|Saturday morning Rita woke up thinking of Leo’s parents. Sadness came over her as she wished again that she had met his family back then, when he had wanted her to meet them. The feeling and the sadness stayed with her all day. His mother had passed away in the years they had been apart, and Rita grieved knowing she would never meet her in this life.
The next morning Rita started the coffee before turning on the computer. While she waited, she started a load of laundry. Coffee in hand, she checked email then went to the social page she favored. Rita set her cup down when she saw the notice about his father being in hospital. No wonder his folks had been on her mind. Her first instinct was to go see him. The hospital was in her town but Leo was several hours away.
It did not take long to talk herself out of the visit. What would she say to this man who never met her, who might not know of her existence? She imagined the conversation. “Oh, Hi, my name is Rita. You don’t know me but your son and I were in love once. We were engaged to be married. He wanted me to meet you but that never happened. It is one of my greatest regrets”. She could only imagine his reaction. He could ask why they never met and why she and his son never married. How could she tell him she did not know? Would he believe that? He probably would not care. He might point out that his son had a wife. Those would be hurts she did not want to bear. No, a visit was not a good idea.
She wanted to know him. She always had. It was natural she told herself. He’d unknowingly had such a profound impact on Rita’s life. He had helped shape the man she would always love, had helped him develop the standards and morals that she admired even now. Had it not been for his father and mother, there never would have been a Leo. That would have been a travesty to the world and Rita would never have experienced heaven on earth. She wanted to meet his father while there was still time but Rita knew. Way down deep inside. It was impossible. She felt the loss deeply. Rita loved his parents without ever having met them. She knew them by the virtues instilled in their son. He was a composite of them. And, how can you not love the plant that bore the bloom?
Her mind racing, Rita supposed the other son might be visiting his father. What if Leo was here? Surely his wife would be with him. The word “wife” created a knot in her stomach. She pictured the woman who was living Rita’s life. Rita resented that. Not her, not the woman. It was not the woman’s fault. She had come along later. She just resented anybody else walking in shoes intended for her. She hated that she did not belong in his life or in his father’s hospital room. It wasn’t fair that she had no place in their world. How could she not be part of his life when once she had been his life? Still there was no way that Rita could take a chance of hurting, or embarrassing Leo or his family. She’d more likely cut out her own heart. But it was difficult to think that somebody else was there, that somebody else belonged there. She told herself, “I have been cheated”. She debated with herself if it really was better to have loved and lost. Looking toward heaven she asked, “Why would you give it all to me only to take it all away? It’s not fair. It is just not fair”.
It was hard for Rita to get going. She felt heavy and sluggish. She used both hands to push off from the computer desk. Chores and errands would not magically get done. In another life, she would have been given a reprieve. She would have permission to leave it all in order to visit the hospital. She would have been at Leo’s side and he would have told her to forget about everything else. This life offered no exception for her. There was no reason for it to be any other way. She had somehow made a life without him and that life had obligations and responsibilities. In between her duties, she repeatedly checked the computer.
There were no updates and Rita was on edge. She kept telling herself to stay off the computer, but she could not. Every time she opened the page, she was faced with Leo and his wife staring back, smiling, happy. Children and grandchildren surrounded them. Pictures included pets and a country home. There were nights out with family and friends. It was all so perfect. It was exactly as they had imagined their life together would be. There was only one thing missing and that was Rita. Seeing the pictures of them dancing together was almost too much to take. He had promised he’d never dance with another woman, would never want to. They both had believed it when he’d said it. Rita wondered if that thought ever entered his mind when he danced with his wife.
She was reminded of a commercial where the husband walks out to find his family has been replaced by strangers. She said to the woman’s picture, “you are living my life. You have the man and the family that were meant for me. You own my happiness and my love. I am sure you don’t even know it, don’t know that you stepped into my place with little fan fare. This is my life, not yours. This is my dream you are dreaming.” She looked to Leo. How could you do this? How could you take what was rightfully mine and give it to someone else? How could you strip me of what belonged to me, of all that was dear to me and leave me in such a barren state? How could you have taken us away from me? You loved me. That is a certainty. I loved you and you knew that. There is no doubt. We planned this life together. How did our plans, our future get passed on to somebody else? How could you replace me so easily and so smoothly?
Rita imagined dancing at their wedding, A woman entered the hall. While still dancing with Rita, Leo took the dress, the shoes, the ring, and imperceptibly, handed them off to the other woman. She smiled innocently as she accepted his gifts and his hand. Then, he was dancing with her, whisking her away with the wedding party and the guests following gaily behind. Rita was left naked and alone in the cold empty room wondering what had happened and how. Her love and her life were interrupted. Rita was left living a life that somehow had never really seemed her own.
Long wailing sobs wracked Rita’s body. Suddenly she realized that she would probably never see Leo again. She would never meet his father or his brother. They would never live the life they planned, and their dreams would not come true. Their life together would remain where it started and never go any further. She grieved for the life that could have been and should have been. She screamed at the fates for taking all that love and happiness and leaving only memories in their place.
Rita eventually stopped crying. Her anger subsided. She knew that she would never intrude on their lives. She would never hurt him or the family he cherished So much of her was truly happy for him. She couldn’t even ask if the dreams he had after her had come true. But she hoped they had. She wished for him and his family a good life and immense happiness. She wanted nothing but the best for all of them. Her heart ached for any hurt or loss they had had and for any plans that had fallen through. Rita hoped that this woman loved Leo with her whole heart. She wished that the woman had even half the love, the respect and admiration that Rita felt for him. She hoped she realized how fortunate she was. Luck was taken from one and given to another in a flash. And she wished that they had had even a portion of the happiness Leo and she had had once.
There was finally an update. Leo’s father would be fine and Rita rejoiced. She looked at Leo and lovingly touched his face on the monitor. She spoke to him quietly. “When I said I would always love you, I meant it. I did, I do and I will. The thought of you still makes me smile, and I am glad you are in this world. You are a shining bright light in the darkness. I will always be grateful for the love we shared and the time we had. I will always be grateful for the part you played in my life. You were the best chapter in the story. You have my gratitude for what you have contributed to this world. I am honored to have known you. It was a privilege loving you and being loved by you. You brought me great joy and happiness, more than I ever thought possible. You taught me so much, and you restored my faith. I am eternally in your debt for what you gave me. Thank you for trusting me with your heart. I hope you know I would protect it at almost any cost. And I carry you safely within my own. Be well my love.”
Rita still loved him enough, still believed in them enough and the magic they had created to think that he heard her.