Earlier that morning Isabel threaded her thick black ponytail through the back of her hat and coiled it in a low bun. She wore all black from running tights to her jacket with the exception of her neon pink running shoes. She greeted a park employee with an upward nod as she strode through the main entrance. At 12 minutes per mile, her powerwalk was the envy of many a running friend. Her arms brushed against her slender build with every stride. Swish, swish, swish.
A quarter of a mile in, a cyclist breezed passed her on his way down. She broke into a run, gaining momentum with every footfall. She used her forefoot until she made it up to a lookout made popular for its spectacular sunset views. The morning light coupled with the smog blanketed the city with a grayish tint.
She frowned as she walked passed the Japanese Gardens. The vegetation was dormant right now, but the ducks made up for the lack of tourists who frequented this area in the spring and summer. Quack, quack. Quack. QUACK. They could tell she had nothing of worth to them and continued to splash around the little pond. A couple of hopeful ones kept their beady-eyed gaze as she passed by. Maybe I’ll bring you guys a whole loaf of bread next week. Yes, next week, but first…
A few angry tears filled her eyes, and the sting from her throat prevented the overflow of tears from turning this into a full-blown crying fest. The ugly cry was not going to happen. She quickly wiped the tears away.
“Nope.” She said under her breath and nodded her head from side to side, focusing on the ground beneath her. She gulped down hard and straightened herself. She had no one to blame. It was my own damn fault for wearing the ring in the first place. In her haste to get in her daily run, she forgot to take it off.
She sprinted up the last few steps that led to the small gray stone chapel. If she had continued on the main steps to her left, she would be at the highest point of the hill. There stood the statue of the Virgin Mary, greeting visitors near and far with open arms. The statue was lit up each night. She instinctively wiped away the sweat that trickled down the side of her cheek. She took off her hat, shook out her hair and unzipped her jacket. A couple of women were on their way out. She smiled at them both, and they returned the gesture and whispered, “Ciao.” in succession.
She sat down in one of the pews in the back. The bench creaked as she settled in. She took a deep meditative breath and then another. Breathe in positivity. Exhale the negativity. She prayed that the pain of losing her mom would lessen, even though it had been three years. Most of all she prayed that she’d find that ring. It was a simple silver wedding band, but it held the one tangible sign of the life her mother had lived. She wanted to pass it on to her daughter at some point in the future, but until then she was the bearer of the ring. Some ring keeper I am. Her mom had only lived to see Victoria’s first birthday. Oh no, not the tears again. She allowed the tears to flow. They rolled down her cheeks pooling momentarily at the corners of her mouth and on past her chin before dropping to the cold stone floor.
She sat for a few more minutes, taking in the peace. Solo respira. She came out of the chapel with a sense of calm. Whether or not she found it, it was going to be okay. She realized that the people who left their journey in the physical were still very much there. She could feel her mother’s presence with her now. She followed a path that led to the playground.
She had stopped to linger there yesterday. She ran her fingers along the grooves of her favorite tree and along the various carvings and initials that marked it like a tattoo. It was a perfect place to sit as a child and an even better tree for climbing. She sat there now and recalled a time when she was about five.
“Mira, Mami!” She looked to see if she was watching, but when she turned she had lost her hold on a branch. She braced herself for the fall, but her mother had been right there to catch her.
“Isabelita, te tengo. Siempre te tengo, mi amor.” Her mother gave her a long hug and kissed her on the cheek. She was always there to catch her.
The clouds and smog had disappeared. She looked to her right, and there in a clump of dead grass lay her mother’s ring, glistening in the mid-morning sun. Gracias a Dios. Gracias. Tears of joy filled her tired eyes. Not only did she gain back what she had lost, but she also found the peace she had longed to feel. Mami, te amo. She pressed the ring to her lips before placing it back on her ring finger. Voy a estar bien. Yes, I’m going to be okay. Everything is going to be okay.