10%… Inspired by Jack Johnson’s cover of The White Stripes’ “We’re Going To Be Friends“.
20%… Inspired by the Brett Dennen song “Darlin’ Do Not Fear“.
70%… Inspired by a real and true, lifelong friendship.
September 2014… Saturday – 7am
Why am I doing this? For seven weeks in a row I asked myself that very same question. What was I doing up at 7am on a Saturday morning? Of course I knew the answer. I was up at 7am because of the twins. I was their favorite “Uncle Erick”, so I was the one they asked. I was the one they asked and I was the one who could not say no to their hopeful smiles. I pulled up into the driveway. As I was getting out of the car, Nathaniel was coming out the front door. Nathaniel, 17, was the oldest of the siblings.
“Hi Uncle Erick,” he said, in a booming voice fitting of the young man he was becoming.
“Good morning Nathaniel, you ready?” I asked him.
“Ismael and Ezekiel ready to go?”
“Yeah, they are on their way out.”
“And the twins?”
“They’re in the kitchen finishing up their breakfast.”
“Very nice Nathaniel, good job. You think you and your brothers will be back home by 4pm?”
“Yeah, I don’t see why not,” he answered me. “We are not travelling too far today so we should be done by 2pm. Then Ismael and I can pick up Ezekiel and come home.”
“Look at you, you have it all planned out don’t you?”
“Yeah, sort of,” he said with a prideful smile. “I’m trying.”
I was proud of Nathaniel. So I told him so. “You are not trying Nathaniel, you are doing. I am proud of you. A lot has been put on your shoulders and you have stepped up. You are leading by example and your brothers and sister are following. They look up to you, so they are taking your lead.”
“Thank Uncle Erick, I appreciate that.”
“But I want you to know something,” I began as I put my arm on his shoulder. “You are not alone. Do not feel you need to handle all this on your own. Your aunts and I are here to help. If this gets to be too much, come to me, let me know. If you don’t want to go to your aunts, then come to me, got it?”
“I got it Uncle Erick.”
“You bet you do,” I said as I gave him a hug. “Need gas money?”
“No thanks, I filled up yesterday.”
“Alright. Now go kick some ass.”
Almost on cue Ismael and Ezekiel came outside ready to go.
“Hi Uncle Erick,” said Ismael as he passed me by without stopping, offering just a high five.
“Bye Uncle Erick,” said Ezekiel as he passed me by as well, offering the same high five.
Soon enough the three were in the family car and on their way. Nathaniel, a senior in high school was on the varsity football team. Ismael, the second oldest was in marching band, and Ezekiel was on the freshman football team. Nathaniel and Ismael had an away game today while Ezekiel had a home game. The plan was to all meet up again later on in the late afternoon, just as we had done the previous six weeks. I went inside and found the twins at the kitchen table. They were finishing up their breakfast. By finishing up their breakfast I mean they were playing with their breakfast.
“You two almost done playing with your food there?”
They both looked up, seeing me for the first time. Tristan and Emma, 8 year old twins, jumped out of their chairs and came to give me a hug. Each one resembled one of their parents. Tristan has the nose and jaw-line of his father while Emma has the eyes and cheekbones of her mother.
“Uncle Erick,” began Emma, “can we buy flowers today?”
“Flowers?” I asked, caught off-guard.
“Yeah,” added Tristan. “We want to take flowers today.”
“It’s mommy and daddy’s anniversary this week,” said Emma.
“That’s right Emma, it is this week,” I replied.
“We thought it would be nice to take some,” said Tristan. “There’s a flower store down the block from the cemetery.”
“Can we Uncle Erick, please?” asked Emma, with a smile that no adult could say no to.
“Okay,” I said, giving in. “We will pick up flowers on the way.”
“Alright you two, go get your jackets,” I said.
“Thank you Uncle Erick.”
“Thank you Uncle Erick.”
I stood there for a moment. With everything that had happened I had forgotten about Jessika’s anniversary. Jessika was my best friend. Family aside, she was the person I had known the longest. She understood me in a way that not even my own family was able to. We met when we were both thirteen year old freshmen in high school. She was the first friend I made. We had first period English together. She sat in front of me. On that first day of class she introduced herself. Little did we both know that day that our friendship would continue for the next twenty five years. As fate had it, we did not live far apart from each other. We even took the same bus to and from school. At first I was often running late, barely catching the last bus that would get me to school on time. Once I learned that Jessika took an earlier bus, well let’s just say I was never late to school again. She was the first girl that I got to know. From day one we became close. We were open with each other and our conversations ranged the spectrum of topics. We talked about school, girls, boys, family, movies, sports, and more. She knew everything about me and vice versa.
The twins and I stopped by the flower shop on the way to the cemetery. We picked up lilacs, their mom’s favorite flower. As we walked the trail that led to the gravestone I noticed anxiousness in the twins that had not been there before. As we arrived, Tristan and Emma laid down the flowers. For the seventh Saturday morning in a row, this had been our destination. Out of habit now, I read out loud the engraving on the gravestone:
“Here lies Jason Morgan, born on July 10, 1975, born again on November 21, 2008. Beloved son, brother, husband, and father.”
Tristan and Emma were three years old when their father passed away. He was a contractor. While on location at one of the sites he was working on, he was trapped inside the building when it caught on fire. Jason, along with three others, died in the accident. The head electrician hired for this building, who was a friend of Jason’s, was arrested and later found guilty for failing to meet code and falsifying paper work. He went to prison for a long time. Jason and Jessika met in college. Six months after meeting they were married in city hall. Twenty months after meeting they had their first child, Nathaniel.
“Can you please tell daddy about mommy’s surgery?”
“Yeah,” added Emma. “But don’t use those big hospital words.”
“Sure,” I answered. “I can do that.”
The twins wanted me to explain it to their dad, but in reality they wanted to know themselves. When Jessika was first admitted to the hospital, she was careful in how she explained it to the twins. She was open and honest with the three older boys. She did not lie to the twins, she was just careful with what information she shared. At first Tristan and Emma were okay with the news. In their eyes, mommy was ‘just really sick’. As Jessika’s condition became worse it became harder to hide the truth. Soon they both began asking more questions. They would ask why mommy was sleeping so much, why couldn’t she talk for long periods of time, and why was she still in the hospital? Per Jessika’s wishes, her sisters and I began telling the twins more about her condition. At first it was hard to gauge how much they were absorbing of what they were being told. I assumed they were confused. I assumed wrong. They took bits and pieces of information they overheard and then asked questions. But they would not come out and ask directly. Them asking me to explain it to their dad was another example of them looking for clarification or more answers.
“Hi Jason,” I began. “Jessika’s surgery is all set for Monday at 11am. The whole in Jessika’s heart is getting bigger. She has been sicker than usual this week. Her energy levels are low, but the doctor’s say that is not unusual. During the surgery the doctors are going to insert a splint that will help close the hole. The splint will help keep her heart working like normal. The surgery will take about eight hours. She should be home in about a month.”
I looked at the twins and asked, “What do you think, think I explained it okay?”
“Yeah,” answered Tristan.
“Yeah,” answered Emma. “I think daddy has a good idea of what will happen.”
I gave them each some time alone with their dad. It was now time to make our way to the hospital. As we walked back toward the car they each took a hold of one of my hands. This was a first. They had not done that before; at least not both at the same time.
“Uncle Erick,” said Emma. “Can we ask you a question?”
“Of course you can Emma.”
“Mommy is going to be okay right?”
“Yeah Emma, your mom is going to be okay. We have to keep thinking positive thoughts and saying prayers for her, but she is going to be okay.”
“Once she is out of the hospital, Tristan and I were thinking that you could marry her?”
I immediately stopped walking. I was not expecting that question. I was expecting a question about heaven, not a ‘will you marry my mom’ question.
“You do love her don’t you Uncle Erick?” asked Tristan.
“Of course I love your mom. I love her very much,” I replied.
“Then we think you should marry her,” said Tristan.
“That way she can have a husband and we can have a daddy again,” added Emma.
I did not know what to say. I could not figure out what the right words to use at that moment. After my third attempt at formulating a thought, Tristan let me off the hook.
“Just think about it Uncle Erick, just think about it.”
Monday morning… Surgery Day
I sat in the hospital waiting room as I waited for my turn to see Jessika. Jessika’s sisters had taken the kids inside to spend some time with their mom. Soon the nurses would begin to prep her for the surgery. As I sat their waiting, I could not help but think of the question that was posed to me by Emma and Tristan. I would be lying if I said I had not thought about it before. I had always been in love with Jessika, pretty much from day one. The timing never seemed right. For many reasons, that now meant nothing, it never happened. We never even shared a kiss. I could always make her laugh and she could always make me smile. She was my twin. She knew me better than I knew myself. Whenever I felt confused or lost, she was the one I went to. Whenever I wasn’t sure how I felt about someone or what I was thinking about a particular matter, she was the one that was able to help me see exactly what I thought or how I felt. She said I had a way of always making her laugh. I wish I could say that was by design but that started more by accident.
One of the first times that we rode the bus together back in high school, she noticed a scar that I had on my neck. Like most people usually do she asked me about it. And the answer was a simple one. Years prior to that, I had surgery to remove a benign cyst. The scar was a result of the surgery. Most people would have gone with that answer and that would have been that. Unfortunately, I am not most people (which she would often point out to me). What should have been a quick and simple answer became one of the most elaborate tall tales ever told to this day. I wish I could say I did it to impress her but that would be giving me too much credit. My tall tale did start and end in a hospital operating room, but the whole middle section soon involved battling demons and monsters and if memory serves me correct, it also involved saving a princess from some sort of dangerous situation. I also threw in a car chase and a coming back from the ‘other side’ reference into the story. I remember her laughing and that’s why I kept going. The taller the tale, the more she laughed. Many days after that, those bus rides featured another tale of adventure from “Miracle Man”, which was the nickname she gave me. Every super hero has to have a motto or catchphrase, and Miracle Man was no different. Every tall tale ended with Miracle Man taking the love interest in his arms and saying, “Darlin’, Do Not Fear.” Of course Miracle Man would then kiss the girl. That one line stayed with me and Jessika and stayed in our friendship. Even after the tall tales stopped, we would throw that line back and forth to each other.
“Uncle Erick… Uncle Erick!”
I was so lost in my thoughts that I did not notice Nathaniel standing there next to me.
“You okay Uncle Erick?” he asked me.
I smiled. “Yeah, I’m ok.”
“My mom is asking for you.”
Jessika’s room was around the corner from the waiting room. It was no more than 45-50 feet away. As I walked towards her room I couldn’t help but feel as if I was the one with the hole in his heart. With each step I took, the fear inside me grew. What if she did not make it? What if this would be the last time I saw her? She was such a big part of my life yet I did not feel it was big enough. What would I do without her? Sure there were times we lived in different states and times where we might not have talked for a month or two, but she was always there, just a phone call, or email, or text message away. I was not ready to let her go. There was still so much I wanted to say to her. There were still so many memories that I wanted to share with her. For many years I wondered if I would ever marry or have kids. There was a point in time where I was not sure if I wanted kids. At that very moment, any fear or trepidation I had was gone. I wanted to marry Jessika. I wanted to be with her and help her raise her kids. I wanted to marry her and be a dad to Nathaniel, Ismael, Ezekiel, Tristan, and Emma.
“Hey beautiful,” I said as I entered the room.
“Hi Erick,” she replied, smiling at me.
“There’s that smile I like so much,” I said, hugging her.
She felt good in my arms. She felt right. I did not want to let her go. She did not want to let go either. So many thoughts went racing through my mind and through my heart.
“I heard that Tristan and Emma proposed to you on Saturday?”
Surprised that she knew, I responded. “Um, yeah, they did.”
“And what did you answer?”
“Actually, I don’t think I did answer.”
I will never forget what she did next. She smacked me in the back of the head. “Yeah, I heard that part as well.”
We both laughed as I pulled away. “What was that for?”
“I’m lying here in the hospital about to have surgery and you can’t even say yes to marrying me?”
We both laughed. Even in serious times we always found a way to laugh with each other. She was kidding about marrying me but I was not kidding about marrying her.
She cut me off.
“If something happens to me,” she began.
Now it was my turn to cut her off. “No, nothing is going to happen to you. I have a good feeling about this.”
“So do I Erick, so do I. But just in case, just in case, will you do something for me?”
“Jessika, don’t think that way.”
“Okay, okay. Whatever you need, just name it.”
“Stay in my kids’ lives. Stay in my boys’ lives. Make sure they become good men like you and their dad. Show Emma how a gentleman should always treat her. I’m not saying you have to stay with them or live near them, just wherever you are, please stay in their lives.”
“Jessika, you can’t go. They need you. I need you! I am not ready to lose you yet.”
“You are not going to lose me; you know that’s not even possible.”
“Marry me Jessika?”
Jessika knew I was going to propose. Like I said, most of the times she knew what I was going to do or say even before I did. I loved that about her. She reached her arms out to me, wanting me to get closer. She cupped my face with her hands.
“Jessika,” I began but she cut me off again.
She looked into my eyes and then said, “Darlin’, do not fear.”
As tears rolled down my eyes and hers, I lost all sense of words. I reacted the only way I knew how. I kissed her. With her hands still cupping my face, I leaned in and kissed her. She kissed me back. That first kiss was 25 years in the making.
March 2016 – 18 Months Later… Wedding Day
“Erick,” said the wedding planner. “The bride is looking for you. She’s in the back room.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “On my way.”
The banquet hall was huge. It took me a while to find the back room. The wedding planner failed to mention that were a couple of middle rooms that I needed to pass before I made it to the back room. I reached the back room just in time to watch a family picture being taken.
“On the count of three, everyone smile,” said the photographer. “One, two, THREE!”
What a beautiful picture. The kids looked all nice, clean, and dressed up, each of the boys in a tuxedo with Emma in a beautiful dress. Their mom stood in the middle of them. Jessika looked beautiful. Then again, she always did. The kids all ran to me and gave me a hug once they saw me.
“Nathaniel, please take your brothers and sister outside. Give me a moment with your Uncle Erick.”
“You got it mom.”
“You always did make a beautiful bride,” I said as I gave her a hug.
“Thank you Erick,” she replied. “You always know just what to say.”
“So how are you feeling? You ready? As your Best Man of Honor, it’s my job to make sure you have everything you need.”
“I feel good. I feel happy. I feel peaceful.”
“Good, I’m glad.”
Like I said before, Jessika knew me too well.
“Erick, what’s wrong? I know you keep telling me you are okay, but remember, I know you. I know when that mind of yours is working overtime.”
She was right. There was something on my mind. There was something I needed to ask her. That moment there was not the time to be having that conversation but there was no way out of it.
“I love you Jessika, you know that right?”
“Of course I do. I love you too.”
“Then there is something I need to ask you.”
“Then go ahead, ask me.”
I hesitated. It was the question I had wanted to ask for so long but never could. Back in high school, after Jason had died, before her surgery, after her surgery, these were all times that I should have asked her. This time however, there was no turning back.
“How come you and I are not together?”
Jessika gave me another hug. She laid her head on my chest.
“I love you Erick. You are very dear to me. What you and I have, it goes beyond friendship. It goes beyond being lovers. It is something that no one can ever take away from me or you. You and I are always going to be connected. We are always going to be family. We are always going to be together. No one will ever be able to replace you in my heart. It’s just not possible.”
She looked up at me. She kissed me on the lips.
“Never,” she repeated as she smiled at me.
I smiled too. There was just something about that smile of hers that always made me want to smile.
“You took that from final episode of Dawson’s Creek didn’t you?”
“Well, it felt right at the time.”
We both began to laugh, hysterically. We laughed to the point that we were both soon in tears.
“I figured if Dawson could use it on Joey, then I could use it on you,” she continued.
“You truly are something else you know that,” I said, holding her tighter in my arms.
“Erick… I take you with me every day. Not a day goes by that you aren’t in my thoughts. You have done so much for me and my family. You have been so much to me and my family. I will never meet anyone else like you. To answer your question though, I don’t know why. There have been times I wondered the same thing. In the end I would like to think that God arranged for you and me to have this beautiful relationship; one that has no title, has no labels, has no boundaries, and has no limits. It can be anything and everything we want it and need it to be.”
She was right. Our love story was meant to be one of a kind. Nothing in life or death was ever going to change that. In that moment we shared, as I held her in my arms, I knew she was the love of my life. I also knew it was time for that love to enter its next stage, which ironically involved me walking her down the aisle to marry someone else. Jessika’s surgery 18 months before went well and she had a full recovery. One week after being discharged, during a follow-up visit, she struck up a conversation with a gentleman in the hospital cafeteria. He came up to her after recognizing her. He was her anesthesiologist. He remembered her for she kept talking about her children up until the point she knocked out. Being a single father of a 7 year old girl, that stuck with him. Eighteen months later and after numerous non-hospital dates, there we were at their wedding.
“Come on bride, it’s time to get you married,” I said.
“Ok, now I’m a little nervous,” she said.
I said to her the only words that were right for the moment. “Darlin’, do not fear! For Miracle Man…”
“…will always be near!” she said smiling, as she finished my thought.
Jessika got married that day. Her family of six became a family of eight. Two years later, it was my turn to get married. Just as I was at her wedding, Jessika and her family were at mine. Our lifelong friendship never ended. It only continued to grow. My wife and I had two children of our own, two beautiful boys. When my wife went into labor with my second son, I was stuck in traffic, far, far, away. Jessika was the one who took my wife to the hospital and who was with her in the room when she gave birth. It was only fitting that she be there as my wife and I had already decided that if baby #2 was a boy, we were going to name him Jason, in honor of Jessika’s first husband.
Our families grew together. Our families also lost together. We celebrated marriages and grandkids together. We grieved the passing of loved ones together. After twenty years of marriage, I became a widower as my wife passed away from cancer. Three years later, after twenty five years of marriage, Jessika became a widow for the second time when her husband passed away after suffering a heart attack. We both felt fortunate in that we were able to be there with our spouses at the very end.
Jessika was right when she said that we would always be together and that our connection was one that would never end. We experienced so much in our friendship. Our friendship continued for many more years. It was only fitting that 55 years after Jessika and I first met in that English class, we walked down the aisle together and said “I Do” to each other. When I proposed I said, “I have one miracle left in me, and that is to make you my wife. Will you marry me?”
Her response was fitting. She said, “Darlin’…”
Well, you know the rest.