We closed on our home in the middle of August. Richard was able to transfer to a terminal about an hour from Little River. He planned on driving for another six months… then the lease would be up on his semi truck and he’d look for work closer to home.
“Won’t you be afraid to be in this big old house all alone?” he asked me the first night we were there. I laughed and told him no.
“And besides, I won’t be alone… I’ll have little Jem here with me.” We rented a trailer to haul furniture and belongings from our apartment and spent the first day there unloading and unpacking. All our furniture barely filled one corner of the enormous living room. Richard laughed and said how we would have to go around town looking for unwanted furniture sitting on curbs just to fill up the room.
We set up our bed and dresser in a bedroom on the second floor. I insisted on putting little Jem’s bed in our room too. Richard said she could have her own room now but I wanted her with us for a little longer. “At least until she’s a year old,” I told him. He said that was fine as long as she didn’t mind him ravaging her mother. She won’t mind, I assured him as I peeled off my tee shirt to show him that I wasn’t wearing a bra. He chased me around the bedroom while Jem squealed and giggled watching us. He caught me and tossed me on the mattress. I covered my breasts with my hands and told him nope… he’d have to wait until Jem’s nap. He said, “Girl, you sure are cramping my style!” as he picked her up and bounced Jem on his knee. I wished I had the camera.
I spent the days Richard was gone scrubbing floors and washing walls. The heating and air conditioning people were installing a new furnace and an electrician we hired worked at replacing the old cloth-covered wiring. The plumber said we were lucky… the well had been replaced a few years ago and most of the plumbing too. The old pipes Richard saw in the basement were no longer connected… they just hadn’t bothered taking them out. I took Jem shopping with me and on the way back I saw an old mower for sale in front of someone’s house. It was cheap so I bought it and they helped me put it in the trunk. I set Jem up on the porch in her car seat where I could keep an eye on her while I started mowing the yard. I hadn’t realized how big the yard was when I bought the mower or how tall the grass. But over the next three days I managed to knock out the front and get a start on the back. I liked sitting on the porch with Jem in the evening admiring my handiwork and smelling fresh-cut grass.
I discovered the ocean in our back yard… we knew our property was on the coast but it was so grown up with brambles and scrub brush and trees gone wild that we couldn’t see the shoreline. I took Jem with me one day exploring the outbuildings. We found some hedge trimmers and a saw to cut tree branches, so I loaded her up in her stroller and took her into the back with me where I proceeded to lay siege to the overgrown jungle growing there. By the time Richard came home I had cleared a path to the ocean. It was dark and Jem was asleep but I made him wake her up and said for them to come with me. The moonlight was pouring down and we all three sat together on a blanket holding each other for a long while watching the waves rolling in, crashing endlessly, receding, and then rolling in again. A lone light shined way out on the horizon… a passing ship… and the night sea breeze smelled of salt and of cleanliness. I thought how it was a moment worth remembering.
The police showed up at the door a few nights later. I’d gone to sleep and when the knocking started thought I was dreaming. It grew louder and more insistent. When I turned on the porch light and saw two policemen standing there I thought at first that it must have something to do with my father and mother. I don’t know why I thought that. One of them asked if I was the wife of Richard Roberts. I said yes. And I knew something was wrong. The one who seemed in charge asked, “Ma’am, could we step inside?” so I held open the door for them and said please. They took off their hats and held them blue in their hands rocking back and forth on their polished shoes ever so slightly. The one who had spoken said maybe I wanted to sit down so I did. My heart was pounding and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath and the room was spinning out of control.
He said there had been an accident. Richard’s truck had hit a train somewhere in Nebraska and he was dead. I shook my head and said, “I don’t understand. What happened?” He said how sorry he was to have to tell me this as he fumbled with his hat and kept looking at his silent partner. He gave me a business card with the name and number of the coroner in a small town in the middle of Nebraska and said I should call in the morning… that the coroner would have more information… that it was an ongoing investigation and that he didn’t know the exact details of the accident. They both said how sorry they were and did I have someone I could call to come stay with me and then they were gone. I wondered if I might be dreaming.
At the funeral I thought how I could count our days together and not reach a hundred. Richard had no family… his parents were dead and he was an only child like me. Louise Evers showed up and a few people Richard worked with. I sat by the casket for hours with little Jem in my lap. The preacher asked if anyone else was coming and I said no, I didn’t think so… to go ahead with the service.
“Our nothing in nothing, nothing be your name. Your nothing come, your nothing be done, on earth as it is in nothing. Give us this day nothing, and forgive us nothing, as we also have forgiven nothing. And lead us not into nothing, but deliver us from nothing.”
As the preacher talked, my mind wandered. I thought how the coroner told me that Richard must have fallen asleep behind the wheel and drove his truck right into the side of a freight train. There were no skid marks before the train crossing. He died providing for us. And I remembered that after my mother passed away with very little life insurance Richard had insisted on buying a policy on himself that would not only pay off the house but give me something extra to live on if something should happen. The preacher said amen. The next day we buried Richard by the ocean. He was twenty nine years old.