Oh, What a Life

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
'Oh, What a Life' is a short story about an old man retelling his first memory and his last night alive.

Submitted: August 18, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 18, 2011



I’m an old man now. Tired. Blue. Sagging eyes. High cholesterol. Oh, what a life. I move now through cracking knees and drooping spine. My ears hang low and my veins are blue and crying out. The wind always makes me chilly but the sun never burns my skin.

My name is James Alexander and I am travelling by bus to my home town. It seems the resort I was living at and my family felt I needed to be looked after with a closer eye. I So my son, Aaron and his wife, Jackie are going to look after me.

More paralyzed than I have ever felt, I stare hazily out of the bus window. The scenery blurred, it almost seems to transfer to other locations I have sped by during my life. Whether it was by bus, car, or train. I saw the olive fields of Italy, the cornfields of Indiana, and the wonderful beaches of the Adriatic, Atlantic, and Pacific. Hopping waves in Cancun, Mexico. Driving up the foothills of the Dolomites and into the snow covered mountains to ski.

And now I am on my way back to Indiana again. It’s funny and sad seeing everything from my past again. The funny part is that I still dress the same as I did when I was a kid. They used to say I dressed like an old man back then. So I guess all is right, now. Except for the girl in the white dress.

It has been a wonderful life. There are times I try to tell myself that I am still having worthy moments. Moments to remember. But as I think of what I have done after I lost my wife, I am left with grandchildren’s birthday parties, Christmases, and Thanksgivings. The rest has been a collection of television images and frozen dinners. The T.V. glowing random, fast-paced images of the world as if to make me forget her. Sometimes I can’t keep up with this world. Most of the time I don’t try.

And then I had a stroke...

I always thought, and we had always talked about how, we would grow old together. And we did. Me and the girl in the white dress.

When I met her it was out of nowhere. Like a glorious reunion of epic proportions. Light filled the sky and my room, thinking about her. I was married to Anne at the time and she was married to Greg. Suddenly the rut I was in seemed better knowing somehow through non-verbal communication that I was working my way toward her and she was working her way toward me.

Then one day I left Anne and we united, me and the girl in the white dress, for the first time. She had just left Greg as well. It was cosmic, and sweet, and everything that the beginning of a love should be.

She, was a nurse at a retirement home for all of her working life, and me, well... I was me. I was the wild card. A wonderful lover for many years. I was a teacher of music to the children. A fun person to be around when things were going my way. I worked. I didn’t. I wrote. I tried.

Having a stroke and laying in the cold hospital bed with its stiff sheets, not being able to see her face has been very hard. She was frail and beautiful. When I held her small frame, mine not being that much bigger, we felt connected. Right. I try to imagine that touch, that embrace, but I can’t. It only exists as it is existing. When it is over. It is over. I miss her so much I want to scream, but I only cough. I care not what is on the television. I could give two shits anymore. When life takes your true love away or when you do it yourself through your own faults, it becomes increasingly difficult to move about your day with any sense of real fulfilling purpose.

The children called me, sent letters, and visited. I miss her presence so much. Our life was so hard but we always managed to get through it.

Where did she go? She died recently. A few days before my stroke. And yet she’s still here. Breathing down my neck and whispering through the windows. She rattles the wind chimes on our front porch. And stirs up the leaves when autumn comes. I find her everywhere.

I miss her so much I almost don’t know what to do with myself. I’ll find myself just staring blankly, for hours it seems. We had a rocky life together at first. Who doesn’t? In our hearts we knew we only wanted to be with each other. To grow old together. We probably had more problems starting out than anybody else we knew. But one thing kept us together. Our love for each other and our desire to help the other one when life got us down. And as good couples do, we settled into a loving routine. The few personality conflicts we had we worked on. It all worked out, somehow.

So where should I start? It must have been around the time of my first memory to be honest. It was late summer or early fall and I was maybe four years old. I was playing underneath a grapevine in my backyard. My mom and dad were still together. They both worked at factories, but just didn’t love each other.

I was playing with some action figures in the mud. My mom called to me from across the yard and as I turned and looked through our picket fence I saw a girl about my age in a pretty white dress moving slowly across the fence line. Her image flickered between the planks of wood like a camera shutter. She had pigtails and golden brown hair. She made her way past my house. It was then that I first became conscious.

My mom called for me again. This time I turned to her and saw the girl in the white dress standing next to my mother and her father. My dad came outside. My mother introduced me to the girl in the white dress, who’s name was Angela. It might as well of been Angel because that is what appeared to me. They say children have some sixth sense about good and evil or supernatural. I am not sure if that’s true, but I swear I felt the presence of an Angel then.

I may not have known it, but the girl in the white dress named Angela was going to change my adult life in more ways than I knew possible. And I also didn’t know it then, but she was going to end up being the one. The one girl that I would end up saying I truly loved. And she would get away. Numerous times. And I would get her back. Eventually for good.
Every once in a while a man will get lucky and have a woman who makes them feel truly good. Like a man. Someone who brings out the good in life, or at least makes it realized. That person can’t always remove the bad in a man unfortunately. It is up to the man to conceal his uncertain feelings. To project a positive image. If a man is uncertain or feels low, then a woman feels low and uncertain. Then the whole relationship becomes uncertain. That was my biggest fault in life.

I felt so walked on, so ragged that I never got back my positive self image. I felt so ruined in life and no woman could ever make me feel happy. And she never understood that when I was sad, I just needed a hug and a kiss. Instead she would run off and ignore me for sometimes days on end. I felt hurt. And I never got the reassurance from the girl in the white dress that I so desired. Is that so hard? It nearly ruined us. It definitely hurt me in ways that I didn’t know were possible.

So that was the beginning of my life. I suppose I should tell you the end now. The last night I was alive I sat at my grandmother’s house. Right next to the house where I first became alive, first saw the girl in the white dress.

It was a cool autumn night and I sat in a chair staring off at the train yard in the distance with the highway behind me. The brakes squeaked and squealed like metal animals crying for help. I thought of her. The girl in the white dress. I was trying to make her dance in the alley like she did so many years ago on this same ground. I tried to force time together, to fold yesterday up here to today. I blinked. I forgot. I remembered.

The glow of my marijuana pipe was all that could be seen while I sat in the yard. It helps with my arthritis and passes the time. It also makes me chuckle sometimes at the world. Almost to a sense of sadness. Almost like I view life and time not in a measure of years and wrinkles, but all at once. Like I was constantly witnessing the demise and birth of everything.

If we got a puppy. I imagined the puppy years later, and burying it in the yard with kids. I saw my whole future with Angela and at times it would fill me with great sadness.
What also filled me with great sadness was the memories of years past. Whenever I had a clear mind, an image of my only son, Aaron, as a baby being bathed by two people who were in love would enter my mind. My first wife, Anne, and how her face glowed as soft golden red in the Tuscan sun would enter my mind. Or Angela... And it fills me with great sadness. I can’t stop these overwhelming thoughts.

Even now, as the cars whizzed past on their way out of town. Each one with a life, stress, heart ache. Parents driving home from creating memories with their children, hopefully clutching each other’s hand as their lives count down. Life goes on. Life ends. No matter how you feel, you will get old and die. I became a magnet of sadness. A creature of unspeakable madness.

I lit the bowl again. I felt my heart flutter. I turned away from the highway and back toward the alley and the cold, distant train yard. I heard a giggle and then a voice call, “It’s me.” I saw a shadow dance on the alley and my heart stopped. Frozen in a moment that lasted as long as I can remember, I saw the girl in the white dress wave me over to her. Ifaded into blackness...

What seemed like the next morning, I arrived with Angela at my grandmother’s house. The spring air was crisp, and the sunlight warmed your face. Michael and Stephen were squabbling quietly in the back seat.

“You guys. Come on now. We’re here,” Angela said as she stepped out of the car and opened the back door.

I stepped out of the car smiling, and took off my sunglasses. I was grinning like a child. I didn’t feel tired or sad or anything. Just pure gladness.

My grandmother came out of the house to greet us. My grandmother had been dead for some time now.

Next door to my grandmother, in my childhood home, lived Carl. He was friends with Angela’s ex-husband Greg, who was outside with Carl cooking out.

Greg called out to the boys, “Michael! Stephen! You’re just in time. The burgers are done.” He was with his new girlfriend, Sophia, and they were both smiling.

“Have fun with your father, kids. We’ll be back to pick you up tomorrow.” Angela said to Michael and Stephen as they ran off toward their dad.

I took Angela’s hand. We both smiled and stared so far into each other’s eyes that the embrace took us directly into one another’s soul.

I looked at my grandmother in her night gown, with her hair all done up and permed. A Bel-Air cigarette hanging out of her mouth. She smiled. My son, Aaron, appeared, age two, from under her legs.

I noticed myself. I was thirty again. I looked up at my grandmother, who was still smiling. I looked at Angela. She was holding Emma Lynn, our daughter who was miss carried. I

looked at Emma Lynn, my beloved sweet one who never came to be. She was destined only to become a lump in a belly. But I loved that lump. And I touched her every night possible. I finally felt safe. I finally felt free. I finally felt nothing but goodness.

“I love you, Grandma. I’m going now.” I said.

“No, James. You’ve arrived.” My grandmother proclaimed in a raspy, aging voice.

I turned to Angela. “What does she mean?” I was still smiling, just a bit confused.

Angela smiled at me. “Let’s go inside. I will come with you. Take this love that I’m about to give you and spread yourself all over this world.”

We embraced and time stood still, as simply as I can put it. We disappeared and became intertwined with each other. We ended up with our souls floating down the shallow Wildcat Creek.

We crawled out of the water, hand in hand.

“What happened?” I asked. I tried to form a thought while I stared sweetly into her eyes. “I love you,” was all I could get out. That was all that needed to be said, except...

“I love you,” Angela responded. She disappeared.

Loved ones began to gather at the banks were I was standing. Dressed in black. They were oblivious to me, but I could feel them. Each feeling dissolved me a little bit more until I faded back into the foggy creek and became merely a whisper of wind through old trees.

Aaron threw my ashes into the creek and that was all. He was there with his wife Jackie and his mother, Anne, who was twice a widow herself. Three, if you count me. I loved Anne. At least I tried to love Anne. Aaron wasour greatest accomplishment. Unfortunately Anne never made me feel as good or as bad as the girl in the white dress made me feel. I regret that I left Anne, that I didn’t have those feelings for her.

I know the girl in the white dress would have loved to have seen me go. But enough of that. Oh, what a life it was indeed. And now let's get to the real story...

© Copyright 2020 Rodney Perkins. All rights reserved.

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