“Paths Unfollowed: Part Two”
If you have not yet read “Paths Unfollowed: Part One” yet, please click here. Please let me know what you think of the first half of the story, and I hope you enjoy!
“Paths Unfollowed: Part Two”
“I don’t understand how kindness can really give that much meaning to someone’s life,” Ellen replied, reflecting on her nearing demise, “Kind people are exploited for having selfless behavior. Most times, we focus on those who were unkind, really. Those who trample others are the ones who get what they want.”
Death ignored her protest and began pacing around her bed again, the sleepiness gathering in her drooping eyelids. The more he paced, the sleepier she became, and as she began to drift off, Death extended his hand out to her, but realizing his plan, she pulled away fast, “No! I won’t let you take me.”
“Ellen, everyone dies,” he said, “and it is part of life. There is no escape, only acceptance.”
She tried to search for a reason to stay, a reason to reject his escort. She knew this day would come, but she did not expect it to arrive so quickly. She was not ready, and she knew that her loved ones would not be either.
“You can’t take me away until my daughter is grown,” Ellen retorted, crossing her arms in front of her, the only act of defiance she could muster in the stationary hospital bed.
Death nodded, thoughtfully acknowledging Ellen’s point, “Yes, it will be difficult for Grace to get over, but someday she will understand. Though it won’t be easy, she will grow from it, and in some ways, it might shape her into a more purposeful human. She might even depend on traits such as kindness to keep her going.”
Ellen realized what Death meant, that it is usually hardships that alter a person, and depending on how they take it, it could change them for the better.
Death extended his hand once more, and Ellen was tempted to take it and relinquish to the eternal sleepiness that crept into her body. His voice was a gentle breeze, a reminder of simpler times, and he whispered, “Plus, Grace will have her father to depend on, so she won’t be alone.”
Ellen jerked up to look at him, and she felt confidence fill her belly as she said, “Will is the reason I’m dying!”
“What?” Death said, an anger brewing beneath his cloak.
“Of course! Grace’s father, Will! He is the reason.”
Death scoffed, “So now you’re going to blame your death on him?”
“Well, he’s the reason I was driving in the first place!” Ellen exclaimed. She began to twiddle her thumbs as she said, “I was on my way to sign the divorce papers,” Ellen felt familiar tears coming to her eyes, but she shook them away with an angry cry, “Not to mention, I would never have been in this town in the first place. We only moved here because of his job.”
Death looked at her calmly, and with a wave of his hand, the room became gray again, and her sleepy eyes focused on the vision Death presented her.
Ellen was a college freshman when she first met Will. They had College Composition together, the only class a pre-law and pre-nursing student would have in common. They sat beside each other, and it took weeks for them to talk.
She remembered that for the first group project, they had turned to face each other, and it was that day they exchanged phone numbers. It was not too long after that they went on their first date.
But in this vision, Ellen watched herself glance at Will to be her partner, but instead of continuing the vision how Ellen remembered, she turned around and introduced herself to the guy behind her. He had long, ungroomed hair that he kept in his face, and he wore a black beanie atop his head, “Hey,” he said, sticking out his hand, moving the skateboard underneath his desk with his feet, “I’m Dan.”
“Hi, Dan!” this Ellen said, and instead the love story began with the skater-boy, leaving Will behind without even a trace of memory.
It took only one year for them to both drop out of school. Dan felt that college was too oppressive, and he enjoyed working more than studying. Ellen felt as if she had no other choice but to follow him, and within two months of dropping out, they eloped.
Two months after that, Ellen had a miscarriage that almost destroyed her. Dan seemed to take no notice as he was relieved to escape fatherhood.
And that’s when the fighting began. Dan would begin drinking in the morning on his days off, and he would scream at Ellen, the smell of booze on his breath making her nauseous.
They argued for hours about his drinking. She tried to reason with him, but after he had the taste of alcohol in his system, he turned his ears off, and there was no way to converse with her husband.
Ellen begged, “Can you please just not drink today? I want to enjoy my birthday without you passing out drunk for once!”
“I don’t even have a drinking problem, Ellen,” Dan yelled, taking long swigs of whiskey between breaths, “You’re the one who has the problem!”
“I just don’t understand why you have to drink all the time. Why can’t you go without it for one day? Please, listen to me!” Ellen found herself yelling, and the tears came rolling out. Her sobs were loud and uncontrollable.
Dan began to yell, too, sputtering words she could not understand, and when he finally stopped yelling, she looked up at him. Instantly, he swung his fist in her face, and she cried out, holding her head in her hands.
“Just shut up, woman! Jesus—I don’t have to put up with your nagging all the time,” Dan said, the bottle of whiskey nestled in his already-bruising fist. He started for the bedroom and slammed the door behind him, leaving Ellen alone to cry on the kitchen floor.
After three years of purple handprints on her skin and endless, teary fights, she decided to leave him. While he was at work, she packed up her bags and planned to leave before he got home. As she grabbed the last few items on her checklist, the family photo album and an old sonogram picture of the baby she lost, she heard the front door unlock, and she felt the terror in her gut.
Dan stumbled into the apartment, already reeking of the bar that he frequented, and he took one look at his wife and the suitcase beside her before charging. Ellen braced herself for the punch, and as she began to fight him back with what little strength she had, he only hit her harder.
He screamed at her, calling her the long list of names he used as punishment every day, the words that kept her up at night, the words she saw when she looked in the mirror. She lost the strength to put up a fight, so she let herself drop to the floor, becoming the lifeless object he often told her she should be. Dan kept going, and soon the pain began to slip away. She felt herself falling deeper and deeper, and as her husband ignored her fading voice, she thought about the baby she never got to have.
“Will did not ruin your life,” Death said, “People are born into situations they cannot control, but after that, everyone has the power of choice. You could have been with Dan, and you could have chosen to leave him sooner, and maybe you would not have died, and maybe you would have gotten a baby.
“But these are all ‘ifs’, Ellen. Life is a series of ‘ifs’, but you cannot blame another person for something that happened to you that was out of their control. You can blame Dan for taking his anger out on his wife, but you cannot blame Will for bringing you to the city in which you will die. It is not his fault, nor is it your fault,” he said, his voice slowly drifting away, “If you had chosen a different man, you wouldn’t have Grace.”
Death looked at Ellen, and though he had no emotion, she felt like something entirely human reaching out to her then, “If you had chosen a different man, it wouldn’t have prevented your death. So, don’t regret the choices you made. Accept them, because they are as much part of you as your daughter is.”
To Be Continued…
To read Part Three, click here.