He was, I know, a man among many other men. Most of the world didn’t know him. That’s their loss, because he was a very good man, and a man who mattered to so many. So for those of you who didn’t have the joy of having him in your life, let me tell you a little about my husband.
I called him Handsome Husband in a humorous panacea to him, helping him maintain his anonymity (stop laughing-I really was trying) as I endlessly wrote about him and our adventures. Our back and forth was me telling him “I just want to be semi-quasi famous, and him moaning “I just want to be retired!” In spite of that, he encouraged me to write, giving me permission to write of more personal things about him, and between us. I used to tell him that when I became a famous speaker, he wouldn’t have to come on stage with me. He could be chillaxin’, as he called it, on a beach somewhere, or hiking a mountain top somewhere, and I’d get a life-size cardboard cutout of him to be on stage with me. The cutout would be made from one of my favorite pictures of him: clad in black shirt, arms crossed over his chest, dark military-style glasses shading his eyes. I kidded him that he looked like my fierce bodyguard when he stood like that. Which really…he was. He was my bodyguard, my hero, my knight in shining armor. Always.
No, he wasn’t a saint. After a person’s death, those of us who remain tend to elevate them to the clouds and plant a halo on their heads. I won’t do that with Handsome Husband. He was so real, and that’s what I so loved about him, about us. He had his human-ness, we had our struggles and arguments as a couple. He was focused-I called it being anal. He was driven-I thought he had difficulty with spontaneity. He was insistent at times-now I realize he had his reasons that made perfect sense.
I had various nicknames for him over the years. Of course, when we first met, he was Chuck. I first met him when he came to my door, inquiring about a babysitter for his daughter. He was wearing his BDU’s (camouflage), because he was just on his way to work. And yes, I thought he was gorgeous. I’ve always loved a man in uniform. He loved my blue eyes. And the fact that I was wearing horribly thick-framed glasses didn’t faze him. I was holding a book in my hands, he reminded me over the years. He loved that I loved to read and would often boast of my quick reading skills, telling people that I read a book a day. I didn’t, really, but who was I to argue with his pride in me? Once we became romantically involved, I started calling him Sarge. (He was a MSgt in the Air Force). That was his nickname for years. He called me Sunshine because, he said, I brought that to his life, after so many years of feeling like he was sleep-walking through that life.
He was a recovered alcoholic. Shortly after we met, I invited him to go to an AA meeting with me. I was already going to meetings, hoping to find out more about my mom, who was an alcoholic. I continued attending meetings because I realized I was an alcoholic. Chuck went to meetings and stopped drinking. His marriage ended. We decided to get married-he wanted to set a good example to our kids. We celebrated two anniversaries together: our wedding and our sobriety date.
He had 1 daughter from his marriage. I had 1 daughter and 2 sons. He told me he’d always wanted a large family and, well, he got it. Just not in the way he imagined. My ex wanted nothing to do with his kids and Chuck wanted everything to do with them. He took them into his heart in every way. It wasn’t always easy for him but he persevered. He supported them emotionally and financially and was their dad in every way. Most people didn’t even know he was their step-dad-he didn’t think of himself that way and neither did they. He’s their dad. Period. Blood had nothing to do with it, in his eyes and in his heart. He loved his daughter from his 1st marriage intensely and parented her in an exemplary fashion through his divorce and afterwards, no matter how tough it got for him.
He was intense and focused. He loved his mom and his dad, his brother and sister. In our Happily Homeless travels, we’d always visit his hometown of Muncie Indiana where he’d do all he could to help out his mom, especially after she was widowed. He loved his brother Steve and we were able to visit his sister Diana in Washington state a few times too.
He was a romantic through and through. He loved our marriage. He loved us. Through the years he’d oftentimes say to the young men who asked him how they could have in their marriage what he and I had, that they needed to consider the adult partnership of husband and wife, as the most important relationship there was in the family. Kids grow up and move away and you want to make sure you’ve nurtured your marriage and your wife, so you have a strong bond together, he’d say. There was no empty nest for us when the kids left home. We relished our time together. We danced endlessly in the kitchen to Alan Jackson and Clint Black and others, and I played that same music when he was in hospice. I was told that this music, the music we listened to over the years, especially as we traveled, caused him agitation as he lay in the hospital bed. Bullshit, I say. Whoever thought that didn’t know him at all.
He’d go to romantic comedies with me, and discuss love and relationships with me afterwards. I always told him he should run a class for men on having successful relationships with women-he was that good. In the last weeks before he died, he told me, in one of our quiet conversations, that though he loved our kids, it would be hardest to leave me, his wife, the woman, he said, who brought spontaneity to his life, and he would miss “us” more than anything. We both cried. How do you say a final goodbye to someone who is the very beat of your heart?
Women loved him. How could they not? Men respected him-how could they not? He served honorably in the US Air Force and was known as a man who got things done. He was a dad respected and loved by his kids. His sponsees in AA sought his counsel. And me? I adored him. I loved him more than I’ve ever loved anybody. He was my life. I was his life. He would have walked on water for me, and when he said that he would give his life for me, I believed him.
It is sheer, fucking agony for me to not have him next to me, not to feel his arms around me, not to lean into him, on tiptoe, so that I could rest my head in the hollow of his neck and breathe in his scent. Sometimes when I’d do that-stand on tiptoe-he’d bend his knees a bit to lower himself so I could just stand level. But I loved fitting myself into him. He gave me courage, he gave me love, he gave himself to me.
All I know to do with my life now that he’s gone from it is focus on the love he had for me, and I for him. He knew that I would take my life with him, and our final travels together in hospice, and make something of it because that’s what I do. I don’t know how that will translate and I don’t know when it will translate. All I know is I refuse to leave him in my past, to leave our life together in the past. His love for me was too strong and powerful. His love for me is my armor, plain and simple.