A Gift of Love
The car pulled into the parking lot. Degraded asphalt pockmarked with holes, small ponds of water collected from the rain the previous day, crunched under our shoes as we approached the concreate stairs and ramp leading to the front door.
"What is the apartment number?" I called out to my mom. Despite visiting my birth mother here countless time, I could never remember the address. Excitement filled me. I hadn't been able to visit in years, and I was already begging to feel the freedom of my soul, which seemed to lift with the fresh air of the Upper Penninusla.
"Two-oh-Two," she called back.
I paused, waiting to push the buzzer until she was closer to the door. Locks disengaged, a rolling click signaling that was could enter into the foyer. From her letters, I knew that Gail had a new cat, an orange tabby, Charlie, who was keeping her older bottle-brush Mustafa young.
I wiped my shoes on the doormat, not wanting to track small stones and mud into the hallway. I could hear the chair scrapping back from the kitchen table. Ever so slowly the door opened.
"Hi," I said to Gail. I was taken aback by her appearance. For most of my life, she was thin but muscled, fine graying hair braided over one shoulder. Her body moved with purpose, grace.
"Come in," she said. Behind her sat the dining table. Her chair cocked three quarters out from the table. A small coffee mug sitting cockeyed at the right corner. It seemed to take a great effort for her to walk. There was still energy and light in her eyes, but her limbs and face were bloated, the signs that cancer, which I did not know had metastasized to her brain, was present even then.
I breathed in the air. The scents of pauperize and cigarettes so familiar. Although, at that time, the ash tray didn't boat any new ash, nor was there a pack of cigarettes laying next to her purse on the kitchen counter.
"Would you like some coffee?" She asked. I walked around the table to sit on her left. It would be easier for my mom to take the chair across from Gail.
"Sure," I said. My eyes took in the apartment. I couldn't help by notice a photograph of my half-sister, Evelyn, standing with her (now ex) husband Josh. The two of them looked eerily similar to the photograph I had seen of Evelyn's long deceased father, William, and Gail. Sitting next to the television, on the windowsill, on side tables were pinecones. A small collection of them (something I would begin to do in the months before Gail passed away, not knowing that she kept them around because Charlie enjoyed to play with them).
As she poured us coffee, I couldn't help but wonder why this visit felt different. There were less people filtering in. My oldest cousin, Adrienne, had long since moved to Wisconsin with my second-cousins, her children: Winter and Jackson (her mother having passed away in 2009). Her brothers: Eric, who I remembered barely reconnecting with at his mother's funeral, was…last time I saw him living in a fixer-upper in Houghton trying to rent it out. And, Alec, after several years of hardship, lived in Detroit. My aunt Linda was in Wyoming, or was it Seattle, and my Aunt Paula wasn't visiting Gail (due to a perceived slight between them).
And, her neighbors, who once filtered in and out, weren't present. It was (now that I look back), the last quiet moment I would share with her. As she made the coffee, she asked all about my life. What had I majored in? Where was I living? Did I have a boyfriend or significant other? How were my close friends?
The attention she had given to all my letters made my heart feel warm. It was as if, through the ink she had vicariously met each of the people (some of whom are still present in my life today). As the conversation tapered off, we somehow ended up on the topic of Robert, my birthfather who passed away in 2008. I found myself asking, and her answering, burning questions I had been too worried about writing out.
"Do you still love him?" I asked. I was trying to wrap my head around how, if they had been truly in love, their love had not been able to weather the years between my birth, and my and my sister Alice's adoptions.
Gail paused. "Yes." In that word, I could feel the power of unconditional love. She traded a glance with my mother. Then said. "Hold on one moment." She pushed herself up, and with my mom's help walked the hundred feet to her bedroom. I wasn't able to see what she was doing, as I was sitting behind the kitchen wall.
However I could hear my mom ask, "Do you want me to open it?"
What must have been the top drawer of her dresser, was opened and she rooted around for a minute. When they came back, she held a small box in her hands.
"I want you to have these." She said.
I opened the box. Inside was a set of jewelry. I don't remember what else was in the box. Mostly because the piece I see so clearly, even though I've kept it safely in my jewelry box, is a ring.
The gold band, which must be a five or a six in diameter, glittered in the muted light. The princess style showed of a delicate, and curled, band of diamonds. I was speechless. This was "real jewelry," the kind of piece my mom let me hold only when I was in her sight.
"T-thank you," I said. "This is beautiful."
She smiled. Gave me a hug. It wasn't until we were back at the cabin that my mom realized what the gift truly was.
"Do you want me to keep track of that?" she asked.
"Why?" I felt defensive. Maybe because a part of me knew I had a talent for losing jewelry that was important to me.
"Because," my mom said. "That was Gail's engagement ring."
Credit: Used a prompt from daily-prompts's tumblr: 1110: An old woman gives you a gift. At first you don't know what it means. And then you do.
Also on my Tumblr: justH4les:
Also on my Deviantart: E-H-Indigo: e-h-indigo/art/A-Gift-of-Love-825497711