by Diane Ronzino
A not so short, true, short story:
The walk around the corner to Margie’s house was like a death march. I walked hesitantly with my shoulders drooped as angry tears flowed. Inside, my six-year-old heart was screaming, “I can’t say goodbye…I won’t say goodbye!” Little did I know at that time that the weight of regret of not saying goodbye would be a heavy burden I’d bear for many years to come.
It was the summer between kindergarten and first grade when the moving van pulled away from our house. My heart was broken at the thought of leaving all that I knew and loved. My family was saying goodbye to their home, my father’s parents, and our neighbors as I was ordered to go around the block to say goodbye to my little friend, Margie, and her family.
Margie’s family was so different than mine, which was harsh and critical. Tension was ever present and screaming was a way of life. Going around the corner to Margie’s house became a lifeline as I intermittently got to be a part of a joyful, relaxed family. I was comfortable with Connie, Margie’s loving, Italian, good-natured mother. Although their house was filled with commotion from the four siblings, I loved being there. The sights, sounds, and smells of this endearing family always welcomed me, and Connie’s hugs were like a security blanket.
How could I say goodbye? I froze on the sidewalk, one house away. Connie was standing in her doorway, holding the screen door ajar, and bidding me to come. Her arms were stretched out wide, her hands reaching out to pull me toward her, but I couldn’t move another step. “Diane, come,” Connie called. I stood as still as a statue. “Diane, come…come say goodbye!” I was absolutely brokenhearted. How could I leave this family that showed me much needed loving-kindness?
I had already said goodbye to my grandparents who lived downstairs from us, and Marie, my playmate next door. We were leaving Flushing in Queens County, NY. No more grandparents nearby. No more park, where I was free to play. No more escaping my world into Margie’s. Maybe if I don’t really say goodbye, then maybe this really won’t happen, my immature mind reasoned.
Connie was still beckoning me when I turned and bolted back down the street. The sound of my feet stomping and my own anguished cries were deafening. Sobbing, I ran home to the home that was no more. My parents were waiting by the car for me. Numbly, I climbed into the back seat. As we pulled away, I turned around and looked out the back window. My Margie was standing in front of my house crying and wildly waving goodbye. The further we drove the more pitiful her wave became. Finally, she stopped waving because I did not return her gesture.
Everything was a blur as we headed down the road into the unknown. No one spoke. The silence in the car was deafening; it was as if time stood still. I felt numb from my loss and overwhelmed with regret at not saying goodbye. With everything in me I wanted to scream, but I withdrew into silence.
We moved from Flushing farther out on Long Island to Stewart Manor in Nassau County. We went from city dwelling to “the country”. It was only about 30 minute ride, but it might as well have been a trip to China. I never saw Margie or her family again. Connie’s bidding and Margie’s last wave were forever etched on the tablet of my heart, but so was my non-responsiveness.
Over the years I would think of the black-haired little girl who always made me laugh and I would recall her dark-haired mother with her broad smile and kind words. As an adult, I would sometimes pray for Margie and her family as they came to mind. But, the ache of goodbye’s left unsaid to the family who brought sunshine into my young, darkened life never left me. Over the years, it became a heavy weight that haunted me, subconsciously, deep in my soul.
Even as I grew up my family home never became a happy place for me. I married young, left home, had three children, and continued to live on Long Island. As I matured, I diligently worked on changing myself into a more positive, productive human being, and the Lord brought much healing to some very deep emotional scars from my childhood. Forty years would pass.
My husband and I enrolled our children at Faith Academy, a private Christian school in Farmingville, NY. My youngest child, Andrew, was in first grade and my other two children, Alece and Michael, were seven and ten years older than he. As the school year began, I was very excited about the children’s teachers. I liked them all, and was particularly drawn to Andrew’s teacher, Mrs. Albano. There was something very special about this woman.
Our family began attending the church associated with the school, but we really didn’t know too many people. That fall the church announced that it was going to put on a Christmas pageant and auditions were scheduled. Even though I had never acted, I decided to go to the audition. It was time to get out of my comfort zone and possibly make some new friends, I reasoned. To my utter shock and total honor, I was given the role of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Since I had never participated in anything like this before, at one of the early rehearsals I asked the cast about what we should do for the director at the final performance. I was told we give her flowers and someone suggested I take up the collection. Figuring this would be a good way to meet everyone, I took on the responsibility. At the following rehearsal, I started collecting money and making a list of the donor’s first names only. I came to a blond-haired, older woman named Marie. She was friendly and funny. She gave me her money and I wrote down her first name. As she walked away I asked her what her last name was. What an odd thing for me to ask.
“Palmieri”, Marie replied.
In that split second, I was whisked away. Staring off into space and muttering to myself out loud, I said, “I used to have a friend named Palmieri when I was a child”. Marie, cutting in on my sentimental journey, asked me where I grew up.
“Really? I used to live in Flushing. My family lived in Flushing.”
“Really?” I replied. How coincidental. Off in a strange, reminiscent zone, I spoke into the air, “My friend’s name was Margie. Margie Palmieri”.
Marie stiffened her body and replied, “My niece’s name is Marge Albano. Her maiden name was Palmieri.” I did not make the connection. “You know Marge Albano, Diane, she teaches school here.” Nodding, I still did not make the connection. Marge Albano was Andrew’s teacher. Period. Marie seemed to come to the realization before me. Half in a daze and still on my sentimental journey, I said, “Margie’s mother’s name was Connie”.
“Yes, Marge’s mother is Connie - my sister,” agreed Marie.
“She had brothers, one of which was named Patrick.”
“Yes, my nephew’s name is Patrick. Diane, I think Marge Albano is who you are talking about!”
I emotionally erupted. I began to shake all over nearly collapsing to the floor. Marie’s arms caught me as people started crowding around us. I was bumbling and emotional, and quite embarrassed for making a spectacle of myself.
Mrs. Albano was a tall, slender, black-haired beauty. Her demeanor was gentle and kind. She was a very special woman and I had repeatedly given thanks to God for giving Andrew such a wonderful, nurturing first-grade teacher. She spoke very positive things about Andrew. After the first teacher’s conference, I told my husband that when I look into Mrs. Albano’s eyes it’s as if I’ve known her my whole life; that her eyes seemed like that of an old friend. Could it be they really were those of an old friend?
Marie stuffed a piece of paper in my hand with Mrs. Albano’s home phone number on it. I drove the 45 minute drive home, weeping and thanking God all the way. I dialed Mrs. Albano’s number as soon as I got home. Her daughter, Jessica, a teenager in my oldest son’s class, answered the phone. I asked for her mother, but I was told she wasn’t home. I blurted out, “This is Diane Ronzino. My maiden name was Weiss. I was a friend of your mother’s when we were young. Please have her call me no matter what time she gets home. I will wait up for her call.”
I got off the phone and impatiently waited for Mrs. Albano/Margie to call me back. That evening I went down into the basement to see if I could possibly find some old photographs. All my childhood photos were in a few of the many boxes all over my basement. How will I ever find any photos? To my absolute amazement, lying on top of the very first box I opened was a photo album with pictures of Margie and me when we were little. Oh, my gosh…this is truly a God-thing! Thank You, Lord!
I brought the photo album upstairs and showed my children and husband. I told them the story of my unsaid goodbye. Exhausted, I waited on baited breath for the phone call that never came. I finally fell into a fitful sleep. Every time I woke up, all I could do was ask God to give me the opportunity to ask my friend’s forgiveness. That’s all I want, LORD, is ask her for forgiveness. Please!
I assumed that since Mrs. Albano didn’t call back that night, she wasn’t going to call at all. Arising before the sun came up the next morning, I was disappointed. So close, yet so far…please dear Lord! Early that morning, the phone rang. Never dreaming it would be Margie, I nonchalantly answered the phone with a calm “Hello”.
“This is Marge Albano.” Pause. “Margie Palmieri.”
“Margie, I’m so sorry for not saying goodbye! Please forgive me!” exploded from my lips. The words flowed naturally, but passionately. They had waited on the perimeter of my heart for 40 years. Speaking them opened the floodgates of the outer limits of my soul. It was surreal - the circumstances around this apology were truly miraculous.
After a brief conversation, we said we would meet in the school lobby that morning. I told Margie about how I found the photos and she told me about the ones she found in a similar fashion. Then she explained why she didn’t call back the night before. Her daughter gave her the phone message, but told her that “Diane Rice” had called. Jessica had obviously mixed up the “R” from Ronzino with my maiden name Weiss, so she relayed the message as coming from Diane Rice. She told her mom that I was crying, sounded weird, and didn’t make any sense. Margie told her daughter that she didn’t know anyone by that name and never gave it another thought. However, in the middle of the night, Margie awakened from a sound sleep, thinking “Not Diane Rice - Diane Weiss/Diane Ronzino!” She was beside herself the rest of the night and went searching for photos.
My drive to school that morning was filled with anticipation. As I came into the lobby with my photos in hand, the area was filled with teachers, parents, and students, many with cameras in their hands. I froze from surprise and confusion at the sight of all these people. It took a moment for me to register the fact that they were here to witness our reunion. Jessica had spread the news. All of a sudden, those familiar eyes and black hair were walking toward me. Cameras flashed.
Margie and I embraced, long and hard. It’s like our souls melded together. Once again I apologized and asked her to forgive me. She told me that she already had. When Margie said those words, a 40-year black mark of regret was eradicated. There were cheers going up all around us; almost everyone was crying. It was an extraordinary, dreamlike, God-moment!
Hand-in-hand, Margie and I went to her classroom to talk. She told me it took her years to get over the rejection she felt from my refusal to say goodbye. “I’m so sorry!” reverberated from my heart to hers. Knowing that Margie thought I had rejected her was like a knife stabbing my heart. I ached because I had deeply hurt her. We cried, hugged, and looked intently into each other’s eyes, searching for the little girls we once knew, finding the women of God we had become.
The miracle didn’t end there. At that time I was head the church’s Nursery. A couple of weeks later, I looked out the Nursery doorway and I saw Margie coming toward me with a white-haired, round faced woman. It was Connie. She stood in the hallway and threw open her arms, standing just like she had done all those years ago. Like a six-year old child, I ran into Connie’s arms. It was like coming home. “I’m so sorry I didn’t say goodbye. Please forgive me!”
Of course she did. As Connie and I caught up, she told me things I hadn’t known. She and my mother were best friends, so Connie had photos of Margie and I together as babies on the swings at the park and in our carriages. My mother had been sick my whole life and died when I was 19. Connie was sad to hear that, but wasn’t surprised. She knew mom was sick and she knew of trouble in my parent’s marriage. Connie told me I was “a sad, little thing”. In a strange way, I found her words to be very validating. She told me that almost every time I would come up the block to call for Margie, I’d be crying. Connie had an ache in her heart for me but she didn’t know what to do to help me. All she could do was pray. Connie used to pray for me!
Christmastime seems to incubate miracles. Jesus was miraculously born for one mission – to die for the forgiveness of our sins. And here we were, all these Christmases later, and forgiveness was still so important to Him that He arranged for me to be in the Christmas pageant, for me to take up the flower collection, and for me to ask Marie Palmieri what her last name was. He orchestrated both Margie’s life and mine to bring us together at Faith Academy. His Divine Appointments allowed me to ask for forgiveness, and He then took the burden of regret off my shoulders, as if to say, “Be free, Diane. You can stand up straight and tall now because you are forgiven.”
God is in the restoration business. He restored peace to my guilt-ridden soul and healed Margie of the painful rejection she experienced from me. I came to find out that Connie longed to hug me close that agonizing day so long ago, and she waited 40 years for God to restore that hug. Forgiveness was rendered amongst the three of us and that is the greatest miracle of it all.
Copryrighted 2012 Diane Ronzino