My dead husband was an only child and as they sometimes do, he acquired friends and raised them to sibling status. Most of his picks for brothers baffled me, but I could see why he chose Wally*.
If the universe has a calm, soft middle, Wally originated nearby. Nothing flapped his feathers and his vision – with one notable exception – wasn’t wont to be clouded by emotion or easily prejudiced by he and Will’s peers, who spun like seedlings from a maple tree in the fall.
Will had a temper that sparked easily and burned as hot as it did slowly, and when that happened, Wally was the extinguisher.
I don’t remember when we met exactly. It was after our engagement. Wally and his wife, Cherish, were in Kansas City and traveled back one weekend specifically to meet me. We went out for dinner, shot pool after, and – as I remember it – I passed muster.
They had three children already. The girl, who was about 6, and the reason they ever married in the first place, and two boys – a toddler and a baby. The baby arrived after Will had moved in with me in late fall of 1998. I remember the phone ringing late one night after we’d been in bed a while and answering it to hear Doug asking for Will.
Will had his doubts about Cherish. Actually, all of Wally’s friends had their doubts about her, but Will was probably the only one who kept most of his objections to himself. Still Cherish had kept the two apart as much as she could until I came along. Apparently, she approved of me and my influence, and as a result, we visited them several times over the next couple of years. We even helped them move from K.C. to St. Louis and then from there to Davenport and from there to my hometown of Dubuque – which is where they were living when Will was diagnosed with his illness.
I wouldn’t say I got to know them all that well, but we spent time together. I spent time with their kids.
The little boys were sweet, like toddler/preschoolers are. The littlest one was full of the devil, but in that boyish way that makes it okay.
Wally took Will’s death hard. He could barely stand to be around Dee and I. During that first year, I heard from him once. He called for directions to Will’s grave. Because he was Dee’s godfather, he sent a Christmas gift (he forgot her birthday) via Cherish when she came back to Des Moines in December of 2006. I didn’t see the kids on that visit.
And then I didn’t hear from him again until just before Christmas of 2007. He called and my number was no longer in service as we’d moved to Canada – which he didn’t know because I never bothered to contact him and tell him I was remarrying.
I suppose I should have. Wally was Will’s best friend and my daughter’s godfather (something I argued against and lost because I knew that godfathers who weren’t relatives didn’t have the same stick that relations did – but Will was adamant). But I didn’t contact any of Will’s family. It’s not as if they made an effort to stay connected to Dee and I, and honestly, I just didn’t want to deal with Wally – or any of them. I was tired of other people’s grief needs. They were an imposition and really, not my problem to fix, and I really resented Wally’s avoiding us. Will would have done whatever he could have had the situations been reversed. He wouldn’t have let his feelings get the better of his sense of duty and obligation. I was so tired of people who’d basically jumped ship during Will’s illness laying claim to greater grief rights than Dee and I had. We sucked it up and dealt. Why didn’t they?**
Wally called my mother and asked for my new number, which she gave him minus the details. He called but got our machine, and I called back and got his voice mail. I told him where we were and that I was married again. And I never heard back.
Today, my best friend called to let me know that Wally’s youngest son died last night. He was eleven. He’d had the flu and collapsed in their bathroom. Wally tried CPR, but he was gone before the EMT arrived.
I know what Will would have done. He’d have dropped everything and he would be there with Wally right now. Because they were best friends – brothers and that was just how Will rolled.
But I don’t know what to do or why I am crying even. I remember this olive skinned six year old with the biggest chocolate brown eyes and lashes that brushed round cheeks that sat like little apples on either side of the shyest sweet smile. A mop of hair that bounced when he was in motion, which was always. It feels like a long time ago. And it was.
My friend was in tears when she called. She must have wondered at how calmly I took the news, but I have no connection to these people anymore. I haven’t really since Will got sick – almost 7 years ago.
I think what makes me most sad is knowing that I have let Will down by not staying in touch – making the effort that would have allowed me to reach out to Wally.
I’ll send a card and a check which is, believe me, the very least a person a can do. Wally and I aren’t friends but I can do that little.
*Not using real names but they are close enough that anyone who knows Will can figure out who I am talking about.
**I have come to realize that I am made of way stronger stuff than a lot of people are, but at the time – and sometimes still – I had no patience with those who were built of softer stuff than I am.