Today is Saturday September 19th, 2009. My dear friend Terry Jackson would have been fifty-four years old. He was so very young to leave this world. I arrived in Eaton, Ohio yesterday where I will be staying for three days with his room-mate Donnie Stewart who is also very sad about Terry’s passing which took place May 9th of this year, 2009, the day before Mother’s day. After settling in one of the first things I noticed on the kitchen table was a beautiful birthday card with purple flowers on it. Donnie invited me to sign it. He had already written Terry a note telling him what a wonderful friend he had been and how much he loved and missed him. It felt good reading him say that he loved Terry. How many times do we forget to tell our friends how much they mean to us and how much we love them? Far too few if you ask me.
Yesterday afternoon we visited Terry’s site at the graveyard. Donnie took a pair of clippers and snipped the dead rose blooms. We were both surprised at how big the rosebush has become. There was something like 25 fully bloomed roses and at least that many more that would soon bloom. It’s almost as though part of Terry’s beautiful sweet loving spirit is giving that rosebush life moving force and energy. He always did like flowers and I think of the times I’d visit him when he would take out that orange plastic water container with the long spout and water his flowers.
I still remember the tomato plant that I planted for him back at his old apartment in 2007. We called it “Mr. Mighty Giant Tomato Monster.” It grew to humongous proportions, even larger than my car. We were so surprised because I have never seen a tomato plant get so big. Terry faithfully watered it every single night. Even when his legs hurt so bad he could barely walk and a few times he fell down on the concrete porch and cut his knee, he still was adamant. I’d help him up and say, Terry, you don’t have to do this. You are going to hurt yourself. He would grunt as we both struggled to lift him up. The next day he would be out there again on the porch with that orange water spout container giving water to Mr. Mighty Giant Tomato Monster. When we got warning of the first frost I rescued the tomatoes and was surprised at how many there were. I went home with over 100 tomatoes and was enjoying them until mid December. It was as though his loving attention and daily ritual of watering them encouraged them to give “Life” their best shot. I was also impressed at how they seemed to know when to ripen. I never had more than three or four fully ripe ones at the same time. And I did not have to throw a single one out from over ripening. Who says that plants and flowers do not respond to love and attention?
As my thoughts returned to the present I noticed the yellow trimmers with the American Gardener logo on it and saw Donnie’s note titled: Terry: Flower Shop. Get Birthday Balloon. Laminate card and go to graveyard. At graveyard take balloon, card, trimmers and camera. I smile as I recall Terry often saying how Donnie had to write everything down. Although they were room-mates and lived in the same house Donnie would write Terry notes or email him when he had something to ask instead of just saying it to him in person. I found that amusing and kind of surprising. I suppose we are all eccentric in our own different ways.
Donnie went to work at noon today. After my morning exercise of doing my pushups (I only did 74 today when I usually do around 85) I went to Subway for lunch then headed out for a three mile hike on the trail at the park. A few tears trickled down my face as I recalled the walks Terry and I used to take there. Then when his legs got worse it became more difficult. I recall that time he had to stop and lie on the ground and rest. Going up the hill was very difficult and he almost fell several times. I did not ask him to walk after that because I really was not aware that his legs had gotten that bad.
After I came back to the apartment I looked at his king size bed that I had neatly made this morning. Donnie said that Terry would be more than happy to have me sleep in his bed; and he commented on how happy Terry always was to see me and how he looked forward to our monthly visits. As his health got worse and he slowly dwindled away it became increasingly more difficult for him to keep food down. The doctors had diagnosed him with cirrohsis of the liver over a year ago. He had had a big part of his right ear removed due to cancer and an imbalance of red blood cells and circulation problems made it difficult for him to walk. Terry got to where he threw up a lot and in the final few months he became a total hermit, not once stepping outside the apartment.
No matter how sick he became he would not give up the drinking. Perhaps he just could not. They say alcoholism is a disease. I know that Terry drank to numb himself and to get some relief from the constant chronic depression that he suffered from. It became much worse when the factory where he worked for some 23 years shut down in September 2003. How ironic that was right around this time in September when he lost his job. He tried to get a new job. He looked around and he and Donnie had a paper route for awhile. But I could tell that losing his job did a lot of damage to his fragile psyche and tender soul. I think that it is partly what broke his spirit and caused him to slowly give up on life.
It is kind of strange how everybody is built differently and how we all react differently to the hurdles and boulders that life tosses in our direction. I’m a fighter. A maverick and pioneer that plods ahead no matter what happens. Sure I have my crises here and there, problems as we all do. I fall into the deep pit and abyss of depression sometimes. But I do now allow myself to stay there. I just can’t. I am not built that way. I have lost jobs before and I always plugged away until I found something else and it was usually something better. But Terry, my sweet friend, was a fragile soul. He was content to go to work everyday with his room-mate Donnie who also worked at the same place. Terry put in his time and even got some recognition and awards for being a dependable and excellent worker. Donnie often told me what a good worker Terry was and I met his boss once who told me the same thing. Those are the memories I like to remember about him instead of how he slowly began to give up. For a time he lived on his credit cards and finally applied for bankruptcy. His red neon Pontiac that he loved so much was repossessed and even his cell phone. By then he simply did not care anymore.
Although it broke my heart to see his life go downhill, I always cared deeply for him. As deeply as one friend can care for another. I meant it when I told him that we were friends forever and I would never abandon him. I loved him with an undying devotion, much as a mother loves her child no matter what he or she does or does not do. Terry was a very simple man who was very childlike and that appealed to me because in many ways I am the same way.
I continued my ritual of honoring his memory. I looked in his closet. There were still many pairs of blue jeans hanging neatly although he and Donnie had left tons of clothing at his old apartment for whoever moved in next, or who decided to give them to Goodwill. He loved his blue jeans. I spotted the box on the closet and noticed the Boggle game in the box. He loved playing games and would twinkle and laugh in childlike glee every time he beat me at Monopoly, Rummy or Payday. He was a big kid at heart who would never grow up.
I looked at his tank tops. Terry was definitely a tank top man and not a tee shirt man like I am. He loved his bright tank tops in colors of red, yellow, orange and some greens. I looked at his CD’s and cassettes. How he loved Rose Ann Cash. SavageGarden. Cher. Pink. Aretha Franklin and Boy George. And his very favorite song of all time was “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” that Ray Stevens recorded. He’d play that song over and over so many times that I was about ready to walk a mile in my shoes so as to not hear it anymore. But I know that we are all obsessive compulsive about some things.
As I was writing down my thoughts I looked up from the computer on the shelf at the CD’s and DVD movies. The Brooks and Dunn was one of his favorite ones. Donnie emailed me one day and said that since Terry passed away that those CD’s would move sometimes. He wanted to know if I thought he was going crazy and losing his mind or if I thought that Terry could be around and giving him a sign. Why not I replied.
I thought back to what happened the last time I visited in August. After making the bed I was smoothing out the quilt folded at the edge of the bed. I felt the urge to look underneath the quilt. Then I felt the urge to pull back the sheet and I lifted up the mattress. Folded neatly was a pair of blue jean shorts. I lifted them up and cried as I recalled they were one of his favorite pairs. Then I felt the urge to look in the pockets. In the left pocket was a $50 dollar bill. I brought them down to Donnie who also cried when I showed the shorts to him. “They were one of Terry’s favorite pair,” he said, placing them on the back of the couch. “There is more,” I said. I opened my hand and then handed him the $50 dollar bill.
“I think Terry led me to these shorts, Donnie. I have been visiting you here every month since Terry died and I was never drawn to lift the mattress.
In a tearful voice Donnie said, “Mike, I am broke. I have no money for anything until I get my SSI check next week. I think Terry wanted to help out. I recall giving him a $50 dollar bill about a week before he died. Thank you so much, Mike. That money will come in very handy.”
“You can thank Terry,” I replied.
I looked at the exercise bike that I gave Terry a couple of years back. Since he had difficulty walking I figured that perhaps he could do a few laps on the bike. I really didn’t think he would exercise but to my pleasant surprise he did. He always did his exercise ritual around 5:30 p.m. after his favorite show “Ellen” went off. He loved “Ellen”. He’d begin by lifting his weights and do several sets. Then he would crawl on the floor and do his crunches and push ups and then he’d rest a few minutes and complete his ritual by climbing on that bike. For some reason I enjoyed watching him do his exercises. To be a man whose health had been declining over the past two or so years, he never gave up his exercise ritual, or not until the last month or so before he died.
Donnie came home from work at 3 p.m. I sat in the recliner next to his. I enjoyed this because Terry always took great pride in those two large recliners that he paid $600 a piece for each one. He always did like nice things. At 3:30 Donnie and I headed over to the graveyard. The Happy Birthday Balloon that Donnie bought for Terry kept bouncing and jumping about because Donnie had the windows partially down to let fresh air in the truck and to blow out the smoke from his cigarette he was smoking.
Once we arrived Donnie took the trimmers and took it upon himself to crawl on the ground and trim the grass. Then he told me to place the balloon where I wanted. There was a plastic clip attached to the bottom of the blue ribbon which was about three feet long. I clipped it on in two different places on one of the larger back limbs of the rosebush. A breeze stirred up and blew the balloon about. I was standing on the right side of the rosebush. A few moments later the balloon tapped me on the chest. I thought nothing of it due to the breeze. I stepped about a foot or so to the left. The balloon moved closer towards me and tapped me again. This is probably a coincidence, I thought and stepped a few more feet to the left. The balloon moved (as though following me) and tapped me again on the chest. By now my interest was piqued.
I sensed that something was up. I deliberately stood in place. The birthday balloon tapped me a couple of times but did not move more than a foot away. Donnie was looking at me as though puzzled but did not say anything. A few moments later I moved again towards the left. By now I was standing directly in front of Terry’s tombstone; it was facing me opposite by about four feet. The beautiful rose bush, an angel placed on the right side of the stone, some artificial flowers and a cherub placed on the ground completed the decorum very nicely.
I moved a few feet away and again the balloon followed me and tapped me. By now I could not keep silent any longer. “Donnie, I think something is going on here. I think Terry’s spirit is here. Have you noticed how this balloon is following and tapping me on the chest?”
Donnie had a look of surprise on his face and his eyes were kind of big. “Yes, it is quite strange.”
“I think it’s a sign from Terry,” I replied. “I think this is his way of letting us know that we are here celebrating his birthday with him and thinking of him.”
“I hope so.”
I continued slowly moving around Terry’s tombstone until I made my way back to the right side where the balloon originally started following and tapping me. I stood still and Donnie and I engaged in some conversation. Just to convince myself I was not imagining things, I moved a few more times and sure enough the balloon followed and tapped me a few more times. Then the breeze picked up a little bit and the balloon just bounced around in all directions. I found that I was missing my little balloon taps. I closed my eyes and mentally said, “Terry, if you are really here please have the balloon tap me one final time. It bounced around a little bit longer then the breeze slowed down. The balloon slowly made its way towards me. It did not tap me right away. It was as though Terry was having a little fun or maybe testing me. I was about to think that Terry had taken off when sure enough the balloon moved and tapped me right on my chest near my heart. “Thank you,” I said, silently. “This is the sign that I needed. Happy Birthday, my sweet friend and know that Donnie and I will always love you. You are the best friend that we ever had.”
There were tears falling down my face when we walked to the truck and headed back to Donnie’s apartment. I thought about the balloon experience and the birthday card that Donnie and I signed. Well we did more than sign the card. Donnie wrote him a half page letter and I wrote a couple of paragraphs. Donnie said he would have the card laminated on Monday and bring it back and put it next to the angel on the right side of the tombstone.
Then a thought occurred to me and I posed a question to Donnie. “Do you think that we perform such rituals to comfort the Living or the Dead?”
He looked at me but did not reply. I smiled and said softly ,”Maybe we perform our rituals to comfort ourselves and our beloved departed ones.
I knew that there were more tears that I would shed. It was not out of a desire to wallow in grief and sorrow. It was out of a genuine ‘missing’ of a dearly beloved friend who I had known for nearly eight years. Terry had taught me so much about the simplicity of friendship and human love. To be such close friends always surprised me because Terry and I really did not have that much in common. I had a college degree and had done graduate and doctoral studies. Terry did not complete high school. I was an intellectual, scholar, writer, poet, professional psychic, and I spoke French, Spanish and some German and Italian. I was a trained opera singer and had traveled quite extensively. Still there was something about him that touched my heart.
Perhaps it was being so different that so endeared me to this sweet unusual man. Visiting him was like going to a retreat for a few days. I did not have to deal with clients, books, marketing, Psychic Festivals, Emails, Phone calls, and such things. I always enjoyed the getaways and when I would leave I would always be sad. I’m sure that Terry felt the same way although I never asked him. There are some things that we just feel and know without talking.
It took so little to make Terry happy. Just hanging out on the back patio grilling hamburgers and hotdogs and listening to oldies music was his idea of a good time. While sipping his vodka and coke he’d often get up and dance. He was a very good dancer and the few times that we did go out, he would dance and people would notice and often compliment his dancing.
Terry enjoyed watching an occasional horror or science fiction movie. He loved playing cards and Monopoly. He was a homebody, and did not go out very often. Although he did not earn a lot of money at the factory he was always very good and responsible with his money. Perhaps his emotional maturity was something like that of a twelve year old boy, but that only endeared me more to him, and perhaps brought out the part of me that likes to ‘parent’ my friends. He loved teddy bears of all sizes and he had quite a collection from those I had gotten him for his birthday and Christmas. My friend Lori once commented that a grown man who collects teddy bears and always has to have a pillow to hold was not in his right mind. I told her that she was wrong and it was part of his simplicity, sweetness and innocence that made him special.
Perhaps in a previous life he was my child and that brought out the mothering side of me. I loved preparing care packages for him and often mailed them to him. He loved vienna sausages, peanuts, M and M’s, chocolate malt balls, potato sticks, and peanut cheese crackers. Some packages I would mail on his birthday or holidays and others I would put together on a moment’s whim and surprise him. The magical glow in his eyes when he would open his presents at Christmas and his Easter basket was far worth the cost and effort to put those goodie bags together. Although his spelling and writing were not very good, he still loved to write. I have an entire box of letters and cards he wrote me over the years. He always told me how much he loved me and I don’t believe that hearing those words from a parent, family member or spouse could mean anymore than hearing them from him. There was something almost other worldly about Terry. Something magical or even angelic. I could see how the coldness, selfishness, greed, and hatred rampant in this world could cause such a soul to retreat in his own little world.
I was told many years ago that we do not get to pick and choose who we love be they friends, lovers, family etc. We meet the souls we have agreed to meet and work out and balance more karma from past lives where our relationships were not in balance. Otherwise put, we come back to complete unfinished business.
I wonder if I will meet Terry in a future lifetime. I wonder how many lifetimes we come back over and over to be with those we love? I do not know the answer and perhaps we cannot know that answer until we cross over to the other side. Perhaps we are not allowed to know even then.
But what I do know is that it is a blessing when we open our hearts and let love in even when we have known great sorrow and disappointments from our experiences with human love. I believe that angels come in many shapes and forms. My sweet friend may very well have been an earth angel, albeit it a tortured one in many ways. I hope that maybe I was able to touch his heart and soul because in spite of his inability to control the inner demons that eventually took his life, I always knew that my friend Terry was a beautiful person. I try to remember that when I recall the bad times and sad memories. Things were not always good. We had some very tough times and big fights but they seem so insignificant now compared to the priceless precious memories that I cherish in my heart.
From now on every time I see a balloon I will think about my friend Terry and a smile will come across my face. September 19th, 2009 was a special day. I was blessed with a genuine experience of ‘spirit touch’ from my beloved departed friend on his birthday. I have the feeling we will somehow always be in touch. For that I give thanks!