What hour took you that day, that fourth Wednesday of January in 2017? Where was I? Was I sitting through a boring meeting sorting out policy issues? Was I driving home exhausted, listening to debates contentious political issues on NPR and rethinking my decision to remain in a high profile health care position at age seventy-three? Or was it later as I tried to keep the peace between my four and seven year old granddaughters while preparing their dinner of sliced tomatoes, beef and rice, and yogurt, and hoping that the promise of dessert would keep the mayhem to a minimum until their mother returned?
How could it be that the enormity of your last breath faded into eternity before reaching my senses so many miles and decades away? And what mystic force drew me to my computer on a rainy afternoon five weeks later and led my fingers to type your name and the word obituary? Running late for the play, I found myself reading the words once with disbelief, twice with an aching teenage heart, and a third time with tears that no one could possibly understand.
I skimmed over your accomplishments listed one by one, more reminiscent of a resume than a tribute to the vibrant young man who stole my heart in 1961. Your devoted companion, three fine sons, five enchanting granddaughters, a dear sister (I remember you telling me how much you loved her), even nephews and cousins, all dutifully named. Were they there at the end? I have to believe they were. You were too precious to me not to be a million times more cherished by the ones who were truly in your life.
Your loved ones know nothing of me, nor the grief I feel. Yet I too caught glimpses of that courageous man who fought on as his life and body progressively diminished, often quite literally, throughout an arduous and determined battle against diabetes. Ordeals made bearable by your impish humor—writing me after your second amputation that you used to be six foot four but now were four foot six!
They know nothing of those months we spent together so many decades ago, these people who shared a lifetime with you and are trying to make it through each day, hoping their grief will lessen with time but perhaps grateful that your ordeals have come to an end.
Our writing brought us together. You penned more than a half-dozen novels, well-crafted, filled with romance and suspense. I discovered them online in 2008. I had written two novels myself, the first bearing the back story of our romance at Stanford—I, the naïve freshman dreamer and you, the charming, seasoned senior. Degrees of Obsession was an apt title for a paean to a first love that refused to fade and, in fact, ultimately had no replacement. I searched further and found what I believed to be your home address and mailed my fictitious version of our romance to you. Within days your name popped up in my email inbox, causing the same palpitations that had seized my heart forty-seven years earlier. I had a trip to Southern California already planned and we met soon after.
You greeted me at your door in your wheelchair, the body of that handsome, virile young man I had known hidden behind a beard and infirmity but the magnetic eyes and alluring basso voice still recognizable. We exchanged a few sweet nothings and then you wheeled your chair chose to me and drew me into your arms so that I could smell the scent of that special cologne that you always used, the musky one created by that haberdasher in Beverly Hills. You had dabbed in on knowing that it would take us back to our beginnings and for the first time I heard from your lips the true story of our parting. How after I had made a suicide gesture and was forced by Stanford officials to tell my parents, that they had called the University and demanded action. How you had been hauled in by Captain Midnight, the campus cop, for a three-hour inquisition and had been told to never speak to me again. How they threatened to keep you from graduating and going on to law school if you defied their orders. And worst of all, how these despicable actions on the part of my family had left you with a lifelong impact that was eons beyond the broken heart that I had endured.
What a gift that was. Knowing, after all these decades, that you had loved me after all. An unforeseen resolution to the agony of unrequited first love that few are privileged to find, told in an embrace filled not with the fumbling passion of youth but with the grace and forgiveness of age. I thought with amazement how brave you had been on that one occasion, sitting on the hood of your white MGA, the gray wool sweater I had given you on your 21st birthday draped around your shoulders on a hot June day, and calling me over. And I, on the way to the Anthropology class we mutually shared, caught up in the pique and heartache of a rejected eighteen-year-old turning away, giving up that one in a million chance for reconciliation. But even then in your sweet honesty, you explained that had I made a different choice, I might not have fared better, that your road as a husband had often been a rocky one.
So here are the EXCERPTS FROM MY NOVEL that tell our story, from my point of view of course, for those out there who care to read it, as told through the voice of my protagonist, Dr. Charlie Pedersen. I called her “Charlie” because it was the nickname you gave me. I called you “Danny”.