Jason and I met in January of 2001. I had been working at the record store for a year. He was the new employee.
He later told me that he had a crush on me the day he started. I walked in with my dyed red hair, too much black eyeliner, a Jem & the Holograms t-shirt, ripped up jeans & converse. He was hooked. I was living with a boyfriend at the time, and he was completely respectful of that. I didn't even know he had a crush on me. We became fast friends over the next two months, and then he left for basic training.
Knowing that my favorite band was Depeche Mode, he purchased the Exciter album when it released that summer, just to have an excuse to call me from basic training. When he got back to Oklahoma in August, he transferred to a different store. I had broken up with the boyfriend and moved to a different apartment. From the moment he got back, we started spending all of our free together. We fell into a pattern. When we were both at work, we would talk on the phone while we had no customers, and while we were both closing. When I got home, we would decide which apartment to hang out at.
He was quickly becoming my best friend. We both dated other people during that time, but nothing seemed to last more than a few dates. He was who I wanted to spend my time with.
I had no idea he had feelings for me until the summer of 2002. We went out one night and he kissed me. That was the first clue. The next day, he left for the 2 weeks of annual National Guard summer training, and let me babysit his X-Box. That was the second clue. He called me every day from training. That was the third clue. When he returned home, we knew. We started dating.
By the end of the summer, we were in love.
We moved in together in February of 2003. It was a tiny one bedroom apartment, one of those typical first apartments with nothing to fill it. We had a couch, a grill, the TV & X-Box, a bed and a dresser. The computer sat on the floor.
We were so happy there. Jason finished his bachelor's degree, and I went back to school and finished my associate's degree. We got engaged in September of 2004, then moved to the city and got married in August of 2005.
Hurricane Katrina hit a few days after our wedding, and he was immediately deployed to New Orleans for a month. He told stories about searching for and finding survivors, the conditions of the Superdome, riding out Hurricane Rita, working with civilians and military personnel from all over the country, and the strength he saw in others and found in himself.
Life was pretty stable for the two years after that. I was working part time and going to school full time for my Bachelor’s degree. Jason was working full time and going to school part time for his Master’s degree. We had date night every Friday night, and went to concerts every chance we got.
In September of 2007, we took a trip to Southern California. We were considering the cross country move. We both had job interviews, and spent time with my family out there. When we got home, he learned that he was being activated to go to Iraq. California went out the window. He began training, and came home after a few weeks, complaining of illness.
The military doctors couldn’t figure it out, and the civilian ones couldn’t either. After a day or two, he got much worse. His torso was extremely bloated, he was having trouble breathing, and couldn’t keep down food or water. The only position he was comfortable in was sitting in the office chair, with his arms propping him up on the desk. I was terrified and demanded that we go to the emergency room.
He had to have pain meds before he could lie down to be examined. The ER doctor did an ultrasound on his chest, left the room to make a phone call, came back and told us that Jason was being immediately transferred next door to the heart hospital for emergency surgery.
I had no idea what was going on. When transport arrived for Jason, I moved the car next door and signed all the paperwork the nurses had waiting for me. I was taken up the room they had ready for us, and an hour later, Jason was brought up, with a drainage tube sticking out of his chest.
The ultrasound had revealed the problem. The lining around his heart was swollen full of fluid and in danger on rupturing. If that happens, you die instantly. If we had waited a few more hours before coming in, he would have died.
Cancer cells had been found in the fluid, but since the heart could have pulled those from anywhere in his body, he had to have scans to find tumors.
The primary tumor was in his lung. The oncologist described it as a type of lung cancer that usually strikes non-smoking older women. It had already spread to his lymph nodes too. (Eventually genetics became the blame, with his father dying young from a different aggressive cancer)
We fought for 14 months. Jason went through several surgeries (including a lobectomy), radiation and chemotherapy. The cancer was extremely aggressive, spreading to some bones in the process.
Jason passed away at the age of 29. It was a few days before Christmas of 2008. I held his hand as he took his last breath. He spent the last six days of his life in the hospital, with the final 27 hours in a coma in ICU.
When I finally got home that night, I crawled into his pajamas, drank a bottle of wine, opened his Christmas presents and cried myself to sleep next to a friend.
Many widows describe a feeling of being on autopilot, and that first week was no different for me. I had to go into business mode, handle my husband’s affairs, plan the memorial service and put together a slideshow for it. I chose two songs to play at the service.
1. Torch – Alanis Morissette
a. She sings about the things she misses from a past relationship. A few days after the funeral, I got my memorial tattoo for Jason. It’s on my upper right chest, the spot he had his port for chemotherapy. It’s a wooden torch, with the Thunderbird of the Oklahoma Army National Guard in the flames. He had always wanted a Thunderbird tattoo, and he was my soldier. There are small wings around the torch, with our favorite colors in them.
b. “I miss your smell and your style and your pure abiding way. Miss your approach to life and your body in my bed. Miss your take on anything and the music you would play. Miss cracking up and wrestling, our debriefs at end of day.”
2. Death’s Door – Depeche Mode
a. I chose this song to play during the slideshow. It’s just a beautiful, sad and simple song.
b. “Well, I’m knocking on Death’s door. Will I take my rest? Have I passed the test? Mother are you praying? Father I am saying, I’m coming home.”
After the service, I asked everyone to let me spend the night alone in the apartment. I took a long shower, snuggled up in some of Jason’s clothes, and fell asleep with the memorial flag, box of shells (from the gun salute) and the box containing the cremated remains of my husband on the dresser.