Starting Over at 55 Chapter 01
Waking up on Moving Day
Jack rolled over and hit the snooze bar for the second time. It was an old habit. He did it to let Cheryl sleep in a few extra minutes.
Rolling over a little farther, Jack reached down beside his bed and pressed the button to turn off his C-PAP machine. Cheryl called it his snorilator. Jack suffered from sleep apnea, despite the sixty pounds he’d recently lost.
Once he pressed the button to turn off the snorilator, Jack reached up and pulled the C-PAP mask off his head with one hand while disconnecting the air hose from the machine with the other. He coiled up the tube and tucked it under his pillow. Jack did that to keep their cat, Calico, from gnawing on it and making holes as she had with the last hose.
Hose safely tucked away, Jack dropped the pillow back in place and flopped his head back down on the pillow. He reached over to Cheryl’s side of the bed with his left hand to gently squeeze her leg, as he had nearly every morning of their nearly thirty-year marriage. That’s when the hard truth asserted itself in his memory when his hand found only an empty sheet.
A single “damn” escaped Jack’s lips as the reality of Cheryl’s empty side of the bed forced itself back into his consciousness. As the cold loneliness of her absence crept over him, Jack remembered it had now been one hundred and forty-two days since the phone call. Ever since the accident happened, Jack had kept track of time as being life before the phone call and life since.
Remembering The Phone Call
The phone call had come late in the evening of a winter’s day, informing him that his wife Cheryl was now his late wife. The lady from the communications center of the Highway Patrol hadn’t put it quite that way. She’d expressed her deep sorrow at having to inform Jack that there’d been an accident on Highway 264 near Exit 42 in Wilson involving his wife.
“I’m very sorry, Mr. Callaghan, but your wife was pronounced dead at the scene. If it’s any comfort, the EMT said it looked liked she’d died instantly when the tractor-trailer rolled over her pickup, and she hadn’t suffered.”
It wasn’t any comfort then. It wasn’t any comfort when Jack had to call their daughter, Meagan, at Duke University and tell their eldest child her mother was dead. It wasn’t any comfort when he’d had to call their son, Branden, at VMI and tell their youngest child his mother died in a car accident. It wasn’t any comfort at the funeral. It wasn’t any comfort one hundred and forty-two days later knowing Cheryl hadn’t suffered. Jack was suffering. He’d suffered every day since the phone call.
Cheryl's Cat, Calico
As he had every morning since the phone call, Jack forced himself to swing his legs over the side of the bed, dragged himself into a sitting position, and finally stood up and walked into the bathroom. He looked around for Calico until he remembered that Meagan had taken her mother’s little cat back to her apartment in Durham. When Meagan had offered to take Calico, Jack hadn’t objected.
I was in no shape to take care of myself, much less Calico, Jack thought as he looked into the mirror at the haggard man staring back at him. But I sure miss that stupid cat.
Jack finished what he needed to do in the bathroom, grabbed a t-shirt and jeans out of his closet, and walked back into the bedroom to get dressed. After his shower, it was too humid in the bathroom to get completely dry. The ceiling fan in the bedroom was turning fast enough to stir the air to help Jack finish drying off before he pulled on his boxer-briefs and t-shirt.
Pulling on his jeans, Jack noted how the waistband was much looser than it had been one hundred and forty-two mornings ago.
If this keeps up, I’m going to have to buy some new pants. The thought did not cheer Jack as it might have someone else. The reason Jack had lost over sixty pounds in the last one hundred and forty-two days was that he hadn’t been eating much and spent long hours taking late night walks around the neighborhood until he was exhausted enough to fall asleep.
Jack finished getting dressed and headed downstairs. The spot at the bottom of the stairs where Punk, his Jack Russell’s terrier, would have greeted him last fall was filled with boxes. Punk, or at least his ashes, were scattered along the fence line in the backyard that the little dog used to run along for hours watching the squirrels hop through the branches of the trees in the woods next to the house.
During his last months, Punk hadn't run much and had quit climbing the stairs to sleep in his spot in Jack and Cheryl’s bedroom next to Cheryl’s closet door. Punk's arthritis got so bad that Jack couldn't even pick the old boy up and carry him upstairs without hurting the dog. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Punk didn't eat his breakfast or dinner. Punk never missed a meal.
Jack told Cheryl, “I think poor old Punk’s hung in as long as he can,” after the dog refused to eat breakfast a second morning in a row.
Cheryl, knowing precisely what Jack meant, just nodded and grabbed a tissue to dry the tears that started forming in her eyes.
Jack called the veterinarian’s office and made the appointment. His tears soaked Punk’s head as Jack cradled his old friend while the vet administered the necessary shot.
On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when both Meagan and Branden were home from school, the four of them spread Punk’s ashes along the fence line.
“Punk’s ghost will keep the squirrels out of the yard, anyway,” Branden had commented, straining to keep his voice from breaking.
“Those fuzzy-tailed tree-rats sure drove him nuts when he was alive,” Meagan added with a sniffle. “It’s only fair he should get to haunt them now.”
Coffee and Packing
Jack stopped at the bottom of the stairs, took a deep breath, and rubbed his head. The boxes reminded him of what was happening later that morning. Movers were coming at ten o'clock to pack up and move what remained in the house into storage. Jack still had to pack his clothes and what other things he would need to get by when he got to his new home.
“I’ll start on that after I’ve had some coffee,” Jack told the boxes sitting in Punk’s old spot under the window. “Ain’t no hurry.”
The boxes had been sitting under the window since the last time Meagan and Branden had been home. When Jack decided he was going to sell the house they’d each packed up what they couldn't take with them and left the boxes by the window. Meagan, who had an apartment in Durham near the Duke campus, had been very understanding. Branden, who roomed in the dorms at VMI, had been less so.
“Where are you going to live if you sell the house?” Branden had wanted to know. “And where am I supposed to go when I’m not at school? It’s not like I have a place of my own.”
“Where ever I wind up,” Jack reassured his son, “you’ll have a room. Don’t worry about that. But I don’t want to rattle around in this big old house alone, just me and all these memories.”
Continue the Jack's story with "Starting Over at 55, part 2
- Starting Over at 55 Part 2
Jack isn't hurrying through his morning. Coffee, a V-8, and breakfast at the local diner. Then it's back to the house for some final packing.