Serendipity by Marie Anderson

Jill braces herself to tell her boyfriend about her disabled mother; by Marie Anderson.

On Valentine's Day, over pasta and wine in Jill's kitchen, Felix proposed.

Jill wanted to say yes. Felix had it all. Looks, charm, a well-paying job at YouTube. It was serendipity that had brought them together one year ago. A snowstorm had delayed their flight. He'd sat on a stool next to her in a crowded airport bar. Without that storm, they never would have met. He was flying first class. She was coach, all she could afford on her teacher's salary.

She loved Felix. But she had a secret she'd have to reveal, a secret that, when revealed in the past, had killed every romantic relationship she'd ever had.

She poured them each another glass of wine. His face was flushed. His hands shook as he lifted his glass, then set it down without drinking.

"It's okay, Jill. Just say what you need to say. I thought you loved me, but if you can't say yes, I guess we both know your answer."

"No! Felix! I mean, not no! It's just that, what I mean is, you have to meet my mom first."

"Your mom? But she's dead, you said!"

Jill bit her tongue so she wouldn't cry. "I'm sorry, Felix. I'm so sorry. I lied about that. But everything else is true. I have no other family."

It's easier to ask forgiveness than permission. The first time Jill heard that old proverb, she was twelve, and it was from Ramona, her mother. It was apparently what Jill's father had said to Ramona after rolling off her in the shed in Ramona's backyard. Ramona had been fifteen.

"That's what Shane said after sexing me," Ramona said to Jill. "And I tell him, sure, I forgive ya, Shane. It didn't hurt that much."

Shane had been the next-door neighbor, an almost-man of seventeen. When Ramona's parents realized their fifteen-year old daughter was pregnant with what would turn out to be Jill, it took them three days of questioning their daughter before figuring out who was responsible. Shane's parents paid Ramona's parents a lot of money and then moved away.

Jill wondered whether Shane had understood, or even cared, that Ramona forgave him. Jill and her grandparents were pretty much the only ones who could decipher Ramona's speech.

Jill lived the first 23 years of her life with her mother and grandparents, nourished by their sweetness and love. And books! Though Jill's grandparents only read newspapers and magazines, and Ramona couldn't read much beyond the Little Golden Books, their home had been filled with "littashoe," which is how Ramona pronounced "literature." Once Jill learned to read, her favorite together-time with her mom, aside from watching TV, was when Jill read to her. All the Nancy Drews, Old Yeller, Black Beauty, and especially, over and over, all the fairy tales, from Grimms to Hans Christian Andersen to the Red, Blue, Yellow, and Green Fairy Books.

And though Jill had no desire to know or even find her father, she believed her grandparents when they said, "We have nothing but gratitude that you're in this world, Jill. Even if we could, we wouldn't rewrite any history that would leave you out."

And Ramona would often say, "Tell me you happy with me, Jill. I so happy with you."

Then, shortly after Jill graduated from college and landed her first teaching job, Jill's grandparents died, one after the other, from a heart attack and pneumonia.

And Ramona suffered a stroke.

Jill's life was suddenly reset.

Felix stared at the enormous woman strapped in a wheelchair watching a cartoon on TV. Drool glistened on her whiskered chin. Thick lips wobbled under a squashed nose. Other residents, strapped in their own chairs, filled the community room.

The woman looked at Jill. Almond-shaped eyes crinkled. A fat tongue flicked out.

"Ah-ah-ah!" the woman said. She clapped star-shaped hands.

"Hey, Mama," Jill said. "I've brought a friend to meet you." Jill removed a tissue from her pocket and gently blotted the drool on the woman's chin.

"Mama, this is Felix, and Felix, this is my mom, Ramona."

Ramona glanced at Felix, then looked back at the TV.

Felix stared. "I don't understand. You said she'd had a stroke, but this..."

"She did have a stroke, but she has Down Syndrome, too."

"Down's? Your mom? I... I... don't understand. How can she be your mom?"

"They can get pregnant. And if they do, there's a 50% chance of having a Down Syndrome child. But - here I am."

Jill kept her gaze on her mom. Ramona was not looking at either of them, her attention gripped by the TV cartoon. Jill was afraid to look at Felix. She didn't want to see dismay and shock corrugating his face. Maybe she should have prepared him. But there really was no way to prepare anybody. She'd learned that in grade school. Enough kids had called her "sprog of a retard" that she'd begged her grandparents to stop bringing Ramona to school functions. And they'd agreed. How crazy it was when her grandparents had hired a babysitter to stay with Ramona so they could both attend Jill's school events. And she'd learned to hide her mother's existence when boyfriends, and even some girlfriends, had ghosted her after they met her mother. So Jill had decided to say nothing about Ramona to Felix until he met her, hoping that the revelation would be like a jump into an ice-cold lake, shocking but temporary.

But of course that was a false hope. It was just delaying the inevitable.

Jill waited. Nothing from Felix. She took a deep breath and lifted her gaze from her mom to Felix. His face had paled to the color of bone. His mouth hung open. His eyes spasmed back and forth from Ramona to Jill.

Jill touched his arm. He flinched. She'd rehearsed what she was going to say, and the words flew out.

"If you want to walk away, Felix, I get it. But if you stay, Ramona will be a big part of our life. She's only 46. She could live into her 80s with the right care. And I am doing everything I can to give her that care. I love her, Felix. She's my mom. Even at this broken stage of her life, when all she can say is ah-ah-ah, I know she's still there. I see life and love in her eyes."

"Aah!" said Ramona. She looked away from the TV, first at Jill, then she shifted her gaze to Felix and gazed up at him without blinking.

Felix stared into Ramona's speckled eyes, the same eyes Jill had, the color of stone-washed denim.

Ramona looked back at the TV. "Ah-ah-ah," she said.

Jill placed her hand on her mom's shoulder, blinked hard and bit her tongue to keep tears from spilling.

"It's okay, Felix," she murmured. "Just say what you need to say."

"I'm not walking away," he said.

Two months before their wedding, Felix crashed into a tree skiing a black diamond run. It was his bachelor party. He survived, paralyzed from the waist down.

"If you want to walk away, Jill," he said from his bed in the rehab ward, "I'll understand. I'm going to need life-long help with so much."

Jill thumbed the engagement ring on her finger. Over the past year, stress and worry had dampened her appetite. She'd lost weight. The ring was loose, almost ready to fall off. How easy it would be to remove it.

Two years later, a daughter was born to Felix and Jill, perfect in every way.

They named her Serendipity.


  1. Hmmm. Seems like Felix wasn't so paralyzed from the waist down. Indeed, that was a good name for their child. Kudos to the grandparents above all.

    1. Thank you (from Marie) for reading it, Harris On, and I'm glad you appreciated the grandparents.

  2. This is a powerful tale in an impressively concise package. Well done! :)

    1. Thank you (from Marie) for reading and liking it, Kevin!

  3. Nicely done - not overstated. Positive characters the reader can admire. Thank you, Marie.

    1. Thank you (from Marie) for your good comments, Nancy!

  4. Lots of hard decisions to be made in this beautifully broken family...except the decisions weren't so hard after all. A quick and moving read.

    1. Thank you, Ron, for reading my story and for your wonderful comments

  5. Believable hope in a badly broken world.

  6. Thank you, Doug, for reading my story and for your good comment. I love your phrase -- believable hope.

  7. Beautifully written story Marie. It offers such a realistic hope to all its readers and gives such a special meaning to preserving life and living it to the fullest!

  8. Thank you, Anonymous, for reading my story and for your wonderfully uplifting comments!

  9. beautiful story. I loved the characters. A very moving story.

  10. Thank you, BillyF! It's a high compliment when a reader is moved by characters they love. Thank you for letting me know that happened to you with my Serendipity story!