I could see the hate in their eyes as I made my way across the room to the podium. I felt my flesh being ripped from my body as I was shot, stabbed and probably hung out to dry even before I made it there. I'd had tears in my eyes for the last five days and at this point really didn't give a shit what they thought anymore. As I stood there I could feel beads of sweat running down my back, my stomach was nothing but one huge knot, and no matter how many times I wiped my hands, they stayed wet and clammy. I guess someone had turned off the mike because my words came out just above a whisper. A flick of a black switch on the mike made all the difference. I took one more look at the crowd and pulled out five neatly folded pieces of paper out of my inner jacket pocket and began.
"I guess most of you know me and are probably wondering what the hell I'm doing here today? Well to tell you the truth I'm not sure myself only that I was asked by Reverend Thomas to say a few words today."
Two people in about the fourth row shook their heads, stood up and walked out as everyone watched.
"If there is anyone else who wants to leave please do it now so I can get through what I'm about to say without any further interruptions." I heard a few people say something under their breath but no one else left. I guess everyone, including my family, was wondering what I was going to say next. I'd thought about it since yesterday and even though I'd told Reverend Thomas I would, I had only written two sentences down at the bottom of the last piece of paper.
"I'd like to read a letter I received a couple of days ago and I'd appreciate it if you'd let me finish without any interruptions." I took out a pair of reading glasses and put them on. I didn't normally need them, but my eyes were tired and I didn't want to make any mistakes. Taking a deep breath I started.
If you're reading this, it means I finally got up enough courage to do what I should have done months earlier. I know you've heard me say it a thousand times before, but I'm so sorry. I know it doesn't excuse what I did; it's just that, that's about all I have left in me. If it was possible I'd go back and redo what I did and we could go back to being the happy couple we once were but that's never going to happen is it?
Do you remember our third date when I told you that I was going to be your wife and that you no longer had any say in the matter? You laughed, I laughed and you said that I guess we should start planning our wedding and a month later that's exactly what we did. God, I loved you. Every time I thought about you I would get that warm feeling deep inside and couldn't wait until I was back in your arms again.
When I said 'I do' that day I meant it heart and soul. We were going to be together until death us do part, I really believed that and I believe it even now.
Those first few years were better than I could ever have imagined. Besides being at work, I don't think we were ever out of arms reach from one another. We laughed when people told us to get a room or when they said we made them sick with our lovey dovey talk, but it wasn't an act, we loved each other just that much; well we did anyway.
When I told you I was pregnant I thought you were going to bust a gut. When you finally stopped kissing me and swinging me around we just looked at each other and knew what would come next. When we spent the next twelve hours in bed; I didn't think we could ever get any closer but I was wrong.
When Philip was born it was second happiest day of my life. He was so beautiful and we were the family I'd always dreamed about.
I guess to this day I don't really understand what happened. All I remember was Philip started to turn blue and I was screaming for someone to help me. I tried to follow them when the nurse took him away but they would let me. I screamed and yelled until someone finally gave me a shot of something. John, I didn't do anything wrong, you have to believe that. I was breast-feeding him one minute and the next he was turning blue. I don't remember much after that until I woke up and saw you next to my bed.
I guessed by the look on your face what had happened. God, you were brave. You tried to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders and I guess I never thought how much you were hurting too. The only thing I could think about was my baby was gone. I cursed God, you and everyone else who tried to get close to me. I never meant to lash out at you, I just didn't know what to do; I was hurting so badly.
I was going to kill the next one who said that I could always have another; I didn't want another one, I wanted Philip. He wasn't a puppy or kitten where you could go to the store and replace him. He'd lived inside of me for nine months, he was my child and when he died a piece of me died. As I said John, I never even thought about what you must have been going through.
I guess I pounded in the first wedge in our relationship. Even though you were an angel I still lashed out at you repeatedly especially when you suggested that I should maybe talk to someone. I can remember swearing at you that night, telling you that I didn't need anyone to tell me Philip was dead, I all ready knew that.
When I went back to work everyone was nice but no one knew what to say. No one there had ever lost a child so they couldn't imagine what I was feeling. My boss Jim made sure I was always busy so at least I wouldn't have to dwell on what I was feeling all day at work. It seems after a couple of weeks everyone except Kathy and Beth stayed away from me. I heard what they called me under their breath and at first I felt bad but soon I no longer cared.
You saw it why didn't I? Maybe I did, but just didn't want to believe it. John, he was my boss for Christ's sakes; I never would have dreamed what he had in mind for me. We would talk. He would ask me how I was doing and I thought he was genuinely interested in how I was doing. Sometimes we talked for hours about what I was feeling and I never once realized he was slipping in another wedge in between us. When he said that you should have been more responsive to my needs I believed him. When I told him about lashing out at you, he said he fully understood and supported me unlike you.
When we started going out to lunch and you found out you were upset. I told you that there was nothing going on and that you had no reason to be jealous of Jim. I guess those two company dinners I didn't tell you about were only the tip of the iceberg. I considered Jim a close friend and you saw him for the predator he was.
He kept apologizing over and over again after he kissed me the first time. He just said he'd felt so close to me that it was almost a natural reaction. I told him not to worry about it and when I touched his arm he knew it was only a matter of time.
John, if I'd known what he was planning I would have quit my job in a heartbeat. I only thought of him as a good friend never as a lover. You were my only lover, but I guess I'd kind of pushed you aside even in that respect.
When you told me that it had been three months since we'd made love I called you a liar. I didn't know how long it had been but it couldn't have been that long. I'm sure I hurt you deeply when I yelled at you and said I needed more time to mourn my child before trying to make another one. I'm so sorry for those hurtful things I said to you. I didn't mean any of them. I think it was a combination of anger and frustration of not knowing what to do that made me say those things. I'm so sorry. As I said before I must have said those words a thousand times in the last few months.
I'm not sure who told you about the company dinner that night. I'd brought a change of clothes to work so I wouldn't have to come home and change. I don't know why I didn't let you know about it? You were invited I just felt like I needed a night away from you, even though we'd had too many of those already.
Jim made sure my glass was never empty and even though I could say it was the alcohol; it wasn't. We hadn't been together for a long time and when Jim danced with me I could feel him against my leg.
As God is my witness, I never knew he booked a room at the hotel. I was pretty drunk when we went upstairs. If I'd known you were downstairs looking for me I never would have even gone upstairs with him much less let him do what he did.
I suppose my good friends ratted me out and with the hotel manager in tow you walked into the room. I can't even imagine what went through your mind at that exact moment but the look in your eyes said it all. I wish now you would have at least screamed or yelled at me but I guess you were too surprised and hurt. You left before I could explain but what was there to explain.
When I finally got home every word you spoke to me was like a sharp rock hitting my flesh, laying it wide open as the blood gushed out. When you asked why all I could do was cry. You never said I told you so you just threw another handful of salt into each wound and watched me scream.
When you left the next morning I thought I was going to die. I never made it into work on Friday or even called in. I spent the weekend in bed feeling sorry for myself and trying to figure a way out of this. I couldn't lie to you, you'd seen it first hand but I thought maybe you'd forgive me this one time; but you didn't. I guess I'd driven you away all these last months and you had no more forgiveness left in you.
When you wouldn't talk to me I sent over mom; mom could fix anything but not this. When she saw me she just shook her head and said she was sorry. If she was sorry, what was I?
Two weeks later I got the papers but I didn't care anymore. I don't know where I put them but it didn't make any difference, I'd lost you. You never answered any of my calls or e-mails over the next two months and although I worked I wasn't much good anymore.
The day I found out I was pregnant was the worst one of my life. I knew it wasn't yours and the thought of carrying Jim's bastard child made me sick for days. Mom took me to the doctor and he told me I'd have to take better care of myself, after all I was going to be a mother. I got sick right there in his office.
I understand your lawyer got a huge settlement from Jim and the company I used to work for. When everything came to light we were both let go and were told not to use them as a reference. Jim was angry and blamed me for everything. When I told him I was pregnant he laughed and asked how many other guys I was screwing around with.
John, I needed you more at that moment than I'd needed anyone else in my entire life. You were my knight in shinning armor. You were supposed to take care of me; you were supposed to save me. I tried so many times to call you but you never answered; I guess I didn't really expect you to. You were done and so was I.
John, I love you more than I love myself and I've prayed to God every day that you could find it in your heart to forgive me. I stood outside your work place yesterday. I just wanted to see your smiling face once more; God I love you so much and it hurts so bad to think that I threw it all away.
So the only thing I can say is that I'll always love you and that maybe one day you'll find it in your heart to forgive me. I hope you will eventually find someone who can bring that beautiful smile back to your face and that you'll think about what we had once in a while.
I know I'm babbling but I don't know how to end this because I don't want it to end. But, I guess it all ready has.
My sweet and loving husband remembers always that I'll always treasure what we had and even though you're not with me, you'll always be in my heart.
Your wife always,
I finally looked up and took off my glasses. How I read that last page I can't tell you because it along with everything was soaked with my tears. I looked around and the hate that had been there previously was gone and replaced with sorrow.
I looked down at the casket below me and wept openly. I walked down the steps and up to the open casket and bent down and kissed my wife. I slipped on her finger the wedding ring she sent me with the letter and tucked the letter into the lining next to her. If she was lost what was I now? I wanted her back.
"Honey, please wake up; all is forgiven babes, lets go home I've missed you so much," I whispered to her but she never answered me.
I felt a small hand on my shoulder; it was her mom's. Through her own tears she told me that she always loved me and would live on inside of me. My dad helped me back to my seat as I watched them close the casket and my life.
"I don't want to live without you; I can't go on without you," I sobbed as I watched them wheel the casket to the back of the church
I never made it to the cemetery. I had buried our son and his mother was laid to rest right next to him. The two people who meant the most to me in the world were now gone.
Dad drove me to my home. I hadn't been there in months. It looked lived in. It was cluttered, but there was no food in the house. I went upstairs, laid on what use to be our bed and put her pillow over my face. With my eyes closed it was almost like she was there with me as I inhaled her essence from the pillow.
In the den there were a pile of crumbled up pieces of paper on the floor. Reading a few, they must have been the first drafts of her letter. I walked around and finally passed out on my old chair in the living room.
In the morning I noticed the newspaper clipping. Her mother must have dropped it off a couple of days earlier.
Ashley Moore twenty-nine was killed in a one-car accident at 11:30 A.M. on Tuesday. He car crashed through the railing on Cliff Road and ended up in the ravine one hundred and fifty feet below. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The police say that excessive speed was likely the reason and her death has been ruled an accident.
It wasn't an accident and Ashley didn't die as a result of the crash. She died months before she got in her car that day and it was partly my fault. Why didn't I love her enough to forgive her and start over again? That is one question that has plagued me for the last five days and I still don't have an answer.
Jim's wife divorced him and took him for everything he had. He lost his job, wife and everything he owned but he's still sucking air and still walking around free.
I sold our house, as is. I never went back in there and her mom donated everything in the place to needy families in the church. I bought a condo not far from my parent's home and I've made it a point to watch out for them. Work is keeping me busy and everyone stops by to tell me how sorry he or she is for my loss. Ashley was right, no matter how many times you hear it; it doesn't make it any easier.
Man beaten to death outside bar on north side, the news anchor said over the airwaves. They described how he was beaten so badly that he was unrecognizable. They had to use what was left of his dental work to identify the body. I shut the television off. "Old news," I said to myself as I sipped on another cold one.
Ashley's mother was right, she did live on in my heart, but it just wasn't the same.