One Woman’s Story
One day, not so long ago, a young single mom went on a date. Her date was a man she knew professionally for many years. He took her to dinner at a local restaurant and night club. After dinner, she excused herself to use the restroom. When she returned, she was delighted to find that her date had ordered a bottle of champagne. This was a new experience, and it made her feel very special. When she approached the table, her handsome and very distinguished-looking date stood up and handed her a glass of champagne. She felt dazzled by his attentiveness. She smiled and thanked him, then sat down across from him. They shared a little table on a raised deck between the restaurant and night club. There was a clear view of the dancers in the club and of the stairs leading outside. The young woman felt like a princess. As she drank, she watched the dancers. Her date said little, but he smiled at her often across the table. For years she had had a secret crush on this handsome man. Over the months leading up to this night, he began to pay her little compliments. She was thrilled when he asked her out on a date. She felt shy with him, and stole glances at him as she drank her champagne. Candlelight glinted from his dark eyes and hair, and the young woman knew she could easily fall in love with him.
What happened next happened very quickly. The room began to swim. She felt sick. She stood up and tried to run to the bathroom, but her legs barely supported her. Her date rushed to her side and held her up. He guided her down the stairs to the door. She felt like she was hearing and seeing the world from inside a muffled jar that was melting. She heard, as though from a great distance, her date laughing and talking with someone.
“Cheap date,” he said. “Too much to drink — real cheap date.”
An unknown time later, she woke on the floor of a van. Her stockings and one shoe were gone and her skirt was bunched at her waist. The back door of the van was open and she knew immediately where she was and what had happened. The van was parked next to where she met her date earlier in the night. She heard someone outside the van urinating on the ground. This was her only chance. She carefully looked around until she found her purse. Thank god, her keys were inside. She grabbed her keys and lurched out the back door. She felt sick and disoriented but the adrenaline helped counteract the drug. She dropped her purse, but she ignored it and kept running. She still held her keys. As she ran across the parking lot to her car, the sharp gravel cut her feet but she hardly noticed it. She heard him shout and give chase. She just managed to unlock the door and scramble inside before her caught up with her. She locked the door before he could open it. He shouted at her to wait. He held her shoe and purse in one hand. She nearly hit him as she jammed the stick shift into reverse and slammed her foot on the gas
She had little memory of the drive home. It was a familiar route, the same she took to and from work every day. When she got home, she thanked her two friends for minding the kids. They laughed when they saw her disheveled appearance and joked about what a wild date it must have been. She laughed with them, thanked them again, and said goodbye. When they left, she locked the door, and then checked every lock on every door and window. She turned off all the lights and sat down in her favorite chair in the dark. She lit a cigarette. The glowing tip in her shaking hands made patterns in the dark, like some angry red firefly. She stared out at the night.
A Week Later
Forgive. Let go.
The young woman didn’t go to the police. She never returned to her brand new job after that night, even though she had started only the week before. In fact, after that night, she couldn’t leave the house for weeks. One evening her date came to her front door. He held her purse and shoe. He didn’t knock, but just stood there, waiting. It was late and the children were in bed. She refused to open the door. He put her purse and shoe next to the door. She heard him slip a note into her mailbox. She watched until he drove away, then she quietly opened the door. In the mailbox was a note with three words: “Please forgive me.”
He came back the next night and the next. He never knocked, and she wouldn’t open her door. Soon her neighbors noticed the recurring visits. They called her to ask if she was okay, and she assured them she was. Sometimes he left gifts of food. She watched his face as he waited patiently for her to answer the door. He looked crushed, and ashamed. She felt her heart softening, but she still waited until he left to open the door. One night she found a huge bag filled with hot food from her favorite Vietnamese restaurant. With no income, and three children, she could only feel relieved and grateful. The food was delicious, and she told her children it was a special treat from a friend. Her heart hurt as she said the word “friend,” because she had thought him so. She realized she truly wanted to forgive him.
The next night when she saw him approach her door, she called her next-door neighbor and asked her to stay with the children. When her neighbor knocked on the door, the young woman came out and thanked her for coming.
“I’ll only be a moment,” she said.
Her friend looked at the man curiously, then went inside and shut the door. The man watched the young woman carefully as she sat down on one of the chairs on the porch. She invited him, with a small gesture, to take the other seat. He sat down quickly and watched her face. She felt herself near tears, but her composure held.
Finally she spoke, too softly for anyone but him to hear.
He was silent for a long time. When she looked up, she saw his face in the shadows, lit only by a distance street light. His body was stiffly straight, and tears ran down his face. Finally he spoke.
“I did not think you would love me. I am not…American.”
Her sadness gave way to a shot of anger, but she saw he was about to say more. She listened.
“I watched you for a long time. I loved you for a long time. I am sorry. I was wrong. I beg you to forgive me.”
She waited until she could compose herself. Finally, her anger gave way to compassion. Her words were sharp, but she spoke from her heart.
“You are an ass,” she said. “You don’t know me, or you would have realized how foolish it was to assume something so ugly about me. You wouldn’t have acted on this assumption in such a terrible way. And, if you really loved me, you wouldn’t have put a drug in my drink. You wouldn’t have ….”
He winced, and she found she couldn’t say the word.
“Don’t you know that I have felt the same about you, all this time? You are one of the most interesting, beautiful men I have ever met. I felt like a princess that night, until…” Again she didn’t finish. He said nothing, but she could see he struggled with strong emotion. His hands clenched on his knees and he stared at the ground. Again, her compassion melted the anger. She touched his arm.
“I forgive you,” she said.
He didn’t move. She got up. “I’m going to go inside, now. Please call me next time you want to see me.” She opened the door, walked inside the house and closed it quietly behind her.
About a Year Later
The young woman drove home from her friends’ house. Her older children talked quietly. The youngest, only three, slept in the back seat. It had been a night of healing for her and, she hoped, for all of her children. For the first time in a long time, she felt a kind of peace. That night, she and her friends had performed a sacred ceremony which joined their two families forever. They each lit candles on a wreath she created. She made the wreathe from pine in the shape of an open heart. Around the edges of the heart were candle holders and cloth flowers she glued in between. There was one candle for each of them, seven in all. The biggest candle was at the base. On one side of the wreathe were two smaller candles, and on the other were four. The two on the right symbolized her baby’s new parents. Each of her children and the woman herself was symbolized by the four candles on the left of the wreathe.
The young woman lit her candle first and then her children lit theirs from hers. Then she used her candle to light the biggest candle at the base which represented her baby daughter. From there, the baby’s new mom and dad lit their candles. It was a quiet ceremony but the emotion was strong for all of them. Their baby slept in her new mother’s arms. This cut, the young woman knew, was deep. In time, it might heal. They were all family now. The young woman gazed at her baby daughter and at the amazing two people who opened their hearts to her entire family. Over the months leading to saying goodbye to their little one, the children were confused and upset. The young woman knew she had to find a way to give her children peace and to assuage their grief. She had read somewhere that ceremony is an important way to get past grief. She hoped this ceremony would help her children, especially. Their pain was hardest to bare. She realized, with gratitude, that the ceremony had helped her. She could begin to move on now.
She did try at first for the fairy tale ending complete with prince and castle. When she told him she was pregnant, he told her for the first time that he was married. His wife lived apart, on another continent. He lived with their sons and his parents.
“I will not shame my family by divorce or by marrying an American.” She said nothing. She understood.
Her fairy tale had a different ending. Instead of a prince, she found something even better: