Standing in front of my bathroom mirror every morning I find myself there without thinking, just staring. I look at my face, and I do not honestly see myself as the person staring back at me. I wonder how my hair turned silver with streaks of white and how did I turn out to be this wrinkled? How did I get this old this fast? Finally, I turn away from the mirror as if I can turn away from my life.
My name is Sarah Fig, I am 72 years old and all alone in my world. I stare at the walls of my home most evenings with the television keeping me company. I find myself doing the same routine every night. At 7 p.m. I make a cup of mint tea and put my feet up while I sit in his chair, I drink my tea and think to myself how much I miss my life before all the sadness crept in.
By my second cup of tea, I reflect on my life and wonder if I could have done anything differently. Could I have been a better person? Could I have done a better job of raising my daughter, Ashlee? The more I think, the more I fight depressing thoughts and many guilty feelings that I was not good enough. I pray to God that when he takes me, He can explain to me why my life turned out the way it did.
People I know that have lost a partner never honestly say how they feel deep down inside. The brave face and smiles and hugs are to comfort others. For me, there is nothing but black emptiness and loneliness. All I have is the memories and the voice that I listen to inside myself. When I get up in the morning the best I can do is to ignore my inner-most thoughts. I cannot listen to what I think about, or I might just act on it. I cannot believe I am all alone after fifty-one years of marriage. If Colton were still here, I would feel complete instead of lost in my silent world. These fall evenings are quite chilly outside, the house is warm, but I am cold.
Ashlee keeps close tabs on me since she lives a few miles away. She is busy with my two granddaughters and her husband. I try not to interfere too much, but when I go over to visit, or she comes here to our home it helps to distract me.
I guess my story would not be complete unless I at least share a little about my husband, Colton. He was two years older than me. We met in college and soon took up the revolution of the 1960s. We dropped out of college, who needed it, we wanted to be free, so we bought an old Ford van and roamed around the Country.
We found our way from New Hampshire to San Francisco. We had the time of our life for a couple of years. Colton and I decided we had to make a lifestyle change. So we both waved goodbye to our free lifestyle in 1969 when I found out I was pregnant with Ashlee.
I guess as my belly began to swell with my daughter that was the sobering thought that we had to make something happen, so we moved back to Hanover, New Hampshire, and Colton went back to college. He later became a professor of natural science at Dartmouth University.
I am tired, so I will say good-night, and perhaps I will finish what I started tomorrow. It is a big day to move forward with my plans. Maybe tomorrow it will be my last day.
Good morning, my name is Ashlee. I’m sitting here looking out the kitchen window with a cup of coffee. The fall colors of our trees are stripped off the branches and now have turned into a carpet of gray color preparing to be covered by the snows of the oncoming winter. The cycle of life in nature. It is freezing outside with pockets of snow still on the ground from the last storm on Thursday. I am getting ready to go visit my mother today in remembrance of the first anniversary of my father’s death.
I am concerned for my mother, she was devastated by Daddy’s sudden death, and she really has not pulled out of the funk. She is depressed all the time, and no matter what I do she isn’t getting better. This concerns me. It is so bad my daughters hardly want to go over and see her.
So, this morning while watching out the window at winter creeping closer I sip my coffee and prepare myself to go be with Mom. We sprinkled Daddy’s ashes on the hill behind their house. My folks own about twenty-acres and have always said that they would be there for eternity.
My father built a bench on the hill overlooking the valley below. He made the thing in his garage or as he called it, his shop. He welded the pipe and put it all together. Then he took it apart and hauled it up the path to the top of the hill. He took cement and water up there to put it permanently in the ground. I asked him once why he did not just build it and set on the ground. Daddy being Daddy said, it would never move from that spot if cemented in place.
On the back of the wooden bench, he carved a rather large heart and put Sarah + Colton inside the heart. When I first saw what he had done, I smiled thinking it was a bit old-fashioned and slightly cheesy. Now, I cherish it. The bench shows a lot of wear through these many New Hampshire winters so this next summer I am going to sand it down and stain it, so it lasts for many more years on that old hill.
I’ve finished my breakfast, and I am not waiting for Ashlee to get here. I am going to go up the hill and visit with Colton. First, I need to take a bottle of water. I will go to the bathroom and take out my pills. I am resolved today on this first anniversary to be with Colton. So, I cannot wait for Ashlee to get here. I do not want her interfering with my plans. I will be careful walking up the hill, so I do not fall, today for the first time in a long time I have peace.
I pulled into my parents’ driveway and walked up to the front door. I knocked then twisted the knob to let myself in. I called out to Mother. She did not answer, so I walked into the kitchen and looked around. The dishes were done, and everything was in place. It made me smile knowing Mother never changes. I went down the hall to her bedroom, she was not there. I called out several times. Then I dawned on me she must have done up to the bench by herself. I panicked.
I sat down on the bench and gazed out upon the scene below me. I saw Ashlee’s car come down the road and I knew I didn’t have much time. I have made up my mind. I pulled the bottle of water out of my coat pocket. I reached into my other pocket and pulled out the sleeping pills. I held the bottle up, and it was almost full. I opened the bottle of water and took a drink. I sat the bottle on the bench and opened the bottle of pills and poured them all into my hand. So many little white pills. I looked up and saw Ashlee going out the back door at a dead run towards the path that leads to the top of the hill.
I looked at the pills and picked up the bottle of water. I hear Ashlee crying out to me, Mother! There I was at a defining point in my life I stood there lost in the blackness of a simple decision to do it or not do it. I did not anticipate a struggle with myself, but here I was in a mind-battle. I look out at the familiar scenery. I raised my head to the heaven’s and cried out, “Colton!” The battle raged on in my head, I can hear Ashlee screaming at me. I begin to rock back and forth with my deadly decision.
I reached the top of the hill before I stumbled and landed on my hands and knees. I am out of breath. My hair falls off my shoulders and hangs in my face. My chest is heaving, and I try to catch my breath. I look up, and there she is sitting on the bench. She is holding a bottle of water. I can see her lips tremble and tears running down her face. There is nothing but excruciating pain in her face, and it strikes deep into my soul. Trying to pick myself up off my hands and knees I do not take my eyes off her. She holds out her right hand and tips it over, I see little white pills disappear in the gray leaves at her feet. I must get to her, she is crying so hard. I stand up, and she screams out a wale of pain before bending to her knees in a ball of humanity.
I reach her and still breathing heavily I sit down next to her and put my arms around her and pull her into my chest. I start to cry. Mom cannot stop. She cries out, and I lean my head on top of hers and hold her. Her tears are flowing and land on my hands mixing with my own tears. We both cry uncontrollably.
Sitting on Daddy’s bench that frosty day we cried until there were no more tears. Nothing was said between us. I looked up at my Mother. I brushed her hair out of her face, and I kissed her on the forehead, and I said, “I love you, Mama.”
Every year on Daddy’s death anniversary for the next six years Mother and I went up to the hill and sat on the bench and celebrated his life and our love for each other. The pills Mom had the first year now turned into a thermos of mint tea.
It’s been three years since Momma passed away in her sleep. I kneel on both knees at the back of the bench, and I run my finger over the heart my father carved with their names inside it. I come up here every year with the mint tea, and I don’t cry, I celebrate their lives and the memories I have for them. Love is eternal, and I have to say this old weathered bench is still as sturdy as the day my Dad made it, and it shall be for many years to come. Lasting love never dies, no it never dies.
Epilogue: Victor Hill is a friend of mine for over forty-seven years. He is a professional photographer. Vic had posted the picture I used as inspiration in writing this story. The black and white photo jumped out at me. I started to wonder what could be the history, and more importantly what is the story behind such a bench? If the bench could talk and tell me its story what would it be? I expressed these questions to Vic, and he challenged me to write a story to answer my questions. He gave me permission to use his picture in my story, “The Story of Sarah Fig.”
Photo credit: V. Hill / Shadowbox Photography 208.659.3962 / All rights reserved / Copywrite 2018