Dear Exceptional You,
Several years ago, I joined a Women’s Writing Workshop called, VOICES OF GRACE. In that workshop, we learned to write monologs and tell stories. Here you will read a story about my life starting when I was in my 20’s and how one person made a difference in a powerful and wonderful way.
It is an early writing. I will rewrite it one day and elaborate on the details. I’ve been told I should turn the story into a book.
I hope you the story will in some way help you believe in Grace and Love.
I lined the bottles up in a row. Tranquilizers like Demoral, Thorazine and Tranxene, the ones that did nothing, but make me dizzy and loopy. I kept them all in a shoe box, in case the doctor thought I should try one kind or another again.
I was in so much pain I couldn’t eat or drink anything – not even water. The doctor kept telling me there was nothing organically wrong, except that I had a completely eroded esophagus and five ulcers. The problem was, I wasn’t responding to anything the doctor tried. I later learned he thought I had anorexia nervosa.
On top of that, I found out that my boyfriend, Jay, the man I loved; the one who said we would marry and have children – was keeping a secret.
I called his work one day to see what we would be doing that evening. The man who answered the phone was new and didn’t know me. He told me Jay left to pick up his fiancée. I knew it wasn’t me he was picking up. I hadn’t spoken to Jay since breakfast. That’s why I was calling to find out what our plans were.
The guy told me, Saturday, the 4th of July. That was a mere two days away! I couldn’t believe it.
Jay and I had been together for two years. I knew things weren’t perfect. I was in denial about him he was seeing someone else; let alone making marriage plans with her!
I called Jay’s sister to find out if it was true. She was shocked to hear from me and disgusted Jay had not told me. Told me? He told me he loved me that morning!
I wanted to disappear. That is why I lined the bottles up. I planned to kill myself on the 4th of July, Independence Day.
PRETEND NOTHING IS WRONG
My friend and former co-worker, Cathy, called to invite me to a party on the 4th of July. She was celebrating her engagement with her fiancé, Steve, his family, and friends. Then I got a call from my fellowship group at church. They were having a party too…on the 4th.
I decided to go to both parties. It would be my way of saying goodbye to my friends.
Cathy’s party was in Kentucky. The other party was taking place closer to my apartment in Ohio. I knew my pain always got worse at night, so I chose to go to the Kentucky party first. I knew I would want a shorter drive home later.
When the 4th arrived, I headed to Alexandria. I turned onto the dead-end street to a lovely house with a large covered porch and beautiful, built-in swimming pool in the back.
I looked up on the porch and saw Cathy and Steve sitting with a group of people at a picnic table. Cathy saw me coming and took me by the arm to introduce me to everyone.
I looked at Steve and Cathy and saw their happiness. They looked perfect together. Just perfect.
When I sat down at the table, Cathy introduced me to a fellow in a blue baseball cap.
“Mary Lu, this is Mike, Steve’s brother. ”
Mike held out his hand and said, “Nice to meet you. Want something to drink?”
I nodded with a faint smile and shook his hand.
When he got up to fetch our drinks, he teasingly shoved Steve in the shoulder.
“What do you think about these two getting married?” he asked.
Steve grabbed a hold of Mike’s pants to give him a sumo wedgie.
“Get back! Watch out, boy!” Mike chuckled as he wrestled with Steve.
Mike was a big guy with sparkly eyes as blue as Caribbean water. And, that chuckle made his belly bounce just like Santa Claus. He was cute, but, not the kind of guy I usually gravitated to.
Jay was a hard body, dark, Italian, with chiseled features and sexy mustache.
Mike was hefty, bald and fair-skinned. He went from shoulders to back, and then straight to legs – no butt at all. He was super nice. We talked and talked that Fourth of July afternoon.
Mike was an electrical engineer who traveled the world installing, troubleshooting and repairing the electronics and computer systems for packaging machinery.
He told me he was leaving for Italy the next day on business. The mention of Italy reminded me – – – I wouldn’t be there the next day.
Trying to push away my sadness, I suggested that Mike hide me in his suitcase and take me with him. He said I’d have to be married to him first. I said OK, let’s go!
His whole body shook with laughter again, making his blue eyes sparkle more. I stayed a little while longer, before traveling back across the river.
BACK TO KILLING MYSELF
The second party was already cranking. I sat down on a lawn chair and watched as people lit sparklers and shot party poppers. I conversed with a few people. I wasn’t feeling very social.
The pain in my stomach and that terrible blue funk of depression descended on me like the dark night and no amount of colorful, loud fireworks could brighten my mood or drown out the pain.
I couldn’t wait to get home.
When I finally arrived, I grabbed a can of warm Mountain Dew from the kitchen and stole to the quiet of my bedroom. I sat on the bed, crying, looking at all the bottles lined up, ready to go. I rocked back and forth on the bed holding my stomach.
I just wanted the pain to stop!
I picked up a bottle of pills and wrenched open the lid. I poured a cluster of pills into my hand and put them into my mouth. I popped open the fizzing can, ready to gulp.
Something inside me stirred. It wasn’t the pills or Mountain Dew.
That stranger’s smile – somehow awoke hope and returned it to me. I spit the melting pills into the toilet and flushed the Mt. Dew. I went back to my bedroom; buried myself in the pillows and cried until I fell asleep.
The sun rose on Sunday, the 5th of July 1981. The 4th had passed. Jay was married. I was alive.
As fortune would have it, I had a doctor’s appointment that very Monday. I told the doctor that the pain had become unbearable and I couldn’t live with it anymore. He recommended that I see a colleague of his, one who specialized in helping people with chronic pain, like mine – a psychiatrist.
I was embarrassed, but, I would do anything to get rid of the burning pain. The doctor made a call. I was booked for the next day. So, there I was sitting in a psychiatrist’s office hoping to heal the ulcers – and maybe more.
That same week, Cathy called to say Mike had asked her for my phone number. She wanted to know if it would be okay if she gave it to him. Sure, I said.
He called right away – from Italy. We talked for hours – from Italy. I’m not sure who paid that bill! He was sweet and thoughtful. He asked questions about me that let me know he was genuine. We planned our first date once he returned.
I took a deep breath when I heard the knock on the door. I felt a bit like I was betraying Jay by going out with Mike. Still, I knew that door had closed.
Standing on the other of this door was an unexpected future. When I opened the door, Mike stood there, filling the open space, holding gifts he purchased for me in Italy. He wrapped them in colorful paper and bows. The first gift I unwrapped was a beautiful pink Venetian glass vase. The second was a bottle of my favorite liquor, Amaretto Disarrono – directly from Sarrono. I was impressed.
I still have that bottle.
For the next few years, Mike’s broad shoulders of friendship, and the doctor visits helped me find my way back to myself. Oh, I did plenty to test both the doctor and Mike. I dated lots of men. I figured there was safety in numbers. I kind of used them, really. Yet, whenever a man rejected me, I lamented how men were real jerks!
The doctor wrote notes, asked questions and made me angry just about every week. He said his job was to provoke thought. He certainly did that! My visits were like cleaning a closet. Drag it all out. Keep the truth. Throw out the garbage. It hurt.
Mike listened – and listened – and listened.
He assured me that not all men were creeps. I was an idiot. I never equated him with men. Though he certainly was one! He was so great to have as a friend.
Oh, he did tell me once that he loved me. I told him to stop. He was simply too nice, too thoughtful, too caring. Ick! I was too afraid to open my heart to anyone. Plus, I couldn’t imagine anything physical with him. He just wasn’t my “type.”
He told me that if he could be my friend, he would be content.
My family loved him. My sister-in-law, Chandra, said he was perfect for me. Yet, I fought any romantic feelings I may have had for him. I liked him as a friend and nothing more.
At least that is what I thought until I saw him with a girl at Steve and Cathy’s wedding. She flirted with him. I did not like that one bit.
Why? I could not get that thought out of my head.
During one of the psychiatrist visits, he asked me how my dating life was going. I told him, horribly. He asked where Mike was. I told him Mike’s work took him to England and France that week.
The doctor just smiled and said Mike sure had an interesting career. I agreed.
DR. HAWKINS SAID HE LIKED TO “STIR ME UP” FOR THE WEEK. I WAS ANGRY. HE MADE ME THINK. I DIDN’T LIKE IT – BUT …
The conversation had me thinking about all the men I dated. At that moment, I experienced a startling revelation. I realized the only thing these men had in common was ME! Could I be the problem?! How could I fix that?
On New Year’s Eve 1983, Mike invited back to Kentucky for a party. When I arrived and turned off the ignition, Mike was standing at the door, opening it like a chauffeur. He also carried a long box in hand.
There is no way Mike could know I wanted a true wind chime. My Aunt Joyce had a beautiful one at her cottage in Michigan. The chimes were like church organ pipes with harmonious resonance. Yet, when I opened the box, beautiful chrome pipes lay among tissue paper. I was astonished.
How could he know me so well?
We spent the whole evening together talking and playing games, including ping pong. I always thought I was pretty good at the game. It was obvious, he was much better than me. He won our first three games. He challenged me to one final game as the clock neared the stroke of midnight.
Then it happened. He let me win! Oh, I knew it. Still, I was thrilled with the victory. It was endearing he pretended to let me win.
When midnight struck, he kissed me – on the cheek.
What was it about this guy? He was always thinking about me and what made me happy. He was careful with my tender heart and never crossed the carefully laid established line.
This may sound funny, but, I realized I didn’t think about shaving my legs. He didn’t mind what size I was or how I wore my hair. And then when I thought I bounced my checkbook, he didn’t belittle. Rather, he gladly helped me find the error to balance the account. It was a bank error. He didn’t laugh at me once or make me feel stupid. It was during these reflections I knew he liked me for me.
I liked him too.
WHO ME? LOGICAL LIKE DR. SPOCK?
My heart softened. I made a logical decision based on common sense, not emotion. If I was to be married, this is the kind of person that I would feel comfortable with on a day to day basis.
The morning of New Year’s Day, I called my mother to tell her I was making a New Year’s resolution. I said was going to try to like Mike more than just a friend. Mom said she was surprised since I didn’t mention Mike very much.
Mike flew to France to fix a flan machine that same Monday morning. By nine o’clock on Wednesday night, January 5th, I decided to call him to share my great New Year’s resolution.
“Hello, Mike? I just called to tell you something. I want you to know, I’m going to try to like you more than a friend.”
“Uh, ok,” he said groggily.
“Oh, did I wake you up? Oh, it’s 3 a. m.? I’m sorry. I’ll talk to you later. ”
Oh, ok.” he said as he fumbled hanging up the phone.
Mike returned from France on Friday the 7th. By Saturday, the 8th, we were engaged. Other than the midnight kiss on the cheek, I had never kissed Mike. We shook hands on the deal. Then we went to the mall to buy an engagement ring.
Walking back to the car, I started crying. “How could you possibly want to marry
when I’m still in love with Ja
a a a ay
Mike took both of my hands, pulling them to his heart. He looked deeply into my eyes. He told me he knew there would always be a place in my heart for Jay. He wouldn’t expect less. But, Jay wasn’t there for me. He never would be.
Then Mike said, “I will always be here for you. I will never leave you.”
I knew Mike was telling the truth.
My feelings for Jay faded as my love for Mike grew.
TIME FLIES WHEN MARRIAGE AND FAMILY HAPPENS
Mike and I were married September 1983. I loved the wonder of discovering something new about each other, laughing when we did something silly, like turning soup bowls or doilies into party hats.
I loved that my big burly, world-traveling man. He wore bib overalls and had his ear pierced on a dare when he was in Australia during one trip. He wore a green Peridot, my birthstone.
Our greatest joy came with the birth of our daughter, Emily in 1985.
In a way, giving life to Mike’s child was my way of thanking him for saving my life. Emily shines with the same wisdom and love that Mike gave. She also has the same passionate blue eyes as his.
WHAT? YOU ARE STILL IN PAIN?
Some years later, our medical insurance changed. I needed to find a new gastroenterologist. Yes, I still had stomach troubles. This doctor discovered that my problem was not anorexia. It was gall bladder disease – one of the worst cases he had ever seen, he said. It was amazing, once they removed my gallbladder, the pain of the past 10 years magically disappeared.
Finally, free of pain, I was content and happy with the life Mike, Emily and I had created together. Mike brought the best out in me. I believe I brought the best out
him too. Our 19-year marriage was solid and happy. We enjoyed watching Emily grow. Mike continued to travel the world. He was always home for the holidays. No matter what country or city Mike worked, his daily phone calls made him ever present in our lives.
ALL IS NOT WELL
Our comfortable life changed forever on Easter Sunday, 2001.
Mike loved mowing the lawn. We had an acre or so. He’d sit on his John Deer and went up and down the hilly topography thinking. When he was finished, he came into the house. He was wearing one of those muscle shirts that showed the top part of his chest. I hated those shirts. I saw something on him that looked like a tick. I reached over to remove it. He slapped my hand away and drew back.
“It’s not a tick,” he said. “It’s a mole.”
I grabbed his shirt by the straps and pulled him to me.
“What do you mean it’s not a tick?”
I looked closer.
It was no bigger than the tip of a No. 2 pencil eraser, smaller than my pinkie fingernail. It was a bluish color, like an engorged tick, with white in the middle.
Then he took my hand and pressed it under his right arm. “Do you think it has anything do to with this?” he asked. He placed my fingers on a lump, a BIG lump. It was the size of a golf ball. It was hard like a golf ball too.
Monday morning, I managed to get an emergency appointment with the doctor. They sent a sample of the mole to the Mayo Clinic.
By this time Emily was 17. She was a finishing her junior year in high school. We were standing together in the kitchen when the phone rang. Our worst fears were confirmed by the lab results from Mayo Clinic. The mole was melanoma. Freckles
amok. We were also told Mike had diabetes and needed insulin shots.
Emily and I fell into each other’s arms crying.
Once Mike got home from work, the three of us sat down together. We told him what the doctor said. He was so calm!
“Well, I’ll be,” he said.
Within the week, Mike’s surgeon removed the mole, the lump, and four suspicious lymph nodes. He labeled the cancer third stage. He said the surgery was guardedly successful. Unfortunately, small bits of melanoma escaped from the lymph nodes, traveling to Mike’s lungs, bone, and brain.
There is no cure for Melanoma.
We looked for hope in clinical trials at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
Mike spent months at the Institute. He was a willing volunteer. He let the doctors there do all kinds of procedures that could take down a lesser man. Mike said at least he could help others by what the doctors would learn from him. Maybe he could save his daughter’s life or grandchild’s life. Mike’s body went through torture. In spite of his pain, his spirit never faltered.
He made jokes. He called himself the Michelin Man when one of the trial chemicals blew his body up to three times his normal size. Months later he became the incredible shrinking man, thin and gaunt.
Fate was not on our side. The doctors at the Institute found Mike’s cancer spread to his brain. This ended his ability to pursue any further studies or tests. Our last trip to Maryland. He came home to die.
Hospice arranged for his comfort and care.
Family, friends, and co-workers surrounded Mike with incredible support and love. I became his nurse, giving shots and checking blood sugar. Emily and I listened to him trying to expel cancer with what seemed like never-ending coughs and then waiting to hear him catch his breath.
Mike tried to keep his mind keen. His Caribbean blue eyes still twinkled. Despite his positive outlook, his body was failing. His legs and arms became sluggish.
By now Emily was a senior, finishing her high school marching band career. The school recognized band parent, along with their senior band member at the last football home game of the season.
Walking was difficult for Mike. He refused to use a wheelchair.
With all the strength he could muster, my husband, Emily’s father, walked down the slippery hill, down the many steps to the football field.
He held onto my arm as we stood for more than 20 minutes waiting for half-time. His mother, Betty, stood close by in case we needed her. I worried that Mike may die right there in the night air, listening to the seniors play their last show. He was weaker than I’d seen him.
Nothing would keep him from standing next to Emily. He took Emily’s arm when she came to stand with us. He held onto her, beaming. He stood gloriously sharing her as his pride and joy in front of the entire Alexandria community.
PRIDE GUSHED – LIFE FLOWED AWAY
When the celebration concluded, Mike and I slowly climbed back up the steps and up the hill. Walking back up was much more difficult. He had to stop for many rests. He struggled. His smile didn’t flag.
As we drove home, Mike’s blue eyes glistened with tears. He was never one to gush, but that night tears gushed. Pride gushed.
“She’s somethin’ that kid,” he said.
The rest of the ride home was quiet. Mike’s contentment was palpable.
During the coming weeks, Mike’s body became weaker and weaker. He slipped in and out of consciousness.
People came to visit, share stories, and laugh. We really did laugh a lot.
One afternoon, Steve and Cathy visited. Hospice set up a hospital bed in our living room. We put a rollaway bed at the foot we could stay together.
Mike needed help getting from the kitchen to the bed. When Steve and Cathy lifted him to stand, his hips swayed.
Hanging from their shoulders he said, “Well, I may not be able to walk, but I can still disco if I want to!”
With that he shook his hips, swaying back and forth some more, laughing. He smiled. We cried.
“I may be dying, but it’s not going to kill me,” he said.
Mike was amazing. I couldn’t believe this beautiful man, whom I adored, was going to leave us. We held each other. I cried. He tried to reassure me.
“You’ll be fine, Kiddo. Just look at all we have accomplished. Look at our daughter. No worries. If the Big Guy wants me, I’m ready.”
One more time he asked to go to the bathroom. He wanted to walk there on his own. The room was a few short steps away. I knew he did not have the strength to walk to it.
I said, “No, please just stand here and use the urinal. If you fall, I can’t pick you back up.”
I sat on the bed holding the plastic container to him. He looked at me helplessly. When he finished he sat back down on the bed, next to me.
We held hands in the silent, moonlit night.
“This is sad,” he said.
This was the first time he said how he felt about dying. I felt his heart breaking. My heart was breaking too.
“I know,” I cried. “I hate to see you go.”
“I know,” he said.
I told him I loved him. I thanked him for our life.
“I love you. I will always love you,” he said.
We kissed again.
Those were his last words to me.
I helped him lay down in the bed. I tucked the sheets around his swollen feet. He grimaced at the pain of my touch. I was helpless.
I held his hand until he fell to sleep.
I lay down on my bed. I couldn’t sleep. His breathing was loud, staggered, and fitful. I hummed childhood songs to soothe him and calm my own fear. I sang to him all night long.
I knew Mike’s time was near. I experienced my grandmother, mother, and a dear friend’s death.
When morning arrived, Mike’s parents came over. Emily stayed home from school.
The sun was shining outside. The school bus went by. We could hear the children’s rambunctious laughter. Price is Right was on TV.
Emily leaned close to Mike’s ear. She told him she loved him and that she would be fine. She promised that she would take care of me. She said she would do her best to keep me out of trouble.
When he heard her words, Mike’s breathing quieted. His face became serene, with a near smile.
He slipped deeper between this life and the next.
I heard the rattle. I remembered the sound of death.
I dove onto Mike’s shoulder and wrapped my arms around him, holding onto him as hard as I could. How I wished I could hold him here with us!
I whispered, “Thank you and I love you,” over and over until he drew his last breath.
Grief overwhelmed Emily. Mike’s parents cried in disbelief that their baby boy was gone. I lay on him weeping. How could this wonderful man be taken from us so quickly and oh, too soon!
Steve and Cathy arrived with their love. Friends appeared on the doorstep. The priest came to give last rites.
We surrounded Mike’s body, holding hands. We prayed, the Priest sprinkled Holy Water and blessed him. All the while our two Scottish Terriers circled under the bed.
For a death, Mike’s passing was a sacred moment, surrounded by pure love.
I am more than grateful I met Mike on that 4th of July 19 years before. What I thought was the worst day of my life was truly the best day.
Mike’s love for me is an example of what God’s love is like.
Love lets you know you are safe. Love lifts you up. Love is grace – a second chance – a gift we are all worthy to receive.
When life gets harsh, love makes you stronger.
And, when you have to say goodbye, Love Carries You.