Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Eight: "Matters of Life and Death" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 5th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

After the death and burial of our firstborn son, my wife and I struggle to cope as we "celebrate" our first wedding anniversary. See how we begin falling apart and putting the pieces back together.

Going Through the Motions

All I remember of our first anniversary celebration if you could call it such is that we went out to eat somewhere nice. I don’t even recall where after all this time or if we did anything else. I recall Nancy and I putting up a brave front, but there was no real joy in our lives at the moment. True, we still had each other, but how do you find the joy in each day when your sunshine has just been sucked out of it like some big universal vacuum cleaner has come by and cleaned house?

We did get an unexpected anniversary gift though from a forgotten source when out of the blue Nancy received a phone call from a nurse at the birth hospital one day shortly after the funeral. She had read the announcement about Micah’s death in the newspaper and was most apologetic about disturbing our peace and approached calling us about this matter extremely delicately, however it seemed that one of the nurses there had taken Micah’s birth photo before he was whisked away to Ann Arbor that afternoon, and she’d understand perfectly well if we wanted them trashed, but she didn’t want to do that without informing us first of their existence just in case we should want them.

Want them? Are you kidding? We would cherish them! Nancy instructed her not to let them out of her sight, that she would be calling me at work in a matter of moments and I would be picking them up on my way home from work. And that’s exactly what transpired!

For a baby who was mortally ill, you would never know it from his hospital baby picture. Very often these aren’t the greatest of pictures, but you could tell Micah was a 10-month baby . . . we had not miscalculated. He did not look like a newborn child. He looked like an infant already a few weeks old with a fully formed pink and healthy face completely hiding the bacteria already raging within him. We and those around us came to cherish this touchstone of the life that had escaped from our midst, and we were deeply thankful for the unknown soul who had the presence of mind to snap it.

Looking back on this time period though, we would have benefited greatly from grief counseling, however, no one ever mentioned it to us, and I’m sure no one ever did, because in those days Jehovah’s Witnesses were still leery of seeking outside professional counseling though they have since changed their outlook on that.

I had gone back to work at the prison teaching in my English class, and it became time for Nancy’s mom and dad to return to South Carolina. They didn’t want to wear out any more welcome with the relatives they were staying with, and so we mutually agreed that perhaps Nancy should go back with them for a few weeks. The change of scenery would do her good. And so she left. And it nearly killed me.

To be alone with myself and my thoughts nearly did me in. Not that I thought of suicide or anything, no that wasn’t the problem. I just felt abandoned. Alone. Lost. Unloved. Unwanted. Unworthy. And, of course, in such situations what does one eventually do in those situations with time on one’s hands? Even though it had been a long time, the tug, the yearning was still there I knew, and so I managed to find a store where no one knew me, and I bought a Playgirl, and I lost myself in the pictures for a couple of days feeling as guilty as a girl on Weight-Watchers with her hand in the cookie jar. And through this I realized that our lovemaking while not spectacular for me, I’d been going through the motions. All this time while I’d been physical with my wife my eyes had been closed, I’d probably been envisioning some guy I’d seen in a magazine or one of my friends from the high school shower room.

While this may have been a huge revelation to me, it did nothing to raise my spirits, because I was in no position to deal with its consequences. I wasn’t about to dump on Nancy. I really did love her. And I still thought I could overcome it all, that it eventually would get better, and so I continued to bury it. I ripped up the Playgirl and threw it in the trash. I needed to be with her.

We had planned to take our vacation in October, and I’d already put in for my time off then, but the prison was more than willing to do anything for me. Having a great work record, plus going through the grief we’d just been through gives one a little latitude. So though it was only late August I politely asked for a week to ten days off to go spend with my wife in South Carolina who by that time had already been gone about ten days herself. I hopped in the car and I pointed it south and just drove.

In those days of rural South Carolina, many addresses didn’t have regular street addresses like we did in the north, but rather were a route and box number so it was impossible to find a house without stopping and asking for directions. So one has to learn to be humble there, and I did, and you can imagine Nancy’s surprise for I didn’t tell her I was coming. Suddenly I pulled up in the front yard of the house her parents’ were renting in Carlisle, South Carolina, and she just happened to be out in the yard when I pulled in. She walked over to the car. “What are you doing here?” She grinned.

“I got some time off. I missed you too much.”

“Good” She smiled. We hugged and kissed longingly. And with that, we began our vacation. Together.

Falling Apart, Together

The time spent in South Carolina was a welcome diversion while it lasted, but soon after returning back to Michigan the gloom and doom reappeared and settled back in with us. We had closed the door to the nursery during that week of Micah’s hospitalization in Ann Arbor, and we hadn’t reopened it not even to clean. We just couldn’t. It was too painful to even look in there.

The stress of the situation affected both of us deeply and began manifesting itself outwardly in different ways. For Nancy she became uncommunicative from time to time and lost her normally ever-present smile. Gone was Nancy with the laughing face I’d come to know so well. She became lost in thoughts as if she were in a far off land; she appeared to me to be visiting a place where I wasn’t invited.

For me, the stress manifested itself in my left knee. Back in high school I had twisted it once during wrestling practice and it had gotten swollen to the point that I actually needed to visit my doctor over it. Since then I’d already noticed I was getting a bit of arthritis pain in it from time to time, but then I knew that I may have a genetic predisposition for it anyway from my grandma Bess since I carried many of her skeletal characteristics. Now suddenly since Micah’s death I found my left knee seizing up on me at school, at the Kingdom Hall, in bed during the middle of the night, or at any time it pleased, and it was proving to be more than a damned inconvenience. At one point at home in the apartment the ultimate finally happened. The knee locked up on me so badly and the pain was so excruciatingly intense that Nancy had to call her brother Kenny over to the apartment since he lived only a few blocks away and between the two of them they managed to get me loaded into the car and into the hospital in Jackson where I had to spend a couple of days while they ran tests. Basically I had a bum knee with pinched nerves, but I asked for a second opinion before they operated, and the opinions have always differed. To date that knee has never been operated on, but it’s finally deteriorated to the point where I need a knee replacement. I’m a perfect Taurus.

We were falling apart together, and we didn’t know what to do about it. And so I instigated two things. First, I started writing. Putting my thoughts on paper always helps me, and when I was finished I found that I had what looked like an article for either the Watchtower or Awake magazines both of which are published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in New York. My mission in writing had been to lay down on paper all that Nancy and I had been through, the entire ordeal with Micah, with the hope that no one would ever have to be so ignorant again. That’s how I felt. Just ignorant. Uneducated. And I wanted the world to know that somehow some way, we were going to be okay, though inside at the moment I wasn’t exactly sure how to accomplish that. And then I sent it in and forgot about it.

The second thing I did was to start talking to Nancy about a change of scenery. Looking back on it we should have just moved to a different apartment, but what I had in mind was a major overhaul, pulling up stakes and heading down to South Carolina. Why not? I asked her how she felt about my safety at the prison everyday, and she confessed that she hadn’t been entirely truthful all this time, that it really bothered her especially after I told how about the fight I’d broken up a few months earlier.

It was only then that I confessed to her the trouble that I’d been having sleeping because of the recurring dreams I’d been having about the prison, not so much nightmares, but between the stress of losing Micah, and the continual stress of working in an environment of violent adult male criminal offenders . . . after all, 90% of my students were murderers, armed robbers, or rapists in those days . . . something had to give sooner or later, and I felt like I was about to bust at the seams. And so we began some serious thought.

And prayer.

We consulted with Nancy’s mom and dad, and they were amenable to allowing us to live with them in Carlisle until we could locate a place of our own. They had plenty of room, and they were certain I could find some kind of job although the school year had already started. But my father-in-law, Leverne, even offered to move us down in his old beer truck which he’d purchased for such type of side jobs. All we had to do was pay for the gas. No problem.

And so we looked at it from all angles, but for the first time in a couple months we actually smiled for longer than a moment. We actually felt like there might be a light on our candle at the end of the day. And though I hated to leave such a good paying job, I really did, I really, really needed to smile again, and I needed to make Nancy smile again, and we just couldn’t do that where we were. We were stuck. The rut we existed in was simply too large for us to climb out of, and we needed something devastatingly radical to pull us out. I believed that moving to The Old Confederacy would do just that.

Oh boy, did it!

(In the next installment, Nancy and I begin our excellent adventure in the Old South!)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Gay, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memory, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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