“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.