Did I really throw a temper tantrum the other night? I actually yelled at Jerry and cried and stomped my feet. As if I was the one who was sick. Who was dying. He gave me a worried look and led me to the couch and pulled my feet onto his lap. We stared at each other as he gently rubbed them, neither of us saying anything. What was there to say? Our time together was running out and we both knew it.
Maybe we were ready.
A few weeks ago I had watched from the front window of the house as Jerry, Emilee and Cheyenne made their slow march down the steps to our baby blue pick-up. They were off on one of their adventures through our little town. Cheyenne was leading the way, followed by Em in her blue rubber boots, carrying her yellow pail to hold all the treasures they were sure to find. And there was Jerry, moving slowly and painfully behind, leaning on his newly acquired cane. Not long ago he had come back after a solitary drive in old blue and told me he had found a nice cemetery on a hillside overlooking the river. What was the name of it again?
Looking around the quiet house, I wasn’t sure what to do. There was so much weighing on me, so many things to take care of, to plan for, but I had no energy for them so I tried to take a nap. But my mind wouldn’t calm down enough to sleep. It kept jumping around from one exhausting scenario to another, with no peaceful place to land. So I wrote in my journal, trying to put into words what was happening, what led us to this place. On one page I pushed down on the pen and carved PLEASE HELP ME.
I thought about the little Culver City house we used to live in, and about our late-night drive to the doctor’s birthing room in Santa Monica. Jerry was a great childbirth coach. We wanted an all-natural birth and we got it. I can still picture Jerry smiling in front of the window, with Emilee cradled in his arms. Through the window I noticed that it was morning and raining lightly. Three hours after Em was born we brought her home. I didn’t sleep at all that first night. I just held her and watched her while she slept, amazed and thankful and scared. For the first month Jerry would come home from work each night and do the laundry, including hundreds of cloth diapers, and make dinner for us. He was a really good cook.
We shared a dream of moving out of Southern California, and one day we did. We’d been saving for a while, and when Jerry called me from work and said he had to get out of there, I said come home, and together we made a plan. Within ten days of our decision, we had rented a car and drove up to Portland where Jerry was hired on the spot as a precision welder, we found a cute little house on a quiet street, then drove back down south where we packed our belongings and our pets, said good-bye to our families and friends, and left.
I remember Portland with its blue skies and lush, green landscapes. Our first day there we met Velva, our ninety-year-old neighbor from across the street. All of five-feet tall, she chopped her own firewood, grew her own herbs, and lived alone in a big, white plantation-style house. She just rang our doorbell, handed us a delicious casserole, and she and Em became instant buddies.
The only winter we lived in Portland we shared our first white Christmas as a little family. We laughed and played in the snow and then warmed up with hot cocoa. From our living room we could see across the river to Vancouver. When the weather warmed we took road trips along the Columbia River Highway and were awed by the beauty of Multnomah Falls as we walked along the footbridge. It was our last carefree time together.
And then Jerry got sick.
And he didn’t get better. What started as a stomach ache resulted in a surgery that exposed numerous malignant tumors. The doctors recommended that Jerry go to a state-of-the-art hospital in Los Angeles, so we again packed up our belongings and, reluctantly and unbelievably, moved back down south. All of this happened in just six weeks.
The smoggy, heavy heat of summer in the San Fernando Valley took its toll on us immediately. Jerry started a round of powerful chemotherapy, and then survived another surgery. He braved it all, despite the humidity and the nauseating days that seemed to go on forever. Jerry’s parents let us live with them, and for that I will always be grateful. Having a place to stay during his treatment lifted an already-heavy burden, and we all made the best of those stress-filled days.
I remember Halloween that year. Jerry, always the clown, that day dressed the part. He borrowed a pair of roller skates, and broke all the rules I’m sure as he skated up and down the halls of the hospital. I’m sorry to say that he may have also scattered around some black rubber spiders. I have a picture of him in his clown costume. His painted-on smile is upside down.
A few months later his doctors acknowledged that they didn’t know what else they could do for him. So we again headed north, this time to the redwood coast of Northern California and our house on the hill.