Her hair is faded to white.
She is fair-skinned and thin.
Her memory is beginning to fade.
Mine will not.
I remember when they met.
I didn’t like her.
I still had fantasies that they’d get back together; we’d be a happy family.
Not again, but for the first time.
We’d never before been a happy family.
Before there was always anger.
Tennis at the Club.
Out of town travel for work and the Naval Reserves.
I believed it could all be different if they’d just try!
But now she was in the picture.
Bleached blond hair.
Syrupy sweet voice.
Looking at him like he’d hung the moon.
And the way he looked at her!
In my thirteen-year-old mind she was just the other woman.
Never mind they’d been separated since I was ten.
Never mind the ugliness.
Never mind the yelling and anger.
Never mind mom wouldn’t be in the same room with him.
Never mind they’d been divorced for a year.
She meant they’d never get back together.
I had a stepmom.
I saw her beauty.
I saw her love for him.
I saw her love for us, all of us.
I saw his love for her.
More years passed.
My love for her grew.
She was beautiful.
She was sweet, really sweet.
Like warm maple syrup.
She smiled. A lot. At me. And at him.
She never yelled.
When our first child was born – a skinny baby girl – we named her after her.
We carried on a family tradition that went back generations in her family.
It was my way of say, “I love you. I’m sorry I didn’t see how wonderful you are when we first met.”
One day they moved into Grandmother’s house.
For years she cared for her with love and kindness.
Even as Grandmother faded slowly and lost her memory, she loved her well.
She cried as if she’d lost a friend.
My mother died.
She stayed in the background, not wanting attention for herself.
Never mentioning the ugliness mom had showed her. Showed us.
She was kind and loving to us in our pain.
He got sick. Really sick.
Heart failure. Diabetes. Heart attacks. Valve replacement, twice. Weekly wound care. Weekly doctors appointments.
She cared for him with grace and patience.
Never short with him.
Never letting us see how bad it was for him. For them.
She was still beautiful, if a bit older and her hair a bit thinner.
She was still sweet, like honey from the comb.
She was still kind and never harsh.
Early one Easter morning.
He was gone. In his sleep. Peacefully. At home.
I wasn’t sure she would live through the pain.
I stayed with her all that week.
I heard her gentle weeping through their bedroom door.
I knew I loved her. Really loved her.
Not just because she was his wife
Or had cared for Grandmother
Or had been kind when my mom died
Or had nursed him.
Because I loved her. She was…is my friend.
And I will love and care for her as long as she lives.