I can’t sleep.
Lately, I’ve been so tied up in knots, that by the time I fall into bed, my brain just won’t shut off. As so often happens, it just races from thought to thought, memory to memory, unfinished chore to don’t-feel-like-finishing chore (and the ensuing guilt thereof), ad nauseum. It’s a never ending montage of things flitting through my mind.
This evening is no different, but for a reason that is not uncommon to any of us, but one that we don’t wish to face until we have absolutely no choice. A dear, sweet man that I have know since I was barely a teenager has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given only a few short months to live. Sadly, I have not seen or spoken to him since my brother’s death in 2008.
A bit of history…We used to live in a very quiet, old-growth-tree lined street off of 15th and Belmont. A good sized sloping front lawn–4 or 5 stone steps up from the sidewalk, then 6 or so steps up to the front porch and into the house. I’ve always wanted to eventually own another one very much like it. Maybe it was the great memories of growing up there (it was the first house my Dad was actually able to buy, as opposed to renting; $100 a month on contract, something unheard of these days); maybe it was the feeling of finally belonging somewhere–we moved a lot growing up. Every couple of years, uprooted from another school, saying goodbye to the few friends that I’d managed to make (yes, I know–it’s hard to believe now, but I was a pretty shy kid). Maybe it was just that the house, although technically not big enough for 10 people in the strictest sense, was one of those aged, classic homes–large sturdy bannisters, floor heat vents, open arched entryways from room to room, so much “je ne sais quoi” that most older homes just always seem to have.
We got to know our neighbors, across the street and down 3 houses; the one on the corner that had the three adorable little girls I used to babysit for; the boy (John) that I had my first crush on–same side of the street, 2 down from us in a duplex. The wonderful park that was at the end of the block and 3 up–Colonel Summers Park and yes, it’s still there, where I and my 7 brothers and sisters spent all of our summers and many other evenings and weekends through the years. Buckman grade school and Washington High School, both within walking distance.
Directly across the street was David Jerome, his pretty young wife Kay and their daughter, Kristy. I don’t know exactly what he did at that time, but I knew she stayed home and took care of Kristy and from time to time when they went out together, I would babysit. I came to spend a lot of time there, even when not babysitting as Kay was someone I looked up too. I was a 14 year old, impressionable girl–eager to learn more about life and, in my naivete–learning some less than parent approved habits. Actually, just one–this was when I first started smoking, so going across the street to spend time away from the strictures of home and the decadence of “getting away with something” were greatly enhanced.
Their little family and our big family became great friends and spent a lot of time together as well. Barbeques, picnics, gatherings of all sorts and we had a lot of fun. David was a bit of a flirt, even though married, he used to tease me on occasion and say that he was going to give me whisker burns–which of course, sent me off into a paroxsym of giggles (once I actually determined just what the heck that meant!!). As I got a little older, that sort of teasing remarkably started having the opposite affect and it began to really piss me off, so that I actually developed a dislike for him. He and Kay were also going through some things; I would find out later that their marriage wasn’t working out which also changed the content of our relationship.
He eventually divorced, remarried and moved to another part of town. We still saw him, just not as much as before. Kay and Kristy had also moved and we actually didn’t see them much anymore after that.
As I grew older and into my later teens and then 20’s I had my share of boyfriends and relationships–I was picky and usually when I was with someone, it had a tendency to last quite a while. Then, one day, I ran into David again. He had divorced his 2nd wife and when I ran into him at my parents house, there was quite a difference in our connection this time. I had run the gamut of teenage angst and tittering, to disapproval and disdain and now was seeing him in quite a different light.
Obviously what I’m leading up to is this–yes, we became involved and were together for quite a long time. He loved boats; he lived on them, he repaired them, he built them. As a matter of fact that is how he eventually made his livelihood; he has a gorgeous shop where he builds boats. By hand. Chris Craft wooden boats. Beautiful boats.
We spent many, many, many nights on his boat. Up and down both the Willamette and the Columbia. Bobbing along under the Morrison Bridge as the Rose Festival Navy ships used to come into dock–there’s nothing quite like being there and enjoying the majesty, the hustle and bustle, the whole city seemed to come to a stop, just watching it all. And we were right there on the water, the best seat in the house.
Other times, we’d just head off downstream and find some quiet little spot, drop anchor and enjoy an evening or two before heading back to the world. Before I-205 was even a thought, we’d run over to Government Island and drop anchor there–climb up on deck, shed our clothes and laze in the warmth of the sunny days. The water lapping gently against the hull of the boat, eyes closed and absolutely nothing else to think of; what a truly glorious way to spend a day!
I never knew exactly just what my parents thought of our relationship; after all, he’d been married twice before, we had this whole prior “non relationship” relationship and to top it off, he was 14 years my senior. He was older, much more experienced, worldly and I’m guessing they just accepted it at face value and chose not to delve too deeply into just what else our relationship might have entailed.
Eventually I’m pretty sure he determined that I was too young for him; we had a LOT of good times together and I wouldn’t change a single thing about any of it–but we also found we were at a crossroads and both wanted different things.Those things we weren’t going to find with each other. We had talked about marriage, but only halfheartedly, so it really wasn’t anything that was ever going to happen. We went our separate ways, still very much friends. He met a few ladies and eventually settled down, as did I. He shed living in the boat on the river and moved into a house; I moved 300 miles away from Portland for 30 years, making many trips home over those years. We’d see each other at the occasional family gathering, but they started coming fewer and farther between.
When my Dad passed away at just a few weeks past his 74th birthday in 2004, he was there, with his wife. A gathering of friends and family, past and present, all talking, hugging, remembering–promising to get together more often. We even tried to do a huge family reunion–I’d get a few people interested, then that interest would drop off and nothing would be done.
Then my brother Stuart died in 2008. David and Susan were there, as were other family and friends. I spent some time visiting with both of them at my Mom’s place, then went over to their place to look at the newest boat in progress. Susan went into the house while he and I spent an hour or more talking about everything and nothing. Me, admiring his boat and marveling at how he was able to incorporate his love of boats into a life that he truly loved. He, asking about my marriage/divorce and the troubles I was going through in that regard. That is the last time I spent any time with him. Strangely enough, I’ve just recently managed to reconnect with a few other friends that our family knew back then and had been on the verge of calling him as well.
Last night my sister Melanie called. Asked if I’d gotten the email from another sister Misty. Couldn’t find it at first, then got on the computer and there it was. It didn’t sink in at first when Melanie called, but as I looked at the email from Misty, there, in black and white and highlighted instructions in many different colors (when, where, what, how–all the questions and information there in one succinct missive)–it finally hit me. This wonderful, funny and gregarious man that I’d spent a good portion of my young adulthood and then early twenties with, was in the VA hospital with Stage 4 lung cancer. He is 75 years old; one year older that my Dad was, yet somehow I don’t see him that way. How could he possibly be?
Four to five months, that’s what the doctors have said. How they determine that is beyond me, but, as I’ve done for so many years, I looked it up, did my research. Found out just how they do determine those numbers. It’s a scary, hateful thing to see in front of you, I cannot imagine what was going through his mind when he was told that. What Susan was thinking, how was she going to deal with it. How were any of us going to deal with it. You just do. You don’t have a choice. When someone is an integral part of your life and then gets ripped away, piece by piece (as most cancers are wont to do), you simply do what you have to.
My Mom and Misty are going over later this morning. Melanie and her husband, Tim, also later this morning. I will wait and go over later in the afternoon. Tease him, smile and cry, hold his hand and hug him and remember only the wonderful times we shared. Give him a hard time about the huge bowl of ice cream with marshmallow creme (ugh!) that he used to eat before bedtime most nights. Listen to his raucous laughter (yes, I’m pretty sure it’s still there) and pick on him just so I don’t have to feel so sad and maybe, just for a moment, he won’t either. Hopefully, he’ll have more than the time they’ve determined he has left, but that may be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part.