She sat there staring through the airplane window. It was blue sky as far as Helena could see – no other planes, no nothing. If she leaned towards the window, she could see the clouds down below. It was the perfect weather for traveling.
"What are we doing here?" she quietly asked herself. "Is this crazy?"
Helena gazed at her seven-month-old baby boy, soundly asleep in her arms. He looked so at peace, so tender and helpless. Her eyes filled with tears.
"We are going to make it, you know," she whispered quietly to the sleeping boy.
"I promise you that life is going to be good after all."
Helena closed her eyes; she pushed the tears back. She wasn't ashamed of the tears; it was more like she was afraid to let them fall. During these last months she feared that if she let go of them, the tears would never stop again. She couldn't risk that, she had to take care of Mike.
She continued to look at her baby boy.
"I know there is just the two of us," she whispered.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this; I know, but we are going to make it. You'll see," she added, more to comfort herself than the little boy.
Helena wasn't sure what "make it" really meant. She didn't know what she was trying to promise her son.
Things couldn't go back to the way they were, that was impossible. The reality of life had shattered that dream for her. She needed to find a new normality, a way to get their lives back on track. A track without Tom.
She thought about her husband for a brief moment, then she pushed the thoughts away. She didn't want to think about him; she could feel the tears build up again. She didn't want to cry, not now, not when she sat there in the airplane.
Helena couldn't bear to stay at home in their New York apartment. Everything there reminded her of Tom and those memories weren't a comfort right now; they would've started the unwanted tears.
So Helena decided to take her boy on the longest trip of her life, sixteen weeks on a Greek island. They called it an "extended vacation" in the brochure; her mother called it madness.
"You're crazy," her mother almost yelled in the phone.
"You can't go anywhere in the condition you're in right now, and Michael can't spend fifteen hours on an airplane."
"It's only ten and a half," she replied. I shouldn't have said that, Helena thought. She's not going to let this go now. She'll think I'm crazy. Her mother almost exploded on the other side of the phone.
"Helena Mary Mitchell that last remark shows that you are not thinking clearly right now, and you are not able to take care of yourself nor your son." Her mother's voice became sharp and focused.
Helena just sighed. I can't keep up when she's like this. Not now.
"I don't want to talk about it right now," she answered.
"You can't run from this Helena," her mother continued. "It would be much better for both you and Michael if you came back home to Boston and lived with us. There are nice law firms here and your father just talked to one of his friends at the club. He might have an interesting job offer for you."
There were very few things in her now upside-down life that Helena was certain about, one of the few was that her parents' house wasn't the answer. I can't take care of me and Mike there, she thought. I can never go back home.
"I already have a job at a nice law firm," she said.
"A job you haven't visited since your son was born," her mother replied.
Helena didn't know how to answer her. I can't do this right know, it's too much stress. The conversation came to an abrupt end, and Helena decided to call the travel agency.
"Tell me about this island?" Helena said to the sales rep at the agency.
"It's called Spetses. It's a small island, just four miles long and two and a half miles wide. According to the picture it's a mountain in the water."
Helena viewed the website the sales rep suggested. It's beautiful, she thought. I like it, it looks peaceful.
The sales rep continued. "It's a calm island, not many tourists. No big attractions, night clubs or hotels."
That's sounds nice, just what I want. The sales rep waited for her to respond and when Helena stayed quiet, the rep continued.
"We don't book many packages there, especially not during the winter season."
Helena was confused. "Winter season? But we're talking August here."
"Yes, I know. The winter season on Spetses starts in September. It'll be tourists in August, but after that you’re almost on your own." Perfect, Helena thought. That's perfect.
"There's no snow?" The sales rep laughed.
"Oh, no. The average temperature in November is around fifty nine degrees, so no snow."
That's a relief. The sales rep continued to talk about the island and the recommended hotel. It was a deluxe apartment hotel; the sales rep suggested a large studio with a balcony overlooking the ocean. Plenty of room for her and Mike. Helena liked what she heard, this little island and it's tiny town sounded like a perfect place. So Helena did the only thing she could do; she bought the tickets for the extended stay.
Now she sat on the airplane; her eyes focused on her son, who slept peacefully in her arms. She wasn't sure she had made the right decision; she tried to push the unwanted feelings away, but she was scared.
She was scared of the unknown, and what could be more unknown than spending sixteen weeks on a Greek island she had never visited before? To be scared of the unknown is better than to be scared in my own apartment, she thought. Unfortunately, that was a feeling Helena was all too well acquainted with.
"Well, I'm in for it now, and I am not going to call home and tell them it was a mistake." She said it quietly, into the window. Like a mantra she used the words to reduce her fears.
Helena would never let her mother feel that satisfaction. She wanted to prove to her parents that she could still make sound decisions for both her and her son. Decisions that were right for them, regardless of what everyone else thought about it.
Helena's thoughts started to drift away, back to her Mother, to their differences. We never see eye-to-eye. Are my choices really that strange? Just because I sometimes do things different than the norm, doesn't mean they are mistakes.
But that was a concept far from her mother's beliefs. Her mother grew up in an old Boston family with a strong set of important rules. Her mother regarded any deviation from this strictly paved path as a mistake.
In her parent's eyes, especially her mother's, Helena had made one mistake after another. Her move to New York was bad enough, but her marriage to Tom was even worse.
Tom, my dear husband, Helena sighed. Was he a mistake? Difficult, yes! Mistake, no.
Tom wasn't from New England; he wasn't a Harvard alumni, and it didn't matter how successful he was on Wall Street, her mother regarded both those facts as major character flaws. Helena always felt like her mother just waited for a disaster to happen that would prove her right.
No, Tom wasn't a mistake, no one can say that. It´s not fair. Helena's life had changed unexpectedly, but that was just what life had a tendency to do, regardless of mistakes. Life always twisted and turned.
So here I am. Her eyes looked far beyond the clouds outside the window. I never thought I would be a twenty-eight-year-old widow with a baby in my arms. Life is cruel. What has it done to me?
If she took a long hard look at herself, Helena knew that the confident lawyer had turned into an insecure mess, who didn't know what to do next.
She needed to think and that was the main reason she sat there in the plane. What better place than this distant island in the Greek archipelago, a place where she didn't know anyone, where no one was going to stare at the wall behind her while they tried to find something to say, where no one was going to hurry away when they didn't know how to comfort her in her grief.
She was all alone on this journey, but that's the way it needed to be. She knew she had to figure this one out by herself. Why can't my Mother understand that?