The Life Worth Living (Short Story)

By the time James was 1, he already could walk a few paces without any help. His first words were “mama” and “no,” and he loved to point at anything shiny. Each night his mother would rock him to sleep, humming a calming tune as he dozed off. Afterwards as she put him into his crib, she would kiss his forehead and whisper to him “your life is going to be one worth living.”

By the time James was 6, he already had a best friend, a shy boy named Miles. Together the two traveled the world using an old TV box as their transport. The two were inseparable and swore that they would be friends forever. One day while they were playing in the local park, a girl named Emma pulled James aside and kissed him behind the swing set. She made him promise not to tell anyone, but he ran and told Miles anyway and the two told her she had cooties. Emma started crying and James felt bad, but never said he was sorry.

By the time James was 10, he already tried to run away from home once. He made it a few blocks away before getting scared and turning back. When his mother came home, he ran to her and told her what he did. She forgave him and they hugged each other tightly. Afterwards, she took him out for ice cream and he felt better. That night as he lay in bed, his mother kissed him goodnight and turned off the lights before saying again like she always did, “your life is going to be one worth living.”

By the time James was 15, he already got to ride in a police car. A strange officer asked to speak with him one day during English class and told him about the accident his mother had. At her funeral, James couldn’t bring himself to say much and started crying midway through the speech he was supposed to give. A few weeks later, he moved in with a strange family that he didn’t like. He tried to be brave, but things were never the same. He felt sad all the time, but Emma, who he had since became friends with, could sometimes make him smile.

By the time James was 18, he already had lost a best friend. Miles only lived a few months after his cancer diagnosis, though James never found out because he had moved away and they didn’t keep in touch. James also met his birth-father for the first time, but the strange family didn’t seem so strange anymore so he sent him away for never being there for him. He also got to ride in a police car again, only this time it was because he was caught smoking pot. Emma picked him up from the station and he threw up in her car. Afterwards, he asked her to be his girlfriend and she said yes.

By the time James was 23, he already was engaged to Emma. He brought her back to the park where they first met and got down on one knee for her. He asked her for forgiveness for the time when he said she had cooties and made her cry, and she forgave him. Then, she cried again as he slid the ring onto her finger. A few weeks later he got a letter from his birth-father in the mail, begging him to let him come to the wedding so he could meet his bride. James didn’t even bat an eye before throwing the letter in the trash. A few minutes later he called the not-anymore-strange family and cried that he missed his mother. His new mother talked him down and made him feel happy again.

By the time James was 32, he already was married to Emma and had a son of his own, a loud boy named Owen, with another on the way. He promised he would never make the same mistakes his birth-father had, and spent as much time as he could bonding with the boy. Together they traveled the world using an old TV box as their transport. One day he got a call that Emma fell hard and lost the baby. In the following weeks he fell into bad drinking habits and would spend longs nights at the bars. One night when Emma was away, he fell asleep on the sidewalk on his way home. Owen was only 5 and spent the night in the house alone.

By the time James was 40, he already went through a divorce. Things were never the same since the night Emma lost the baby and since then they grew further and further apart. Because he had lost his job and couldn’t stop drinking, Emma got permission from the courts to take Owen away from him. He called Owen just about every night, but as he grew up he stopped answering the phone. James would call Emma, who would tell him Owen had become a very quiet boy and just didn’t want to talk to him anymore. Still, he never gave up and tried to call him every night.

By the time James was 45, he already hit rock-bottom. It all started when he got a letter in the mail telling him that his birth-father had died. He started crying and decided to go to the funeral, where he spoke lovingly about a man who was never there for him. On the drive back, he tried to call Owen who didn’t answer the phone. He went to Emma’s house anyway to talk with him, but Owen locked himself in his room and refused to come out. James cried even harder than he did at the funeral, but eventually gave up and left. Before doing so though, he whispered at the door blocking him from Owen, “your life is going to be one worth living.”

By the time James was 56, he already had made considerable progress in making things in his life right. He stopped drinking and started working at a fast-food restaurant, where he slowly rose through the ranks to a management position. Owen even was willing to meet with him for coffee once, where he told him about his wife and the two kids they had since had. As he got up to leave, James asked for a hug, which Owen obliged. Owen then invited him over to his house so he could meet his grandchildren.

By the time James was 60, he already got to watch his newest third grandchild take her first steps. He divided his time between work and staying with his family, and Emma even gave him another chance and the two fell in love all over again. He took her to the same park and got down on one knee again and Emma cried the same way she did the first time. He whispered in her ear that he had learned from his mistakes and was going to do things right this time. She believed him.

By the time James was 68, he already got to see the Grand Canyon. He and Emma enjoyed traveling the world, only this time they used a car as their transport. As they grew old together, Emma was James’s rock, except as time passed by she sometimes would forget who he was. As her body and mind began to gradually deteriorate, James dutifully cared for her all the while.

By the time James was 77, he already had suffered through the loss of both of his adoptive parents and most recently, Emma. As his vision began to dim he felt his life starting to slow down. He became more dependent on his family and they were willing to help. Without Emma, he moved in with Owen and was even there to get to hold his first few great-grandchildren. For the first time he felt entirely at peace with all the decisions he had made in his life to get to this point. He had a family that loved him, nothing else mattered.

By the time James was 88, he already made a habit out of visiting the graves of all the important people from his life. He would take his youngest great-grandchildren to meet them, but to the kids they were only rocks. As he would walk past the graves until finally stopping by Emma’s, he felt content and ready for when it would be his time to join her. However, as much as he missed her, he wasn’t done with life yet. He still had so much he wanted to do and would push off his meeting with death for as long as he could, one vitamin at a time.

By the time James was 98, he already had survived two heart attacks. Lying in the hospital bed after his third, he felt the warmth of the blankets and they made him feel comfortable and ready for the transition. Owen was sitting in the room with him reading the paper, and whenever James looked up at him he would smile warmly back. As he took his last breaths and began to feel his eyes getting ready to close for the final time, he remembered what his mother would tell him after kissing him goodnight all those years ago: “your life is going to be one worth living.”

Despite all the mistakes he made, she was right. His was a life worth living because he was able to make things right, and that’s the beautiful thing about it. He hoped he made her proud.

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