Thursday, September 2, 2010

{Head shaving party}

To see pictures from Mary's head shaving party, click here

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chapter Eleven

Music to Our Ears

July 21, 2010
She was a recent breast cancer survivor, maybe forty-two years old, with spunky short brown hair and a positive attitude that took more of the fear out of surgery than all the other speeches, pamphlets, and pep-talks from all the doctors and professionals combined.  Mona was the best part of Mary’s morning.  As luck, or fate, or just being blessed would have it, she was the phlebotomist assigned to draw Mary’s blood for the lab work.  Without hesitation and as soon as she found out Mary was in for a lumpectomy, she offered to show Mary her new breast after her mastectomy reconstruction.  I was absolutely amazed as I listened to the conversation from behind the curtain.  Mary had tons of questions and Mona had the answers.  The same entourage of doctors took care of Mona, with the exception of Dr. Rich.  It was actually a good thing that Dr. Tittensor was behind schedule because the time was well spent.  Besides Mona’s gesture of sisterhood, there were also many calls from our loved ones who wanted to let Mary and I know she was in their prayers.
The first procedure of the morning was the contrast injected into Mary’s breast.  She sat nervously jigging her leg as we waited for the procedure.  As she removed her clothes from the waist up, and received no funny business from me, she asked, “no striptease?”  But the day and the circumstances just didn’t seem to warrant my joviality.
The die or contrast was brought into the room in a radioactive container and everything the doctor touched was handled like radioactive material, but the comments were, ‘don’t worry it’s very low radiation.’
By the time we were acclimated to the small pre-surgery room, with the IV placed and talks from all the doctors’ involved, Mary was relaxed, at least as relaxed as she had been all morning.  I wondered if maybe they’d put something in her IV and did tease her about it.  Then they wheeled her away with a last kiss from me.
Dr. Tittensor came to the waiting room to tell me that surgery went well.  She removed eight nodes and found that all were negative.  This is the best part of the afternoon.  The cancer was successfully removed and the plan to place a portacath has been abandoned because the Chemo treatments will not be as vigorous as previously thought.  I was informed that Dr. Bishop was on his way to start the plastic surgery and that he would come to find me and report when he was finished.
Waiting is not something I do very well.  Sitting here writing is something that helps.  I remember the day Jake was born.  While we were in the hospital and Mary was in labor—waiting—I pulled out a pen and paper to write my thoughts and make a little journal.  I had already gotten myself in trouble on the way to the hospital for running over too many bumps.  So when the paper and pen came out Mary asked what I was doing.  I tried to explain.  It’s best if dads just say yes when their wives are in labor.  I didn’t argue when I was told to put the pen and paper away.
It has been less than two hours and Dr. Bishop just came to report.  Everything went very well.  He replaced a portion of Mary’s chest muscle with decalcified donor bone so it would heal faster.  Because there were so few nodes removed Mary will not need a drain.  An adjustable saline expander was placed on the area voided during surgery so plastic surgery after radiation will not be so painful.  Dr. Bishop told me that Mary is in the recovery room and someone should come and find me in about an hour when they take her to her room.  It will probably be longer because Mary is sensitive to meds and will probably take longer to wake up.  Time for me to get some lunch.
Yesterday Mary arrived at work and every nurse was dressed in pink.  It took Mary a few minutes to realize that her friend Wendy had made phone calls to the entire shift and coordinated such an effort to show their love and support.  By some fluke Mary was dressed in pink too.  Mary came home with a pink balloon signed by all her many friends and insisted that we bring it to the hospital to put in her room.  While I waited, I sent text messages to friends and loved ones letting them know the great news.  Thanks from the Merrell family to all of Mary’s good friends for your love and support.
An hour turned to one and a half and I was the only person still sitting in the waiting room.  I doubted that Mary was taking so long to awake from surgery so I called the number on the wall which read “if you have questions about surgery call.”
 Sure enough, they had forgotten me.  Mary had been wheeled to her room forty-five minutes earlier, room number 166.  I was a little put out that they cared so little about me, a husband worried about his partner. I made my way to her room and crept in as I saw her sleeping.  But without opening her eyes more than a slit she greeted me.  She was pail, almost grey, as Dr. Tittensor told me she would be from the radioactive die they had injected to find the lymph nodes.  She struggled to keep her eyes open as she told me she was doing fine and feeling no pain.  I asked her if anyone had given her the news.  They hadn‘t.  I explained that the nodes were clear and that the procedure went very well.  Mary had been worried the nodes would be involved.  The good news was music to our ears.
As Mary began to wakeup she told me her bladder was very full.  A folly bag hung from the bedside partially filled with blue fluid, darker than the color of a deep blue sky but the tube didn’t seem to be flowing.  With a little help from the nurse they got things moving again.  Finally the bathroom toilet was the fate of the blue radioactive material.
Flowers and cards decorated her room as friends and children came to visit.  Part of me wanted to send them all home, but Mary seemed rejuvenated from their visits.
Kayshia was the designated night watchperson.  She spent most of the night watching videos on my little laptop and the other part of the night listening to the hacking of the patient across the hall.  It was four am before she found sleep as a solace to the dreadful noises a hospital can bring.  Mary on the other hand put in her ear plugs and slept the majority of the night away.
The following morning Mary was anxious to get the folly out, the IV removed, and get on her way back home.  The tech came in to change her bedding and she wasn’t having any part of it.  She was ready and excited to get the show on the road.

            We were both excited on that beautiful summer morning.  All the planning was behind us and nothing but a bright future was in front of us.  We were scheduled to be married in the Salt Lake temple about nine am August 22, 1981.  Mary drove to SLC with her parents and I drove her Fiesta to Little America Hotel and hid it in their parking garage to avoid the inevitable Just Married decorations.  My best man, Robin Roberts, picked me up in my car and we continued to the temple.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Chapter Ten

Preparing for the Music

            July 18, 2010
Saturday afternoon started out with a shopping trip.  We were about to embark on our ‘mostly’ annual weekend anniversary getaway to Little America—four weeks early—in anticipation of Mary’s surgery on Wednesday.  The stop at Khol’s was an add-on.  We needed some color coordinated shirts for our upcoming family pictures on Monday.     
It took about five minutes to pick out three shirts for me, and then we began to shop for Mary.  It was after I followed her around for about ten or fifteen minutes that I realized that other men were doing the same thing; following their wives aimlessly around the store.  I decided to look closer at the male shopping ritual.
Most men follow their women just a few steps behind as if tethered to a short bungee cord.  I’ll call them the bumper car men.  The woman starts off as if she’s about to move to the next rack, the bungee cord stretches, and then as suddenly as she started, she stops and reaches out to the next cute top.  The man is slow to start, moves forward and then in response to the abrupt stop, the man nearly bumps into the woman.  He then glances around the store to see if any of the other men have noticed.  When the woman starts out again the entire sequence starts all over.  The bungee stretches the man moves the woman stops and the man nearly bumps into her.
Other men like me, stand back and watch, then move closer on occasion to show their support to their woman.  But selfishly enough, by the way we stand, gaze aloof around the store, give our shallow responses to our women’s questions, and do our best to look bored, we make sure our women know we are ready to leave at any time—and the sooner the better.
  But it is the truly remarkable man, the least common of us all, which deals with the shopping experience with real style. My curiosity was truly peeked as I watched in amazement.  He travels from rack to rack—much like a woman would do—one shopping with their very best friend.  He seems to know what his wife or girl would like to wear, her style, and even her favorite color and size. Where does he learn that?  The two of them interact with comments about why or why not the article of clothing would or wouldn’t work.  How does he know what fashion is in style, what his wife likes, what size she is, what color looks best, and when he should even open his mouth to comment?  Are there classes for that?  Do those men have a more feminine side to them?  How do they do that?  How can I learn to do that?  Mary is my best friend, but am I hers?  What have I done to nurture the best friend part of our relationship these last thirty years?
The checkout was another eye opener.  And for some strange reason by the time we were standing there I was actually enjoying the time with Mary. She on the other hand was thinking of her grandbabies.  Still five months in advance and she placed six additional items to the shopping cart.  By the time we left the store, our ‘savings’ was more than what we had spent, she had charged the purchases on her Khol’s card so she could get the best discount, and then she had paid the balance on the card for the same purchase.  Mary is a shopping pro.
            Seven weeks from engagement to wedding, a whirlwind of activity.  Mary’s one year contract on her apartment was up at the end of July and I had another 2 months beyond that.  We decided Mary would move into my apartment and I moved into a vacant room in my best man’s place.  The fact that he and his wife were newlyweds of only 4 months made the move a little awkward so the majority of my time was still spent with Mary in my apartment.  Sleeping was always separated by the five block distance between us and we usually didn’t see each other until after work.
Because of stresses with my parents, Mary and I made nearly all the arrangements for my part of the wedding, including the financial matters.  We purchased flowers, rented tuxes, paid for the announcements, reserved the wedding breakfast and scheduled the ceremony.  Mary’s parents arranged for the open house in Washington with a cake, refreshments, and decorations which would follow the week after we were married.
            Mary explained to me why she had been so hesitant to commit to an exclusive relationship.  She had dated several guys, and had given her heart to the relationships and then always had her heart broken.  She had decided it was time to watch out for her self this time.  My strategy was, without a doubt, the best way any guy could have ever moved forward with her heart strings.  Mary had a ring on her finger and it was time to tell the others goodbye.
Steve was brokenhearted when Mary returned from her trip to her parents’ home—engaged—and shortly thereafter terminated her employment at the theater.  The trip to Europe would no longer be part of his strategy.  Mary’s friend Scott, the guy selling books in Canada, was the most torn up by our pending nuptials.  He was working for the same company that Mary worked for and had left his personal belongings in Mary’s care; a sort of unofficial claim on her.  When he heard the news—which traveled like lightning through the office network—the first thing he did was call and try to talk her out of such a ‘terrible mistake.’   He begged and pleaded with her to reconsider, I was just ‘some guy that had come in and swept her off her feet and she was making the biggest mistake of her life.’   As a matter of fact, he was ready to buy a plane ticket, that very day, and fly down to talk his “queen” out such an awful calamity.  Mary handled it well.  She was sorry to cause him such pain but had always known that the relationship was never going to the place Scott had wanted it to go.
One late evening, about a week prior to our wedding, I reluctantly kissed Mary good night as she pushed me out the door and sent me home to bed.  I climbed on my bike and started down the usual busy Highway 89.  Because of the late hour the street was nearly empty, at least until the drive-in theater finished its first movie about a mile down the road.  Then a steady stream of traffic poured onto the two lane thoroughfare I needed to cross to get home, but the traffic was too thick.  I quickly decided that my best solution would be to continue south, past the theater, and force the traffic to yield to me as I returned.  I pulled from the center divider lane and proceeded south, but the high pitched squealing of racing car engines drew my attention from the road.  I couldn’t tell where the sound was coming from at first, but it was growing closer by the second.  Because of its out-of –the-way proximity between Provo and Springville, Highway 89 was often used as a quarter mile racing strip for the local teenage hot-rodder.  I peered at my rearview mirrors and suddenly realized two cars, lights off, were speeding toward me from the rear.  In fear of being plowed over, and not a moment too soon, I pulled into the median to get out of their way.  As I tried to slow, the loose gravel in the center lane gave way under the pressure of my tires and my bike began to skid out of control.  Both wheels turned perpendicular to the road.   The bike and I both fell toward the asphalt as the sliding wheels lead the way.  Without warning the gravel feathered away and both tires gripped firmly to the asphalt.  My forward momentum and skidding tires stood the bike upright with such force that I was shot from seat the like a loaded catapult and tossed several yards from my bike.  The flight was exuberating, the landing was rough.     
I must have been slightly in shock when I clambered from the asphalt, my right hand bloody to the elbow, and tried to mount my bike again to drive away.  But the oncoming traffic had stopped, and two or three good citizens were telling me I needed medical attention before they would let me leave.  My arm and hand had been crushed under the weight of my body and my wrist had been hyper-extended so far that the skin on my middle finger had stretched and exploded from the strain.  That night was the first of many over the years that Mary would be with me in the emergency waiting room.  
As the days quickly passed Mary’s parents were scheduled to arrive in town for the wedding.  I will never forget the embarrassment of the night they arrived.   With the wedding just two days away I had moved most of my clothing back into our apartment.  After work I would shower at the apartment and then Mary and I would spend the evenings together.  It was on such an occasion after I had finished showering that I emerged from the bathroom drying my hair with a towel.  I was wearing my blue jeans, but no shirt or shoes.  Frankly it looked as though Mary and I had shacked up prior to our wedding as I realized Jack and Annette were standing in the living room wondering what in the world their half naked future son-in-law was doing in their daughter’s apartment.
I simply greeted our guests with a handshake and retreated to the bedroom to put on a shirt.  When I reemerged, dressed, I helped them bring their luggage from the car.  They planned on staying in the apartment while they were in town.           

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Chapter Nine

Amore Accelerando

            I finished work early that Friday afternoon in anticipation of the twelve hour drive ahead.  I’d never driven to Washington before and depended on Mary’s finely honed navigational skills—developed through several trips to and from her home town in Sumner, WA—to know the way.  It must have been about four-o-clock when we tossed our things into the back of the shinny little Fiesta and pulled from the parking lot.  
            I was ready for our relationship to move to the next level but I wasn’t sure quite how to approach the subject.  We talked and laughed and I told stories about whatever came to mind as we trudged through the mountains in northern Utah and headed toward Idaho.  Mary and I had never kissed.  We were still “just friends” but she was the best friend I had, and she had the potential to be the best friend I would ever have.  Mary’s eyes were glued to the road with her hands firmly gripping the steering wheel at ten and two.  As the passenger, I could spend most of my time watching her and I enjoyed the view.
            It was somewhere near Burly that I finally got up the nerve to broach the subject on our dating situation and offered the idea;
            “I’ve been thinking that maybe we could just date each other exclusively.”
            The car swerved back and forth between the lines as Mary first agreed and then recklessly attempted to maneuver out of the path of the pink elephant sitting between us in the car.
            “Yea . . . I mean, uh . . . I mean, well . . . maybe, uh . . . we’ll have to see.”
            I’m not quite sure how the conversation even got rolling again after the awkward moment, but I was certain I had been getting little signals that our relationship was nearly to the next level.  Where had I gone so wrong?
            It was probably somewhere near Boise—after the air in the car had simmered to a comfortable temperature—that I stretched my arm toward her head rest and fiddled with her hair.  It started with just a few strands between my fingers and then I reached the hair at the back of her neck.  It was obvious that she was enjoying my touch as she began to lean into my hand.  Suddenly she pulled away.
            The car swerved again. “Stop,” she said in that ‘don’t some more’ tone I learned to love.
            “Don’t do that?” she said with a smile on her face as she squirmed away and struggled to maintain the stability of the car.
            I waited a few minutes until she sat upright against the headrest where my hand still relaxed.  Once more I ran my fingers through her hair.
            “You’re making my eyes cross,” she said as she slowly leaned away.  “I can’t drive.”
            I laughed, “Your eyes crossed?”
            “Yes . . . I can’t concentrate when you do that.”
            That was more like it.  The kind of response I had expected from my earlier question.  So what was the hesitation?  What had stopped her from wanting an exclusive relationship?  Were other guys still an issue?  Why was she so upset when I questioned the trip to Washington on the bike?  There were still so many unanswered questions about this girl.  How would I ever find all the clues?  She still worked at the theater with Steve.  Was he still an item?
            It must have been after we fueled up in LeGrand, Oregon that Mary’s eyes started to droop.  I had taken the helm at the steering wheel and had little idea of the detailed directions to Sumner, WA.  Mary was soon sound asleep.  It was well after midnight and I had not learned the proficiencies of night time driving, especially with the subliminal suggestion that someone in the passenger seat offered by falling fast asleep.
            I pulled the car into a gas station near Pendleton, Oregon to get a soft drink, take a potty break, and then tried to shock my fuzzy brain back to the task of driving.  Mary woke up just long enough to ask where we were.  I scoured the convenient store shelves until I found a small box of No-Doz.  I had heard that it could help keep me awake but never experienced its affect.  As a central nervous system stimulant it works by stimulating the brain.  I failed to read the cautions; “side effects such as problems sleeping, nervousness, jitteriness, or anxiety may occur.”  Two of the little power packed pills seemed sufficient for the additional five hour drive.
I resumed the drive, but it soon seemed I was on the wrong road and headed toward Portland.  I woke Mary and tried to figure out where I made an erroneous turn.  She gave her best attempt to help me figure out where we were and which way we should go.  By the time I got us back on the right road we’d lost at least two hours.  By about three am I realized that my brain was willing to keep driving but my body was weak.  I added two more little No-Doz to my arsenal, thinking it would help wake me up.
Mary woke by six that morning mostly refreshed.  I was as frazzled as I had ever been, but way too macho to admit it.  When we finally arrived at her parent’s house—at about seven in the morning—it was all I could do to stand on my own two feet.  I remember vividly thinking ‘I cannot stay awake one moment longer.’  Wrong, the body was willing but the brain was not.
Steve’s bedroom had been vacant while he was serving a mission in Portugal.  Steve’s bed was sending me on a sleepless mission impossible.  The bed must have been as old as Steve and I’m quite certain that Steve slept in the exact same position, every night, through those entire nineteen years he owned it.  The bed was custom formed fitted to Steve’s sleeping style, and it certainly didn’t match mine.  It wasn’t just the bed; it was the jumbo jet airplane that was buzzing about the room and bumping into the sunlit windows that was the most annoying.  In fact it was every sound, from the plants that were growing in the sunlight just outside the bedroom window, to the cars passing on roadways for miles around, to the toilet that leaked in Steve’s bathroom and continued the flushing, over and over again.  I was wired.  My normal caffeine free system was in a state of overload.
After two hours of shear torture I crawled out of bed, showered, and put on a sunshiny face, but my head was still throbbing.  Mary was sleeping so I made my way to the garage where Mary’s dad, Jack, was sorting and cleaning.  Although we had formerly met when we arrived that morning, we still needed to get the manly order of business behind us.
“So what do you do for a living,” Jack asked.
“I own an auto body and custom paint shop.”
“Mary’s car looks nice.  Did you do that?”
“It’s just a clear coat.”
“You did a nice job,” he said as he pulled a filter wrench from his tool box.  “Why don’t you come with me?  I’m going to the parts store to get oil and a filter for her car.”
We climbed into Jack’s little VW pickup truck and headed for the parts store.  We spoke of the weather, where I stood with religion, minor economic opinions, and plans for the day’s Forth of July celebrations.  I was being checked out and I wasn’t quite sure why.  I wondered if I was the first guy Mary had ever brought home or if something had transpired in their conversations after I had tried to catch a restless morning nap.
Finally we put the last touches on the oil change and the detailed thirty point checkup on Mary’s little car when Jack unzipped his coveralls and pulled them from his shoes.  “Mary told us about her plans to travel to Europe with her friend Steve,” he said as he folded them neatly and stacked them on the shelf.  Jack didn’t even look up to see my reaction.  He simply continued cleaning the oil from filter wrench with the rag he’d had tucked in the pocked of his coveralls. “How do you feel about that?”
I was a little taken back.  I thought Steve was out of the picture.  “I don’t like it very much,” I said.
Jack nodded.  “We don’t like it much either,” Jack said as he placed the wrench in his tool box and turned to face me.
“I have a solution,” I began.  “I’ll just marry her and take her there on our honeymoon.”
Jack’s head moved thoughtfully up and down as he continued, “Mary’s mother and I spoke about that after you went to bed this morning, and we think that would be just fine.”
I had just asked Jack for Mary’s hand in marriage and my request had been granted—two down only one to go.

The morning continued with pancakes and bacon, and a quick cleanup of the kitchen before Mary was ready to go.  We first went to meet Mary’s sister Dianne and husband Rob, and their two children.  It didn’t take long before Rob and I had become friends.  We chatted about the old rig he was restoring.  I don’t remember what vehicle it was, maybe a Willies Jeep, but I gave him a few professional tips.  Meanwhile, Dianne was grilling Mary about the new guy—me.
“Where did you meet him, how long have you known each other, is it serious?”
Mary explained we were just friends, but Dianne wasn’t convinced.
As the morning turned into afternoon we had watched the military air show in Seattle and then the entire family—and friend—settled on the hillside in the park for the afternoon picnic.  It was all fine; with the exception of the fact that I was still just running on the three ten minute segments of sleep I had stolen between the automatic toilet flushes at seven thirty am.  To my good fortune, the NoDoz was finally out of my system and my brain was ready to unwind.
By mid afternoon we returned to the living room where I settled down on the couch, to relax.  Mary soon joined me and sat on the edge where I was laying.
“I’m so mad at my dad,” she said, “I could scream.”
I crossing my hands behind my head and leaned forward. “Why?”
“He said the exact same thing you said about Europe,” she replied.
“I know.”
Mary turned toward me with a puzzled look on her face. “What do you mean you know?”         
“He told me that the two of you talked about it this morning.”
With a slightly defiant tone Mary asked, “Why would he tell you?”
“He asked me how I felt about it.”
“What did you say?” Mary’s tone was already rising as she anticipated my answer.
“I told him I could marry you and take you to Europe on a honeymoon. . . .  He agreed.”
Mary looked bewildered.  My heart was pounding as I fiddled in my pocket.  She attempted to change the subject but struggled to find a topic that suited the situation.  After the awkward pause I pulled my hand from my pocket with a diamond engagement ring perched precariously on my index finger.
“I’m quite serious,” I said calmly as my heart pounded furiously within my chest.
Mary nearly fell off the couch and then struggled to catch her breath.  She glanced frantically between the ring and her little brother who sat oblivious to our conversation in the other room.  Mary tried to speak and finally mustered, “put that thing away.”
I continued to stand my ground and held the ring firmly near her face.  I knew it would be a shock to her system, but the timing and conversation couldn’t have been better if I had planned the moment.
“Put that thing away,” she said again in a frantic whisper.
Mary was still worried about her brother, but more worried someone might see the ring.  I lowered my hand and waited while she regained her breath and composure.  Somehow I already knew exactly what she would say next.  I waited for the answer and I knew what my reply would be.
“I haven’t even prayed about this yet,” she whispered.
“Maybe it’s time you did.”
It was the walk along the railroad tracks that gave it time to all sink in.  Mary had dozens of questions.  How do you think we’ll get along, how many children do you want, when would we start a family, would she be a stay-at-home-mom or would she work, and so on.  I had already purchased a home and had rented it with the idea I would move in after I was married, so we already knew where we could live.  The conversation was comfortable.  It fit the two of us, like all the other comfortable conversations we’d had so many times before.  Obviously I had a great deal more time to process the idea of marriage.  Enough time to shop for and purchase a ring, time to think about a marriage proposal—if the timing was right—and I had already had time to think through many of the questions Mary was just then contemplating.
I suppose that was our first real romantic date, holding hands and imagining a future together.  The budding love was revealing its first beautiful colors that afternoon on the tracks in Sumner, Washington.  We were both so young and the outlook of our lives seemed so full of promise.  I’m sure that Mary started to ponder the thought of growing old with me, bearing my children, raising those children together, and maneuvering our way through life’s little obstacles.  I am certain that neither of us ever thought about breast cancer.
The following day—Sunday afternoon—Mary gave me her official answer; a resounding yes!   She told me that she had been sitting in church, holding my hand, watching the little family sitting on the pew in front of us when the question of her own prayer was answered.  She imagined the two of us, with little stair step children sitting at our side.  It was a wave of comfort that gave her the sweet reassurance our union would be blessed.              
Our Monday drive home is when the real planning began.  It was the first time in my life I’d ever had such an intimate conversation with a woman, but it too was comfortable.  Mary beamed as we planned a wedding date, the twenty second of August.  It would be her mother who would cringe at such a short notice. We’d been ‘dating,’ or should I say, growing our friendship for nearly four months and there didn’t seem to be any reason why we should have a long engagement.  Newness, excitement, anticipation, and adventure all combined to make a twelve hour drive seem like time was standing still.  It must have been the most awkward moment of our engagement that evening, standing at Mary’s front door step—our first kiss—maybe not the romantic, passionate, true love ideal of the very first kiss; the kind of kiss every girl might dream of, but the start to a new and exciting part of our continuing friendship.  

Sunday, July 18, 2010

chapter Eight

Timbre—Colors of Love

Before I go on, I must tell the story of the 79 Ford Festia. It was the first near new car that Mary’s had purchased on her own. It was a cute little thing, and in a day when gas was equivalent to about four dollars a gallon today, she had made a good choice. It was the little red car that could and it got at least thirty miles to the gallon. She was quite pleased that she only had a year before she would pay it off and then it would be hers, free and clear.

The sad part was the paint. Already, just two years into the aging process the car looked like it was old. It wasn’t chipped or dinged much, just flat; dull and lifeless. One evening I was teasing her; she ought to rub a little luster back into its lifeless look. In Mary’s innocence’s she claimed she had washed the car when it was needed but had never understood the call for to wax. Anyone younger than about forty has probably never waxed a car for the reason car wax was first invented. The reason behind that assumption is that automotive paints beginning in the early eighties changed from acrylics to urethanes. The monthly ritual of car wax became a thing of the past.

Perhaps a brief understanding of the language of love might be helpful before I continue. Me; I demonstrate love by service. It’s hardwired into me somehow and I’ve never become very efficient in the other languages. Mary on the other hand likes thoughtful little gifts as one of the ways she hears recognizes my love. The album, card and yellow rose that I had covertly placed in her car had made a big impression. But I thought I was about to deliver the mother of all tokens of our growing friendship.

One evening, prior to Mary’s trip to Zions Park, we thought it might be nice to buff her car. We went to my shop and began working together to give the car some luster. As we worked I realized we were only making a temporary fix and got the brilliant idea we should just apply a new urethane clear coat that would be a permanent fix. Mary was anxious to help and insisted on diving right in. I gave her some very fine sandpaper and detailed instructions to help her avoid sanding through the paint into the primer. Five minutes into our procedure Mary polished the paint to the bare metal. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings and really didn’t want to repaint the entire car so we decided a gold pinstripe might be nice. I did the rest of the sanding, after I gave Mary a ride home.

The balance of the night was spent taping windows and bumpers, and preparing the little red car for a face lift. By morning the car shone as bright as the cute little owner that drove it. I picked Mary up early, drove her back to the shop, and delivered the car. She was delighted. Its new luster had a tinge of gold pearl that gleamed in the rays of the sun, but still seemed pail to the shining face of its owner.

July 17, 2010

We just returned from our first colorful excursion in the Seabreeze. We started a little late last night. Mary had picked up a half a shift for someone at work who had been ‘desperate’ and returned home about a quarter to seven. Austin was the last one to arrive at seven thirty. He had the pizza, so it wasn’t optional to leave him behind. Daniel was ahead of us in his new; previously owned Toyota 4-Runner.

American Fork Canyon was our destination, close, convenient, and familiar. We had planned on finding a nice secluded spot near the river, to build a campfire, sit in the cool night air, roast some marshmallows, and make Somores. Right! I haven’t been up the canyon on a Friday night lately. Wall to wall cars, dist a half inch thick on everything, every campground full to the brim, and we’re in a 32 foot motor home.

Kinley had been our local Betty Crocker from the moment she woke until the moment we pulled from the curb. She had been busy packing everything we needed or might need on our simple overnight excursion. For example; she had packed her suitcase with two weeks of clothing and had filled the cupboards with nearly 20 pounds of dog food, in gallon size zip lock bags, for Slim. He needs about a cup of dog food a day. We had full packages of Q-tips opened and scattered on the floor, enough books to fill a library bookshelf—so “we could read on our trip together”—and Kinley had gotten online and had thoughtfully printed a map and brochure of the ‘Skyway Camping Resort, only 2 hours away from New Your City.’ If there was ever a possibility of anyone else with the sweet purity of Kinley in this world, who enjoys the simple pleasures of life like she does, their family would be blessed as ours has been blessed.

By about four-o-clock in the afternoon, and with a little patience, I began to write lists for Kinley to work on, all in the final preparation for our trip. She packed hoses around the house and filled the water tank, loaded food in the fridge, gathered toilet paper and paper towels. Single handedly, she nearly packed everything we needed for the trip.

I think the ambient temperature yesterday was near 100 degrees. The motor home was 120 degrees before I started the generator and air conditioning at about ten to seven in preparation to leave. It cooled to at least 105 by the time we piled in to hit the road. Ken, Mary, Austin, Kayshia, Kinley, and yes two dogs—Slim and Kayla. Some people love dogs. I used to be one of those people. My love of dogs went away when the term went from dog to dogs, dog hair, dogs in the house, licking, poop on the carpet, barking, dogs in beds, children fighting over who gets the dog tonight, six hundred dollar vet bills—because the dog ate a fish hook—nasty letters from neighbors, poop on the lawn, holes in the grass, dead baby ducks—I could go on for at least another page but I won’t. I ‘love’ the dogs, because my wife and children love them. Someday the children will be gone and then the dogs will only visit.

By the time we pulled off the freeway we had cooled to a mild 95 degrees. Both dogs were wedged into the space between Mary’s knees and the dashboard—or on her lap with there wet noses and panting tongues pressed indiscriminately against the window. Did I mention dog saliva on my pants, arms and windows is one of my favorite things?

Cars and SUV’s were backed up a hundred yards, waiting to pay the six dollar fee at the US Forest Service toll booth when we arrived. I guess our first hint of trouble should have been the “All Campgrounds Full” sign that hung from the booth. No worries; we had everything we needed right there in the motor home. The second sign of trouble was, “No Camping Outside of Designated Campgrounds.” The real problems started when it appeared like we would need to find a place to turn the thirty-two foot monster around on the one lane dirt road with the river on one side and the shear mountain wall on the other.

Daniel lit out ahead to try to find a spot near Granit Flat. After our eighteen point turn and a trip part way back down the rough dirt road, we waited at the Tibble Fork turnoff toward Granit Flat. At last Daniel’s return gave a glimmer of hope that we might find a single parking spot in the upper campground. Dusk had turned to darkness as we lumbered up the mountain road. Winding curves, kids on four wheelers, motorcycles, and narrow patches made the short drive into a white knuckle ordeal.

After realizing the campground was no better than the Wal-Mart parking lot, and after another eighteen point turn, we were pointed back down the canyon with the church parking lot in mind. It was the turn off to the equestrian parking area that turned us from the main road. The signs that said, “No Over Night Parking,” and “Equestrian Parking Only” were of little deterrent. Nether the signs or the piles of horse manure stopped us from setting up camp in the only semi-secluded spot on the mountain. There were no marshmallows, soothing sounds of the river passing by, no campfires, cool night breezes and staring up at the stars, and no Somores. It seemed a little fruitless.

I suppose it was that one single hour before bed that really counted. We were gathered around, yawning and joking; that now that we had arrived, it was time for bed. It was Kayshia that pulled out the Apples to Apples game. There we were laughing and teasing, winning and losing, but mostly; doing what families are designed to do best, sharing the strength of our roots with each other as we prepared to enter a new season in the never-ending unexpected changes of life.

I lay on the small hard bed in the back of the motor home knowing that with the anxious dogs sharing floor space, the smell of the hot generator and horse manure wafting through the open windows, and the constant movement from the five bodies all jammed into the same space with the paper thin walls, it would be a very restless nights sleep. Mary climbed from her knees and rolled under the sheet. She reached over and lovingly rubbed her hand across my chest and said, “Thank you dear, this is exactly what I needed.”

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Chapter Seven

Midnight Sonata
Each time we met, our friendship grew. It was just little things. A walk, a smile, a joke, or maybe just a touch that made the nights seem young. I had been writing to a girl I’d met a few months earlier while visiting a friend in New Mexico. She was planning a trip to Utah to see me. It was the dear Jane phone call that killed our distant romance about the same time Steve got the cold shoulder in the car. Even though Steve had been defeated he still wasn’t ready to give up the fight. He had somehow managed to keep up the illusion alive that he and Mary could steal away to Europe and tour the countryside.
Everything I wanted was just two doors down the veranda. Mary told me months later that she had felt terrible for the way things had happened in the car that night with Steve, but my feelings had been more important. She wasn’t even sure why. We were just friends, nothing more, nothing less. We’d never talked about exclusivity and even though she still dated both Steve and others on occasion, and sent a sporadic letter to her friend Scott, in Canada, our relationships were narrowing down.
One evening after their return from Zions, Mary and I talked about some of my long motorcycle rides. It soon became a discussion about her desire to see her parents in Washington twelve hours away. It would be fun. It was decided. We’d take a trip on my bike. As the days passed and I thought about the trip, I became troubled. A long motorcycle ride is very hard on the body. If we stopped halfway and camped out, it wouldn’t be appropriate. Vibrations, a narrow seat, one position, the helmet, and even though I had microphones and speakers so driver and passenger could talk, it wasn’t always a pleasant conversation to compete with the noisy wind.
July 12, 2010
It was 3:19 am when I rolled to my back and peered at the glow of the giant digital alarm clock across the room. My children had purchased the silly thing as sort of white elephant gift. They had said my previous clock was an antique. They told me the big numbers would be ‘easier’ to read. I’ve not needed an alarm in years, and the bright red glow from my night stand had nearly given me a sun burn on my bald head when I slept—so now it’s across the room. I lay there a few minutes wondering why I was wide awake. I guess it was because I was worrying about the girl by my side. I knew we’d see the surgeon the next day, and I wasn’t sure what the outcome would be.
I could hear Mary’s deep breaths. I rolled to my shoulder to watch her. The incandescent light from the patio door and window gave me a clear view of her shapely figure as she lay with her back toward me. Last night had been our date night, but she had been exhausted from her near thirteen hour shift. There is something about our weekly schedule that makes me plan and anticipate and ache when our dates are postponed. I contemplated spooning up against her familiar body, running my fingers through her hair where it falls against her face. It’s an occasional treat when one of us wakes the other in the middle of the night with tender strokes of affection. I lay there thinking of her cool skin, goose bumps trailing behind my fingers as I ran them gently across her thighs, arms and chest. Would she still be too tired or would she wake with her sleepy smile that would invite me to continue?
Mary rolled toward me onto her back . . . she began to snore. I turned to the wall, rolled from the bed, plopped my feet onto the carpet and trudged to the bathroom where I scratched, made water and some of my own reverberating air, washed my hands, and jammed a single ear plug into my right ear. After I climbed back into bed, I lay there with my left ear on my pillow listening to the midnight sonata as the vibrations echoed through the bed frame on into the long sleepless morning light.
As the trip to Washington grew closer I became more troubled. Mary was excited and looked forward to it with enthusiasm. I dreaded telling her I didn’t feel good about the drive. I didn’t want to disappoint her. It must have been about the first of July, just two days from our planned departure when I finally got up the nerve. We were sitting in her apartment ready to go out for the evening when I blurted it out. “I’m having second thoughts about our trip on the bike.”
Mary looked at me with a puzzled expression and then asked me with one of those duh tones, “Why?”
“I don’t know exactly. A long trip on a bike is hard.”
I think that evening was my second lesson on telling Mary ‘no,’ the original had been a disaster and I hadn’t thought this one through any better. I could first see it in her eyes. It trickled down her body as each muscle tightened. She stood. Stared directly into my eyes and said, “I don’t care if you want to go or not. I’m going without you.”
I was afraid she was about to walk me to the door and tell me to leave. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go. It was just the bike. Had I thought the conversation through, I would have said something like this;
Mary, I’ve been thinking about how much I am going to enjoy our trip to Washington together. I look forward to spending time with you and I really look forward to meeting your family. I’m just worried about our safety and your comfort while riding a bike for twelve hours. Because we will be in the wind the entire trip it will make it hard for us to talk and I’d really like to get to know more about you. Would you be willing to reconsider the bike and let me go with you in a car? But that would have been too many words.
“No, no, it’s not that I don’t want to go,” I started to explain.
Mary’s arms were folded tightly across her chest. I’ve seen that look many times too, this very morning as a matter of fact.
July 16, 2010
I’ve been researching more on the Her2 negative this morning. It’s not what we wanted to see. Most women with the BRCA1 gene are Her2 negative. It doesn’t necessarily mean that those with the triple negative are BRCA1, but the odds are greater. Once the cancer is whipped, Mary’s chances of a reoccurrence are three times greater because of the triple negative.
Mary has gone for a walk in the park. We process information so much differently, she and I. I need to get everything I can get and then process it so I don’t get anymore surprises than necessary. Mary would prefer to gather her information on an ‘as needed’ basis and as she feels the strength to absorb it all. When she returned from the walk she came into the kitchen and told me that she had talked to Dr. Rich about the Her2. He had told her that the cancer is susceptible to Chemo and it seems to respond well. He also told her that she is three times more likely to have a reoccurrence.
I opened my mouth and added some of the information I had learned; that brain mastitis is more likely, and that the triple negative is more prevalent in BRCA1. I should know better by now. Thirty-years and I still haven’t figured out how to be sensitive about what I say. New goal: Listen; pay attention, don’t talk until careful thought has occurred.
I suppose that’s why I’m writing this story. I can edit, correct, rewrite and review. It is perhaps the best way I can tell her how I feel. Not many men have been blessed with so many tunes of the heart from their girls, as I have been given from mine. But, Mary, this is how much I love you and more. I will do my best to be more sensitive.
It’s your stubborn determination that will get you through this. You’ve done hard things before and this will be one more of those things that we’ll get through together.
Standing there with that look of stubborn determination was one of the qualities that drew me to Mary. I almost laugh as I think about that scene.
“I’ll just take my little car and go without you,” she insisted before I could fix the mess I’d made.
“Hold on a minute,” I blurted. “I want to go with you. I’m just worried about going on the bike.”
Mary’s shoulders relaxed a little. “What are you worried about?”
“Twelve hours is a very long time to sit on a motorcycle seat with the wind whipping at your hair. I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”
Mary returned to the couch and uncrossed her arms. “I can do it if you can,” she said.
“I know you can. I like that about you. I would just feel better if we drove a car.”
It was agreed, it would be Mary’s little Fiesta and we would leave right after work on Friday, the third of July.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Chapter Six

Days of Dissonance

July 14, 2010

Today is the first time I have seen this beast drag Mary down. Yes there have been tears and fears; questions and worries, but this evening it all seemed to pile up. It was like the load was just too heavy to hold as we sat across from each other in the office and talked. I held her in my arms. I wished I could take it away and make it mine. But, it is what it is . . . so I will do all that I can and sometimes just listening is all that I can do.

Her brother Steve and his wife Jenny and there six children are here on a visit from Idaho. Jenny has been like a sister the last few years. They have been out shopping for wigs. Something that looks as much like her hair as possible. The wig shop lady told her is just seems a little less frightening to have your hair sitting on the dresser when the day comes that the real hair falls out.

Mary also went to see the plastic surgeon today. That was the hardest part. They discussed options that would make her feel the best through the Chemo and radiation, something temporary and then a more permanent solution after radiation. I wasn’t with her for the appointment.

Steve rented a movie, something to make everyone laugh, and now, in the other room, it seems to be doing the trick.

Joann and Tammie were two of Mary’s best friends. One day in the early summer of 1981 the three of them decided to go camping to Zion’s National Park in Southern Utah. They packed their things and off they went. I don’t believe I knew anything about the trip until John Tangelson showed up on my doorstep. John and I were friends and he was engaged to be married to Joann. When I realized he seemed a little blue I said, “You look like you lost your best friend.”

He replied, “I did. She left for Zions Park this morning.”

“Zions, what’s she doing there?”



“No, didn’t Mary tell you?” He knew we had been dating because we’d doubled a few weeks earlier.

“I didn’t hear a thing.”

“Joan, Mary, and Tammy just decided to go camping.” I could see John was already feeling a little incomplete without Joan.

“So you came here to pout?”

“No, I came to see if you want to take a ride to Southern Utah and find them?”

“A ride? It’s four hours away.”

“I know and I can’t afford the gas.” John was a starving student. He drove a big boat of a car and gas prices were out the roof.

I laughed, “So, you want the two of us to ride my bike to Zions and find your girl?”

“You have a stake in this too,” he said.

“I don’t have any claim. She might not like me showing up unexpected.” I wanted to go, but I didn’t. If Mary wanted me to know she was leaving, she would have told me.

“Blame it on me,” John said in desperation. “Tell her I made you go.”

It didn’t take much pleading to convince me. Mary was my girl; she just didn’t know it yet.

We strapped our sleeping bags to the bike and put our gear in the saddle bags, cranked up the music and adjusted our helmets. I owned two bikes. One for the road and one for the dirt and we were on the road. It was near dusk when we arrived at the park entrance. We crept past every campsite we could see, and then drove from campground to campground inspecting spot after spot until late into the night. Mary owned a cute little red Ford Fiesta. If it was there, we would have found it.

“They aren’t here,” John finally conceded.

“You’re sure they were coming to Zions?”

“That’s what Joann told me.” John was disappointed.

We soon found ourselves lying on the hard ground, staring up at the midnight stars. The following morning John insisted on a new search of each campground. Our efforts delivered the same results. We later learned that the girls had found a dirt road off the beaten path and driven down it. The spent night under the same midnight stars only a quarter mile from where we had spent the night.

July 15, 2010

The lab called today. It’s not good news. Mary is Her2 negative. This will make fighting the cancer more difficult. There has not been a good long term treatment developed for the triple negative receptor yet. This makes reoccurrence nearly three times more likely. We are especially grateful that we caught it early. Because it is still so small, this increases the odds of long term survival.

There was some encouraging news. The MRI reports came back. The cancer has not spread to other portions of the breasts and the tumor is the same size they have anticipated.

We are going camping this weekend. The motor home is about to be used. It will be a quick get away because Mary is working someone’s second half on Friday.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chapter Five

Song of the Beast

Her inception took place one hot summer day in 1980. Her delivery took months. It wasn’t a typical birth. It was more like a long drawn out C-section. The operating room was filthy and smelled of paint fumes and metal filings. It didn’t take place in a hospital, but a body shop. The doctors weren’t doctors at all, but a bunch of sweaty young guys with air chisels and hand grinders. Her mother was a 66 Chevy Impala two door hard top—and her daddy—well let’s just say the International Harvester Company put out an early vehicle that resembled the modern four wheel drive Suburban. We stripped him to the frame and left the essential ‘manly organs’ in tact, you know, the motor, transmission, transfer case and differentials. The first thing the Chevy lost was her top; she became a new sexy hard top convertible. Top-on in the winter and topless in the summer. The red tuck-and-roll bench seats were perfect for the drive-in, or a pile in. After we mated the two it looked like a monster truck on estrogen and she took a step ladder to climb aboard.
Who knows what we were thinking. Probably the same thing any twenty-one-year-old single dude would be thinking—‘babe magnet.’ Problem was, she was the babe and she drew dumb young men to her like a man magnet. We called her The Beast. She was a money pit. She had big wheels and tires, new interior, paint, computerized state of the art control center, and a soft cover for the rain.

July 13, 2010
My ‘babe’ had her first Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan today. Before the procedure, the receptionist called to schedule and asked Mary if she was closter phobic. Mary didn’t think so, but considered taking something to help her remain calm. I explained to her it wasn’t so bad. She just needed to close her eyes and relax. They gave her an IV with contrast so they could get the best result. Mary’s paternal relatives have an extensive history of cancer, so the oncologist is running the BRCA gene specific battery and taking as many extra precautions as possible.
She had to lay topless, face downward with her breasts pulled down for the scan. At first she was so tense she thought the ‘beast’ was running before it even started. However, after she put in her earplugs, it didn’t take long for Mary to relax. She said she actually fell asleep a few times. I’ve seen her fall asleep half way through a sentence before, so it didn’t surprise me.
The giant MRI starts out with a click, click, click . . . click, clunk . . . clunk . . . clunk, clunk. There’s no rime or reason to the sounds, but the monstrous machine is intimidating no matter how you look at it. Thank goodness for modern technology.
They sent us home with a CD of the inside of Mary’s breasts. And of course the first thing I did when we got home was to put it in the computer and ‘check it out.’ Sometimes I think I‘m pretty smart. Looking at the inside of someone’s body is not one of those times. Even though I know where the tumor is, I couldn’t distinguish between healthy tissue and the cancerous beast lurking inside.

I think it was our fifth or sixth date that included The Beast. It was a drive up American Fork canyon. The top was off and Mary clung tightly to the arm rest on far side of the vehicle. We were still miles apart. Had I known then what I know now about Mary; a trip in a 4x4 was not a treat. She’s never liked the instability, or the big machines. She was a good sport, it was just the distance between us I didn’t like. I’d suggested she could scoot a little closer, but she wasn’t having any part of it.
It was the nature of the gravel base, the ride, and the angle of the road that got things moving up and down—oddly enough, just on the passenger side. We were making a sharp turn on an up hill slope, where the road had been severely wash boarded. The Beast bounced, and then bounced again with a little more force. Mary began to laugh. I know that laugh now after thirty years of marriage. It is typically perpetuated by something embarrassing or something that makes her uncomfortable, but is still very funny. It’s almost contagious. By the third bounce we were both laughing and it was the force of that bounce that finally broke Mary’s vise-like grip from the passenger door’s armrest. The fourth bounce had her air borne, her arms scrambling for something to hang onto. But it was the fifth bounce than landed her precisely by my side with her arms wrapped tightly around my neck.
“There’s more than one way to scoot you close,” I chuckled.
We hiked that evening to a little place we call Silver Lake. There’s an aspen tree on the bend, just above the last steep climb of the hike, and on its east facing trunk the words are carved ‘Ken + Mary.’ I’m not quite sure how, but I had the nerve to implicate a relationship worth carving in a tree. Mary reluctantly went along with my vandals’ act and let me carve her name next to mine. She was worried the tree might suffer from the deep scar. I told her not to worry, the aspen tree is tough and vigorous and gains strength from the trees that surround it and tie their root systems to each other. It would be just fine.

July 13, 2010
We met Dr. Jennifer Tittensor this morning. Did I actually spell that right? I better check. Yep. She specializes in breast surgery. She called her staff in early so she could fit Mary into her tight schedule. Lindsey (formerly Dickenson, a daughter of one of our close neighbors) is the Dr.’s Nurse practitioner—and she’s expecting her first child in less than a month. She met with us first. Lindsey told us what a great person Dr. Tittensor has been. Just the act of bringing the staff in early told me the story, but it was even better when we heard it from a friend. We were also reminded of our neighbor who passed away just a year or two ago from breast cancer. It was disclosed that same office staff had seen her too.
There we were, Mary and Ken, sitting in a surgeon’s office, a new bend in the road of life, with a long steep climb ahead, both waiting to see how deep the carving of a breast might be. Mary was worried about the horror stories she’d heard of someone going into surgery for a lumpectomy and coming out with a mastectomy. I can only imagine the anxiety those thoughts might have created.
Mary was told to strip to the waist. I asked her if she wanted my striptease ensemble again. I got a sharp “no”. I complied. Lindsey returned and we went through the routine of health history, how long ago the lump was discovered, family history, and so on. Then we waited.
When the Dr. Tittensor arrived she immediately apologized for being late. With not much difference in height between the two women, she thrust her hand forward and vigorously shook Mary’s hand. I was next. She introduced herself and her slight accent and mannerisms reminded me a little of Holly Hunter in a much more wholesome style. Her long dark hair was pulled into a tight pony tail and I imagined her as a girl trotting around the arena on her father’s ranch in the not so distant past.
With the pleasantries in the past, the doctor methodically explained the details of what we should expect; surgery, three weeks of recovery, four months of chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. On the day of the lumpectomy she would install a portacath through her neck and down near the heart. It would be much more convenient than many needle pokes into the veins, and quite often the veins have a hard time through Chemo.
With so much information it is hard to digest it all in such a short period of time. There’s the Her2, reconstruction surgery, lymphedema, how Chemo will effect her body, and will there be a surprise mastectomy if something new is discovered during the lumpectomy?
The doctor was cordial and answered all our questions one at a time. No, there would not be any surprises. She never started a lumpectomy and then turned it into a mastectomy. She said that we were still waiting for the pathology for the last data on the Her2, if it turned out positive it would make the fight easier than if it turned out negative. Some reconstructive surgery would take place during the lumpectomy and some would be after the radiation because radiation can actually shrink the breast tissue two sizes. We would learn more after we met with the plastic surgeon.
Lymphedema is always a concern. It is desirable to leave as many of the lymph nodes intact as possible. Lymphedema takes place when the nodes are not present to remove the fluid that builds in the tissues. It causes swelling and pain. Dr. Tittensor said that she would try first to find a sentinel node, or two, and see if cancer is present. If they were clear she would leave the others intact. If not, she would take the group near the arm pit to have them examined. This is important in establishing the staging of the cancer so Chemo treatment could be decided.
Mary has been reluctant to tell her friends about this traumatic event. She doesn’t want the big C on her chest where only her breasts have been. I reminded her about the aspen tree. The roots of aspen trees interlock with each other becoming one system. Each tree gains strength from the connection to another. I know that Mary’s friends and family, neighbors and co-workers will unite with her, with us, to give her the strength she needs to help her through this heavy task.

Many years passed and one day we planned an early Saturday morning family excursion to Silver Lake. The day arrived and we loaded our daypacks and water bottles into our Ford Expedition 4X4 and headed up the canyon. We had big kids and little ones, strong young men and little girls, all helping each other as we trudged up the rugged trail. The little ones grew hot and exhausted while the men were anxious to reach the top. I remember clearly the vivid pictures of two little children hoisted onto the shoulders of their big brothers, helping hands stretched out as we each worked together to reach the top. And there, on the bend, just above the last steep climb of the hike, and on its east facing trunk, the aspen, the words still roughly visible Ken + Mary to which were added the words + Jake + Daniel + Chrissy + Austin + Kayshia + Kinley.
When we reached the top, the mountain air was crisp and cool and the water of the lake ice cold. We were at the base of timberline, the last place on the mountain peak where the trees could grow. The boys stripped to their underwear and dared take a frigid dip in the clear water. We laughed and played, told our children the story of their parents date, the night their mother was forced to sit close to dad. We shouted at the ridge tops and listened to the echoes of our voices, a time so shortly past.

Chapter Four

Get Overture

Dave Fisher stood in the doorway with a silly grin plastered across his face. The smell of cheap cologne wafted into the room as the cold air from the open door swept past me leaving me feeling like I’d somehow been standing there in nothing but my underwear. Dave was my motorcycle riding buddy, we’d met in the fall of 1980 at the same young adult group where I’d met Mary. He was tall, dark, and handsome and had an inner confidence about girls that I had never quite mastered. Dave was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. Mary, completely innocent of any wrong doing, was still in shock trying to figure out how to explain the entire situation—and the roommate—well she was enjoying the entire spectacle way too much. It only took a second for me to get my clothes back on before I turned to Mary’s roommate, flirted a little, and reinforced my invitation to the upcoming activity. I wished Dave and Mary good luck on their date and shortly found myself sulking into my apartment—defeated—yet a champion for skillfully averting a very awkward situation for all involved. Dave didn’t have a clue and the roommate; well she’d just had the wind blown from her buxom sail.
It was early March before Dave and I rode again, one of those unseasonable spring days that followed a melting snow. Most of my hopes had been dashed as I had watched Mary and Dave seem more serious about their relationship through the previous months. There still flickered a glimmer of optimism that kept me returning to the weekly meeting in the hope the Dave would fall gently flat on his handsome face. Dave strapped down his helmet and I led out. My body shop was not far from the foothills and made a good starting place for our ride. After an exhausting climb to the mouth of Slate Canyon we parked our bikes and pulled off the helmets.
“How are things with you and Mary?” I asked.
“We broke up a couple of weeks ago,” Dave replied.
My heart jumped. “Oh! Too bad.”
He gave me a rehearsed excuse for the split and I gave him my condolences. Our conversation somehow landed us back on the night in Mary’s apartment. I teased him about his cheap cologne and I told him why I was there that night. Dave nearly laughed himself off his bike. He’d been wondering why I was in Mary’s apartment and flirting with her envious roommate and why everyone had been so tense, and now it all made perfect sense.
“You need to ask her out,” Dave finally suggested.
“Who, the roommate? Not a chance.” But I knew who he meant.
“No . . . Mary, you two would be great together.”
“Na, I wouldn’t want to step on your wounded toes,” I replied, knowing I could get him to encourage me on.
“No, it’s over between us. She’s a sweetheart. You should do it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” Dave said as he strapped on his helmet. “I’ll race you back to the shop.”
My bike was faster and lighter, could jump higher and further than ever before. “My patience might just pay off,” I thought, but I knew the competition would be tough. “Maybe that’s why Dave was done, maybe he was setting me up for failure, just like him.” I soon left Dave in a trail of dust.

High school dating was my failure. During and shortly after—on the occasion when I dated—I’d dated two kinds of girls. Once in a while I’d get “lucky” and meet a beauty queen who would agree to go out with me because of my nice cars. Girls had always been a lot of work and I had always been sure someone else would swish them away. The relationships were always stressful and one sided. I also dated other girls who were less than beauty queens. One in particular, who’s inner beauty was so bright that the physical beauty didn’t seem so important. Her name was Julie Anderson and we spent a great deal of time together. We never had any chemistry between us, so instead of any kind of physical relationship, we became best friends. It was a unique relationship. She talked about her other dates when she was with me and I talked about my other dates when I was with her. We developed a love for each other, something I had never felt with a girl before. We taught each other social skills; she taught me more than I taught her. After we had been apart a year or two, I realized that the kind of affection we felt for each other was what I wanted to feel toward a future spouse. I knew it would be tricky because somehow the physical attraction put chemistry into motion and then . . . kabam, the next thing you knew you were up to your lips in chemistry.
I had already decided that the last thing I wanted to do was mess up the relationship between Mary and me with my lips. I already had enough trouble just opening my mouth, the last thing I needed, if I wanted to develop a lasting relationship, was to stick my lips into the mix. Little did I know that Mary was sick and tired of empty relationships without commitment. She had decided that she would never date exclusively again until some guy had put a ring on her finger.

Our first real date was early in the spring if 1981, dinner at Heaps Brick Oven. That night confirmed that Mary’s inner beauty matched her outer beauty, and I wanted to be a part of her life. Somehow in my clumsy way, I managed to impress her because she had felt a tinge of kindness toward me too. No worries, I managed to muck it up by inviting her out and for the next weekend and then I failed to show up. (This is one of those funny areas where we both differ. My recollection was that we ought to get together again, and hers was a confirmed date.) Regardless, I didn’t show. Mary tells me she even saw me with another girl that night. Talk about in the dog house. She thought I was a “player;” a bad boy. She’d seen my other car and beard and long hair. She’d given me the benefit of the doubt and I’d proven otherwise. I hadn’t had a chance to tell her the car, and beard and hair was all part of my police informant job. She had a newly formed opinion of me and it wasn’t good.
It was like a slow crawl out of a dark hole to get a second date. I hadn’t a clue what I’d done wrong, and she was going to make me work for it. It took at lease two or three dates, a meal I cooked for her in my own kitchen and my stories of undercover police work to win her trust again, but I still wasn’t out of the woods. She was dating several guys, writing to one who was selling books in Canada for the summer, and she was working nights, part time, at the local theater with Steve. He was the one that worried me the most. He seemed as good a friend to her as I was. I’d never met him and had envisioned some Don Juan of European decent, with chiseled hard features and thick accent who was competing for her love.
One night she told me that she loved to garden. That was my chance to occupy one more evening with her and limit her evenings from the competition. My suggestion to start a garden was well received, so once a week, off we lit, to plant and hoe and weed and water the newly sprouting friendship. It was on one of those evenings, while we sat on the grass in the shade of a giant elm tree, she told me about her plan to travel across Europe with Steve. She attempted to explain how they would stay in hostels, the guys in one side and the girls in another. She was so excited and animated as she explained her dream to venture into the unknown, seeing new places, sights, feelings and experiences. I listened carefully but somehow the only thing I heard was “with Steve.” And then I let my lips and mouth get me in trouble.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for a nice single girl like you to be traipsing across Europe with a single guy . . . it just wouldn’t look good,” I blurted out.
“What do you mean?” her expression was one of those looks I’ll never forget and have only seen on occasion when I’ve done something really stupid. “Is that really how you feel?” she demanded.
I couldn’t very well back out of my statement and just blurting out “I’m starting to love you and, and. . . . and I would be so jealous if you were with Steve in Europe,” didn’t seem like an appropriate thing to say either. Besides, we hadn’t even kissed. Who was I to tell her how to live her life; that I should be the one to kill her dream of touring Europe? Who was I . . . the bad boy who drove a death dealer car and worked as an undercover police informant trying to give her instructions on moral issues? Who was I to judge her and how it might look to others? That’s the first time I ever got it from my girl. And she really let me have it.
“If that’s how you feel . . .” she took a deep breath. “I don’t ever want to see you again,” she muttered. “Maybe you should take me home.”
Fortunately I wasn’t as generous with the ride home as I had been with my advice. I spent the following hour trying to patch little tiny Band-Aids on the giant open wound I had inflicted with my sharp tongue. The hour after that was spent figuring out where I had gone wrong and letting her know that I valued her friendship. I’ve never been one of many words—from my mouth that is—but I was doing my best. Mary settled down and perhaps listened to what I was trying to say rather than what my lips were saying. Somehow I managed to get the message across, despite my disability to say what I really wanted to say. Things were back on track, but somehow a tiny subconscious switch had been flipped that let Mary know there was more to our friendship than met the eye, and especially the ear.
Days turned into weeks, and I had become successful at occupying as many of those evenings per week as she would allow. One night I was feeling particularly sentimental about our developing friendship. I purchased an album that seemed fitting and drove my big Honda road bike downtown to the theater where Mary worked. With my automotive skills, I quickly unlocked her car door and left a single yellow rose, a little note, and the album on the seat of her car. I locked the door and was gone. I later learned that Steve had walked her to her car after work. When she opened the door and saw the gifts she immediately thanked him for the token. He denied the act. Mary pressed on, besides who else had access to her car keys while she was at work? Adamant denial terminated the praise, but Steve had unintentionally been dealt the first blow of defeat in the war for Mary’s friendship. It was a few nights later that the ultimate battle was lost.
Mary tells the story the best, but as yet, she hasn’t read this love story and therefore it is up to me to relate the details. Steve had asked her out, and of course had to come to the apartment complex to pick her up. Mary says she was a little uptight as they descended the stairs toward the parking lot. She was watching closely, hoping I wouldn’t be seen, or see her with him. My car was not in sight. She managed to make it to the parking lot. Then she climbed into Steve’s car before I pulled into the lot. There I was. I climbed from my car. I looked so happy. She says that without a second thought she ducked. She didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Steve figured it out too. Sorry Steve, you’ll just have to get “overture,” she’s my girl now.

July 11, 2010
I told my bishop about Mary’s cancer today. Mary doesn’t want her friends and neighbors to know about it yet. A big C painted across her chest and everyone feeling sorry for her. As I explained the details I attempted to stop my quivering chin and watering eyes, all without success. Men don’t usually share moments like ours. Those kinds of moments are supposed to be for women, not tough old engineering contractors like me. I’ve found a way to help my wounded heart heal. I love to write. It helps me sort out my tender feelings and organize them in a way so my lips can’t get me in trouble.
Bishop Glover suggested that Mary shouldn’t wait too long before she shares the news with her friends. He reminded me of power of prayer, love and concern that would combine as friends learn and unite in love and prayer for her good. I told him that she understands and the close family has already joined in that process of support.