Lessons From Strangers

Wendy Porter-Ouellet By Wendy Porter-Ouellet, 26th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Short Stories

A young woman who has had her share of struggles in life learns that she is not the only one who has, learning about what some other people face and are enduring in their lives.

Just Another Day

After another night of tossing and turning in the dilapidated bed, the shrill beeping of the alarm clock summons her to wakefulness. Glancing across the cramped apartment, Valerie's weary eyes locate the source of her annoyance, confirming what she already knows. Time to rise and shine, no rest for the wicked, as her mother would have said.

Valerie drags her long, lanky body from the bed,while remembering the comfortable four-poster she used to sleep in, unfortunately long gone with practically every other material possession from her former life. She feels as though the life has been sucked out of her. Over the past several months she has learned that the life of a recovering addict isn't easy, and she hates it. She hates the discouragement, the loneliness, the lack of self-confidence and fear of the future. Most of all, Valerie despises the regrets. Today is definitely shaping up to be a major pity-party for Valerie Mitchell.

Off To Work We Go

Once Valerie has showered, thrown on one of her few work outfits, gulped down two cups of strong, black tea and pulled her long, dark hair into a simple ponytail, she's ready to go. Exiting her shabby basement apartment, she heads out into the frigid February morning. The same old routine awaits her on this Tuesday; a standing appointment with Lou, her amazing counsellor at the addiction services clinic, the ten until six shift at Garoffalo's Gift Wrapping kiosk, then home to her sparse and lonely apartment. Thank God for Jemima, her fluffy black and white feline who makes Valerie's pitiable existence a bit easier to bare.

As usual, Lou was wonderfully supportive, something Valerie depended on and appreciated more than her counsellor probably knew. Her hour-long session whizzed by and before she knew it, time to be on her way for the second time today. At least now she felt slightly less sorry for herself.

Having survived the icy, wind-whipped trek to Meadowview Mall, Valerie breathes a sigh of relief upon entering the luxuriously warm building. With no time to spare, she heads for Garoffalos at the opposite end of the mall to start her shift. Menial as the job of gift wrapper is, for now it provides a diversion from her restless and sometimes tortured thoughts. She can't allow herself to dwell on the past nor can she give much thought to what the future holds, it has to be about the here and now.

On The Job

Sometimes the monotony of the job, or the overly-chatty customer, frays her already touchy nerves, causing her to bite her tongue to keep from screaming. These were the bad days, and Valerie senses that today might be one of them. She pastes on her best fake smile, preparing to offer that plus a minimum of small-talk. Ready to roll.

With Valentines Day right around the corner, her business lately consisted of adorning the customary boxed chocolates, the red, white or pink stuffed animals, and for the really lucky recipients, jewellery. No doubt today would be more of the same.

Valerie's first customer of the day is a frail, stooped-over elderly woman with faded blue eyes and a radiantly sweet smile. In a whisper-soft voice she asks Valerie to wrap her purchase, a baby outfit for her first great-granddaughter. "How exciting for you! Will you be seeing her soon?" Valerie asks as she begins cutting paper and ribbon for the gift. With a sadness plainly visible on the old, care-worn face, the woman tells Valerie she probably won't be able to see this new addition to her family as they live quite far away, and she herself is not in the best health, unable to travel. Valerie feels a tug on her heart, sensing the old woman's loneliness, dreading the day when she will face this inevitable occurrence of life.

While tidying the counter that had so quickly become cluttered, Valerie hopes there are no more sad stories to hear today, she doesn't think she can cope with hearing other people's problems, after all, she certainly has enough of her own to deal with.

The day is flying by as Valerie kept busy serving a constant flow of customers. It looked as though the entire city is out shopping today. Most people came and went quickly, with little conversation necessary, however, a few had a story to share with her, some happy, some sad. There was a lovely young mother with three little ones in tow, all wearing the same cheerless face. To the mother's obvious embarrassment, one of the little girls informed Valerie that her daddy doesn't have a job so he is really sad and they had bought him a present to cheer him up. A few people shared of loved ones who were ill, others had friends suffering the pains of divorce. It would seem that the depressing stories far outweighed the joyful ones, much to Valerie's dismay.

The Shift Is Almost Over

With only an hour to go until closing time, Valerie was feeling the effects of the day, yearning for a good, strong cup of tea. Just as that thought filtered through her brain, she saw him. A waif-ish blonde-haired boy of perhaps six or seven hurrying toward the kiosk, looking as though he is on a mission. Looking shyly at Valerie with amazingly large dark eyes that held a mixture of sadness and determination, he places a small pink teddy bear on the counter, politely asking her to wrap it in pink paper with a pink bow. "Wow, someone must really like pink. Is this a special gift for your mom for Valentines Day?" Valerie inquires as she starts to assemble the materials she needs. As she gazes down at the little boy on the other side of the counter, she sees tears glistening in his eyes. "No, it's not for my mom, it's for my baby sister Gracie. She's only three and she's really sick. My mom and dad say she won't get better, not until she goes to Heaven. I want to give her something special to take with her, so she won't be so afraid and so she'll always remember me. Pink is her favourite colour."

Valerie's tears are now spilling over, sliding down her cheeks. Hastily brushing them away, she finishes wrapping the little boy's gift in the brightest pink paper she can find, adding the largest pink bow she has. She hands the boy his exra-special gift of love for his sister, tells him he is a wonderful big brother and how very sorry she is about Gracie. Valerie watches as he runs off to meet his grandmother, who is waiting for him.


Walking home that night, Valerie realizes her pity-party from earlier today ended completely when she heard that little boy's story. Everyone has problems, trials, sadness and grief at some point in their lives, but some have it much worse than others, and today God had allowed some of those people to cross her path. It makes her realize that all she has been through, even though it has been tough, just did not compare to what Gracie and her family were facing or had already lived through. Valerie knew, with a certainty she hasn't felt in a long time, that she is going to be okay, and then she did something she hasn't done in a very long time...
She prayed.


Compassion, Strangers, Struggle Of Life, Struggles

Meet the author

author avatar Wendy Porter-Ouellet
Introducing, Wendy Ouellet, a young-at-heart woman who is a wife, a mother of four incredible kids, a former education assistant and now a stay-at-home writer. Many interests, skills and expertise.

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author avatar Angeles Mizilla
26th May 2013 (#)

Breathtaking. Thank you for sharing. Excellent writing!

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author avatar Wendy Porter-Ouellet
27th May 2013 (#)

You are so sweet, thank you so much for your kind words!

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