[COLUMN] Once upon a time series: Meet Elaine, The Rock

Stories have the power and influence to touch the heart that a cut and dried essay or a report does not have. Somehow the lessons and insights we learn from stories have a longer shelf life. They stick.

Along the way, I have met many whose stories seem like the stuff of fiction. Other stories are cautionary and some are horrific. A lot of what I write are stories told to me. I view them from my personal lens and filter.

I listen quietly, file them away and sort things out. I fictionalize story elements to protect their privacy and some elements, for purposes of conciseness and flow.  Like the deft fingers of a tapestry maker, I hope to weave the colorful threads together, conjure a composite character from different, engaging people I have met. Hopefully these series warm and lift the heart just a tad. For as long as we live, we all need a boost daily.

Elaine placed sunflowers on her husband’s gravesite and quietly said a prayer. She stood alone on a gentle slope on the windswept hill.  It was getting chilly and Elaine instinctively wrapped her shawl tightly about her.

It was early evening in late spring and the sun was beginning to sink in the horizon. She knew she would have to leave soon. The memorial park will soon be closing its gates to visitors. She caught sight of the roving guards in their vehicle at the corner of her eye. She took one last look at her husband’s gravesite and got into her car and drove down the meandering road downhill to go home before dusk finally sets in.

She needed to prep her mind and body for her work tomorrow as quality control chief of semiconductor parts, just as she had done so, for the last two decades in the company that valued and kept her as a great worker.

Elaine was a woman of great substance. She was loyal to the bone in both her home and work life. She did the best she could in every situation emptying herself in the process. She honestly thought everybody did so and was just like her. Elaine never considered herself a rarity — which she was. Elaine just was that kind of person.

It has been 12 years since her husband Neil passed away after a long bout with lung cancer.  When the end came, she went through the motions of climbing the wall of grief that comes with permanent separation.

Elaine didn’t know at the time if she could handle the sole responsibility of bringing up their two young children as the surviving parent and the sole breadwinner.  To Neil’s credit, he had the foresight to buy life insurance that proved to be of great help in the interim. For that one act alone, Elaine remains deeply grateful to Neil’s memory. His foresight and love for their family ran deep.

Neil wasn’t perfect — not by a long shot — but then she realized, neither was she. It was a struggle during the early years and the recurring friction would sometimes be unbearable.

They were a study in contrasts. “Opposites do attract but likes stay together,” her mother used to tell her as a teen-ager. But she was too young, too naïve and very much in love with Neil to understand. She was stubborn and headstrong. When the going got tough, as it often did early in their marriage, she wished bitterly she had the humility and the emotional smarts to remember her mother’s words of wisdom.

She remembered how their marriage was rough going for a while and they came very close to calling it quits quite a few times. Their marriage counselor and even her confessor priest advised her that it may be in their best interest to go their separate ways.

The advice fell on deaf ears. There were these two children whose well-being depended on them. She had this stubborn streak that kept her going. She persisted. She prayed on her knees. And in God’s perfect timing, her prayers were answered. She has no regrets over the choices she made, even if sometimes, she had the nagging feeling, she chose poorly. Others would say, stupidly.

There were happy times too when the laughter rang out and she chose to dwell on them. Elaine imagined herself to be like a film editor retaining and splicing together the reels of fun and gaiety they had.

She still smiles broadly recalling their wedding, two normal childbirths, flying kites in the open fields and on the beaches when the children were growing and just countless fun times they shared and recorded in fading photographs and video clips.

And like the editor of her life, she chose to gloss over and edit out the ugly parts and leave them on the cutting room floor, swept in a bin and zapped away from memory. Poof. Gone. Forgiven and Forgotten.

This is just how I cope and how I choose to remember my life and times, Elaine thought.

(Continued next week…)

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.

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