Happy Valentine’s Day
The Medium Writing Prompt

Across Time and Space to 1999

How ironic it was his birthday, Valentine’s Day.

I was living alone with my two very young kids then, their father and I having divorced the year before. I had stayed as close to friends as I could while this was going on, and my friend Joel was closest of all, my bestie having moved to Oregon some months before. He was godfather to my kids and I made many more friends through him. We were not a couple, though I met the love of my life through him, ironically, when we had dated some seven years earlier. I just didn’t know it, then.

From left: Shiro, me, Pocket, and our Bill in May, 1999.

William Thomas Mills was just over ten years my senior. When we met in 1991, I was dating Joel and Bill was engaged to another woman. We met on his birthday, Valentine’s Day, and while intervening years took us down some different roads, I never forgot him. In fact, I couldn’t forget him no matter how hard I’d tried. I’d put him out of my mind for long stretches if I could, dated other men, even got married and had kids. Abuse ended both of our marriages in 1997, but by then we hadn’t seen each other in person for over a year, his career keeping him working some fifteen miles north of where we lived and too busy to think straight.

He asked me out. I said yes. We went to dinner at a local place, La Petite Maison, a French place up on the Westside of Olympia, then saw the movie, “Titanic” which, in truth, I cannot bring myself to watch again. Not since that night. I cannot listen to “My Heart Will Go On” and when it comes on, I change the station. You see, that was “the” night. Remember, we had been friends all those years in spite of distance and wives and hubby’s…but he told me that night. Everything.

“I wanted to run away with you then, Sacha.” His eyes were those strange color of half blue and half green literally. One dark blue eye, one green like jade. We had gone walking after the movie downtown by our Ocean on Percival Landing in Olympia. The movie had charmed me, and he loved it! This was our third trip to see it, though this was our first “real date”, as it were. And now walking, the sunset long gone and yet no stars to speak of, he stopped abruptly and took my hand.

“But I was honorable. I’d asked her after five years and she’d said yes, as I knew she would then.” He paused, his eyes tearing up as he looked into my own. “I should have run away anyway.” This man, I should tell you, married a woman who was taller and outweighed him by over a hundred pounds… and hit him regularly. He was so naive that when she’d told him she was “allergic to pregnancy” he just believed her, not knowing any better and not having had sex ed in school. When he discovered she had bankrupted his own business and stolen all his money, he simply divorced her.

Now he was here, staring in my eyes. What he said next blew me away.

“I love you. I want to marry you. I’ve wanted to since we met. I knew you were the right one for me, but I wanted to be honorable to K— and keep my word.” He paused and grinned a little grin at me, his hand reaching in his pocket while I was distracted by his beautiful eyes. I don’t remember him actually getting down but he did, on one knee, and asked me like this (I will never forget those words or his face as long as I live):

“I’m not a perfect man and I will never be that. But I’m honest and I love you. I have little to offer you since K— got almost everything in the divorce, but I love you. And if you’ll let me, I’ll love you the rest of my life. I’ll work hard for those two great kids and I’ll be a stand-up guy. It’s all I know how to be, other than a businessman.” He paused and was smiling his infectious smile at me, mischievous grin all over his face. “Please, will you marry me?”

You would think my reaction would be “YES!” with enthusiasm. I was foolish and said “Yes, just not yet. But yes!” He grinned and was happy for that answer. I say I was foolish because I waited. And waited. And waited. Fearful I was a jinx, that since my first marriage had gone bust I’d somehow screw this up and wind up worse off than I had been before Bill came back into my life. So I waited. And waited. And waited…

My kids in 2008: Pocket and Shiro still call him “Dad” even now.

Our circumstances changed dramatically the following year when I finally said okay, yes, let’s do it. In July of 1999, we married quietly in Joel’s back yard with a few friends in attendance and the kids. I had resigned a very bad job in Corrections at a local prison and he was…sick. We didn’t know with what, but we always thought there would be time. Nothing we couldn’t conquer together. Nothing.

Small Cell Carcinoma took his life suddenly and dramatically on November 7th of that year, a day that still hurts my kids and I greatly each time it comes.He collapsed at an ER on Wednesday and died suddenly on Sunday, it was so fast. I don’t know which of us it hurt the worst. But it liked to kill me and the kids, it was so sudden and unexpected.

But then, a friend of mine asked me, “what’s in his ‘dash’?” Referring to a headstone where you see the date of birth followed by the date of death; the dash is in between. So what did you do in between the numbers? What did you do in the “dash”?

He loved a lifetime’s worth, as the saying goes. He got to help raise two great kids for a few years. He worked a regular job while running his own business for all the eight years I’d known him. He served many members at all times of the day or night in AA for all his free life sober. He was HVAC certified and trusted to clean even local banks after closing hours for years, in a grand ironic twist of fate—and he robbed none of them. He was a great friend to have and always had a joke ready, even on his sickest days. And he brought joy and hope to hundreds of men and women in the talks he would give them, softly and gently, about his travels to a sober life from the ruins of poverty. He rose above.

And that’s how I like to remember his death—he rose above. And it’s now his life I remember better than his death. That one Valentine’s Day, his birthday, was the happiest day of my life in romance. Nothing holds a candle to it. He was a rare gem amongst many men I have met in my entire life. A loving man. A generous man. I haven’t remarried and I doubt I will. Not because I think I’m jinxed any longer, but because I’ve not met anyone who comes close to holding a candle to him as a man. Not yet. Maybe. But…

He rose above. And I’m doing my best to keep up with his example.

He lived what Sue Fitzmaurice said above and believed it.
That’s a good enough start for me, too.

Sacha Jean Mills is the author of the short novel, “Black Rising” and writes intermittently for Medium. You can check out her work on Smashwords.com or on Facebook. If you like the story you have read, please hit the “Recommend” button and share it wherever it will do good. Namaste.

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