Betty was sleeping in her recliner when she heard the sound. She stirred slightly, not awake but not asleep either. It was a familiar sound yet she couldn’t identify it in her dazed condition. Just as she was drifting back into a peaceful slumber, she heard the noise again.
Wide awake now, she looked around the room to find the source of the racket. When she saw it, she was shocked that she hadn’t been able to identify it sooner. Walter, her husband of fifty-two years, was rocking back and forth in the old rocker. Betty saw his mouth move, but couldn’t understand what he said. The loud creak of the rocking chair, which they had received as a wedding gift, made conversation difficult. He stopped rocking so she could hear him.
Walter smiled, “Good morning, sleepy-head. I was afraid you’d sleep all day.”
“What are you doing here? What do you want?”
“I just wanted to visit with you. It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. How have you been?”
“I’m fine. I have good days and bad days. How are you?”
“I’m great. All of my days are good. I haven’t had a bad day in six months.” Walter was clearly excited. “I feel great. I walk all day long, just visiting with one person then another. I can always find someone to talk to, you know?”
“How well I remember. You were always the first one to arrive at church and the last one to leave. I used to get so mad at you for holding up dinner.”
“Well you don’t have to worry about that anymore.” He chuckled. It had never bothered him when she would get angry about one of his habits. He was who he was and didn’t plan to change. He always reasoned that he had been behaving that way longer than she had been getting upset about it; so it was easier for her to change. Every once in a while, he’d feel a little guilty about not trying to change. Then he’d remember that he was that way before they met. He rationalized, She knew that when she married me. With that justifying statement, he continued the habit and secretly enjoyed watching his beautiful wife turn three shades of red as she tried to keep her temper in check.
“No, I’d gladly worry about it again if you were here.”
“I know, Sweetheart. I’d love to see you happy, but I just don’t want to come back. You’ll understand when you get there. You wouldn’t want to come back either.”
“Do you miss me?”
“No, Darling. I’m afraid not.”
Betty couldn’t keep the tears from falling. She had been sure he was missing her as much as she was missing him. Now he stood before her saying that wasn’t true.
“Please don’t cry, Sweetheart. I love you, but I don’t miss you. I have to leave soon. Let’s don’t spoil what little time we have together with tears.”
“I’m sorry. I just miss you so much.”
“Is that why you are sleeping in the recliner?” Walter asked tenderly.
“Yes. I haven’t slept in our bed since you left. When I go in the bedroom I just see a huge, ugly platform. I just can’t sleep there. I did try, but I kept reaching for you. The pillows weren’t comfortable, so I bought new ones. That didn’t help. I finally realized what was wrong. I had laid my head on your should before falling asleep every night for fifty-two years. They don’t make a pillow as comfortable as your shoulder. Did you really have to leave me?”
“Yes, Darling. I stayed as long as I could, but finally the pain was more than I could stand.”
“The doctor was giving you pain pills.”
“The pills were only easing the pain. They didn’t kill it. Please don’t begrudge me the opportunity to be pain free and happy.”
“I don’t. I’m sorry if I sound as if I do. I’m just being selfish. It isn’t easy being alone.” Betty heard the whine in her voice, but couldn’t help feeling sorry for herself.
“I know. You won’t be alone for very long. Soon you’ll come with me and we’ll be able to visit for all eternity.”
“Is that why you’re here? Can I go with you today?”
“Not today, but soon. When you come, I’ll be waiting at the gate for you.”
“How will you know I’m coming?” Betty asked anxiously.
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll know.”
The unexpected ringing of the telephone prevented her from asking more questions. “Hello?” She answered.
“Hi, Mom. What are you doing today?”
“Oh I was just visiting with your dad.” The silence was deafening. “Alisha? Are you there?”
“Mom, Dad has been dead for six months.”
“Do you really think I don’t know that? In case you don’t remember, I’m the one that wakes up every morning without him. He may have died six months ago, but he is sitting in my rocking chair today.”
As if to verify her statement, Betty turned toward the old rocking chair. It was perfectly still and empty. She quickly looked around the room. “Walter? Walter? Where are you?” With fresh tears, she said, “He was here, Alisha. I know he was here. I saw him.”
“When did you see him?”
“When I woke up this morning.”
“I think you were dreaming, Mom.”
“I know the difference in reality and a dream, Missy.” Betty snapped.
Alisha cringed as she heard the name. It was used to express her mother’s displeasure with her. She had heard it often growing up. Alisha couldn’t decide if she upset her mother often or her mother was always upset and funneled it Alisha’s way.
“Calm down, Mom. I’m sure you believe you saw Dad, but I’ve never heard of someone coming back from the dead.”
“Well I don’t care. He was here.”
“Have you been feeling alright?”
“Oh, good one, Alisha. Like I don’t know what you’re trying to say. I’m not crazy. I talked to your dad everyday for fifty-two years and I don’t plan to stop now.”
“I don’t want you to stop talking to him. I just want to make sure you know that he wasn’t really there today.”
“He was here and you are not going to get me to admit otherwise.” Betty’s voice was at a level and pitch that clearly showed her frustration.
“Fine, Mom. Just please don’t tell anyone that Dad came to see you today.”
“I’ll think about it.” Betty snapped as she hung up without saying goodbye. She loved her daughter, but there were times when they butted heads. Usually during those times neither was willing to back down. Walter had intervened many times when Alisha was growing up.
Betty went back to her recliner. “Walter?” She called softly. “Walter, please come back. I need you so much. I don’t want to live without you.” Again the tears started and couldn’t be stopped. He had been the love of her life. She had married him right out of high school and had never considered loving anyone else. Every decision she had made for the last fifty-two years had been with his happiness in mind. The thought of facing another day without him was unbearable. Eventually Betty fell asleep.
Alisha began to feel guilty for the way she had talked to her mother. She thought about it for a while and decided she owed her mother an apology. With a heavy heart and filled with anxiety, Alisha dialed her mother’s phone number. This time there was no answer. After several calls, she drove to Betty’s house. As she walked in the front door, she saw her mother sleeping in the recliner. Irritated that her mother hadn’t gotten up to answer the phone, Alisha walked over to wake her up.
“Mom. Mom, wake up. When are you going to learn you have to answer the phone? I worry when you don’t answer my calls. Mom? Mother?”
Betty didn’t wake up. She didn’t move. She had gone to be with Walter, her husband, lover, friend, and reason for living.