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 that was actually becoming a problem for Terry. She was beginning to wonder why that might be. Even Catholics from Cincinnati were naughty once in a while, weren’t they?

As they continued their stroll, a young mother with a child walked past them. Jim glanced at them as they passed. It was a tow-haired little boy, probably the age of two. Jim turned and watched them as they continued their way along the path in the other direction.

After this, Jim became silent and solemn for the rest of the afternoon and evening. 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. Every one of her three roommates had plans this evening, a rarity at best. 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 included lots of time at the school library.)

“Even Wendy,” Terry replied. “Are you okay with staying anyway?” She felt a twinge of annoyance at him. It had never been a spoken matter, but Jim had made it more than clear that he was uncomfortable with being with her alone here.

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’re not teenagers. 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 got so close, but it seems like you’re putting on the breaks, like you’re extending your arm to keep your distance.”

Terry, now regretting her annoyance, touched him on his arm. “Come on in, then, and sit down.” She had him sit on the couch while she made them cold drinks. She returned and sat down tightly next to him. He took the cue and put his arm around the back of the couch, behind her neck.

“Alright, time 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. I’m loving this kid, he’s so adorable. But I keep thinking—I’ve got to find his parents. We walk into a bank or something, and I ask them there about this kid. They don’t know about it either. 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 hoarsen 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 car window as it 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.

Terry was moved with him. 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 now to wipe away his tears.

Terry held on to him tightly. After a time, she spoke up. “That’s so sad,” she said softly. “Did you ever figure out why you keep thinking about that dream?”

“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 doubts and fears again to creep in. What was he going to confess to her? Was he gay? Was he a rapist? What?

“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 naughty once upon a time, Terry noted 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. Well, of course, the world seemed to stop 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. I was guilty—a co-conspirator. I was no comfort to her at all. I said some vague things like it would be okay, it would all work out.”

Terry, who had been holding his arm until now let go and sat up on the couch and placed her arms between her knees. Her stomach stirred again with an old wound. She was feeling queasy.

“We parted that day with no resolution in sight. I told her I would call her later. And later when I called, she as out, I was told. I learned later 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. Although this was one of her firm beliefs, it sounded trite after she said it. Her queasiness was 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 weakly to her. 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. She’s 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 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 inaction. My lack of care and love. He’d be about ten now.”

Terry’s flood gates now opened wide. She wept bitterly into her hands.

“I didn’t want to tell you, but you needed to know. I sometimes don’t feel worthy to be loved again, and it shows through. I suppose this is a bad time to tell you this. But I really, really care for you—even though I’m not worthy of you.”

Terry did not reply, other than continuing to cry. After a time, she spoke up. “I’m not feeling well, I think you’d better go now.”

Jim felt sick himself. It was all unraveling. He had opened himself with all his ugly past for her to see, and it was too much for her. “Of course,” he replied. “I’m sorry I put you through this.” It sounded as weak as his apology to Julie all those years ago.

“Just let yourself out,” Terry said, “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. She hurried to the bathroom, and he left the apartment, making sure the door was locked by the doorknob, although he could not put on the deadbolt. He hoped this would be enough and left. This felt oddly reminiscent of his last encounter with Julia, almost a reenactment of an awful, life-changing event in his life.

 

The next day was Sunday. Jim called her in the morning, but got her voice mail immediately. He left a message asking if she was doing okay today and that he would stop by the coffee shop, which was their usual meeting place on Sunday mornings. He attended 9:00 mass at St. Matthews and then made his way over to the coffee shop.

She was not there. Now he was nervous. What had he done to her? Filled with anxiety, he raced over to her apartment building and had the usual difficulty locating a parking place. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally made it to her apartment’s door and knocked. Her roommate, Wendy, answered. She was in shorts and a tank top.

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

“Huh?” Wendy replied. “I haven’t seen her.” (This stabbed Jim in the heart.) “I don’t think so.”

“Do you mind if I come in and check her room?” he said. “I want to make sure she’s okay.”

Wendy had met Jim on several occasions, but still seemed a tad reluctant to let him in. “Uh, yes, I guess she wouldn’t mind.” She seemed to have this, ‘I told her not to get involved with men,’ kind of look about her.

It took some self-control not to push her out of the way, but he waited for her to step aside. He made his way back to her bedroom and knocked. Hearing no response, he opened the door. Fortunately it was unlocked. He stepped into the dim room and could make out a bump under the covers. The room was otherwise neat.

“Terry,” he said softly, “is that you?” He moved closer to the lump and could now hear her breathing heavily in sleep. “Terry?” he repeated.

To his great joy, she stirred and turned over on her back (she had been sleeping on her belly).

“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 think I ate something that didn’t agree with me.”

Wendy lingered in the hallway, and Jim reassured her Terry was okay. “False alarm—her phone was dead.”

“Oh good!” Wendy said. “Need some chicken soup, or something?” she asked.

“No, thanks,” Terry said with strained vocal cords. “I’m just not hungry.”

After Wendy had left, Terry spoke again. “I am sick, but it wasn’t helped by what we talked about yesterday. My defenses were down. Just gone.”

“I have to ask,” Jim said, “does what you heard change things with us?”

Terry was silent.

“Because if you don’t want me around anymore, I will…”

“Stop it!” she commanded. “Don’t think so poorly of me.” Terry sat up and turned on the lamp next to her bed. With the room lit, Jim could see her better now. She was in an awful state—she was pale and her eyes and nose were red from the strain of emotion. Her hair, usually in control, was tossed in every direction. He 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 hard, 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 a short time after the abortion. 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. “Terry,” he said, tears now flowing in his eyes. He pulled her to him and hugged her with all his might. “I’m so, so sorry!” After a few moments, he pulled back and looked into her eyes again. “The fear, the hopelessness, of being unloved! I can’t imagine how that felt!”

“I buried it deep inside me ever since,” 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.”

“It’s not your fault,” Terry replied, “You weren’t the father, and I made the choice.”

“I bear the same guilt, Terry,” Jim insisted.

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

“Yes, for the better, I think,” he stated, without a moment’s hesitation. “I think we’re closer now, don’t you? In fact, I love you all the more!”

She sat back on her pillow, a little dazed. “You’re not just trying to right your past with me, are you?”

“I loved you already,” he continued, “This wouldn’t change any of that. But I think we’ve got something in common now—something we both have to work at. And now we can do it together.”

“And what’s that?”

“Finding forgiveness.”

 

Jim took Terry to St. Matthews to mass a few weeks later. She watched the ceremony with interest and felt comforted in being there. She thought of the child she had lost. She wondered where her daughter was now and if she would forgive her if she asked.

 

“You never replied when I first 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, probably ten at the most, 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, “I do—for always!”

“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.

“I love you.”

 

The End

 

Photo by lunar caustic