I once had a friend, a very good friend indeed. I met her, Susan, that is, when my wife Robin and I first came to Noel to live. That was about 14 years ago. My gosh, it's hard to imagine that it has been that long. I certainly seem to have a knack for misplacing the years as they fall so freely by the wayside.
I suppose that at first, Susan was really more Robin's friend than mine. They became such good friends and laughed so very much. The two could be heard at the restaurant as their voices carried the laughter across the room. When I was invited to join them, Susan was more reserved, but I guess that was for my benefit.
I only saw Susan twice after her relationship with Joe began. She and I ran into one another at a restaurant. Susan was with a good friend and I was there alone. As I recall, she came to my table, sat down and we talked for a moment or two. Susan said she met a man the prior week and she thought he was going to move in with her. He was some years younger than her, had no house and needed a place to stay.
"I've been so lonely since Bob passed away last year and I'm glad that Joe came along. Who knows, maybe he'll be my next husband."
"Susan, I think you're moving a little too fast aren't you. Why not wait to see if you really like this guy. Give it some time before you let him move in and it's definitely too soon to talk about marriage."
"Well, he's the one that brought it up and, like I said, I am so very lonely. I'd do or give almost anything to chase away the loneliness."
Susan and Joe were both looking for the same thing, happiness. It's just that each of them believed that happiness came in a different form. Joe thought that the accumulation of more property and money was the key to happiness, while Susan's vision of the elusive Bluebird was quite different.
Susan was looking for intangible things; you know things you can't spend or own. She was looking for companionship, someone who cared for her and, yes, she was looking for love. Susan wanted to spend the rest of her life with someone who would fill her home with the sounds of talk and laughter and someone who would bring an end to her loneliness. To my way of thinking, Joe cared little or nothing for Susan but rather only coveted her property and money. I regretted that she was somehow unable to see that in him.
I met Susan's husband but only once. I don't know why, in such a small town, we didn't often bump into one another but that's just the way it was. He seemed a cordial enough fellow but not overly talkative. At least that's how I remember him.
I didn't initially pay much attention to the man who stood in front of me at the store's checkout lane but he smiled. I returned the smile.
"Pretty busy today."
"Yeah, say aren't you Stan Fine?"
"Yeah," I answered.
"My wife Susan says she talks to you all the time."
"Oh, you're Susan's husband. Yeah, she's a great lady."
Then, and as we waited, Bob removed a gold pocket watch from his coat pocket.
"Say, that's a nice watch."
"Thanks, it was given to me several years ago as a retirement memento. Someday, it will go to my brother's son, my nephew David. Look, it is gold plated and has my initials, R.W. on it. You know, R for Robert."
"It's really beautiful," I replied.
They say that you can't live on love alone but I wonder, can anyone live without love.
Susan died six months after bringing Joe into her home as her husband. Her death occurred on a Wednesday, the same day of the week that six months earlier a Justice of the Peace pronounced she and Joe to be man and wife. The official cause of death was listed as a cardiac infarction, heart attack, but I think different. If there is such a thing as a sad, regretful and lonely heart, well I think those were the causes of Susan's death.
Susan's remains were incinerated, as per her wishes, but there was a memorial service. I was somewhat surprised that Joe would go to that much bother -- rather cynical on my part, I guess. As my head moved following the display of photographs depicting Susan as she aged through the years, I noticed that there was only one photo of her and Joe.
"Are you Stan?"
I turned to acknowledge myself and there stood a well-attired woman with long blonde hair.
"Yes, I'm Stan."
"Hello, I'm Susan's niece, Mary. Susan often talked about you. She said the two of you were good friends and she was very fond of you."
"That means a lot to me. Yes, we were good friends."
"Can you tell me which one of the men here today is her husband, Joe?"
There was a pause before answering my question. "He isn't here. He said he was too broken up to attend."
"Mary, I'm so sad to say goodbye to your aunt. I will very much miss her smile and I will miss talking to her."
I learned that Joe, as a condition prior to marriage, asked that Susan add his name to all of the deeds and titles she possessed. Joe inherited everything and I was later told that he moved away from the area. He had no friends and, right or wrong, everyone seemed to believe he didn't want to remain in a place where he was unwelcome.
I guess for those who said there was no justice for Susan, there was some satisfaction. Joe succumbed to some unspecified malady and died about six months after Susan passed. Joe's postmortem remains were incinerated and there was no memorial service.
He never got to enjoy the proceeds reaped from his marriage to Susan and most say that, in fact, justice was served. I was later told that his estate was floundering in a probate court as his children and grandchildren fought over what I can only refer to as "ill-gotten gains."
I earlier mentioned that I saw Susan twice after meeting Joe. The second time was as she lay near death. Susan was in a nursing home and the remaining time in her life could be measured in hours, not days. She couldn't speak and probably wasn't even aware of my presence. It wasn't the image of the Susan I had come to know.
After some time, I told my old friend goodbye and raised myself from a most uncomfortable chair. It was time to leave Susan.
"Hi, are you Susan's husband?" A caregiver, a young woman, asked as she entered the room.
"No, just a good friend."
"Oh, I know that Susan is married and I just thought you might be her husband."
I suppose I am somewhat naive but I think we should have respect for other people. We should care about their well-being and allow them to retain their dignity even as they age, even when they become old and vulnerable. We should not make them the target of our self-indulgence and greed. I suppose I feel as though I want to show my concern for others the same way I hope they will have consideration for me.
I believe that both Susan and Joe were looking for the bluebird of happiness, each in his or her own way. When I think of Susan, I remember her as someone with honesty and dignity. I don't think of Joe the same way. His acts rather bring to mind the third of the "deadly sins."
As for the one and only photo of Joe at Susan's memorial service, the one I mentioned earlier. Well, it was a photograph of Joe standing next to Susan. Joe had one hand on Susan's shoulder and in the other was a gold watch with the initials R.W. inscribed.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.