Sitting in the oncology exam room, Ben shifts in his body in the small chair trying to get comfortable “So, what do you think the doctor is going to say today?” I ask him quietly trying to break the silence.

“How the hell would I know, Madge?” squirming in his chair. Sounding annoyed he lets out a big breath, “I just want to know how many days I got left.”

“What? That’s crazy, Ben. He’s not going to tell you that. You’ve got more than days left for Pete’s sake.” Lately he has been saying inappropriate things and I brush this one off, too.

Ben looked at me and waves his hand toward the door. “Go see why it’s taking so long, will ya?”

“Good grief, Ben, why? I think–.”

Dr. O’Hara walked in. He shook Ben’s hand and smiled at me. “So, Mr. Johnson, how have you been feeling?”

Ben presses back against his chair, crosses his arms and looks at the floor. “How should I feel, doc? Last time I was here you gave me a death sentence. I’m going to die, just tell me how long I’ve got. That’s all I want to hear.” He scratches his head and adjusts his glasses.

Dr. O’Hara gives a faint laugh as if Ben is joking. “I’ve got the results of your scans and biopsies. Let me explain them to you and we’ll talk about what comes next.”

“Whatever.” Ben’s right leg starts to bounce up and down slightly. He let out a big sigh and nervously lifted his baseball cap off his head and placed it back on his head two times, with a tug at the bill twice.

Dr. O’Hara explained that Ben has a large tumor in his brain and that it is cancerous. He showed us the scans of the rest of his body which showed he had lesions in the liver and pancreas. The results were not good. Ben didn’t seem to be listening and made no attempt to look at the scans. The more Dr. O’Hara said, the larger the lump grew in my throat. I heard the words “stage IV” and “metastatic”, “aggressive” and “not curable.”  I searched Ben’s face for some clue to what he must be thinking. When our eyes met I saw his eyes tear up and one lone tear let loose down his cheek.

When I first met Ben it was love at first sight. I was too starry-eyed to notice how Ben avoided public displays of affection, didn’t like to hold hands, hug or sit close together plus he didn’t like to dance – all of the things I thought part of a normal dating relationship. I expected all men to be just like my father – the protector, provider, and fixer of everything; and like my brother – sociable, funny, hard worker, and life of the party. Ben turned out to be none of these things. I always felt that eventually Ben would change. Having Sabrina, our daughter, was a dream come true until I had to work 2 and 3 jobs sometimes to make ends meet when Ben didn’t have a job. I wore my Big Girl panties more times than I wanted in our married life and eventually grew tired of making excuses for his behavior. I was the mother and the father and had to do absolutely everything. I felt embarrassed, let down, and depressed the farther away we got as a couple. Looking at him now, so sad and helpless, I wish I could hug him and tell him that I still love him.

Dr. O’Hara swings in his stool to face Ben. Quietly he says, “There are treatments to help survival but unfortunately not to cure your cancer.” He looks at me sympathetically. “I have seen different chemotherapy regimens work. Most patients tolerate this type of chemotherapy very –…“

Cutting him off, Ben said, “I don’t want any treatment,” staring into his hands.

I swung myself around in my chair to look at Ben, shocked, “What?” You can’t possibly mean that. Listen to what the doc is saying, Ben. There is treatment for this cancer.” Tears dripped in my purse as I searched for a Kleenex.

Ben looks squarely at the doctor then, “Listen, doc. I. Do. Not. Want. Any. Treatment. End of story.” Dr. O’Hara looked at me raising an eyebrow.

“Why do you want to just give up?” choking back a sob. Ben turns quickly to me, squeezes my arm and says “quit crying Madge” through clenched teeth. Ben looks back and asks Dr. O’Hara again how long he has, still squeezing me arm a little too hard.

Dr. O’Hara shuts his laptop, “Based on how much the cancer has already spread, my guess would be 6 months if you decide to have no treatment.”

Ben slowly gets up, “Thank you for being honest, doc,” and he leaves the room.

“This is a shock for both of you”, Dr. O’Hara said to me as the door closed behind Ben. “It will take time for both of you to process all of this. After he thinks it over, hopefully he will change his mind. This doesn’t have to be a 6 month death sentence for him.”

Outside I see Ben leaning against our car. I hit the key to unlock the door and he slides into the passenger seat. I start the car and head home. Neither one of us says a thing. He leans his head back on the head rest and closes his eyes. For the rest of the day, we avoid passing each other in the house. Later lying in bed, back to back, not touching, neither of us able to sleep he says, “I’ve made a decision.” I wait holding my breath for his next words.  “I don’t want treatment. I don’t want Sabrina to know I have cancer. And when things get bad enough I want you to help put me out of my misery. Can you promise me that?”

It has been a week since seeing Dr. O’Hara. Ben remains adamant about not wanting treatment and finally told me it was more about money than any other reason. He knew insurance would not cover all of the treatment and if it didn’t work, he didn’t want to leave me with a lot of medical bills. What I heard from his words was that he didn’t deserve to be treated, he wasn’t worth the money it would cost. We had discussions about living wills and funerals and he refused to make any plan. He has always been an agnostic while my strong Christian faith cannot imagine a death without some sort of service. He wanted me to promise there would be no funeral. He said no one would come anyway.  He wanted to be cremated and wanted his ashes thrown in Lake Superior up by our favorite place in Grand Marais. When I asked him to write his wishes down in a living will, he told me he didn’t have to because “I knew what he wanted.”

I see Ben from the kitchen window, standing in the garage. He is leaning against his workbench looking at all the items I have placed there over the winter months probably chastising me for not putting them away where they belong. He has always kept the garage organized, as well as his books in his office and his cherished stamp collection. I watch as he turns to stare at the wall where all of our Christmas decorations are kept. I know what he is thinking. He thinks I don’t need all that stuff for our small townhouse. He thinks it is junk and that a lot of it could be thrown away. But he knows better than to ask me to weed it out or get rid of anything. Not now. His tall, lean body moves slowly towards the car, bent slightly forward from the shoulders, his right hand on his hip as if he is holding the bones together as he walks.  He leans his back against the car.  A ray of sunshine settles across his face. I see him quickly touch his eye and then pinch his nose. He is crying. Feeling bad that I am spying on him, I consider going out to hug him and telling him everything is going to be alright.

“Geeze!” I jump as I am caught off guard from the loud ring of my phone in my pocket. I look at the caller and see that it’s Sabrina.

“Hi, how are you Sabrina?”

“Fine, mom” she sighs, taking what I can tell is a drag off of her cigarette. I imagine her sitting on her sunny porch, a coffee mug steaming next to the pack of Camels.

“What’s up?” I ask, knowing I would never be told what’s really happening in her life; it’s just what I say when she calls.

I can hear her blow the smoke from her lungs. Sounding congested from her allergies, Sabrina sniffles and asks “Mom, how is dad doing?” I still haven’t told her anything about the cancer, but she has been around lately when Ben was not acting himself. She is concerned.

I’m about to tell her he’s out in the garage, but when I turn around he’s gone. The car is not there.  My heart skips a beat at the thought of Ben driving. He was told not to. “Mom, is everything okay?”

I tell Sabrina that everything is fine. I tell her not to worry.

“Why can’t they figure out why he is acting so weird? Why doesn’t he see a different doctor?” Sarah asks blowing her nose into the phone.

“He doesn’t want to see any more doctors, Sabrina. He says he feels fine. I keep trying but you know how stubborn he is.”

“He’s so stupid,” Sabrina spits out.

“You know how he gets when it involves doctors and money.”

“Ugh, I know that whole thing word for word unfortunately,” Sabrina sighs. “But seriously, mom, what are you going to do?”

The question hit a nerve and I felt slightly dizzy. “How about if I call you later, honey? Okay? Love you,” I said as my eyes filled with water and I ended the call.

I sat alone in quiet living room and recalled Ben’s long-winded discussions he would get going with anyone who would listen about our medical system, politics and religion, too. Being agnostic he can’t understand how I could believe in a God who allows babies to die and people to suffer. He feels it is unfair that he should go to hell after being a nice person his whole life. He is angry with God and expects me to be angry with him, too. He will never listen to my reasons for believing.  Ben has dealt with undiagnosed depression most of our marriage, stemming from low self-esteem and feeling his future was robbed from him by his overbearing alcoholic father. His worst depression started after being laid off his job during the housing crash and then he became disabled from his diabetes. His days now include watching C-SPAN, political shows and right wing news shows that cause him to be argumentative, irrational and cynical. Sometimes when I’ve heard enough I sit in the bathroom and cry. Thankfully he won’t follow me into the bathroom.

“God damn door!!” My daydream ended as Ben tried to open the front door. He fumbles with his keys and I hear them fall to the ground. There is audible groaning as he bends slowly to retrieve them. Finally, the door is open and he walks in with his arms full of grocery bags. A free hand holds his tall plastic Holiday cup by the lip, the newspaper and the mail. He refuses to take two trips from the car. He is a creature of habit. He has to have 6 ice cubes in his tall plastic cup. He opens a new can of diet orange soda and pours it slowly into his cup, tapping the side of the can exactly 8 times. Then he shakes the empty can over the sink 5 times leaving the empty cans to pile up on the counter. He comes slowly to the living room now carrying his plastic cup and the paper, his jeans hanging loosely over his slim pelvic bones, his polyester golf shirt half tucked in and half out. He has lost at least 20 pounds since we saw Dr. O’Hara and his balance seems to be getting worse. He backs into his wing back chair, landing with a thud, sending the chair sliding back into the corner. His orange pop spills onto his shirt but he makes no gesture to wipe it off. He sets his cup down and turns on the TV. He lifts his baseball cap a little off his head and then puts it back on, tugs the bill of the cap two times. He sighs loudly and says with disgust like so many times before, “you will not believe what happened on that little trip to the store.” Somehow there is always a story about what happened while he was out. Whether its crazy drivers, parking space wars, the checkout line that takes forever or the cost of something he buys that never registers at the correct price – somehow he always runs into a problem that makes him angry. I wait for him to tell me what happened but when I look up from my Iphone he is quiet.  He’s sitting erect in his chair, his long legs stretched out in front of him. Obviously tired he has already fallen asleep in his chair, his chin dropping to his chest. The paper he was holding drops quietly to the floor. I stare at him for a few minutes making sure his chest is moving up and down. He is so still and quiet. My heart twinges with a little pinch of pain as I recall the doctor saying that his brain tumor could take him quickly at any time. Watching his peacefulness now, I am wishing that he would go silently when the time comes.

Sabrina came over a couple of days later. She went to the living room to say hi to Ben. She flopped on the couch with her knees under her body and said, “Hey, dad, how’s it going” a little too cheerfully, sounding forced. Their relationship since she was a teenage has been strained, Sabrina having been disrespectful and rude to Ben most of that time. Ben, rather than confront her, would walk on egg shells whenever she was around. He had no response for her cutting words and rolling eyes. She hurt him the most, however, when she secretly married and took away his chance to be the father of the bride to his only child. Only I knew how much that hurt him because it hurt me, too. Lately she has been trying to reconcile with him. Maybe being married has caused her to see things differently. As much as she wanted to deny it, she and her dad were two peas in a pod in their stubbornness and independence. Every day I wanted to call and tell her about his cancer but I did what Ben asked. Now I hear them talking about the Twins baseball team and the humid weather. He says nothing about his cancer.

“So how are you feeling?” she asks Ben, “have you been to the doctor recently? It looks like you’re losing weight, dad. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Bri.” That was all it took for him to start a long-winded rant about our medical system, how they are stealing our money, killing people who don’t have insurance, and how drug companies should be blown up for making us guinea pigs while they rake in billions of dollars. Sabrina has heard it all before… many, many times. We both have. The only opinion you can have in this house is Ben’s.

When Ben got up to use the bathroom, Sabrina came out to the kitchen where I was making coffee. “Dad doesn’t look so good.” Without looking at her, I pour three cups and follow her back into the living room. “I know,” I said. I had decided that since Sabrina was here we should tell her about Ben’s cancer today.

Ben came back and sat down. I gave him his coffee cup. Not sure how to bring it up, I blurted out, “Sabrina, we have something to tell you.” Ben’s eyes shot daggers at me and I looked into my coffee cup hoping and praying that Ben would take my lead and tell his daughter the truth. The room was silent, the kitchen clock.. tick, tock, tick, tock. I could hear the traffic on the street outside. I looked at Ben again. “Ben, please. She needs to know.” Sabrina looked from me to Ben and back again. She shifted her legs on the sofa. “Tell me what?” Ben is staring at me now. I take a sip of my coffee. I reach for Sabrina’s hand and tell her that her father has incurable brain cancer and has only a short time to live. Sabrina takes her hand from mine and stands up slowly. “What? How long have you guys known this? What about treatment? Can’t you get chemo or something, dad? No.  No, this can’t be happening now.” Sabrina moves towards Ben and collapses at his feet. I am just about to tell her that Ben doesn’t want any treatment, when he starts to stroke her long hair. I am so struck by this poignant scene between father and daughter, I cannot speak.  Sabrina starts to cry and takes her father’s hand. “Oh, daddy, I’m so sorry. But I have something to tell you guys, too.”  She wipes her eyes and tells us that she is pregnant; that she is due in 7 months, around Ben’s 60th birthday. I’m wondering if I heard Sabrina right. My elation at the news of our first grandchild is mixed with the sadness that we could lose Ben before the baby is even born. This news is so unexpected but such great news. Sabrina continues to weep as Ben looks at me. I search his eyes hoping to see a change of heart, a new perspective, a reason for him to fight for his life. In the next moment we are all on our feet caught in an embrace full of sorrow, joy and hope.


A Stranger In the Night

True story…..

It was a normal summer night, I was dreaming of rain though I could hear it through the barely cracked bedroom window, drip, drip, drip off the roof onto the concrete outside. A light wind tried but failed to rustle the soggy fallen leaves but gave the cramped, humid room welcoming whiffs of cool air. A car door shuts across the street, two quick beeps of the alarm mix with a siren from a distant highway. Falling deeper into sleep, the neighbor kids I used to babysit when I was 20 are walking horses past me on an unfamiliar street; followed quickly by my high school typing instructor holding a baby who is crying.  I had been holding my breath longer than my body could stand it and I gasped, awoke briefly and took a deep breath. What had I been dreaming? There was a baby but… Drifting away again my dreams start to mix up people, places, and things from unknown times and places, patching them into stories I will never remember when I wake up. Had Jim come to bed? Why is my old boss wearing a women’s dress? Did any of the kids come home yet? Whose dog is barking? I turned to lie on my back trying to recall the last dream. Why is it so hard to remember? Was the car door one of the kids coming home? Whose baby was my teacher holding? Was that siren nearby? Trying to relax, barely awake I tell myself to not open my eyes because I would never fall back to sleep again. I sighed and was swept into a deep sleep.

I awoke with a start, presumably from another apneic snore, though briefly I wondered if I had heard a noise. Focusing on the sounds around me, I heard nothing but the rain outside. Thunder rolled somewhere far away, comforting and calming until I became aware of something touching my right leg. It took my breath away as adrenaline seized my chest and panic rushed through my body in split seconds raising the hair on my arms. Holding my breath, my mind was playing catch up to recall which dream this had been, the one where someone touches my leg, under the sheet, just above my ankle. Okay… okay, wait. Breathe…I lay as still as I could, paralyzed, eyes closed, telling myself that dreams can certainly feel real, but reassuring myself that someone had not just touched me. It was a dream. It had to be a dream. Keep breathing, try to relax I told myself. Good God. What the hell…

Breathe in, breathe out, slowly, that’s it, you can do it; go back to sleep, think of something nice. Remember? Where is that place again? The beach? The ocean? Waves gently slapping the shore, the sun, and the warmth? There we go. Sigh. My breathing becomes slower and my racing heart has started to slow down even though my consciousness is still asking, what was that I felt? Why did that feel so real? This is ridiculous, I tell myself. Then…it happened again. This time I was awake, very awake. My panic was so severe that I willed myself not to move, not to breathe, not to open my eyes. Something WAS touching my right leg, someone’s hand, this time on my shin slowly moving towards my knee. My mind is so confused with the scenarios, trying to come up with possibilities that seem rational. Nothing did. Was one of my kids sick? Why didn’t they shake my arm or my foot to wake me? Why haven’t they called my name? To put their hand under the covers and touch my leg? No, they wouldn’t do that. They are teenagers. Jim wouldn’t do that either, would he? Racking my brain to think of reasons why one of my kids or my husband would squeeze into the small space between my side of the bed and the wall to get my attention this way did not make any sense. There had to be a reasonable explanation but what was it? I kept my breath shallow, trying to stay silent but my throat felt like it was closing up and I felt faint. I needed to help whoever was trying to wake me, but who was it. I tried to whisper but my voice just cracked…”Eric?” I said, starting with my youngest son’s name. There was no answer. The hand on my leg remained there when I whispered, more clearly this time, “Christian?” Still no answer. The hand slipped away from leg, the blanket replacing it when I said, louder this time, “Sarah?” It had to be one of them, who else could it be? “Jim?” Something didn’t add up. One of them was sick, lying next to my bed, on the floor, not being able to respond to me. I opened my eyes. The room was pitch black. It took a minute to make out the dark shape on the floor beside the bed. When the shape started to move, I flung the covers off my body towards Jim’s side of the bed. My left arm hit his shoulder. He was sound asleep on his stomach, aware of nothing. I mentally checked him off my short list of people who could be on the floor beside me. I sat up slightly and reached my right hand out moving it slowly left and right in the darkness trying to connect with whoever needed me.  I touched what I hoped would be one of my kids’ head and that is when I screamed. “JIM” I screamed! What I felt was not the head of anyone in my family. Within seconds of feeling the short, wet curls of thick short hair I sprang to all fours on the bed and hopped away from the dark shape onto Jim’s back and screamed again. “Jim! Jim!” I yelled, shaking him violently. “There is someone in our room! Wake up! Wake up!” Jim was a very heavy sleeper and it took him what seemed like forever to figure out where he was and who was yelling at him. As he tried to roll over, I slipped off from his back onto the floor. “He’s over there”, I cried, “Someone is over there by the wall! Someone is in our room!” my voice shaking through the sobs. Jim rubbed his eyes “What? What?” he kept saying. “What are you talking about? Where?” As I pointed, the figure next to the wall was crawling on the floor at the end of the bed slowly heading for the bedroom door. I heard a quiet male voice say, “You told me to come here.”  When Jim finally realized what was happening, he reached down and grabbed the jacket of the man on the floor, lifting him easily to his feet. I sat huddled in the corner, watching and shivering. Jim, clad only in underwear, towered in height over the intruder who still insisted he had been invited but was not resisting being led out. Reaching the hallway outside our bedroom, Jim guided the man towards the apartment door which was only steps away, opened it, and gave the man a little push outside. I heard him lock the door. I let out a breath, a loud sob, uncertain how long I had been holding it in. What the hell just happened here I asked myself? Someone, a strange man, had entered our apartment, crawled right past us while we both slept without us hearing a sound and, it seemed, was preparing to crawl in beside me in our bed. Now that he was gone, I felt more scared then I had ever been in my life. He could have had a gun; he could have resisted Jim’s attempt to get him out; he could have bypassed our room and gotten into the rooms of our kids. The realization that our bedroom had been Sarah’s room until a month ago was making a huge sickening pit in my stomach. I could hardly stand to think about the “what ifs”. I was about to bring that up when Jim walked back into the bedroom. I stood up from the corner still shaking and I asked Jim whether we should call the police? He said “no, he’s gone” and he crawled back into bed, on his stomach, and covered himself with the blankets. Within minutes he was snoring. I am not sure how long I stood there staring at him in disbelief that he could just go back to sleep after what just happened. I wondered if he would even remember this in the morning. I knew I would not be able to go back to sleep. I walked down the hall and checked the lock on the apartment door again to assure it was locked. We had once again became too lax on keeping it locked, the kids were always losing their keys and with 3 of them coming and going we had started to find it easier to just keep it unlocked. I quietly opened the door to the boys’ room. Both were asleep, covers in disarray, their long lean bodies barely contained in the length of the bunk beds. They would be unhappy to learn they missed all the excitement. Before I shut their door, I noticed the baseball bats in the corner and made a mental note of them. I look into Sarah’s room, her door was rarely shut. I lean against the door frame and watched her sleep too. I thought about whether I would even tell her about what happened tonight. She definitely would be sleeping with a bat at her bedside and a knife under the mattress if I did. She hated living in this neighborhood and this would be just the ammunition she would need to try to convince us to move. I sat in the darkness of the living room the rest of the night thinking about how it had come to be that we decided to change bedrooms with Sarah. All I know is that I am so thankful we did. We never did call the police, no harm was done – except to my peace of mind – and he left peacefully. Our apartment building is identical to the building next to ours. It is probable that our intruder got the buildings mixed up and entered our apartment by mistake. Maybe he, like Jim, forgot all about the incident in the morning, too.

Into The Lake

One late November night in 1970, my mom, sister and me were heading downtown to the Dayton’s 8th floor Christmas display and dinner at Nanking. I was 14, my sister Kellie was 7. A light snow was falling making the roads a little slippery. As we left Mound and went through Navarre, County road 15 began its snake-like curves alongside Lafayette Bay shoreline. My mom made comments on the weather saying maybe we shouldn’t be going tonight which made my sister whine. We had dressed up for this outing in hopes that we would have pictures with Santa. It had finally been cold enough that night to wear my new coat that was like wearing a bear. It kept me so warm, however, it would soon become my anchor in the icy lake. Without time to react, the car in front of us slowed quickly to take a left turn. Trying to avoid rear-ending them my mom swerved our car to go around them. The slippery roads caused us to spin around and before we knew it, our car headed straight for the lake.  Going over the rocky ledge, speed propelled our car out into the water. Hood first we began to sink fast. As the water came into the car through the floor, the car sank moving farther and farther away from shore. Inside the car, my mom screamed in terror, telling me to take off my shoe to try to break the window. Wearing the big furry coat made it hard to reach my shoes which were already under water. Kellie was crying in the back seat, pounding on the windows, screaming “mommy, mommy”. We continued hitting the windows and trying to open the doors as the water came over the hood towards the windshield. We could feel the car nosing down in the water sending Kellie to the front seat and all of us towards the dashboard.  The water was cold as it approached our waists. We could not open the doors and could not break the windows. In hindsight rolling the windows down might have been useful but we didn’t think of that then. I was aware of activity going on outside the car, I saw different people on the outside of the car trying to pull the doors open, they would come down near the windows and then go back up for air and another person would come down.  Finally two men tried the door together as the water inside was nearing our necks and outside only the roof of the car was visible. Someone had gotten a nearby boat which they guided next to the sinking car. When both doors finally burst open, the water gushed in. An arm reached in and grabbed my coat sleeve pulling me from the car, telling me to hang on as he tried to pull me towards the boat. However, I had other plans. I pushed passed my rescuer and started swimming for shore. I never even stopped to consider helping my mom or sister out of the car, I guess I assumed the men who helped me would save them. I would save myself. It was now very dark, the rocky shoreline was hard to see but I didn’t think I had far to go. I could hear my sister and my mom screaming loudly as they were pulled from the car that disappeared seconds later into 30 feet of water. My furry coat tripled my weight making it harder and harder to lift my arms to swim, pulling me down instead of making any progress towards safety. There were people on the shoreline calling to me, telling me I was almost there, I wondered why they were not coming in the water to grab me. As I got closer to shore I put my feet down hoping I could walk the rest of the way in. But there was no bottom. My coat was so heavy and I was so cold and tired I couldn’t go any farther. I felt myself starting to sink, just like the car, down into the depths of the water. There was a moment I thought I would drown catching site of blurred figures in front of flashing red lights from the shore as I closed my eyes. A few people had climbed down the rocky shoreline and reached out to grab my coat and somehow pulled my body up out of the water.  The boat carrying my mom and sister had been brought to a nearby dock. I saw them being wrapped in blankets and getting into a waiting police car. The big house across the road from the accident offered the 3 of us a place to get out of our wet clothes, into a warm bath and gave us some hot chocolate. My mother was probably given something stronger than cocoa. She was too traumatized to drive for a very long time after the accident. Even with my limited spiritual upbringing up to that point, I knew without a doubt that it was God who saved us. He planned for the right people to be near us that were willing to jump in the water, possibly causing themselves harm, in an attempt to save us. Only God knows the number of our days. Thankfully that was not the end… not at age 14.


The Honeymoon

True story…

It was a beautiful, crisp October morning in 1976 as Jim and I headed for Bayfield, Wisconsin, in my parents Buick on our honeymoon. We had just gotten married the night before. I was 20 and he was 26. We had met in February, hardly enough time to get to know each other very well. I was working at my first ‘real’ job at a clinic in Wayzata and Jim was a lab courier who dropped off lab results and picked up blood samples from our office. He was shy and quiet. We exchanged several nods and smiles before either of us spoke to one another. I started scheduling my breaks around the time he would arrive and eventually we started talking.  

Heading out of town Jim laughed and said, “Remember the day I first saw you and how I went back and told my boss, ‘I saw the girl I am going to marry today.’ He fist bumps my shoulder and laughs again, “I was right wasn’t I?” “Yup, you can’t get out of it now” and I leaned over to kiss his cheek. 

Taking the scenic route on Highway 8 we stopped in Taylor Falls at the road side rest area and sat on the rock railing overlooking the St. Croix valley and river below. The fall colors were magnificent, reds, yellows, oranges. The sun was bright, the air was slightly cool but it was a magical scene. Every breath of fresh air we took in was like a drug, and aphrodisiac maybe, making things seem more surreal, exaggerated, and more alive. We had someone take our picture, proudly telling anyone that would listen that we were on our honeymoon. Even the kisses shared on the rock ledge were sweeter in the cool sunlight, the anticipation was visible as we headed towards our destination.  

The night before we had celebrated until the wee hours of the morning. Our wedding had been a small church wedding followed by a party in my parents’ basement in Dayton, Minnesota. Because it was the hunting opener weekend, many of our guests had cake and coffee at the church and went home. The diehard partiers in my family celebrated while dancing to the oldies, drinking beer and whiskey at a makeshift bar and eating sloppy joes and beans made by neighbors and friends. By the time we left for home, several people had already found their place for the night hanging over an arm chair or splayed out on the couch. It was a familiar scene for me. My parents liked to party. Jim and I returned to our new apartment full of shower and wedding gifts and unpacked moving boxes. We had only the weekend to call our honeymoon and were anxious to get started in the morning.  

Once we hit Ashland, Wisconsin, we talked more seriously about what kind of place we should spend the night at. We had heard the motels in Bayfield had awesome views and since we were only staying one night we felt the urge to splurge. A pool would be nice. A great restaurant would be good, too. We had not noticed, however, that the motels and hotels we were passing along the way all said “no vacancy.”

The sunset over Lake Superior was mesmerizing. The colors of the leaves, tipped with fading sunshine mirrored off the water, created a picture impressed in my mind I never wanted to forget. Holding hands, we walked along the streets of Bayfield towards the water as the sun went down. It was at the Bayfield Inn, crowded with people, large parties of them waiting to be seated for dinner, where we learned the bad news. This was the weekend of the annual Apple Festival in Bayfield, Wisconsin. It was a huge event. The main street and sidewalks had been full with vendors selling their crafts and art all day and now that the sun was setting they were relaxing in the bars and having dinner. Tomorrow they would do it all again. The bartender told us we would be lucky to find a place to sleep within a 100 miles of Bayfield.  

As the dream of a honeymoon night in Bayfield started to deflate like a punched balloon, so did my spirits. Having just come off weeks of planning a wedding, starting a new job, finding an apartment, and trying to stay calm, I was irritated that Jim did not know about the Apple Festival. Every Bride’s magazine I had read since April listed the honeymoon as the man’s responsibility. It seemed common knowledge to me. He should have known that we would need a reservation. Traveling all this way and having nowhere to sleep was not my idea of a honeymoon and I told him so. As always in his quiet, reassuring way, he would pat my knee, then squeeze it firmly in the spot where he knew it would tickle and make me laugh. My laughing was how he knew I really wasn’t mad at him. 

It was dark when we left Bayfield, headed towards Duluth on Highway 13, along the shores of Lake Superior. Surely there must be one room left somewhere, it didn’t need to be fancy at this point. We passed through the small towns of Cornucopia, Herbster, Port Wing…. no luck. Everything said “no vacancy.” In Duluth, still passing “no vacancy signs” we made the decision to drive north on Highway 61. Jim’s family had visited the North Shore often as a kid and he remembered there being a lot of small little log cabins along the shore; maybe we could stay in one of them though by now it was getting pretty late to check in anywhere. I was tired and crabby. We talked about sleeping in the car at a rest stop. All I could hear was my mother saying when we got home, “You did what?”   

The scenic spots sped past, Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock, Beaver Bay, ghosts in the night except for their respective signs. When we reached Silver Bay, our car needed gas. We stopped at a filling station, turned the car off, and Jim took my hand. “I don’t know what else we can do,” he said. “It’s already after midnight, we may as well just sleep in the car. You can have the blanket and sleep in the back seat. I will stay awake and keep warming the car up so you don’t get cold.” Our honeymoon, in a car, in the Mobil gas station parking lot. How romantic. What a story this would be.  

Jim filled up the car and went inside to pay for the gas. I sat in the car waiting, thinking about our situation. Here we were, newly married, on our honeymoon, with no where to spend the night. After having been sitting in this car now for 10 hours, the thought of sleeping in it made me furious. I also thought about the cops driving by, checking our license plates, shining their big flashlight into the steamed windows thinking they’d caught some teenage lovers. How embarrassing for us and how comical for the police to discover me lying in the back seat, Jim in the front, both sleeping from the exhaustion of being married for just over 24 hours.  

When Jim finally returned from paying for our gas, he got into the car smiling sheepishly. He handed me a piece of paper with some directions on it. He said he told the cashier woman about our plight and how we were going to sleep in the car but she insisted on calling some resorts in the area to see if they had a cancellation for us. When she got no answer she called her husband. The piece of paper Jim had handed me were the directions to the Silver Bay Baptist Church. We were to drive to the church and the woman’s husband would meet us there and let us in. At least we would be warm, she said, but she also said we had to be out of the church by 7:30 am because that was when it opened for Sunday services.  

I looked at Jim, and then down at the directions. They said take 61 to Outer Drive and turn left, go to Edison Boulevard, turn left. On Law Drive, take a right. Silver Bay Baptist Church would be on the right. I looked at him again. “What?” he chuckled, “at least we aren’t in the car.” I gave a long sigh, closed my eyes and leaned my head back against the headrest.  

When we arrived at the church, a man met us in the parking lot. He had obviously been dragged out of bed by his wife’s phone call, hair sticking out from his cap, sockless feet shoved into his slippers. We grabbed a sleeping bag that was in the trunk, presumably leftover from a family camping trip, and he let us into the church. He directed us to the nursery. His wife had told him to tell us it was the only room in the church with carpeting. He showed us where the bathrooms were and how to shut out the lights. He, too, reminded us that we needed to be gone by 7:30 so as not to meet any early church members arriving in the morning and then he left.  

The nursery was a small room. Four cribs hugged the walls, a small changing table filled with diapers and creams sat beside two rocking chairs and a small bucket of teething toys and stuffed animals. There were no windows. The floor was carpeted by a thin area rug. We opened the sleeping bag and we settled in on the floor. I used my purse as a pillow and Jim used his jacket. We discovered the small blanket from the car was not big enough for both of us as we tugged it back and forth affectionately. On our backs staring at the ceiling we held hands and started to laugh.  We laughed at how we had come to find ourselves here on this floor, laughed at how people would never believe us when we told the story. We laughed at the thought of us sleeping too late and parents dropping their babies off to find us sleeping together on the floor, like vagrants who let themselves in through an unlocked door. It was funny. Then again it was not funny. Sleeping on the floor in this house of God…in a nursery… was not the place to fool around, honeymoon or no honeymoon. While Jim chose to believe there wasn’t a God and this was just a room, I couldn’t help but think My God was in the room watching. And so we slept there, that is all. 

We awoke before 7 and gathered up our things. At the front door of the church we stopped to read a bulletin board showing announcements, old bulletins, and other church news. I felt that we should leave the church a thank you note for letting us stay the night. In this small town, I figured the news would have spread quickly from the woman at the gas station and her husband to others about us spending the night in the church. We left a $20 bill attached to the thank you note I had scribbled on the back of old bulletin. We locked the door and went out into the early morning sunshine. We took a picture of the church sign, further proof for the people who will not believe us when we get home. 

We got breakfast in a small family restaurant and talked about what we should do. We had planned to only stay one night in Bayfield and then return home to arrange our apartment and settle in. Driving away from Silver Bay, all of the hotels and inns we passed now showed “Vacancy.” All of them. We drove back to the sights we had missed the night before like Gooseberry and Split Rock. We spent the day near the water hiking, throwing rocks, and still laughing about the night before. The weather was gorgeous with lots of sunshine, cool autumn breeze, and the water was very cold as we dipped our feet in. We had driven past Lutsen earlier in the drive and we both decided that would be a great place to end the weekend. If we could afford the price, we would stay another night and drive home early Monday. We could do our unpacking anytime.  

Checking into Lutsen, we discovered the price of staying in the main lodge was prohibitive but we paid for a night in one of their many chalets and came back to the main house for an expensive dinner and a drink. It was our first dinner of this kind for us as a couple, white tablecloths, burning candles, too many forks and spoons, waiters with red towels draped over their arms. Certainly I had dined this way with my parents before but I had never seen the bill.  We looked at the menu, trying to decide what to order, what we might share, and if the wine was necessary at $3 a glass.  We ended up throwing caution to the wind as we ordered what we wanted, drinks too, and even dessert. We were finally honeymooning like adults, painting a deceptive scene like we were rich newlyweds who could afford to stay at this high end resort after their extravagant wedding and reception back home and who would probably soon be off to Belize. We, on the other hand, were dumbfounded by the amount of the bill. We paid for it out of the rest of our wedding money, but we both knew that meant our rent would be short or paid late. This practice of robbing Peter to pay Paul would last throughout our marriage as we always had more month left at the end of our money.

We headed home the next morning to parents who were already thinking this marriage would not last, but we were high on the love we had for each other. The Kenny Loggins, “Danny’s song”, was OUR song. “We were the lucky ones. We were just beginning. Even though we ain’t got money, I’m still in love with you honey, everything was gonna be all right.”  This would be our mantra.