Music was blaring at Caesar’s Palace disco in Allentown, Pa. as we made our way through the crowd. My brother Dave and his ﬁancee, Ellen, convinced me to go out with them. It was another Friday night with me sitting at home, moping about a failed relationship and trying to ﬁgure out my life. You came from behind, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance. You had a habit of catching me oﬀ guard.
“Killing me softly with his song” by Roberta Flack, was playing. Smoke and sweaty bodies packed the room. I draped my arms around your neck and laid my head on your shoulder as we swayed to the music. You were 4 inches taller than me and wore a rough wooly sweater. The seductive scent of the citrus, woodsy English Leather cologne you wore, infused the air between us. You held me close but not invasive like some of the college guys I dated.
You respected my space and I liked that. A true gentleman. I liked the smooth, soft feel of your close shaven cheek and the softness of your neck. After the dance, we sat at one of those tiny bar tables knees touching, drinking Kahlua and cream as you bubbled over about beginning classes at Culinary School in the spring. Your enthusiasm captivated me, as I gazed into your pale blue sparkly eyes. I thought that you were quite self assured considering you had on glasses that were taped together at the bridge of your nose! Your cockiness both impressed and shocked me at the same time. I agreed to go out with you on Monday.
Unfortunately, the German restaurant you raved about called “The Distleﬁnk” burned down over the weekend. You picked another favorite of yours called “Anna Maria’s”, an Italian restaurant. You arrived promptly at my house. Both my mother and I were pleasantly surprised by your appearance. You wore new glasses with a nice suit and tie. You had even gotten a haircut for the occasion. Recently coming from the college scene where the guys I dated wore jeans and t- shirts with long scruﬀy hair, you were a pleasant surprise. When I told you this, you said, “Well, I plan to take you to nice places so you better buy some new dresses!” Years later, you conﬁded that I was being tested at the restaurant. I said, “What do you mean?” You told me, “ I couldn’t marry a girl who just ordered steak and potato. I’m a chef! I need someone who views food as an adventure.”
After six weeks of dating you, I got a call from my former boyfriend, Rick. He wanted to see me over his spring break in March. I thought it was over. I had not heard from him in two months. He was away at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. When I agreed to see him, he got down on his knee and said, “Will you marry me? I don’t have a ring yet, but we can pick it out together.” I was smitten and said “Yes”. I had shelved my feelings for him, but it wasn’t easy to let go of a year long relationship.
I needed to break it oﬀ with you in person. You deserved that. You were not happy. You left my house saying some corny line from a movie, “When I walk out this door, you will never see me again, and it’s your loss!” I thought, “Man, are you cocky!”
But something made me doubt if I had made the right decision.
You were away at The Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York for the next two years. During that ﬁrst year, you would periodically call my house but I was never home when you called. My mom took the calls and would tell me. “Jim called!” with excitement in her voice. and a twinkle in her eyes. She never liked Rick and was not happy about the engagement.
Rick and I broke up that year. I asked Mom, “Do you still have Jim’s number?” She gladly gave it to me. She would never divulge the conversations she had with you that year. Neither would you. Mom saw something special in you. Later, I would come to know your unique qualities, too.
That beginning stage of love held the promise of an exciting future. We were like multicolored yarn on a loom, weaving our lives together as a couple. You introduced me to jazz. As you drove me around in your 1970 Pontiac Firebird , you embarassed me at stoplights by kissing me, causing impatient drivers behind us to honk loudly.
After a year of dating, part of which was long distance, we got engaged. I was visiting you at the C.I.A. when you popped the question. “For Emily” by Simon and Garfunkel was playing in the background. You asked me if I would walk through ﬁelds of juniper and lamplight with you and I said “Yes.” ( You were away at Culinary School. I was living in Allentown with my parents and working with emotionally disturbed kids at Wiley House) We debated about when to get married. I wanted just a small wedding so we could marry after your graduation and I could go with you to Alabama.
You said, “I don’t want to start a new job and have a new wife at the same time!” You began your career at the Hyatt Hotel in Birmingham, Alabama without me. Later on you would cook for Bear Bryant , the Alabama football coach and Henry Kissinger , former Secretary of State, at that Hyatt. I spent the extra 3 months planning a big church wedding and reception as part of our compromise.
A week before you were to leave for Alabama for your new job, your car was totaled in front of my house. We were out in my neon green Volkswagen Rabbit. My mom found the number of my friend Pat and called to tell us what happened. Later my sister told me how Dad yelled at the kid that came to the house to report the accident. “Accidents don’t happen, they are caused!” he yelled. It was so similar to something he would say to us! You then had to hustle to buy a new car that week.
You promised to show me the world and you did! We lived in ﬁve diﬀerent states. Birmingham, Chicago, Memphis, Dearborn and then to Lexington, where we raised the girls. All were job transfers with Hyatt Hotels. Later when the girls were in college, we began travelling for fun. We visited 15 diﬀerent countries. You had me try many things out of my comfort zone such as; horse back riding across a creek and up a mountain to zipline in Costa Rica; searching in skull caves in Papua New Guinea; kayaking in Bonaire and white water rafting in the Smokies. You taught me how to snorkel. We even swam with sharks in the Bahamas! I loved it all! For our 40th wedding anniversary I talked you into taking a Viking river cruise from Paris to Prague. I wasn’t sure if you could handle a calmer, cultural adventure but you relished it.
In 1983, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes which changed our lives drastically. I was shocked when my dad asked me if you ever complained about my disease. I answered, “No, never.” Before the diagnosis, I recalled a conversation with your mom. She told me about one of your girlfriends before I came into the picture who had diabetes. She said, ”I am so glad Jimmy never married that girl with all those health problems.”
You were always protective of me and would get up from a sound sleep to get me a Coke in the middle of the night if my blood sugar dropped. On one of our trips, it happened at 2AM and there were no Cokes in the hotel mini fridge. You got dressed and went searching for a Coke machine in Dominica. You returned with 2 Cokes telling me you found the security guard and you both raided the bar. There were no vending machines at that resort and the M&M’s I had were not working fast enough. One Halloween, I passed out at work and they called you to come get me after they had given me an IV with glucose. You would spend countless hours in many doctor’s oﬃces and hospitals for my 7 eye surgeries, lasers and shots in my eyes to save my vision from diabetic retinopathy without ever complaining.
In 1989 at age 39 I returned to college to pursue a degree in occupational therapy with your full support. We took out a small student loan and I commuted daily to class besides taking care of our two daughters Heather and Holly aged 10 and 8. My folks were proud and my mom bought me one of her favorite collectibles, a Precious Moment ﬁgurine with a girl carrying books on her head. It was called “Back to School”.
We raised 2 lovely daughters who both graduated from college without getting into drugs or getting pregnant. You tried very hard to be there for the dance recitals, piano recitals, band concerts and school conferences, but your work was very demanding of your time. We were so proud that they chose service professions. The oldest is an emergency veterinarian and the younger one works in early childhood education. There are 2 beautiful grandsons, 2 wonderful son-in-laws and a baby boy on the way. It hurts my heart that you won’t be here to meet him. You would joke about our son-in-laws saying, “ I have to give Justin and Chris a lot of credit. I don’t think I could live with either of my daughters now! They are high maintenance.”
We shouldered many tragedies together. You helped me recover from a miscarriage and infertility issues before we had Heather. After 10 years of marriage, we lost your dad. Then there was the kidnapping of my younger sister Pam in 1985. Fortunately she survived the ordeal but has never fully recovered. Next we lost both my dad and our ﬁrst dog Toby within months of each other. It was hard on both of us but it was the ﬁrst time I saw you shed tears.
In 1997 my brother Dave committed suicide. The news unsettled all of us. You were the one to break the news to me since I was on my way home from work when my sister called. Heather was a freshmen away at college and was struggling with homesickness when she got the news. You helped me take care of my mom at our house with hospice in 2003, as she lay dying of liver cancer. I remember Miss Ella, the hospice aide, who would yell at you. She wouldn’t let you leave the house when she was there and would order you about. She never treated Holly and me that way. We would later laugh about Miss Ella. She would say “Jump” and you would say “How high?”
We had many losses. Your mom passed in 2008. In the summer of 2011 we each suddenly lost a brother. Their sudden deaths prompted us to see a lawyer and draft our will.
I know my mind is jumping around in time but that is how it has been since you left. Grief does that. You were always my rock. We got each other through job losses, illnesses, the joys and stresses of parenting. Three weeks after you passed, the song “Perfect” was released by Ed Sheeran. Music was a bond we shared. His song was about ﬁnding his love and resembled our story. He even looked a little like you as a young man with his tousled hair and glasses. Ed Sheeran has that attitude of here I am, take it or leave it. Just like you.
Right when that song came out, I found an old photograph of us from 1975 garbed in jeans and t shirts smiling with a celebratory drink in our hands. Me with long ﬂowing hair and you with tousled locks, sideburns and wirerimmed glasses. We were at the Hyatt in Alabama and the crew was welcoming us back from our wedding in Pennsylvania. Such hope for the future glistened in our eyes as we began this new adventure together. Just like Ed Sheeran and his ﬁancee. Everytime I hear that song now, it touches me to the core and I burst into tears aching for you.
Through it all there has been one constant—our love for each other. We had peaks and valleys during our marriage but our love was always rock solid. We both knew we had each other’s back. That is what was and still is “Perfect” about us…our love for each other. You were a humble man never seeking the limelight. You loved with all your being and gave all you had to the girls and me. I’ll never forget your words as you entered the elevator, after getting your diagnosis. You looked me in the eyes and said, “But Linda, I was the one who was supposed to take care of you!”
Jim, I have been blessed to have had you as my soulmate and you will always be a part of me. No one looks into the depths of my eyes the way you did. I just wasn’t ready to let you go . . .
All my love,