#52weeks52stories: Week 40
Word prompt: memories
Word count – 2328
Reading time – 7 mins
I can do this.
“Sherry? Over here.”
Her belly roiled as the butterflies in her stomach staged an epic mutiny. She ran her thumb over the empty spot on her left ring finger.
Moving toward her coworkers seated by the stage, Sherry Davenport plastered a friendly smile on her face, wishing she was any other right now than Dave & Buster’s.
Millie Kemp, a thoracic surgical nurse with twelve years’ experience, squealed like a teenager.
“Sherry! I’m so happy you joined us tonight!”
“C’mon, girlfriend. We saved you a seat.” Jaynie Pomeroy, new to their department, motioned to the seat next to her.
“Hey, everyone. Thanks for inviting me.”
Sherry took the seat, sinking into the overstuffed lounge chair and spreading her silk scarf across her lap.
“Oh, sweetie, you just stop that right now.”
Sherry turned to the kind smiling face of Sue Grant. At sixty-two, she was the most senior employee in the department and the best surgical nurse Sherry had ever seen.
“You’ve always had a standing invitation to our Saturday night meet-ups, and not just because you’re our boss. You’re one of us, Sherry. We care and we want you to never forget that.”
Sherry smiled, unable to respond because of the growing lump in her throat.
Prep nurse, Lucy Gomez, agreed. “This last year has been a rough one for you and we get that. But you don’t have to isolate yourself, Sherry. We’ve all lost loved ones and understand. It’s damn hard.”
Sherry found her voice. “Thank you. Thank you, all. I haven’t been approachable for quite some time, but I appreciate everyone’s patience and am touched by your concern.”
A single tear slid down her face as she rubbed the empty spot on her left ring finger.
“Dammit, Sherry,” group cynic Melody Simons barked. “I may be ornery as hell but no one gets to cry in my presence without me joining in.”
Eyes welled up as heads bobbed in agreement.
Bolting upright to the edge of her seat, Sherry threw her hands up.
“Nope, we’re not doing this. You all were gracious to invite me out for some fun and good times and I’m ready for that. Who’s up for a game of pool, and why don’t I have a drink in my hand?”
The women laughed and cheered, lightening the mood.
Melody grabbed Sherry’s arm, dragging her toward the billiard room.
Though she was smiling, Sherry was trying to quell the battle of anxiety and nausea burning in the pit of her stomach. She clenched her fist to avoid rubbing her left ring finger again.
They came to an abrupt stop near the bar. Melody yelled out a drink order that minutes later was passed to her through the crowd.
“Wow, who do you know?”
Melody grinned. “I used to date the bartender’s uncle. We didn’t last but turns out his family likes me more than him. His brother is my dentist and his mom still bakes me chocolate chip cookies.”
Sherry laughed, realizing for the first time the ornery persona was a mask Melody wore.
She’d had no time to get acquainted with the surgical scrub teams after she took over the department before Warren got sick. However, it didn’t take long to learn every team member was skilled and dedicated. Bad management, personality conflicts, and favoritism had driven department moral to a new low. Jealousy and infighting had taken their toll and six employees had taken positions with other hospitals and surgery centers before Sherry took over.
She’d worked to exhaustion interviewing the staff and meeting with administration to find the point of compromise and stop the exits of valuable team members.
Sherry had even taken her laptop with her when she sat with Warren during his chemotherapy treatments. The work distracted her for a while and kept her tears at bay. She could forget the powerful cancer drug was only palliative and stalling the inevitable. Pancreatic cancer would take Warren from her sooner than later.
Startled from her thoughts, heat rose up the back of her neck. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Is your drink okay?”
Embarrassed, Sherry took a long sip through the decorative straw and smiled. “Honey Jack. How did you know?”
Melody smirked and shrugged a shoulder. “I overheard you and Sue talking about favorite drinks one day. Figured the info would come in handy one day.”
It was Melody’s turn to smirk. “I’m keeping my eye on you, Simons… and watching what I say around you.”
They both giggled like school girls and Melody tilted her head toward the billiard room. “Ready to play?”
“Ready to lose?”
Melody choked. “Aw, now I gotta serve you some humble pie.”
They laughed as they made their way through the crowd, selling wolf tickets the entire way.
* * *
“Woman, where in the hell did you learn to play pool like that? Pros couldn’t have made some of those shots. It was your dad, wasn’t it? He must have been aces.”
The crowd had thinned and they found seats at the bar.
“Believe it or not, it was my mom who taught me, not my dad.”
Sherry guffawed at the woman’s slack-jawed expression.
Melody frowned, her dark eyebrows forming a deep V.
Sherry continued. “Grandpa Ernie, mom’s dad, was a champion pool player. Even held a national title twice. He started teaching me before I could reach the table. Used to stand me on phone books or in a chair. He passed away when I was seven and momma continued teaching me and my older sister, Angela.”
“How did your dad feel about that?”
“Oh, it irked him that he never beat momma in a game during their entire fifty-two-year marriage, but the bragging rights field was still level. He’s the one who taught me to cook.”
Melody shook her head. “Guess the battle of the sexes didn’t exist in your home.”
“Don’t you believe that. A simple meal of Salisbury Steak and mashed potatoes could turn into a cooking challenge with a simple glare between the two of them. Dad would remind momma the best chefs in the world were men, and she was quick to remind him the best chefs were chosen by men so it was a no-brainer. Some nights I thought I would starve while they perfected sauces and plating.”
Sherry laughed aloud at the memory.
Melody turned away.
“Hey, you okay? Did I say something wrong? Melody?”
She turned back to Sherry, her eyes downcast. “No, I’m fine. Ready for another drink?”
“Forget the drink, Simons and tell me what just happened. What upset you?”
Her head dropped, her chin almost touching her chest.
“Just forget it please, Sherry? I don’t want to make you angry or have you hate me.”
“Hate you? C’mon, Simons. Have a little faith in me.”
Melody raised her head and Sherry’s heart broke seeing the dark brown eyes filling with tears.
“I remember your first day on the job. When you introduced yourself to the staff, you talked about your husband and how the two of you did everything together so we shouldn’t be surprised if he popped into the department often. So, when you lost him I know it was devastating for you. But, I don’t know that feeling of loss since I don’t let any man stay around long enough to develop true feelings for them.”
Melody blew out a harsh breath and continued.
“You smile and love is written all over your face when you talked about the things your parents taught you… and those family moments.”
Her eyes could contain the tears no longer and they spilled down her cheeks.
“You lost the people you loved the most. The ones who helped make you the person sitting next to me. I’m not trying to be mean or discount any of that, Sherry, but to someone like me, you caught the brass ring.”
Sherry frowned, not understanding.
Melody held her hands out in front of her, trying to explain herself. “At least you had them, Sherry. You were loved and cherished by good people who you loved and cherished just as much. That’s why losing them hurts so much.”
“But, when you’re a biracial teenager with a chip on your shoulder, you don’t have many good memories, only nightmares… of a father who beat your mom until he got bored and walked away for good; of a mom so broken by him leaving, she drank herself to death, and by a foster care system that can’t decide if you’re black or white, so they shuttle you from one disgusting foster home to another.”
She wiped her face with her sleeve.
“The luckiest day of my life was when an older couple showed up at the residential center where I lived to donate new toys for Christmas. They saw me sitting outside on the swing… in the dead of winter. They talked me into going back inside and they followed me around, asking me questions. It hit me, at last, these good people cared, and we sat down and talked. The director hid in corners as discrete as a KGB agent. When the Simons asked him about the process to become a foster care home and how adoptions from the system worked, I thought he’d swallow his tongue. By Christmas the following year, I was the legally adopted daughter of Ed and Wilma Simons.”
Sherry’s face was wet too. “But that’s a great memory, right?”
“It could have been. The Simons were good people who were good to me, but they had four grown children who were suspicious of the quiet girl with the tawny skin and kinky hair. Instead of siblings, they felt like cops, always watching me, waiting for me to screw up. Even after my adoption was official, I still felt like if I didn’t something they didn’t approve of, they would convince their parents to send me back.”
“I’m so sorry, Melody. That had to be awful for you.”
“I got through it. At least there was no arguing, fighting, or drinking. I went off to college a couple of years later and developed my own routine for living alone, taking care of myself. Mom died six months after I graduated… dad, a year after that. My adopted siblings washed their hands of me and I was on my own for real… and alone.”
“Where you have painful losses, Sherry, you have wonderful memories to bring you some comfort. I have an empty void and only rejection and fear to fill it.”
Sherry smiled, and Melody’s face scrunched up in confusion.
This was her A-ha moment Angela assured her would come.
Having lost her own husband in an industrial accident nine years earlier, her big sister had tried to be encouraging after Warren’s service.
“I can’t tell you when or where, kiddo, but the day will come when breathing doesn’t hurt anymore. Losing mom and dad rocked us, but losing a spouse is different because you feel like a part of you died too… like your soul’s been ripped in half.
But one day you’ll be able to hold your head up without feeling exhausted. You’ll be able to take a step without fear of falling, and you’ll smile without the guilt of betrayal. The best part is it will be the love you shared with Warren that holds you up and moves you forward.”
As teenagers, Sherry would rather cut out her tongue than admit Angela was right about anything. However, the truth and wisdom of her words made Sherry’s smile grow.
I can do this.
She considered her friend who still sat wracked with confusion.
“It couldn’t have been easy to admit those things, Melody. Thank you for sharing them with me.”
“Wait. You’re thanking me for dumping my drama on you? No more drinks for you.”
Sherry laughed. “Yes, ma’am, I’m thanking you. You’ve made me remember all the good things in my life. I had amazing parents, and I loved Warren with everything I am. We did do everything together and I couldn’t have a conversation without mentioning his name. But after he died, I stopped talking about him… and anything else.”
“You nailed it. I am this person because of the people who loved me and that love and the memories it created aren’t diminished or erased because they’re gone.”
She hopped off the bar stool. “And in that spirit, we shall make new memories. And maybe we’ll start with a man worthy of you.” She twirled around and disappeared into the crowd, but she could hear Melody begging her to stop and come back.
Sherry laughed all the across the bar. Stopping in the hallway outside the Ladies’ room, she glanced back over her shoulder and caught glimpses of a nervous Melody Simons through the crowd, looking around as though something bad was about to happen.
She felt bad at causing her friend stress and would apologize the second she got back to her seat. Sherry had no intention of pressing Melody into anything. She wasn’t ready and Sherry still didn’t know her well enough to know if she would ever be ready for that level of trust and commitment.
Sherry Davenport glanced down at the pale spot on her finger where her wedding ring sat for twenty-three years.
It took as much trust and commitment to take it off as it had to put it on, and both times, she found strength in her love for Warren.
She had no idea what her future held but she’d move into it, even if only by baby steps. She and Melody were both shaped by their pasts and they both had the same problem. Life was happening all around them but they were static, not moving in any direction, and that was no way to live.
Sherry pressed her lips against her barren finger. She couldn’t pick up where she left off, but she could begin again.