Letter to My Dead Husband
Ruth Z. Deming
Sunday, August 13, is the forty-seventh anniversary of our marriage. I don’t have to remind you that we met at my dad’s store in New Hope, Pennsylvania, the once legendary Now and Then Shop. From inside our store, we could hear the cars, delivery trucks and motorcycles driving over the bridge that led to Lambertville, New Jersey. “Everybody” knew about our shop.
How I loved working there, a way for me to get closer to my dad, who took a risk and bought “the store,” as we called it. We sold posters of famous rock and rollers like Jimi Hendrix in a red bandanna and Janis Joplin, hair blowing in the wind at an outdoor concert; ZigZag rolling papers for marijuana which is now legal in these parts; silver rings and earrings. Remember those hippies with rings on many of their fingers and multiple piercings in their ears?
Junk! All of it. My favorite part was chatting with the customers. With my ability to engage with perfect strangers, I could sell people most anything.
“Of course,” I would say, “you can leave and think about buying it” – perhaps a painted wooden plaque that read “Home Sweet Home” – and as soon as those words left my mouth, they bought the merchandise and I rang up the sale on our cash register.
To you, though, Mike, my dead husband, I sold my heart. And I do know you loved me, even after you married Donna. Why, you once asked me, after you remarried, why did you leave me?
I was so pleased when you remarried. What I did was terrible. Pure and simple. And I knew it. But I had to part from you. You treated me badly. Let’s see if I can write a quick country lyric that sums up what went wrong.
Oh, Mike, with your blue blue eyes and intellect wide as the sky
You put me down and made me cry
Was it my fault? Was I a bad wife?
I had to leave and escape with my life.
You were not supposed to die. You were only sixty-two. Your son called me.
“Mom, bad news,” he said over the phone. I was sure he had lost his IT job.
“Dad died.” He explained about your having surgery on your knee, how you had fallen walking up the steps at your wife’s ranch. Complications from surgery. Blood clot went to your heart. You clutched your heart in front of her, told her to call the police.
She invited me to the funeral in Ardmore, Oklahoma. When I accepted, she panicked that I would be flying in, and called Sarah, sobbing. At the funeral home, which had a sweet smell of wood and lilies, I saw what a great man you had become without me. You were lauded as an outstanding city planner. You were instrumental in reconstructing the federal building that had been bombed by Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh.
And you, my former darling, stood with your fellow city planners and viewed the spectacle of the bombed out building. Was it the first terrorist attack in our country? Your arms would have been crossed as you shook your head and thanked the Lord you hadn’t been inside. One hundred sixty-eight people, not only dead, but shattered into bits and pieces, no longer recognizable, and for those still living, the unbearable pain of explosives ripping tender body parts.
Your little Sarah Lynn Deming was one of dozens who gave an emotional eulogy at the funeral home. “I’m going to tell you 62 reasons why I loved my dad,” she said. “Don’t worry, I´ll talk fast.”
As you know, your brilliant daughter, who has written a couple of novels and is working on one about boxing, her great love, will soon publish her best one yet. It’s called Gravity, the name of the young female boxer who rises to the championship.
I went out to the ranch that belonged to Donna’s deceased parents. I stood on the famous Oklahoma plains, where you too had stood and marveled at the waving tender grasses. That’s where you did fatal damage to your body. You had gotten fat! How on earth! You were so slender when we met. I loved your long white legs, slender as a stork’s and those blue eyes.
Your son, Dan, has those wonderful blue eyes, like looking into the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, which is where he and his bride, Nicole, went on their honeymoon. Your grandchildren would have loved you. I can see you carrying little Max, four, on your shoulders, and reading Grace a book about faeries.
When I first met you, we drove around in your Ford Falcon with the gear shift. I learned to drive it after we were married. Whoa! Watch out, Ruthie, I said to myself. These hills are scary, as I would roll backwards, then quickly brake.
You and I went on a picnic in Bucks County and lay on a yellow blanket. After we ate, we lay on our backs and watched the clouds parade by. You taught me the different types of clouds. Cumulus. Cirrus. Stratus.
I thought our love would last forever. So did you.
“Never leave me,” I said, as we lay in each other’s arms on that yellow blanket under the vast blue skies of Bucks County.
Stroking my slender body, you said, “How could I leave someone as lovely as you!”
What remnants do I have of you, Millard Grove Deming, for that is your real name. Anything left behind?
Let me think. Aha! In the middle room of my yellow house, a house where you never lived, I have Aunt Ethel’s high chest of drawers. In the top one are photos. And there you are! In your wedding finery. A suit and tie. Your shirt was a deep pink. Your head leaned toward me. I was wearing a white knee-length dress, Evan Picone, and looked up at you as the guide and mentor you were when we married.
Unlike me, you, a Protestant elder, believe in an Afterlife. I hope you are enjoying yourself sitting with Jesus the Nazarene. You deserve it. All you wanted was to be a family man. I denied you the opportunity. Guilt? Not at all. I did what I had to do to survive.
Upon your place on high, you watch our beautiful planet destroy itself. Yesterday it was 120 degrees in Death Valley. I know I can’t beseech you to help us. We’ve got to help ourselves.
"Let us now praise famous men” is a saying from the Apocrypha. You, Mike Deming, are famous in my eyes. You, the progenitor, of the Deming clan. I can close my eyes anytime I wish and see you when we met at the Now and Then Shop. You asked me out. My heart sang like a bluebird. I learned you were a simple man, only wanting to raise a family, with that marvelous Texas twang of yours. And the way you pronounced words like “PO-lice” and “JU-ly” and “I loves ya.”
When you visited a year before you passed away, you left a monogrammed hanky here. MGD, it read. Millard Grove Deming, the father of my two children, a man who will never die in my eyes.