First, one of the poems I have written.
Rubyaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Rendered into English verse by Edward Fitzgerald
David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
The Secret Sharer (Die Heimliche Teilhaber), by Joseph Conrad
Animal Farm, by George Orwell
The Seventh Scroll, by Wilber Smith
The Cry and the Covenant, by Morton Thompson
Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
The Great Depression of 1990, by Ravi Batra
Rashamon and Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Fancies and Goodnights, by Isek Dinesen
Gregor Mendel (I named my second son Mark Gregor after this man and my grandfather)
William Shakespeare (to read it, hear it, see it, memorize it, recite it - one of the worlds great joys!)
Ignaz Phillip Semmelweis, the obstetrician subject of "The Cry and the Covenant", listed in the books above.
The Second Time Around
A Story of Love
by Duane F. Gerstenberger, MD
The alarm startled me awake at 4 a.m. It was called ‘Home Hospice Care’, and Paul, with his wife Cel, had been with her until midnight, when Mauri took over. Ruth, my wife, their mother, had come home from the hospital on Sunday, and this was Thursday morning. We were giving IV morphine around the clock, supplementing the continuous epidural that dripped morphine and an anesthetic.
Only our youngest, Mark, was missing. He was in England, acting in her place and at her request, as chaperone for two granddaughters on a high school trip. She had really wanted to go, but by about February, it was obvious that she wouldn’t be able to, so she asked Mark if he would take her place. Last week, in the hospital, she had made us promise that, no matter what happened, we would not call and spoil the trip for him and the granddaughters, and we felt we should obey her wishes, though we knew he would be devastated when he returned.
I dressed quickly, threw some water on my face, and went out to the dining room, the table now replaced by a hospital bed. Without so much as a ‘Good Morning’ to my daughter, I asked when she had given the last dose of morphine. "About 3:15", she said, sleepily. Rather than prepare another dose immediately, I went to her bedside. I looked at her for a moment, and then, as tears welled up in my eyes (as they do now), I said simply, "She’s dead".
My wife of 43 wonderful years had just died of her cancer. I suppose we had been more fortunate than many - she had almost 10 years after the first mastectomy, 10 pretty good years. I had fully retired 17 years ago, from the Army Medical Corps, and I will always be thankful that I had chosen to retire, and spend the time with her. Even after the metastases were discovered two and a half years ago, a course of chemotherapy had seemed to stop the progression, and just last November we spent a wonderful two weeks in Italy, seeing Florence, Rome, Venice. She stood on the balcony where Juliett had been (according to the story), and waved to me as I took her picture. But in January, it had started again, with a vengence. The chemotherapy was not working as well now, and when the back pain started, the radiation didn’t help enough, and the epidural became necessary. It wasn’t until about a week before her death, that we realized she was not going to get better this time.
The next few days are a blur - all the calls, the relatives arriving, the memorial service. And then everyone, including my children, went home to their families, and I was alone - more alone than I had ever been in my life. I still could not allow sorrow for myself; it was still obviously all for her. After all, she was the one who had suffered and died. I was still relatively young and healthy, at 65, and how could I feel sorry for myself? I hated the euphemism, ‘I lost my wife’, as if I were the one to pity.
Over the next few short weeks, I knew that I couldn’t stay ‘here’. ‘Here’ the memories were too strong. At night I would think about the times I had wondered if I would have to start the car in the garage, open the door to the house, and go ‘with her’, if the pain got too bad. I had to move somewhere, anywhere, I had to keep busy. In a word, I had to start a new life: this one had ended on the 4th of June.
By August, I had decided to check out Sun City West, Arizona, for that ‘new life’. When I flew in to Phoenix and rented a car, it was hot! I mean, really hot! I drove the 20 miles or so to SCW, as it is called locally, looked at the neat houses on streets so clean you could eat off of them, at the golf courses, and at a woodworking shop that would make any woodworkers heart sing, and, you know, I forgot how hot it was, because I knew I had found home! Even with that strong feeling of home, however, I didn’t want to burn all my bridges, so I went looking for a rental house that would let me test the area for a year or two.
It took only three days to check out the rentals, and lease a nice house for a year with a second year option. I managed to move my departure up three days, and headed back to Seattle to start packing. Now I had lots to do, and not nearly as much time to think and get teary-eyed. I moved quickly, and within three weeks, my furniture had been packed and was on it’s way south. I would follow slowly in the car, so as not to arrive much before the movers got there.
Though still depressed, I was also excited about beginning my new life as I started driving toward it. A jumble of thoughts ricocheted around my head as the driving became semi automatic. Almost prime, among them, was the thought that I had had for some time, the strong conclusion that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life alone. I had had 43 years of almost ideal marriage to a wonderful woman. I just couldn’t conceive of never again sitting with someone and saying "Look at that beautiful sunset", or "What would you say about a trip to Yosemite next spring?"
Of course I knew I couldn’t replace Ruth, or find a substitite for her. I wasn’t naive, I was cold sober and logical - love wasn’t necessary, if indeed even possible, and so I would look for a ‘companion’, someone with whom I could comfortably share my life and resources, such as they were.
By the time I was into Oregon, I began to think of characteristics I would look for in this ‘companion’. I had heard, of course, that there were many more widows than widowers, and so believed there would be some choice for me. So, let’s see, if there is some choice, what would my ‘ideal’ companion be like? Well, age isn’t too important, I suppose she should be between about 45 and 65, though I didn’t expect to run into too many widows at the younger end. I would hope that she would be ‘attractive’, whatever that means. Of course, I would expect her to be a little on the plump side, as that seems to be the norm, and I could accept that. And she would be a good cook, perhaps not ‘gourmet’, but good, and I would help with cooking and clean-up. I wasn’t looking for or expecting a slave.
There was one characteristic, however, that kept coming up high on the list in importance: she should be a ‘lady’. I couldn’t abide someone who dressed sloppily, didn’t care about her appearance, used foul language or told raw jokes. Her ‘carriage’ would be more important than her shape. I would prefer her to be ‘refined’. Then again, perhaps I wouldn’t have as much choice as some people seemed to believe!
The rest of the trip and the first few weeks in my new home passed in a blur of activity. Of course, the tears continued off and on when I looked at our family picture, or thought of the wife and life that were gone. The thought of my future ‘companion’ was frequently with me, as well, especially whenever I was in public. My eye roamed, but seldom lighted. Perhaps the numbers were not so great after all.
* * *
Let’s see. If she’s attractive and friendly, I’d better get over this reserve and shyness, and ask her out. What do I have to lose? One lady about my age spoke friendly to me in an office, and she had no ring on. I couldn’t ask her out in front of the other secretaries and customers there, so what could I do? I went there again, and she wasn’t there! However, some days later, I saw her again, and she remembered me, which plucked-up my courage a little. When I got home, I picked-up the phone and called the office, shaking a bit, and asked for her. I described who I was and asked if she would like to have dinner with me.
We ‘dated’ several times, including dinner at her house. By the fourth date, I hadn’s so much as held her hand. I’m obviously not very good at this ‘courting’ business, after so many years. We continued dating, and eventually did have a hug and kiss, but of course, there was no electricity, and I wasn’t expecting any.
While seeing her, my eye continued to roam. I approached one attractive lady, without ring, at the golf course, only to discover that she was married. She claimed to be flattered, and asked if she could give my number to a divorced friend, and, of course, I said, "Why not?"
The friend called, and we met for cocktails, but when we parted, I realized that she had avoided all of my questions, which wasn’t my idea of ‘getting acquainted’, so I didn’t call her. She did call again, however, and I accompanied her to a party.
In the meantime, I had gone to the "55 Plus Singles" club meeting, and several other organizations, and had dropped hints to several wives that an introduction to their widowed friends would be appreciated. This resulted in some party invitations and some other ‘dates’.
Although only a couple months had passed, I began to think that this business of finding a companion was going to be much harder than I realized. I thought about the ladies I had been out with, and wondered if one of them would be the one. Nothing particular made any one stand out, but I had no reason to believe adding more possibilities would change that. Yet, I couldn’t quite imagine spending the rest of my life with any one of them. But I couldn’t imagine spending it alone, either!
* * *
I had tickets for the annual Variety Show coming up, but, still looking, I hadn’t asked anyone yet. Two days before, I asked the lady I went out with most. She said she already had tickets for the earlier performance with a ladyfriend, but would cancel and go with me, but I told her to go ahead, I would take my golfing buddy, Bob.
On the 20th of November at 7:25 p.m., we were in our seats, 19 and 20, row 8, in the huge auditorium. I had put on a nice coat and tie, as I usually do, though the majority of the audience was casually dressed. Bob noticed that my eye was roaming over the large crowd. A few attractive ladies came in, with their husbands. The widows, in two’s and three’s, all appeared to be in their mid-eighties. Perhaps I had come to the wrong place, when I had selected an ‘over 55' retirement area. I settled into my seat to await the show.
And then, out of the blue, ‘SHE’ came down the aisle, this vision of loveliness, graceful, nicely dressed, about my age. And ‘SHE’ was alone, just the usher leading her to her seat, two rows ahead, seat 20, row 6! I couldn’t take my eyes off her! I got a big lump in my throat, and probably sounded rather husky and emotional when I leaned over to Bob and whispered, "She’s beautiful"! I don’t know if he responded, my attention was too focused to notice.
Was she married, and just happened to be here alone? Was her husband in the cast? If not, she must have a man friend. I had to find out, and I had to make contact with her somehow. But how? I leaned toward Bob again, and jokingly said, "I think I’m in love!". Just listen to me! I’m not a teenager, but this flood of emotion has taken over my senses. All through the first act, I stared at the back of her head, and thought about how I could go about meeting her. I wrote my name and telephone number on my program, thinking I might be able to move up a row during intermission and figure out a way to get it to her. (I had earlier decided that you can’t ask a lady’s number - better to give her yours and ask her to call.)
About a lifetime later, the first act ended, and the lights came up. After a few minutes, she got up and started up the aisle! My heart was racing! It’s now or never, I told myself. (Did I mention that I am retiring and shy?) I jumped up, put on a burst of speed, elbowing between people, and caught up with her. "Are you enjoying the show?", I stammered. She gave me that ‘do I know you’ look, but smiled and said yes. I went hurridly on: "My name is Duane ___, I’m a recent widower and a retired army physician. I noticed that you came in alone, and jumped to the conclusion that you are unattached. Is that correct?" Such boldness! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing myself say! And I was oblivious to all the others surrounding us in the aisle.
"Yes", she said again. Just that one word, but it carried more meaning for me than a library of dictionaries. Not wasting time, I went right on: "If I give you my name and phone number, will you call me and we can have dinner together some time?" "Yes." I handed her my program with the name showing. And she handed me hers! I don’t know why giving me hers had surprised me so much at the time, but it did. Without another word, she proceeded up the aisle.
She didn’t return to her seat after intermission. Was she in the second act? I scanned each performer, but at this distance, could not see clearly enough. I read the names in the playbill, and tried to guess at hers, but without success. I would just have to wait for her call.
* * *
The Variety Show was Friday night. There was no call on Saturday, but rather than being worried, I was joyful - I knew she would call: she had said she would, and I believed her. On Sunday morning, Bob and I had an early tee time, along with Jim and a single who joined us. My constant smile reflected the glow in my heart, and Bob explained to the others that I was ‘in love’ with a lady I had met for a few seconds and didn’t even know her name. I admitted that I was as happy as I had been in a long time, but further explanation was difficult. Some strange force, however, obviously had hold of me - I played the best round of golf I had ever played in my life!
On returning home, I went immediately to the phone, to check the answering machine. There was a message. However, on playback, it was blank! Had she called? I felt sure she had, and would call again.
About noon, the call came. "This is Susan ____, we met at the Variety--""Yes, yes, I know who you are", I interrupted. Not polite, but my excitement was overpowering. She went on to ask if, by chance, I was going to the Symphony that afternoon? (Fate had played a large part in our first meeting, as I might have been there with a ladyfriend, and I later learned that she only decided to go at the last minute, and Fate was active again). There was to be a violin soloist, and it was the only one of the Symphony Series that I had selected. She seemed somewhat surprised that I said yes, and knew who was performing, but then went on to ask if we could meet at the fountain during intermission (again, I later learned that she thought it could be a quick chat, and maybe that would be the end of it!)
I walked on air as I ate a quick lunch, showered, and ‘dressed’ for the Symphony. For the five minute trip there, I left 35 minutes early. One of the first seated, my neck constantly swivelling about, I looked everywhere but didn’t see her. At intermission, I shot out of my seat and rushed to the fountain, where I stood rather awkwardly waiting, and watching each person emerge. It was only a few minutes, though it seemed much longer, when she came out the door, appeared to be going somewhere else, but then looked around and came toward the fountain.
She put out her hand as she said, "I’m Susan ____". I took her hand, but rather than shaking it, I raised it to my lips! Can you imagine? Me? I had never done that before in my life! What had happened to me? Was there a ‘romantic’ inside me, waiting to get out?
We talked for a few minutes. (She told me later that she asked if I liked poetry, to which I answered yes, and if I danced, and I must have answered no, but that I was willing to learn). Before we parted, I asked if she would like to have dinner sometime? Yes. When? Whenever. How about tonight? OK; would I like to come over for a cocktail first? Surely! With each additional word, my heart rate increased, but then it was time to part, and return to the auditorium.
If I had been walking on air between noon and three, I was really up there now! I found the house, rang the bell, and was admitted and lead to the kitchen, where she was preparing drinks. I leaned over the counter toward her, and totally out of character (my previous persona), said, "You have me bewitched! I think you are stunningly beautiful!" The only explanation I can give myself, for such a bold act, is that I thoroughly believed what I said, and felt so strongly about it.
I don’t believe she answered, but just smiled.
After a very pleasant dinner out, I took her to her door, said ‘goodnight’, and went home, feeling on top of the world! I don’t know when or how we arranged to have dinner again three days later, but Wednesday evening found us at a very nice restaurant, high on a Phoenix hill, overlooking the lights of the city. She was enjoying my company, and I was loving every minute of hers. Not a widow, she had been divorced from a Chicago lawyer fourteen years previously. We talked comfortably about everything and anything. We had both travelled extensively, and liked many of the same things, though we interestingly differed in others.
When we arrived at her house, she invited me in for a few minutes, and on leaving, I sensed she was offering me a kiss. I responded with a soft, brief kiss, not wanting to appear overly aggressive. But as I drove home, I worried that she would interpret it as a lack of passion or even interest. And, of course, I was really interested. In fact, I was in love! I don’t know when it first occurred to me that I had fallen in love at first sight, something I wouldn’t have admitted to believing in before, but now, there was no question about it: it did happen, it had happened to me!
* * *
The e-mail had actually started on Tuesday, the 24th, when I sent two short verses, and e-mail rapidly became a daily affair (some days I wrote two or three). It contributed significantly to the development of our relationship. Some excerpts will show that development:
11/26 What a glorious day this is. And what an enjoyable time last night. Kudos to you for choosing that wonderful place...S
11/26 And a Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.
Hearing from you brightens my whole day! I, too, thoroughly enjoyed last evening, all of it, though the highlight was your company.
I have been thinking about our parting, and I must tell you, when you offered me a kiss, my light and short response was not a lack of passion, but an over_abundance of restraint. You must remember that this is all new territory for me _
it reminds me of the song:
Kiss me once, and kiss me twice, and kiss me once again,
It's been a long, long, time;
Never felt like this before, since can't remember when,
It's been a long, long, time...D
11/30 I have the smell of you on me, and it just smells so good, I think I'll sleep in these clothes tonight!...D
12/1 1) it must be the perfume
2) no, I don't have a picture. ...S
3) my Monday afternoons are usually free, and sometimes Tuesdays or Thurs_
days. Let's talk about it tomorrow...S
12/3 ...The simple lack of her is more to me than others' presence. Edward Thomas (1878_ 1917), English poet. ...D
12/4 I had an interesting thought: what if my inability to get in a good night sleep had to do with you? Would I have to give you up?
Loved last night's mail. ...S
12/4 An Ode to Susan
Like Many a Lover Before Me,
I would I were a Poet,...D
(At this point I began to write poetry!)
12/5 ...After spending the evening with four 'women' (& three men), I am so anxious for the company of my beautiful lady, that I ache with longing. I love you. D
12/6 Oh, a hug _ a kingdom for a hug. I am sooo cold. But you are away. So what am I to do? I found the answer: reading your morning letters, again and again, warms me all over. Don't stop sending them. S
12/6 ...you came by for a hug, so I'm encouraged to think that you feel as I do! Maybe you have more sense than I do, but I can't believe you have less heart! D
12/6 ...When I am alone, my only happiness is thinking of you and the next time I will be with you. Love you! D
12/8 ...Yesterday was great fun, I loved every minute with you. I will miss you today. S
12/10 For some reason I can't think of anything to say this morning.
I must be in love. I am in love. And you are wonderful. S
And so it happened, that within 20 days of our first meeting, we had both professed our love! And it grew daily, with romantic e-mail (over 100 pages in less than three months!), seeing each other daily, talking on the phone, acting, in all respects, like the young lovers we were!
On New Years Eve, at a gala affair, in the middle of dinner, I could wait no longer, so on one knee in the middle of a crowded room, I asked her to marry me, and she made me the happiest man in the world. I plan to spend the rest of my life trying to make her the happiest woman!