For months I avoided the fitness center. I didn’t want to run into Faith who worked there. She had lost her son five years before. She knew what I was going through. I didn’t want to talk to Faith because I didn’t want to join her club.
My doctor had ordered me on Thursday back to the gym. “Exercise will help you,” she said. The last thing I wanted to do was move. Dr. Brown passed me the prescription: “min. of cardio three times per wk.” I imagined that I turned her to ice. When my middle daughter was young, she loved how Kimberly the Pink Power Ranger froze whatever got in her way. Every morning and every night, since the June day of our horrible loss, I willed superhero magic. I commanded life halted: the summer breeze, the blossomed lilies, the honey bees, the deep oceans, even the orbited planets.
On Friday, at the gym’s entryway, I sat down and put on my sneakers. I glanced up and saw Faith headed my way. Early daylight illuminated her auburn hair. Her slight smile acknowledged me. The twinkle in Faith’s brown eyes misplaced for good somewhere along the sidewalk of her life like a button that never turned up. I looked down and concentrated on making tight double-knotted loops with my laces.
Faith stood in front of me. “I have a favor to ask of you,” she said.
I raised my chin.
That afternoon, back home, with a bottle in hand, I climbed downstairs into our basement to search for the photo Faith desired. I heaved the large Rubbermaid tub with a thud to the cement floor. The photos of my three children shook loose inside the container. Faith knew too well what she had asked of me. I guzzled the Pinot Noir and wiped my lips. Since our own awful afternoon eleven months earlier, it was the facts of my middle child’s twenty-three-year life that I clung to like a rescue rope thrown to me in the deep rising waters of grief. How could I deny Faith the next stone to step on to stay afloat from the thunderous current of despair?
Months before, when the summer sun hung high, the goldenrod bloomed, blueberries hung plump on the lakeside bushes, and the sticky heat weighted down my work dress, a small paper bag had been left in my office mailbox. Inside was a book of mediations on loss with a postcard, a field of forget-me-nots. Faith had written: “We found this book the most helpful. We hope it gives you some peace. Call me when you are ready to walk.” That’s when I made the connection. Five years before, my oldest daughter had called me from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She had cried into the telephone. A wretched ice storm had covered most of New Hampshire and had shut down electricity. I had mistaken her sadness for worry over those of us trapped in the frozen darkness. She told me that wasn’t it, though she was upset for us. There had been a sudden death. That kind and handsome boy with the dark eyes who had been her date for her senior prom had been killed in a car accident on a slippery mountain road.
On Sunday, my husband held his oval glasses in his hand and pressed his eyes close to the newspaper article. “Listen to this French interior designer’s meaning of color: Every color has a psychological effect on a room. Particular color combinations give one another balance. Colors like vibrant vermillion red and chartreuse green, when paired together, properly symbolize survival.” He cleared his throat. “Colors give us permanence.”
The dampness from our home’s foundation seeped into my flesh and bones. I swigged another sip of bitter wine, and put the bottle down on the cement floor. With both hands I dug through the plastic tub of loose photos. Like someone at a contest, I pulled a photo free and held it up toward the light. There we were. My three children and I had picnicked by the ocean. The day’s brightness had beamed. I remembered the breeze that summer day had fluttered our beach towels and sand had stuck to our bodies, covered in cocoa butter lotion. We had used our sandals to tack down the corners. The endless blue had spread out above us. Our bare legs had touched. For our lunch we had gobbled our usual homemade bread slathered with butter and sliced bananas, drizzled with honey.
On Monday, I bought a picture frame for the prom photo I had uncovered at the bottom of the bin. Years before on that spring day, the four teens had stood outdoors beside a stand of pines. My older daughter wore a little black dress with a wrist corsage. The outline of what would become a full moon had peeked out from the dusk. Off camera, my middle daughter had swung on the swing set. Valerie yelled to me, to them, that she would sway high and fly.
At the gym, in my workout clothes, with silence, I placed the package wrapped in bright red and bright green paper with ribbon into Faith’s empty hands, and headed to the treadmill. This will be the only evidence Faith will ever have of her son in a black-tie tuxedo.
Colors remain. People fade.
*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
Priscilla Bourgoine practices as a psychotherapist outside of Boston and offers web therapy through a Manhattan company. She earned an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Priscilla lives with her husband in southern New Hampshire. Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories based on Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” and a memoir about her relationship with her step-dad, a Cold War spy.