I almost didn’t write this, but I changed my mind.
It all started when I dialed him by accident. His number is still in my phone. I haven’t spoken to him in years.
“Who’s this?” the voice said.
We laughed. We called each other by old nicknames. We spoke about his kid, his life.
I asked how his wife was.
Silence. The heavy kind.
“Don’t guess you’ve heard,” he said in a low voice. “She passed away, man.”
A gut punch.
She was the light of his life. The voice of reason in a world of idiots wearing tool belts. The woman who married a snuff-dipping foul-mouth and turned him into a decent human.
I was at their wedding reception, long ago. He was skinny. She was out of his league. They paid for the party themselves and held the shindig in a bowling alley.
Pitchers of beer, billiards, nachos. You should’ve seen the bride bowl in her wedding dress. I lost a lot of money betting playing pool that day.
We whip-creamed his truck and tied tin cans to his bumper.
They moved to Atlanta. He got a decent contracting job. They lived in a peach-colored house with a nice backyard and a porch swing.
He had a freezer in the garage, deer hunts on weekends. She had girls trips to New Orleans. Theirs was the all-American dream—complete with throw pillows from Target.
She got pregnant. They obsessed over names. Their baby was healthy. Their nursery was bright-colored. Their life was pure sunshine.
The company promoted him; more money. They moved to a nicer house; all hail square-footage. His daughter was learning the alphabet. On a whim, his wife went to the doctor for an exam.
The details don’t matter. But it spread fast. She was gone almost a year after diagnosis. Their life together was an afterthought. He was sleeping alone in a king bed. His toddler curled beside him.
That was twelve years ago.
His daughter is in middle school now. She’s on the volleyball team—a winning one. She has her first boyfriend. She is taking driving lessons. I feel like Mister Magoo.
My friend has a new wife—she is a gift from On High—and beautiful stepchildren. He’s made a lot of changes.
He quit his old job for a low-stress gig. He drives a 2003 Ford and works four days per week. Nobody’s getting rich, everyone is happy.
He plays with his kids in the afternoons, he has a dog, he even teaches Sunday school—if you can believe it. I can’t.
Like I said, I wasn’t going to write about him, his life is none of my business. But then, I’m not doing this for me. I’m delivering a message for a late friend.
“She would’ve loved you writing about her,” he said. “But will you say something for her?”
“Would you say something about how women need to get regular breast exams? Karen hardly ever went to the doctor. Breast cancer sucks man, she might be here today…”
This, followed by a long pause. A few sniffs.
Listen, I have no right to tell you what to do with your life. But if you’ve read this far, you ought to know something.
There are a lot of people in this world who love you so much it hurts.
I’m one of them.
A doctor’s appointment never hurt anyone.