Chapter 26: Since I Last Saw You

Chapter 26: Since I Last Saw You

a novel by Alice Ann Kuder
A story of love, loss and gratitude.

“You can kid the world, but not your sister.” ~ Charlotte Gray

 Chapter 26

February 16-March 2, 2013

“Lincoln, Nebraska? Who do you know in Lincoln, Nebraska?” Chloe Skyped from her laptop to Ali’s.

“Not a soul. I just needed to choose a stopover between Rapid City, South Dakota, and Dixon, Illinois, and when I looked at a map, Lincoln popped out at me,” said Ali.

“Is it my imagination, or is there an unexpected theme developing for this trip? First Mount Rushmore and now Lincoln, Nebraska—and isn’t there a monument to Lincoln in Dixon, too?”

Ali chuckled. “Yes, well, I don’t remember issuing a formal invitation, but Abraham Lincoln does seem to have become my incorporeal traveling companion.”

“Maybe he got cabin fever from hanging around the Lincoln bedroom all the time,” Chloe teased. “Didn’t you say he was in a dream you had a while back, too?”

“Uh-huh, he was one of the people at the Thanksgiving table. He’s been in dreams of mine in the past, too. I told that to a therapist once; famous people frequently show up in my dreams. She said that’s a bit unusual. When I told her about one dream involving Lincoln, she said, ‘That sounds more like a memory than a dream.’ We never explored that, but her comment and the concept obviously stuck with me.”

“Do you believe in past lives?” Chloe asked.

“Not really—though I don’t totally discount the possibility. I haven’t spent much time thinking about it, probably because it conflicts with my beliefs about God and heaven and life after death. I don’t have a burning need to figure it all out.

“Whatever the reason, I do feel a special affinity with Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, the universe thinks he has a lot to teach me, because it keeps throwing us together. I can’t say that I see any strong parallels between our lives or personalities—I wish I did! He was such a brilliant and admirable man, and I’ve learned a lot just from reading about his life.

“It’s pretty amazing how many ‘quotable quotes’ are attributed to him. One of my favorites is ‘The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.’ That’s certainly a truth I have clung to since Isaac and Zoe died.”

“Okay, enough about Abe. How are you doing? You look good—or as good as anyone looks on Skype,” said Chloe.

“I’m okay. It’s hard to believe I’ve only been gone for six weeks.”

“And even harder to believe you’ll be gone another eight months! I really miss you, Ali Oop.”

“I miss you too. If it weren’t for technology, I think I’d feel pretty lost. I’m journaling a lot in the evenings, too.

“Valentine’s Day was hard, and, of course the anniversary of the accident. Thank goodness Nathan was with me; that made it much easier. I was determined not to let the days surrounding it devolve into pity parties, so we concentrated on remembering the good things. One night, Nathan and I sat in front of a fire in the hotel lobby with a bottle of Isaac’s favorite wine and a box of Ding Dongs—Zoe’s favorite junk food—and told funny stories about her and her dad. It made me miss them more and miss them less, both at the same time.”

Neither of them said anything for a few moments, then Chloe shifted the conversation to a lighter topic.

“How’s Tess? Are you glad you took her along?”

“She’s great. She’s not much of a conversationalist, but she’s good company anyway. And I doubt I’d be as vigilant about getting exercise if I didn’t have her along to coax me into taking walks.”

“Have you had any trouble finding pet-friendly places to stay?”

“Not as much as you might think. It’s pretty easy to do internet searches for places that allow dogs, and there are usually several to choose from. I guess more and more people are traveling with pets these days.”

“Where are you staying now?”

“I’m at The Rogers House B&B. It’s right in the middle of the historic downtown district, just a few blocks from the capitol. I really love these old mansions. This one was built in 1914. You should see this room! They call it Doctor’s Retreat. Here, I’ll show you.” Ali picked up the laptop and turned it slowly to pan around the room.

“Is that a four-poster bed?” asked Chloe.

“Yep. And there’s a little sunroom that Tess has claimed for herself.”

“How long do you think you’ll stay in Lincoln? Is there much to do there in February?”

“I’m planning to stay a couple of weeks, since I don’t need to be in Dixon until March 3rd. There seems to be plenty to see here. I’m told that the Art Deco capitol building is amazing and a ‘must see.’ Then there’s the Larson Tractor Museum.”

“Oh, for sure you wouldn’t want to miss that!” Chloe laughed.

“I know it sounds kind of . . . um, unexciting, but Dad loves tractors so much that I think it’ll be fun to find out about their evolution

“There’s also the Museum of American Speed. The tagline is the ‘world’s largest collection of exotic racing engines and vintage speed equipment.’ Who does that make you think of?”

“Ali, don’t take this the wrong way, but I’d think you’d be grateful that you could skip that without Isaac around to drag you there.”

“Yeah, you’d think. If he were here begging to go, I’d probably be rolling my eyes at the idea. Instead, his absence actually makes me want to see it more.”

“I guess grief changes our perspective sometimes.

“What else is there to see and do in Lincoln? Are there memorials to your pal, Honest Abe, on every street corner?” Chloe asked.

“Frankly, when I was looking through a list of local attractions, I was surprised and a little disappointed to discover how few have anything at all to do with the president. I asked the hotel clerk about it and he gave me a pamphlet with some history about the city.

“It seems the city’s original name was Lancaster. They changed it to Lincoln, but not because of any fondness for, or connection to the then-recently-assassinated president. Rather, it was part of a plan to prevent the city from becoming the state capitol. Local politicos knew there were still a lot of Confederate sympathizes in the region, so they figured the populace would balk at having anything—let alone the state capitol—named after the president. Obviously, they were wrong.

“That’s probably more than you wanted to know, but I love that kind of trivia.”

“You may not want to refer to it as trivia until you leave town—the locals might not appreciate it,” Chloe teased.

 ****

During the two weeks Ali was in Lincoln, she experienced a sliding scale of temperatures. On February 16th, the day she arrived, the temperature ranged from twelve degrees to forty degrees. The next day it went from a low of twenty degrees to a high of sixty-three degrees! On the morning of February 21st, she awoke to a snowstorm; the temperature stayed between twenty and twenty-four degrees the entire day.

Today, February 24th, the outdoor temperature was a pleasant forty-five degrees; a perfect morning to meander the cobblestone streets in the town’s historic Haymarket District.

Having no schedule to keep, she wandered through the various specialty shops there, until a store called Bin 105 drew her in like a magnet. Billing itself as “Lincoln’s newest quality wine shop,” Ali, who was unable to completely separate herself from the work she loved, got into a lengthy discussion with the storeowner about their selection of terroir-driven wines made by independent producers.

Afterward, she stumbled upon a gift boutique called Abesque Variations. She was surprised to discover that besides cute knickknacks, the shop also offered professional voice and piano lessons! It took some persuasion, but Ali sweet-talked the manager into letting her play their antique, baby grand piano for a few minutes, just to ease her jones-ing.

Her fingers danced across the keys and music filled the shop. As she was playing, one of the customers mistook her for a professional pianist and commented to a clerk what an excellent idea it was for them to have hired her!

Ali’s love for Haymarket spiked even higher when she popped into Dove Shannon Salon and Day Spa. There, she indulged herself with a pedicure, manicure and a facial. A little pampering was just what she needed to emerge feeling as if her caterpillar-self was truly a butterfly.

Returning to her room at The Rogers House, Ali felt content, if a bit tuckered out. The decaf latte she bought in the coffee shop down the street as a late afternoon treat, was a perfect accompaniment to the writing she intended to do. Now, she sat down at the small antique table in her room to compose the letter to Chloe that had been teasing her brain.

Dear Chloe,

Since our conversation earlier today, I’ve been thinking—again—about how much you mean to me and what a great sister you are. Like most siblings, we certainly had our share of fights when we were kids. I thought you were bossy, and you thought I was spoiled. As much as I love our brother, there’s no denying the special relationship we have as sisters. Your love and support have been so incredibly and particularly invaluable to me since the accident.

Do you remember when we were kids and you found me crying in my room over my break-up with my first boyfriend, Matthew? I was in the seventh grade—still in the thick of adolescent angst—and I was absolutely devastated. I was sure that my life was over, that I was unlovable and would never find another boyfriend. At first, I didn’t want to confide in you, because I was afraid you’d confirm all my fears. On this particular day, you were your best self—and my salvation.

At first, you just sat and listened to me while I cried and rambled on about my heartbreak. Matthew was such a great guy, I said, and I still loved him. I was sure that he broke up with me because I wasn’t pretty enough or smart enough or funny enough.

Once I was exhausted from self-flagellation, you hugged me and empathized with me. I’d seen you go through break ups of your own, so I knew you could relate to what I was feeling. When I asked you how you had gotten over your heartbreaks, you told me that there are two critical ingredients to healing: the first is time, and the second is faith.

I wasn’t surprised to hear you spout the old cliché, “Time heals all wounds”, but I didn’t know of any axioms about faith, and I didn’t see how faith could be a cure for heartache.

You told me that, at the moment, I was in too much pain to think clearly. What I needed to do was try to believe it wouldn’t kill me and just get through it one day at a time.

Then you admitted that time wouldn’t do the whole trick. I needed to pay attention to the thoughts that were going through my head, you said, and start to turn them around, because they would all be negative at first.

You went on to warn me that I would likely tell myself that he was the only guy for me, no one else would ever love me, I’d never be happy without him, and a lot of other stupid stuff. It will all feel true, you said, but if I let myself believe it, it would take a lot longer to get over him.

“You’ve got to have faith that ‘this, too, shall pass,’” you said.

You encouraged me to find my faith by looking at my experiences. The sunrise, for example, should give me faith that the day ahead—as joyful or as painful or as it might be—will end and a new tomorrow will always come; the same with the seasons. No matter how harsh the winter is, spring always follows. That’s just how life is. Nothing stays the same for very long. When you get hurt, you either die or you heal. Like the Kelly Clarkson song says, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’’

Then you asked me to name some especially painful events from my past. Two things came immediately to mind. The first was when I broke my leg. The second was when my best friend, Melanie, betrayed me.

Together, you and I examined both events, looking for the unexpected good that came about as a result.

Breaking my leg made me appreciate my strong body and overall good health.

The falling out with Melanie taught me about the nature of friendships. I learned that friendships are precious gifts—even if they don’t last forever.

Later, I examined other seeming tragedies from my relatively short past and discovered that each one had a silver lining. Each and every one. As a result, I came to agree with you that there is no such thing as an event that is totally bereft of some positive outcome. I suspect that you learned this from Dad, before passing it along to me.

As you predicted, I felt bad about the breakup with Matthew for quite a while, but our talk helped me believe that I would eventually get over it. “You’ve got to have faith,” you said to me. And I do. I have faith—which has only gotten stronger over time—that life is good and all things happen as they should. I cling to that faith now, as I try to make sense of Isaac and Zoe’s deaths.

Thank you for encouraging me to nurture my faith.

I love you until forever,

Ali

She put down her pen and reread the letter. Finally, with warm feelings of self-satisfaction, sisterly love, and gratitude, she stuffed it in an envelope.

Just then, Tess, who had been napping at Ali’s feet, suddenly sat to attention with her ears perked up full tilt. A moment later, Ali heard a knock on the door.

Baffled as to who it could be, Ali looked through the peephole and was equally astonished and thrilled to see Chloe standing in the hallway. She threw open the door, wrapped her sister in a tight hug and let out a squeal of pure delight as tears stung her eyes.

To order the e-book version of Since I Last Saw You, go to: www.SinceILastSawYou.com

Print version coming soon!

Posted by Alice Kuder, December 3, 2013

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