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The clouds draped over the sky like the curtains of my bedroom back home It was a drab and cloudy day, some would call it ordinary but I have never lived an ordinary day with Sophia O'Connor. As I slowly pushed her wheelchair through the rainbow of lilies, lilacs, and tulips, her hair shimmered with the color of old barn wood and a half dozen freckles were scattered about her nose. Her smile could make me go weak in the knees and the way she would look at me, that sort of innocence in her eyes, made me realize how lucky I was to have her in my life even after everything we have gone through. I first saw her when we were nineteen years old, sixty years ago. And that, was the best day of my life.
It was the fall of my junior year at Boston College. The path that lead to my first class, Biology, was blanketed in leaves of orange, red, and yellow. I checked my watch, 9:02 a.m but the winds that hinted at winter blew across the campus and I shoved my chilly hands in the pockets of my jacket. I passed the old maple tree and started running. I knew I was already late and Professor Irving had a knack for picking favorites, and for some inexplicable reason, I was not one of them. I stood in front of the old brick building and found myself looking around unsure if I wanted to enter the building and get scolded for being late again. Right then a flash of red caught my eye. It was a girl. She was sitting on a bench, her plaid skirt and wool tights looking cozy and warm on her petite body. I could not see her face for she had her nose in a book. Her long red hair draped across her shoulders. I desperately had the urge to go and talk to her. I had no idea why, she seemed to be an ordinary girl; pretty but ordinary. I wanted to ask her how her book was, it looked like one right out of a used book store, Shakespeare perhaps. I wanted to know what she was doing sitting outside on such a cold, cloudy day, I wanted to know how old she was, her favorite food, and about her family. But I slowly turned around, and walked up the stairs of the campus building.
Months went by, winter was long, and spring seemed to be hiding beneath the last bit of snow on the ground. I couldn't get her out of my mind. She would constantly run parallel to my thoughts, like it was a race. I would look for her on the bench, checking there before Biology class everyday and keeping my eye out for her in the cafeteria or on my runs in the morning. I slowly started giving up, I mean, why would I go through all this trouble for a girl I have never even talked to? Was it crazy? My older brother seemed to think so, Lucas lived in an apartment a few blocks down from my dorm and I would go there to do my laundry or have dinner when I was sick of college food. I told him a few weeks after I saw her, he said I was insane for being obsessed with a girl that I had never even met So I gave up, but I couldn't help but wish that I would have talked to her that windy, fall morning.
I finished my junior year at Boston College and spent most of my summer back home with my family in Madison, Wisconsin. I found a job at a little ice cream parlor downtown and although it certainly wasn't a generous salary, it got me through. I would go on dates with girls when I had the extra cash to pay for a movie or dinner but none of them meant anything, but I never commited to a relationship. I stopped thinking about the red-haired girl, but sometimes on rainy days she would drift into my mind but her face left just as fast.
My first semester of senior year started well, with interesting classes and professors, I was finishing my last credits, working for a bachelor degree in Business Management and hoping to work for my dad's company to eventually take it over in a few years. I woke up early one morning to go to the gym taking the long way through the college campus because the weather was nice. I walked past the old biology building, and that’s when I saw her. Her, the red-haired girl. She was sitting on the same bench as when I first saw her but this time she wasn't reading, she just sat there, admiring the sunshine and the beautiful trees. Her face glowed and her big blue eyes were looking right at me. I tried to smile but I was just so shocked. I didn't know what to do, was I supposed to go and talk to her? She was the girl who I couldn't get off my mind for months and months, the girl who I never thought I would see again. I tried to collect myself and I walked over to the bench. She looked a bit worried. I awkwardly sat down next to her. She looked at me. I looked at her.
“Well it's a pretty nice day out?” she said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice. She had the hint of a smile on her face and I could tell that she wasn't afraid, she enjoyed this, almost like she was making fun of the stranger who just happened to be walking by and decided to go and sit with her..
“Sure is,” I said quietly, “Do you go to school here? I think I've seen you here before.”
“No, I come up to Boston once a year in the fall to visit my grandparents, I live in Ohio. My grandparents live right down the road, I get bored just sitting and listening to them argue like old married couples do, so I come and sit here. Somedays I bring a book and other days I just come down here to think. I don't know, it's nice.” I laughed softly, she had such a truth in her voice, it surprised me, I didn't think she would be this talkative and honest to a complete stranger.
“What?” she said, catching my smile.
“Nothing,” I said quickly.
“Well fine then,” she said laughing, “Do you go to school here?”
“Yes I do, I've been going here for four years. I'm from Wisconsin but most of my family has come here so I decided to also.”
“Oh your’re that kind of guy?” she said, looking amused. I stared at her bewildered, trying to understand what she meant. “The kind of guy who follows the crowd?” she said finally.
“Well...” I paused. I didn't really know what do say. “It's been a tradition, I like traditions,” I said, probably sounding like a complete idiot. She stared at me for a few seconds, but it felt like forever. She looked at me trying to study me.
“I like you,” she said. I looked at her. She had long red hair down and curly, it was longer than when I first saw it. She had on a blue long sleeve shirt. a pair of khaki pants, and a locket hung from her neck. It looked old like it has been passed down for generations. I thought about what she just told me, she liked me. This girl that I barely knew liked me.
“I like you too.” I looked up to her, wanting to know what her reaction would be. She stared straight ahead and had the prettiest, warmest smile I had ever seen, but she grabbed her bag and gradually stood up, ready to leave.
“Wait,” I said grabbing her arm lightly. “What’s your name?”
She smiled, “Sophia.”
“Sophia...” I said quietly, what a beautiful name. “Will I ever see you again?” I said nervously, scared for the answer.
“Of course, and you know exactly where to find me.” She started walking down the path that lead to downtown Boston. I watched her leave, walking slowly, not in a rush. I think she was wanting to take her time and enjoy the outdoors.
“Sophia!” I yelled after her.
“What?” she said turning around slightly.
“My name is Will.” She laughed, a cheery laugh that made robins reply.
“Nice to meet you Will.”
I thought back to when I first met her, she wasn't much different then she is now. Sixty years didn't change Sophia's personality, she still had that spunk that made me fall in love with her in the first place. It was everything else around her that changed. Sophia was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and has been going through chemotherapy ever since. I walk her through the garden every single day. It's the only time I see her smile. It's the highlight of my day. The clouds were turning darker and I thought it would be best if I took her back inside, I don't want her getting sick. I wish the rain wouldn't come. It always brings back the worst memories. It reminds me of the wedding day, the worst day of my life.
I woke up the morning of August 20th with the sound of rain on the roof of my apartment that I bought the day after I graduated a few years ago. I stumbled out of bed and walked half asleep to my coffeemaker. But right as I walked into the little kitchen, it hit me. Today was the wedding. How could I forget? I felt a little sick like I needed to go back to bed and sleep for a few more hours. I found myself back in my bedroom glaring at the tux hanging in the back of my closet that I have tried so hard to avoid for the last week. While I drove to the church I tried to calm my nerves by staring out the window and not thinking about anything except the road in front of me. I wish I could go right past the church and keep driving. I can't. I have to be there whether I want to or not. So I sped up a little, not the smartest way to let my anger out but desperate times call for desperate measures.
The music started to play the typical wedding song and all the people in the aisles quieted down in their seats. I saw my mother looking at me, looking sympathetic. I pretended I didn't see her and stared at the opening in the back of the church. The flower girls and the ring bearer pranced down the aisle and everybody was whispering about how cute they were. I didn't care, I just want to see her. Finally, after the bridesmaids with matching pink dresses walked arm in arm with the groommen, I could see her. She looked beautiful, the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. Her red hair was in a fancy updo on the top of her head but little curls fell around her face. Her dress was simple, white and perfectly fitted her small body. Her big eyes were sparkling and when she smiled, it was like a bullet through my heart because I knew she wasn't mine. That smile belonged to my brother. He was getting married today while I stood next to him as the best man.
After I first talked to Sophia, I went back to the bench the next day, hoping she would be there and she was. Every morning for the next week she was sitting on that bench. We would sit and talk, or she would make me read to her, and other days she would bring her guitar and sing. Sophia had the most harmonious voice I have ever heard, it was quiet and sweet, and I loved it. The last day that she had in Boston, I took her out for dinner and we tried to forget that she was leaving. She arrived in a beautiful black dress and we ate seafood on the balcony of the restaurant. The sun was setting and it felt like a fairytale.
“Are you excited to go back home?” I asked her. We have never really talked about her hometown. In fact, I don't really know anything about her past or her family. She has never brought the subject up.
“ Somewhere in between no and definitely no,” she said half teasing but also serious.
“Why not?” I said laughing.
“I don't really get along with my family ever since I graduated high school. I didn't want to go to college, I wanted to be an artist. They are very high-class and conservative. They think the only way you can have a good life is if you become a doctor or a lawyer and earn lots of money.”
“And your’re not like that,” I said interrupting.
“You could say that again, I'm happier when I don't have a plan. I like to do what my heart tells me.”
“And what is it telling you?” I said joking. Sophia paused for while, thinking of what she should say.
“That I should stay in Boston with you.”
“Do you always listen to exactly what your heart tells you?”
“Yes, always.” I leaned over the table and kissed her. She pulled away for a second and looked at me. Her eyes were bluer than I had ever seen them. I pulled her into my arms and carried her down the stairs of the restaurant while she giggled and told me to let her go. Never, I was never letting go.
The next day Sophia caught a plane back to Ohio to spend a week with her family and pack her things to come back to Boston. We thought it would be best if she bought her own apartment near the campus. Months flew by when we were together and Christmas was here. I was going back to Madison for Christmas and her family was planning to go to Mexico. That was the last place that Sophia wanted to go so I invited her to come with me and meet my family, it was time.
I don't like talking about that trip when Sophia visited my family. My family loved her instantly, but someone loved her too much, and that was Lucas. He was single at the time and working for my father in Madison. On Christmas Eve I was helping my mother clean the dishes in the kitchen and we were talking about my life back in Boston. Sophia and Lucas were sitting in the living room, talking and getting to know each other. I could hear her bubbly laugh bounce off the walls while Lucas told stories about our childhood. He was being a typical older brother making fun of me and acting like the good guy.
The rest of Christmas was fine and I had no suspicions about Lucas and Sophia, When we went back to Boston, Sophia kept talking about how unique and funny Lucas was. At first it was comforting knowing that she liked my family but later I got annoyed with it. We got in a fight about it once after I told her that maybe since she loved Lucas so much, she should just go and date him. I was angry and I didn't mean what I was saying but it surprised me when she said that maybe she would leave. That scared me, Sophia wouldn't leave me, would she? I loved her more than anything in the world. She was my everything.
We had good months that made our relationship seem perfect but then we would go through phases where we would fight all the time, over everything, even stupid and pointless things. One one of those times, I got home from my last class of the day on Friday and her things were gone from my apartment. I called her grandparents house to see if she was there and no one answered. I was in shock, Sophia wouldn't leave without telling me. I stayed up all night waiting for her to come home. Finally at 2 a.m. I got a phone call from her.
“Will? This is Sophia.”
“God Sophia, where are you?”
“I had to leave, I'm sorry Will.”
“What are you talking about? Where are you? Come home Sophia, come home.” I said.
“Will, listen to me. I had to leave. I need to figure some things out. I need to...follow my heart. I'm not happy anymore and I...don't love you anymore.”
“Sophia, do me on favor..” I said, trying not to break down in tears.
“Tell me where you are right now.”
“I can't. You will hate me.”
“I will never, in all my life, hate you.”
“I'm with Lucas,” she said so quietly that I could barely make out what she said. And that’s when I hung up.
Lucas died seven years ago in a car accident. He was killed by a drunk driver. When Sophia was diagnosed I moved next door to help her. Since Sophia, I have never loved anyone. I was never able to let myself love someone other than her. When Lucas died, it was hard on the whole family, especially for Sophia. I could never tell her that I still loved her even though Lucas is gone. Sophia's smile was not mine.