Death is not a pleasant thing to face and the death of your spouse is supposed to be one of the most life changing events you'll ever have to deal with. I heard it said somewhere that if a man dies in a relationship a woman can continue on and rebuild her life, while if a woman dies in the relationship the husband dies by half. It seems to me that I must be the exception to that rule for when I lost my husband to prostate cancer two years ago; my world fell apart and hasn't been whole since.
For nearly a year I cried every day, my husband and I had known each other almost all our lives, we had been at primary school together, then high school and then we even went to the same college where we finally woke up to the fact that we were meant to be together. We graduated, got engaged, started our own business, became successful and by the time we got married owned our own home. We complimented each other to a point where we would look askance at other married couples when they told us of their troubles and marital difficulties. I suppose not having children helped, we never fought over money and my husband never seemed to get involved with other women.
We were committed to each other and for thirty one years we lived, laughed and loved. Even now it's difficult to say, thirty one year's being with the same man, never wanting another person and enjoying the life God had given me. When he died it's not too much to say that I died, yes I lived and breathed but my zest for life vanished. My reason for living disappeared and to tell you the truth I didn't want to live anymore. I remembered being told stories of men and women who died of broken hearts that through their loss they simply died of grief. That was me and how I didn't die myself I can't explain for I truly didn't care either way.
Obviously friends tried to help but that became another obstacle to my grief, time and again friends would urge me to move on with my life, there would be shopping trips, movie's and picnic's all planned for me to help me recover. Then one day someone I knew organised a blind date without me knowing, when I realised what was happening I was so angry I couldn't even speak, finally my girlfriend hoping to break the frosty silence that had enveloped the table said something about it being healthy and natural to move on to which I replied that my marriage vows included the sentence 'to death do us part' and that I wasn't dead yet! Needless to say I wasn't invited to anymore blind dates.
If I sound bitter I suppose it's because I am, I had the perfect life and now the most important part of that life had gone. I was so bitter in fact that I sold our house on the first anniversary of his death, the house was our gift to each other and now I couldn't even bear to be there. I remember the final drive as I left the property, there was no look back, no wistful memories, no tears just a feeling of relief. I was running away there's no doubt about it and you know something; when they say you can't run away, that it doesn't fix the problem, well they're wrong I felt better than I had in a long time when I left there.
I bought a two story townhouse in a gated community in a beautiful location with warm weather year round. With two bedrooms and stunning views of the nearby ocean my spare room was almost always booked by friends coming to visit for a weekend. Another year since the anniversary of my husband's death came and went, I cried again on the day. I visited his grave but the grief although still a constant ache in the very marrow of my soul had seemed to subside slightly. It hadn't left and I don't think it ever will but perhaps I was getting used to carry the burden now.
Although I had two degrees as well as a Master's, I found myself a job in childcare, as I said I was financially secure and I think that working with these beautiful innocent souls unmarked by death or suffering helped me forget my own anguish for a while each day. The job itself was unglamorous and thankless but each day I went home satisfied and fulfilled, knowing that I had contributed no matter how small to a child's life.
The townhouse complex I lived in was a large upscale residence where you might wave to your neighbours but for the most part everyone kept to themselves, I suppose it's just a sign of our changing times but for me it was perfect, complete anonymity and the chance to just live my life how I wanted to, I had my books, my cooking classes and my small flower garden and that was my life.
One Tuesday evening as I arrived home I noticed a new car parked in the driveway of the townhouse across from mine, a shiny black Jeep Wrangler which was surrounded by bags, golf clubs, weight equipment and a bike. As I retrieved my handbag and bag of groceries from my car I noticed a man walk out of the unit, one word was all it needed to describe him; military. It screamed at you from the way he carried himself, his crew cut hairstyle, his tall, strong, athletic build and the determined, no nonsense look on his face. When I say tall I mean he must have been at least 6'3" with black hair and aged somewhere in his 30's I guess he saw me and with a casual wave and a polite hello picked up his clubs and scuba gear and walked back inside. Well I said to myself it was certainly better than 85 year old Mrs Edwards who had now moved in with her daughter, a move no doubt impressing her son-in-law.
Days, weeks and months passed with no change to my life, and then one night my world changed in a way I never thought possible. It had been an exhausting day at work, children sick, short on staff all in all one of those days you just want to forget. I got home too exhausted to even cook myself a meal, I had a shower and climbed into bed turning on the T.V. with no intention of doing anything else. I must have fallen asleep quickly but for some reason I woke up with a start. My unit was dark with the exception of the T.V. which cast a pale, flickering light around my room; I lay in bed for a moment because I had the strangest sensation that something was wrong.
I looked around the room again but besides the stupid T.V. going there was nothing out of place so I swung my legs out of bed to go and turn the T.V. off and that's when I saw him. At first it was just a darker shadow against the sliding door frame, but when I stopped moving and looked closer it was a person's outline right outside my window looking in. For a moment I held my breath and then the shadow moved, an arm reached out and tried to pull on the sliding door. I screamed, I screamed harder and louder than I ever had before, the shadow stopped suddenly looked at me and then in one smooth motion leaped off my bedroom balcony even as I continued to scream.
I kept screaming just as loud even as I rushed to the screen to check all the locks, thank God the unit was security screened, Once I had done that I caught my breath, then I ran down stairs checking the patio doors making sure it was locked and then my front door. I was just in the process of reaching for my phone when I heard something outside my front door, my heart jumped in my throat and for a moment I was about to scream again, when I heard a man starting to yell and yell loud. The commotion was coming right outside my door and the yelling was as clear as day thanks to a semi opened window in my kitchen.
The yelling reached a crescendo and then suddenly died off but what I heard then was even worse, it was the sound of someone being hit, God people were fighting outside my door. The hitting continued and the yelling and noise continued again, angry with myself I worked up the courage to tiptoe to my kitchen window and take a look. Two men were outside, one in dark clothes lying on the ground bleeding from his nose and mouth and another man dressed only in a pair of gym shorts, as I watched he hauled the other obviously unconscious man up and placed him in the recovery position then he looked up and stared straight at me. It took a moment for me to recognise him; it was the guy from the unit across from me.
I almost passed out with relief when he asked if I was OK, I simply nodded my head and then he told me to ring the police. Nodding my head again I turned and called the emergency number, told the police briefly what had happened and then hung up. Then I thought to myself what do I do now, first things first I almost ran upstairs grabbed my dressing gown then returned to my front door, with a great deal of screwed up courage I opened the door and looked outside. My neighbour was still there kneeling over the other man checking on him, he then looked up saw me standing there and asked if I was OK again.
All I could do was nod, he glanced down and then up again speaking "I was up doing a few things when I heard you scream I looked out my window and saw this guy running out of your garden so I stopped him and he got a little confrontational so I had to put him down". As he said this he started to smile and then said. "Anyway you sure you're OK" I looked at him putting on my bravest smile I could manage and said "Yes I'm fine thank you, the police are on their way now".
I grabbed my dressing gown tighter around me and he stood up, all the while keeping a good watch on the scruffy and bleeding guy on the ground. 10 minutes later the police showed up and then it was like something a Hollywood movie, two police cars and ambulance and just about every unit in the complex with their light on looking at the scene before them. I hate drama almost as much as I hate sticky beaks so as soon as I could I got back inside. I gave a female officer my version of events, then the paramedics asked me a few questions and as suddenly as it started it was over, police and ambulance left and I was on my own again.
I could hardly sleep when I returned to my bedroom all I could do was keep looking at the window half expecting to see another man's shadow there again. Finally I must have dozed off and only woke up when the alarm went off. The morning was like a dream, coffee, toast get dressed in the car and off to work. Finally at morning tea I started to tell Julie a good friend what had happened the night before and after listening to me and adding some points she said "I hope you said thank you". It was only when she said it that it occurred to me that I hadn't even made an attempt to say that to my neighbour. I was not only shocked I felt terrible how could I not have thanked him?
The day predictably went slow, kids were still sick and we were still short of staff, even the horror of last night looked exciting compared to trying to comfort 30 small children with sniffling noses and temperatures. Finally the day ended and I drove home tired and exhausted again, trying to work out how to apologise for my lack of appreciation, as I drove in I noted that his Jeep was there so I said to myself might as well get the embarrassment out of the way now.
Making a quick stop to tidy myself up and put my bag away I walked across to his unit, for some reason I felt butterflies in my stomach every step of the way. I got to the door and knocked on the screen with no answer so I knocked again a bit louder, this time I got a response but not quite what I was expecting. "Come in the doors open". I almost left then and there but something stopped me, it wasn't like he was going to hurt me I said to myself, not after last night, what the hell I opened the screen and walked in. As I walked in, he walked in from his patio, dressed in just a t-shirt and loose fitting running shorts. In the confines of the house he looked even taller if that was possible, taller and fitter then any man I had seen in a long long time.
"Hey" he said "I was going to come across land make sure you were still alright after last night?" "No really I'm fine I said but I feel terrible I realised I didn't thank you for doing what you did last night"
To this he almost laughed "There's no need for you to thank me" he said "As long as I know your fine". I inwardly breathed a sigh of relief he was easy to talk to, polite and well spoken and I started to feel better already. "Anyway he said my name's Jack" he held out his hand I couldn't help but smile "Dawn, I'm Dawn" with that and the ice officially broken he offered me a drink, I would have loved one but still feeling a little insecure I gave my apologies with some pathetic excuse that he just smiled at. It was a nice end to a bad day.
After the attempted break in, I noticed something unusual about my days, I kept seeing Jack, when beforehand I'd never notice him at all. Usually it was in the afternoons when I got home from work, he would be doing something to his car or he would be going for a ride on his bike. It certainly was a nice view watching him in his riding gear heading off. It even got to the point where one day I mentioned him to Julie again and the first words out of her mouth were "Have you asked him to dinner yet". I must have gone beetroot red because Julie just laughed and laughed which just made me more embarrassed. "No" I said "why would I do that" which just made Julie laugh harder.
But from then on I couldn't get the idea out of my head, and as each day past it got harder to resist, then just when I brought up the courage to actually suggest the idea, Jack disappeared, I'd been saying hi and waving to him at least once a day and to be honest I looked forward to it and then he just wasn't there. His car was no longer in front of his unit and I didn't see him at all. After a few days I even started to get a little worried, but a week later as I pulled back into my unit I noticed his car was back. My heart gave a little skip of joy and my day which had suddenly seemed dreary and monotonous became as bright as the sun that was shining.
I almost skipped into my unit; I hurriedly went and had a shower, got changed, did my hair and dressed. The whole time I was almost running because I didn't want him to disappear again and lose the chance to ask him to dinner. As I got to his front door I took one last moment to check myself over and then I knocked, almost immediately Jack appeared from around the corner dressed again in a t-shirt and shorts. 'Hey Dawn" he said "I was about to come over and see you". When he said that I'd be lying if my heart didn't skip a beat, "Oh really" "Yeah I have to go away for a month and I was wondering if you'd keep an eye on the place?"
"Oh of course" was all I could manage, I almost went home there and then to cry. Then Jack said "so how can I help you?" To be honest I didn't know what to say so I stalled "Oh nothing really when are you going?" "Leaving first flight Monday morning" .It was Thursday now, should I, shouldn't I - God I thought here goes nothing "Well how would you feel about one last home cooked meal before you leave?" upon saying it I felt something almost shrivel up in anticipation of being rejected, after all here I was a 53 year old woman asking a handsome 30 something man to dinner.
It was like time stood still, I had a nice polite smile on my face but inside my stomach was churning. Instead I said "unless that is you have someone to be with" Oh my God did I really just say that, let me die quickly. Jack looked at me for a moment with not a smile to be seen and said "well I can't do it Friday but what about Saturday night?" I almost fainted.
"Oh Saturday would be great" I've got things to do on Friday as well (LIAR), "well should we say about 7.00 then?" "Saturday at 7.00 I'll be there. You cook and I'll provide the wine." "Great I said I'll see you Saturday then", he gave me a soft slow smile "Saturday it is" leave, leave now my mind screamed. I smiled back and said "OK see you then" and backed out the door as dignified as I could be and went home where I collapsed on the couch, a bundle of nerves.
The next couple of days were a blur, of course I told Julie who after falling silent for almost two straight minutes (almost a record for her) proceeded to laugh and laugh and laugh. Finally when she saw the look on my face and realising I was serious gave me a big hug and then promptly started asking what I was going to cook, wear and talk about (as if I had an answer to any of it). But she was right I had to start preparing God it had been so long since I had cooked for company I started to think I should call it off. Finally I rang my cooking instructor who gave me a couple of ideas and I decided upon a Lamb Crown Roast (thank God for cooking classes).
I saw Jack on Friday who gave me a wave and hello but other than we didn't see each other, which was just as well because I was so busy preparing for Saturday night I didn't have time to talk. Deciding the meal, buying the ingredients, cleaning the unit, getting my hair done, getting my nails done and most importantly trying to decide what I was going to wear? By Saturday lunch time I was already half exhausted but my excitement for the upcoming evening wouldn't let me relax. The unit was immaculate, the table already half set and all that was left was for me to do was prepare the meal and shower and change. Slowly the afternoon hours wound down and I enjoyed the afternoon's warmth out on my patio, I allowed myself a glass of wine and with it for a moment at least, all my cares melted away. The radio was playing 'Use Somebody' by the Kings of Leon in the background and I let myself go to its lovely rhythm. I moved inside to begin cooking and it occurred to me that right now with the wine in my hand and a purpose to my cooking that I was happier now than I had been in a long time and with that I smiled to myself and started cooking .
As I got dinner organised and everything fell into place, I allowed myself a second glass of wine and moved to the shower to get myself ready. I moved into the bathroom and undressed taking a moment with wine in hand to look at myself in the mirror. To be truthful I didn't feel 53, perhaps however it was starting to show. I was short only 5'4", with a soft white skin thanks to my Danish mother. My shoulder length blonde hair that was grey along the sides if I didn't dye it, served to highlight my flashing green eyes which I noticed still had a hint of sparkle left in them. I'd inherited an imperious nose and suggestive mouth from my French father as well as his volatile temper. My breasts which were admittedly large were sagging and my body well let's just call me voluptuous and leave it at that. To be honest my body wasn't a models and if I was even more honest I had never treated it as such, I was short and although I had worked hard all my life I also liked my comforts, there were no City to Bay marathons in this body.
I drunk more of my wine and stepped into the shower, the combination of the wine and heated water was amazing, I pampered myself with shampoo, soap, gels (and of course the trusty razor) until I was sure I was glowing. I spent more time preparing myself I think then I did on dinner which was beginning to cast a lovely fragrance throughout the unit. I dried my hair letting it fall softly around my shoulders and applied my makeup trying to remember how long it had been since I had taken so much time before. Gradually before my eyes a woman appeared, not a woman cloaked in sorrow and despair but a flesh and blood woman who had somehow found a reason to smile again. I wish I could say that I was wearing lingerie but it's been my experience that practical underwear suits me much better, a black bra and black panties was about as sexy as I was going to get. Finally and not before time I dressed, a black skirt and printed grey top with flat black shoes, conservative but fashionable at the same time.
Feeling relaxed and comfortable I went back to the kitchen, the lamb smelt delicious, the vegetables lovely so I went and applied my favourite perfume, I was just debating whether or not to pour myself another glass of wine when there was a knock at the door. In a moment my calm, relaxed demeanour vanished, my stomach clenched up and adrenaline started to rush through my body. I looked in the mirror and a calm, confident well dressed woman looked back, inside however the same woman thought she was going to be sick.