MORE THAN LIFE ITSELF
A Love Story by
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo
Chapter 41 – The Wedding
December 26, 1964 dawned warm and sunny. Billy awoke first, as if anxious to leave for Atlanta, and groggily I dressed and made myself presentable while he dressed Michael. Since we would be returning to Griffin to stay one more night so Billy could see his doctor, we did not have to pack the car except for those things we would need for this one day. It did not make any sense for us to don our wedding finery and risk wrinkles from our active son, so both of us dressed casually for the trip. Comfort was foremost on my mind with my huge bundle, and I simply was not going to wear stockings any longer than I had to! So slipping on my most comfortable pair of pants and top, a quick brush of my hair, and enough makeup to hide my dark circles, and soon we were all ready for our short trip.
The house was still quiet while we ate a bowl of cereal for breakfast, with Michael smearing banana all over his clothes while both of us were not looking, which made a change of clothing necessary. While I finished my hot chocolate, Billy took Michael back down to the bedroom, redressed him in a clean shirt and corduroy overalls, and once again we were ready to go. The house remained silent and no one came out to say ‘good-bye’, but we knew we would be seeing all of the family at the wedding. I could not help but think about Bubba and continued to wonder if she knew Gene was remarrying so soon, and all I could do was pray she would soon forgive us for our ‘sins’, at least in her eyes.
It would be difficult to leave for Hawaii without bidding farewell to her and to Pop since they had always been kind and very special to me, and I knew they loved our son. They were mostly angry with Billy but that shut them out of Michael’s and my life too. Perhaps if they learned it was a certainty he would be leaving for Vietnam from Hawaii, they would want to see their oldest grandson one last time before we left, although I morbidly realized that possibly it could be one last time, forever.
Today though we had a full schedule with scarcely a moment to visit anyone, and our visit with my family would be short indeed. Perhaps we could just take a chance and stop by Bubba and Pop’s home on our way through Atlanta, on the first leg of our cross-county trip. They could always ask us to leave, but In fact, I decided I would insist Billy take us to see them so they could meet their new great-grandchild. Even if Billy wanted to remain in the car, although I could not imagine that scenario since he would want to show off our newest addition, I knew Bubba had never been able to resist a newborn baby, particularly when they were her flesh and blood.
It was warm enough for a light sweater to suffice, and it was still quite early so I wondered if my pink wool jumper would be too warm, but since I had no other ‘dressy’ dress, I would have to manage. At least Billy could remove his blouse once the wedding was over, but in my condition, the less seen of me, the better.
We arrived in Atlanta about 10:00 a.m., and my aunt, who adored Michael and Billy, barely acknowledged me, but grabbed up our son and took him into the house to open his Christmas gifts from them. Ginny was excited to see him too and had been looking forward to this day when they could play together all afternoon since she was virtually an ‘only child’ with siblings much older. It seemed strange, but both Lynne and Ginny were my son’s generation, although they were my sister and first cousin. I hoped they would remain close most of their lives, although in dysfunctional families this rarely happens, then it was very doubtful we would ever live in Atlanta. The wedding was at noon so we did not have much time to visit since the church was on the other side of town and we quickly exchanged gifts and a few minutes of hurried conversation.
Mostly Billy talked about Ranger School, and of course, my aunt wanted to know all about his still slightly bruised eye. Finally, with just ninety minutes until the wedding began, we rushed down to the basement, and my cousin’s room to change. As always, Billy looked fantastic in his uniform and while I would have preferred to see him in dress blues, he looked just as splendid in his greens. The change in him from the time we married was amazing, and while I still saw the handsome young cadet in his deep blue eyes, the man was a remarkable specimen indeed. Tears welled up in my eyes he looked so handsome, even with his bruised eye and I know I glowed with pride, and pregnancy, to know he was mine. Not to mention the deep pink of my dress that reflected off my pale winter complexion.
Michael did not even realize when we left, but my uncle, as he usually did, and with a wink, gave Billy $20 and told him to take his “pretty little wife” out to eat on the way back to the house so they could play with our son a little bit longer. He was always such a generous and loving man, and he too died far too young, from his fourth or fifth heart attack when he was in his 50’s, and so very often, he is in my mind and in my heart. We practically ‘shared’ a birthday since his was the day after mine, so each year when our days come around, all too often now, I remember with love and gratitude all he meant to me, and to my family.
On the way over to the West End, where the church was located, we drove down Peachtree Street and noticed the Crossroads Restaurant on the corner of Peachtree and Spring was advertising an ‘all you can eat shrimp’ special, so I knew this was where we would return. While I knew Billy would definitely get his money’s worth, I hoped they had shrimp other than fried since it would be all I could do to watch Billy eat pound after pound of the heavily breaded greasy crustaceans. My stomach was still not handling fried food, but this was the perfect place for my always-starving husband.
Arriving at the church not a moment too soon, Gene came up to greet us when we parked our car, and to open the door for me. He must have been feeling a bit humble, and I could tell he was more than anxious when he asked if we had seen Gram, Poppa and the boys. Billy reminded him we had left Griffin quite early and had taken Michael over to my aunt and uncle’s house, and he then remembered. However, we had no sooner parked and stepped out of our car when Poppa pulled up with Gram and the boys, all decked out in their Sunday best. They were a remarkably handsome family. I just hoped they would be a happy family with the addition of a new stepmother and stepbrother. “Just another little McConnell boy” rang in my ears, as Gene had said when Michael was born. I hoped soon Stuart, Ruth’s son, would be just another little McConnell boy, and fit right in with the rest, particularly since we would be taking Michael so far away from his adoring young uncles. Perhaps Stuart could fill this void for them since already they had known too much loss in their young lives.
While never having seen Ruth, I was not surprised she was a lovely, tiny, thin woman, built very much like Helen, but worlds apart in looks since her complexion was soft and unlined, not ravaged by years of alcohol abuse. Soon though we were to learn that she had her own problems, and although not alcohol related, they were much, much worse.
This day, the day of her wedding, like most brides, her face glowed with happiness, and did not reflect the callousness that lie dormant just below the surface. She did not look like a woman who would keep a father from his children on Christmas, but I had learned very early in life, that looks could be quite deceiving. She did have the appearance of a woman used to getting her way, and the ‘best’ of everything, and I did not see any warmth in her greeting to her soon-to-be ‘new family’, rather a ‘let’s get this over with’ attitude. Of course, she had not met the boys until this moment, but still I think I would have noticed if she seemed at all excited about her new stepsons, but as thoroughly as I searched her face for at least some modicum of ‘caring’ and ‘nurturing’, all I saw was her ego, and that was not a good sign.
The church was barely one-quarter filled and most of the guests were on the bride’s side presumably since Gene was a bit embarrassed to invite his business and church friends to this obviously premature wedding. Surprised, I noticed that her own grandchildren were absent too, and Stuart, a handsome lad of four, was the only young child in attendance. Her oldest son, Dan, Jr., a handsome dark haired young man, walked her down the aisle to the altar where he left her beside her grinning bridegroom, and I could not help but smile when I thought Gene looked like the cat that licked the cream. I remember Ruth wore a lovely, very expensive looking, suit and if my memory serves me correctly it was cream in color. On her beautifully coiffured hair, there was a small hat or hairpiece, but time has dulled my recollections of what later turned out to be, a most disastrous day.
Billy stood at the front of the church by his father’s side, looking oh so handsome, but his face was almost grim, and I hoped no one but me could read the displeasure in it. I knew ‘that’ look so well. The look always on his face when he was angry or upset, his mouth drawn into a single tight line, and his chin slightly raised as if he was ready to ward off a blow. He did not look like he was enjoying this day, not one bit, but he managed to catch my eye and with his customary wink, I breathed a sigh of relief. He may be angry and upset with Gene, but he was still ‘my’ Billy.
While the minister led Gene and Ruth through the wedding vows, I could see Billy’s mouth moving, barely perceptible, as if he too was repeating the vows with them, but now he was looking directly at me. So I too began to mouth the words while looking at this handsome young soldier, standing so straight and so tall, the light of my life, and my eternal love, when an unexplained chill coursed through my veins as we came to the end ‘Til death us do part’.
Perhaps there was a cold draft in this modern, rather sterile church, that chilled me so suddenly, but I remember feeling as if someone suddenly placed an ice cube down my back. Although usually I was overly warm, now I shivered, but my eyes never broke contact with Billy’s eyes, and once again, it was as if we were alone in this small church.
After the short ceremony, Gene and Ruth stood at the door to greet their guests, Stuart by her side, but Gene’s sons were markedly absent. The boys did not even approach their father, rather stayed close to Gram, Poppa, Billy and me, but then again, they did not even know her. What kind of woman would marry a man whose family she had not even met? Whose children she would be raising? My mind raced with questions that have always remained unanswered.
Ruth’s remark on being introduced to me was, “I did not know you were ‘that’ pregnant,” as if I had done something wrong. Billy came to my defense immediately and told her I was due the middle of February and McConnell babies were always large, although she seemed not to hear him, nor showed a modicum of interest, and immediately moved on to the next ‘well-wisher’.
Her brother, an Atlanta physician, asked us if we would join the family for a small celebration at his house so we could get to know one another. Billy told him we could not stay long since our son was with my aunt and uncle, but I knew he was really thinking about all the shrimp he could eat. His bruised eye was barely perceptible, and unless you looked close, you could not see the fading purple and yellow and the slight swelling still on his upper eyelid, and Ruth had not mentioned it, at least not to Billy. Maybe Gene had told her about how upset Billy was with him for missing Thanksgiving entirely, and then the debacle of Christmas Eve, but she did not look like the type of woman who would care how upset anyone was, except herself, of course. It did not take me long to realize Stuart was a spoiled brat, and I feared there would be fireworks in the McConnell house while the boys got used to their new ‘brother’ who definitely was not the ‘rough and tumble’ type like Michael.
David came up to me and whispered in my ear, “I don’t like Stuart,” and neither he nor Charles ever did get along with him.
Following Dr. Harper’s directions, we arrived at their large home with the rest of the family and you can imagine our surprise when Gene and Ruth never even showed up! They had left immediately on their extended honeymoon while Stuart stayed with his older sister, the one married to an Army officer, and she did not attend either. Billy and I immediately liked Dan and his wife, Joan, and I got the impression Ruth was not entirely pleased with the striking redhead from ‘up north’ who had ‘stolen’ her oldest son from her. Joan was expecting again, too, their third child, but she was not due until mid summer, and since she was much taller, she did not even appear to be pregnant, although she confided in me that her mother-in-law was most upset about the new addition, and in reality did not like the title ‘grandmother’ at all. Joan admitted that she had told the children to call her just that to annoy her, and I realized that all was not well between the two of them. Sadly, years later, Dan and Joan divorced, and I have always wondered how much influence Ruth had on Dan’s decision.
I felt like a blimp compared to the rest of the guests, but Billy, knowing how self-conscious I was about my ever expanding girth, kept his arm around me most of the time, and he never left my side. Dr. Harper and his wife served light refreshments, but Billy, wanting to take full advantage of the ‘all you can eat shrimp’, barely touched the food and neither of us drank the champagne. It just felt strange to be at a ‘wedding reception’ where the bride and groom were missing, and I think Dr. Harper and his wife felt a bit self-conscious to be holding an affair in honor of his sister’s wedding without the ‘guests of honor’ present. Dr. Harper spent a lot of time talking to Billy and to me, and seemed genuinely interested in the Ranger training, and of course, he had to comment, from a doctor’s perspective, that surely I could not go until mid-February carrying my ever-growing bundle. He and his wife both were warm and gracious, and I just hoped my first impression of Ruth was entirely inaccurate since Dr. Harper was so very congenial. How could she be so dissimilar, I wondered almost aloud, but Billy, as if anticipating my thought, softly said, “Well, there are nuts on every tree!”
We made sure to tell Gram and Poppa not to be alarmed if we were late getting back to Griffin that night, since we were stopping for a bite to eat on the way to pick up Michael, and as soon as was courteously possible, we took our leave, but were not the first.
“Nice family, for the most part,” was Billy’s only comment, but he did not say one word about Ruth. I knew that he, too, was feeling uneasy after their rough beginning, but I had no idea crisis after crisis was looming on the horizon – and then a final catastrophe that would eventually tear the family apart.
Amazingly, the restaurant was almost empty, but it was a bit late for dinner and early for supper, so Billy certainly got his money’s worth, or rather, my uncle’s money’s worth! They did offer cold shrimp, although not ‘all you can eat’, but I still did not have much of an appetite with this pregnancy anyway, except for the worst kind of craving – Russell Stover butter cream chocolates! We passed the factory on each trip to Atlanta, and Billy usually stopped to go inside and buy the fresh chocolates, still warm. Therefore, he was partially to blame for the size of my stomach, and it would take more than having a baby to take off all this weight! I knew, for sure, this child would ‘crave’ chocolate since I had craved black olives with Michael, and my little boy could not get enough of them. Now I am not sure you pass your cravings on to the baby in uteri, but it sure seemed that way with Michael and the olives.
I had long finished my generous portion of cold shrimp and Billy was still eating. He even ate the tails since he said that way they, the kitchen staff, did not know how many shrimp he consumed, but I knew they must have been counting since his refill portions kept getting smaller and smaller. Surely, the management thought he was eating them out of shrimp, and he must have consumed well over one hundred! Definitely, he was hungry since he had been ‘saving himself’ for this rare treat, and he was taking full advantage of the offer. Almost embarrassed, I felt sure if we ever came here again the staff would remember the handsome young Army officer who had single-handedly eaten almost all their shrimp!
Finally, fully satisfied, although, as usual, he had barely touched his salad, and I filled in my meal eating both his and mine, he was ready to pay the bill. With my urging, he left a large tip since our service had been impeccable due to the small amount of customers, although now it was nearing suppertime, the restaurant was beginning to fill up. I just hoped Billy left enough shrimp for everyone else!
As we were leaving the restaurant Billy moaned about eating too much, while unbuttoning his jacket and the button on his pants, but this time I could not sympathize with him – not when he ate over 100 fried shrimp!
When we arrived at my aunt and uncle’s home, my grandmother was there and we were able to exchange gifts with her and visit for a short while. I asked if my parents would be coming up, but my aunt said she had not heard from them, and my grandmother added that my mother, whose birthday was today, was not feeling well, so they would not be able to come. What this probably meant was that my father, as usual, had gone on a Christmas binge, and mother had another black eye or other noticeable bruises that she was unable to cover with makeup.
With no other alternative, and certainly we did not want to go out to Sandy Springs, we left their gifts, and thanked my aunt and uncle for keeping our son. They said they were glad to have him anytime, and out of my aunt’s hearing, we thanked my uncle for the dinner. We then excused ourselves to change back into our more comfortable casual clothes for the drive back to Griffin, leaving Michael upstairs so he could play with Ginny for a few more minutes.
While we were changing, Billy suddenly pulled me into his arms, held me close while fondling my breasts, and said, “Little girl, I cannot wait to get you home!” Teasing him, I said it would not be a good idea to make love right here, but he pulled me to the bed and said, “Why not?” “Just a quickie!”
Embarrassed, I refused, but told him I would more than make it up to him when we got back to Ft. Benning. Satisfied with my answer at least for the time being and I have to say, his offer was hard to resist, we changed, gathered up our wedding clothes, our son, all the gifts, and once again were on the road, back to Griffin.
This time we passed The Varsity without a glance from either of us, but Michael saw it and wanted to stop. I knew he had eaten already so we told him, as so many parents do, “next time.” With that, he was asleep on the backseat before we could no longer see the downtown skyline in our rearview mirror. Billy reached for my hand and asked me to move over closer to him, which I did. Putting his arm around me, he pulled me even closer and I laid my head on his sore shoulder. I asked if I was hurting him, and he assured me I was not, and that I could never hurt him unless I stopped loving him. Naturally, I promised him that day would never come; I would always love him ‘more than life itself’.
“You know”, he said softly, “while I was standing up at the front of that church listening to the same vows we repeated when we were married, I wished I could have seen you coming down the aisle in a wedding gown, and I felt ashamed we had to marry so quickly because of my impatience. I want you to know, though, that I love you more because you married me ‘for better, for worse’, without a clue, how we would even manage to live together, much less have a child. But that night we married you were far more lovely than any bride I have ever seen and the glow of love from your eyes made me want to cry.”
“Why cry?” I asked puzzled since he had just said such beautiful things. “Were you that unhappy?”
“Oh, darling, no, I was not unhappy – in fact I was happier than perhaps I have ever been in my entire life, but I admit I was scared. I was scared I could not take care of you like you should be taken care of, and I was scared someday you might decide you no longer loved me and would leave me without a word.”
“My precious Billy, I too was frightened and truly did not know what I was getting myself into, but the one thing I did know was I meant every word I said, and today, tenfold. With every beat of my heart and every breath I take, I love you even more, and just when it seems my heart cannot hold anymore love, I wake up in your arms and my love for you continues to grow. I love you so very much nothing could ever happen that would make me love you less. I adore you, Billy McConnell, I worship the ground you walk on, and I would die rather than be without you.”
For a moment, he did not say anything else but leaned his head to touch the top of mine, then added, “Darling Diane, I wish I was worthy of your adoration, and all I can do to earn it is to love you just as much, if not more.”
I fell asleep in that comfortable space with his arm holding me close, and did not waken until we pulled into the driveway in Griffin. Billy gently picked up our sleeping son, hoping to transfer him to the playpen for the night, and for this one time, it actually worked. Since I had changed him into his pajamas before we left Atlanta, he was down for the night. All the boys were in bed too, but Gram and Poppa were sitting in the den, watching television and going through their mail since they had stopped by their home after the wedding.
When Billy came back upstairs after getting Michael settled, Poppa asked him what he thought about the wedding and his new ‘step mother’.
Not one to mince words, Billy plainly told him he thought the entire day was a farce and the first wedding he had ever been to where the bride and the groom did not attend their own reception. He then told him never to call ‘that woman’ his stepmother since he was far too old for that and he thought any woman who would keep a man from his children on Christmas was a ‘piece of work’.
That said, Poppa calmly looked at him and said, “I agree, she is a ‘piece of work’.”
I almost felt sorry for Ruth then, but the sentiment did not last long. Truthfully, I was feeling sorrier for the boys than I did for anyone else! They were the ones who were going to feel her wrath when things went wrong, and somehow I just knew things would go wrong – very, very wrong!
We excused ourselves saying we were both tired, and I for one was exhausted. Billy’s doctor appointment was for 10:00 a.m., but we kept our promised rendezvous for a long shower. This time though we considerately did not run out all of the hot water since Gram and Poppa still needed to get ready for bed. I was incredibly anxious to fulfill my promise from that afternoon, but I needed to take care of his toe before he went to see the doctor, so after we toweled each other off, as gently as possible I pulled the wet and soiled tape off Billy’s foot. His little toe was blue, but warm, so the circulation was O.K., and the swelling was not as ghastly, but it certainly did look like as if it was broken. Not that it was at an odd angle, it was just so blue! I took a washcloth and bathed as tenderly as I could between his toes, dried them well, and then put a piece of gauze around the little toe, thinking that would take care of any excessive moisture caused by the tape. Then I re-taped his foot, wanting his bandage clean when he kept his appointment, although I knew the doctor would probably remove my tape to look at his toe. It was of utmost importance to me that it seemed Billy had a loving wife taking care of him, and frankly, I doubt if anyone could have loved him more. Finally, I took out a pair of his clean white socks and gently slid one over his injured foot while he put on the other, and we were ready for bed.
First Billy put his hand and face on my tummy for perhaps ten minutes, and talking to our still-to-be-born child, he told him what a lucky little fellow he was to have such a pretty and loving mommy, and added how much his daddy loved him too.
Each time the baby kicked, he would say softly so we would not wake Michael, “Feel that! (As if I did not!), he is going to be a football star!”
He then moved one hand to my breast and the other between my legs. From there we both lost all sense of time and reality. Once again, we were in ecstasy, reaching the moon together, again, and then again. Satisfied but tired, Billy fell asleep almost immediately, but my little nap had refreshed me enough that I could lie in the bed and look and listen, first at my handsome husband whose soft snore I had long become accustomed to hearing, and then our adorable son, both sleeping soundly without a care in the world. The last thing I remember was Billy putting his arm around me in his sleep, and I held his big hand and kissed it, and held it to my cheek, wondering if it would always be like this; if our marriage could maintain this intense momentum, and the love we had enjoyed for almost four years. How much better could it get?
Michael was the first to awake with the sun streaming in the front window, and this time, after I checked my watch and realized Billy could sleep for maybe another 45 minutes. Slipping out from under the covers quietly so not to waken him, I took Michael to ‘potty’ and then upstairs for breakfast. Gram, as usual, was at the stove frying bacon and she asked if Michael would eat some scrambled eggs, and did I want any. When I told her while I appreciated her offer, she did not have to fix us anything, that I did not mind fixing our breakfast, she just said her job here was almost finished and this might be the last opportunity she had to cook for us, at least for a long time. My hungry little boy ate every bite of Gram’s wonderful eggs, filled with grated cheese, and by the time Michael had finished eating and was running around the den with his uncles, playing with his Christmas toys, and I was sipping my second cup of hot chocolate, Billy came upstairs looking bleary-eyed.
“Wake up, sleepy head,” I said as he gave me a big hug and a kiss while Gram fixed more eggs, and we sat and talked with both Gram and Poppa until time to get dressed for the appointment. Michael and I would be going with him since we had decided to go straight home from the doctor’s office so we would be back in Columbus long before dark, so Billy could unload the car before the sun went down. We had been keeping Michael’s playpen in the car since he had long outgrown any use for it other than a makeshift bed when we were visiting. This time we would take it inside since the movers needed to pack it along with our other household goods, although it was not in very good condition from Michael’s toeholds in the mesh. We planned to reserve a ‘double’ motel room so Michael could have his own bed and there would be no need for the playpen. Besides, the Army was paying travel expenses for all of us, and we had figured out this pay would more than cover the entire trip, and it was just one more thing we did not have to carry aboard the ship.
Our farewell hugs were more difficult this time since the next time we returned to Griffin, Gram and Poppa would be back in their own comfortable home, and this house would be under ‘new management’. Billy told the boys to call us and let us know how things were going with Stuart, and we once again pulled out of the long driveway and headed for the doctor’s office.
This doctor had seen Billy through so many injuries and emergencies with his abdominal adhesions, his broken knee, scalping etc, that Billy was on a ‘first name’ basis with him, and with all the staff. Actually, the doctor lived just a few doors down from the McConnell house, so they were also neighbors.
When we reached the office, the parking lot was full, as it usually would be after a long holiday. Billy said he would go inside and see how long a wait we would have and if it was going to be too long, we could walk across the street to the school playground with Michael. He came back out to the car and said the receptionist promised he would not have to wait long, but there were no empty seats inside, and while we talked even more patients arrived. I asked him if he wanted me to wait in the car with Michael and he said, “No,” opening the door for both of us. However, Michael spotted the swings, so I told Billy to go on inside and when Michael tired of the playground, or I tired of chasing after him, I would come inside to find him. He promised he would tell the nurse to watch for his very pretty wife who looked ready to deliver, and a dirty little boy, and to bring us back to meet his doctor and neighbor. I was vaguely sure I had met him at Helen’s funeral, but I was in such a fugue and had met so many people those two days, I really did not remember anyone. Billy kissed me on my forehead and watched while I crossed the street with Michael and then he went back inside the office.
It was another warm spring-like December day and Michael only needed a light jacket while a sweater was sufficient for me since I was always overly warm. I guess this was because, for the moment I was a huge incubator! I pushed Michael on the swing then sat on the swing with him while he sat on what little lap I had left, I pushed him on the merry-go-round, and I waited to catch him as he climbed the steps to the slide and came hurtling down so many times I lost count. This child was not afraid of anything! The higher a ride, the wilder, the faster, and the better he liked it. He loved his daddy to throw him into the air and to catch him by his ankles, while I held my breath! Today he swung from the monkey bars, ran up and down the teeter-totter, and I did not think he was ever going to wear himself out, although it only took about half an hour and I had to sit down, but my son was just getting warmed up. Finally, I sat on a swing to rest my swollen feet, and watched him while he played in the sandbox and went for second rides on all the equipment. I sat there thinking if I could not keep up with one son, how I would possibly keep up with two.
About the time that I was bemoaning my fate as the mother of two active McConnell boys, one getting into what the other did not; Billy came out of the doctor’s office and found us. I could see from across the street that his right arm was in a sling and strapped to his chest, and my heart leapt into my throat, thinking his shoulder or clavicle was broken and his dream for Ranger School was over. As he walked towards us, it seemed as if he was walking in slow motion, and I could not stand up, my legs had turned to rubber and the hard ground turned to thick mud.
As soon as he was close enough for me to hear him, in a vain attempt to stop my tears, he quickly said, “It’s just stretched ligaments and tendons from the continuous dislocations like we thought, and I just need to keep it immobilized for the rest of my leave, at least until the last two days. I promise, little girl, it is not serious!”
While I sat there speechless and unable to get to my feet, he went on to explain the doctor thought if he did not overuse it while he was home, it would heal enough to allow him to complete the course, although he was not totally in favor of the idea. Billy had been adamant about continuing Ranger School and knowing Billy as well as he did, the doctor knew he could not talk him out of it, so he gave him a sling that kept his shoulder immobile and said nothing more. Billy’s toe was broken, but the doctor said I had taped it so well, he did not un-tape it; rather he took the x-ray with the tape still on and just added more since I had not the previous night thinking the doctor would have to remove it. Again, he told Billy what I was doing, keeping one toe taped to the other was all you could do for a broken toe, and without a doubt it would heal by the time his break was over.
Oh, if he had just had another two weeks, I would not have been so worried, but he did not, and that fact was out of my control! I was not about to ask him to drop out since I knew this was one of his life-long dreams to finally become an ‘Airborne Ranger’. I could never put a damper on his enthusiasm. After all, he had just turned 24 years old on November 20, he was young, and in the prime of his life. Most of all I loved him and I could not and would not pressure him to give up his dream. Finally, I managed to stand up, and Billy held me with his good arm and pulled me close, right in broad daylight, right in the middle of Griffin.
“Honey, honey, please don’t’ cry,” since he knew I was about to bawl, “I’m O.K., it’s nothing that won’t heal before I go back,” he continued to soothe me, as if I was the one who was hurt.
Kissing my tears away, he said, “I hate to see you upset, but when there are tears dancing in your eyes, they sparkle like diamonds. Did you know that?”
I simply could not find my voice to answer him, and knew if I tried, I would fall apart, but I finally managed weakly to say, “Oh, Billy, I love you so! How can I not cry when you are hurt?”
“I know you do, and I know you are upset, but can you wait to cry until I take you both inside to meet my doctor? I want him to see what a beautiful pregnant wife I have, and what a fine son you gave me the first time!”
Without waiting for me to answer, he called to Michael and said there was someone who wanted to meet him. Michael, of course, was full of questions about his daddy’s arm as we crossed the street and Billy told him he had a ‘sprain’ and could not use it for a short while, and with that Michael was satisfied his daddy would soon be as good as new. We all traipsed into the building, and the nurse told us to go right back to the office, where the doctor was waiting to talk to us. He said he remembered meeting me at the funeral, although his face was not familiar, but again that day all faces were a blur. Of course, he had not met Michael and Billy wanted to show off his handsome, obviously bright son.
“Hmm,” the doctor said, ignoring Michael and Billy and looking at my enormous waistline, “any day now?”
When I told him the baby was not due until the middle of February, he asked if they had checked for twins! The thought made me shudder! Two Michaels would be more than enough, but three. I certainly hoped not, and I told him I had one x-ray and there was just a single large baby, much to my relief.
He then said I seemed to be carrying “all out front,” which meant we would have a girl, if folklore was correct, but Billy and I did not take him seriously. Then it was Michael’s turn and the doctor chatted with him about what Santa brought him, and I swear, Michael remembered every gift!
Then he turned back to me with some instructions for Billy’s care, and what he should and should not do, and what he could do and when, but added, “I hope you have better luck than I have had keeping him in line!” There was not much I could say in reply since my tears were so close to the surface I was afraid if I said much, I would break down and cry right there!
Finally, with patients waiting, we took our leave, and I held Michael’s hand as we left the office, while Billy held mine, but I could not look at him because I knew I would cry again, my heart was lying right on the surface and tears would soon follow.
Once we were in the car, I could not hold back any longer. I cried while Billy circled his good arm around me. My heart was so full of love for him; I thought it would split open, right here, in this most convenient of places – a doctor’s parking lot!
Not thinking as we left the office, when Billy started the engine, I managed, between sobs, to ask him if he wanted me to drive. With somewhat false bravado, he assured me he could manage; he would just miss not having his arm around me, but jokingly added that he was not so sure I would fit behind the steering wheel! He knew had he not been hurt, I would have smacked him, not hard, but a smack nonetheless, but as quickly as the retort came out of his mouth, he instantly apologized and asked me to move over closer to him. I did as he asked, and very carefully, I placed my left hand up under his sling, my right hand on top and leaned lightly against his shoulder.
I asked if it hurt, but he just turned to look at me and, kissing my forehead, he smiled. “Hold onto me tight, little girl, our journey has just begun, and with all the love we have in this car we can go a long, long way.”