-*- Saturday, June 3, 2017 -*-
-*- Lake Quivira, Kansas -*-
I must have forgotten how much I enjoyed driving my father's
old 1999 _Ford F-150 XLT_ super cab. Following his sudden passing
six weeks ago, I learned that Dad's old truck was one of the items
which he had decided to leave me in his last will and testament.
After picking it up at the family farm in Pleasant Grove this
morning, I then drove back to Lake Quivira and was flooded with
memories along the expressway of riding shotgun with Dad when I
was growing up in the 1980's. Dad had always been a truck guy.
I recalled him rambling on about life back in those days, sharing
old war stories and his love for baseball and the Kansas City
Royals. Dad was my idol when I was younger and I always felt
enthralled by him. I loved this particular truck because it
reminded me of those memories in the trucks that preceded it.
After Mom gave me the keys earlier and I sat down in the truck,
the first thing I noticed was that it had over 273,000 miles piled
up on it. Wow. Dad always loved his trucks and took great care of
them, so it really should not have been all that surprising to me
that it had so many miles on it. Still, 273,000 seemed excessive.
At first when I left the truck felt too bulky, too slow, too
plain for my tastes, with the faded blue stripes above and a wide
silver band below that encircled its body. But as I merged onto
Interstate 70 in Lawrence and got up to a good speed, the vehicle
quickly began to grow on me and I took comfort in driving it.
Just like old times, I suppose. I enjoyed knowing that Dad had
driven it before me and, despite our disjointed father-son
relationship since Christmastime in 2014, he still thought enough
of me to will his most treasured material possession my way.
Once back home in Lake Quivira, I parked the old truck in the
garage and thought about the events from yesterday, particularly
what I learned about Alexa while at the regional shopping center.
My wife had lied to me, as well as Merissa, about what happened
two-and-a-half weeks ago during her final day on the job at the
health club. Alexa claimed that her boss disrespected her with
some cruel words and she suddenly quit. But in reality, it was
the other way around - Alexa got angry at Bryan after he refused
her request of personal time off, and she said some things that
she should not have. He promptly fired her on the spot.
I had not been prepared to handle the thought of Alexa possibly
lying or being dishonest with me in any way, shape or form
whatsoever. The idea itself was quite foreign, unimaginable to
me. Yet Alexa had her reasons (whether I agreed with them or not)
and my love for her would not allow this isolated incident to
create any sort of fissure in our marriage. Quite simply, I would
not allow it. Alexa had otherwise been totally upfront and honest
with me since the very day we first met nearly seven years ago.
We could not change what happened, but I believed there was
good to be found in every situation. Along with Merissa (who had
similar thoughts to mine when learning of Alexa's recent deceit),
the three of us had a long discussion last evening and reaffirmed
our desire to be completely open and honest with one another from
this point forward. Nothing was too hurtful or embarrassing to
share amongst ourselves. Whatever it was, the three of us would
work through it together. That's the way it simply HAD to be.
Honesty was the most important thing in our three-way marriage, in
my opinion, and it was the glue that held us together.
If we faced this situation again in the future, though - one of
us being dishonest about anything in our marriage or overall life
together - there was going to be some serious problems.
I took a deep breath as I exited the garage and climbed the
steps to the second floor of our waterfront, log cabin home. Just
knowing that Dad's old truck was now in my garage, my possession,
was suddenly churning my stomach. But I did not try to fool myself
as to why. I wanted it and would take care of it as best I could,
but I wish Dad was still alive and the truck was back where it
truly belonged - under his watchful eye - in Pleasant Grove.
I knew Alexa and Merissa had seen this fractured, vulnerable
side of me in the past six weeks. Hell, everyone in the family
had. But I was glad that my two wives were not home at the moment,
as well as the kids. All of them went out earlier with Michelle
and Rick (Merissa's mother and brother) when I was taking care of
business in Pleasant Grove. Michelle and Rick were visiting from
Georgia so they could meet up and get acquainted with Asher, my
two-week-old son with Merissa. But they were going home tomorrow.
Indeed, I was happy that I was alone in the house for the time
being. Suddenly, I could not stop the flow of tears as I thought
about Dad and the fact that I would never see him again. No one
needed to further witness the evidence of my broken shell, not
even Alexa or Merissa. I was too damn stubborn about showing any
negative emotion around them. Yet I was tired of the pain, the
constant reminders, the grieving which could happen at the drop of
a dime, and I just wanted it to stop. But would it ever stop?
Would I ever get over the loss of my father?
I picked up some toys that Cooper and Madison had apparently
left scattered throughout the living room while I was away. I
loved all three of my precious children more than life itself.
Despite my tears, I checked my smartphone and wondered what time
Alexa, Merissa and the others would be returning home. _Lexi_.
Even her name sounded playful. She blew my mind last night with
her honesty, her openness, her ability to admit what she did was
wrong, and the vow to never do it again. Just the way Alexa put
her heart into showing remorse with every spoken word, Merissa and
I had no choice but to accept the fact that she made a mistake.
Instead of ridiculing her or harping on about it, Merissa and I
forgave Alexa and agreed to put the incident behind us forever.
I went downstairs and fell back into the sofa in the family
room and again looked at my smartphone. I scrolled through the
names in the address book. Alexa, Merissa, Mom, Dad, Hudson,
Janae, Carl, Mike, Pamela, Tom, Wayne, Karen, Tracie and Sarah. I
scrolled back up to Dad's name and hit the edit icon. _I love
you, and I will forever miss you._ I clicked edit, took a deep
breath and closed my eyes, readying myself for whatever emotions
may be forthcoming, then opened my eyes and hit delete. I
released my breath and sat frozen in place, waiting for the
emotional onslaught to come. But it didn't. The house was
silent, save for the fluttering of the curtains. My pulse
remained steady. My gut did not take a swan dive off the cliff.
I carried my smartphone upstairs and went out to the porch.
"I finally did it. I suppose that's a start." Deleting Dad's
entry from my smartphone felt sort of therapeutic. I looked up at
the sky, Heaven above, and debated my next move. I felt as if I
was in a giant chess game - the game of life and mourning - and
the right move may just be what I needed to progress and finally
get to the other side, but the wrong move would take me out of
the game altogether and I would be forever pinned in. I swiped
Alexa's entry for speed dial, and she answered on the third ring.
"Jeremy," she greeted, her voice sending a thrill through my
soul. Obviously, Alexa looked at the caller ID before answering
her own smartphone. "Hi baby. You get the truck? How'd it go?"
I pictured Alexa's own tears from last evening when she was
asking for forgiveness from Merissa and yours truly. All night
long, I had the constant urge to hug her and say that everything
would eventually be alright. Right now, I needed to hug her yet
again - but for an entirely different reason.
"It went okay. Mom isn't doing so well, but we talked about
Dad and some other issues, and it was good. A real good talk."
"Yeah?" Alexa asked.
I could hear the restraint in her voice and knew she had a
million questions. But now was not the right time to discuss
them. "Yeah, I'll share the details when we're with Merissa,
probably later tonight." I winced and added, "When are you two
and the kids getting home? Everyone having fun?"
"We don't want to stay out too long because this is Asher's
first time being away from the house other than to go to the
pediatrician's office. But we're having fun at the park. You
have any ideas for us later? Anything on your plate tonight?"
"Hopefully you and Merissa are." I rolled my eyes at those
words, sounding as if they came out of a cheesy movie. "I mean..."
Alexa laughed. I loved her sense of humor.
"That sounds perfectly fine to me," she mused. "But Merissa
wants Michelle and Rick to stay late tonight since it's their
last night in town. You and I could sneak away for a bit later
on and talk if you want to, give them some privacy. Sound good?"
"I would like that very much."
"I know it's rough on you having to pick up your dad's truck.
You told me about all the memories it would bring back."
"When do you think you all will be home?" I asked again.
"Soon. Probably two hours tops, I'd say," she offered. Yet it
seemed like forever to me. "Would you like anything from the
store? We are stopping there on the way and I can pick up whatever
you like. Any snacks, a certain drink?"
"No, I'm fine. I'm just tired... but not from work. It was
really difficult to drive Dad's truck back home after Hudson came
over and dropped me off at Mom's this morning."
I could sense Alexa frowning through the telephone connection
itself, her sympathetic nature kicking into high gear. "Why don't
you lie down, baby, and take a nap? You'll feel better. Oh, I
wish I was there for you now. You didn't get a lot of sleep last
night as it was. We all stayed up late talking about everything."
Alexa knew that I spent most nights lying awake recently already,
falling in and out of fitful sleep. How many countless hours had I
spent feeling heartbroken about Dad, replaying that morning six
weeks ago when Hudson called and informed me of his passing? When
I closed my eyes at night, I often heard Hudson's voice.
"I may just do that." I forced a smile.
"I love you, Jeremy."
"I love you, too. See you soon, honey."
I sat on the front porch for a few moments with my knees pulled
up, my hands drawn together on either side of my face, and my chin
resting on the length of my thumbs. I wished Dad was still alive
and the bitter separation I had with Mom was still ongoing. At
least Dad would still be here, right? I would not be feeling so
empty and hollow inside if that were the case. And there would
still be hope that one day, I could reconcile with both of my
parents instead of just one as I was in the process of doing right
now. Even if it never happened, I had always clung to the idea -
the simple hope - that I could somehow make peace with Mom and Dad.
Sometimes, all anyone has is their hope. I lived off it for years.
Not any more, though. Dad was gone, and I had to deal with it.
I reclined back on the hard, wooden surface of the patio and
gazed up at the endless, blue skies, recalling the other half of
the discussion I had with Alexa and Merissa last evening. I heard
the sound of some overanxious teen-aged kids playing not too far
from me on the beach. Would that be the sound of my own kids - 12,
15 years - down the line? I draped an arm over my eyes to block
out the blaring sunlight and wondered if I could fall asleep with
the harsh, unforgiving wood beneath me at my back.
After five weeks of not exactly being upfront and honest myself,
I finally came forward last evening and fessed up to my two wives
about the dream/visitation/hallucination/whatever-it-was I had with
my father the day after his funeral in April. Alexa and Merissa
sat in silence and listened as I explained to them, in exacting
detail, the events of my visit with Dad. About how we were sitting
in Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City without another soul in sight,
in the middle of the night, yet with all the overhead lights on.
Dad spoke to me about family and love, and seemingly gave his
blessing for my three-way marriage with Alexa and Merissa. The
scene shifted, and suddenly I was in a sold-out, rocking stadium
with Dad, and we watched the final out of Game 2 of the 2015 World
Series, when the Royals defeated the New York Mets, 7-1. Just like
when I was younger, Dad and I were at the ballpark again. A few days
later, the Royals won their first championship title in 30 years.
Alexa got a real kick out of Dad telling me that she would give
birth to a daughter next summer, in 2018, named Brooklyn. Likewise,
Merissa had the expected reaction when I informed her that Dad said
he had met up with her own father in Heaven. He was incredibly
proud of the young woman she had grown and matured into, Dad said,
and could not be any happier that she had Alexa and yours truly in
her life. Merissa's father watched over her like a guardian angel.
She broke down and became highly emotional at the mere thought, let
alone the excess details I shared concerning what Dad said about him.
Alexa refused to criticize me for believing that whole episode
was somehow real. It was real, I told her; it really did happen,
and it was not a dream (despite the fact that it ended, you know,
when I woke up in bed that morning). Dad really did come to visit,
and take me on a little journey! I tried to tell her, but Alexa
simply claimed it was good to dream and that I should hold onto
the images and ideas this one created forever.
Alexa also pointed out that her and I having a daughter next
summer was not too far of a stretch. We already intended on
striving to get her pregnant in the next few months, and it was a
50-50 chance whether the child would be a girl (or a boy). Alexa,
however, had no resolution as to how the name Brooklyn popped up.
She said it was her preferred name for a possible daughter, yet
never once told me that prior to the dream/visitation itself. It
seemed far too much like a lucky coincidence to me, and it was one
of the major reasons why I believed Dad actually did visit.
Sharing those details (and upsetting Merissa in the process)
was another reason, I suppose, why I felt so down and gloomy this
afternoon. It was not easy to try to convince both of my wives
that I had been visited by a ghost. Nor was it easy to recollect
and go over every word that Dad had said to me that morning. I was
always so cool and level-headed, and this simply was not like me.
Was I losing my mind?
"Jeremy, how are you doing, son?"
Hearing my father's voice brought a thick lump to my throat and
all of a sudden I felt like a little boy again, climbing into his
lap whenever someone at school had hurt my feelings. I spun over,
still sprawled out upon the hardwood patio deck of my home, and saw
Dad standing there with eternal sunshine beaming down on him. I
momentarily glanced at my hands. Was this real, or a dream?
"Hi, Dad," I managed. "How are you?"
"Oh, I really cannot complain. We had two mares born, and Terry
is taking good care of them. They're doing great." Two mares?
Terry? Uncle Terry? The same Uncle Terry who passed away over a
decade ago? The same Uncle Terry who, at the time of his passing,
it nearly broke Dad's heart that he had lost his older brother?
Among his many specialties on the family farm back in Pleasant
Grove, Dad was an affluent horse breeder. Was Dad telling me that he
and Uncle Terry were breeding ethereal horses on a farm in Heaven?
"Enough about me. How's my boy?"
I stared at him with hot tears brimming in my eyes. Again, was
this real? I remembered lying down here on the porch and staring
up at Heaven just a few short minutes ago. I felt so tired and
strung-out. Had I fallen asleep and started dreaming again? Or
was this a true out-of-body experience?
"Good, Dad. I'm good." I wiped the tears from my eyes with
the length of my forefinger. "Is this..." Real?
"I'm glad that you and your mother are putting forth the effort
to mend your relationship, son. And speaking of sons, I have to
say, congratulations on Asher's birth two weeks ago. He's a
handsome, little guy." Dad smiled gently and added, "Rick and I
were there in the delivery room, watching and cheering Merissa on.
You make Rick proud as her husband, son."
Dad rolled his eyes at me. "Merissa's father, silly."
I sighed. "Oh God." Rick Sr.
"When Asher got stuck on Merissa's pelvis during delivery, it
was not the wonders of medical science that prevented Merissa from
having to undergo immediate, emergency surgery, and help guide him
out and through." What? The major, scary complication Merissa
faced while giving birth? Asher's skull had somehow gotten wedged
on Merissa's pelvic bone. He was stuck, and the hospital staff
contemplated immediate surgery. "Grandpa Rick saw him out."
What the hell? I vehemently shook my head and, if this was a
dream, I did my best to snap out of it. How was I supposed to
tell Merissa that not only had her father been right there in the
delivery room while she gave birth to Asher, but he also aided her
in the process? Rick Sr. saw to it that things didn't get any
worse. It wasn't the doctors and nurses. Merissa would surely go
off the deep end with that news!
But instead of waking up and returning to reality, where I so
badly wanted to be, I suddenly found myself in the passenger seat
of Dad's 1979 _Ford F-100 Flareside_ truck. What, this old thing?
I looked out at the scenic Kansas countryside, lush and verdant as
it was, just beautiful, rushing by as Dad drove along Interstate 70.
Dad totaled this truck in an accident in 1988, when I was just 14,
and sold it to a junkyard for a measly $10.
How the hell could I go from my porch to the outskirts of
Lawrence, some 30 miles away, in the beat of a heart?
"How have the Royals been doing lately? Seems as if they've
fallen on hard times after winning the World Series in 2015."
I held both arms out in front of me and made wild motions with
them. "Dad, I want this to stop! This isn't real. You're not
REAL! I just want to wake up! How am I going to explain this
off to Lexi and Merissa? I mean, you show up and tell me that
Merissa's own dad saw to it that Asher..."
I took a glimpse in the passenger side visor mirror. It was
me, no doubt, but I did not look 43. Holy fuck! I was 14 again.
I glanced down and noticed the vintage, late 1980's wardrobe I
had on. The _Air Jordan_ sneakers, the stonewashed jeans, the...
Kansas City Chiefs jersey? #35? Christian Okoye? The big,
bruising fullback from back in the day - and once my favorite
player - who lost his playing career way too soon to injury? I
thought his nickname was cool back then - The Nigerian Nightmare.
When was the last time I had thought of an old football player
who retired all the way back in 1993?
"Do you really want me to stop, son, and go away?" With those
words, Dad snapped his fingers and, just like that, we were in
the back fields of the family farm in Pleasant Grove. I raised
my left hand on pure instinct and caught a baseball, which had
been whizzing my way, with the glove that covered it. I looked
down and noticed that I had my adult body, my current form, back.
"Come on, Jeremy," Dad yelled at me from perhaps 100 feet away.
He smacked his own mitt and nodded my way. "Let's see if you
still got the throwing arm you once did."
A smile actually came to my lips as I reared back and let it
fly. "Oh, I still got it, alright." What? How could I pass
up the opportunity of playing _catch_ with Dad one more time?
This was, after all, my most cherished memory from when I was
growing up on the farm. Getting to play _catch_ with Dad in the
back yard when I was a kid.
He again tossed the ball my way. "I'm proud of you myself,
son, and the man YOU have grown and evolved into. But I do have
a question. How come you never told your mother or I the truth
about what happened in your relationship with Suzi?"
"Suzi," he reminded me. Suzi, the woman I was engaged to back
in 2004. The same woman who I caught cheating on me with another
man, in my own home and bed, even, during a chilly, rainy autumn
afternoon that same year. The same woman my mother once thought
the world of, and was so delighted that we were getting married.
Suzi was like another daughter to Mom.
"How come you didn't tell us that Suzi was unfaithful to you?"
Dad inquired. "You know, telling us that you and her decided to
end your engagement amicability instead... that was not the truth,
son. I've always tried to teach you to be honest."
"I didn't want to upset Mom," was my rebuttal. "I know how
much she loved Suzi, how she could do no wrong in her eyes. I
knew the news, it would... it would crush Mom."
Dad twirled his fingers and a vision of Suzi, from the way I
remembered her in 2004, appeared in the field between us. Suzi
glanced around in all different directions, but did not seem
scared or restless. She was totally oblivious to our presence.
"I don't want to see her, Dad!" I said, quickly turning my
gaze away. "I have Lexi and Merissa now. The feelings I once
had for Suzi do not even come close to comparing to what..."
"With what I know now, Jeremy, I'm glad you kicked Suzi out of
your life," Dad interjected, cutting me off. "She is an evil
woman and only cares about herself." Dad frowned and added, "Suzi
never loved you. She was a good actress, though. Had everyone
fooled back then." Tears again came to my eyes as Dad explained,
"Suzi looked at you as a young, up-and-coming doctor with a bright
future. She was after your money, a free ticket."
I threw my glove down and glared out at him with pure anger.
Suzi suddenly vanished. "Dad! Why are you telling me this now?"
Dad shook his head again. "You never really loved Suzi, you
know. But you were willing to settle because it was 2004 and you
had just turned 30. You were scared. You wanted to get married
and start a family so much. You thought time was running out on
you. Suzi would have divorced you four years later, Jeremy, and
took a big chunk of your money in the process. Your life's work.
Oh, I'm so incredibly glad and thankful that you did not settle
for anything less than what you absolutely deserve."
My eyes went wide as a vision of Alexa and Merissa appeared in
the field between us. My heart literally melted within my chest
at the mere sight of them laughing and having a good time. They
were in the living room of our home in Lake Quivira, with Cooper
and Madison playing beside them with their toy train set. Asher
looked alert and vibrant in Merissa's arms.
"See, son? It took awhile, but you found ultimate happiness.
Sometimes love takes its sweet time. There will be certain
challenges and roadblocks along the way, as there is in any
successful marriage or relationship. But your love with Alexa
and Merissa? Their love for you? It will last a lifetime." Dad
glanced up at the high heavens above. "An eternity, even..."
"I... I'd like that very much, Dad."
"You hit the jackpot in life, son. I'm so happy for you. And
I'm sorry I couldn't see that when I was alive here on Earth. It
is my deepest regret, but at least I see it now."
Umm. How was I supposed to respond to that?
"You never told your mother and I that Suzi came back in 2010
and tried to reconcile with you," he went on. Oh, yeah. That. I
remember THAT day. Suzi popped up, seemingly out of nowhere,
during my first-ever date with Alexa at Union Station in downtown
Kansas City. The day after I met Alexa, even, when Suzi tried to
manipulate her way back into my good graces while embarrassing and
humiliating Alexa in the process. Oh, I remember that day well.
I thought for sure Suzi destroyed any chance I had of being with
Alexa with the events that transpired in the restaurant. Suzi
verbally destroyed Alexa in front of everyone, humiliated her, by
telling her to go outside like a _good, little girl_ and play in
traffic so she and I (the _adults_) could talk. I was so panicked
and worried in the aftermath, yet Alexa suddenly swept me off of
my feet with our first kiss moments later and the proclamation that
she wanted us to be _steady_ from that point on. Me, a frazzled,
36-year-old man and Alexa, the 18-year-old Homecoming Queen.
"Suzi was no different in 2010 than she was in 2004," Dad told
me. "She got married after moving to California, but her husband
got wise quick, and divorced her. She came back to Kansas and
was looking to fall back onto you. Same deal; just wanted money,
and would have been out of your life within six months. She simply
looked at you as a safety net, a way to rebound."
"Why are you telling me this?" I insisted, upset.
"It's life, son. It's the choices we make. If you continually
do the right thing and make the right choices, good things follow.
There are too many people in the world who simply do not understand
that. There will be bumps and bruises along the way, even massive
heartache, but you need to keep plucking away at it." Dad pointed
to my right, and an image of Alexa and I laying in bed together
suddenly appeared. Alexa looked... younger. 19, perhaps?
She was awake, too.
I watched as my other self - was it my projected self? - stirred
beside Alexa. My/His eyes opened, then closed, and I reached an
arm around her. The digital alarm clock beside us read 2:53am.
"You okay?" I asked Alexa, very sleepy.
"Yeah," she whispered, smiling. Wait a minute. This moment
seemed very familiar to me. Was this March 26, 2011, when after
just eight months of dating, Alexa asked me to...
Alexa leaned over in the bed and cupped my cheek, our knees
touching, head to head, eye to eye. "I'm moving in."
My eyes sprang open. "I think I heard you wrong." Indeed, it
WAS that magical, memorable day...
Alexa kissed my lips as Dad appeared beside me, in the field,
and smiled at the image before us. "I'm moving in. Here. With
you. I'm doing it. I'm taking you up on your offer."
I pulled her body against mine. "That's what I thought you
said!" I rolled on top of her and held down her hands. "Look
me in the eyes and say it again."
"Wipe that silly grin off your face!" Alexa giggled. She did
her best to keep a straight face, but her lips had other ideas.
Alexa's smile was infectious and she was so exquisitely gorgeous.
Her cheeks blushed. "I'm moving in."
"What about Merissa?" At the time, Merissa was her dorm-mate
in college. It was a good three years before I would even cast a
single romantic or lust-filled glance Merissa's way. She and
Alexa were simply best friends rooming together at college.
"I don't think I want Merissa moving in with us," Alexa grinned.
"YOU might, but I prefer to keep you all to myself."
I reached down and grabbed Alexa's ribs, sending her into a
fit of giggles. She swiped at my arms as we rolled around the
bed together, laughing. Oh, I remember how happy I was at that
moment! Alexa was actually going to move in with me!
So happy, in fact, that I jumped off the bed and did a
horrible, little dance, swaying my hips from side to side, my
fingers snapping, shoulders moving up and down. Just awful...
"You're a fool!" Alexa roared back.
Dad winced at my dance moves. "I so didn't need to see that."
Yet Alexa, just as I recalled, settled down and gazed up at me
with serious eyes. She had always been impulsive and was not
afraid to take what she felt was hers. Perhaps never moreso than
this one, particular moment, after just eight months of dating.
She was as spontaneous as ever.
"I don't want to live three seconds without you in my life
anymore, Jeremy. If you'll have me, what I REALLY want is an
eternity with you. I want to fall asleep in your arms and wake
up every single morning with your warmth beside me. I want to be
there when you laugh and I want to share your sadness so you know
that you'll never, ever be alone. Jeremy, you are my future, and
I want to be your future as well."
I recalled my chest constricting. Hell, my chest had the same
reaction here in the current day. I could barely breathe. "Lexi?"
I whispered. "Are you asking me..."
"Marry me, Jeremy. I don't care when. Tonight, tomorrow, next
year, ten years from now. Just promise me an eternity and I will
promise you the same." She blinked several times in quick, rapid
succession, only because her blue eyes were brimming with tears.
"I've never wanted anything so much in my entire life."
I had tossed the idea of marrying Alexa about with her, really,
from the first few days we had met. It was a byproduct of my way
of being open and honest with her, what I wanted, what I felt. I
was in love with Alexa from the very instant I first saw her. I
was not one bit apprehensive to let those feelings be known.
Yet I never imagined that our wedding proposal would go down
quite like THIS. In the middle of the night, the hyper and eager
19-year-old college cheerleader, proposing to the stoic, steadfast
37-year-old family physician? Wasn't I supposed to be down on
bended knee, presenting her with a dazzling engagement ring?
But as I always say, Alexa is so unlike any other woman I have
ever known. She is truly in a class by herself.
"Yes, Lexi. Yes, I will marry you!" She wrapped her arms
around my neck and I remember, it seemed as if our bodies just
melted into each other right then and there as I re-joined her
in bed, and forever became one. It felt so natural to pull her
to me as she wrapped her legs around my hips and kissed me. I
was overcome with the thought of spending forever with her.
"See, son?" Dad said as the image faded out. I was glad it
did, actually, because in just a few more seconds, Alexa and I
would have been ripping at each others' night clothes. Dad
certainly did not need to see that, either. "Happiness comes
from making the right choices in life. That was one of the two
best decisions you ever made in life. That, and agreeing to
allow Merissa into your heart, alongside Lexi, in 2014."
"You've seen all that? Everything that happened?"
Dad smiled at me. "Everything, son. Everything. You and
Lexi literally saved Merissa's life in 2014. If Merissa moved
to Georgia with her family like she planned, things... well.
Let's just say things would not have worked out for her."
I squinted my eyes. "What do you mean?"
Instead of answering, Dad latched onto my forearm with his
hand and asked, "Would you like to see the turning point of
Lexi's life? The moment that ultimately allowed her to come
into your own life, your arms?" Dad tilted his head at me.
"This was several years before you even met her, Jeremy."
If this was a dream, it was sure as hell was a damn vivid one.
"Yes, Dad. I would."
Our location shifted from the farm, just like that, and suddenly
I found myself in a busy hospital corridor with various doctors,
nurses and other staff going about their normal routines. Dad, of
course, was there as well, looking at me as I adjusted to the
sudden change of scenery. How did he do that? "Just like with the
other visitations, son, no one can see or hear us. We're here...
but not really here. We're just here to observe. Please keep that
in mind before you start getting all emotional."
"Why would I get emotional?"
Disoriented for a moment, to say the least, I glanced all around
in confusion. Wait. I knew this place. Wasn't this _Children's
Mercy Hospital_ on the Missouri side of the border in Kansas City?
Why had Dad chosen this, of all places, for us to visit?
A few doors down the hall, I then saw Angela - Alexa's mother -
looking distraught, standing next to a doctor in a white lab coat.
Whoa! Angela looked young. She was the same age as me, but
somehow, it seemed as if she was suddenly ten years younger. Her
hair was different, too. I walked toward her as Dad followed.
"I just cannot take any more of this!" Angela screeched at the
doctor, even slapping her hands toward him. "My 15-year-old
daughter is in that room and you're telling me that she is not
even allowed to WALK? Lexi has to get around in a WHEELCHAIR now?"
Her 15-year-old daughter? Huh? Alexa was 25. And, a wheelchair?
"Please settle down, Mrs. [Last Name]," the doctor pleaded with
her. "Lexi is on schedule, and doing much better than she was a
week ago when you and your husband first brought her in. We have
been able to stabilize her heart-rate to a healthy level and she
is no longer suffering kidney failure because of the anorexia."
My eyes grew wide. This was the summer of 2007, when Alexa was
admitted to the hospital on the very brink of death...
I looked over at Dad in astonishment.
"Right now," the physician said to Angela, "we have your
daughter on a 4,000 calorie per day diet, but she is still not
gaining any weight." The normal daily intake of calories for a
teen-aged female is 2,100. "We do not want her up and walking
about, expending energy, burning those calories unnecessarily.
Right now, every calorie she retains is vital. Thus, the primary
reason for the wheelchair in case she has to move about."
Dad had brought me front and center into a discussion between
Alexa's mother and doctor when she was horribly sick ten years ago.
"The prolonged stress that Lexi put herself through as a result
of her eating disorder has forced her body, particularly her liver,
into starvation mode. At this point, she is doing much better,
but she is suffering from hypermetabolism. Hypermetabolism
typically occurs after significant injury to the body. It is not
an illness on its own and it cannot be treated, but symptoms
often subside once the underlying problem - in this case, the
anorexia - is treated and properly taken care of."
"Oh, boy!" Angela exclaimed, completely beside herself, acting
as any mother would when their precious child was in the midst of
a long and grueling hospital stay. Alexa spent six weeks here
before she was finally released. "Hypermeta... that's a new one!
What the HELL? What else can go wrong with my baby? What is
that? What does it mean?"
The doctor, as could be expected, showed no ill reaction to
Angela's outburst or her panicked, aggressive demeanor. He was
clearly used to dealing with distraught, anxious parents.
"When the body is starved, Mrs. [Last Name], tissue, including
muscle and fat is lost from the body and this lowers the metabolic
rate. If the body does not have sufficient energy intake - food -
it will try to preserve energy in a number of ways including
providing less nutrients to hair, skin and nails, the heart-rate
slows down and overall temperature drops." Right. Alexa's
biggest issue back then was bradycardia - a slow heart-rate. The
hospital staff informed her that she was less than 24 hours from
entering cardiac arrest and dying unless they took prompt action
the day she was admitted as a patient. "This drop in the BMR -
Basal Metabolic Rate - means that the body needs less calories to
function, but does so at a very basic level - ultimately, just
doing the bare minimum to stay afloat. Yet, at that rate, that
level, it can only survive for so long."
"In recovering from an eating disorder, such as Lexi is, in
order to achieve weight gain, the dietary intake needs to be far
and above the standard limit for BMR and normal, daily activities.
A greater dietary intake is needed to restore weight, re-develop
tissue and a host of other internal repairs. Your daughter's
body, Mrs. [Last Name], is burning all of those extra calories
it is receiving now to heal, to repair itself. That is why she
is on a 4,000 calorie per day diet. Once her body is in a better
way, this stage, this condition - hypermetabolism - should pass,
and her calorie intake will be adjusted down accordingly. This
healing process, unfortunately, can take up to six months."
Angela was crying. "I just want to take my baby girl home!"
The doctor shook his head and frowned. "That won't be for
awhile, Mrs. [Last Name]. Lexi still has a long way to go. But I
assure you that she is in the best of care right now. There are
doctors and trained specialists monitoring her around the clock."
"How could Bob and I have let her get this far before we forced
her to go to the hospital?" she sobbed. "I'm a horrible parent!"
Dad tapped me on the shoulder, then motioned toward the closed
door that Angela and the doctor were standing next to. My eyes
went wide again and I stumbled over myself. Suddenly, I realized
my wife, the 15-year-old version of Alexa, was in that room...
Instead of opening the door, Dad grasped my arm and we simply
passed through the wall. "HOLY FUCK!" I then screamed, rushing
to Alexa's side. "LEXI!" She looked downright unnerving, very
weak and defeated, crying in a hospital bed with tubes and wires
attached literally everywhere to her. And a good 35 or 40 pounds
less than her current day weight of 102. She was bony as a twig!
"GET HER SOME HELP!" I screamed after realizing that there was
nothing that I - this astral projection(?) of myself - could do,
before glancing at Dad. I knelt down and tried to grasp Alexa's
hand, but my fingers went right through her. "Lexi!" I then cried,
seeing my wife in the darkest, scariest moment of her entire life.
She had no reaction to my own emotional outburst, of course. Her
face looked sunk-in and there was none of the vibrant color that I
was so used to seeing in her skin. "Oh God, Lexi!" I put my own
face in my hands, overcome with emotion. I knew it was bad, but I
never once realized how gravely ill she was back in 2007 until just
now. Alexa had never shared any photographs of herself from those
dark days. "What did you do to yourself? Talk to me, baby!"
"She cannot hear you, Jeremy," Dad reiterated. "And you already
know the end result of her stay in the hospital. Lexi made it out
healthy and fine, and worked incredibly hard - still does, to this
very day, even - to stay that way." He shook his head at me. "You
have no idea how this..." He pointed at her in the hospital bed.
"...drives her every single day, even now. The fear, Jeremy. The
fear of being back here and sick like this, going through it again.
It drives her to stay physically fit and healthy, at her proper
weight, every single day. It's a choice, son. The right choice."
Dad clapped his hands.
Suddenly, 15-year-old Merissa was kneeling next to Alexa on the
opposite side of the bed. Good God! Merissa once had blonde hair?
I had always only known her as a brunette.
"More of my hair fell out this morning!" Alexa whined at her.
"That's normal, the doctor told you," Merissa soothed, rubbing
her hand up and down Alexa's arm. Even now, in this one, fleeting
moment, I could sense their life-long friendship on full display.
Yet Alexa was scared senseless. "Don't worry, Lexi. It will
grow back. You just keep eating and re-gaining your strength, and
you will be all fine. You'll be out of here in no time."
"I hate this FUCKING HOSPITAL!" Alexa screeched. "I just want
to go home! Merissa, why won't they let me go home?"
"They will, once you're better. But you need to get better
first. That's what you and I need to work on."
Alexa flailed her arms and legs about in one of her famous,
patented temper tantrums which I had seen a few times throughout
the past seven years. "This hospital is ripping away my will to
live! I'm NEVER getting out of here! I feel like a lab rat with
all these fucking wires attached to me!" Alexa turned her face
to the side and shuddered. "I just want to go to sleep and never
wake up! I seriously think I would be better off DEAD!"
Oh, my. No. No! No...
"HEY!" Merissa angrily scolded Alexa, getting up in her face,
clutching onto her hand and squeezing tight. "Hey! You LISTEN
to me! You listen, okay?" Only on the rarest of occasions would
Merissa break out this particular tone of voice. Alexa sheepishly
nodded her head as Merissa continued, "Don't you EVER talk that
way again! Don't even THINK it! You listen to me, Lexi. YOU
LISTEN! You're going to FIGHT, you're going to get better, and
you WILL get out of here!" Alexa again nodded her head as tears
just rushed down her face. "Do what the doctors tell you! Do
everything! Do what your mom and dad tell you. Do what _I_ tell
you. Fight, Lexi. FIGHT! I'm NOT going to lose you, too!"
"You got yourself into this by starving yourself and popping
all those diet pills like candy," Merissa continued forth, "and
now you are going to get yourself out of it. But you have to
fight, Lexi. You have to EAT, and get healthy again."
Alexa let out a pathetic whine. "All I do any more is EAT!
The hospital makes me eat enough for ten people!"
"And you're going to continue eating enough for ten people
until the doctors tell you otherwise," Merissa insisted, before
lowering her voice several octaves. "You're my best friend,
Lexi, and I love you." She placed a simple kiss upon Alexa's
forehead and tenderly squeezed her hand. "I'm not going to let
anything else happen to you, but I need your help. I need your
help, okay? I need you to do your part." She leaned down and
placed her forehead upon Alexa's. "Can you do that for me?
Can you help me, so I can help you get better?"
Alexa sniffed her nose and nodded in agreement.
Merissa glared into Alexa's eyes for several seconds, perhaps
gauging her sincerity and willingness to actually put the work in
to get better, then reached into her purse and produced a couple
of musical CDs. "Look, Lexi. I brought you some music. The
newest CDs from Carrie Underwood, Rihanna and Kelly Clarkson."
"You don't have to spend your money on me." Alexa was still
trying to battle the onslaught of tears upon her face.
Merissa shook her head and fished out a new pack of batteries
from her purse as well. "Nonsense. I want to spend my money on
you, make your stay in the hospital a little easier." She held
up the batteries. "Look, I got you these. They're rechargeable.
You don't need to worry about your _Walkman_ CD player dying out
and losing its juice again. Just keep these charged up when
you're not using it, okay? I bought you a recharging kit, too."
Alexa reached up with a frail, tiny hand. "Th-Thank y-you."
She took the batteries and eyed their packaging.
"Want me to open it for you?"
Merissa tore through the protective cardboard with ease. "Now
I talked to my mom, and I talked to your mom. I know your mom
has stayed here with you every night for the past seven days, but
you're getting a new room-mate, at least for tonight. I told
Angela to get away from the hospital for awhile and spend some
time with Bob." Merissa smiled and nodded her head emphatically.
"That's right, Lexi. I'm going to camp out with you right here
in the hospital tonight. It will make up for the sleep-over we
were supposed to have this past Saturday night at my house."
"Your mom is letting you do that? Stay here with me?"
"Of course. Mom cares about you, too, and she knows you need
all the support you can get right now." Merissa slit open the
plastic sleeve on one of the CD cases. "Oh, Rick and Colton say
hi, too." Merissa's brothers. Colton died last September in a
motorcycle accident. Yet back in 2007, he was only 10...
"Now," Merissa spoke, holding up the compact disc, "I'm going to
let you listen to Carrie Underwood because I know how much you love
her, but only under ONE condition."
Alexa found her eyes. "What's that?"
Merissa again reached into her purse and this time pulled out a
small package of lime _Jell-O_. Alexa's favorite dessert snack,
even now, in the current day. Merissa twirled it about before her
pale face. "You have to eat this first. You eat this, and you can
listen to all the Carrie Underwood you want. Want me to feed you?"
"Feed me?" Alexa exclaimed. She seemed repulsed.
"Just thought you may be tired, you may not have the strength to
feed yourself. I saw your mom feeding you here four days ago."
Merissa held up a plastic spoon. "It's _Jell-O_, baby, your
favorite flavor. Let me feed you? Are you thirsty at all? Would
you like me to get you a _Mountain Dew_ from the vending machine?
Or how about some more of these yummy ice chips?"
Alexa did not have the willpower to push back. "I have people,"
she claimed. "500 freaking doctors watch my every move. Mom is
just outside the door. I don't want you to waste your entire night
in this horrible place - this prison - with me. I'll be okay."
"I'm glad you have your... people. But you and I are different,
and you know it. I'm not going anywhere. Just admit it. You need
me right now, Lexi, and I need you. I need to help you." Merissa
smiled and added, "You'd do the same, exact thing for me if the roles
were reversed. Don't try to deny it. Best friends, remember?"
"I also talked to your primary nurse out front, Janine. She
gave me the low-down. Janine says you have improved by leaps and
bounds in the seven days you've been here. But she also thinks
that you and I are sisters, so we're gonna go with that for as
long as you're in here, okay? That will be our cover."
Alexa shifted about in the bed. It looked painful for her, very
difficult. I could tell that she was in a world of hurt right now.
"Hey, maybe don't move so much, okay?"
"Just frustrating being stuck in this bed."
Merissa nodded sympathetically and peeled back the lid on the
_Jell-O_ container. "Look here, Lexi. It's lime. Just relax and
let me do the work, okay? Yeah, take a bite. Take a bite for me."
Over the next several moments, I watched, fascinated, as Merissa
spoon-fed Alexa some _Jell-O_ goodness one tiny helping at a time.
When the container was finally empty, Alexa drifted off to sleep.
Dad nudged my shoulder and whispered, "Let's jump ahead five
hours. You'll like this."
Indeed, the scene shifted somewhat. Alexa was still in the
hospital bed, but Merissa was asleep in a chair to her right
and rested her head upon Alexa's mattress alongside her. Alexa
slowly opened her eyes and could not seem to believe what she saw.
Alexa touched Merissa's hair, soft and silky. I recognized the
look in Alexa's eyes as she stared over at Merissa. It was a look
that I was all too familiar with. It was Alexa's trademarked _I
love you_ look, her _I'm so glad you're in my life_ look. She was
giving it to Cooper early this morning when he was creating a
playful ruckus inside the kitchen.
The sensation of having her hair continually stroked must have
awoken Merissa, because she stirred and raised those big brown
eyes to Alexa. "You okay, Lexi? You need anything?"
Alexa gently touched Merissa's face with her palm. "Oh, I'm
fine now." Sleep quickly claimed Alexa once again. There was
an I-V drip, a very strong medicine with sedative-like side
effects, constantly going into her.
And now there were tears going down my own face...
"Life is about choices," Dad reaffirmed to me, as I now found
myself back in the old field with him on the farm. Hey, I wanted
a further glimpse into what my two wives were like when they were
growing up! Could we go back to that again, please? At least
this time, though, when both of them were perfectly healthy?
"The choices you've made, son, the choices Lexi has made,
Merissa has made... everything has brought the three of you
together. Everything has led up to this current point, this
current day. Keep making the right choices, whether by yourself or
as a family, and your lives will continue to prosper and flourish."
I wiped back my tears with a forearm. "How will I know if I'm
making the right choice? If WE'RE making it?"
Dad smiled softly. "Just follow your instinct. It's gotten
you this far in life, hasn't it? Two wives who love you, three
adorable, healthy children. You've pushed the bad people like
Suzi away. Trust your instinct, son." Dad glanced up at the
heavens. He suddenly seemed sad. "I don't have much more time."
"What do you mean?" I demanded. Was he leaving me again?
"I don't want you to feel sorry or depressed that I'm no longer
on the Earth," he told me. "Just know that I'm here; I will ALWAYS
be here for you. Always. You're my boy - my youngest child - and
you have the whole rest of your life ahead of you. Don't dwell on
the fact I'm no longer around. Just look ahead. Think about how
lucky you are to have the things that you do in life. Continue to be
a good husband, a good father. Be there for your mother; continue
to work on mending your relationship with her. Be there for your
brothers, your sister. I know it's difficult to see at times, but
they love you more than you could ever fathom. Even Hudson."
"I have to go now, son," he said, again glancing at the skies
overhead, as if he was being beckoned there. I screamed at the top
of my lungs and vehemently shook my head, not wanting him to go.
Yet Dad was calm, and seemed at peace. After everything he and I
had been through in the past two-and-a-half years, Dad seemed to
finally be at peace. Perhaps it was time I felt the same way?
"This will be my last visit until it is time for us to meet
again, up there, several decades from now," he added, motioning
toward Heaven. "Don't worry, Jeremy. Don't feel bad. I love
you. Tell your two wives old William says hello. Give your three
kids a hug and tell them Grandpa loves them, wishes he could be
there for them." He grinned. "And you think Madison is a wild
bundle of limitless energy? Wait until Brooklyn is born next
summer and she starts to grow in the years to come." I gulped my
throat as Dad began to fade out. "Oh, and son? One more thing."
"WHAT?" I cried, barely able to get the word out.
"Take care of my truck for me."
"Jeremy?" came Alexa's incessant, worried voice, as I was
suddenly being jarred and tousled about from several different
directions all at once. What? Huh? "Jeremy, are you okay? You
need to wake up!" I bolted upright and found myself on the patio
deck of my home, with Alexa, Merissa, Michelle, Rick (Jr.) and
all of the kids staring down at me. Alexa seemed upset with me.
"What are you doing falling asleep out here, of all places?"
Apparently, all of them were back from their trip to the park.
"You okay, man?" Rick inquired.
Merissa knelt down and put her hand to my chest. My heart was
beating rapidly, I could tell, and my entire body was covered in a
hot, thick sheen of perspiration. My breathing was ragged, very
uneven. "You've been dreaming again, haven't you?"
Alexa studied me for several seconds after those insightful
words from Merissa. "Come on, Jeremy. Let's get you inside.
How could you possibly fall asleep on the front deck like this?
How long have you been out here, even?" Alexa tried to help me
stand, but I refused to budge an inch. Not yet. I instead made
eye contact with Cooper, who seemed mortally scared.
"You okay, Daddy?"
Madison, who was standing next to him, had a similar look of
concern etched across her face. So I pulled the two toddlers in
and brought them close to me. "Nothing a big hug from the two of
you can't clear up, and make me feel better. Oh..." I hugged
Cooper and Madison like they meant the world to me, simply because
they did. "Oh, I love you two troublemakers so much!"
"Wuv yoo, Dada," Madison babbled.
I was so proud of Alexa for overcoming all of the obstacles she
faced a decade ago while in the hospital. I was proud of the fact
that she continued to work to this very day to stay healthy, to
keep herself out of the danger zone. And I was equally proud of
Merissa for being there as a best friend ten years ago, so very
unselfishly, to help guide Alexa through the choppy waters.
"Jeremy, are you okay?" Alexa asked again. "Let's take you
inside so you can relax in your chair, or something." She
motioned for Rick - a big, strong, powerful man - to help me to
my feet. He did with ease. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
I reached out and placed my palms upon either side of Alexa's
face. Everything was clear now. "As long as I have you and
Merissa, and our kids, I will always be okay." I reached out and
gently grasped Merissa's wrist. "You're my angels. Both of you.
I love you more than words could ever say..."
<<<- End of Chapter 20 ->>>
PLEASE NOTE: Only one more chapter to go before the story ends!