I sat in the church, stone-faced. It was the only way I could control my emotions. I was oblivious to the words the minister was saying. It was grief that was causing the way I looked and felt. The casket was only four paces in front of me, and its contents held all the hopes, dreams and happiness as well as the body that had been in my heart for the last three years. Now my heart was empty of everything. At least I had the chance to say good-bye. That was something to be thankful for even as her soul slipped from this realm and the Lord whisked it away.
Angie and I had for three years a unique union filled with love. I met her on the side of the highway asking for work so she could buy food. I needed a housekeeper and I stopped and hired her for that position. Within months and before the summer was over, we were in love. I was and still am a teacher and she was waiting on her first teaching position. At the time I was coming out of a relationship that had ended in divorce shortly before I met her. Nearly the same thing was happening to Angie except she wasn't married to the man. Her break-up was much worse than mine in the sense she had aborted the fetus she was carrying at the time.
I was four years older than Angie and I suppose that much more settled and mature. We both needed something and we found it in each other. With the same common interests in teaching it was easy to make a happy life together.
That first summer was special for we tutored some teenage students who each had their own problems, and we guided them in growing into adults. Angie and I still received cards and e-mails from most of them. Two of them, Pete and Gail, had matured into young adults and last year they were married. The love between them had blossomed the first time I went camping with my students. Never in God's world would I have believed the attraction that turned to love would last. In fact the words of advice I gave them cautioned them that it wouldn't last when they fell in love so young. But then Angie and I had set an example and they followed it. Angie was there for Gail and participated in the wedding as her matron of honor.
Betty, one of the younger students, graduated and now eighteen, had become a model of some renown and had steady work. She was under contract to three different agencies as a clothing model. Her success she said was due to our help in getting her started. Andy, also one of Angie's students, who was destined at the time to become a basketball player, injured his knee on the court as a senior and couldn't finish out the season. Taking it in stride, he turned to other interests and was presently planning on a career as an architect. These students kept in close contact with us and were in the congregation sitting behind me.
Pat, one of the other students we tutored, was playing college football and was being scouted by some of the national teams. He was here as well. Debra, the last of the six students--I tried to keep my thoughts away from her. Especially here today with Angie's body right in front of me. Angie had known where Debra located after she graduated. When we were first married Angie mentioned her quite often.
One evening when we were cuddled up on the couch as close as could be I said, "Angie, if you don't mind, I wish you wouldn't talk about Debra so much. Before we were married, I was attracted to her. There was an attraction, but she was so young. Maybe it wasn't so much physical, it was just that we seemed to understand each other. I don't want to be reminded of it. Can you understand where I'm coming from?"
Angie sat up and turned the light on full and looked into my face. "Hank, I thought you would be happy to hear about her and what she is doing. Is your attraction for her still there?"
"I wouldn't think so. I'm totally happy with you. I'll admit at one time I did fantasize about what it would be like to take her in my arms and make love to her. That night we went out to the club to dance was when I was just a little uncertain that I could control my feelings. Before the night was over I told her I was going to ask you to marry me. From that moment on she became a friend--a mature and understanding friend. You notice when we dropped her off at her door she just kissed me on the cheek. I do know she was attracted to me as well, but she knew my love was elsewhere.
"I know you talk to her over the phone. I imagine you talk about me some." I grinned and added, "You are always talking about me to everyone. Let me ask you not for myself, but for her. Does she ask about me or do you just tell her about me? If she doesn't ask about me, maybe she wants to forget me like I want to forget her. Would you think about it?"
"You do love me don't you? You love me and you want to make sure nothing comes between us. Oh, I'm so lucky to have you. I'm going to keep you forever."
A couple of weeks after that conversation Angie said, "Hank, one time I'll refer back to our conversation about Debra. I've talked to her twice since we spoke about her. You were right. She never asked about you at all. Before our last conversation was over, she seemed to change. I think she is much more my friend now than when I gushed about you all the time. You don't mind if I continue to talk to her do you? We even might get together sometimes. Friends do that, you know." I had some little doubt about this, but I let it go. If these two women wanted to discuss me out of my presence--so be it.
"Do it. I have no objections at all. Just keep me out of it." This happened two years ago. Angie, three or four times a year, went to visit Debra in Washington. I was welcome to go with her, but I always declined. I won't say I forgot Debra, but then I pushed the thoughts away and she became just the student I had taught in the past and one I remembered fondly. Angie seldom mentioned her again. I didn't know what she was doing or where she lived other than it was in DC.
My mind returned reluctantly away from Angie and Debra to the present. The services were just about over. The minister was asking if anyone wanted to say anything about Angelina Rawlings. Several students stood and tried to say something about their teacher, but most were incoherent because they were crying so hard. None of the students from our first summer school said anything. Her father Frank spoke. He just said that Angie had been troubled in her youth, but had found a wonderful man who had made her happy for the last three years. He was thankful that she had found joy in her work and in her home life. I couldn't look at him for that would have broken the shell I had built around myself to get through the ordeal today.
Soon it was over and those behind me came down the aisle and filed by the casket. The majority were crying. Was this the measure of what people had felt about my wife? She was so young and her life had been wiped away so unexpectedly. She was well-loved and would be missed by all who had known her.
As my ex-wife filed by, I put my hand out and pulled her and Lyman to my side. "Shirley, please stay by me until this is over. I need some support at the cemetery. I still can't believe this has happened. It is just not fair."
"Of course Hank. We'll be with you." Shirley and Angie had never become more than acquaintances. Angie felt that Shirley had treated me like dirt and no one treated her husband like that, even if it happened before she came on the scene. That was between Angie and Shirley. I had an easy friendship with both her and Lyman. He who had taken Shirley from me. We didn't socialize at all, but occasionally Lyman and I had a beer together. I was so happy with Angie that I sometimes forgot that I had once been married to Shirley.
I struggled through the committal service and returned to the church for some lunch that was put on by the ladies. Gail and Betty were by my side and I derived solace from them. Shirley could see that although I had asked her for support, these two young women were those I clung to, they being so close to both Angie and me. Frank and Helen, Angie's parents, were as lost as I was and turned to Shirley, who they had known when I was married to her.
Finally the last of those who had come to the funeral slowly came to me expressing their regrets and eventually I was left alone with Helen and Frank. They were staying for a few days in the now empty and lonely home that I had shared with Angie. Gail told me before leaving that she had sent an e-mail to Debra about Angie's death, but had not received a response in return.
None of us were hungry. There had been food supplied by the church ladies, but we hadn't eaten anything then and didn't want anything now. The three of us sat in the living room and stared at the floor. Finally Helen asked, "What are you going to do Hank? What are you going to do about the woman who killed Angie?"
"What am I going to do? I don't know. I guess Angie being gone hasn't hit me yet. As far as the woman that ran into Angie, I'll most likely do nothing. She has her own problems and I'm not going to add to them. She lost her child in the accident. She was clearly at fault and I imagine the law will deal with her on that. You're wondering if I'm going to sue? No. Her insurance company will cover my material losses. I lost Angie and they can't replace her. Money would remind me of what I lost and I'm sure it would remind me of the mother and father who lost their baby.
.... There is more of this story ...