Her mother set us up on our first date.
“My daughter just graduated. She’s really creative, very cute, and, well, you’re always joking about having nothing to do on the weekends — so, I thought…”
“Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” followed by chocolate pancakes at IHOP, was our first meeting.
Within months, we lived together – much to the chagrin of her parents. Before a year passed on the calendar, we were married; moving from Redding to Bakersfield. I worked as a nighttime DJ starting at 5:00 PM. Her job began at 7:00 AM. Arriving home at one AM, I’d wake her up so we could spend time together before going back to sleep. At six AM, she’d get me up so we could do the same, before I returned to bed. When you’re in your twenties, you can do it.
Two years later, she was pregnant and we relocated to the Northcoast. A couple years passed and our second son arrived.
People who have a baby because they think it will bring them closer together are horribly misguided. The added stress and cost of childrearing, plus the loss of half our income, chipped away at our fairy tale castle. Home ownership and long work hours accelerated the decay. Dragging myself home exhausted at day’s end was her long-awaited cue to relax, leaving me with household and child chores until I collapsed on the couch. There was no “us,” only “she” and “me.”
Drifting ever further apart, we became resentful and angry. Overeating was my method of handling it; she had her own vices. Our house became an armed camp. The marriage counselor eventually recommended divorce attorneys.
For awhile we co-parented; one week “on,” one week “off.” But while I dealt with my demons through therapy and weight reduction, she followed a different road, eventually severing contact with us and moving away.
Know that my intent is not to apply blame.
The cause of our breakup was not her fault nor was it mine; together we were a mis-matched blend; never meant to share a life. Apart, who knows what would have happened? That is also not to say that many good things didn’t come from our time together.
The last time I spoke with her was actually pleasant. I think she was too embarrassed to reach out to our sons so I’d said I’d be glad to build a bridge, but construction began too late. Years of smoking took their toll; she was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. In an attempt to heal 15 years of distance, my son invited her to his wedding. She planned to attend but it was not to be, her health failing fast.
This week, at 58, surrounded by close family, she passed.
Neither my sons nor myself know how to handle the whirlwind of emotions swirling around her death. As one told me, “I look at her many ways more as a good friend I used to know than I do as ‘mom.’ After all, I haven’t seen her since high school.”
That doesn’t take away the sense of loss or sorrow we all feel.
Each of us is flawed – and each of us is as good as we need to be, the strange paradox of being human. Doing the best we can, we muddle forward, trying to figure out the rules, hoping to leave the planet a little better than how we found it. It’s horribly sad that her time on Earth couldn’t last longer.
Mostly, I remember good times; both of us wearing white carpenter jeans and black t-shirts on our weekends together; working as a team at the radio station, driving to Gold Beach for short getaways. I will also never forget how well she could sing.
When she sang, I’m convinced angels gathered to listen.
The difference between then and now is she’s closer to the audience.
Rest in Peace Joan. You are – and always will be – loved and missed.