This is a story of a life well-lived, and one taken far too soon. I’d like to start at the beginning though.
Five Points Elementary school in Fairborn, Ohio. I’m in 6th grade. I’ve lined up with my classmates against the lockers to enter single-file into the lunchroom. Loud laughter catches my attention. As I turn to the sound, a blur of a running body whips past me. A big white-toothed grin is all I see. A few days later, this blur went by again, but slowed in compliance by the nearby adult monitoring the hall. This time however, that smile was aimed right at me. This boy was older, but I knew even then he was special.
Over the next couple of weeks, I found myself sprinting after him down the halls. I mean, if he liked to run, why not chase him?
Eventually, in high school, I caught him. He was mine and I was his. He taught me how to drive in an old Chevy Nova, and we also learned many other things in that car too.
Very soon after graduating, we learned we were expecting. At 6 months pregnant, the Mayor of Fairborn (whom I’d interviewed the previous year for the school newspaper), married us. Her small, but neat living room was the backdrop for our exchange of vows. My father even lent us his wedding band to use for the ceremony.
Yeah, we were young.
The next stop for him was boot camp. Not just any boot camp mind you, but the United States Marine Corps. He was enjoying his 21st birthday, on a payday no less when he’s called into the commander’s office. He received the news his son had just been born.
Happy birthday and Surprise-it’s a boy!
We were young, married with a baby and with us joining him later in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, a long way from home.
We had some good times, some bad times, and some truly great times. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to last. We divorced, but always remained friends.
Our lives went in the directions they did, seeing us both remarried to other people. Jared, our son, was to be the only child I would have.
He went on to father 4 more incredibly handsome, smart, and loving boys. His family remained in Ohio, while my son and I ended up in Washington State. When Jared completed basic training in the Army, his father and grandmother drove to Georgia to stand next to me to watch him graduate.
Over the years since, life happened. We lived our life and he lived his. Could there have been more communication during those times, yes. But like I said, this was life.
Forward to 2015. I’ll never forget the call. When the wife of your ex-husband calls, not a problem. When she gives the phone to him so he can tell you himself he has cancer-that’s a problem.
Needless to say, I got on the phone to my son, and broke the news to him. During the weeks and months to follow, I found myself re-connected to my ex-husband and his wife through Facebook, texts and phone calls.
When I could, I got on a plane and flew back to Ohio to see him, and NOT say goodbye. He and his wife picked me up from the airport. My heart sank at his aged appearance.
His mom, Elaine, who basically claimed me from the day we met, ended up staying with me at my hotel. She needed the distraction. I welcomed her wisdom, her company and her tears.
I had met his wife and boys years before. It was amazing to see how they had all grown. I also found a sister in spirit connection with Melissa. We laughed at how we hadn’t been best friends before this. My birthday was coming up, and they presented me with a cake, and I played in the yard with their grandkids.
Those few days I was there were special, poignant, tearful and meaningful. I purposely didn’t say goodbye to him when I left.
For the next 2 years, we stayed in touch. Phone calls and texts allowed me to be in the loop of his progress. Things were looking positive. I remember thinking, if anyone could beat cancer, it was him. Everyone knows; Marines are badass, and they never walk away from the fight.
I stood fast in never ending our phone calls with goodbye. I’m not badass, just stubborn. My heart rejoiced when he and our son finally got to talk. I wish it had happened sooner, but happy it happened nonetheless.
It turned out, this was to be a fight he could not win. His heart had broken at the tragic, unexpected loss of one of his sons with another woman (not me or Melissa).
After all he went through being sick, being brave, having multiple surgeries and experimental procedures, his body had simply had enough.
This past Tuesday morning, I got the call. He was gone.
The boy, who only went by ‘Miner’; who had run past me, then from me in the halls; who was popular and athletic; who participated in break-dance competitions, and was super smart with electronics and engines. The man who held our newborn son on his bare chest as they napped, and even babysat my best friend’s sick daughter in the hospital. The man who showed up to comfort me when my mom died. The man who was my first true love was gone.
I haven’t had the heart wrenching, soul-crushing wailing cry yet. A part of me thinks it’s because after witnessing my mother fight cancer, and what I know he went through, there’s a sense of relief that he is no longer in any pain, and is no longer suffering.
His spirit was always strong. Now it always will be, wherever he is.
I will cherish those beautiful memories of my long-time friend. This isn’t goodbye, it’s until we meet again. I know he is now running again somewhere with a big bright smile on his face.
WILLIAM MINER JR.
April 30, 1966 ~ July 18, 2017
Rest in Peace