Chris sat at her computer in her little cubicle at Deschler Insurance Agency and hit “enter” on the keyboard. She had just finished entering the information on the last claim from the stack of paperwork in her inbox tray. It was the same thing day in, day out, entering claims or updating files. At least she had a window in her cubicle with a decent view of the park across the street, she thought. She enjoyed watching the older folks strolling along the park walkways and gathering in the small white gazebo in the mornings. When she didn’t have to run errands, Chris sat in the empty gazebo during her lunch breaks, watching dedicated fitness buffs jogging along the park’s pathways. On these last days of September, she invariably found herself mesmerized by the falling red, orange and golden leaves from the trees in the park. The sight of the vibrant carpet of leaves covering the now-fading park lawn filled her with warmth that seemed to touch her soul.
Christine Marie Rogers DiPietro was nearing a crossroad in her life. She lived in the same small town where she grew up, had the same circle of friends she had while in high school, attended the same church where she had gotten married and had her children baptized, and went to the same doctor she started seeing over twenty years ago. Sure, there had been changes in her life she had not anticipated, like the divorce Stan asked for five years ago, or her children moving so far away to places that offered more opportunities for their budding careers. Every year, Michael and his wife, Jeannie, came home for a week’s visit, as did her youngest, Joey. Each spring, Chris drove two hundred miles to spend one week with Lisa, her husband Ed, and their two-year old twins, Chris’s only grandchildren, so far. Stan still lived in this town, although they rarely encountered one another.
Chris turned off her computer, put her coat on, and grabbed her purse and keys. As she walked out of the office into the crisp autumn air, Carol, fellow co-worker and good friend, caught up to her. “I’m so glad we’re done for the day. I was swamped with new customer applications. What are you doing for dinner tonight?” Carol said as they neared their cars.
“My day was the same as it always is. Review claims, data entry, lunch, review claims, data entry, file daily report. I was going to have leftovers, but we can grab something at Clair’s,” Chris replied. Since they lived on opposite sides of town, they drove to Clair’s separately.
Once they settled in a cozy corner booth and gave their orders to the waitress, they started to unwind with a glass of white wine. “Did you ever want to change your life, Carol? My life is so predictable. I’m so predictable. Every day I get up at 6 a.m., have breakfast, and shower and I’m on my way to work by 7:30. I sit in the same cubicle five days each week, doing the same data entry job I’ve been doing for the last ten years. Every morning, I watch the same group of senior citizens walk in the park and every afternoon I watch the same joggers running there. I’m on the same Monday night bowling league I’ve been on for ten years, ditto for being in the same book club. My Saturdays are filled with laundry, grocery shopping and housecleaning. Sundays are for church, brunch with you and Brenda, going over bills and getting ready for the workweek. My routines are routine. I even use the same hair color I’ve used for umpteen years!” Chris blurted out.
Carol just stared at her friend for several minutes before replying. “What’s going on, Chris? Did something happen that I don’t know about?” she asked.
“It happened while I was watching the leaves falling in the park today. I don’t know why. I just thought about those leaves being young in the spring, growing strong during the summer, then maturing – actually aging – in the fall, until they die in the winter of their lives. It dawned on me that our lives are like those leaves. That is okay – that’s the way life is. However, I want more than just aging in the fall of my life. Those leaves are vibrant in the fall of their lives. I’m not vibrant. I’m just predictable.”
Carol waited until their waitress served their meals, giving her time to consider what her friend was feeling before she said, “I guess we’re all predictable to a point, Chris. Maybe I’d call it being dependable. There’s nothing wrong with being dependable. But, if you want to make some changes in your life, you can always try a new hobby or join a dance club. Just don’t do anything crazy. You aren’t thinking of doing anything crazy, are you?”
“Well, I may as well tell you, since you are one of my closest friends,” Chris replied. “I’m selling my house. I put it on the market a few weeks ago and got a bid yesterday. I’ll probably accept it.”
A shocked Carol gasped, “Are you moving away? Say you aren’t moving away, please.”
Chris smiled at Carol and said, “No, I’m not moving away. I’m just making some changes in my life. I want to be unpredictable, but I’m not going to do anything too drastic. I found a little two-bedroom house on Crescent Lane. You must know the one I mean. It’s close to your development. There will be enough money left after I pay for the new house so I can take a leave of absence from work.”
It was quiet for several minutes before Carol asked, “How long will you be gone? Are you coming back to work? Are you sure you’re making the right decision?”
Chris reassured her friend that this is exactly the right thing for her to do. “This is something I have to do for me. Life is about changes. We all grow and evolve. This is my time.” They finished their meal chatting about office gossip and made plans for the coming Sunday brunch.
By the middle of October, Chris had moved into her new little bungalow. She sold most of the furniture she and Stan bought when they first married, and donated the rest. They were replaced by an eclectic selection of pieces she found at several thrift shops and auctions. She volunteered at the local Humane Society, where she fell in love with and adopted Bella, an abandoned terrier mix. When she first brought Bella home, they took long walks through the woods behind her house. She took joy in watching Bella chase the resident rabbits and squirrels through the leaf-covered paths until Bella finally returned to Chris’s side, panting and exhausted.
She had always wanted to try her hand at art and finally got the courage to purchase canvas, an easel and sketching materials. She took Bella with her to sketch at the lake, the park and even in the woods. Once she started to sketch, she found she had a flair for it and continued to find different locales that appealed to her. Chris dropped out of her bowling league, much to the surprise of her teammates. Though they tried, they could not dissuade her. As the days turned into weeks, she applied for the position of part-time receptionist at the Humane Society. Chris continued to volunteer there because she knew they needed the help. When a family down on their luck had to surrender their two-year old Dachshund, Toby, she adopted him. Bella and Toby got along very well and kept each other company while Chris worked.
On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, Brenda, Carol and Chris met for brunch at The Pantry. Carol was surprised at the changes she was seeing in Chris. She seemed to be glowing from within with a sparkle in her eyes that Carol hadn’t seen in a long time. Her hair was becoming a nice blend of salt and pepper since Chris stopped dying her hair. She wore little make-up but appeared younger than her sixty years. “I have to tell you, Chris, I am jealous of you. You look great, you seem happier, more relaxed than I’ve ever seen you,” Carol said.
“Thanks Carol. I am more at peace with everything. I love my Bella and Toby and our walks. We’re always finding new places for me to sketch and for them to run. I see so many things everyday that most people take for granted. Even the bare trees have a beauty all their own. I love working with the Humane Society, but my volunteering is more important than what I am paid for. I’ve been thinking of fencing off part of the land between my house and the woods so I can foster some of the animals before they go to new homes.”
Carol gave a lot of thought about what Chris said about fostering over the next week. On the Sunday following Thanksgiving, they did not meet for brunch, so Carol drove over to Chris’s home in the afternoon. As they sat at the kitchen table with coffee and homemade apple pie, Carol told Chris of her idea. “I told you last week I am jealous of you and it’s true. Perhaps a better word would be envy. We’re the same age, and I don’t have nearly as much courage to do what you have done. However, I would like to try. I’m not going to sell my house or furniture – nothing that drastic. I saved money over the years. When Brian died, I used only a portion of the insurance proceeds to pay off the house. The rest went into savings for retirement. I also have the small pension from work. If you are serious about starting a fostering program, I wondered if you would like a partner. I don’t need the job at Deschler’s. I can live comfortably on my pension. The one thing I cannot do is just sit at home doing nothing. Plus, I love animals as much as you do.”
Chris was surprised and delighted to hear what Carol had to say. She said, “This can work. It would be great to have you here during the day looking after the animals while I work at the Humane Society. Then I’ll be here for them the rest of the time. We may be able to get some assistance with food and medical attention. We won’t take on more than what either of us can handle. When do you want to work on the details?”
As she finished her coffee, Carol said, “We can start today if you’d like. We should write down how much money each of us can contribute, and how much we’ll need for fencing costs, food, supplies and crates. Then we can type up the contract online, and have a lawyer look it over before we sign.”
Chris added, “We should try to set down a timetable to follow. I’ll make inquiries about fostering, permits and zoning. You can contact contractors to get a price for the fencing. Because winter will be here soon, we should probably try to have the fencing done the first week of spring. I’m so glad you are interested in this venture. You won’t be sorry. Just caring for these animals makes you realize how much you are needed.” They spent the rest of that day and most of the evening ironing out the details of their new joint venture. Chris knew this was the right path for her to take. As Carol drove home, she knew she had made a decision that would change her life for the better.