Half-opened windows allowed a light breeze to blow cream-colored lace curtains rhythmically. Rachelle Simone focused on the back and forth fluttery flow of lace. Meditative music played softly in the background of the dimly lit office.
Sitting with her hands folded atop the mahogany desk covered with neatly stacked papers was matronly looking Susanna Todd. She listened and focused her energy as the much younger wisp of a woman paused to cry softly. Almost frozen in time, the moment allowed the grief counselor to even take in the tinkling sound of ice moving in the glass of water as Rachelle tipped it for a swallow.
As she attempted to compose enough to continue, Rachelle felt almost nondescript. Her life had been so full of hard work companioned with pain that she’d nearly forgotten about appearance. Rachelle was hopeful that these visits with this matriarch of facing internal pain would eventually find the whole person residing within. Presently, however, she hid beneath overwhelming baggy shirts over leggings, she wore no make-up, and Rachelle pulled her variegated blonde hair into a loose ponytail.
Her hand dabbed a tissue to soft brown eyes as Rachelle found her voice, “Susanna, my parents started so humbly. After they graduated in 1967, the sweet and sensitive Benjamin Simone married the top reporter for the school newspaper Rhonda Cox. With all the money they received as wedding gifts and as a present to each other, they purchased a small fledgling newspaper, The Marietta Messenger.”
“They’d been married four years when I decided to enter the picture. Their plan for a perfect family had called for one daughter and a son. Therefore when Scott Simon Simone arrived in May of 1974, we were all very excited.” Rachelle paused, her gaze fixed on the curtain, as she played with a tendril of variegated hair that had slipped the confines of the elastic band.
“By the time Scotty was eleven months, we were all aware that something wasn’t quite right. It took close to another year of testing to achieve the correct diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.” The young woman heaved a deep sigh and sat with feet pulled up tight against her bottom in the chair. Rachelle had one arm clasped about those legs, and the other hand periodically chased stray tears away.
“On one hand, we were blessed to have our own business. Mother continued to write human interest stories and edit from home yet was available for Scotty. However, there was always that other hand, which carried so many responsibilities. I grew up with duty one, to entertain my sick little brother. I read to him endlessly throughout our youth, and I truly loved Scotty so much.”
Since Rachelle had stopped speaking, Susanna broke the silence. “How did all that responsibility make you feel, Rachelle?”
The young woman sat thinking before responding, “It wasn’t anyone’s choice. It was the cards we were dealt. My parents tried to make up for it later by paying for my schooling at the University of my Choice. Of course, the understanding was that I’d return to Marietta, Ohio, to work on the Messenger once I had a journalism degree under my belt. So I studied hard and concentrated on the business end. That enabled me to take back great ideas for expanding the paper, which we did.” Rachelle shifted her weight in the chair.
“Did you ever allow any time for you? How about enjoying fun activities, hobbies, or dating?” The plumpish gray-haired Susanna had leaned back. Behind her, hundreds of books resided on shelves made of cherry wood. The air held a slightly musty scent of them.
“In the beginning, I tried. But, I constantly felt that my small-town upbringing hadn’t prepared me for the upscale individuals surrounding me. I attended Ohio State in Columbus for my undergraduate stuff. I was so focused on studying that it didn’t seem to be in me to relax or party. But when I got to Phillip Merrill in College Park, Maryland, just outside of DC, it was all so overwhelming. I fought hard to keep up my grades and attend functions where I could meet the kind of people who could help my career. I was pretty shy and didn’t know how to make friends. I talked with Mother by phone, but I often needed to pick up her spirits, and I didn’t have anyone encouraging me or convincing me I could do it!”
Rachelle paused and temporarily tucked that elusive wisp of hair behind her ear.
“I remember the strangest thing in college was the deafening quiet at night. Scotty made a lot of loud moaning sounds even during his sleep.” She shook her head sideways with a far-off look in her eyes.
“After I returned to Marietta with my degrees, I figured searching for a mate would be a more effortless endeavor. I believed the guys around our town would be more down-to-earth, more like who I thought myself to be.
Yet, to quote the song, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Someone with the correct mix of down-to-earth and intrigue! Or someone who understood my family commitment.” Drifting off in memories, Rachelle stretched her back and exhaled a deep breath before she continued.
“Heading into my second year back home, life virtually turned upside down. Mother stayed at home with Scotty full-time and occasionally wrote for the paper. I lived in an apartment over their garage outback. It was very cozy, and yet it gave me more privacy and a place to escape for peace.”
At that point, Rachelle rose from the chair and made her way to the window. She was a vision as the lace fluttered softly around her slim physic. Her story continued to fall softly from her like spring rain.
“I’ll never forget, it was the first week in December, and a storm had left everything covered in a layer of ice. Daddy yelled up the stairs to my apartment as he got into his car for work. ‘Take your time and be careful as the roads are going to be slick.'”
“Several minutes later, as I turned off my blow dryer, in the distance, I heard an ambulance siren and thought to myself, Daddy’s always right; someone didn’t slow down.”
At that moment, Rachelle slumped against the window frame and pulled at her hair agitatedly.
Susanna watched closely in case the grieving woman collapsed.
With her voice so full of sadness it scratched the air and made it bleed, Rachelle continued, “As I was leaving for the office, mother waved out the window like any other darned day. I drove very slowly down North Street, as it was extremely slippery. Up ahead, I saw where the accident had been. The police directed traffic by two wrecked vehicles. An Officer stepped directly in front of my stopped car. As my window was going down, the policeman’s face became recognizable as Officer Tony, a very close friend of Daddy’s.”
“I still remember his voice cracking as he said, ‘I am very sorry to tell you this, Hunny, but your Daddy was involved in that accident. Someone couldn’t stop, slid right through the red light, and plowed into him. He’s on his way in an ambulance to Mercy General. Would you like me to get an officer to drive you over?’
“By then, cars lined up behind me, and Tony needed to clear the roadway. He offered, ‘Pullover there, and I’ll get someone to take you.’ I remember telling him something to the effect of, I’ll drive myself, you send someone to get Mom, and she’ll need a sitter for Scotty.” Reliving all that pain caused Rachelle to have tears sneaking down her trembling face. From within, a terrible knot twisted tight in her stomach.
“I arrived at Mercy General amid the normal confusion of an emergency room on an icy winter day. It took a few minutes to search the curtain surrounded rooms to determine Father wasn’t in emergency. Thinking maybe that was a good sign, I finally found someone to ask. After the nurse made a call, she directed me to the fourth-floor waiting area. Daddy had been rushed into surgery.”
“Arriving on the fourth floor, I immediately realized that surgery was to the left and Intensive care to the right. Within ten minutes, the elevator doors opened to reveal Mother, accompanied by Officer Tony. My Mom was crying uncontrollably and literally fell into my arms. Tony helped me comfort her. Finally, a doctor stepped through the double doors to ask for the family of Benjamin Simone.
Offering his condolences, the doctor explained that Daddy’s injuries were too severe. He had bled to death before they could even begin to get the bleeding stopped.”
“After that, I couldn’t hear anymore, my face became extremely hot, and there was a buzzing sound in my ears. It felt like I was sitting on top of the window curtain, and I watched as Mother slid to the floor and Tony tried to catch her.” The young woman inhaled deeply several times before she continued.
“At one point, I was alone in the funeral home, on my knees before Daddy’s casket. In my head his voice was saying,” ‘you have to help your mother through this now. You have to be the strong one. The two of you will need to get extra help for Scotty.’
Again the young woman’s voice dropped off, and she looked over at Susanna for the first time in quite a while. With a sad attempt at a chuckle, Rachelle took a deep breath, searching for the ability to continue. “About the time that our days were becoming less numb, when we could finally tell morning from the night, Scotty got sick. In the middle of one night, Mother called.”
She said, “I think Scotty has Pneumonia again. I’m going to call an ambulance because he seems to be getting worse right before my eyes.”
“Scotty went to be with Daddy three days later. No one could believe our terrible misfortune.”
Susanna watched the young woman speak in a monotone while she pulled the band from her hair, ran her hands through it, and then replaced the band. It became evident that some emotional dam had burst, and she was now able to pour the difficulties she had faced out into the counselor’s office for the last several years.
Finally, Rachelle returned to the chair again; her legs were up, with arms wrapped about them.
“Mother struggled after that to function or to breathe. I ran the paper and took care of the house and her bill paying. We discussed selling the paper several times because I wondered how long I could keep all the balls in the air by myself. Yet, each time we discussed it, we always returned to the same thing. That for the memory of Benjamin Simone; we should try to make it work.”
“The day that’s etched forever in memory stone is when Mother asked me to join her for dinner. Over candles, Mother explained it was time to sell the paper. I thought we’d decided to try to hold it together, so I was floored. I was thrown off-kilter by her sudden change of heart, even though there was a momentary sigh of relief.
Rachelle cried a torrent of silent tears as she continued to release the difficult pain. Susanna had to lean forward and listen carefully to get what came next as the girl paused every few words.
“Then my mother, with tears spilling down her cheeks, struggled to explain. ‘My darling daughter, there’s no easy way to tell you this. I have stage four ovarian cancer. I want to sell the paper, so we can go on a cruise or something. The two of us need time to be together; you never get to relax. We’ve never had time to enjoy each other before. I’ve declined treatment because it’s simply too late. I’d rather take this time just to be together. I’m so desperately sorry for you.’
At that point, Rachelle laid her head against her knees, and her whole body convulsed, yet barely a sound came from her.
Susanna waited patiently and finally asked calmly, “Would you like another glass of water?”
Shaking her head no as she lifted it, Rachelle went on; “In the neighboring town to ours was another small newspaper that had its own struggles. When the owner of that paper learned of my situation, he offered to merge the two papers into one, eliminating his competition. We did well enough on the sale.”
The young woman sadly chuckled; “So that’s how Rachelle Simone, Rhonda’s daughter, came to be on the shores just south of Atlantic, North Carolina. Together, we rented that quaint cottage to spend weeks lounging, rummaging through little antique shops, swimming, and all that interspersed with lots of crying.” Rachelle heaved a sigh, finally able to sit quietly numb. It was as if she had tipped herself over and dumped out all of the painful contents.
Susanna then offered, “I remember seeing the two of you. It seemed like you spent most of your day walking or hanging out on the beach.”
As the counselor continued speaking, Rachelle’s mind wandered off. She remembered that during those days walking the area with her mother, she had noticed a man several times sitting on the dunes looking out to the water with an easel painting. While she ambled, arm in arm with mother, she had plenty of time to study him. Sometimes he’d have his hand to his forehead shielding his eyes from the sun. He wore a bandana tied about his head on other windy days to keep his long hair back. He’d stand like a statue for long periods, seemingly mesmerized by the waves crashing in. Then he’d abruptly begin to paint again. Suddenly Rachelle felt surprised and almost embarrassed that she would remember him at a time such as the present. She started talking again to cover her embarrassment and allowed the words to tumble.
“Mother stayed with me here for weeks just being together. I tried to emboss all of our days into my brain as keepsakes for the long dark times ahead.” After a deep breath, Rachelle finished with, “Mother joined Daddy and Scotty that winter. I wallowed in grief for months. I wouldn’t even get out of bed at home. The only thing that allowed for my survival was between the money from the sale of the paper and life insurance inheritance; I was financially solvent enough to take time for healing.”
“Officer Tony stopped periodically as a friend. I continued to stay in the garage apartment because the house was far too depressing. Tony’s wife, Celia, finally helped me pack things up to send for charity. That way, I was able to rent the house out. It was Tony’s idea that I return to the shore. He believed that the sun could help to heal me. Through his police contacts, he tracked down your name as a good grief counselor in the town Mother, and I had vacationed. The rest is history! I made arrangements for me to rent the same cottage, so here I am.”
“Well, I’m happy that you are.” Susanna reached in a drawer and went on to say while laying a lovely journal in front of Rachelle. “I think it would be good for you to write. Just take a few minutes each day to jot down your thoughts. For many folks, first thing in the morning works best; however, whatever makes you most comfortable. With your journalism degree, you should be able to develop something. The object is not writing a paper, just your thoughts, whether they pertain to your grief or not. Sometimes it takes a while for it to let loose. Explore your feelings, and get them down on paper. I promise; you’ll soon start feeling better about things.”
Rachelle responded softly, as she stared at the curtains, slow, almost ballet-like movement, “Thank you, I’ll try.”