She opened her purse, took our her wallet, pulled out something from the side of it. It was just a piece of paper.
She was sixteen when it happened. Report cards had been handed out. Once again she had straight “C’s”. Next year was her last year of High School, and it looked like college was out. She sat on the bleachers and cried.
“I am just not smart. I am stupid. I tried so hard. I never missed a day of class. I did all the readings. I am just to slow.”
The tears just poured down. So many tears. So fast. She could see a puddle forming on the step below her. She felt a hand on her back. Not grabbing her, shaking her, or even interrupting her cry. It was just there. Soft. Gentle. Strong. Patient.
After a while she looked up. It was Damon. He was in her third period English Class. He was a big kid, the kind where you can’t really tell how much is fat and how much is muscle, and from the look on his face, well… you didn’t really want to find out either.
They had talked a few times. She had given him her notes on the four days he missed in first semester when he injured himself on his skateboard and couldn’t come to school for the rest of the week. She danced with him once in the Cafeteria after a Home Football Game, but that was the extent of it.
He handed her, what at first she thought was a handkerchief. It wasn’t. It was a neatly folded piece of paper. She looked at it without comprehension. Her eyes must have asked the question her lips couldn’t form, because Damon answered:
“I was going to give you this on Monday, you know, our last day of school. But…well… I saw you read your report card then run out to the bleachers. So, I thought I would give it to you now.”
She almost threw it back at him. She didn’t need another boy telling her how much of a secret crush he had on her. She knew she had a good figure with nice curves, but she hid them most of the time. Her sister had a baby in High School…there was no way she was going down that path. She wanted to be somebody. To make the world notice she was here. She was going to go to college and move to the big city.
Reality slapped her hard- "...not with a C average you aren’t.” Rang in her brain. Tears started again. This time Damon did hand her a handkerchief, when she handed it back to him, he sat down. Far enough away to let her know she was safe, close enough to let her know he was there for her. He nodded at the paper in her hand.
She unfolded it and read it. This time the tears fell wrapped in joy. She read it again. Forgetting that Damon was still there. She read it again. And again. She felt a hand tap her gently on her back. She looked up smiling. Damon beamed a smile back. Then he stood up and walked away with all the grace and style of a trained actor at the end of a scene. He waved nonchalantly with one hand, without even turning around. He knew the note said it all. She knew he knew.
She read it again. And again. And again.
Forty two years later she found herself standing by his coffin. She hadn’t seen him since High School. She wanted to tell him that she did go to College. She did go to Graduate School. She did become a wife, a mother, a grandmother. She did move to the Big City. She wanted to tell him everything.
She opened her purse, took our her wallet, pulled out something from the side of it. It was just a piece of paper. The folds almost paper thin now, having been unfolded and folded back up so many times over the years. She read it again. And again. And again.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. It was feminine hand. She could feel the concern right through her jacket. The Voice was unfamiliar, so were the words.
“Are you okay? Did you know Damon? I am his wife…was his wife.”
That hug has been shared by to many women who knew someone they loved is gone. Words that might have been said, but weren’t, bonded them in a single heart beat.
“A long long time ago. I went to High School with him. He gave me this.”
Holding out the piece of paper so the woman could see it, take it if she wanted to.
The woman did take it. It was just a piece of paper. She read it. She read it again. Even through the tears, she read it again. She handed it back.
“Thank-you. That was Damon.”
“I wanted to put it in his casket. Would that be okay?”
“No. No. No. (she took both the woman’s hands in hers) You keep it. You might need it again. I will never forget it. Thank- you. “
They hugged again.
She folded the paper back up. Slid it into her wallet, put her wallet back in her purse. The women hugged again.
“Mom, what did that woman show you that made you cry in that funny way? You looked happy and sad at the same time.”
The woman watched as the other woman left the viewing room. She saw the nonchalant wave over her shoulder- she knew how it felt…and what it meant. To all three of them.
“Oh, that. It was just a piece of paper.”
The Woman took her daughter’s hand. Stronger now. Safer. More proud then ever that she married Damon. She would make it now. She would thank that woman in her prayers every night.