Medium. Like I said, if you are a skeptic you might want to click off here and go read a news blog or something. Oddly, how I got to this person was by way of woman who said she was going because “I’m skeptical and I don’t believe all that stuff.”

Really I thought, “you, who besides being skeptical is also someone who could give the woman who writes the “Tightwads Gazette” a run for her very carefully spent money. Why would you do that? Why spend the money?”

Apparently she wanted to prove that her best friend had been wasting her time and money going to see this person.  In other words to make her wrong.

I, on the other hand was eager to meet this guy, and as it happened he was right in the next town. It took a lot of finagling on my part to get the name out of the skeptical woman. I guess she was protecting me from myself. Or maybe she was just being stingy which is one of her most outstanding qualities.

As you may have guessed, she and I do not like each other even though our husbands were friends for over 40 years. I avoided being with her and I think the feeling was mutual.

After much cajoling I was able to get the name from her and made an appointment. It was October and the earliest appointment I was able to get was end of January.

And then providence stepped in. A phone call came from the Medium’s scheduler a cancellation came in for just 6 days before my birthday in November. Did I want it?

Now just so you know when the appointment is made the only question the scheduler asks is first name and phone number. Period. Nothing more. While on the phone the scheduler gives me the cancellation policy and lets me know I must confirm 24 hours in advance. So if you are thinking about how Mediums probably spend their days Googling all your information in advance, that is not the case.

And if you are one of those people why are you still reading?

I would like to tell you that I plan to share my entire one hour session with Glenn but no I am not though he did give me a CD of the session and I did video our conversation. It took me six months before I listened to it again it was so powerful and overwhelming.

I can tell you that all of the things he said there was no way he could have known unless Mark told him. One thing that I will share was this-after he said that Mark walked in with me (he asked, did he just pass?” At that time it was just two months)

At one point he was wondering,  “Why am I getting the image for the cartoon character Dora the Explorer, Dora the Explorer? My son used to watch her on PBS you know who she is?”

I laughed.” That is my mother in law’s name”, I said.

He said, “She’s still on this side, but starting to lose it a bit?”

Then he said this, “Mark is saying that if she says that I have been to see her, I have and I will be.”

On the day after he died, my mother in-law said that she had “such a nice visit with Mark last night.”  She never knew he was sick, never knew he died we made that decision from day one to spare her worry. Dora was a worrier.

Two weeks after my session with Glenn my mother -in-law went into a coma and died. I am guessing that Mark was telling her “Hey lady come on now, time to leave. Let’s go” She was 93 and starting to fall apart. What better way to go with your son whispering in your ear?

Going to see Glenn was a great gift I gave myself.

Mark came through even though he said to Glenn, “I don’t believe in this sh*t I am doing this for her.” Glenn said “Mark is someone I would really like to be friends with, ” and I said, “Well you can be.”

Mark was fine, no more suffering just free like a bird. Glenn said he was happy.   Mark  said some things that he remembered about his last hours and repeated the same words he said to me the day before he died, “I love you, be happy, have a great life and please get some sleep.” There was much more but it’s personal.

So what does that mean to the skeptics?  As Glenn said, “Why would anyone waste their money to prove me wrong? Go buy a pair of shoes instead.”

As for me, if your heart is broken, like mine was, seeing a genuine Medium can be a good thing to do.

(I would avoid the street fortune tellers that dot every corner in NYC)

When I left that November day, I was glad to know Mark was okay and that I would be too someday and that he is with me even though I cannot see him, he is in my heart and I know he is watching over me. Funny things do happen that I can only say that somehow Mark orchestrated them. And if that is the case I am good with that no matter what anyone else may think.

Glenn said, “He is not up there, not down there, but right here in another realm. Who he was on this side is who he is on the other. You have a great guy right by your side.”

Yep I know.

After loss finding my life

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This isn’t the most flattering photo of Mark yet I love it because it is so very Mark.  He WOULD be the one to climb up on a  tower after hiking up a steep slope. Taken near Woodstock 16 plus years ago on a crisp fall day.

I have spent the past year trying to find my life. Married to Mark for 26 years and living with him for close to 30, I can tell you as he would say, “It ain’t easy.”  Before he left this earth he made me promise to “enjoy your life, be happy,” I remember looking in his gaunt face, his golden brown eyes, me choking back the tears, sniffling and pawing at him still strong but very skinny arms begging for the impossible. A miracle. We had all our miracles. Time was up. Game over.  No more hikes in the woods, walks on the beach, getting lost on purpose, no more skating, no more dancing. Oh the dancing . We danced everywhere from the Rainbow Room to our Living room.

And right then as I sat there holding his hand clinging to him,  a song came on my iPhone,  via Pandora, Maroon 5-”Moves Like Jagger”.

Something miraculous happened, though not surprising. Mark rose-waving off any offer of assistance and looked me in the eyes, smiled and whispered in my ear, ” Last dance?”  We danced one more Hustle, one more Lindy, one more booty shaking dance- just one more time.

Mark danced with gusto with all the energy he could muster.  He was  weak, he was dying. But Mark was a powerhouse.  One of his many nicknames was Mr. Mighty. And in that moment he was indeed Mr. Mighty.  Mark  wasn’t one to pass up a chance to climb a tower, dance a dance, learn a new skating move or give up even when the time had come to let go.

Mark savored life. I miss how when we were together we would take an ordinary day and make it special. Sometimes I step, sometimes I stumble but each day I take him with me and find the joy and count my blessings for all that he gave me.

Stay tuned hon.

Reasons

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A little over 5 years ago I met a woman whose husband had just died suddenly. She was an instant widow without any preparation at all. He wasn’t sick. He was a handsome, vibrant, comparatively young man.

He just keeled over and died.

She stood there in her driveway in her bathrobe, tears pouring down her face. This new widow hardly knew me except that we both had dogs by the name of Lucy. She was broken-hearted, confused and hurt about how all the people she thought were her friends had just disappeared. I did not know her name, I did not know her husband except I would see them once in a while at synagogue on the High Holy days when I would go with Mark.

 

She begged, no pleaded, with me to come by to visit her she was so alone and frightened. Her hands were grabbing at my arms and I could feel her shaking with upset.

 

I said I would come by, and then, I never did.

So what does that make me?  Someone who owes her an apology even though it is more than 5 years later. It makes me someone whose integrity is out of alignment with who I want to be even though I had a really, really good reason. 

In fact I had many reasons.

No long after we stood on her driveway that morning, my mother got sick and died and simultaneously my husband was diagnosed with a rare cancer and I had to put my dog Lucy down because she had cancer too and was going to bleed out and die anyway.

I became so preoccupied with what was happening in our lives that I never made it back to tell that woman whose name I do not know, how sorry I was for not being able to there for her.

Recently I saw her as was coming down the driveway, she waved to me from the drivers’ seat of her shiny black Mercedes as she drove away.  I wondered if she remembered that day she clutched at me for dear life as I do every time I walk past her house wishing I had made it right somehow.

My reasons for not showing up are good ones of course, but I also know that reasons have a way of becoming the storyline of one’s life.  Reasons can sometimes take us away from being our most genuine or authentic selves. Reasons can be a substitute for living with integrity and I have often felt very bad about that regarding this woman who I did not know at all. It didn’t matter I promised her I would come back and I did not.

I screwed up my courage one day recently, no long after my husband Mark died and rang her doorbell. I wanted to tell her that I never forgot that day, she was so sad and how I had broken my promise to her and I really understood now how awful that feels. 

 

At first no one answered the door, and then a tall young man opened the door and I knew right away it was her son. He looked so like his father. “My mom is on vacation she will be back in two weeks, “ he told me.  

As I walked down the driveway I breathed a sigh of relief. I could put this off for another week or two and maybe for forever. Maybe now she doesn’t need me reminding her of those dark, difficult days. Maybe now she has a whole new life. 

Or maybe being told by a neighbor, who meant to keep her promise but did not, that she deserved better, would put something to rest for both of us once and for all.

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