New Hope

In January of 2006, three months after we were married, Bill and I traveled to Fowler, Colorado. We stayed with Bill’s sister Shirley for a couple of weeks, and during this time, Bill filed his company’s income tax return and took care of other matters. We left Sheridan on the bus at three in the morning. In my haste to shower and finish packing, I forgot to put on my watch and didn’t realize it until we were about to board the bus. Needless to say, I spent the next two weeks relying on Bill or other sources for the time. Fortunately, I’d packed a small radio with headphones, and I could occasionally find a station that gave the time.

One morning soon after we arrived in Fowler, Bill shook me awake and told me it was seven o’clock. Shirley’s cleaning lady was due to come at eight, and I didn’t want her to catch us in bed. At seven forty-five, after having showered and dressed, I settled in a recliner in the living room with my radio and headphones. Shirley wasn’t up yet, and this seemed odd. I also noticed that it didn’t appear to be getting any lighter. I tuned in a public radio station out of Pueblo, and after fifteen minutes of national news, a local announcer said, “Good morning. It’s six a.m.”

Barely able to contain my anger, I stomped into the bedroom where Bill was dressing. I didn’t want to yell for fear of waking Shirley. “You idiot! It’s only six o’clock.”

Bill laughed. “I thought my watch said it was seven.”

“Yeah right,” I said, as I sat on the bed and took off my shoes. “That’s why I don’t use a Braille watch anymore.”

“Well, let’s go out to breakfast.”

“You go out to breakfast,” I said, as I lay on the bed and covered myself with the blanket. “I’m going back to sleep.” I turned on my side and closed my eyes. I heard him leave and knew he was mad, but I didn’t care. As I drifted back to sleep, I vowed never to forget my watch again. Little did I know that this was the last trip Bill and I would take together.

Four days after our return from Fowler, I walked into the house on a Saturday night after a performance with my singing group. “Hi, honey. I’m home,” I called. The house seemed unusually quiet. Bill had told me earlier he was planning to make spaghetti, but I couldn’t smell it. I hurried into the dining room and stopped short. He was sprawled on the floor near his computer. His chair had overturned and lay on top of him. “Honey, what happened?” I asked, as I knelt by his side and tried to take his hand.

He moved his hand away and reached high above him, mumbling something I couldn’t hear. In a cold sweat, I picked up a nearby cordless phone and dialed 911.

In my fifteen years of working in a nursing home, I knew what to do when I found someone on the floor. Now, there was no nurse’s station nearby, no one I could alert to the fact that someone was on the floor, and that someone happened to be my husband. I was consumed by panic, as I tried to give the 911 operator the information he needed. “He’s all sweaty, and he can barely talk. I’m visually impaired so I can’t tell whether he’s bleeding. I just came home and found him like this. I don’t know what happened.”

“Ma’am, take a deep breath,” said the operator. “You’re doing fine.”

I somehow managed to calm down, and a few minutes later, the ambulance arrived. I called Dad, and he drove me to the hospital. All the while, I kept telling myselfthis was a bad dream. Any minute, I would wake up in Bill’s arms, and everything would be all right. At the hospital, there was an endless wait before we were ushered into a curtained cubicle where Bill lay. “Hello, sweetie,” he said. “I was planning to make spaghetti for dinner.”

“Don’t worry about that now,” I said, taking his hand. “How do you feel?”

“I can’t feel my left side.”

Minutes later, the doctor gave us the bad news. “Bill has suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage on the right side of his brain, causing paralysis on the left side of his body. He may need surgery to stop the bleeding. We don’t have a neurosurgeon here so we’re sending him to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Billings.”

Billings, Montana, was about 150 miles north of Sheridan. It was arranged for Bill to fly there, and I was told that I could fly with him. There was a hotel across the street from the hospital where I could stay.

Numb with shock, I hurried home with Dad. While he waited, I tossed a few things into a suitcase. I couldn’t help thinking that I’d just returned from a trip, and now, I was getting ready for another one. At least this time, I was wearing my watch. We returned to the hospital just in time to meet the flight team. I rode in the ambulance with Bill to the airport where we boarded the small plane that took us to Billings.

The flight was bumpy. The previous summer when Bill and I flew to California, he held my hand when the flight got rough. Now, I didn’t have the comfort of his touch, as the plane dipped and soared. All I could do was grip the arms of my seat and try to think about something else. I couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the engine. I didn’t know if Bill was awake. He was probably drifting in and out of consciousness.

After about half an hour, we landed in Billings. I was relieved when the plane touched down and came to a complete stop. Another ambulance was there to meet us, and we drove to the hospital. Bill and I waited for over an hour in a cubicle in the emergency room. He slept most of the time, and I yawned and twiddled my thumbs and wondered what was taking so long. Finally, the neurologist arrived. He was dressed all in black and reminded me of the priest who visited the nursing home when I worked there. I was about to tell him that Bill wasn’t a Catholic when he introduced himself. “I’m afraid the doctor in Sheridan is right about the stroke, but in this case, surgery will do more harm than good. We’ll admit him to the intensive care unit where he can be monitored more closely.”

After he left, I called the motel across the street from the hospital and was relieved to be told there was a room available. When I told a nurse I needed assistance in getting there, she called a hospital security guard who drove me across the street. “Here’s our number,” he said when we reached the motel. “Call us in the morning, and someone will pick you up.”

Once inside my room, I checked my talking watch and was surprised when it announced it was three o’clock in the morning. Where had the time gone? Although the wait for the neurologist had been interminable, I couldn’t believe I’d spent that much time in the emergency room. As I crawled between the cool sheets alone, I wondered if Bill would ever hold me in the darkness of our bedroom and whisper, “I’ve got a woman.”

The motel provided a free continental breakfast. After several hours of fitful sleep, I found my way to the dining area and was surprised to meet one of the paramedics who’d flown with us from Sheridan. He’d been helpful during the flight, and he offered to drive me to the hospital after I’d finished eating. I accepted his offer since it meant I could get to Bill more quickly and wouldn’t have to wait for a hospital security guard to pick me up. The paramedic also helped me find Bill’s room in the intensive care unit.

Dad arrived later and spent the rest of the day helping me figure out how to negotiate the hospital and plan a route between it and the motel. Besides the cafeteria, the hospital also had a sandwich shop so I had a choice of where to eat. Food was the farthest thing from my mind, but I knew I had to keep up my strength. Dad offered to spend the night, but I was concerned about Grandma since he’d been caring for her at home and knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to leave her alone overnight. Although his presence would have been reassuring, I told him I would manage.

Despite Dad’s skill as an untrained mobility instructor, the hospital’s doorways, tunnels, and corridors all looked the same. Several times, I let myself get distracted and took a wrong turn and had to ask for directions. On a couple of nights while I was there, I went out the wrong door and couldn’t get back in because it was locked from the outside. Since I didn’t carry a cell phone, these were frightening situations, but after wandering through the deserted parking lot and down the quiet street adjacent to the hospital, I was finally able to find someone to point me in the right direction.

For the next few days, Bill remained in the hospital in Billings. He stayed in the intensive care unit for a day and a half and then was transferred to a stroke unit. He drifted in and out of consciousness. When we were finally told he could eat, he was too weak to do so on his own. I told the staff I didn’t feel comfortable feeding him because of my visual impairment. Nevertheless, meals were delivered and it was up to me to get him to eat.

One evening, I placed a fork in his hand and said, “Here, honey, eat some mashed potatoes.” After taking a bite, he hung his head and went to sleep. I woke him several times and encouraged him to eat, which he did.

When he grew tired of the potatoes, I gave him a spoon and said, “Try some peas.” He ate a few bites of these in similar fashion before he said he’d had enough to eat. I buried my face in his hair, the only part ofhis body that didn’t have that antiseptic hospital smell. I was comforted by the scent of his shampoo.

We were given the impression that he could participate in the hospital’s rehabilitation program and be home in a month at the most. But after a day in the stroke unit, it was determined that he was too weak and recommended that he be sent to a nursing home for therapy.

When the social worker asked me if I had a preference as to which nursing home in Sheridan, I didn’t hesitate. I gave her the name of the facility where I worked for fifteen years. I even gave her the phone number since I still remembered it.

Four days after we arrived in Billings, we boarded another ambulance for the return trip to Sheridan. The following day, the nursing home hosted a potluck dinner for residents and their families. Although Bill was still pretty weak, I decided to eat with him in one of the dining areas. It was nice to re-acquaint myself with residents, staff, and family members I knew during the years I worked there.

Here, residents were not left to fend for themselves at mealtime. The aide who brought Bill’s plate sat down and encouraged him to eat. When he grew too weak to lift the fork or spoon, she fed him. It was a relief to know that Bill was in a place where people would take good care of him.

As the weeks progressed, Bill slowly improved. At first, he spent most of the day in bed, only having enough energy to get up for meals and therapy. But as his appetite improved, he gained more strength.

In the meantime, I carried on a lone existence. Although I missed Bill, it was nice living alone again. I could sleep when I wanted and eat what I wanted.. When Bill did the cooking, our diet consisted of mostly fatty foods and few green and leafy vegetables. On my own, as I’d done before I married Bill, I subsisted on mostly canned and frozen foods plus salads and lost ten pounds. Bill had been nagging me for months to lose weight, and although I’d tried, it wasn’t easy. At last, he finally got his wish.

During the many months Bill spent at the nursing home, except for the rare days when I was sick and the few times I went out of town for writing workshops, I visited him daily. It was hard seeing the man who was once so strong having been reduced to someone who could do little for himself. Before his stroke, I often sat on his lap while he sang to me and plied me with kisses and caresses. Now, although he could still kiss me, he could only hold my left hand with his right, and it pained me to hear him intone his favorite songs without carrying the tune.

There were times when after returning home, I cried my eyes out. Here I was, alone in the house that was also his with his talking clock that cheerfully played a little tune and announced the time every hour as if nothing were out of the ordinary, his bird clock that chirped each hour as if everything were normal, his computer I used occasionally to check his e-mail and keep his many friends up to date on his condition. Would he ever return, bringing things back to the way they were before?

In March, we saw a local neurologist who gave us more disappointing news. “You’ll always have some numbness on your left side, and this will put you at risk for falls. I don’t know how much you will improve or how long it will take.”

As each day went by, Bill was able to accomplish more with his left arm and leg. His speech improved somewhat, and he smiled and laughed more often.

Bill had been through so much. As a small child, he began losing his vision and the use of his limbs due to arthritis. As a boy, he had surgery to correct the physical disability, but he walked with a limp. As an adult, his vision was surgically corrected, but he eventually became totally blind. Some of his joints were either fused or replaced. Several years ago, he contracted the West Nile virus and it took him months to recover. I was told by people who knew and loved him that he would pull through this as well.

After several more months at the nursing home, we had to face the fact that Bill might never regain full use of his left leg and arm. Most of his therapists said there was nothing more they could do. Only his occupational therapist, Laura Andrews,remained dedicated to his rehabilitation.

I found a house that could be more easily modified to be wheelchair accessible. With her guidance, I hired a couple of carpenters to widen a bathroom doorway and install a ramp and several vertical bars Bill could use for support while being transferred from one place to another. Laura showed me how to transfer him from his bed to his wheelchair, to his recliner, and to the commode. She also helped me figure out the best way to perform most of Bill’s personal care tasks despite my limited vision. I arranged for a home health care aide from the senior center to come three days a week and give Bill a shower and once a week to clean the house.

On September 11th, 2006, the day after our first wedding anniversary, Bill came home. He could do little for himself except eat. He was able to check his e-mail and surf the Internet on his computer, but it was difficult with only one hand.

I took care of him and did the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. I got up once, twice, even three times a night to help him when he needed to relieve himself. I wrote. Being a writer/caregiver was a twenty-four hour a day seven day a week job. It didn’t matter. We were together and happy. About a month later,, Bill started outpatient physical and occupational therapy and seemed to be improving. For a while, there was hope he would walk again.

But in January of 2007, he suffered a second stroke, not quite as severe. He returned to the nursing home for therapy. Again, Laura worked to help him regain his strength and by March, he was home once more. He resumed outpatient therapy, but in August, that was discontinued because he was showing little progress.

We have accepted the fact that Bill will probably never walk or use his left arm. It doesn’t matter. Although he’s not in the kitchen preparing supper as I write this, I still love him. Although he can no longer hold me on his lap and sing to me, he’s still my honey. Now, I hold him in the darkness of our bedroom and whisper, “I’ve got a man.”

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

abbie@samobile.net

Magnets and Ladders Revisited

As I’ve said in earlier posts, I work with a group of disabled writers called Behind Our Eyes. We publish an online magazine called Magnets and Ladders. Our fall winter 2011-2012 issue is now available and contains stories, poems, and other materials written by such authors as myself. I encourage everyone reading this to check it out. To read the current issue of Magnets and Ladders, visit http://www.magnetsandladders.org To learn more about Behind Our Eyes, go to http://www.freewebs.com/behindoureyes/

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

abbie@samobile.net

Homer’s Odyssey

Before you navigate to the next entry, thinking this one is about that long, boring poem you probably had to read in your high school Latin class, please be assured that this is a totally different story. Homer is a blind cat adopted years ago by author Gwen Cooper. Nobody else wanted him because his eyes had been surgically removed to save his life as a result of a serious infection. When Gwen’s veterinarian contacted her about Homer, Gwen wasn’t sure she wanted him either but said she would take a look. When she did, you could say it was love at first sight. She said she would take him home immediately despite the fact she already had two other cats and was living temporarily with a friend.

Homer’s Odyssey is the tale of this cat’s adventures. After Gwen adopted him, she and her three cats moved in with her parents until she found a higher paying job and an apartment of her own. She eventually moved with her cats from Miami to New York where the cats survived 9/11 trapped in her apartment alone for three days. She ends the book by describing how she met and married her husband Laurence. At the beginning of each chapter, there is an excerpt from that dreaded poem, but they’re in English and easy to understand.

At the end of the book, I thought Homer would die because before Gwen’s wedding, he became ill as a result of an unknown cause, but to my surprise and relief, he proved that cats definitely have nine lives. Homer is still alive, and according to the author’s blog, Gwen and Laurence celebrated their third wedding anniversary earlier thismonth. I recommend Homer’s Odyssey to anyone who loves cats.

To find out more about Homer’s Odyssey and purchase a print copy of the book, you can visit Gwen Cooper’s Website at http://www.gwencooper.com To watch a video of Gwen Cooper reading an excerpt from the book, go to http://youtu.be/E_S9VANmMLc To learn about an organization that rescues and shelters blind cats, visit http://blindcatrescue.com/ You can also visit Gwen’s blog at http://www.gwencooper.com/blog.php

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

abbie@samobile.net

Peace on Casper Mountain

As mentioned in an earlier post, Teaching and Learning, I taught Braille at the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain. I also attended the camp for years as a student. Besides daily living, orientation and mobility, and computers, I took a class in creative writing. Below is a poem I wrote one summer while taking this class. It was inspired by a walk in the woods with a group of other campers.

It was published in Azure and Amber, a collection of poems produced by the International Library of Poetry in 2002. I had a couple of poems published in a couple of anthologies produced by this outfit before I realized that the only way to guarantee publication in one of their books is to buy it for about seventy bucks. Needless to say, I don’t do business with them anymore. Anyway, here’s the poem..

PEACE ON CASPER MOUNTAIN

The woods are silent except for the distant whine of chain saws.

Are they clear-cutting the forest or chopping firewood?

The woods have their usual smells of pine trees and flowers

with green trees, green bushes, green grass.

The gravel road crunches beneath our feet.

As we walk towards camp, the sound of chain saws is stilled.

Moments later, a truck filled with wood passes us.

Has enough of the forest been taken for one day?

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com

abbie@samobile.net

Peace on Casper Mountain

As mentioned in an earlier post, Teaching and Learning, I taught Braille at the Wyoming Lions Summer School for the Visually Impaired on Casper Mountain. I also attended the camp for years as a student. Besides daily living, orientation and mobility, and computers, I took a class in creative writing. Below is a poem I wrote one summer while taking this class. It was inspired by a walk in the woods with a group of other campers.

It was published in Azure and Amber, a collection of poems produced by the International Library of Poetry in 2002. I had a couple of poems published in a couple of anthologies produced by this outfit before I realized that the only way to guarantee publication in one of their books is to buy it for about seventy bucks. Needless to say, I don’t do business with them anymore. Anyway, here’s the poem..

PEACE ON CASPER MOUNTAIN

The woods are silent except for the distant whine of chain saws.
Are they clear-cutting the forest or chopping firewood?

The woods have their usual smells of pine trees and flowers
with green trees, green bushes, green grass.
The gravel road crunches beneath our feet.

As we walk towards camp, the sound of chain saws is stilled.
Moments later, a truck filled with wood passes us.
Has enough of the forest been taken for one day?

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome
http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com
abbie@samobile.net

My Ideal Partner

“Dear Abbie, I’m writing to ask for your hand in marriage,” the letter stated. 

“Oh no,” I said, as the index finger of my right hand scanned the Braille words on the page.

It was a Saturday evening in January, 2005. This was all a bad dream, I thought, as I sat in the living room of my apartment. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I would wake up, and everything would be as it was before. Instead, the talking clock in the bedroom announced it was eight thirty.

 

I read the rest of the letter detailing how we could live together. In shock, I tossed it into the wastebasket. I finished reading my mail and perused the evening paper with the help of my closed-circuit television magnification system, all the while thinking about the letter. 

How could I marry Bill? I only met him twice after corresponding with him for two years by e-mail and phone. We met through Newsreel, a cassette magazine that encouraged its blind and visually impaired subscribers to share ideas and contact information. I was forty-four, and he was nineteen years older. 

Born and raised in Fowler, Colorado, Bill lost some of his vision at an early age due to rheumatoid arthritis which also affected his legs. Through surgery as a child, he was able to walk, but he lost the rest of his vision twenty years later. After graduating from the ColoradoStateSchool for the Deaf & Blind, he was educated at Adams State College and ColoradoStateUniversity where he received a degree in business administration. He lived in California for twenty years where he worked for Swimquip and JBL before returning to his hometown. I was inspired by the fact that despite being totally blind, he could own his own house as well as several others he rented out and that he could maintain these properties and make repairs. 

I knew he was an expert at computers since he owned a computer store in Fowler for another twenty years after returning from California. He and I shared some of the same music preferences. He downloaded more than two thousand songs on his computer from various sources on the Internet and sent me tapes of these songs. His mother lived in a nursing home, and he was drawn to me because I was working as an activities assistant at a nursing home in Sheridan, Wyoming, which I’d been doing for fifteen years.

I received degrees in music from SheridanCollege and RockyMountainCollege in Billings, Montana, before going into music therapy. After two more years of study at MontanaStateUniversity which included nine hours of practicum, I completed a six month internship at a nursing home in Fargo, North Dakota, before returning to my home town of Sheridan.

I wrote my first novel, We Shall Overcome, with Bill’s support, and it was published in July of 2007 by iUniverse. I e-mailed him each chapter, and he sent me feedback and suggestions. He also encouraged my other writing endeavors and listened when I told him about problems I had at work. 

He was a good friend, but how could I leave my home town of Sheridan, Wyoming, and live with him in Fowler, Colorado, more than 500 miles away? According to Bill, the little farming community had none of the amenities I enjoyed here in Sheridan. There was no Para transit service or public transportation and no YMCA or Walmart. There was no theater where I could attend a play or concert. In Sheridan, I sang in a women’s barber-shop group and attended monthly writers’ group meetings, but there was none of that in Fowler. Pueblo, a town situated thirty-six miles from Fowler, had all this, but how was I to get there? The thought of leaving my home and starting a new life in a strange town with a man I barely knew was frightening.

I thought back to the time we first met in person. Dad and I were driving to visit my brother Andy and his family in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Since Fowler wasn’t too far out of our way, we arranged to visit Bill at his home. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in April of 2004. I didn’t know what to expect as Dad and I climbed the two narrow steps that led to the front porch of Bill’s white house. I wasn’t sure we had the right address since there appeared to be no signs of life, but when the door opened and a tall figure sporting a cane and sunglasses appeared and extended his hand, I was put at ease. 

After a tour of his house, we sat at the dining room table. Dad left to get gas and look around the town. Bill asked, “Do you like Dr. Pepper?”

“I love Dr. Pepper!” I said, not believing my luck in discovering he had my favorite beverage in the house.

 

“So do I,” he said. I also discovered we both liked country music and oldies. He’d never heard of National Public Radio and  didn’t care for classical music, jazz,  or opera. He liked to read western novels and mysteries which I could have done without, but that didn’t matter. I thought we could still continue to have a great long distance friendship. During the drive to New Mexico, Dad pointed out that he thought Bill wanted to marry me, but I brushed that idea aside.

The following December, Dad and I again visited Bill on our way to New Mexico. His home was decorated for the holidays, and while Dad was in the bathroom, he said, “Let’s kiss under the mistletoe.” I thought he was joking so I laughed. Little did I know until now.

I decided to try not to think anymore about Bill or the marriage proposal and go to bed. Needless to say, although I was tired after a long day of work, I didn’t sleep well that night. As I lay awake at four o’clock in the morning while my apartment building’s maintenance man cleared newly fallen snow from the sidewalk outside, I composed a Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, Although I like you and have valued our friendship over the past couple of years, I don’t see myself marrying you at this time. I hope we can still be friends.”

I was tempted to get up, write the letter, and mail it, but I decided to try and sleep some more since I had another long day of work ahead of me. I would write the letter in the evening and mail it the next day.

 

After work, Dad picked me up and drove me to Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner. It wasn’t much of a family dinner, just me, Dad, and Grandma, but it was something we tried to do every Sunday. Dad and I picked up sandwiches and chips at a Subway shop and took them to Grandma’s house. 

As we sat down to the meal, I could hold back no longer. I was frazzled after working all day, thinking about Bill’s proposal, and hoping I was doing the right thing by putting him off. Surely Dad would agree that I shouldn’t marry a man I didn’t know well. “Dad, Grandma, Bill Taylor wants to marry me.”

To my astonishment, Dad said, “Well, I’ll be damned. You should think about this, honey. He’s a fine fellow.”

“I’ve only met him twice,” I said.

“Grandma and I aren’t going to be around much longer,” said Dad. “Who’s going to take care of you?”

“I can take care of myself,” I answered. “I’ve been living on my own and holding down a job for years.”

“Ed, she shouldn’t marry him if she’s not sure,” said Grandma.

“Yeah, he wants me to move to Fowler, Colorado. It’s just a little town. There’s nothing there.”

“You don’t know that,” said Dad. “We’ve only been there twice and for a couple of hours at the most. Why don’t you at least go down there and spend some time with him before you make a decision?”

Maybe he was right; I shouldn’t be too hasty, I thought. I didn’t have to give an answer right away, did I? I composed another Braille letter in my head. “Dear Bill, I’d like to visit Fowler this summer to see if I would be happy living there with you.”

 

After I returned home, before I had a chance to write the letter, Bill called me. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Oh, just working on the computer and thinking about a marriage proposal I received in the mail yesterday.”

He laughed. I laughed. He said, “What do you think?”

“I was planning to write you a letter. I’d like to come down to Fowler this summer to see if I’d like living with you there.”

                        After a long pause, he said, “Actually, I’m thinking of moving to Sheridan. I’m tired of living in a little town where there isn’t much to do.”

Had I misunderstood his letter? I thought he stated clearly that he wanted us to live in Fowler since his family and business were there. Living with him wouldn’t be so bad if I could stay in my home town. Of course we’d have to find a house or a bigger apartment.

“Maybe I could come to Sheridan for a week or so in a couple of months,” he said.

I panicked. I’d put off my trip to Fowler until the summer to give me more time to get used to the idea. “Wouldn’t you rather wait until June? You wouldn’t have to worry about bad roads.”

“I think the roads should be okay by the middle of March.”

It was obvious he didn’t want to wait. Maybe in two months, I could get myself in a better frame of mind about this.

My thoughts were in a whirlwind. One minute, I liked the idea of being married to Bill. The next, I wondered if I was getting in over my head. As a result of the shock and stress of Bill’s proposal, I came down with a bad cold which lasted for three weeks. When I told Bill, he said he wished he were there to take care of me, but this didn’t make me feel any better. I wanted my mother to take care of me and advise me on what I should do, But she died several years earlier. I never felt so alone or confused.

In the meantime, Bill researched realtors on line and found houses we could look at while he was there, much to my consternation. He e-mailed me at least once a day and called me every night. He even called Dad once or twice. “He’s got it bad for you, doesn’t he?” said Grandma.

On a warm spring morning in March, Dad and I drove to the bus station to meet Bill. He’d been traveling all night from Fowler but appeared well rested as he emerged from the bus, kissed my cheek, and said, “Hello sweetie.” He’d never kissed me or spoken to me like that before. 

We drove to a nearby restaurant for breakfast. I sat in the back seat of Grandma’s two-door Cadillac while Bill sat in front with Dad. This is a bad dream, I thought. Any minute, my alarm clock would ring. I’d wake up, and everything would be as it was before I received Bill’s Braille letter. Instead, my talking watch announced it was ten o’clock.

At the restaurant, Bill sat next to me in a booth while Dad sad across from us. During the meal, he held my hand from time to time which I found reassuring. No man, other than Dad, held my hand before. My stomach was so tied up in knots that I didn’t think I could get anything down, but when we were ready to leave, my plate was empty except for one sausage which I offered to Bill and he accepted.

Bill spent the next week with me in my apartment. At first, he slept on the couch, but after a couple of days, I found myself asking him to sleep in my double bed with me, thinking it would be more comfortable for him. I didn’t know if I loved him. I alternated between wanting to spend the rest of my life with him and wondering what in the world I was thinking. When I expressed my doubts, he reassured me with kisses and caresses, and for the first time, I knew what it was like to be loved by a man. “You don’t have to marry me. We could just live together,” he told me. This seemed preposterous, but I didn’t say anything. I knew he meant well.

I’m not sure when I made up my mind. All I know is that on the day he officially proposed to me during dinner with family and friends at a local restaurant, I said yes. Since the ring was too small, he used a necklace. As he placed it around my neck, he said, “If you say no, I’ll choke you with this.” 

I caught another cold as a result of the stress of his visit and the big decision I’d made. This turned into a mild stomach flu which confined me to bed for a day. Bill held my head when I threw up, applied a cool washcloth, massaged my forehead, back, and shoulders, and fed me. I was relieved I’d said yes to his proposal. It was nice having someone to take care of me.

I was over my cold by the time Bill left town. At the bus station, we kissed in the rain, as the bus thrummed nearby, waiting to take him away. I wouldn’t see him for another three months, and that time seemed endless. I willed the bus to leave without him, but all too soon, he was gone. I sat with Dad in his pick-up and watched the bus drive slowly away from the station. 

After Dad dropped me off at my apartment, I walked into the living room and collapsed on the couch. The apartment was quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator in the little kitchen. For years, I’d been content to be alone here, but now, it felt empty. The next morning when I prepared to wash the bedding, I held the sheets and pillowcases to my nose and drank in his scent. It was the last reminder of him I would have for three months.

During those three months, I imagined what life would be like living with him. We hoped to buy a three-bedroom house so we each could have our own rooms in which to set up our computers and other equipment. I pictured myself writing in a spacious office while in an adjacent room, Bill read and responded to e-mail, browsed the Internet, and downloaded and listened to music on his computer.

Bill offered to do the cooking so I didn’t have to worry about that. I didn’t have much in the way of cookware since I ate canned and frozen foods I prepared in the microwave. Bing single, it seemed silly to do anything else. Because of the lack of pots and pans, Bill didn’t offer to cook anything so I didn’t know if his cooking was any good, but I figured it had to be better than Swanson’s dinners or Campbell soup.

One of his favorite meals was steak, a baked potato, and peas so I pictured myself eating that with him at the end of a long day, talking about what we accomplished and planning what we would do that evening. Later, we would snuggle on the couch and watch a movie or sit in our easy chairs with headphones and listen to our talking books.

Those three months flew by, and it was soon time to visit Bill. He was in the process of packing his belongings for the move to Sheridan. I was welcomed by his sister who also lived in Fowler. Bill told me his mother was depressed at the idea of him leaving, and although she seemed civil when I talked to her and his sister on the phone a few times, I was apprehensive about meeting her. I needn’t have worried because when we visited her at the nursing home, she took my hand and said, “It’s so nice to finally meet you, Abbie. You can call me Mom.”

The town wouldn’t have been such a bad place to live. Although Bill’s house was on the main street, there wasn’t much traffic, and it felt like the quiet residential neighborhood where I lived in Sheridan. The small grocery store down the street would have been sufficient, but since Bill hired a lady to clean his house and buy his groceries and received regular deliveries from Schwann, I wouldn’t have had to worry about shopping for food. Bill had a treadmill which I could have used instead of going to a water exercise class at a YMCA. He also had a lot of helpful friends and neighbors, and I could have found transportation to Pueblo to attend  writers’ group meetings or for any other reason. Since I hadn’t yet found a house in Sheridan, I almost wished Bill would change his mind about moving, but he had already agreed to rent his house. There was no turning back.

Bill hosted a barbecue to celebrate our engagement. Many of his friends in Fowler and a few from out of town were there. Dad, Grandma, and my relatives in Colorado were also invited. Grandma was unable to travel by then, but Dad came, and so did Andy and his family from New Mexico. There must have been at least sixty people. The event was catered, and the food was delicious. At Bill’s insistence, I entertained everyone by playing a guitar and singing. 

This was in the beginning of June. At the end of the month, Bill planned to make the move to Sheridan. Since he couldn’t sell his house in Fowler, we couldn’t afford to buy a house of our own. After I returned home, I found one for us to rent. I only had two weeks in which to pack. Since one of my co-workers quit during my absence, I had to work extra hours which didn’t make things any easier. This happened many times before, and it always irked me, but this time, it didn’t matter. I’d given my notice. My dream of writing full time was about to become a reality. The two weeks flew by, and before I knew it, Bill stood in the hall outside my apartment with his sister and a friend who’d come to help us move. We embraced with the knowledge that we were together for good.

The house we rented had only two bedrooms so Bill set up his computer and stereo in the large dining room while my home office was located in one of the bedrooms. During the first month, one of the few things I wrote was a long list of recipients for our wedding invitations. This consisted mostly of Bill’s friends and former employees and co-workers whom he wanted to invite. I was amazed that a man could know so many people. There were at least fifty and another fifty whom Dad wanted to invite. This was turning out to be a big affair.

Bill’s cooking was pretty good, and despite the fact that he prepared mostly fatty foods and less green, leafy vegetables, I was relieved to be able to concentrate my efforts on writing and not worry about what we would eat. He called a local market that delivered, and I used the local paratransit service to make occasional trips to Wal-Mart when we needed items the market didn’t carry. 

At the end of July, we took an early honeymoon trip to California. A friend of Bill’s in Solvang invited us to his wedding. After that, we visited Bill’s friends in Huntington Beach and La Crescentia, his sister in South Pasadena, and my uncle, aunt, and cousins  in ValleyVillage. I wondered how Bill’s friends and family would accept me and if my uncle’s family would like Bill, but I needn’t have worried. Everyone seemed happy about our upcoming wedding, and some planned to come. Although we weren’t married, it was assumed that we would sleep in the same bed in the homes of our family and friends while we were there.

Among other things, we enjoyed a performance at a comedy club, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, and a visit to my uncle’s studio where he demonstrated the art of making sound effects for movies. We were there for two weeks, and although I had a wonderful time, I was glad to get home.

                        On the afternoon of Saturday, September 10th, 2005, Bill and I were married in Grandma’s back yard. There must have been a hundred people in attendance. Many of my relatives from across the country were there, as well as some of Bill’s friends from out of town. Bill’s mother, despite failing health, drove up to Sheridan with his sister for the event.

                        A violin and cello duo played the processional and recessional music. Dad escorted me down the aisle to the strains of Pachelbel’s Canon. My cousins decorated the yard with many colorful balloons that hung from tree branches. Earlier that day, Bill planned to go to a bar with friends, and I couldn’t help wondering if he would even be at the altar, but when I saw him in his green suit and sunglasses, it was such a relief. He took my hand and said, “Hello sweetie. Are you nervous?”

“Not anymore,” I answered. “now that you’re here.” It was true.

We stood under an arch framed with flowers. A judge who was a family friend performed the ceremony. My brother Andy’s wife Kathleen served as matron of honor, and Bill’s friend from Solvang was best man. Andy’s sons Dylan and Tristan, eight and six, served as ushers. His daughter Isabella, who was only two, was the flower girl. Everyone laughed, as she preceded me down the aisle, dropping rose petals and picking them up again.

The service was short, sweet, and to the point. Bill and I recited our own vows that we had written. At the end, we had a good laugh when the judge said, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Johnson, uh, I mean Taylor.” As we walked back up the aisle to “Ode to  Joy,” I wondered if this would jinx our marriage but didn’t give it much thought.

The ceremony was followed by a reception at a nearby hotel where Bill and I spent our wedding night. During and after a buffet dinner, we were entertained by a pianist who played old songs, and some people danced. A poet and singer/songwriter played his guitar and sang a song I’d asked him to write for us months earlier, using a couple of poems Bill and I wrote. My singing group performed “Every Day of My Life.” As we snuggled between the cool, clean sheets afterward, we had no idea of what was to come.

A Story After Noon

Story is a small town nestled at the base of the BighornMountains about twenty miles south of my home town of Sheridan. My mother lived there for several years before she died of cancer in 1999. I don’t go there often anymore, but my family used to visit the town quite a bit when I was growing up. Tourist attractions include a fish hatchery, picnic area, various hiking trails, motels, bed and breakfast facilities, and restaurants.

I belong to a poetry group that meets the third Thursday of each month for a couple of hours in the afternoon. We write together, share what we’ve written, and critique each other’s work. When we started several years ago, we had an instructor, but she has left us, and we take turns facilitating our meetings each month.

We met in Story a couple of times. One of our participants arranged for us to use the back yard of a craft shop belonging to a friend. After eating sack lunches, we had our meeting as usual. We did an exercise in which we listened to sounds around us and wrote about what we heard. This was supposed to be a nature poem, but as you’ll note from the finished product below, there were other sounds that weren’t necessarily natural.

This poem was published in Distant Horizons, an anthology of poems by Wyoming poets. You can also read it on my Website. To learn more about Story, Wyoming, visit http://www.wyomingtourism.org/overview/Story/31460 To find out more about WyoPoets, the organization that produced the book in which my poem appears, go to http://www.wyopoets.org/

A STORY AFTER NOON

Flies buzz the table.

A cicada skitters back and forth.

Its incessant click click click draws near, fades away.

Cars rush by

while in the distance, hammers pound,

saws whine, dogs bark.

Hummingbirds flit about

with wings like weed eaters.

A mother admonishes her child to stay close

while the chatter of others permeates the air.

A lawn mower drones far away.

Birds chirp–a phone rings.

I hear other noises,

as I try and fail to write a nature poem.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome

http://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com