Chapter 1: The Beginning of the End?
I'm alone, all alone in a lonely world where I find myself trapped. It's incredible. There are almost 8,000 people around me on this cruise ship. Yet somehow, I still feel alone. The how and why I'm here alone is a very sad tale. My name is John Henry Wilson, and I'm 41 years old. I'm 5 feet-11 inches tall, and I tip the scales at 188 pounds. On my head is sandy brown hair, blue eyes, and yes, I have a slight midriff bulge. I am the manager of CADD (Computer Aided Design and Drafting) services, for CRS Manufacturing, in Taylor Texas. It was only three weeks ago, that Karen Elizabeth Wilson, the most wonderful woman in the world, and I were happily married.
At that point, my whole world ended. My loving wife died of cancer. Her death came upon us, as sudden as the doctor spoke the diagnosis. A month before her death, Karen had gone in for her yearly checkup. Before she went in, she had no idea that the several cancers had ravaged her body. The tests blood tests showed that she had breast cancer, colon cancer, and ovarian cancer. When she went to the doctor to learn of the test results, by that time it was all over, but the crying.
We had three lovely children, and after her passing, they ganged up on me. They wanted me to take the cruise that Karen had planned before her demise. It was almost a year ago, that she had started planning for this cruise. The reason for the cruise was to celebrate our twentieth anniversary. Tomorrow is our twentieth anniversary.
We met when I attended Larry's high school graduation. Larry Ross and I grew up together, as next-door neighbors. He was my best friend. Larry's family moved to the house next to ours when Larry was four, and I was a worldly six. I'd just finished first grade, and Larry would be starting kindergarten in the fall. Larry and I became more like brothers, as we grew up. Since I was bigger than he was, I became his protector. Larry was a lot smarter than I was and, during high school, he helped me with some of my homework. Larry it turned out was a genius. But, for some unknown reason, he never flaunted his smarts to me. Although he was a genius, he wanted the same things all of us wanted. He wanted the love of a good woman, and the respect of our peers. To achieve that, Larry went through school just like the rest of our friends.
We had many great times double dating in school. Then I graduated, which left Larry alone, for his final two years in school. But with all the friends we had made, although I was gone, he still felt protected.
I guess I should explain a couple of things about Larry. Larry was a proportional dwarf, a little person. When Larry turned six, he just stopped growing. He was just four foot-one and one-quarter inches tall, and weighed fifty-five pounds. But his heart and brain were bigger than most people twice his size. Not physically, but in a good way. He had an endearing quality that just about made you love him. Sure, some bullies in school who still wanted to pick on him. But I made it known that I would not tolerate anyone picking on my 'brother'. I was bigger and meaner that most of the others in school, as I got my last growth spurt in eighth grade. Well except for the last five years, when my midsection took on a life of its own, and decided that it wanted to become bigger.
At the graduation ceremony, it was easy to see where Larry was sitting. All I had to do was look for the possible absence of someone in a seat. We sat behind the graduates. My parents were on one side of me. Sitting next to them was Phyllis. She was Larry's 16-year-old normal-sized sister. Next to her were Larry's parents Mary and John. My parents were Joseph and Margaret Wilson.
I soon learned that sitting on Larry's right was a beautiful girl, Karen Rose. On his left was Gary Rossman. When they stood up to receive their diplomas, it looked funny. First, you saw Karen who looked around five feet eight inches. Following her was Larry, at maybe four feet two inches, and then Gary at six feet two inches. When I graduated from high school, Gary took over, as Larry's protector and friend.
For all the smarts Larry had, he didn't try to become the very best. But, as the third highest grades in school, he achieved what he was after. He had great grades, enough for a scholarship, yet he didn't have to give any speeches. Why was this so important? Because he was never one to speak in public; he was too self-conscious of his height. But in other ways he was the biggest person I knew. His compassion and understanding was greater than anyone I could even think of.
After the ceremony, we got the chance to meet his many friends. But the one I noticed the most was Karen Rose. With their names so close, she found herself assigned seating near Larry all through high school. I never really paid attention to her, as my classes and Larry's were never the same. I paid attention today though. Once I actually met her face to face, I felt instantly smitten. Karen had reddish blond hair, blue-green eyes, and was a walking dream. We spoke about how Larry and I were more like brothers, and not just neighbors.
Karen said that she had heard nothing but praise and love from Larry when he mentioned my name. Since graduation, I had been away to the Texas State University in San Marcos. I was working toward a degree in mechanical engineering, with a minor in CADD. Karen and I hit it off very well from our first introduction. As we talked, I found out that Larry and Karen were both going to Texas State, as well in the fall. I felt delighted to say the least. My best friend and the woman I was in love with would now be joining me at college.
At Texas State, I became Larry's protector again and Karen's beau. By the time I graduated, Karen and I had announced our engagement. We would marry during that summer. Karen always wanted to have a June wedding. So we enjoyed a great wedding with Larry at my side. Next to him were my other two groomsmen. Gary was first, followed by my friend Robert Young, from school ... Karen had her best friend Shirley Cummings, as maid of honor. Christine Shorts and Cassondra Sterling were her bride's maids.
Karen's parents were Sylvia and Carl Rose. They were not very thrilled with us getting married so soon. They wanted us to wait until Karen graduated. We agreed, but as things happen quite often, fate decided to take a different path. Somehow, Karen turned up pregnant. We both were using protection to make sure there were no slip-ups. But one night I had run out of condoms, and since Karen was on the pill, I thought we were safe. Yeah, right, and I have some ocean front property in Kansas I can sell you too.
That pleasant accident was Chelsea. Since we found out about her being pregnant around the end of October, we figured that the birth would be around June 1. We were right, as June 2nd was Chelsea's birthday. Karen's mother doted on young Chelsea, and the following fall, Karen went back to school.
Shortly after I graduated from Texas State, I found a CADD job at CRS. CRS wanted people to start at the bottom and work their way up. This way, each person learned what and how the company provided its products and services. Two years later, James was born. This was shortly after Karen graduated with a degree in Human Resources. With her degree in hand, Karen applied for a job at CRS. They accepted her, and she started at CRS. After five years, she became the Assistant Manager of CRS HR. This was even after the birth of my little angel, Angela.
I was no slouch in the advancement department. I had moved up to CADD Services Supervisor. Our life was idyllic. We were so in love with each other and our precious children. Then came the fateful day when Karen called me to come pick her up at her doctor's office. Her blood tests came back that day. It was April 28th, the day my world ended. We drove home in silence, neither wishing to express our grief and sorrow. Two days later we told our children: Chelsea, at nineteen, was in her sophomore year at Texas State, and the leader of our trio. James at seventeen was just finishing high school. Then there was Angela, at fourteen going on thirty. I'm sure that anyone who has teenagers knows what I mean.
Of the three, James was most upset. He had always been his mother's favorite just as Angela was mine. I'm not saying that we had spoiled them, or anything, as we loved each of our children the same. Chelsea took control, and made us all a meal, although most of us just picked at the food on our plates. It was not a normal happy evening at the Wilson homestead that night.
They had scheduled more tests scheduled and then the biopsies. Finally, we knew the truth. Karen was going to die, and it would be very soon. How she coped with the impending doom of dying I'll never know, I just knew that each day she woke with a smile on her face, and love in her heart. I had to keep working to cope with the anger against God and the world that had caused this tragedy to strike our family. Each night I pleaded with God to take me and leave Karen alone. It reminded me of the song, "Don't Take the Girl," sung by Tim McGraw. I would give everything I had, even my own life, if could save my love. To no avail, I couldn't change fate; I had to keep going on for our children's sake, not mine.
Larry and his wife Shelly were right there trying to help, as much as they could. They were a godsend to my family. The day that Karen slipped away from me, Larry took me in his stubby arms. He held me, as I cried rivers of tears, for the loss of my one true love. Larry had Shelly find a bottle of my medicine (Tullamore Dew) from the cupboard. We sat in my den, and we drank until I fell asleep. Well, in fact, I consumed most of the liquor, and Larry talked the most. I listened some and maybe thought some. But that was only until my mind imploded, and I went off to the land of nod due to a drunken stupor.
For the next week, I ran on autopilot. I was there physically, but walked around in a mental haze. Larry made all the funeral arrangements. Gary got the church lined up, and Shelly took care of the kids. Without all of my close friends, I don't know how I could have coped with the loss of Karen.
Before we knew of her problems, Karen and I had planned to take a cruise around the western Caribbean. Our plan was to visit Jamaica, The Caymans, and Cozumel, Mexico. Then we would head back to Galveston. The date for the trip was only three weeks after Karen passed away.
Larry and Shelly, and my children, finally convinced me to go on this cruise. They all said I needed the time alone to grieve and come back to the land of the living. They said I'd come back refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of my life. That life though, would be without my beloved Karen. I just knew they were wrong, but I went anyway. The cruise line would reimburse me for Karen's cost, but to me I really didn't care.
So on the Saturday morning before that cruise was supposed to leave I drove to Galveston. I had made a reservation to stay at a local motel. The following morning, I left my car at the motel, and took a cab to the docks. I unloaded my single suitcase on wheels, and headed to the terminal, so I could check in. I felt and looked more like a zombie, as I waited in the check-in lines. Once on the ship, I went to the bar where I immediately started to drink. My plan was to drink the entire damn cruise. I really didn't care about anything else. When the bartender came over, I asked for my normal Tullamore Dew, and was extremely surprised that they had it.
Before I left for the trip, I made a pact with myself. I would try very hard to make the best of this trip. It was very important for me to make sure that I had my shit together, for my children's sake, if for no other reason. Chelsea, I felt, would be fine. But my two other children, James and Angela, would need me alive and well, so I could be there for them. I'd need all my wits about me to cope with Angela and her growing independence. I had to straighten out my emotions and learn to go on with my life.
At first, I thought, about jumping overboard to join my lovely Karen. But I immediately had second thoughts about that idea. I thought that if I selected the second option, two things could happen. First, I might join her, but I would leave our children alone, and they would feel like I do now. Second, I would end up in Hell. But it would make no difference, because I'd be without our precious children and my beloved Karen.
That first night, as I was lying in my bed, I felt the swaying of the ship in the waves gently rocking myself to sleep. Suddenly, I heard a noise. I heard a tapping on the window. It turned out that one of the two chairs on the balcony was too close to the window. But to me, I thought that the gentle rocking of the ship was tapping out a message to me from my beloved Karen. I took the message to mean that she understood my deep sorrow and grief. I also felt though, that the message was telling me more. It was telling me that I had real responsibilities at home. I had to accept those responsibilities, or our children would become devastated.
During the two days at sea, while we headed for Jamaica, I moped around the ship. They served in a food area called the Marketplace on the Lido Deck. I made sure that I ate my breakfast alone, and then skipped lunch. Suppertime was a lonely affair. They assigned me to a table for two in the nearest restaurant. As I sat there, I ordered 'Dew' on the rocks. I drank that with my supper. After supper, I went to the casino and of course, the bar. While I was there, I tried to drown my sorrows in booze. I kept on thinking about what I had to do next. What was the secret? How could I survive the devastating tragedy that had occurred in my life? Wait, that happened in our lives. Me, and my children are now an "us." It was now 'US' against the cruel world out there that took my, I mean our Karen from us. I'd have to start thinking about us now, not just me. What could we do to cope? What could we do to survive? I had to stop thinking about me and start thinking about us.
The second day and night passed much like the first. I finally managed to fall asleep near dawn. I slept until a knock on the door announced the cabin steward. Leo was his name, and he was from Indonesia. He was very friendly, and asked about Miss Karen.
I broke down and cried, and explained that I had lost her to cancer. He sympathized with me, and promised not to mention her name again. Leo helped, as much as he could. He told me where to eat, where to go for privacy, and what facilities were available to me here on the ship. He told me about their medical center where I might ask for some sleeping pills to help me sleep. They also had a priest on board who was available to talk with me.
Leo said that being busy would help me to cope with my loss. He is so far away from his family that it was as if he had lost his family too. Working, as much as he does, he finds it hard to write, or even talk to his family. I realized that I might not be in such a bad situation after all.
On Tuesday morning, I made a big decision. Today was the first day of the rest of my life. The most important thing was I had to come out of my induced stupor. I had to carry on, because of my children. I found that most of the people had deserted the ship by 9:00 am. Many of them were off exploring Montego Bay. I kept hearing that everyone wanted to go visit Margaritaville at Negril Beach. I wanted no part of leaving the ship, as I just might not come back.
After I ate a leisurely breakfast, I headed down to the lobby. I wanted to visit guest services. I wanted to see about getting some presents, for the various people back home. That included Larry and Shelly and Gary and his wife Linda, as well as my children. My new mind was telling me that I needed some souvenirs from my cruise. To do that, I thought that I might go ashore the following day at Grand Cayman and buy something. But before I could do that, I wanted to make sure that I could.
I learned that Karen had made reservations at each port. We were to enjoy an excursion at each stop. Since I was unaware of these plans, this presented a huge predicament. Her plan called for us to go snorkeling from Cayman Kai Beach to Rum Point. Then we were to see the Mayan ruins of Tulum when we docked at Cozumel. I had missed the 'tranopy' adventure. That was where you first rode a chair lift inside the rainforest canopy. Then there was a bobsled type of coaster and finally a zip line trip over the rain forest canopy. Of them all, I think the one I missed sounded like the best of the lot. I rather wanted to see the ruins, but I surely didn't want to do them alone.
What was I to do now? I went to the lobby bar and sat down.
About an hour later, I noticed a woman three stools over to my right. She was a little younger than I was. She was holding a glass like mine getting a refill. When I looked closer, I saw the bottle label. It was Tullamore Dew, the same liquor that I drank. I got up, and walked over to sit beside her. I asked where she had heard of the Dew.
"My husband said it was the very best whiskey he had ever tasted. I thought I would try it to see if I can drink his memory away, so I can move on with my life without him. Why do you ask?"
My response was immediate. "I call it my medicine, which I use to relieve extreme stress and bad times. When I came on this cruise, I never expected to find it here of all places. From what you said, I take it that you lost your husband recently."
"Yes, seventeen years is not the proper definition of 'til death do us part.' I thought about fifty to sixty years would be the answer to that vow. He was in an accident coming home from work. That was a month ago. I almost cancelled this cruise because of his passing. Our parents had different ideas. They insisted I take this time to grieve and then come home ready to move on with our lives again. What are you drowning out?" I could see the tears start, as she said the word 'our'.
"Twenty years in two days' time. I too lost the love of my life. My Karen died of cancer three weeks ago. She had planned this whole trip, as a second honeymoon for us, as we never made a first one due to school, children, and finances. We planned this as our time to rekindle the passion and fun of being together. Oh I'm sorry, my name is John, John Wilson, and you are?"
"You are not going to believe me, but my name is Caryn Wilson. It's spelled C-a-r-y-n, but pronounced the same. My maiden name was Shubert. Seventeen years ago tomorrow, I married the love of my life in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name was Robert Wilson. We too planned to celebrate our anniversary here on the ship. I'm so sorry for your loss. I can understand your grief and sorrow."
We talked and drank for around another hour. We finally stopped when we both suddenly felt hungry. I blurted out that we should find some food. Drinking all this alcohol would not do us much good on empty stomachs, especially this early in the day.
We went up to the Lido deck to find some food. It was some five decks above where we were in the lobby. After finding food, we sat and talked. When we finished eating, we wandered around the ship, and just talked some more. We found that we had a lot in common. It turned out that we liked the same foods, music, and we shared very closely aligned politics. I couldn't believe the similarities of our lives. Yet we lived at least eight-hundred miles apart. Caryn and Robert had waited to have children. They wanted their careers established before they had their two children. There was Amy aged eight and Rob (Robert junior), aged twelve. They lived in a nice home in Lincoln. Caryn worked at Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, as a chemist.
I told Caryn about my children, and although they were older, they still needed a woman in their life. When I said that I had to backtrack a second, "I didn't mean I was looking for a mother for them, it's just that with Karen dying so quickly I don't think that we've had time to properly grieve. James is the one I really worry about. He was his mother's favorite, if such a thing is possible and yet love all your children the same. But then too my angel, Angela, is going to need the influence of a strong woman to keep her in check. I know she is my girl, but she is at the age that she really doesn't want to really listen to her dad. I'm sure that your Rob will be approaching that age soon too."
"John, there is no need to feel embarrassed. I understood your meaning very well. Yes, it's true that Rob will soon be at that stage when listening to me will be an exercise in futility. But after hearing what you have said, I think that you'll be able to make it through this just fine. I think that Chelsea will be a big help, as a big sister. She will also be an ally, for you, with Angela. As for James, your example will help him a lot, as well."
Things were going so well, when suddenly I noticed the time; it was almost midnight. The cruise ships operate 24/7, so you could see a lull time from around midnight to six. Still, there are people around all the time, just not, as many as during the daylight and evening hours.
"Caryn, as lovely as it has been, I think we need some sleep. I have a snorkeling excursion scheduled for tomorrow. If you like, you could go with me, my treat. Please don't take this wrong. What I mean is that it's already booked and paid for, and I don't think I would want to do it alone. I might have gone to the ruins in Cozumel, but again, not alone. I'm not trying to be pushy, but I thought I'd ask."
"Oh you sweet man, yes. If you don't mind, I would love to go with you tomorrow and to the ruins too. When my husband and I booked this cruise, we hadn't made any plans, for the excursions. All we wanted was just to spend time together on the ship. Yes, we could also take some time to go ashore, so we can buy a couple of things, for the kids. We could still do that too, I guess."
"Yes we could, Caryn. Thank you. I think we dock at 7:00. We can go ashore around 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, for the excursion. I'll have to check the information in my room. I'm staying in stateroom 541. Where are you staying?"
"Oh my goodness! I'm in 543, right next door. Just knock on my door when you are ready. Do you want to eat breakfast before we go?"
"That'd probably be a good idea Caryn. Let's say breakfast at 7:00?"
"That's great, John. I'll place a call, for a wake-up call, for about 6:30. This way I know that I'll be ready. Remember to wear your suit."
"That would be the one thing I would have forgotten. I'm still a little forgetful since this all happened," I said.
"I totally understand that John. I'll see you in the morning, well later this morning anyway," Caryn said, as she opened her door.
As we talked, we started to walk back to our staterooms. Before we knew it, we were there. "Goodnight Caryn, I hope you sleep better tonight."
"You too John."
Who would have thought that two people in much the same situation would meet, be that close, and for three days, and never even know about it? Well bed time ... oh yeah, wake-up call.
Wednesday morning dawned, as a beautiful day. I was up even earlier than the wake-up call. I showered, and dressed in my swimsuit. Then put on my shorts, a polo shirt, and deck shoes. Karen bought them especially for this trip, and I had yet to wear them. I couldn't see wasting money, so I decided why not use them.
At seven sharp, I knocked on the door to 543. I hoped that I wasn't pushing too hard about wanting Caryn to come along. When the door opened there stood this gorgeous woman. She stood around five feet eight inches, curved in all the right places, and looking all of twenty-one or two years of age.
"Excuse me, but is this Caryn Wilson's room?"
"Oh course John, it's me. Why?"
"With the sun behind you, shinning just right on your hair, I would have sworn that you were like in your early twenties. For a second, I thought I maybe had the wrong room."
"Oh you silver-tongued devil you. You could charm the bird's right out of the trees if you aren't careful. Now are we going to breakfast or what?"
I stood there I stuttered and stammered a little more. Then we walked down the aisle going to the elevators. Once again, we needed to go to the Lido deck. I felt like a teenager again, courting a new girl. It was probably the most fun I had in a while. And to think yesterday at this time we were strangers both suffering through a recent loss. Today we are both looking forward to a day of fun in the sun. Isn't it weird that when you least expect it, something or someone comes along and turns your whole world upside down. Yesterday morning I felt I would have to take on the tremendous task of living, so that I might make it through this cruise. Here I am standing beside this wonderful woman, who I'm not sure I want to leave or at least not leave without Caryn with me.
The next four days went by so quickly and smoothly. It was, as if each day took only an hour or two. At times, we swam in the ocean, sea, gulf, or whatever it was. We swam in both pools on the ship, and even tried the kiddy area until they ran us off. Sometimes we just lay beside each other by the pool and talked, or sometimes we didn't even talk. We just laid there and didn't do anything. By Saturday, the last full day on the ship, we were holding hands, as we lay on the back deck of the ship talking.
"Caryn, what are your plans on Sunday? Do you have to rush home immediately?"
"I have a reservation for a flight out of Houston. The schedule says it will leave at four-something on Sunday. Why?"
"Well, I thought you might like to come meet my children. Then you could fly out of Austin on Monday and save yourself some money. I think that the two of us could become very good friends."
"John, this is a little sudden isn't it? I mean we only met four days ago. Yes, I know we spent most of those four days in each other's company, but I'm not sure just what my feelings are for you yet. I don't want to lead you on and then drop you when I find that we are not compatible, or that we don't love each other. What I suggest is that, for now, we should take it slow and we see where this leads us. We can call each other, and there's e-mail and Skype. There are so many other ways to keep in touch, and for now, I think we need to go slow."
"Caryn, of course I know that you're right. It's just that I guess that now, things for me are too soon and too raw. Here I find another Karen, and some of the things you say and do so remind me of her. I'm so sorry I ruined our great time together. I'll leave now."
"No John, please stay. We can talk about this some more, but we need to see where we are once we return home. This has been one of the best times in my life, but you are not Bob, and I'm not your Karen either. I think that we are now moving too fast. Because of this environment, we found ourselves pushed together for a long time. But with our emotional states in such turmoil, it's possible that we aren't in our right minds yet."
"Yes I can see that now Caryn. I'm sorry, I was just kind of hoping that maybe my life had turned a corner. Suddenly, I saw a possible bright future ahead of me, but it was just a pipe dream after all."
"Not so fast buster. There might be a bright future ahead, for both of us, but now we each have to make sure that our heads are on straight. It's important that we accept that we're alone now, except for our children. We'll talk and move at a pace that we can control. I'm like you John. I too can see the potential for a bright future with you and your children. But we have to go slow, if not for our sake, then for our children's sake."
"I see that now Caryn. I can just see Chelsea reaming me out for moving so fast. She has an awful lot of her mother in her. I think that I just might lose James if I move too fast. He is more sensitive than the rest. Don't get me wrong. He is all man, but he has a real sensitive side to him, as well. Angela, well that just might be the breaking point for her. She would probably really rebel against my authority then. Yes Caryn, you're thinking much clearer than I am about this entire situation. I guess my heart overloaded my brain, or maybe something else took over my mind for a while. Maybe grief had too strong a hold on my mind. Please forgive me for my rashness."
"John, I think instead of grief, it was loneliness. Our time together has been very nice, but we have to return to our real lives. We need to learn to cope with that first, and then maybe we can think about us later on. I know that I too had dreams of a better future with you, but this here is a dream world, not real life. For now, we need to reacquaint ourselves with our loved ones. Then and only then can we see what tomorrow brings."
"I knew all Karen's were smart, and now I've met yet another one. I hope to know this one better and become closer friends, as times goes by. Thank you for being so smart." I hugged her, and as I started to pull away, she stretched up, and kissed me gently on the lips. As I stood there, in a fog, she slipped away.
That was the last time I saw Caryn, except when I saw her, as someone in a long line of people going through customs. By the time I got outside, she was gone. Once again, I was alone. I shared a cab ride to the hotel with a newlywed couple. When I loaded up, I headed home. It was a long and dreary ride back to Round Rock and home.
Edited by imagegreen; proofing by prissy_35503