Today, we’re publishing something unusual. It’s a story by Blythe Pulsipher Smith who’s been an integral part of AAR for many years. Earlier this fall, Blythe lost her husband, Mike, to cancer. This piece is, in part, about their love story.
I reviewed romance novels for twenty years, but I was still surprised to find myself living in one. I wrote a blog after my divorce presenting potential scenarios that all ended in me marrying a sheriff. Instead I ended up falling in love with a retired Marine gunnery sergeant (there are no former Marines). I couldn’t have made this up if I tried. We were gloriously, spectacularly in love and it showed in every picture, and in our faces. Mike died last month, suddenly, from cancer complications – but not until he had first died and been resuscitated. He came back from the dead for me so I could spend three days singing to him, kissing him, and telling him I loved him over and over. I never let go of his hand.
I wrote most of the story below early in our relationship while Mike was in jail (a story for another day). Someone was antagonizing him at the time and it put me in mind of my mother, who used to always say that people who annoyed her could be her gardeners in the afterlife. I modified the story and read it at my husband’s funeral. Judy is my mother; Pam is Mike’s.
Storytime with Blythe is a little different than storytime with Gunny. Blythe’s story didn’t actually happen, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Once upon a time there were two next-door neighbors named Judy and Pam who were very good friends. They lived in a place that they both believed in called the Celestial Kingdom, and they’d known each other a long time. Judy had been there since 1989, and Pam moved in two years later with her husband and daughter. Judy’s son Tim arrived right around the same time.
Judy’s house had a huge rock garden in the back because her husband John loved rock gardens. He’d stocked it very deliberately with unicorns and fairies because his granddaughter Scarlett once had an idiot Sunday school teacher with no imagination who told her that she couldn’t have unicorns and fairies in the afterlife. John knew that was completely ridiculous, and besides, everyone liked the unicorns and fairies.
Pam’s yard had lots of trees and fish-filled streams, and lots of large, happy dogs that you could put a saddle on and ride. Her husband Tom loved to bow hunt and he loved guns, so they had a giant room for his collection. John let him hunt unicorns in his yard, because it didn’t actually hurt the unicorns: they were magic. In fact, they talked. “Nice shot, Tom!” they’d say. “You really nailed me that time.” The fish were kind of fun to catch too, and they moved a little faster than the unicorns.
Judy and Pam had a gardener named Doug. Everyone kind of felt sorry for him because he hadn’t realized that if you weren’t very nice to people while you were on the earth then you didn’t get a nice house with giant dogs or unicorns, and you had to live in a really tiny room with a crappy blue mattress and no pillows. Pam always wondered why he hadn’t figured out sooner that you weren’t supposed to an asshole. It just always seemed so obvious to her. But since Judy and Pam felt sorry for Doug they’d sometimes give him coffee. Unfortunately, Judy and Pam didn’t drink coffee, and Judy was a big bargain hunter, so neither of them realized that the Great Value instant coffee they were buying was absolutely terrible. Still, it was better than nothing.
All of them had arrived at the Celestial Kingdom earlier than they had planned. Judy had really wanted to sew matching dresses for her granddaughters and read them stories. She was so good at reading stories. Pam wanted to teach her grandchildren to make chocolates at Christmastime, because she loved Christmas. Tom had wanted to take his grandsons hunting. They missed out on that, but since they could all always see what was going on, John knew that his granddaughter wanted unicorns and Tom knew his granddaughter would love riding a giant dog.
Judy and Pam loved to talk about their children and grandchildren. Pam had a son who had three beautiful children. He had lived an exciting life and traveled the world. He’d done so many things: brave things, hard things, fun things, and even some things that were brave, terrible, and hard and fun all at the same time.
Judy had a daughter who had four beautiful children. She hadn’t been able to travel the world, because she had her children young and spent years caring for them and her family. She did get to finish college before she had babies. Judy was happy about that, because she thought that her daughter had really married too young.
Years later, she found out she had been right all along. Normally Judy enjoyed being right about things, but she really wished that her daughter had been happier. Pam understood. Her son had figured out a little faster that the right person had stopped being the right person for him. He was smart that way. Both of them were so happy they had beautiful grandchildren, but both wished their children were happier.
Secretly, they’d both kind of thought for years that their children might really like each other. But Pam’s son was younger than Judy’s daughter, and they’d never really had a chance to meet, even though they lived close to each other and knew lots of the same people. When Judy’s daughter finally realized there were other men in the world, Pam and Judy started talking about their children more seriously.
“Do you think he’d like her, Pam? I mean, she was a giant know-it-all goody-two-shoes in high school and he was a drug dealer with a glowing pot leaf on his wall. Though now that I think about it, she actually wrote an article for an underground newspaper at her high school advocating for the legalization of marijuana. Even though she’d never tried it and it was 1988. She was kind of ahead of her time, there.”
“The problem as I see it, Judy, is that we really don’t have a lot of time. Didn’t your daughter say she wanted to date around for a long time because she’d just been married for twenty-five years? My son doesn’t have a lot of time left, they haven’t even met yet, and I feel like they really need each other.”
So Judy and Pam plotted and schemed. They knew they had to work fast. They had to convince both their children to try online dating, make sure they were both looking at the same time, and make sure they were both awake in the middle of the night so they could talk to each other. They worried that neither of them would be ready. Both of them had a lot going on. Pam’s son thought he might have to go to jail soon, so he was trying to take care of his home and make sure he could call his babies while he was there. He was pretty distracted. Judy’s daughter had gone back to school and was still texting some different guy every week.
Judy was worried. “Do you think they’ll know they need each other?”
“Well, it’s not like we raised a couple of idiots,” Pam said. “We’ll just have to help them figure it out fast.” Fortunately, Pam and Judy were both good at whispering and hinting and plotting and scheming. Pam’s son liked Judy’s daughter’s singing and her yoga pants. Or maybe what was in them. Judy’s daughter liked the look in Pam’s son’s eyes when he looked at her. She tried to date other people’s sons and thought they were gross because they weren’t Pam’s son. And she saw what a good dad he was. She liked that he could tell stories, cook dinner for six children all at once, and, well, she liked some other things about him too.
Pam and Judy were both very happy, because their children were happy. It was obvious that Judy’s daughter was in love with Pam’s son because she walked around singing sappy songs all the time, but Pam made sure that her son knew he had to tell her he loved her first. After that, every time she told Pam’s son that she loved him, he said he loved her more. Loving each other made both of them so happy that everyone around them noticed. And it made Pam and Judy even happier.
Pam was still worried because her son had so little time left, and it wasn’t fair. So many unfair things had already happened to him. She knew he wouldn’t want to leave his wife or his babies, and that she would have to show him how to take care of people you love when you’re not there in person. But Judy knew that Pam’s son would love her daughter the way no one had ever loved her before. She knew that her daughter loved to sing and that Pam’s son would love turning songs into inappropriate duets. When Pam’s son told Judy’s daughter that her crossed eyes were beautiful the way they were, and he couldn’t understand why she’d want to fix them in wedding pictures, it made Judy’s daughter cry. it made Pam and Judy cry too – and pretty much everyone else.
Judy’s daughter could tell Pam was counting on her for a lot of things, even though at first she didn’t understand them all. She knew, somehow, that loving Pam’s son was one the most important things she would ever do. It helped Judy and Pam to know that both their children were decisive, very sure of themselves, and capable of making the most of the time they had. If there was an opportunity to find joy for themselves and their children, they took it. In case there was any danger they would forget, Pam and Judy reminded their children to take lots and lots of pictures.
Pam’s son is building his own house now. He’s still trying to decide whether it is a castle or a cabin, but he knows Judy’s daughter wants a big tower full of books, so tall you need ladders to reach them. He also promised her there could be baby pandas and otters. Judy’s daughter told him he can pick out the granite countertops and the double ovens they will need to cook for all of their children and, someday, grandchildren. He has a day job guarding the gates of heaven, but when he gets home he cooks his steak so rare that sometimes it still moos. In his spare time he builds his house and hunts in his yard is full of deer. He’s waiting for his wife to get there so she can name them all.