A Stranger Learns Of This Man’s Biggest Regret…Mark Burton
A stranger has come to visit me. She says she is family, but I have no family. No wife, no children, no parents, no siblings. I've never laid eyes on her before. Nonetheless, I can't deny our connection. She has my clear grey eyes and ginger hair and the same distinctive jawline and cheekbones. And moreover, the tenderness with which she treats me in my fragile state, clinging to this world by a thread, says more than appearances ever could. She is sorry she never had the chance to see me before and she sheds a tear at seeing me in this state, and the gentle warmth of her hand round mine is all the comfort in the world.
She tells me about her life. Her happy family childhood back in my old home town, after I'd already left. The success she'd enjoyed at college, buoyed up by the support from her father telling her that hard work would bring such rewards. The hard lessons she'd learnt in love and the joy she'd won in return when she discovered what was right for her. Whatever my conservative views, I could feel her joy when she described falling in love with a woman for the first time and my antipathy towards that lifestyle was swept away by the smile on her face.
She asked me about my life. My sorry childhood didn't match up to hers, raised with the fear of hell and beatings that left me always battling to prove myself as an adult. When I left for university it was a weight released, but the discipline stood me in good stead. My self-control won me awards, a career that from the first day supported me, the girl I loved, our dream wedding and home and everything she and I wanted. But then my need to prove myself took everything away. When I was offered my dream job on the other coast, she wouldn't come. Her family and friends meant more to her than me. She wanted me to decline it, but I saw that as failure. She stayed and I went and we tossed our marriage away.
I threw myself into my career to numb the pain, and my success was tremendous, but with no one to make happy with it, the shine was gone. Woman after woman came into my life and left but I never found love again. Looking into this stranger's eyes, I can see my ex-wife's love for me shining through and what I've known for years comes flooding out in tears – I walked away from the best thing I could ever have had.
She cradles me close as the regret consumes me. I blink through my tears and ask her, what if? What if I'd stayed? I would've been so happy. I would've had the world. I wish I'd realized then what was of true value, as I do now. Here I am, alone, with only a stranger to see me through my darkest, final night.
She wipes away my tears with gentle fingers. The world, she whispers, and more. Your wife would have loved you more each day. And you could have had me, dad. You could have had me.