From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

Wishing Away

Do you believe that some people are sent into your life to teach you an important lesson? I do! One such special person in my life was Katherine.

At the time I met Katherine, I was an extremely busy single mother, raising three rambunctious children. Life seemed to be a continual merry-go-round of work, home, schedules and activities. My fondest wish involved a deserted island, warm sunny days, an inexhaustible supply of romance novels, and absolute peace and quiet.

I became aware that Katherine had moved into my apartment complex when my seven-year-old daughter, Amber, asked if her new friend could spend the night. “Please? Her name is Joy, and she just moved into number 18 with her mommy.”

I stopped making hamburger patties long enough to gaze at my child. Standing next to her was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired, gap-toothed little girl, waiting anxiously for my response. Issuing a resigned sigh, I agreed. “Go get Joy’s things. We’ll be eating in a half hour.” With big grins, the two pint-sized whirlwinds were gone. I continued dinner preparations, wishing that I could be ordering steak in a fine restaurant.

Within minutes the phone rang. Katherine was calling to introduce herself and to confirm the invitation to spend the night. As we chatted, I noted that her words slurred occasionally and wondered if she had a speech impediment. I had little time to ponder Katherine’s speech, however. I had children to feed, laundry to do and evening rituals to perform. With a hurried good-bye, I began peeling potatoes as I wished for the late-evening hours when I could retreat to the personal oasis I called “my time.”

From that beginning, Joy and Amber were inseparable. I spoke to Katherine on the phone occasionally, but never found the time to meet her. I would glimpse her sitting on a bench by the apartment playground, talking to the children, and wonder how she managed to find the time to spend on such a frivolous activity. Didn’t she have a job to go to? Housework to do? Schedules to keep? How I wished I knew the secret of finding time to play. What fun it would be to toss a ball and laugh in the summer sun.

As time passed, I began to notice that Katherine had problems. At times, her speech was difficult to understand. She seemed to stagger and lose her balance. She dropped things. I wondered if she had an alcohol problem and if the girls were safe with her. I decided the time had come to get to know this woman better and invited her to a family dinner.

The evening that Katherine and Joy came to dinner proved to be a pivotal point in my life. I watched her closely as she sat at the table surrounded by children. Her speech was muffled in spots; her movements measured and slow. But I could not detect alcohol on her breath, and she declined the glass of wine I offered.

She seemed happy to focus on the children, listening intently to their stories. She asked them questions and considered their answers seriously. She flittered from topic to topic, keeping pace with their rapid thoughts. She entertained them with amusing stories of her own childhood.

After our meal, the children raced outside to play in what was left of the summer sunshine. Katherine and I followed at a more sedate pace. She walked slowly and carefully while she revealed her past life as a budding executive married to an active, high-profile man. She told me of a lifestyle filled with social activity, vacations, and diverse people and settings. She had lived the life I’d always wished for but never achieved.

We settled on a bench beside the playground and quietly watched the children at their games. I thought of how predictable and unexciting my life was compared to the picture Katherine had painted. With a sigh, I told her how I wished the children were older. Then, I would have more time to do some things for myself.

A small smile crossed her face as Katherine replied, “My only wish is to be able to stay out of a nursing home until Joy is grown. You see, I have multiple sclerosis. It’s slowly taking over my body. It’s changed my entire life. My husband couldn’t deal with being married to an invalid, and I couldn’t keep up with my career. Now, all I want is to be able to raise my daughter. I want to share as much of her world as I can for as long as I can. I’ve learned to treasure every minute of every day with her, because I don’t know how many more of those there are left.”

Katherine turned to me, and with another smile she continued, “Don’t spend your life wishing away what you have. You never know when it will be gone.”

Approaching darkness ended our conversation, as we became involved with herding our children to their baths and beds. But later that evening, in that quiet time between wakefulness and sleep, I could hear her words floating through my head and heart, and resolved to appreciate my world instead of wishing for something different.

Time passed quickly, as it always does. Joy and Amber progressed through childhood and adolescence. I spent as much time as I could with them and Katherine. Life was a kaleidoscope of excitement and joy, pain and sorrow. For each stage of development the girls experienced, it seemed Katherine’s body paid a price as she slowly deteriorated physically and mentally.

Katherine’s wish was granted. She was able to watch Joy receive her high-school diploma, go on to further her education and start a rewarding career.

Some of my many wishes were also granted. The children are now raised and on their own, and I have time to pursue my interests. I have precious grandchildren to keep me focused on the wonders of the world, and friends and family to love and enjoy. And I carry with me the knowledge that I was granted something for which I never wished . . . the rewards of knowing Katherine and learning from her wisdom.

Lana Brookman

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