“Excuse me Ma’am, I don’t mean to interrupt your bitch session; however, you do realize your hair is on fire?”
Joe’s been dead for two years, and he still makes me laugh. He was so relaxed in front of an audience. Unlike me, who would panic at the thought of giving a five-minute PowerPoint presentation, Joe loved entertaining his fans for not only was he a renowned author and accomplished writer but a prolific storyteller as well. The video was from a charity event he attended in Princeton, New Jersey. Some affluent donors weren’t very happy about the lack of seating. Joe was famous for drawing large crowds. He noticed a well-dressed, older woman sitting by the exit door complaining about the seating arrangement. Joe, being the gentleman that he was, excused himself and headed toward the back of the room. She was so engrossed in her own bitching that she failed to notice that he was standing directly behind her. Inadvertently, she leaned into the table’s candle centerpiece and set the front of her hair on fire. Without blinking an eye, Joe gallantly grabbed a glass of water from a nearby table and doused the flames. Needless to say she was humiliated, but ever so thankful for his quick action.
Joe flashed his infamous shit-eating grin and said, “You’re welcome, Darlin’. Now, how about you come up front and sit with me. And by the way, that’ll cost you another thousand dollar donation for my heroic firefighting service.”
The audience gave him a roaring round of applause. He informed the guests that his tip jar was in the back and that it was pathetically empty – nothing her thousand dollar donation couldn’t fix. Joe knew how to work a crowd and please his fans. He was good at what he did, and he knew it.
I turned my computer off and continued to tidy his office. Funny, I still called it his office. Has it really been two years since his death – seems like yesterday. I thought if I left the room the way it was, it would in some way comfort me. Regrettably, it did just the opposite. It irritated me beyond belief. I’m a neat-freak, and he was an incurable pack rat. Receipts from gas stations, fast food restaurants, numerous coffee shops and illegible crib notes on discarded manuscripts littered his desk.
There was still the matter of scattering his ashes. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but I knew it was time to honor my husband’s last wish which was to scatter his remains at the place where he proposed. In my mind, I knew I needed to let go and move on, but in my heart his untimely death still hurt like hell. I’ve heard people use the term heartbroken or heartache. I’d never experienced either – until Joe died. It was an endless, helpless, hopeless pain. I needed to let go. I needed to move on. No matter how painful the task, Joe’s ashes had to be spread.
When the time was right, Raymond said he would accompany me to the spot Joe designated. He was very patient and understanding when it came to my grieving.
“Joe was a procrastinator in life so why would he change in death—always needing to be in control,” Raymond would joke. “He still annoys me from the grave—arrogant son of a mangy coyote!”
I knew it was Raymond’s way of expressing his grief and how he too missed Joe. To be honest, in some strange way, it made me feel better. I missed being referee to their incessant bickering. They had a lot in common. Their inimitable friendship was cherished more than they were willing to admit.
Charlotte was now in her terrible-twos and quite skilled at navigating herself around the house. She was becoming quite a beautiful little girl. I know all parents think that their children are beautiful and talented, but Charlotte was truly a beautiful child. I called her our little golden girl because of her glowing olive complexion and curly, sandy brown locks. She had my focus and temper and Lash’s (Joe as his fans knew him) curiosity and smile.
She toddled into the office and climbed onto his rawhide leather chair. I remembered him gloating when he finished assembling it. He wasn’t patient when it came to following directions or handling tools. He called it his one-and-only successful IKEA achievement. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that if I’d given Charlotte an Allen wrench she could have put it together.
Lord, I miss him. I miss those final edit nights when I’d come in with coffee and sit in his lap. It saddened me to think I’d never see him sitting at that desk again. I picked up Charlotte and gave her a big hug.
I turned away to keep her from seeing my tears. She placed her small hands on my cheeks.
“Happy . . . h-a-p-p-y Mama,” she whispered.
Her attempt to console me brought a smile to my face. I kissed her tiny palms.
“This one’s from me and this one’s from Daddy.”
Charlotte instinctively knew when I needed her happy reminder. She was wise beyond her years. Raymond called her “Nadie”– it was Blackfoot and loosely translated meant the wisdom of an old soul.
Keough cracked the office door and peeked inside.
“You gals okay? Both of ya’ need to get some rest. It’s long past your bedtimes.”
Charlotte climbed off my lap and ran over to Keough and latched onto his leg. He picked her up and swung her onto his shoulders.
“It’s time for this little cowgirl to hit the hay. Come on let’s get you into your bunk. Lou and I will tell you a story about the time I tried to lasso and ride an ornery wild mustang. Would you like that?”
She bounced up and down on his shoulders squealing, “Pap-Pap, horsey!”
“Don’t worry, Rose. It’s a very short story. It took me three seconds to lose that man-versus-beast battle.”
I chuckled at Keough’s honesty and said goodnight.
“Okay, Baby Girl –a quick story then bedtime. That goes for you too Mama.” He paused for a moment and whispered, “And don’t think I haven’t notice you sneaking into this office in the middle of the night. It ain’t healthy for you to deprive yourself of sleep. And it ain’t good for this baby to see you so dang sad all the time. Now, don’t make me tie you up and drag your ass to bed.”
“I promise I’ll go to bed. Just a few more minutes, okay? Thank you Keough.”
“You’re welcome, Darlin’ and goodnight.”
I was leaving the office when I noticed something on the side of the door jam. Funny, I’d never noticed it before. There were two perfectly shaped hearts carved into the trim with the initials MJ loves R. I rubbed my finger over them. When did he do this? What other little treasures has he left behind for me to discover. I went back to his desk, picked up some paper and a pencil and rubbed it over the carving and then tucked it into my shirt pocket. We miss you too, Joe.
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