Those of you who have been following my story for some time know how Maggie and I fell in love through the letters we wrote to each other. You’ve seen our relationship grow from Maggie being an “insignificant kid,” to a “pen pal,” to the most important person in my life. You’ve seen me change from someone who was hesitant to admit that I was in love with Maggie, to someone standing next to her in front of a priest promising to “love and cherish her for as long as we lived – no matter what difficulties we would face. My book, “Wouldn’t It Be Something” ended with a picture of Maggie and me on our wedding day. The caption under this picture read “Our journey is just beginning.”
Many people who have read Maggie’s and my story have encouraged me to write another book. Those who did not know us well wondered what happened after the marriage; those who were a part of our lives throughout our 41 years as husband and wife wanted to know more about our married life and how we faced the many challenges we encountered, including the final few months of Maggie’s life.
I have done a lot of writing since Maggie died. In the beginning it was to help me deal with my loss (Running From Memories, Burning Love, Just Let Me Talk) as well as a number of poems (Missing My Maggie, The Right Answer, Morning Hug, Midnight Thunder and I’ll Be Okay). I have shared these with you in earlier posts. Most of these were written during the first year after Maggie’s death and each writing helped me through something I couldn’t understand at the time. Through my narratives and my poems, I was able to look more deeply into the conflicting feelings that were colliding inside my head and my heart – the anger, the guilt, the fear.
Once I was able to face these feelings and accept the reality of Maggie’s death, I found myself embracing my memories of her and cherishing her presence instead of insulating my heart from the greatest loss I ever experienced. Because of this, I have been able to take pleasure in reminiscing about Maggie’s and my life together, including some of the many challenges we encountered. In doing so, I have been writing a number of short stories to capture specific moments in our life after our marriage. I don’t know if these writings will turn into another book, but it could be the beginning of one.
I have already shared one of my short stories with you (Through Maggie’s Eyes) that was posted a year ago (October 27, 2015). In this short story I recall the time when Maggie and I were trying to find our first apartment. I hope you’ve had a chance to read it.
The following short story is titled What A Day. What A Day. This “moment in time” occurred during Maggie’s and my first year of marriage. I was in graduate school at Loyola University seeking an advanced degree in social work. Maggie worked as a secretary for an insurance company. We had only been married for several months at the time of this story:
I know someone’s out to get me today and I don’t know why: I’ve been going to church every Sunday, I gave a dollar to the beggar on the corner this morning on the way to class, and I held the door open for that blind student. Yet there’s no doubt—someone’s definitely out to get me.
It’s a lousy day; one of those late-November Chicago mornings when it’s not sure if it’s the last gasp of fall or the first whisper of winter. It’s cold, but not biting cold, wet, but not drenching wet, just a bone-chilling drizzly day with overcast gray clouds —leaden clouds that have lain heavy in the sky for the past week proclaiming the sun will never shine again.
And it’s no better inside. Ms. DeSai just distributed the essays we wrote for the Introduction to Public Welfare class. I hate this class; it’s nothing but a complete bore. My stomach’s been churning as though it’s filled with little pebbles since she looked askance at me while distributing the essays. I’m afraid to see my grade, so I slip it into my text book without even looking. Thank God this is the last class of the day. I’m sick of school, I’m sick of this weather, and I just want to go home. As I begin to exit the front door of Loyola University School of Social Work, the pebbles in my stomach become a lump of cement as I realize I don’t remember where I parked my car. I always have to hunt for a parking space on a side street at least six blocks from Loyola’s downtown campus. Anything closer is either a pay parking lot or a metered street. Maggie and I are living on a very tight budget that doesn’t allow for such extravagances.
While I stand in the doorway, my mind is racing to recall where I left my car. I was running late this morning and just glanced at the street sign without making note of the usual memory markers: a corner store, an odd shaped tree, or a specific building. I can’t even remember the first letter of the name of the street. While I’m waiting for the heavy drizzle to lighten, I may as well complete today’s agony and look at my grade before I begin wandering around in the cold rain. I slide the paper from my text book and turn to the last page. Yep, there it is, a big red “D,” with an inspiring note from Ms. DeSai “I’m very disappointed in you.” I keep staring at the “D” when it hits me, Oh yeah; I think I parked my car on Deleware Street. Thanks Ms. DeSai.
I don’t mind the six block walk when it’s sunny and pleasant, but on a day like this, six blocks seems a hell of a lot further —a day when I’m not sure where my car is, and I can’t imagine how I’m going to pass Introduction to Public Welfare, and the mist rests lightly on my clothe before seeping through to my skin, slowly sinking into my bones, shivering my entire body. I’m tired and crabby and I just want this day to end.
As I drive home, traffic is bumper to bumper and the drizzle is partially freezing as my wipers skate across the thin layer of ice on my windshield. The heater on my ’62 VW is useless since it won’t work unless the car is moving fast enough to generate air flow through the engine. I’m cold, I’m wet, traffic is crawling, and I’ve hit about every stop light so far. As I approach the train tracks at 51st and Pulaski the railway lights begin flashing. Yeah, this is exactly what I need now. I’m tempted to accelerate before the gates descend, but my brain slaps me sensible; the street is slippery and it’s just plain stupid. I grudgingly brake to a stop. My radio hasn’t worked for the past year so I sit there with little else to do but count the box cars. Thirty-two cars pass before the train squeals to a stop and begins thundering in reverse. Oh God. Please NOOO! After a few cars lurch backwards, the train stops again and pitches forward. Another forty-two cars pass before the gates begin to rise. As soon as I calculate that they’ll clear the roof of my car, I race through. I can’t wait to park this damn car and end this day.
The rain stops as I turn the corner onto Kenneth Street. This makes perfect sense, since I know God’s been toying with me all day. It couldn’t have stopped a half-hour ago. No, it had to wait until I was within walking distance of home. As I slowly drive down the street hoping for a parking space somewhere near our apartment, I notice one directly in front of our building. Too late now God. This isn’t going to make up for all the other crap.
As I begin to pull to the curb, I notice Maggie standing on the front porch wearing a jacket too light for this weather and a smile too wide for this miserable day. Before I can shut off the engine, Maggie is almost skipping down the cement steps from our apartment and hurrying to the curb. She stands on the sidewalk, hands behind her back like a kid at a candy counter—eyes wide open and face aglow.
“What’s with you?” I utter as I exit the car. “You seem awfully happy.”
“Oh, nothing,” she says, as she hurries to the front of the car. “Just glad you’re home.”
I look skeptically at her and try to figure out what’s prompting this behavior. “No, it’s more than that. What’s going on?”
“Oh, Dennis,” Maggie squeals, “I have a surprise for you.” She runs to me before I can step on the sidewalk and wraps her arms around my neck the way a bride of four months does. As she lets go, she hugs my right arm close to her and begins gently pulling me up the steps. When we enter the foyer that leads to our apartment, Maggie stops.
“Dennis! Close your eyes!”
“I want you to close your eyes for a while.”
“Why?” “What’s this all about?”
“Just close your eyes, pleeease; just for a minute.”
As I close my eyes, Maggie releases her grip on my right arm and opens the door to our apartment. Turning to me, she implores, “Keep them closed a little longer.”
Facing me, she grabs both my elbows and slowly walks backwards, guiding me inside. After about five steps, she stops. Then placing a hand on each of my shoulders, she gently turns me to my right.
“Not yet.” Her voice dances as she steadies me and then slowly backs away.
After a few seconds, Maggie bubbles, “Okay. Open them!”
Draped across the archway separating the front room from the dining room are twisted streams of blue and pink crepe paper that meet in the middle of a white cardboard sign that largely proclaims in pink and blue letters “WELCOME HOME DADDY.” Dangling from the bottom of the sign is a pair of white knit booties.
I can feel Maggie’s eyes piercing me as I struggle to grasp the reality of what’s happening. She begins jumping up and down, her hands fisted and in rhythm with every bounce — like a child anxious for you to open the gift they’ve given you. Before I can utter a word, she jumps into me, wraps her arms around my neck, stretches to the tips of her toes, and kisses me on the cheek. As she holds tight, her entire body is pulsating. Unable to remain silent any longer, Maggie lets go, steps back and screams the obvious, “I’M PREGNANT.” Her face is sparkling and she’s smiling a smile I’ve never seen before.
Suddenly, it’s a beautiful day. Yes indeed, it is a beautiful day.