I've been writing this journal for most of a year now. When Gail was killed on her way to work, a friend of mine from church suggested that I write my thoughts and activities to help me through the pain and loneliness. It has helped. It's more for news now rather than my painful cries over her loss. Gail would want me to get on with life but it was difficult to even contemplate that idea at first.
We met in elementary school when her parents were transferred into town and moved next door. We were the same age and summer pushed us together. At nine years old, Gail was a tomboy and we played sports games together. Once school started, we were buddies.
That feeling never changed. We just grew up together. We married right out of high school and went to college as a married couple. At the end of that summer, Gail was pregnant with Wanda who was named for her maternal grandmother. Jim came along two years later and he was named for his paternal grandfather. It took an extra two years but we finished together, Gail as a geography teacher and me as a mechanical engineer. We had been working but she could now teach and proved to be a popular teacher. I continued to study and obtained an M.B.A. Promotions came thick and fast. We had moved away for four years until I was promoted again to lead the division at its primary plant. Both sets of grandparents were overjoyed to have us back home with our grandchildren.
My division had prospered over the years and my title and compensation changed until I was executive vice president and in the running to lead the entire company. Gail was department head at her high school. The kids were doing well and we had the world by the tail with a downhill drag.
The drunk changed that. Gail was going in early to help another teacher and he crossed the median line at speed. He never gave her a chance, driving a high lift pickup. One of the tires crushed the roof killing her instantly. His truck rolled a number of times coming to rest roof first against a tree. He was left a quadriplegic.
Insurance paid off including his auto policy. Money wasn't an object. I took a month off work and spent it with my kids while we got the crying out of our systems. Jim's teachers were very good to him as were Wanda's professors. Neither lost their grades or credit for their classes.
Wanda's roommate, Julie, was terrific in covering for her and taking notes. Wanda lost her boyfriend but admitted that he was no loss. Jim's girl, Chandelle, stuck with him and helped with his teachers. They had been going together since they met in middle school. There appeared to be a real caring between them.
This last May was tough. It was Gail's birthday and I missed her by my side. I was working harder. Wanda and Jim seemed to understand. I had spent time with each of them including staying at a motel close to Wanda's college. I took Wanda and Julie out to eat and spent time with them. Jim and Chandelle seemed to welcome me to go with them. All four were at the house one Saturday afternoon in late August. I heard them talking as I left my home office.
Wanda said, "We need to hook Dad up with someone. He needs someone with him."
Jim said, "You're right, Wanda. However, we need to be careful. She needs to be like Mom but different."
"Jim, honey, what do you mean?"
"Chan, Mom was wonderful. Any new person needs to be attractive, smart, active, and interested in the world around them like Mom always was. However, looking for a duplicate of Mom wouldn't be good for Dad or the woman. He would see so many similarities that she would always suffer by comparison. It wouldn't work out to anyone's benefit."
That's all I heard because they had not heard nor seen me. I went back into my home office and closed the door silently. I knew they were right but I wasn't sure that I was ready yet. Another part of me said, "If not now, when?" I had to answer that internal question admitting I didn't know. Some of the single and divorced women who worked for the company had make it known they were available but I shied away from that. One of my early bosses had fired a man for "swimming in the secretarial pool." We had never had one of those pools but I got the hint even though I had no intention of ever playing around.
I did a little bit more work and came out noisily. All four of the children (and I use that term loosely) were ready for my appearance. I hoped they weren't going to play matchmaker. I had never heard of any of them talk about any female who might be a possibility. We had a good afternoon and I took all four out to eat. Jim and Chan went off together from there. Wanda and Julie were going to meet some local friends. I went home.
I went into my home office. I always enjoyed this room. It was more mine than any other room in the house. Gail and I talked about it and picked the furniture, paint, and carpet together but she deferred to my likes very strongly when we made our choices. It had an "olde English library" feel to it. The walls were paneled with dark wooden bookcases filled with books that I had read. My study Bibles were close. My computer was in an alcove and my desk was a dark wooden table. There were four big wingback leather chairs in the room that matched my desk chair. I had a small wet bar and fridge hidden behind doors and a liquor cabinet. It used to be locked but I trusted my kids now. All that was needed was a fireplace!
I studied my Sunday school lesson. I wasn't teaching but liked to be able to know what we were discussing. Once in a while, I could even contribute something useful. It was a good class and my fellow members had supported me with caring and compassion in my loss.
Finishing my review of the lesson, I decided to take stock of myself. I would be forty in January so was too young to have any health concerns.
Physically, I still exercised and was reasonably fit. I watched what I ate so I didn't have to look at it later. I rarely wore a tie at work. I was right at six feet tall and still had a full head of dark brown hair and green eyes. My administrative assistant, Megan, told someone that I wasn't a "pretty boy but I didn't scare people either." I figured that, if I looked, I could find companionship.
I had a good job that I enjoyed. The division was beating the Democratic recession handily and leading the company in growth. We had always been the poor second of three and the third place division was only one plant with a limited output. We had three plants and two of those had two shifts now. We were closing in on the company's main division. Unless there were changes, we would be bigger in sales in another two years. We were within ten thousand dollars a year on the profit picture already. Our current CEO planned to retire in three to five years and I was probably in the lead for that job. I wasn't sure that I wanted it if it were offered to me. I liked where I lived. The thought of moving to the Midwest was not an idea that had any appeal. Savings and insurance money left me financially where working was optional. However, if I didn't work, I would need something to do.
That just left the question, "Was I ready?" I needed to answer that question. I felt that the fact that I was asking it was a suggestion that it was becoming time. It was getting late so I headed to bed. I watched the news while in bed. I shut the TV off, rolled over, and went to sleep.
In the morning was Sunday school and church. Wanda, Julie, and Jim went with me. Chandelle met him there. Her parents were in the same Sunday school class as I. After church, the seven of us went to lunch. We came back from lunch and Jim left for Chan's house after changing clothes. Wanda and Julie were going to college to prepare to help with orientation next week when Jim and Chan would be at their school for theirs. I wasn't looking forward to the start of college this year at all.
By the time Jim got in, I was in bed. I was going in early and then catch a mid morning flight to Texas and our other southern plant. We had a new product starting up Tuesday and I wanted to be on hand. I would be gone for the week and went over issues with Meg and my plant manager. I tried to stay out of plant management and concentrate upon sales and problems. Mickey Nolan was the plant manager and a long-suffering victim of Monkees' jokes because of the name similarity and his dark, unruly head of hair. They everything under control and had prepared instructions for our third plant. I drove to the airport looking forward to tomorrow.
The jet was packed as always. Meg had used my frequent flyer points as she usually did to get me into first class. I appreciated the extra space since I wasn't a midget. Security was its usual hassle. The flight was easy and my bags didn't get lost. I kept a small bag at each plant just for that eventuality. As often as I flew, it happened about once a quarter. I had never lost everything forever but having that one extra set of clothes had been beneficial more than once.
The new product ran smoothly and everyone was happy including the representative from our customer. I took him to eat Tuesday evening and cemented a relationship for our sales guy with him in the process. After checking things in the morning, I spent the day working with a new sales lady who was learning how to sell our products. She was sharp and I thought she would do well. I had supper with her and her husband that evening. He is a CPA and we all enjoyed the meal and our time. He mentioned in passing that she had left her last job because of the attitude toward women. I reminded them both that I and the company didn't and wouldn't tolerate that type of behavior. I shook hands with them both and I went to my motel room.
Things were going smoothly enough that I decided to sneak out and wander around for a day. It was nice to just enjoy a peaceful ride to nowhere doing nothing for a day. I was packed and caught my flight back arriving back home in the early evening. Jim was glad to see me and we went to supper. He was packing for his orientation week at college. He and Chan were going to the same college and would continue to do most things together. They were even both going to be engineers!
He then approached my love life or the lack thereof. "Dad, what are you going to do with me gone off to school, too?"
"I guess I'll keep on. I have work and church that keep me busy. Our new product launch in Texas went well."
"Dad, if you don't get to finding some romance in your life, we'll start setting you up! You're too young to become a wallflower or a workaholic! When you come visit us, Wanda and Julie or Chan and I are going to make sure you have a date."
"Jim, please don't. I'm just not ready to date yet."
"I disagree. You look but you choose not to do anything about any of the possibilities that are presented to you. Maybe some blind dates will do you good even if all they do is break some of the ice."
"Jim, many of the women I've seen around are unhappy divorcees looking for a meal ticket. I would be uncomfortable even on a date with a woman who either cheated on her husband or on who her husband cheated. I know it's not fair or even realistic but I would feel that there was something wrong."
"So, Dad, a nice widow or a woman who never married would be different?"
"I didn't say that."
"You might make a list this weekend for me to take with you so the four of us will have a better time of matching you up with someone. We will set you up for sure. This would be your opportunity to get your preferences in before we embarrass you." He grinned.
I realized that he was only half kidding. "I guess I could work on something if only to prevent you from embarrassing me!" I smiled.
"I'm serious, Dad. Make your preferences known or take who we find."
"I know. I know. It's just not a transition that I'm really prepared to make yet."
"Well, this is your children's warning shot across your bows. Wanda told me you would try to evade me on this issue."
"Wanda should talk. She doesn't have a steady guy."
"She's dating. Her parents taught her to be choosy.
"How old is the youngest woman you would consider dating?"
"Uh, I haven't thought about it. Thirty-five sounds like a minimum. Younger than that might embarrass you and your sister."
"You would be surprised. I know there are some coeds who have let Wanda know that they think you're hot. They are Wanda's age!"
"Jim, that would be too young. I've seen guys my age with a young trophy on their arm. It would not be my style."
"Okay, Dad. A minimum age of thirty-five is now set. What's the oldest?"
"You aren't going to let up on this, are you?"
"No, sir. It's better for me to ask than Wanda. She wants to know cup size preferences, sleep habits, and..."
"Jim! I will not discuss those details with my children assuming that I even have such preferences!"
"What's the oldest then?"
"Good, now we have an age range. What's the minimum height? Would you prefer a drinker, social drinker, or a teetotaler? Smoking or non-smoking?"
"Jim! Okay! Five seven. Social drinker at most and a non-smoker.
"She also needs to be a classy person, like Chan or Wanda or Julie for her age."
I sighed. "That leaves you enough leeway to get me in trouble."
"Probably not, but at least you have acknowledged there are some possibilities out there in the big, wide world." He grinned.
"Okay, you may do your best. Just try not to embarrass your poor old father."
"Dad, you will admit that you are probably as flustered as I have ever seen you. Chan told me I would have to force your hand."
"Chan is a smart girl. I never have figured out what she sees in you to keep you around so long."
Jim smiled broadly. "She says she hopes I'll grow up to be like my father. I wouldn't mind, Dad."
"I guess I walked into that one, didn't I?"
"Ask her some time. She truly thinks you are a great guy. You know Chan. She's independent enough to simply tell the truth and leave a towel for bystanders to mop up the blood." He laughed this time. He was right. Chan had told Gail and I years ago about her hopes for Jim.
Jim picked up Chan the next morning and left for college orientation. It was a different school from Wanda's but same week for orientation.