I've written about our troubles, his eccentricities, but he was so much more than that. I can honestly say that I've never known anyone who had such a loving heart or such a gentle nature. He is the reason we became home to over a score of abandoned or lost animals at one time. On a country road where it wouldn't endanger people, he'd stop his car to help a turtle get across the road quicker and more safely. I had to draw the line when he brought home a snapping turtle with a shell about two feet long who moved faster than any turtle I've ever seen.
He was one of the few people who genuinely didn't care about appearances. It didn't matter to him if a person was wearing a thousand dollar suit or dirty ripped jeans. With all my body image issues, it always stunned me when he'd look at me and say I was beautiful, and I could tell he meant it. This also meant he didn't care about his own appearance, and there were times I'd just simply have to tell him he couldn't go out looking like that. Sometimes he'd put on something completely outrageous just to get me going.
He was someone who looked out for other people. He loved talking with older people. When he'd go to visit his grandmother, he took time to see her neighbors as well. When my father's dementia had gotten to a point that I couldn't handle, he could engage him in a conversation that would eventually make sense. He was the guy who volunteered to help when you moved and actually showed up. A friend of mine mentioned during a casual Fourth of July party that she wanted to paint a low garden wall by her pool. He left, went and got paint and started on it that day. He still had fun, talking, eating and enjoying the people, but he loved to paint and help other people out. Doing it during a party just made sense to him, and our friends just knew that was R., and it was fine.
When we first met, he said the thing that attracted him to me first was my laugh. He later got more honest and said it was actually my breasts, but the laughter cemented the deal. Though our last years had very little laughter, this was the exception. He knew how to make me laugh, and he got my odd sense of humor. Whenever he'd do something that he knew would irritate me, he'd always start his explanation with, "I can still always make you laugh, right?"
Over the last few years, my husband's personality changed a lot. He went from being the extroverted life of the party to a very withdrawn person. As I've learned more about his physical health, I'm convinced the two were related. He taught me so much about being comfortable in one's own skin. He always had a certain innocence about him that led to social faux pas. He'd get embarrassed but not ashamed when he knew he'd set a foot wrong. He said that whenever he knew he'd done something a little off, he'd just ask himself, "What would Rodney Dangerfield do?", and handle the situation with humor. People have told me so many stories about the funny things he'd say or do. I remember some of them, and at the time, some of them embarrassed me, but everyone, including me, remembers them now with such love and appreciation.
Another thing I've learned from him was just being in the moment. A friend of ours summed it best for me. They were travelling, I think, through Atlanta. It was pouring rain, and they had a blowout. They had to sit on the side of the road for more than an hour before the rain let up enough for them to get out and change the tire. Our friend said that R. just kicked back, and during that time when most people would have been bitching bags of nerves, they just had a great conversation. He said it was actually fun, and I believe it.
Some of my favorite memories are of just driving with him. We travelled well together, despite our very different styles. I'd want to plan everything out. I pack with checklists. A half hour after I wanted to be on the road, he'd still be throwing things in a bag. After we hit the road though, we'd have the best conversations about everything and nothing and better than that, the best shared silences. Oh, he knew the art of a comfortable silence. We'd also just wander. taking back roads, stopping at whatever caught our eye. He could always find the coolest road side vegetable stands or junk shops. We once turned a nine hour drive to Florida into twelve hours. That would normally have driven me crazy, but he made it fun, especially that celebration dance on the beach for finally making it.
R. was different from anybody else I've ever known. People didn't realize how smart he was until they'd spent some time with him. His personality was so quirky that his intelligence snuck up on people and would then stun them. Some couldn't handle it, but those of us who could were just blessed. Besides making me laugh, he could make me think and look at things a different way. He was outside the box before anyone made it a cliche'.
God, he was special, and I was lucky to have been loved by him and lucky to love him. I just wish we could have shown this to each other better.