As it was a fine Saturday afternoon, Terry and Jim decided to park Jim’s Cherokee and walk along the Potomac on the waterfront park. Thus lighthearted, the couple, both in their mid-30s, walked along and looked across the river at Virginia. Small motorboats darted about upriver, in the distance. Airliners flew past on a continuous cycle on approach to Reagan National. It was a thoroughly lovely late-spring day in a beautiful city.

Terry fit in well with the city’s young and hip population. She was thin and buff with long, shapely legs, which she showed off in her workout capris and Nikes. She was pretty, with strikingly large blue eyes and lipstick-enhanced red lips. Her blonde hair was styled and smooth, in near complete control around her shapely face. The culture here suited her; she wasn’t a big fan of all the politics, but she was in union with the progressive world-view that permeated the area. She worked for a law firm as a paralegal while her parents (now divorced) had been life-long government workers.

Jim, on the other hand, also fit the parts externally—he was considered a good-looking guy among his peers—he was just over six feet, athletic with a boyish face more appropriate to a 90’s rock band than an Eastwood film. But his cultural and religious values were practically anathema to the youthful culture here. He did not worship at the house of youthful vigor, nor did he buy into the “inclusive” and politically correct secular worldview that he was supposed to have at his age. He was, if one could countenance it, a regular church attending Catholic and a Republican (not even a Libertarian!). He was originally from Cincinnati and only moved to the District about two years ago.

Jim worked for the same law firm as Terry, which was how they met. Jim, an associate attorney, had charmed Terry long and hard before making the big reveal about his true conservative self. But by then it was too late (as Jim had hoped!)—Terry was already hooked. Besides, she had often suspected him of not being quite the same as her other friends and associations. When her friends asked how she could possibly be going out with a religious conservative, her refrain was that he was not like other conservatives at all. (She didn’t really know any other conservatives, but it was as good an answer as she could come up with.)

Jim was actually a wonderful boyfriend. He was funny, usually cheerful, as well as thoughtful and respectful. He was a complete gentleman, always careful with his hands, even his eyes. In the three months that they had been dating, he was romantic and they often kissed, but it never went too far. And Terry was increasingly bothered as to why that might be. Simply put, it was not normal for a handsome man his age to avoid sex, she concluded, even if he was a devout Catholic from Cincinnati! Was it possible he was still a virgin?

As they continued their stroll, a young mother with a child walked past them. Jim glanced at them as they passed, noting in particular the tow-haired little boy, who was probably two or three years of age. Terry watched Jim as he turned and watched the mother and child as they continued along the path in the other direction.

After this, Jim became silent and solemn for the rest of the afternoon and evening out. He was pleasant, but clearly his light mood had changed. After retrieving the Cherokee, they went to dinner in Georgetown, and later to a movie. After a stop for a drink or two, they went back to Terry’s apartment. Terry insisted that he come in for a while. He agreed but dropped her off at her apartment house while he hunted for a parking space.

She went upstairs to her apartment and found it surprisingly empty. It was indeed a rarity when all of her three roommates were not home. Jim arrived about ten minutes later. “Boy, I had a dickens of a time finding a spot!” he said as he came through the door. “I think I could’ve caught a cab, the walk was so long!”

“We have the place to ourselves tonight,” Terry informed him.

“Really?” Jim replied. “Even Wendy’s gone?” Wendy was the main homebody of the roommates. Her social life was spent primarily at her school’s library.

“Even Wendy,” Terry replied. “Are you okay with staying anyway?” She then felt a twinge of annoyance at him. It had never been a spoken matter, but Jim had always been noticeably uncomfortable when he was with her alone in the apartment.

Jim did not reply immediately. He seemed undecided.

“Look,” Terry said, annoyance starting to get the better of her, “we’re not children here. We can be alone together, you know.”

“I know that, dear…”

“This is ridiculous! You act like you’re afraid of being with me alone!”

“I’m not afraid…” Jim protested.

“You asked me out and then we start to get closer, but then you put on the breaks!” she exploded. “It’s like you’re extending your arm at me to keep your distance.” When Jim glanced down in sadness, it gave Terry pause. Then, regretting her annoyance, she touched him on his arm. “Come on in, then, and sit down,” she suggested. She had him sit on the couch while she retrieved two beer bottles from the refrigerator. She returned and sat down tightly next to him. He took her cue and put his arm around the back of the couch, behind her neck.

“Alright, time now to come clean,” she ordered. “You’ve been moody ever since the park. What is up with you?”

A few minutes later he spoke. “I had this dream once years ago,” Jim began. “I had it only once, but it was one of those dreams that sticks with you, and you keep thinking about it over and over.” He paused to compose himself, then continued. “I’m walking about this little town enjoying myself looking around. It’s a normal day there, other people are walking about. Then I see this little boy wandering around. He’s probably two years old. He is all by himself just wandering around. Concerned that he’s lost I go up to him. ‘Are you lost?’ I ask him, and he looks up at me with these great blue eyes and cute little nose and smiles. He doesn’t reply; he just takes my hand. And we go walking, and I’m growing very attached to him. But I keep thinking—I’ve got to find his parents. We walk into a bank along the way, and I ask one of the tellers if anyone there knew who he was, but no one knew him. Then someone calls the police. The next thing I know is I’m helping the little boy climb into the police car.”

Jim’s eyes were getting moist, and his throat started to stiffen and grow hoarse as he continued. “He’s sitting in the back seat—his little legs too small for his feet to extend over the side. He’s looking at me. He’s not smiling or crying, just looking at me. I close the car door and the police car drives off. I can just see the top of his little head in the back window as the car drives away. When he’s gone out of sight, I finally realize that he’s mine—he was my own little boy!” Jim put his free hand to his eyes and wiped away at the wetness.

Not completely understanding why, Terry was moved with him, and tears began to flow in her eyes.

“But it was too late—he was gone. Gone and I was never going to find him again,” Jim gasped out. He put his arm over his eyes to wipe away his tears.

Terry held on to him tightly. After a time, she spoke up. “That’s so sad,” she said softly. “But why does it effect you so much? Did you ever figure out why that is?”

“Yeah, I know,” Jim replied.

“Will you tell me?”

“I’m a little afraid too, actually,” Jim replied. “But I suppose I must now. You need to know this about me, and then you can really decide…about me.”

“You can tell me, really,” Terry said encouragingly, but inside her doubts and fears again to creep in. Perhaps she did not want to know what was he going to confess to her.

“I once mentioned I had someone close to me in college,” Jim began. “Her name was Julia. We were both in pre-law at the University of Cincinnati. We started out as friends and went out with a bunch of us in, you know, group dates. You know how it goes, we sometimes hooked up with one another.”

(So, he was not a virgin, Terry noted happily to herself.)

“Well, we started to have feelings for one another after a while, and we started seeing each other alone. One day, we were close to graduating, and she came to me and told me she was pregnant.” Jim paused, but then added, “At hearing that, all time seemed to halt in its tracks right there.”

Terry’s stomach tightened uncontrollably. This was going places she did not want to go.

“And what did I do?” Jim continued. “I shut down. I went silent. I got scared. And so, I was no comfort to her at all. I spoke some vague, meaningless things like it would be okay; it would all work out.”

Terry, who had been holding his arm until now, let go and placed her arms between her knees. Her stomach was now stirring unpleasantly.

“We parted that day with no resolution in sight. I told her I would call her later. And when I called again, she as out, I was told. I learned a few days after that her friends had taken her to a clinic on Auburn Avenue that very day. She had an abortion.”

“It was her choice…” Terry broke in reflexively. She always believed it firmly, but it sounded trite when she said it. Her queasiness was now turning into an outright turning of the stomach.

“Yes, it was,” Jim agreed, “and I led her right into it. She felt scared and unloved, and I did nothing. I didn’t love her enough—and she knew it.”

“What happened to her?” Terry asked, her head now feeling too heavy to hold up.

“We saw each other alone again only once. I apologized to her again, but it meant nothing. I even offered to reimburse her for the abortion. She sharply refused. She went on with her life. She attended UC Law School, and I went south to Louisville. She’s a lawyer in Cincinnati, and married now, I think.”

“But then, what’s the problem?” Terry protested, in spite of feeling a hurt within her coming ever nearer to the surface. “I mean, you both went on with your lives…”

“I hurt her,” Jim replied, “and in a way that does not go away. That regret has stayed with me, rightfully, to this day.” Jim noticed now that Terry was no longer holding his arm and was physically pulling away from him on the couch. His heart was sinking, but he had to finish. “And my dream, you’re probably wondering,” he continued. “You remember that little boy we saw walking in the park this morning?”

“Yes,” Terry said, now distractedly.

“He reminded me of my dream. I often think about the child that I lost due to my lack of care…and love.”

In what came as a surprise even to Terry, Jim’s last words opened wide the flood gates within her, and she wept bitterly into her hands.

“I didn’t want to tell you, but you needed to know that I don’t feel worthy to be loved again. I suppose this is a bad time to tell you after all this, but I must say it: I love you. I can’t help loving you—even though I’m not worthy of loving you.”

Terry did not reply, but continued to cry. After a time, she spoke up. “I’m not feeling well at all. I think you’d better go now.”

It was now Jim’s turn to feel sick. It was all unraveling. He had opened his ugly past for her to see, and this, he said to himself, rightfully repelled her. “Of course,” he replied. “I’m sorry I put you through this.” His apology sounded as weak as the one he gave to Julie all those years ago.

“Just let yourself out,” Terry said, getting up. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom…”

“But will you be okay?” Jim asked anxiously. “I don’t want to leave you…”

“I will be okay,” she insisted. “Just go!”

Jim could do nothing else but comply with her wishes. As she hurried to the bathroom, he left the apartment and closed the door behind him. Wanting to secure the door, he realized that he could not set the deadbolt from outside and could only use the doorknob to lock the door. He hoped this would be enough and left. This also felt oddly reminiscent of his last encounter with Julia. It was not enough.


The next day was Sunday. After a night’s sleep, Jim’s initial gloom over losing Terry forever had dissipated to reveal a glimmer of hope. Using his smart phone, Jim called her number but was immediately sent to her voice mail. He left a message saying that he hoped that they would meet as usual at the nearby coffee shop. After attending the 9:00 Mass at St. Matthews, he went there immediately. She was not there.

Now he was nervous. Filled with anxiety, he raced over to her apartment building and as usual had spend a great deal of time parking his car. After what seemed like an eternity of walking and rising in elevators, he finally made it to Terry’s door and knocked. Wearing only shorts and a tank top, her roommate Wendy answered the door.

“Hi,” Jim said immediately, “Is Terry here?”

“Terry?” Wendy replied in an uncomprehending tone. “No, I don’t think so.”

Feeling a stabbing at his heart, Jim pressed her. “Do you mind if I come in and check?” he said. “She was sick last night, and I want to make sure she’s okay. I couldn’t reach her by phone.”

Wendy had met Jim on several occasions, but still showed a reluctance to let him in. “Um, well, I guess so,” she replied. With an urgency building within him, it took some self-control to wait for her to step aside and let him in. After she did so, he made his way to the apartment’s rear to Terry’s bedroom and knocked. After hearing no response and knocking again, he tried the doorknob. Finding it unlocked, he stepped into the dim room and could just make out her bed. It was occupied, he could see immediately: there was a definite bump under the covers.

“Terry,” he said softly, “is that you?” He moved closer and could now hear her breathing heavily in sleep. “Terry?” he repeated. To Jim’s relief, she finally stirred  and turned over on her back, revealing her face, although he could not see her very well in the darkness. “I was worried. You weren’t at the coffee shop, and I kept getting your voice mail.”

“Oh, yeah,” Terry replied groggily. “I forgot to charge my phone—it was on life support.”

“Are you okay?” Jim asked. “I dropped a load on you last night.”

“I had a bad night,” Terry said. “I threw up a couple of times. I ate something that didn’t agree with me.”

Wendy, who had followed Jim, lingered in the bedroom doorway. “False alarm,” Jim said to her reassuringly, “her phone was dead.”

“I see that!” Wendy said. “Can I make you some chicken soup, or something?” she asked Terry.

“You’re sweet, but no thanks,” Terry replied with strained vocal cords. “My stomach couldn’t handle it.” After Wendy had left, Terry spoke again. “I am sick, but it wasn’t helped by what we talked about yesterday. You lowered my defenses, I think.”

“I have to ask,” Jim said, “does what you heard change things with us? Because I understand if you don’t want me around anymore…”

“Stop it!” she commanded. Terry then sat up and turned on the lamp next to her bed. With the room lit, Jim could see her better now, and she was in an awful state. Her tanned face was pale, and her eyes and nose were red from the strain of emotion. Her hair was tossed in every direction in an unflattering fashion. Jim sat down on the bed and took her hand and held it.

“We’ve all done things we regret,” Terry said. “Your story hit me very hard. It reminded me of another guy I used to know. He was in the same situation that you were in—his girlfriend was pregnant, and they both weren’t ready to be parents. They had careers they wanted to follow. But this guy pretended that he cared—he even drove her to the abortion clinic. He stayed in the lobby while they performed the procedure. He even drove her home afterwards. But it turned out he didn’t love her any more than you loved your Julia. They broke up after the abortion, and he went on his way.” Terry looked into Jim’s eyes, and fresh tears began to flow from them. “And I went my way.”

The realization hit Jim like a boxing glove. “Oh my God,” he said, tears now flowing in his eyes. He pulled her body to him and hugged her with all his might. After a few moments, he pulled back and looked into her eyes again.

“I buried it deep inside me,” she continued. “You forced it out of me—I had to acknowledge it. I had to come to terms with what happened.”

“Terry, I’m so sorry.”

“Now I’ll ask you the same question you asked me, Jim,” Terry stated. “Has anything changed with us?”

“Of course it has,” he stated after a moment.

“Do you mean that you want to break…?”

“No!” Jim interrupted her before she could finish. “I love you! What’s changed is that we’ve found out that we share a similar hurt inside ourselves. It makes me love you all the more.”

She sat back on her pillow, a little dazed. “But, do you only love me because you think you can fix your past wrongs with me?” she asked doubtfully.

“No, no. I loved you deeply before knowing this,” he continued, “but I see that we now have something important we need to work through together.”

“And what’s that?” she asked wearily.

“Learning to forgive ourselves.”


Jim took Terry to St. Matthews for Mass a few weeks later. She tried to pay attention to the ceremony, but found herself imagination wandering to that of the child she had lost in her abortion. Through no intentional effort of her own, she kept picturing the small face of a blue-eyed girl smiling back at her. Warm feelings came all over her each time it happened.

After a while, she tried to make a better effort to follow the liturgy. She looked up at the sanctuary just as the priest was raising the consecrated host for the first time, and marveled at the simplicity of that tiny circle of white. Then all at once a realization hit her: she knew for certain now that when people died, they didn’t just go out of existence. They went somewhere else. And with that, she realized that her lost child, while gone from this world, was indeed alive somewhere. She then wondered whether she could ever contact her while in this world, and would, if she asked for it, her child ever forgive her.


“You never replied when I told you I loved you, you know,” Jim said as he stopped his Cherokee to drop her off that night. He was double-parked in front of her building.

“No, I didn’t,” Terry replied coyly.

A horn beeped behind them. Jim was blocking the right lane. “Well?” he asked with a smile. The horn blared again.

“I’m being rushed here,” she said. “We’ll talk later.” She pecked him on the lips and got out. The beeping car went around them.

“See you tomorrow,” Jim yelled before driving off. “I’ll be here to pick you up.”


That night Terry had a dream. She was walking in the most beautiful garden she had ever seen. Flowers and fruit trees and grass and every find of wonderful green foliage surrounded her. The beauty was indescribable, and she knew she could not even retain a memory of how wonderful it was. Then she saw something that caused her heart to leap with joy. A young boy and girl strolled towards her hand-in-hand. They were both tow-haired and blue-eyed. When they got close, the little girl sprang to Terry and hugged her with all her might. Terry felt love itself enveloping her. “Forgive yourself, Mom,” the girl said, “as I have forgiven you.”

“Oh my dear!” Terry cried out with wonderful tears of joy. She wanted to hold onto her forever. But the girl had to let go of her, and she rejoined the boy.

“Tell Dad we’re here!” he said.

“I will,” Terry replied. “I will!”

She woke up and immediately dialed Jim’s number on her now fully-charged phone. At his sleepy response (it was 4:30 a.m., after all), she finally told him the truth.

“Yes, I love you.”


The End


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