by Christine Dorudian
It was almost two years since Velma’s death when I saw her in Mexico. Her premature gray hair had become a chic, ash blond bob. Her white Colorado skin was bronzed to a healthy glow. Not what I was expecting after her cremation. I hid beneath my wide brimmed hat and pretended to be heavily interested in my novel. Her transformation was extraordinary. The meek, demure mother-wife had metamorphosized into another confident person all together. Her former self a double negative.
I listened as she walked by holding hands with an equally bronzed man. I expected to hear her soft, haltingly shy speech speckled with remnants of her early childhood Minnesota accent. What I heard was a Spanish I could hardly keep up with. Nothing like the beginning Spanish class that she worked so hard for a passing grade in.
I thought back to our college years together. My major was education, Velma’s as I recall was Meso-American studies. Our joke was that I’d have a job and probably money for a small condo while she continued her pursuit of a PhD in Meso-American studies.
Velma met Bob during our senior year at Colorado State. He was two years older and pursuing his graduate degree in Information Systems. They married shortly after graduation and within a year were the elated parents of twin baby boys. Andrew and Miles grew up in a home as loving and stable as mine had been dysfunctional and void of affection.
We grew apart, not surprisingly. I was bogged down with the demands of teaching middle school English, being the union rep for our site, plus every other committee the school couldn’t find a chair for. David and I had been together for years and we had no desire to marry, have children, or change our relationship. It worked extremely well for us.
Velma on the other hand was a stay at home mom, busy with mommy and me get-togethers, and other kid-centric activities. We’d catch up over occasional phone calls, or lengthy Christmas cards. If I hadn’t known Velma so well, I’d have thought she was bragging about the year in detail. The photos always showed Bob with a huge smile, Velma starring shyly at the camera, and the twins in a variety of poses.
My card to Velma would have pictures of David and I, and our various menagerie over the years. Sometimes it would be a collage of hiking trips to Yosemite or some exotic locale we had budgeted on. One of the last Christmas cards I received from her came with two pictures. One of the twins as freshmen in college, at the same university of course. And another of Bob and her together. Velma looked noticeably thinner, probably happy that she had finally lost the fifteen pounds that each of us had gained in college.
The following year came a card with The Johnston Family address label. It was much too soon for a Christmas card. I opened it and found a note signed by Bob.
I hope that this letter finds you and David happy and well. I have some terrible news to tell you about Velma. In August she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lymphoma. She died peacefully three months later, thank God without pain. I’m sorry I didn’t notify you sooner. The boys and I honestly are just coming out of shock. We had the services already, she had requested cremation. It has all been so sudden and surreal that words escape me. Please feel free to call me to explain things.
I called right after receiving the card and was filled in on all the sad details. That summer David and I were traveling through Boulder and arranged a time with Bob that we could get together with him and the boys who were home from college.
Close to two years after that in Baja is when I spotted Velma. I’m not sure she recognized me, but I’m pretty sure she did. She lowered her head instinctively and I kept my mouth shut and my head down. I’m not sure why or how she did what she did. Somehow, I think she must have had a good reason.