Wait for me . . .

Posted on May 30, 2009

“After all
The dead ends and the lessons learned
After all
The stars have turned to stone
There’ll be peace
Across the great unbroken void
All benign
In your time
You’ll be fine
In your time”
. . . . . “Bob Seeger

Why is it whenever I think of Chris now I hear Bob Seeger songs playing in the background? Sometimes, I still can feel my part of the earth move beneath him – I can feel him against me – smell him – sense his presence as surely were he still here. Just when I could succumb to that memory and snuggle down into the safety, the warmth – the sweetness of it, I remember the day that we were laying under a tree out in the middle of nowhere. He was stroking my body – my hands in his long, beautiful hair and then – there it was, his hair coming out in my hands. There went my dream. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I met Chris because my friend – the one who helped to save my life – sent him to see me for help in finding a job. I was working at the Dept. of Labor in those days and going to graduate school at night. As he walked up to me, I had to tilt my head back to get a real look at him. He was 6′ 4″ but seemed taller in those boots he wore. He was Scandanavian – like a cross between Odin the Wanderer and some modern day biker. Tattoos on both arms – and long, flowing Titian blonde hair. I don’t know another color for it – it wasn’t blonde – but it wasn’t really red either. The only way to describe it was to reference you to those paintings by Titian – that’s what it looked like. He was so big and his body was rock hard – but the smile, oh God that smile was so warm,so soft, so disarming. I think I noticed it almost before anything else – even before his blue eyes. They weren’t of the cold, ice blue variety – these were deep, dark blue and when you looked into them it seemed that you were looking into some lake that had no bottom. They didn’t twinkle – they didn’t reflect anything – they just were. If they weren’t a part of a face with that smile on it, I’m certain they would have frightened me. Still – even with the smile, one was not quite sure what to make of him. Was the smile genuine or was it like a mockery of everything around him that he only wore like a gambler’s poker face – to deceive the opponents? I don’t know that I ever figured that out – but after a while it just didn’t matter to me anymore.

How do you reconcile in your mind that this big, strapping, Titan of a man had a disease that could cripple him? He’d recently been diagnosed with anklosing spondylitis. Not a lot of people know about this insidious disease – it’s sort of like rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the first symptoms are stiffening and chronic aches – in your hips and legs – more markedly after periods of inactivity. There are drugs with which to treat it – but like lupus it can also go into a sort of remission. The drugs are steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – not nice to your system. He was trying to take medicine and remain active. Unfortunately -his occupation had been as merchant marine. Whether he was going to be able to keep doing that was dubious. In his past, he told me, he’d also had an addiction to heroin, which he got rid of on his own. Addicts can’t take pain killers unless they want to reactivate their addiction. His other, more shady occupation – one I did not find out about until later – was, well I guess they’re called soldiers of fortune – mercenaries. He fought other people’s wars for money. I don’t know why – he never told me. He didn’t take just any job – but he did it. And I never knew why, when or where. He didn’t discuss that readily and I wasn’t into prying him about it. It wasn’t here and it wasn’t when he was around me.

No matter his past or his present – regardless of how he earned a living, he still piqued my curiosity. He was larger than life – he amazed me. I’d never met anyone like him. I wanted to hear all of his story – not just part of it. I didn’t know then that I was going to be a part of it.

He’d come into my office now and then and perhaps several months would pass and I didn’t see him. Then, he’d return and just pop in. We’d talk – whether he was really looking for a job or not – well, I just couldn’t tell you. One day, after this had gone on for a good while – he up and asked me if I wanted to go to the ‘country’ with him. The ‘country”? What the hell was he meaning there? I asked him – just where is this ‘country’? He wanted me to go to his home – out in the boonies and spend the day. Somehow, this seemed like a dangerous proposition to me, but I have never run from dangerous propositions and without asking any further details, I said yes.

He told me how to get there – it was not in the same city I was living in – but in one of the smaller, rural towns surrounding it. It certainly seemed out of character for me to be going somewhere to meet a man. According to my upbringing, that wasn’t ladylike. My head said he was not a person to trust. My heart told my head, “Shut up. ” Damn, I knew better than this, but I was drawn to him like a moth to the flame and so – there I was driving down a back road to get to his house. When I got there, I found that I wasn’t the only person there – a group of his friends had arrived before me. People were mingling about – smoking dope – even outside the air was thick with the smell of it – and drinking beer. Someone was cooking on a pit. I felt nervous, uncertain – like a rat dancing behind the piper and not knowing why he didn’t run the other way. Then, he walked up, flung open the door, smiled that smile all over me and snitched me right outta my car. When he smiled, I knew I was beyond doubts or looking back. “Alea iacta est “ The die was cast and I had crossed the Rubicon in the arms of Ceasar.

His friends were okay. They weren’t college students like me. The were nice to me and although some would label them biker types and renegades, I knew I was among good people. Some, I estimated, lived on the ‘fringes’ of the legal system for sure. I suspected that some others were dealing. A few were married and had children. Most had been friends since childhood and their easy comradarie made me feel comfortable with them.

I was there all day – drinking, smoking,dancing, playing – getting sunburned being outside. It was just one of those wonderful, happy days.

“Stood there boldly
Sweatin’ in the sun
Felt like a million
Felt like number one
The height of summer
I’d never felt that strong
Like a rock” 1

Around midnight, he decided I should not drive – not that I could argue the point. I was not used to smoking that much dope and I had giggled and danced gleefully for hours..now I was just there – like a happy spectator. Right away – I figured he was going to bring me to his bed and I knew I had no will left in me to deny him anything. His conquest of me was going to be a fait accompli’ – before it got started – without a single kiss. I was wrong. He put me to bed – and then he just lay down next to me and watched me. I kept waiting – waiting. Nothing. His eyes gave away nothing. It was semi dark, but I could see them. Those eyes made me anxious and so I tried to talk – to break the silence. When I did, he shushed me and smiled that smile. I’m not ordinarily a woman to be ‘shushed’ – but that smile – that all knowing smile – and his finger laid light upon my lips. “Alea iacta est. “ The anxiety returned a couple times and I tried to talk, to be met with the same response – ‘shushing’ by the smile. I don’t remember being sleepy, but that’s how I fell asleep that night – and in the morning, when I woke up – he was already up and outside.

We had encounters like this for a while. He still ‘came and went’ in my life. When he was gone – he was very gone. No phone calls – no way to reach him – no questions asked – just gone. Then, out of the clean blue sky – he’d reappear just as suddenly as he left.

We were close in heart and mind – but not in the flesh. I’m not saying that he never kissed me. That would be a lie. I would be lying to tell you he hadn’t touched me – he had done that as well. Each time he did, it stopped just as soon as it started – like an impulse he quickly staunched. Because of odd behavior on his part, I contented myself with being his sidekick – the captain and the kid. Sometimes, I questioned silently why he chose for it to be this way – but I never asked him. I had never been with a man who did not try to have me like this. Sometimes, it drove me crazy – but in the end, I just accepted it. I think that because of my unsavory experiences with my ex-husband, being sexual with him was not a priority in my life at that point.

He reappeared – this time with a goatee and a mustache. It made him seem more menacing – until he smiled that smile. Thinking of it still makes me tingle and feel warm. It was that infectious. Anyway – we were at some bar in a little stick town. It wasn’t anything special, just a honkey-tonk bar . No bands played there – just a jukebox. We drank and danced and talked. Then, he said – “Let’s go”. I followed him out of the door and hopped onto the bike behind him. Behind us, through the open doors of the bar, I could hear from the juke box . . .

“Roll, roll me away,
Won’t you roll me away tonight?
I too am lost, I feel double-crossed
And I’m sick of what’s wrong and what’s right
We never even said a word,
We just walked out and got on that bike
And we rolled
And we rolled clean out of sight”

Ninety miles an hour down the two lane highway, then the gravel road to his doorstep. He got off the bike, took my hand like he was some nobleman and I his lady. I thought we were playing a game until he pulled me next to him. We stood there for a second, staring at each other in confusion – questioning the other with our eyes. “Alea iacta est. “ It seemed like a long forever, but was just a second before we both began to struggle – struggling to pull away clothes – to find each others lips. We were struggling to pull away the past, the hurt, the baggage and become one in some act of healing and redemption. We never even made it into the house. Until the day I die – I’ll always associate the stars in the heavens with that night. I felt safe and at peace. It was, I think Odin the Wanderer to whom I willingly gave my body and soul again and again and again under the stars until I couldn’t be sure anymore if there were stars in the sky or if he had performed some other feat of magic that made me see them. I was certain he was no mortal man.

Our union did not really change anything in terms of how often we saw each other – not for a while, at least. He still came and went and came and went. I kept working and kept going to school. When we got to be together – in the Biblical sense – we were. It was never enough. We both were insatiable. Then, he noticed a knot of some kind right next to his collarbone. He’d been feeling tired and haggard so he went to the doctor figuring it was an infection. That began round after round of tests. In this middle of this -the doctor thought he might have picked up some odd parasite or something overseas. It took about three weeks, but the results were conclusive – he had Stage IV Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. That’s cancer of the lymphatic system – and stage IV is as bad as it gets before being fatal. Of course, he responded by being in denial. I knew better – but started making some calls and doing some research. Stanford had some promising results with those who were in stage IV. Can we get him to California in time? He just continued to deny what the doctors told him until the second knot came up – under his arm. By then the one under his collarbone was the size of a small egg. That’s when he knew he had to do something besides just give up or continue to lie to himself. He began very aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. They don’t remove those lumps – they seek to shrink them with treatment.

He was so sick. He’d do chemo for a few days at a time. Then, the chemo did him. Vomiting, weakness – could not eat or drink a thing. Radiation wasn’t any better. It just made the effects of the chemo even worse, if that was possible. This went on for months.
One day – he’d actually felt well enough that we had gone to watch some people mud racing. We’d come back to his house and were laying in the shade under a tree. He was stroking my body and I was running my hands through his hair. . . his wonderful, Titian hair ….until it started to come out in my hands. I shook the first part off – thinking I must have caught my fingernail in his hair. Then, it happened again. This one was a big hunk of hair. He didn’t even feel it. My heart sank. Oh God, no. For a minute I just lay there, staring at a handful of hair while it dawned on me that this was some evil omen. After all this chemo and radiation without losing his hair – why now – why now when he seemed to be feeling better? When I showed him – for I could not make my mouth say the words – his reaction was swift.

We got up, went into the house and he got out a razor and a pair of scissors. “Get rid of it” he told me. I could only look at him in disbelief at first. “Not your hair”, I thought. I looked at him quizically to be sure he really meant this. “Do it” he said. So, with him sitting on a stool on the porch, I took the scissors and cut it off so short, then finished the job by shaving his head. I handed him the scissors and the razor and I offered up my own hair – if he was to be so mutilated, I wanted it also. He refused me. This broke my heart so badly – because at that moment, I think I knew it was indeed an evil omen and the real fight was over. I kept a stiff upper lip – I only cried a little and not where he could tell. He seemed very pleased at the results . . . barked that it made him look like a pirate. I couldn’t argue that point, but I still missed that hair. Little did I know that within four months, I would be missing more than his hair.

More chemo, more radiation. Days of hope, days of despair. He was around all the time now – no more trips away. He hadn’t the strength, or the time. There were always the side effects of that poison that they were trying to use to kill the cancer. Nausea, vomiting, diminished blood counts – you become prone to infections. He was at his mother’s house now a lot of the time – not his house. Next, his kidneys started to be erratic. He was retaining fluids. He called me one night. He was laying in a tub of warm water – trying to relax and started to get short of breath. The fluid was starting to fill his lungs. I told him to sit up straight. That seemed to help some. I stayed on the phone with him while he got out of the tub and then I told him he had to go to the hospital. He needed diuretics and he needed them now. He might need some oxygen. I asked him if he wanted me to meet him at the hospital. He said, “No”, he’d call me from there. Hours later – it must have been 3 or 4 in the morning, the phone rang. He told me they had started him on IV Lasix and oxygen. He said that he felt much better. He sounded better. Then, he told me “Go to sleep” – so I did. I didn’t think anything was going to happen. Everything seemed under control. In fact, when the phone rang hours later – I was sleeping hard. I remember saying “hello’ several times and getting no answer. I couldn’t hear anything in the background. I remember thinking it was a crank call because they did not hang up nor talk. Then, I went back to sleep.

They didn’t call me until that afternoon to tell me Chris died. How was a kid to know that the stars were about to fall from the sky – that a mountain was going to crumble? There should have been signs! There should have been more time! I should have been there with him! I should have had a chance to tell him …Aaargh…how would I have said goodbye anyway, I thought? How do you fix your lips to do that? That’s when I remembered the call and I knew it was him.

When you’re riding sixteen hours and there’s nothing much to do
And you don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through.
Say, here I am, on the road again. There I am, up on the stage.
Here I go, playing star again.
There I go, turn the page.”2

For me, there weren’t any stars left in the sky. Not then. Chris wanted a Viking funeral but his mother and immediate family objected to that. It would have seemed more fitting to me than putting him into a box in the ground – but that’s what they did. There was some talk amongst his friends of stealing into the cemetery under cover of darkness to retrieve him and fulfill his wishes. His mother would not have much liked that – but it was what he wanted and I hope they did it. I just could have no part of it. Having the stars go out once was once too often for me.

In the beginning, I tried to pretend that he was off on one of those trips again and that he would be back. I dreamed of him and he was so real and it was so sweet. I’ll never forget the night that a big Norse god came down to earth to shelter me against the wind. He’s somewhere just out of sight for now – probably on the sea. No matter what else happens to me in life – no matter if I ever love anyone else – I know that when I die, he’ll be waiting for me – and once again when I give myself to him, I’ll see all the stars in the heavens light up at once.

Last edited by katie on May 31, 2009, 10:22 am

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One response to “Wait for me . . .”

  1. Simply beautifully written.
    And the YouTube videos were well chosen.
    It was good to play them, whilst reading the story.
    Kind of fascinating to mix these different forms of expression. Photos, music, words. More to come later, eh? Video. Spoken word. Scrolling words.

    This is superb writing. Strong. Very, very feeling. Nostalgic. Yet, in a way, witty, and in a way, comforting. This IS life.
    We live it, dream it, write it, and then move on.
    Against the wind…

    And, sure, he’s around.

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