The Third Time He Died
Every morning we drank our coffees together over the phone. Neither of us had much money, so we each brewed our own. I made my strong coffee in a yellow Stangl coffee maker.
"How was your day?" he always asked me.
My two young children had gone to school and I took the phone, with its ultra-long curly-haired cord, into the dining room and sat down, arms on the table. On the wall I'd hung a huge branch from a tree, which I looped with white lace.
He had been to my place many a time and got along well with Sarah and Dan, doing some magic tricks for them.
I could not believe he loved me. He was a sculptor famous in our town, Chris Ray. On an unforgettable day in April, when the magnolia petals littered lawns and streets, Chris picked me up at my apartment and drove me in his blue Mazda truck to his Wissahickon Gate in downtown Philadelphia.
I still have a photo of the gate pinned to my bulletin board in my upstairs office. You can practically feel the cold metal as you view swirling designs he forged back home in his carriage house on Chew Avenue. Huge rocks stood in place forever, along with dainty leaves on stalks of iron and a creature he called "The Mansect," a combination man and insect. Chris was an optimist, believing ever one of God's creatures has a living soul. Who was I to doubt him?
He walked me along the downtown streets, a bearded man with sky-blue eyes, who word his trademark jeans and plaid flannel shirt as he showed me the iron gates of banks on Chestnut Street.
"These are some of the places my inspiration comes from," he said in reverential tones.
I grabbed his hand and held it to my heart.
Chris was a loner. Liked nothing more than staying home in his carriage house and forging his works of metal in the open garage. On the grass in his back yard were creations he hadn't yet sold. A huge red sculpture arched toward the heavens. I lay my head against the metal and wished he'd give me something. He never did.
My sister Amy was getting married at my mom's house. I persuaded Chris to attend the wedding. Amy and Rich were married inside the house by a rabbi clad all in white. Chris put on the black kippah or head covering.
I wore a twirly purple silk dress. It's still in my closet since I hope to fit in it again some day.
Quite simply, I was an attractive woman, with shoulder-length brown hair, threaded with gray, huge brown eyes and long eyelashes everyone commented on.
I never looked in the mirror. Couldn't stand viewing myself and still don't look in the mirror.
After the ceremony, Chris came up to me. He had loosened his tie.
"I'm not feeling well," he said.
"Oh no!" I replied and suggested he go upstairs and lie down. I walked him up the stairs to a bedroom on the third floor.
"Lie down here," I suggested, patting the bed.
He lay down in the lime-green bedroom, where we could hear the merry sounds of the party below.
My heart was pounding. I knew I was losing him.
The room began to swim. I had gotten drunk on champagne to quell the awful feelings that Chris was breaking up with me. It was our morning talks that hinted he might be seeing another woman.
Deirdre was her name.
The day after the party, the phone rang.
It was Chris. He didn't mince words.
"I'm breaking up with you," he said.
All I remember is falling to my knees on the kitchen floor, staring at the blue star patterns on the floor and sobbing.
My coffee spilled all over the floor.
For years thereafter, whenever I passed Chew Avenue, where he lived, my heart sobbed inside.
One day my friend Marcy sent me an email.
It was an obituary notice from the Philadelphia Inquirer. Chris Ray was dead from stomach cancer at age 63.
Now I had to mourn him all over again.
If I wish, I can open up a drawer in Sarah's old bedroom and look at his Polaroid photo. A bearded man in a plaid shirt, smiling at me.
All I could do was write a poem about him, which I titled "The Third Time He Died."
Ruth Z. Deming has had her prose and poetry published in lit mags including River Poets, East Jasmine Review and Hektoen International. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. www.newdirectionssupport.org