It's funny how differently two people can feel about the same event. I, knowing David as well as I did, knew David quite clearly had an ulterior motive. That, as well as the Walmart vest, almost brought a smile to my face, but I fought back its birth.
Robin, on the other hand, had such a solemn look on her face. I could tell by her red-stained eyes that she could break down and cry at any moment. Whether it was the moment itself or the end of David that surely lay ahead, I didn't know. I will now say that she held her composure, and nary a tear touched her cheek. She was always the strong one.
My oldest son, David, was dying. The cancer that had ravaged his 36-year-old body would soon claim its victory over my son's desire to live. For almost two years, David had undergone treatment after treatment which included several major surgeries, but nothing had stopped the spread of the killer.
All of us knew his time left here with us could be measured in weeks, if not days, and as David lay in that hospital bed situated in the family room of his home, we could do little more than watch and wait. I remember thinking that the inability to change what seemed to be the inevitable was so very hard.
As I now think back on the time. It was a Saturday morning when Kim, David's wife, called. My wife Robin and I traveled from our Tampa, Florida, home to Foristell, Missouri, to be with David, Kim, and their son and daughter for what we knew would be our last days with David.
Kim told Robin that, at David's insistence, she had made plans for an event to take place. I watched Robin as she talked on the telephone, waiting for some more information, some details. Once I was certain Kim hadn't called with the worst news possible, my curiosity got the better of me as I awaited Robin's comments about the call.
Robin said, "OK, I'll tell Stan, and we'll be there, bye."
It seemed like a very long moment had passed before Robin looked at me but didn't speak.
"What, what did Kim want?"
"Well, she wanted to let us know that David is going to be baptized."
Now, neither Robin nor I, or our two sons, for that matter, could be considered people of faith, so that comment surprised me.
"Why," I asked.
"I don't know but, apparently, that's what he wants."
I knew that David couldn't stray far from that cold iron-railed bed, so I asked what I thought to be a relevant question.
"Where is this baptism going to take place?" "In the bathtub at his house."
I had a plethora of follow-up questions to ask, but as the call from Kim was relatively short, I knew Robin most likely wouldn't have any answers and I wasn't in the mood for several "I don't know" replies.
The big day came three days after the call, and Robin and I arrived at the house. We knew the house very well as we had previously lived there and sold the place to David when we moved to Tampa. We also knew that the only bathtub in the three-bathroom home was on the second floor. I recall thinking that getting David up the stairs would be tough.
Kim met us at the backdoor and looked to be, as I recall, surprisingly calm.
"Hi," both Robin and I said almost simultaneously.
"Hi," Kim replied.
As if there was a schedule to be kept, she announced that David was already in the bathtub, and everyone was waiting for the minister to arrive. Just then, an old Chevy pickup truck pulled up to the rear of the house and an older-looking man got out. The man was wearing a blue Walmart vest.
"Who is this guy," I asked.
"He's the minister."
Being someone with a curious nature, I had a few questions.
"Kim, what church is he associated with?"
"I don't know."
"Well, where is the church located?"
"I'm not sure."
"Do you know what denomination he is?"
I was quickly running out of questions.
"What does he do at Walmart?"
"He's a greeter at the O'Fallon store. He's been there about 10 years."
When the gentleman arrived at the door, Kim introduced him to us using only his first name. Not that it matters, but I don't now recall what name he went by, but the meeting was cordial. I remember thinking that this whole thing was, to say the least, very odd.
Kim, the minister, Robin, and I walked up the stairs and found some ten or so people gathered around the doorway of the small bathroom. Once again, I had some questions, but I kept them to myself.
"Go on, you can take a look at him. He's in the bathtub with a towel covering his private parts," Kim said.
Not wanting to be rude, both Robin and I stuck our heads through the doorway and glanced at him.
"Hi," we both said, once again almost in unison.
The man in the Walmart vest walked into the room and knelt beside the tub. From the hallway outside the bathroom, I only overheard bits and pieces of the ceremony, but by the look of those inside the small room, everything was progressing nicely.
There was the unmistakable sound of splashing water, and I heard David's voice but couldn't decipher what was said. I assumed the words were just part of the religious ceremony.
When the man in the blue vest exited the room, I assumed David's baptism had been successful, and I and two others helped David out of the tub and down the stairs. We lifted his fragile body up, placed him on the bed, and pulled a blanket over him. Although David's body was in disrepair, his mind still seemed to be functional.
Without speaking, I sat next to David for some time. The room was empty, and I recall how very quiet it was. The others, Robin included, were outside on the deck talking and exchanging hugs. Then, and without the slightest hint of provocation from me, David spoke.
"Do you want to know why I got baptized," he asked.
Wanting to appear as though the thought never crossed my mind, I nonchalantly answered, "well, sure."
There was a moment of silence as if David was gathering his thoughts or just thinking about how to put his words together.
"I thought about it. I know I'm not very religious, but I've heard that only those who have been baptized can get into heaven. So, I thought I'd go ahead and get it done, you know, just in case. I wanted to cover all my bases and, really, what did I have to lose? If what I've heard is true, I'm now good to go. If it isn't true, no harm, no foul." David knew every cliche.
I looked at David, and then, after all the changes brought on by the cancer, I recognized the good old David, the one who always tried to beat the system.
"I think you have a good plan. I agree. What could it hurt?"
Just as one day Robin would do, David stopped talking about tomorrow and died two weeks later.
If only I knew the magic it would take to bring David and Robin back, I would use it, but then maybe there will come a day when I will once again be with them, baptism or not. I pray that time will someday come.
-- 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. The opinions expressed are those of the author.