Lonely? Sure, sometimes. But that was my cross to bear. After all, I’d asked God not to bring another man into my life. Not unless that man would stick with me for the rest of my days. I wasn’t about to put my heart out there only to get hurt. “If God wants me to get married again,” I said, “he’ll have to drop the guy at my doorstep.”
I remembered the moment I decided. After 16 years of marriage, my husband told me he loved another woman. That night everything fell apart; it felt like the walls of my bedroom were closing in. I tossed and turned, kicking at the sheets and pounding the mattress. I couldn’t get his words out of my head—“Bonda, it’s over.”
I was 35, with two kids and minus a husband. I buried my head in my pillow, smothering my tears. I had just one request for God. I’m begging you, I prayed. Don’t even let another man ask me out unless you plan for me to marry him. This hurts too much…
God sure kept up his end of the bargain. For 11 years, not a single man asked me out. Not even for a cup of coffee. I put all my energy into raising my son and daughter and focused on my job as a secretary. That kept me busy, at least until the kids went off to college.
There weren’t many single people in my small town in South Carolina. So I was used to playing the third wheel. Weekends were the worst, though. All my friends had husbands. I spent my free time playing the piano or doing chores like organizing the linen closet. Until I met Brenda and her husband, Charles, at a Bible study.
Brenda was the instructor and we became instant friends. She was so kind, so down-to-earth. But a real firecracker too. The life of the party. She looked out for me, made me feel like family.
On Friday nights, Brenda and Charles would show up at my door, armed with plans to get me out of the house. We’d laugh all through dinner, poking fun at Charles’s bright red suspenders.
Charles was a good ol’ boy. The kind of man who mounted deer antlers on his walls and loved a good juicy steak. But he was a gentleman too. He pulled out chairs for Brenda, opened doors, hung on every word she said. They made no secret of their devotion.
While Charles was off hunting on Saturdays, Brenda and I would check out flea markets, watch movies, cook together—she even showed me how to debone a chicken. “Not that I’ll do this often when I’m cooking for one,” I told her.
Her daughter, Charmaine, would join us too. We talked about everything. Brenda knew the Bible backward and forward. No matter how serious our discussions got, though, we always ended up in a fit of giggles. Maybe I don’t have a husband, I thought. But at least I’ve found a soul sister.
One day, I met Brenda for lunch. She wasn’t her usual self. Hardly touched her food. She was very pale. A few days later she called me. “Bonda, I’ve been diagnosed with leukemia,” she said.
The bottom fell out of my world. How could I go on without my soul sister? Brenda’s condition worsened quickly. Soon she could barely speak from the pain. I sat by her hospital bed and held her hand. It was all I could do. Charles consulted every specialist, researched new treatments. “You think this is worth a try?” he’d ask me, desperation in his voice. It was hopeless. We all knew that.
Still, nothing could’ve prepared me when Charmaine called me at three-thirty one morning from the hospital. My friend was gone, just 26 days after her diagnosis, like a candle that had been snuffed out in an instant. She was only 48.
The weeks that followed were some of the darkest of my life. I could only imagine what they were like for Charles. I helped him go through Brenda’s things and mail out thank-you notes. I thought it might be awkward for us. Instead it was comforting to share my grief. Charmaine told me Brenda had worried about how Charles would fare without her. “She’d be happy to know you’re here through this,” she said. “She was counting on you.”
I struggled to get back to my routine. It was hard. A huge hole had opened in my life, as bad as when I got divorced. One day, I decided to go home on my lunch break to fix a sandwich and be alone with my thoughts. I hadn’t been back long when the doorbell rang. Who even knew I was there?
“Charles?” I said, opening the front screen door.
“I saw your car in the driveway,” he said. “Got worried you were sick.”
“I’m okay,” I said. “Just stopped home for lunch.”
He stood there and fiddled with his keys, flustered. I stared back.
“I’m so tired of eating TV dinners,” he blurted. “Would you maybe want to go grab a pizza with me tomorrow evening?”
I was about to make an excuse. Frankly, I didn’t much care for pizza. Then it hit me. There he was, a man standing on my doorstep. The first man to ask me out in 11 years, since I’d made my deal with God.
My cheeks burned. Why did it have to be Charles? Of all people! He was Brenda’s husband! I’d never thought about him like that. It was just plain wrong. But he looked so lonely, like a lost little boy. This wouldn’t be a date. We would just be two lonely people, eating pizza together. Old friends. “Sure I will,” I said, after what seemed like an eternity.
So Charles and I just kept on being lonely together. Dinners. Movies. Sat together in church, did some of the activities we’d once done with Brenda. Charmaine didn’t object to our relationship. In fact, she seemed to encourage it, sometimes inviting the two of us over for dinner. One day she told me why.
“The night she died, Mom made one last request. Something I never told Dad,” she said. “She said she wanted Dad to get married again. He needed a wife, I needed a mother. And she told me who she wanted that woman to be.”
Charles and I have been happily married for 25 years now. Not a day goes by when I don’t say a prayer of thanks for Brenda. And for the man who landed on my doorstep.
Did you enjoy this story? Subscribe to Mysterious Ways magazine.