We walked the neighborhood many, many times when she was walking, and after she wasn't walking I pushed her wheelchair down these same sidewalks, past the same houses and shops. It was always nice, and it still is. Usually it's the best part of my day. There are so many memories of walks with Steph down all these streets, so many conversations — some with worries, but all with laughter over the good and the bad.
If you saw me this morning, or any morning, you'd think I'm just a fat guy walking alone, but you'd be wrong. She's always, always walking with me.
Well, it's Christmas, 2020 — our third Christmas without each other, so the math says our last Christmas together was 2017. I don't remember anything specific about that day three years ago, but Stephanie was with me and she wasn't in a hospital, so it must've been a terrific Christmas.
She made ham roll-ups, same as she did every Christmas, and I ate most of them.
We had twinkly lights on a tiny tree.
We watched an old movie together.
She made something really quite good for dinner, and she (mistakenly) thought it wasn't quite as good as it should've been.
We talked about everything in the universe, and we laughed a lot.
That was our last Christmas, 2017 — just another delightful Christmas with a delightful lady.
This year's Christmas won't be delightful, but the memories always will be. Merry Christmas, Stephanie, and thank you again.
It still surprises me, when I sometimes stop
and think of it. Amazes me, to think that a lady who was truly someone
special, loved me. Stephanie Webb knew me better than anyone ever has, and yet she loved me.
Of the very few things I've accomplished in life, that's what I'm proudest of, by far.
We were eating in Café bel Italia, Stephanie's favorite Italian restaurant in Madison. We had a window table, best seat in the house, and Steph was seated facing outside, so other than my face, her view must've been picture-perfect.
My view was terrific, too — the sunshine was hitting Steph's face, and she was beautiful. As in my life with her, I loved looking in her eyes and loved seeing her smile. I loved seeing her love.
The pasta was dreamy, which was appropriate, this being a dream and all. We were talking, probably with our mouths full, enjoying our dinner and each other and the dream.
She reminisced about our trip on the ship sailing across Lake Michigan and what a great time she'd had, and about places we'd been to in San Francisco and things we did in Kansas City, and about how lucky we'd been to find the perfect apartment here in Madison, and of course, how lucky we'd been to have found each other in the first place.
We could always talk about happy memories together, because we had so many, so it must've been a long conversation, and a long dream. We had a long marriage, too, just not long enough.
The waiter came over to ask if our meals were satisfactory, and he was Bill Murray. Yeah, the movie star, who's also famous for his chipper and quirky off-screen interactions with strangers. He was wearing the restaurant's silly red silk uniform, and Steph said, "Are you Bill Murray?" but it was obvious that he was, and he said, "Last time I checked."
Of course, he was witty and sarcastic, and instantly we were all old friends. He sat down at our table and suddenly he had a plate of pasta, and all three of us were chatting comfortably.
When we'd almost finished the last few bites of our pasta, he stood up and resumed his role as the waiter, asked if we'd like dessert, and he smiled and said, "I'm paying." Steph ordered cannoli and I had cheesecake, and I don't think Bill Murray had anything because he was gone and the waiter became a waitress who simply dropped off our desserts and the tab, then said thanks and walked away.
Stephanie was sparkly all through dinner. That was her default mode, but in the dream she seemed especially
sparkly even for Steph. She was in her wheelchair so this was latter-Steph, but she was healthy, happy, and with me — everything I ever wanted.
We paid and tipped and walked home, and it was a long walk and it was cold, but we were happy and talking and laughing and we said, "I love you" to each other, like we always did.
She asked me to tell her parents that she loved them, too, and I guess that's when I knew it was a dream, because if this was real she'd call them herself. She mentioned that she was cold, and she shivered, and I woke up.
I'd fallen asleep in my chair, next to the un-insulated window, so our shivers had been real.
I sat there, awake but dazed, and replayed the dream in my mind. I remembered it more clearly than most, so I started writing it down, and when I'd finished I noticed I was smiling. I'd been smiling for twenty minutes, I think, and I'll bet if you'd seen me asleep in this chair half an hour ago, you'd have seen me smiling in my sleep.
Without her, here in the woke-up world, there are fewer smiles. Before Stephanie saved my life I had very few friends, lived alone, and spent alone almost all my time alone. That's what life looks like now, again, and it sucks. I can make it alone, though, so long as I remember her every day — and boy, do I.
She pops into my mind often, and sometimes stays a long while. I still like to stand at the Shrine I've made of all her things, and look at the picture of her face on the urn. And I'm with her in my dreams maybe four nights out of seven, and like tonight, they're always good dreams.
Now I should call the in-laws and relay Steph's message that she loved them. I'm not good at talking to anyone on the phone, though, and they know that, from talking to me on the phone. So I sent them an email instead: "Had dinner with Steph in a dream, and she asked me to tell you that she loved you."
We had our problems, sure, but our 20+ years together were a dream come true. Thank you for that, Steph. Thanks for all the ways you made the world wonderful while you were with me, and especially, thank you for coming back to see me so often in my dreams. Also, thank you, Bill Murray, for treating us to dessert.
After all, we were kind enough not to sue any of them, and god knows we could have.
And yet, the ordinary schedule for post-amputation recovery rolled on. Her stump had healed enough that Steph was due to be transferred to a different hospital, one that specializes in physical therapy, where they were going to teach her how to get in and out of her wheelchair, among other things, and work on strengthening her remaining leg.