First, before I go on, I want to thank all of you who sent me such thoughtful, considerate condolences. I appreciated every message. Even with a broken heart, a person can still feel grateful. So for all of you who wrote to me, thank you!
When I first began reading about religions, and then writing about them, a common theme jumped out at me from the get go. Religions were first and foremost a way to “defeat” death and secondarily a way to make life here on earth a little easier. It didn’t take me long to realize that heaven, reincarnation, the elaborate afterlife preparations made by the ancient Egyptians and all the rest were all a way of denying death. We might die—sort of—but it wasn’t really dying because there was more to come. Most people still believe that. Never in my life have I wished that something that fantastic and unbelievable were really true. But I can’t make myself believe it and I know I never will.
I had never seen a dead body in my whole life except for two brief viewings at open-casket funerals. But those viewings occur only after someone had taken great pains to prepare the bodies for viewing—to remove some of the shock. What I found on the morning of December 2, 2010, was my loving husband sprawled on the floor, obviously lifeless. He was cold. I called 911 anyway and tried to do what they said—get him on his back and raise his chin. My efforts were of course fruitless, but I hurt the hell out of my back trying anyway. Why? Why do we do these things? I kept slapping his face and telling him to “wake up” and roll over. As my hysteria rose I nevertheless kept trying. What I should have done was cradle his head and kiss his cheek and say my private good-bye. But I realize now I was in that same sort of denial that created religion—this can’t be the end of this person I love.
The denial lasts quite a while and sends you into shock, which is probably a good thing, because the screaming and whatever else I might have done, like bang my head against a wall or whatever, could easily have killed me, and I’m certain evolution favored that shock to immobilize you for a while. I was a robot. The tears came immediately, but the emotions did not. I was numb. When the emotions finally kicked in, late that night, I was awakened from a restless, exhausted catnap, by my own voice. I was yelling, “Wake up! Wake up! WAKE UP!” It was horrible. The reality had set in and I have yet to erase that first image I had of Pat lying motionless on the floor. I doubt I ever will. I know it will stay with me forever. Pat had just turned 66, and we had been married for 37 years.
His full name was Mercer Parrott Hayes, Jr. Can you imagine what a nightmare the second grade was for him?! He heard, “Polly want a cracker?” more often than any human should have to endure! The Parrott part was to honor some country doctor in North Carolina, where he was born. Barrel-chested and strong, he played linebacker in high school football. Just like me, he married too young and had an unhappy divorce after having two children. Again, just like me. We had a lot in common.
I feel as though I had two marriages to Pat. The first took place in the SF Bay Area in 1973. It was a second marriage for both of us. Though we were passionately in love, we were also bedeviled by the nightmares that come with blended families and by that I mean too many in-laws and ex-spouses. We each had two children and that created most of the troubles. While I wish no harm on them now, I wish I had never had any children. I would rather have had a life. Pat and I relished the times we could get away from them all and visit our precious Monterey Bay for some much-needed privacy and our round the clock lovemaking. I will always treasure those moments.
But those treasured moments inevitably had to lead back home, to the never-ending bickering and door-slamming fights that dominated those first years of our marriage. We had a rocky beginning. Anyone who has ever been through a bitter divorce and/or custody battle knows exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t had those experiences yet, I have one piece of advice: unless you are wealthy enough to take long, luxurious vacations, sans children (or better yet a nanny) then don’t have children.
Anyway, we had both grown tired of the Bay Area, with the dirty air and the traffic jams, and so we began a sojourn that I consider our second and real marriage. We bought 18 gorgeous acres of land on top of a beautiful hill, with a view of the Sierra mountains and Lake New Hogan as well as Lake Camanche. It was and is breathtaking. Long story short: we built our dream house on that hilltop and had 20 wonderful years of peace, beauty, love and no frigging in-laws! The only in-laws we saw were by choice and careful invitation, either by them to us or us to them, and Pat and I learned how lovely marriage can be. There are too many wonderful memories to share here, but there is one in particular that I want to share. It happened often, and could truly be described as a many-splendored thing.
Whether on our large back patio, feeding “our” wild birds, or on the large wrap-around front porch, watching and listening to the birds, we had something so special that few people will ever know it: the incredible beauty of our views, a feast for the eyes, and true peace and quiet, a welcome relief for our ears. All we could hear was birdsong, front or back. We could view two different lakes, one front and one back. If the weather wasn’t being agreeable, we had two floor-to-ceiling, raised hearth, wood-burning fireplaces (one upstairs in the master bedroom and one downstairs in the living room) to choose from for our special moments. People would pay good money on vacation just to see either of our spectacular views, front or back, but all we had to do was walk outside. If music was desired, we had speakers to treat our auditory senses to Sinatra or any of a hundred other DVDs. Clean, fresh country air, a horizon that stretched forever, and peace. Add a glass of wine and we’re talking the height of perfection.
After living in cities all of our lives, this was a wonderful, new, almost alien environment. We talked a great deal of course; but often we just sat quietly and took pleasure in who and where we were. It was always enchanting and never lost its charm. More often than not, dinner was either behind us or patiently gurgling in the crock pot, available whenever we were ready to partake. If the weather permitted, and the kitchen windows were open, we could enjoy the aroma, tempting another of the senses. Does this sound wonderful or what?
Romance was bound to be a part of these lovely times. Sex can be wildly overrated or terribly undervalued in a marriage. Fortunately for us it was a powerful bond and I hold those memories as dear as any. Pat was smart, funny, sexy and a whiz at computers. He was just fun to be around. But now he’s gone. When I’m occasionally asked what I miss most about him my answer always surprises: I miss the hugs. Some people hug and some don’t. Pat was a hugger, just like I am. Hugs can mean so many different things! They can comfort, calm, excite, relax and on and on. We did a lot of hugging. I miss having his arms around me. I shall always miss that.
February 16th, 2011, would have been our 38th anniversary. Good-bye, my love.