Angela plodded slowly toward the cold stone slab that jutted from the brown grass, dried and withered by winter wind. She knew the path, every curve and rise in the ground as familiar as the small wrinkles of her son’s hand had once been.
Her son. It had been years since the accident, and for years she had hoped that somehow, she would see him at this solemn sanctuary, as impossible as it might seem to others. But he never appeared. Week after week, season after season, she made this trek against all common sense, against what others had repeatedly told her.
He’s not there, they told her. He’s far away where you can’t reach him.
“Far away where you can’t hurt him,” came a voice behind her.
It was her husband. She hated whenever he would “just happen” to show up here during one of her private visits.
“Go away,” she said coldly.
“Go away? Go where?” he spat angrily. “Where can I go that I don’t have to face this?” He was pointing at the grave stone. “Everywhere I go, I see this thing! Everywhere I turn I see it.”
“Then why do you come here?” she asked him.
“Because I want you to know what you did to me! What you did to us. You want me to walk away while you have your little pity party, when you’re the one who did this!”
“I know I did this!” she answered. “You think I can forget it, Rob? You think one minute ever goes by when I don’t think about it?”
“You’re a fool. Nothing you do here is going to conjure him up. He’s gone, and you are never going to see him again,” Rob continued.
“Is this what you want?” she asked. “To see me broken like this forever? To see me disappointed each and every time I come here? To torture me with something I can’t ever change? What do you want?”
“I want my son back!” Rob shouted. Angela knew he would have cried right then and there if he was capable of it.
She turned away from him and looked once again to the headstone in the dead ground. Twelve years had passed since the night she ran that stop sign late at night in the town where they had grown up, married, and raised a family. A family that was utterly broken now.
By now, Angela had accepted that Rob would never forgive her. But RJ. She wanted her son to forgive her for what she had done, somehow, some way.
“Mommy?” she heard a tender voice in the distance.
She glared at Rob.
“You brought her, too?” she hissed at him.
“She’s part of this, too,” her husband simply said.
Indeed, Sara had been coming to this place as well, throughout the long stretches of emptiness that had become their lives since that fateful night.
Angela and Rob had been arguing. As much as she had tried not to do that in front of the children, this one was a full rager, one where each one says things they don’t mean, in order to hurt the other one in ways they haven’t tried before. She didn’t even see the sign. In an instant their world changed forever and they were torn away from RJ permanently.
“Sara, honey, Mommy’s glad to see you,” Angela said.
“You don’t look glad, Mommy,” the girl said. “You never look glad.”
Angela felt her anguish welling inside her. Sara spent most of her days with her father. In the fallout after the accident, Angela had in some sense lost her daughter as well. She rarely saw her anymore.
They heard footsteps.
“Rob!” Angela gasped. “It’s him. I know it. It’s him.”
“Angie, that’s not possible. He is far away now and will never come to this place. Why can’t you accept that? Why do you have to keep putting us through this?”
“Rob, no, it’s him. Look!” she exclaimed.
Against all expectation, there he was, emerging from a fog and walking slowly toward the headstone around which they were gathered. He was tall, with long brown locks that spilled over his black silk suit. A young lady with sandy blonde hair and a green dress walked beside him.
“RJ, oh I’ve missed you!” Angela started.
“Quiet,” insisted her husband. “He can’t hear you.”
“Rob, I’ve been waiting for this for so long! I want to talk to my son. He’s finally here.”
“RJ, oh RJ,” she began. “Oh, I’ve missed you. I’m so sorry I did this to you. Mommy didn’t mean it, RJ. Please tell me you can hear me. RJ!”
The young man stood pensively over the headstone. There was no sign that he could hear his mother, or even that he was affected by the memory of her. He looked at the young woman next to him. She squeezed his hand.
“Go on,” she whispered to him.
“Mom. Dad. Sara May. I know you’re probably wondering why I’ve never come to this place since that day.” RJ could feel tears welling up. He hadn’t expected that. He continued.
“I’m sorry. But it was so hard after what happened. I didn’t want to see you anymore. I was so alone. I was so angry. But…” he trailed off for a moment, taking some effort to keep his composure.
“I’m here now,” he declared. “I don’t know if you can hear me.”
“We can hear you, son!” Angela shouted.
“Hush,” her husband warned her. “This might be the only time we ever see him. Please be quiet.”
“If you can,” RJ went on, “I just want you to know that I forgive you. It took a long time. Long years of growing up without a family. Long years of not knowing who I was, learning to make it on my own. I was so angry and hurt for so long when you went away.”
Tears were running down his cheeks now. Angela, her heart breaking all over again, reached toward him to wipe them away, but her touch did nothing.
“But then one day, I realized you gave me something. Something precious. Something that you couldn’t have anymore, but you had given to me. Life. I figured out one day that life is precious: my life is precious. And I knew then that I was going to live the best life that I could. For me…and for you.”
Angela was aware that for the first time in ages, her husband was standing next to her. Sara grasped her hand.
“I’m all grown up, now, Mom. Just like you said I would be. This is Lizzy,” he said, gesturing to the young woman by his side. “We going to get married. She’s pretty, just like you were, Mom. She makes me happy. And one day we’re going to raise a family, just like the one I had.”
Slowly, the agony in Angela’s heart began to melt, and in its place a tiny seed of peaceful hope took hold. She looked at her son and felt something other than sorrow for the first time in so many years; she felt proud of him.
“So goodbye, now. Don’t go feeling bad anymore. What’s done is done, like you used to say, Dad. You used to say that better is the end of a thing…”
“Than its beginning,” Rob whispered.
“Than its beginning,” RJ finished.
They all stood silent and still for a long moment.
“That was beautiful,” Lizzy said to her fiancé. “It’s what they would have wanted. I just know it.”
“I think you’re right,” he answered her. “I don’t know how, but I think you’re right.”
RJ took his Lizzy by the arm and they both strolled away, with each step fading into the fog and out of his parents’ sight.
“Goodbye, my son,” Angela called after him, knowing there was no way he could hear her.
“Let’s go,” she heard her husband say.
“Together?” she asked.
“Together, Angie,” he answered. “We’re a family.”