These were supposed to be my golden years. I was going to sell the house and move to a condo down in Miami with my wife, Louise, where we could spend our days watching sunrises and collecting sea glass on the beach or traveling the world. London, Paris, Rome- we were gonna to see it all. I wanted be that guy who collected postcards from everywhere I visited. I was gonna find a new hobby- maybe shuffle board! I’d compete in shuffleboard tournaments and become the reigning shuffleboard king in the state of Florida. Or, hey, maybe Louise and I would take up competitive swing dancing! Louise had a knack for dancing when we were young. She was a natural mover, while I couldn’t even keep a beat. I was a real dead hoofer. That’s part of the reason I was so smitten with her back then.
Louise, my gosh, she was an absolute doll. When I met her back in high school, I knew she was the one for me. First time I saw her cheering on the sidelines of the football field, rustling her silver pom poms and kicking her long gams high in the air, I leaned over to my pal, Henry the quarterback, and said, “You see that girl? I’m gonna marry her someday.” I watched her every day at practice, entranced by her bouncing brunette ponytail as she performed skillful jumps and gymnastic tricks. I daydreamed, imagining what I’d say to her if I ever got the chance. I’d tell her how beautiful I thought she was. I envisioned our every interaction until one day, she looked back at me. Her gaze was bashful at first, as if she couldn’t fathom why I, the captain of the football team, would give her the time of day.
As the weeks went on, she got more confident and flirty every day. One day in particular, I remember like it was yesterday. I was focused, ready to run to the end zone and score a touchdown, when a flash of silver caught my eye from the sidelines. I peeked to my right and saw Louise’s shiny pom pom. She dropped it to the ground, placed one hand firmly on her hip, and locked her bright blue eyes with my brown ones. She lifted her other hand to her plump lips, blew a kiss in my direction, and gave me a cheeky wink. Completely distracted, I fumbled the ball as the members of the opposing team tackled me in a huge dog pile and started to send the football towards their end of the field. Henry and rest of my team made fun of me. “Well ring-a-ding-ding. Old Walter’s goin’ soft on us,” they’d tease. “Wally’s dizzy with a dame.” But I didn’t care. What can I say? I was a hopeless romantic, filled with an awful lot of hope.
I chased after her for months, and eventually Louise agreed to split a milkshake at the soda shop with me. I asked her to go steady with me, and we were together ever since. The way she smiled at me filled me with life, and when she reached out to hold my hand with her soft, slender fingers, I swear the whole world stopped spinning. We often went dancing. It was her favorite thing to do. Swing music played in the background of the noisy, claustrophobic dance floors, but she was the only person I saw and her laugh was the only sound I heard. “Come on, snake. Let’s rattle!” she would giggle, clinging to my arm and dragging me onto the dancefloor. Jitterbug, jive, boogie-woogie, she knew all of the best moves. She made it look effortless. She quick-stepped with ease and twirled around causing the hem of her skirt to fly up float around her like a cloud. She was the bee’s knees. But I stumbled across the floor like I had two left feet! I accidently stepped on her toes more than I’d like to admit. I was supposed to be the strong man. I was supposed to know how to do everything. I didn’t like for her to see me like this. Every time I got flustered and apologized, I was forgiven by a light-hearted chuckle as she would try and teach me to move with more grace, like her. She’d grab my arms and place them around her waist. “Don’t flip your lid, you cool cat. Just follow my lead,” Louise encouraged with a laugh. I used to despise dancing, but I loved her so much, dance started to grow on me.
One night in college, we got dressed up to the nines and I took her out to a fancy dinner at this swanky little restaurant in the city where I asked her to marry me. I was so nervous when I proposed. For weeks before, I spent hours hunched over my dorm room desk, scribbling speeches with my blue pen, and launching balls of crumpled paper over my shoulder if they weren’t quite right. I wanted to say something profound and poetic, but no words fully encaptured how in madly in love I was with my Louise. “Your eyes shine like the stars in the midnight sky…” No. “You are the sun that brightens my darkest day…” Too sappy. “Every day I love you more than the day before…” No, no, no. Nothing did Louise justice. My roommate didn’t understand what the big deal was.
“She’s just a girl, champ,” he tried to advise me. “ She ain’t worth it. Beat feet and get the heck outta there. Don’t let her tie ya down, ya dig?”
“Yeah, yeah, right-o, Daddy-o,” I mumbled in response.
“You’re just crusin’ for a bruisin’, gettin’ in too deep with that gal. Let her go.”
His words meant nothing to me. She wasn’t just any girl. She was Louise. MY Louise.
When dessert came at the restaurant, sweating, I stuffed a shaking hand into the pocket of my coat and pulled out the ring. Of course, being the huge klutz that I am, I dropped the ring in my chocolate cake. Mortified, I looked up at Louise. Her cheeks blushed like rose petals and her blue eyes glittered. Chuckling nervously, I tried to play it off as cool as I could. I grabbed the ring, wiped the icing off with my napkin, got down on one knee, and popped the question. Simple as that. Louise didn’t need some huge, elaborate, storybook proposal to know how special she was to me. She nodded yes while crying. As I slipped the ring on her finger, her smile shone brighter than the sparkling diamond band. We would go on to share 45 years of perfect, glorious marriage.
Our wedding was real nice. Beautiful church venue, small crowd of loved ones, and the picture-perfect bride. I still remember how hotsy-totsy she looked in that dress. I keep a picture of her on our wedding day in my wallet. The way the lace rested daintily on her shoulders like freshly fallen snow and the way she glowed from within, even from behind her veil, convinced me that she was an actual angel.
Our reception was the real kicker, though. I had a special surprise for Louise. I had been taking dance lessons. I didn’t want everyone to remember our wedding as “the time that huge klutz-o fell down during his first dance.” So I took matters into my own hands. Every Wednesday evening for two hours, when Louise thought I was playing ball with the boys, I drove to Sally’s Wedding Dance Studio to learn not to make a complete and total fool of myself.
Louise and I walked into the reception venue as the singer in the band announced us as “Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jenkins” for the very first time. This time, I took the lead, pulling Louise to the dance floor. She looked confused as to why I was so confident. She probably already accepted the fact that she was going to spend the rest of her life with a spaz who couldn’t dance. But as soon as the music started, I proved her wrong. I impressed her by leading her in a full on fox-trot across the floor. As the song came to an end, she pulled me close and nuzzled her face into my chest, resting her soft, rosy cheek on my shoulder. I didn’t want that moment to ever end.
I know that people say your wedding is supposed to be the best day of your life. I thought it was at the time, but every day with Louise was better than the last. Literally everything was the way I wanted it to be. I was living the quintessential American Dream- I had a high-salary job as an accountant and a respectable home in the suburbs sitting behind a lush lawn that was lined with a white picket fence. I was your average butter-and-eggs man. I had a beautiful wife and two lovely children. One was a sweet, dainty little girl- my princess who I loved with my whole heart. Darling little Diane was the spitting image of my dear Louise. The other was an Adonis of a son- strapping and handsome like his father. Walter Junior and I loved passing the pigskin out on the lawn on the weekends.
Every morning for 45 years, without fail, I woke from a deep sleep to the scent of freshly brewed coffee. I would put on a robe, stuff my feet into slippers, and stumble into the kitchen where I was welcomed by Louise. She met me with with that same illuminating smile and a kiss that sent a surge of energy throughout my entire body sending away the grogginess of my slumber. “What’s the story, morning glory?” she’d greet me in a sweet, sing-songy voice. We’d sink into our leather armchairs in the living room, drink our coffee, and read the daily newspaper together. I’d rave about the sports section and she’d groan, “Walter, can you please just skip to the comics? I want to read ‘The Peanuts’!” Every morning, I’d be slightly annoyed at first. I wanted to read the scores from last night’s football game, after all! “They’re just the funnies, Louise,” I’d moan. “Don’t have a cow!” But then she’d place her soft hand on my arm and look at me with those baby blue eyes and I’d just melt. Chuckling softly, I’d flip through the black and white pages until we found the adventures of Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the rest of the Peanuts gang.
Every night for 45 years, without fail I’d fall asleep to the sight of Louise leaning into the mirror, wiping off her red lipstick and peachy rouge, and twirling her chestnut brown hair tightly into curlers. She only got more beautiful with age! Then, she’d crawl into bed, wiggle until she settled into a comfortable position, and she’d pull the comforter all the way up to her neck, stealing a majority of the warm blanket from my side all to herself- but I didn’t really mind. I thought she deserved all the warmth in the world. After, she would click off the the lamp on her bedside table and we would be consumed by the looming darkness. Tuckered out from her long day, she would roll over to face me and smile as her eyes fluttered open and shut, batting her long eyelashes around her crystal eyes. “What’s the tale, nightingale?” I’d whisper to her, half-asleep. Then, she would drowsily giggle, close her eyes, place a lazy hand on my arm and mumble, “Sweet dreams, my darling. I love you…” as she nodded off. I even found her rhythmic snore soothing and peaceful, like a lullaby meant just for me. I fell in love with her more and more every single day for 45 blissful years. My love for her grew like a pine tree- evergreen and ever abundant. But then, she got sick.
Our mornings and nights were governed by doctor’s appointments, surgeries, and chemotherapy sessions, anything we could to to try and get the tumor to subside. Louise was sleepy and weak all the time. Our morning coffee turned into medications through an IV. I still read her the newspaper every day while sitting in the chair next to her hospital bed. I still thought she was exceedingly beautiful, even as her brunette curls grayed, thinned, and fell out.
Sometimes, to make her happy, just to see her smile again, I’d walk into Louise’s hospital room with a bouquet of pink pansies and petunias freshly cut from our front lawn. They were her favorite. I’d put them in a vase then turn Louise’s favorite Elvis Presley song. I’d help her into her wheelchair and I’d push and twirl her around the room to “All Shook Up.” On days when she was feeling particularly strong, she could get up and dance with me. She leaned all of her weight on me most of the time, but I didn’t mind. I was happy to help guide her feet in the right direction. On days when she was feeling particularly weak and couldn’t even get out of bed, I danced solo for her. I sashayed and two-stepped around the room while she swayed and clapped along to the beat propped up in her bed. All the nurses smiled through tears and told me this was the sweetest thing they had ever seen a husband do for their wife, but it felt natural to me. If a man truly loved his wife like I did, wouldn’t he just do these things without even having to think twice?
Those few months went by way too quickly, and Louise was taken from me far too soon. She went peacefully as I was reading her the Sunday comics. I had just finished reading her ‘The Peanuts’ when she turned her head towards me, flashed that same smile that won me over so many years ago, grabbed my hand, closed her eyes. As she took her last breath, her heart monitor fell flat and Louise’s world stopped. A tear ran down my cheek and between sobs, I said, “Sweet dreams, my darling. I love you,” while squeezing her fragile, wrinkled hand one last time as the doctors wheeled her away.
So now here I am, 15 years later: Old and alone. Wifeless. Today was supposed to be our 60th wedding anniversary. I never sold the house or moved to Florida- it made me too sad to even think about. No shuffleboard or swing-dancing for me, either. I throw myself into yard work. I try to keep the lawn lush and green, and the aromatic pansies and petunias lining my white picket fence in good condition- a vibrant pink, just how Louise liked them.
I I just miss Louise so much. I can’t bear to look at the comics anymore, so I watch the news instead of reading it. The taste of coffee fills me with bittersweet memories, so I’ve switched to drinking herbal tea. I had to invest in a white noise machine to fall asleep at night because the darkness seems lonelier so much more and without Louise’s lovely snore. My kids are my only source of joy now. Diane and Junior, are here to take care of me. They call me every day and come home to visit every now and then. They make sure I get out of the house every once in awhile to see a football game or something of that sort. I love them- I really do- but they just bring back so many memories, sometimes it hurts to be around them.
Sometimes, I imagine Louise is still here with me. I talk to her about sports and I tell her how much I love her. “I saw something on the news that would give you a big tickle, chickadee!” I’d find myself telling her. “There’s a new Elvis documentary flick out at the theater that’s supposed to be the living end!” But then I look at her empty armchair and remember that she’s not really here.
What keeps me going is knowing that I’ll see her again. ‘Cause when my time’s up here on earth, I can be with Louise in heaven. I bet she dances all the time up there. Louise has probably taught Jesus how to do the jitterbug by now. When we’re together again, I’m gonna take her in my arms, twirl her around, dance with her, and never let her go ever again. That’s all I’ll ever want or need. Me and my lady, jumping and jiving to the music of God’s jukebox.