July 12th dawned gray, and with the prospect of rain my mood likely wouldn’t improve. My brain didn’t let me sleep much, something I dealt with pretty much daily. I knew what was coming.
I eased out from under my covers, glanced at Lori’s womanly form on her side, a bulk of smooth hip under the green floral spread raising the covers like a rounded hill of grass that deepened into a valley only to rise subtly, dip and rise again. Mussed gray hair peeked out, cupping her lined but lovely face relaxed in sleep. She snored softly. I loved the muted, womanly sounds she made.
I sat on the edge of the bed for another moment and the images came, mind pictures about the months she’d been away, of the cancer they’d caught, of my months of sleeping alone, worried sick. Then the chemo and radiation, the long recovery process and finally, remission.
How wonderful! Not much frightens me, but to lose her would be devastating. As transitory thoughts navigated my waking brain, I knew the sooner I let them run, the sooner they would leave me alone and I could get on with my day.
It started with the creaking floorboard. I didn’t know why, but that’s where it always started.
I stepped softly across the carpeted bedroom floor and avoided the creaking floorboard I never took time to fix. Lori got on me for that long ago. I reached for something to say. I told her it helped guarantee our safety as we slept.
“How so?” she’d asked. “Do you really think an intruder intent on killing the two of us in our bed would step in that one place for our convenience?”
I realized how flippant my reasoning had been, but Lori, seeing how I had reached for something to say in the moment, intuitively grasped that another blacker reason was more the truth, that I couldn’t bring myself to get into the routine of repair because worry, and yes, anger on a far different subject colored my outlook. She stopped.
Life had been hard for us for too long. We’d lost a child to suicide. Sarah couldn’t take the pressure at her school in Gary, Indiana. Budget cuts and larger classrooms led to overwork. Personal attention to her students suffered and for a young teacher like Sarah who valued one on one contact, it stressed her.
Rather than mention it when she visited us on holidays, she internalized it. She didn’t want to worry us. She wanted us to see her as a big girl, capable of being out on her own. We never suspected. She should have shared. Why didn’t she share?
Over time her ego became fragile as the demands of the job became crushing. The school administration wasn’t sympathetic. Everyone had to deal with the same situation. Deal with it, they said.
She did, until that day in December when she jumped from the West Main Street Bridge in Benton Harbor fifty feet onto thick ice and died instantly.
So bizarre was the accident from the famous bridge that it made national news. We saw it on TV Nightly. We felt sad for the girl and her poor family. The police called hours later. They had identified our daughter. That day our world went over a precipice.
We were to learn that bad things often come in three’s.
Sarah’s death put her twin brother Saul over the edge. They had always had some kind of psychic connection. We’d marveled at how they finished each others' sentences and how they always seemed to know the others’ thoughts before spoken.
On reflection, Saul seemed unaccountably nervous for weeks before Sarah did what she did. We thought he had a rough patch and we’d seen them before. We discounted his predilection. When Sarah’s light went dark, a switch turned off in Saul’s head and he too went over a precipice.
We see him once a week at the Greenlawn Institute outside of Cincinnati. They care for him, but he doesn’t live here anymore. Lori and I took it hard.
We were told in counseling that nothing we did would have prevented it. Therapy helped, but the emptiness remained. We’d lost our children, our family. We held onto each other until…
The final blow, less than two years later, Lori was diagnosed with bladder cancer three months before she retired from Carlson Industries, the leading leather goods factory in the mid-west where she’d worked for thirty-two years. We didn’t know the chemicals used in curing leather could cause cancer. Management had to know. How could they not? In a knee-jerk reaction, an attorney friend filed a lawsuit for us. The company fought it, and maybe it would resolve some day, but a lawsuit could never cure the thing that was eating us alive.
I’d lost my children. Now I would lose my wife?
As Lori became sicker, the underpinnings of our marriage gave way. I lost track of my emotional foundations. I argued and fought and alienated everyone around me. I railed at them. I yelled. I made threats. It went beyond grief.
Worse, I couldn’t see through my anger how it affected Lori. I dissolved into a hateful animal. I became someone else, someone Lori said later she didn’t know.
The disintegration of my remaining family drove me to drink. I always thought I had it together and could handle anything, but how wrong I could be. Perhaps it isn’t surprising in the same vein that Lori, who had no connection to religion, began to attend church regularly.
I wouldn’t go with her. I cursed God instead and found my god in J&B. How much support did you suppose I got at Drew’s Tavern? Drinking buddies have their own troubles or they wouldn’t be there. I couldn’t think beyond my nose.
Lori sat me down one morning. She wanted a divorce. I went ballistic. She cried in front of me, hard racking sobs. She had no one to rely on. A light went on in my brain. What an ass I’d been. I started thinking of her and not me and there I found what I valued most.
I got sober. I picked myself up from the gutter and once more became a man. In my daily visits to the hospital I drank the image of Lori lying in her hospital bed, small and wasted, that metal thing by her bedside dripping curative solutions into her body, me feeling powerless, her smiling up at me, not giving up as I had, willing to take all that nature had thrown at her and still willing to offer me the gift of her smile. I didn’t deserve her.
They didn’t catch the cancer early, but with the removal of a major part of Lori’s bladder and chemo, she gradually came back from the thin shadow she had become. Now I smiled. What a trouper she’d been.
Today I intended to run, the usual three-mile circuit I do three times a week, but I’d come to terms with the gray matters in my head and I sensed Lori needed me close. I decided to go back to bed. Nothing could be as important as my anchor, my wife, not today, not ever. I turned in place and crawled back in.
“Ummm…you’re not running today?” she asked sleepily.
“No honey. I’m running back to you today.”
“Ummm,” still sleepily, “how nice.” And she pushed up against me and I held her and the last of my daily demons melted away.