By Sylvia Melvin
Ruth Moyer struggled to balance a stack of old books she carried in her arms on the way to her car. The church rummage sale was a good excuse to get rid of thirty years of packing and unpacking them each time she and Tim moved. Why on earth her husband held on to such relics she could never understand. As she shifted her load to open the car door, a dog-eared college history book fell off the top and landed at her feet. After arranging the other books on the back seat, she bent down to retrieve it and noticed a sheet of folded yellowing paper sticking out from the text. Since it was not part of the book, her curiosity grew. Hmm…now I wonder what this could be?
The first three words of a letter sent her pulse racing.
My dearest Tim,
Please forgive me. So many times I’ve picked up a pen to write you but the words in my heart never seemed adequate so they didn’t make it onto the paper. This time I was determined to express my feelings.
Over and over I’ve wondered how to make you understand how much I loved you. I never wanted it to end the way it did. Please believe that. I still have your picture and each time I look into your eyes my heart aches .The day I lost you I thought I’d lose my mind and I swore I’d not rest until you heard the truth. Please keep reading and hear my side of the story.
Ruth’s eyes scrutinized every word and as she read down to the end of the page she flipped over the paper, anxious to read the explanation. A disappointed gasp leaped from her throat—the page was void of words. Blank.
“No,” her voice trembled, “I’ve got to know.” She grabbed the book and held it upside down shaking it furiously. Nothing fluttered from within and soon she heard the cover start to break away from the binding. Slamming the two ends together, she stood staring at the letter.
How long has Tim held this secret affair from me? It must be dated. I’ve missed it.
Once more Ruth unfolded the letter and her eyes searched the upper right-hand side. 1979. Math calculations buzzed around in her brain and she didn’t like the results.
Tears moistened her eyes and memories of 1977 freshman college days clouded her thinking. We were the inseparable couple .Was he two-timing me? Who was this woman? Did Tim truly love her? Was I second best and did he marry me on the rebound?
Anger reddened her cheeks and in her distraught state she kicked the car door so hard the slam echoed in her eardrums. No rummage sale today .I’m not in the mood to smile and listen to a bunch of middle-age women pretend ‘all is well with the world.’My world’s turning upside down and only one man can set it right. And as soon as he gets home from work he has some explaining to do.
By five-fifteen, Ruth had checked the roast for doneness, poked the potatoes and carrots for firmness, and tossed the salad. Though the letter had taken away her hunger, she knew Tim would be famished. The squeaking of the screen door announced his arrival. It never varied. He was as predictable as summer following spring. That part of his personality simply didn’t fit with the letter. She’d known him all of her adult life. At least I thought I knew him.
“Honey, I’m home,” was a familiar refrain but Ruth’s response was silence. She placed the history book with the letter inside the front cover in the middle of his place mat and waited for Tim to enter the dining room.
He walked to her, grazed her lips with a kiss and sat down. “Guess you didn’t hear me come in. Well, how was your day? You mentioned this morning you were going to clean out a cupboard for the rummage sale.”
“The cupboard’s clean. I believe one of your books was in the pile.” Her eyes beckoned to the textbook in front of her husband.
“You don’t say!” A half-chuckle followed as Tim picked up the book. “World History. I struggled with that one. Too many dates. What’s this?” The letter slipped onto his lap as he opened the cover.
Ruth struggled to keep her composure. “Why don’t you read it?”
Something in her tone puzzled Tim and he wasted no time in fulfilling her request.
Suddenly, Tim’s demeanor became agitated. “Did you read this?”
“Yes.” Ruth’s breath came in shorter pants. “Why couldn’t you tell me you were in love with someone else while we were dating? I believed I was your sweetheart. You certainly fooled me. Second best must have been a let-down.”
Tim pounded the table with his fist. “I never wanted to hear from her. It’s not what you think, Ruth. The rest of the letter would have explained the situation. Yes, there was another woman in my life.” Tim took a deep breath as tears filled his wife’s eyes. “But she wasn’t a lover. She was my mother.”
Ruth wiped away the wetness that blurred her vision. “But your mother died when you were born and your father was killed in an accident. You told me an aunt raised you.”
“My mother gave birth to an illegitimate child then gave me away. Guilt caught up to her and when I was in college she tried to make amends by sending this letter. I never believed her tale of woe and her sister passed away when I was five. No one else wanted this stray child so the county paid foster homes to feed and shelter me.”
By now steam no longer sent a delicious aroma of beef into their nostrils and the vegetables were cold. Ruth reached over and placed her hand on Tim’s wrist. “Sweetheart, forgive me, I was jealous. But why have you held the truth to yourself all these years? Surely you know my love for you could have handled it.”
Tim’s head hung low and his voice faltered. “Ashamed, I guess. Your family was so normal—everything I always visualized. When I met you all I wanted was to put the past behind me and finally make my dream come true.” Tim squeezed Ruth’s hand. “And it has, darlin’. I’m so sorry this letter upset you. Let’s just forget it, okay?”
“But Tim, the missing page. What was the explanation?”
“Oh, she tried to convince me that she had no choice but to give me up. Told me her father threatened to disown his daughter since she’d disgraced the family. Apparently my heritage had some ‘blue blood’ running through it. A real sob story but I wasn’t buying it. Women, in my opinion, who love their children keep them no matter what. She was more interested in saving her reputation. I never answered her letter.”
Ruth looked into her husband’s eyes and saw the hurt but she had to ask, “Then why did you keep it?”
It was a few seconds before Tim answered her. “I guess it was the only thing I had that came from my real mother. I used it as a book mark.”
Ruth’s response came in a veiled question. “You could try and find her. She may still be living. How old would she be? Seventy, seventy-five maybe?
“And what would I say to her, Ruth? Gee, mom, thanks for leaving me to grow up with strangers. It did a lot to develop my independent character and sense of responsibility. No, I think I’ll take some time-honored sage advice and ‘let sleeping dogs lie.’ Now, would you pass the biscuits, please?”