She’s in her car. Vehicles are parking outside the chapel. People are dressed in dark colors. Greeters stand at church doors nodding to those walking inside.
She crosses the street and makes her way in.
She is nervous. Her hands tremble. She shakes hands with the grieving family. She offers condolences. She looks at his body. She cries.
They are not tears for him. Not exactly.
He was no saint. In fact, he was what some folks would’ve called “no good.”
He treated his first wife and second wife terribly. He was abusive. Unfaithful. Bad to drink. His kids were estranged. His friends were few.
He was her uncle.
As a girl, he lived with her family. She was fifteen; he forced himself upon her. It altered her life.
After the hateful thing happened, her mother sent her to stay with cousins in Tennessee. It was only days before Christmas. It the worst period of her entire life.
It got worse when she started waking to morning sickness.
It wasn’t long before she had a daughter. The baby was magnificent, but her mother made her put the child up for adoption.
The folks in white uniforms escorted the baby away from her. And, since good teenagers did what they were told, she let them.
But she doesn’t want your sympathy. In fact, she wants people to know that she doesn’t need it.
Years later, she met a man. He was kind. Funny. Young. He was studying to become a teacher. He encouraged her to finish her GED, go to college, to be proud of herself. He told her she was smart.
And she believed him.
She studied nursing. She studied late hours, worked clinicals. And when she earned her certificate, he was there.
They were married. It was a simple ceremony.
But on their first night as man and wife, she had a panic attack. It was a bad episode.
“Please don’t touch me!” she screamed.
Old wounds came to the surface. She recoiled. She cried. She left the hotel on foot.
He followed her, driving behind her. He begged her to get into the car. She finally did. Then, she told him about her past. She expected him to be disgusted.
He didn’t even blink. He only held her.
Over the years, her baby-fat has disappeared. She got older. She raised two children with him. Family vacations, nice house, nice cars. Her children attended good colleges.
When she heard about the passing of her uncle, her first reaction was not anger. She packed an overnight bag.
“Where are you going?” asked her husband.
She wouldn’t say.
She drove across three states and arrived in a familiar town. She stood in a single-file line to stare into a casket.
“I forgive you,” she said to the dead man. “And even though you tried, you didn’t ruin me. God bless you, and I pray you’re at peace.”
That was all.
She got into her car. She drove away. She ate gas-station snacks. She sang with the radio. She returned to a home of three people who can’t live without her.
And this Christmas, her twenty-nine-year-old biological daughter will be joining them for supper.
And she just wanted me to tell you that.