Helen and I share the remainder of the day. Virginia did not cry before we left today. Her steadfast calm settled over the space around her. The peace continues with us hours after our departure.
I bake with Helen. We make pies for the neighbors on all sides. As these are my first pies, we make another for Helen and me to share.
“Virginia never cared for baking. Or anything in the kitchen. She favored the out-of-doors. But did I tell you? She made me breakfast the morning of that video recording. Can you imagine?”
This time, I can imagine. In little over a day, we’ve circled back around our full conversation. Yet I don’t tell her so.
“I hope this is not offensive,” said the person about to be offensive (me), “but why do you sometimes speak of Virginia in the past tense?”
Helen stills her hands. She stares toward somewhat forsaken memories. I silently stand nearby, unable to see the mirage.
“Sometimes I make-believe she died. It would have been kinder for her and me both. I see that’s selfish. Every day, especially after I’ve gone to a hospital to visit the girl…every day I mourn the sixteen-year-old daughter I lost.”
She shares what must be horribly painful confessions. I am embarrassed I asked. Quiet anguish seeps from her pores.
“I never expect to win any mothering trophies,” Helen says, her hands snapping back to her work. “That’s a thing I’ll live with all my days. I’ll always hate the fate or the gods or what have you that took away my family. Virginia is mine. I love her. I provide as best I can for her needs. Still, this life is not the one I want. That life passed long ago.”
My mind turns to my own plans. Perhaps Helen notices a kinship in me. Once she knew of Virginia’s illness, everything changed. After her husband died, there would be no going back. She died to herself to make the world livable. It’s either the most selfish or the least selfish act ever witnessed. Maybe both.
Though she hasn’t spoken it, this is what she demands of me. My self-death stands as the sole evidence to her that I would tell these stories for others and not myself.
How much easier decided than done.