In memorial to one I once loved dearly, 1952-2018
The Cloisonné Heart
What happens in this story is how I best recollect it forty years later. The names have been changed.
Scripture taken from:
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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The Cloisonné Heart
A blonde sales girl with Farrah Fawcett hair, brown eyes surrounded by black circles with bright red lipstick and a bored expression was at the jewelry counter. Mike looked past the raccoon eyes as he looked at the displays. “May I help you?” the Farrah wannabe asked.
“I’m here to buy a Christmas present for my wife,” he said. Walking past the precious or semi-precious stones way beyond the meager twenty bucks in his pocket he needed to find the perfect gift; one that would tell Marsha how much he loved her and missed her. The next counter displayed the gold chains, bracelets, pearls strands, and towards the end necklaces of varying sizes and shapes. He spied a delicate heart with gold trim around the outside; inside on a white background was a painted rose; red on top of green leaves. Asking to see it the little tag read $21.95. He started to hand it back.
“All our jewelry is twenty five percent off,” the Charlie’s Angels fan said pointing to the sign behind the counter.
“I’ll take it.” She put it in a box then in a small bag.
Walking the three steps up to his front door shivering from the cold he fumbled for the key. Once inside the warm apartment he took the small box out of his coat pocket pulled off the leather gloves and unzipped the parka placing it on a box of books. Kicking off his boots and taking off the red and blue plaid flannel shirt left a white turtle neck over his blue jeans. The widows shuddered with every wind gust and he knew it would only get worse before he would have to drive across town.
He placed the box in the middle of the dining room table. The living room contained only boxes of books, scattered cassettes and a dozen albums. The stereo was turntable, cassette player and radio with the speakers able to attach and fold down to resemble a brief case. In the bedroom was a bookcase made up of three 1X6’s four-foot-long on cinderblocks with a black and white TV where he kept his study books and Bibles. The bed was box springs and mattress on a frame.
Reaching into the freezer pulling out his usual snack, a creamsicle, then sitting down slowly licking the orange sherbet outside; he looked at the pendant. This would be his reminder of why he goes to class after eight hours of graveyard shift. His wife will come back healthy and they will finish their educations and live a happy life.
On the freeway with cars and trucks going in crazy directions he avoided crashes by the minute. When I’m back to Albuquerque I’ll never complain about the traffic at the Big I again!
When a guy whizzed in front barely squeezing between him and the truck in the lane next his heart started pumping and hands trembling. He often wondered if he was in a crash and seriously hurt, would anyone know about it? How long would it be before word would get to his brother, or the seminary? It was times like this when he felt the loneliest unless when he was trying to get to sleep and felt the ache for Marsha next to him.
Mike’s freshman year during the six weeks of freshman orientation, he was in line for dinner when another freshman told him, “Miss Garcia, ma’am requests you kiss Jerry Murphy.
Thinking he was being asked to kiss a guy he told the other freshman to tell Miss Garcia, ma’am to, “Bite the wall.”
The guy returned and said, “Miss Garcia, ma’am assures you Jerry is a woman,”
That didn’t make much difference since he was about to finally get to the serving line and after running eight miles, he was tired. “Tell her I’m not interested.” He was then ordered to report to Fergusson Hall in an hour.
For the first week Mike put up with most of the stupid orientation nonsense realizing it was a way for the new students to socialize with the other students and most of it was pretty harmless. At the dining hall all freshmen were required to get on stage and sing for their supper something like Amazing Grace or The Old Rugged Cross so the upperclassmen could go through the line first. There were some other silly things, but so far Mike wasn’t singled out for anything and that was fine but being ordered to kiss someone made him revolt.
After dinner he duly reported to Miss Garcia, ma’am. She was dark haired with olive skin a pointed nose under black eyes and only came up to his shoulders. Pretty and petite he thought as she gave him a large hair curler on a string of yarn and insisted, he wear this around his neck for the next two days. He took his beanie off putting it in his back pocket and walked out. “I came here to get an education not be treated like a fool.”
Planning on being a missionary Mike joined the Baptist Student Union or BSU. Miss Garcia, ma’am first name was Marsha and one of the leaders of BSU. They became acquaintances. Her nickname was mouse. Her sorority sisters came up with it and she didn’t seem to mind. Most of the time at the SUB or dining hall everyone called her Mouse.
Being on scholarship Mike didn’t have a lot of money, but soon picked up some change by officiating junior high football and basketball games. In his English class he sat next to a freshman Flying Queen (Women’s basketball team perennial national champs in the 1970’s before Title IX). They became friendly. Once he had a little money, he asked Jacy out for dinner and a movie.
Plainview’s only movie theater was a bargain when you could buy two tickets, a bag of popcorn and two soft drinks for five dollars. The movie was funny, and they parked in her car for thirty minutes as she told him about her small town in the middle of Texas with only eight in her graduating class. He told her about his high school in Albuquerque with twice the student body as Wayland.
At Sunday lunch after church everyone he met was asking him how his date with Jacy went. As far as the school was concerned, they were already married. He could only afford one more date before Winter break. Second semester they didn’t have any classes together and with practices and being away most weekends with meets and her games they drifted apart.
His world was one endless routine. Classes until noon, lunch, practice until four, dinner at five, watch a Star Trek episode at the SUB then evening class or hit the library. Marsha would usually be in the SUB watching TV with a couple of her non-sorority friends who were all knitting. Someone walking by mentioned that they looked like his grandma’s knitting group. Marsha answered in a scratchy old woman voice with a scrunched-up face and said, “Don’t make fun of your elders, sonny or we’ll turn you into a pin cushion with our needles.” Mike laughed and from then on, he called her Granny Good Mouse. Her knitting group decided they would form their own unofficial sorority and named it Omicron Beta which stood for Old Biddies.
Most weekends the team left on Friday night or early Saturday morning for a meet returning late at night. Dr. Clinton a religion professor would then knock on his door around six in the morning and they would go out and speak for TANE (Texas Alcohol Narcotics Education, Inc.) at a church in one of the many small towns in the panhandle of West Texas. Dr. Clinton would usually preach in the bigger First Baptist and Mike would preach in the smaller First Methodist. He became close with Dr. Clinton and the good professor would tease him on occasion. Once in class discussion Mike mentioned his father taught with a man who was Jewish and before he could make his point Dr. Clinton asked if he knew a little Hebrew. Mike said, “No.”
Dr. Clinton said, “Does your father’s friend have children?”
Mike said, “Yes.”
“Then you know a little Hebrew,” Dr. Clinton said with a smile and the whole class laughed.
Over the summer Mike wasn’t selected for any of the summer missionary positions and was a little bummed going home for the summer. He knew he could work at the Skaggs drugstore like the summer before, but before he reapplied, he was contacted by the pastor of First Baptist Rio Rancho. A small planned community North West of Albuquerque. He became their youth pastor for the summer in a small one building church with elderly members. He began knocking on doors during the week inviting those who opened them to attend the church and, in a few weeks, built up a youth group of six girls and three boys mostly junior high age.
Marsha spent the summer taking classes wanting to graduate early and attend seminary. She dated Bill Black for two years and before leaving for Christmas break announced at the BSU meeting they were engaged. Mike was happy for them and thought Bill was a lucky man.
When they came back from Christmas Marsha and Bill’s engagement was off which shocked all of BSU. Neither would talk about it no matter how many inquiring minds wanted to know. A few weeks later when Mike went to watch City on the Edge of Forever for the twentieth time; Marsha was lying on her stomach with feet pointing to the ceiling on the shag carpet watching the TV. Mike told her there was room on the couch now a couple of guys left to play ping pong in the rec room.
“That’s okay,” she said. “My back’s hurts.”
Getting down with her he stared rubbing her back. “Does this feel better?”
She nodded and they watched the show. She went back to her dorm and he went to the library. This became a routine, lying on the floor while he would rub her back and she would rub his, but no further.
For spring break Mike needed a ride home and back. Marsha was from Albuquerque so while rubbing her back and watching Trouble with Tribbles he asked, “Can the mouse mobile take another passenger home for Spring Break?”
On the drive with four hours of conversation to make the miles go by faster they got to know each other a little better and, on the way, back she confided that while engaged to Bill they had relations and how mean his mother treated her because she was Hispanic. He told her Bill was a fool finally getting up enough nerve to ask her out on a date the next weekend. Soon they were studying together, and spending evenings parked in her car until her curfew at three in the morning.
Over the summer when Mike was a summer missionary in Grants, New Mexico and Marsha was taking summer classes they wrote letters. The week before school resumed was student week at Glorieta and after spending an hour on their knees in the prayer garden he asked her to marry him.
When cross-country season started Marsha and three of the girl friends of other runners on the team drove to the meet and afterwards served juice and snacks.
The wedding was set for June 1st a week after Marsha’s graduation. She met with her mother and Mike’s over Christmas to plan the wedding and reserved her home church and Mike asked Harold, a mutual preacher friend to officiate. Over spring break most of the details were set.
Mike twisted his knee during a race in San Angelo. The athletic department didn’t have injury insurance ending his running career. He thought this would delay their wedding as he didn’t have the money to pay for his senior year without the scholarship. Financial aid found a few other scholarships and if they both worked over the summer there would be enough for tuition, with a little help from both sets of parents.
The wedding went off as planned and for their honeymoon they drove to Colorado Springs spending two nights then a pleasant drive to Durango taking a ride on the narrow-gauge railroad. It was a wonderful summer in a small guest house with a fold down bed a nice kitchen and bath surrounded by a grassy backyard with a flower garden. There was a gate near their door to a gravel alleyway to park the car and leave without bothering the landlady in the big house.
There were the usual arguments over keeping the toilet seat up, who was responsible for taking out the trash (Mike), cooking and cleaning the bathroom (Marsha) and for the dishes she washed, and he dried.
For the first month Mike kept track of the check book and he would come home from time to time with a small gift to make her eyes light up. Nothing too extravagant: a little knickknack of a mouse or a stuffed dolphin. After hugging him and thanking him she would then fuss for spending too much. Then he made a mistake in the check book and was off by a hundred dollars. He called home and Mom sent him a check to straighten out the account, but Marsha took over the checkbook.
She would drive him crazy as they were on the couch watching TV or reading and she’d say, “What’s ya thinking?” or “A penny for your thoughts.”
Somehow when she asked this his mind went blank and he would say, “Nothing.” And that was never good enough and she would beg him to tell her what’s on his mind. She got angry once and pouted for an hour when he answered, “Whether Alexander the Great committed atrocities against the city of Thebes when he destroyed it and killed all the inhabitants.” Well he was reading a biography what else would he be thinking about?
Growing up with a former marine as a father and years in the locker room Mike tended to raise his voice a bit when talking politics, watching sports and when he was angry. Marsha’s family never raised their voice unless it was the end of the world. She wasn’t comfortable when Mike, his brother and father sat around the table trying to outshout each other on the Vietnam War or civil rights.
Coming home from a short trip the car started sputtering and acted like it wouldn’t make it. Mike said a great many unpleasant words while hitting the steering wheel as the dash lights came on and he steered it to the side of the road where it came to a stop. Fortunately, they were only ten miles from Plainview and someone they knew saw them about thirty minutes later and towed them home. The next day he took off the alternator and voltage regulator replacing them using their new Sears card and installed them making the mouse mobile run like new. But from that night on Marsha was afraid of what Mike would do if he ever got that angry with her.
Mike worked security at Jimmy Dean’s sausage plant from four to midnight. Marsha worked at Gibson’s discount store from noon to nine. It gave them the night to sleep and morning to be close. Classes started up and there wasn’t as much time for romance except on Friday afternoon when they were both off and he was out of class.
A whole year just working and keeping house was something new for Marsha. Her supervisor knowing, she wasn’t a student called her first when someone was sick, and she worked extra hours or on her day off. She stayed close to her sorority sisters and while Mike was at work invited them to the cottage.
She lost interest in romance after Halloween. Mike thought with the extra hours at work she was tired and didn’t push her until they were back from spending Christmas in Albuquerque. Her lack of desire didn’t make sense for the three weeks between semesters. He would get angry for not wanting to let him love her and after sitting on the couch in a huff with his back to her or going out for a walk she would give in. Mike felt something was wrong. He didn’t like throwing a temper tantrum and wanted her to desire him. He tried getting her to talk about why she wasn’t interested anymore when it was so good over the summer; wanting to get that feeling of closeness back.
1976 wasn’t starting off on a good note. There was much to look forward to: graduation, the bicentennial, starting seminary. A barren bed didn’t bode well.
All she said was, “I just don’t feel like it anymore.”
Getting ready for work he knew she only said “Yes” earlier to make him happy and neither of them enjoyed it. Somehow not being able to satisfy her left him unfulfilled; something was wrong, and he didn’t know what he did to upset her and turned her frigid. Before he was fully dressed, she got up and ran into the bathroom throwing up in the toilet. She heaved and heaved. He cleaned her up after it was over.
“You okay?” he asked helping her back in bed.
“Yes,” she said. “Go on to work I’ll be okay.”
Two days later she threw up again and was too weak to go to work. He took her to the doctor, but the man didn’t seem concerned, “She’s not pregnant, but has lost five pounds since her last visit. Being newlyweds that sometimes happens,” he said with a wink. He prescribed Mylanta to calm her stomach.
For the next few weeks things seemed normal. He knew she was tired and for a few weeks he didn’t ask. When her stomach seemed settled, he wanted to resume their Friday afternoons and she agreed, but there was still the lack of enthusiasm.
Watching TV, she sat in a chair instead of being with him on the couch. She stopped cuddling before going to sleep and when he kissed her, she would wipe her lips. He exploded in frustration, “Why are you so cold to me?”
“I’m not cold,” she said. “I just don’t like moisture on my lips.”
Marsha’s mother was upset during Spring Break. “What happened to you?” she said.
Marsha was a little surprised, “Nothing,” she said.
“You’ve lost weight,” her father said.
Mom Garcia took her into the bathroom. She was 105 pounds when they married and was 95 now. “Are you eating enough?”
Marsha was a little exasperated, “Mom I’m eating better than ever.”
Mike said, “She eats more than I do.”
When they visited Mike’s parents his mother was also concerned. “Her face is looking shallow,” she said to him in private. “Has she been to the doctor?”
“Yes Mom,” he said. “He wasn’t concerned and said it was normal for newlyweds.”
Their whole stay Mom Garcia stuffed them with chile rellenos, tamales, pasole, and encheladas, while his mother insisted, they fill up on pot roast with boiled potatoes, carrots, onions, dinner rolls and apple pie al-la-mode. She didn’t gain a pound.
Mike woke with Marsha in the bathroom making a mess throwing up with loose bowels. Once she was stable, he drove her to the nearest hospital emergency room. The first thing the attending physician mentioned was, “She only weighs eighty-five pounds.”
“I’ve been having loose bowels for a couple of months and Kaopectate hasn’t been helping,” she told the doctor.
After X-rays he diagnosed a duodenal ulcer. Writing a prescription and giving some samples then telling her to stop birth control until things healed. Mike was relieved there was a reason for her weight loss. In a week she was 90lbs and feeling better. While watching TV one evening she turned it off and led him to bed for the first loving they shared in a long time. Even though she initiated it he needed to use lubricant and neither liked the condom. “I’m going back on birth control,” she said while he was getting ready for work.
Mike thought about this, “Are you sure? You’ve been doing so well the last few weeks. What if that’s what gave you the ulcer?”
She was adamant, “I don’t want it to be like this. It’s too messy, and it’s not a good time to get pregnant.”
With only a few weeks until his graduation he concentrated on turning in term papers and getting ready for finals. Graduation came and both sets of parents came to watch him walk across the stage. Both mothers insisted on weighing her and she was still 90, not good, but better than she was. “You’re just not eating right,” they both fussed.
They loaded up Marsha’s little red Maverick and drove to Fort Worth and seminary housing. When they started taking in what was in the car four men came to help them unload. Their wives added refreshments of iced water, sweet tea and cookies. Spending the night getting to know their new neighbors they went back to Plainview for the rest of their stuff.
Alex and Nancy who lived next door had the cutest little five-year-old girl always greeting them as Mr. Mike and Miss Marsha. The couple was from Atlanta and he was pastoring a small church a hundred miles away. “We would be more than happy to drive you to church and back this Sunday.” Alex said.
“Thank you for the offer,” Mike said, “But my brother pastors a church in Crawford and he’ll be very upset if we don’t go with them.”
“Oh,” he said. “You’re Greg Ewing’s brother.”
“Yes,” Mike said.
“We were in Dr. Anderson’s hermeneutics class last year.”
Mike was able to transfer from his security job with Pinkerton’s and began patrolling a small Methodist college on the grave yard shift. It meant not sleeping with Marsha at night, but she could have the car to put out applications for work which they both hoped she would get before classes started in August.
They didn’t go to church with Greg the next Sunday. Marsha was back to throwing up and loose bowels. After x-rays in another emergency room it wasn’t an ulcer. The doctor set up an appointment with a specialist. The new doctor noticed that her stomach was distended, and her feet were swollen. He admitted her to the hospital for observation. They were living in student housing, but until they matriculated didn’t have health insurance. The doctor’s office manager told them not to worry she would get the bills covered by a charity she knew.
Mike spent every night for two weeks with Marsha as she cried on his shoulder after all the painful tests: taking blood four or five times a day, endoscopy, colonoscopy, barium enema, numerous injections, uncountable enemas between tests, sticking needles in her stomach in ten different places at different depths to draw fluid. When he got to work, he would go into the chapel on the campus where he patrolled and would pray for a few minutes every night, but found little solace knowing what pain Marsha was suffering while down to 75lbs and the edema was reaching up her shins.
The doctor ruled out cancer, Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia, and diagnosed Celiac disease. There was a sense of relief in finally knowing what was wrong and there was a treatment. She was placed on a strict gluten free diet and the doctor said she should gain her weight back quickly releasing her from the hospital.
Mom Garcia flew out for a week to help with her diet and see she gained weight. By the time she left Marsha was up to 80 and she made sure Mike could prepare meals for Marsha and keep to the diet.
The bicentennial 4th of July was on a Sunday. Greg and Lydia came by to take them to his church. Mike slept on the drive barely having time to change out of his uniform before they showed up. Lydia kept up a conversation with Marsha and was a great help when she was in the hospital being with her when he couldn’t. Marsha was up to 85. The farmer’s wives took one look at her and started mothering her with all the wrong advice, about how she should start eating pies and cakes. Marsha nodded knowing those were two things definitely not on her diet but didn’t want to seem rude. The next Sunday they found a church close by and started attending on Sunday nights. Towards the end of July, the choir started the service with a Kurt Kaiser song newly released.
Oh how He loves you and me,
Oh how He loves you and me,
He gave His life what more could He give?
Oh how He loves you,
Oh how He loves me,
Oh how He loves you and me.
Marsha was crying at the beautiful melody and the words. When they got back to the apartment, she cuddled with him in bed before he needed to leave, and they kissed for the first time in months. “I’m sorry for pulling away from you,” she said tears streaming down her still hollow cheeks.
“I’m sorry for being mad when you didn’t want to make love,” he said. They hugged until he needed to leave. That night he went into the chapel and thanked God for the physical and emotional healing they experienced that night.
The fall semester started. The atmosphere at the seminary was one of serenity and peace. All the fellow students in class and as they met them around campus were friendly and seemed to go out of their way to help in any way possible. When Mike’s class was on the other side of campus, he would drop Marsha off as close to her class as possible, but with little parking he couldn’t get out of the car to help her get to class. There was always someone nearby who would offer to carry her books and see she made it to class.
For the most part the seminary didn’t need to impose a lot of rules like Wayland. The attitude was, “If you need rules for conduct, you need to reconsider why you’re here.” It made for a freedom of spirit they both enjoyed.
On patrol Mike could park the car in a spot where he could see most of the campus and look over his flash cards. Spiritual foundations required fifty scripture verses memorized and tested every week. Greek was all about vocabulary. Missionary preparation entailed reading four or five books a week and writing a ten-page paper on one of them. Intertestamental theology and New Testament history used textbooks and from all the classes were binders full of lecture notes to review. He didn’t worry about the papers as Marsha typed them the last two years, she was a good typist. A typewriter only improved Mike’s foul language vocabulary.
Marsha seemed happy and was weighing 90 with the edema no longer in her legs, but her ankles were still swollen making her keep her feet propped up whenever possible. When she stood on the scales at 95, they hugged and thought all was well. She started her period the next day, the first in three months. She started birth control afterwards and David was looking forward to the day when the scale read 100 and the doctor said she would be healthy enough for physical relations again.
Her weight dropped to 85 in four days. The vomiting and loose stools returned. After class he went to pick her up and she was in the bathroom. She came out crying on his shoulder. “The smell this time was awful, and I feel so ashamed.”
By the time they could get in to see the doctor she was down to 80 and the edema was nearly to her knees. He told them, “There is only one way to proceed. Before treating the Celiac disease, we have to treat the malnutrition. This means intervenous feeding to get her weight back to normal and clear up the problem of edema.” He scared them with the list of dangers of long-term IV feeding.
The prospect of two months in the hospital terrified Marsha. Mom Garcia insisted she fly back home for the treatment. “We’ll buy your plane ticket and it will be waiting at the counter tomorrow. I’ll call with the departure time and flight number in a few hours.”
“I’ll be back under Dr. Culpepper who’s been my doctor since birth and I trust him,” she said.
The doctor here was cold and clinical treating her like a piece of meat and Mike knew this was better. “I’ll see the dean of students and explain the situation,” he said, and I’ll rent a trailer to take our stuff back. I should be there in a few days.”
“No,” she kissed him. “The doctor said I can be back by Thanksgiving. You stay here and I’ll come back. There’s no sense in you losing the semester.”
That night he called in sick and they lay in bed. She offered to make love, but he knew she wasn’t physically capable, “Let’s just lie together and enjoy the closeness.” He rubbed her down with lotion running his hands over her thin loose skin. Her face was nearly a skull, her stomach was distended and sticking out as is she was pregnant; the rest of her torso was skeletal while her legs were like tree stumps. She brought to mind pictures of the starving in Africa.
The flight left at ten in the morning and he drove her to the airport where he carried her small bag and they hugged before she left down the tunnel. He watched as her flight backed away and taxied to the runway then took to the sky. Later in the car he cried for ten minutes before leaving.
On Sunday he called her hospital room. “I’m hooked up to the IV now,” she said. He could hear the pain in her voice. “It took four tries before they got it set. If they were going to try again, I was going to insist the put me out.”
That night in the chapel Mike was angry at the Lord. “Why are you making her suffer so much?” As he said the words, he knew it wasn’t God’s fault and regretted them, but he needed to release his pent-up frustration. Later on, in his shift he went over the memory verses. One of them was Romans 8: 26-28:
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
In his car before heading for home he prayed asking forgiveness over his angry words and he felt peace in his heart. The one certainty from this experience was the closeness with God and feeling his comforting hand on his shoulder.
Doctor Edwards, his New Testament professor mentioned there was a church looking for a music minister and wrote the pastor’s number on the board. He called and that Sunday led the music. The pastor was forty years old with a wife and three children who was a plumber, but also a student at the seminary. Mike explained the situation with Marsha. Betty, the pastor’s wife gave him a hug of support. Jim told him, “This will be one of those times when the church will minister to you until you can minister to us.”
The extra hundred dollars a week was welcome, with only one slight catch -- he got off work at seven in the morning on Sunday and church wasn’t until ten. His third week he slept through the alarm and didn’t wake until noon. During the evening service he asked Jim if he could have a key to the educational building so he could change clothes and catch a little sleep before service and not repeat what happened that morning.
As he dressed in his uniform and took another look at the cloisonné heart his heart ached. Marsha wasn’t out of the hospital by Thanksgiving and might not be out by Christmas. The hospital bill was already over twenty thousand dollars and the seminary’s health plan maxed out at ten thousand, which they paid even though it was a pre-existing condition. He didn’t even want to think about the doctor’s bill.
He went to work at a basketball game for some overtime pay. The game would be over around the time his shift would start. It was raining and the temperature was dropping. A good time to stay indoors, but instead of calling in sick like a sensible person he grabbed two boxes of books putting them in the trunk of the car. The sergeant knew he needed money and called him in for TCU basketball games or the ones at Texas Wesleyan.
Lightning flashed and thunder boomed as he walked into the gymnasium. He reported to the athletic director who signed his pay sheet. Going to his station by the door he stopped mid-step. TWU was playing Wayland.
Standing in uniform they didn’t recognize him, but he knew the players, coaches and cheerleaders. At half time his duty was to escort the visiting team to their locker room and stand outside the door and then escort them back to the court. The cheerleaders were in the lobby area and he heard the dreaded words.
“Is that Mike Ewing?” Janice said. Head cheerleader and a member of Marsha’s sorority also bridesmaid at their wedding.
“No, it can’t be,” Dotty said. “What would he be doing here?”
Janice wouldn’t let it go and walked up to him, “Are you Mike Ewing?”
He didn’t want to make it that easy, “No,” he said keeping a straight face.
She gave him another look, “You sure look like him.”
At this he couldn’t help but smile. “Found me out.”
All the other cheerleaders rushed up and hugged him just as the athletic director walked out to check on things. He frowned.
“What’s seminary like?”
“What are you doing here?
He didn’t know who was asking the questions and they didn’t give him time to answer. They saw his sad face at the mention of Marsha.
“What’s the matter?” Janice said.
“Marsha’s in the hospital,” he blurted out.
“What’s the matter?” Dotty asked.
“She got sick over the summer and went home for treatment.”
“We’re so sorry to hear that,” they all said.
The door opened and the team started to stream out; Mike moved out of the way and the cheerleaders all gave him another hug. The players recognized him and slugged him on the shoulder before running back on the court. Coach Humphreys recognized him and shook his hand but didn’t have time for more than a “Good to see you.”
With the game over and everyone waving at him before leaving it was time to report to the security office. It was still raining as he started to drive around the campus, but around midnight the rain turned to ice. What he feared.
There is nothing more miserable than an ice storm. It hits and sticks on the windshield not yielding to the wipers. The roads turn to glass. He was well trained in driving on snow after years of driving up to Santa Fe ski area on a narrow winding icy road, but that’s nothing to the slick streets of a Midwestern ice storm.
The campus was on the side of a hill. Two of the four streets bordering it were on an incline. Around midnight he couldn’t get the patrol car up the hill and parked the car at the security building. He radioed the assistant dean of students telling him the weather was too bad for further patrol and he would stay with the other guard in the shack between dormitories. The dean groggily said that was okay.
TWU housed students in two dorms; one was three stories and the other two with a street crossing the campus between the two dorms and a guard shack sat next to the street on the two-story side. Boys were on the first and top floors of the bigger dorm and on the bottom floor of the smaller as a precautionary measure. The Polytechnic area was considered an undesirable area of Fort Worth.
Nolan was a World War II vet and retired railroad detective keeping an eye on the dorms. On his regular shift Mike would drop by every hour and they would chat for a few minutes. The dining hall was near the shack and David would ask him what he wanted to eat and then go up to the kitchen to fix them leftovers from the previous night’s meal. They usually settled for cold cut sandwiches and cherry cheesecake. It was his main meal of the day.
Tonight, it would be a tight fit for the shack and after listening to an hour of Noland’s stories Mike decided to make a round through the buildings. He was supposed to walk through all the main buildings twice a night. With parka pulled up and drawstring as tight as possible he carefully shuffled on his military boots between buildings taking his time in each one before braving the storm again.
The grounds crew put chains on the patrol car for the morning shift. He wasn’t too concerned about getting home with the boxes of books in his trunk and a small car. It would have taken five or more boxes of books to get enough traction in the college’s Ford Torino.
Inching his way up the hill and turning on the main street he carefully started navigating the many hills of Fort Worth; knowing not to take the freeway where it would be bumper cars. Two blocks from TWU the radio announcer said, “Fort Worth is averaging an accident a minute. Police advise that if there are no serious injuries to share insurance information and contact your agent as soon as possible.”
Halfway home he was at a red light on the bottom of a hill and the man ahead of him was in a Chevy Impala. When the light turned green the guy gunned it and the wheels started spinning. Mike followed up the hill starting off slowly and taking the hill at a steady pace. The Chevy’s wheels lost traction about half way up and started coming back down. Mike was far enough behind to swerve and avoid a collision. He dodged two more cars before making it to Seminary drive and nearly home when he ran into gridlock.
A semi-truck was jack knifed across all three lanes. A few of the cars ahead of him took an opening between medians and started using the closest opposing lane to bypass the truck. Getting closer he started seeing a huge black cloud of smoke coming from the truck and wondered if it was on fire. When parallel he could see the left rear tires were stationary and the right ones were spinning raising the cloud of smoke as the guy kept his foot on the pedal expecting by some miracle that would get him moving again.
Crashing on his bed after thanking God for getting him home in one piece he could sleep as long as he needed before finishing up a ten-page paper for Missionary Preparation.
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary boasted over 5,000 students. All classes were capped at 99 and many students were blessed with a wife working on her Putting Hubby Through degree like Greg. Mike’s grades were suffering; out of four classes he was getting a C in only inter-testamental theology. His vocabulary in Greek was building, but he didn’t have time to understand sentence structure. Since Marsha left studying was difficult. The work load was quadruple what was expected in college and his concentration was non-existent. Every night he read the passages and couldn’t remember a word. Another problem was the grading scale: a C- was 90 while a D was 89-60. It was the first time in his life when an 87 on a test meant he bombed it. Greg explained that it was difficult to get top grades to weed out regular students for doctoral studies, but they also didn’t want to fail too many.
As the clock struck noon he woke up. He grabbed another creamsicle bar and looking at the cloisonné heart finished the letter he wrote over the last three days telling her of the church where he was music minister and they were getting ready to put on a children’s Christmas celebration, and about little things that were happening in his everyday life. Today he wrote:
Worked a basketball game at TWU and they played Wayland. The cheerleaders were there. Janice and the others wish you well. I gave them your address and they said they would write.
Fort Worth has the stupidest drivers in the world. Ice storm last night and it was a skating rink coming home. The ice has stopped coming down, but it will stick to the streets all day and all night. The mouse mobile took the hills like a trooper dodging all the monster cars and pickups backing down for lack of traction.
Ending the letter with a love poem about how much he missed her and was looking forward to their reunion; he left slowly trying not to break his neck walking out to the mail box.
Every Sunday night he called, and they talked on the phone, but every week she had less to tell him, and never wrote him any letters. Lying in a hospital bed tied down to an IV machine didn’t give her a lot to talk about.
The last term papers were turned in and finals finished, he took a week of vacation and drove home. He pulled up in his parents drive at 3:00am and could smell the pancakes when he woke up six hours later. He talked for a while to his mother over breakfast, and she told him Marsha was being released from the hospital. She was up to a hundred and ten pounds, and the only reason she was in the hospital for the past week was to take her off the steroids gradually.
“I’m afraid the Garcia’s don’t want her going back,” she said. “Her mother told us terrible things; that you beat her and forced her to have sex. I told her that’s not you, but I’m afraid they’ve poisoned her mind.”
“Mom, I’ve never laid a hand on her,” he said in defense.
“I know,” she said. “They say you promised to take care of her, and she nearly died. Dr. Culpepper told me the edema was up to her knees and another week it would have rushed up to her heart killing her.” Hugging him she said, “They blame you.”
Mike didn’t know what to say. All he did the whole time they were married was try to love her and be there for her. He felt guilty about the temper tantrums he used before he knew how sick she was, but he couldn’t turn back the clock. Once he knew her problems, he was content to just be with her and hold her in his arms. The months after she left what he missed most was the closeness. He was lonely and the apartment felt empty without her. If they could never have relations again, he would still love her and wanted to be with her. In sickness and in health, till death do you part. He believed in those vows.
At the hospital she was sitting on the bed looking like the day they met, but she was a stranger. Whoever she was now this wasn’t the Marsha he married. They looked at each other without speaking for some time. He saw the tube running into the top of her gown and the machine that ran it.
There was no happiness in her eyes and though he ached to hold her in his arms he could tell that his embrace would not be welcome. They talked about superficial things for a while and finally the doctor came, removed the I.V., and an hour later they were driving to her parents’ house spending the night in the converted garage. Their first night together in three months was awkward, and all he could think of was how much she changed. Not just physically, but the way she looked at him and the way they seemed to have nothing to talk about. It was a long night.
The next day was Christmas. His parents invited everyone over for brunch, and an exchange of gifts. He gave her the cloisonné heart. What he stared at every morning to remember her face, what he used as inspiration for his love poems. She opened the box and looked at it, said, “Thank you,” closed the box and opened another present. Opening his gift inside was a name bracelet, but where the name should be it was blank. When she asked him what he wanted for Christmas a month earlier he told her a name bracelet that said Mike and Marsha.
They spent the night in his parents’ basement. He tried telling her about the children’s Christmas pageant and how friendly the families in the church were, “They’re all looking forward to meeting you.”
She shook her head, “Dr. Culpepper wants me to stay here for three months to monitor my condition. He says I’m a difficult responder.”
“Then I’ll come back, and we’ll try again next fall.”
She shook her head, “Where would we stay?”
“Either here or at your parents until I’ve got enough to get us into an apartment,” he said. “The one thing about Pinkerton’s is that I’ve got a job anywhere I want to go.”
“I need time by myself to sort things out,” she said. “I’m not sure I want to go back to seminary.”
He said, “All the more reason for me to come back.”
“No,” she said. “Finish out the year. Let me think about my future and we can talk about next year then.”
Taking her home, the Garcia’s very calmly told him how disappointed they were with him. “I trusted you with my daughter,” Dad Garcia said. “What kind of man lets his wife nearly die like that?”
Over the next hour he kept his temper and held his tongue as they accused him of abusing her and raping her and not caring about how ill she was. What angered them the most was they didn’t come back after she was diagnosed in June and waiting three months. It didn’t matter that for most of those months she was getting better and wanted to attend classes.
The drive across town to his parents’ house the rage built inside him. Marsha sat there the whole time as they accused him of beating her and raping her when she knew he never hit her and never made love to her without consent. They told him of the times she called her mother after he went to work complaining about how painful it was, but she never told him. She should have said something to me!
Getting home he grabbed the leash and took Ralph, their German Shepard/Collie mix to the park near the house and ran ten laps. Over the years they ran that park many times and both needed the exercise. It was the only way he knew to release all the adrenaline built up from their accusations.
Ralph went to the fireplace and sat panting with a satisfied smile. Mom and Dad were waiting. “I think they gave you both barrels.” Dad said.
“From what Mom told me I should have expected it,” he said.
“We’ll follow you back over there and you can leave her car,” Mom said.
“We’re giving you the Plymouth,” Dad added. “I’ve had my eye on a Ranchero that’s for sale up the street so I can go to the land and bring back wood for the fireplace.”
Mom rolled her eyes, “Your father always wanted one.”
The next night he called Marsha and she agreed to meet him at a restaurant where you ordered the meal on telephones and they served a good hamburger with curly fries. Marsha ordered a hamburger without bun and a salad with water. “Did I ever hit you?” This was the accusation that angered him the most.
“No,” Marsha said, “but I was afraid you would when you’d get angry.”
“If it was painful, why did you say yes?”
She looked down at the plate, “Because the Bible says I can’t.”
“In what way?” he didn’t expect this.
“Paul said in Ephesians: Wives, be subject to your own husbands… But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”
This exasperated him, “That doesn’t mean you can’t refuse. If you told me how painful it was before I knew how sick you were it would have been different.”
“You kept asking for a reason why I didn’t want to, and I didn’t know. I just wasn’t interested and that wasn’t good enough for you.” She was crying but keeping her voice low to not bother the other diners.
Trying to hold her hand, she pulled it back. He said, “I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”
“I’ll need time,” she said. “Right now, the thought of sex turns my stomach. There were times in the hospital late at night when I wanted to take a knife and cut your penis off.” The look of pure animosity bothered him.
He spent the next day with Dad in his Ranchero at the land with chain saws cutting firewood from the downed trees. The winter was mild and there was little snow even though they were at nine thousand feet of elevation between the Ice Caves and El Moro national monument in the Zuni Mountains. Ralf was in heaven lifting his leg to every tree.
Dad was going after a downed Blue Spruce with gusto. Before starting up his chain saw he thought back on discussions in religion classes where preacher boys would point to this verse to defend the idea of the husband being the head of the household and women were to be submissive in all things and that included sex, but from growing up with Mom and Dad he knew it didn’t work that way. They argued a lot, but eventually everything was worked out. He also knew if Dad ever tried to order Mom around that way, she would brain him with a cast iron skillet.
In those classes, thinking the preacher boys were morons, he swore to never treat his wife that way and without realizing it he had. Looking out from the middle of Oso Ridge he could see across the state line to Arizona, but his eyes filled with bitter tears knowing what a fool he was.
“You’ve got a Ply-mouth,” Jim said at church when he got back. “What happened to the Maverick?”
They were alone in the education building before services. Mike told him, “It was Marsha’s and she needs it. My parents gave me this one.”
“Why didn’t she come back with you?” He could sense there was something wrong.
Mike couldn’t hide the anguish on his face. “The doctor wanted her to stay so he could monitor her progress, but she doesn’t want to come back.”
There wasn’t time for more conversation as church was about to start. “Why don’t you come and have lunch with us, and we can talk in my study.”
Mike told him about the Garcia’s blaming him for all that was wrong with Marsha and how she was like a stranger. “It’s as if the Marsha I knew and loved died on the plane going home and she’s a total stranger.”
Jim listened and asked a few questions then when Mike was talked out offered some advice, “Getting her back is going to take a lot of love and patience. You’ll have to woo her and with her parents against you it won’t be easy.”
Looking at him intently, “Should I go home or stay here?”
Jim thought for a few minutes and then went slowly. “I can’t tell you which is best. You’ll have to pray about it.”
They prayed and Mike went back to his apartment where he prayed some more. He would stay and see through the school year. With his report card was a note that he was on academic probation and was restricted in the number of classes he could take. Five classes last fall were too many. He signed up for nine hours: congregational music, second semester Old Testament history and second semester New Testament history. The music class was on Tuesday evening with New Testament on Tuesday and Thursday and Old Testament on Wednesday and Friday at ten in the morning giving him more time to rest. His grades were much better, but his loneliness increased.
While he was away for Christmas his relief and day shift guard was replaced by a guy who was usually ten or fifteen minutes late. Two Sundays later the guy didn’t report, and David worked an extra hour before the sergeant found someone to relieve him. The next Sunday the guy didn’t show up and he worked an extra eight hours missing church and losing his paycheck for the week. Vowing that he would never pull a sixteen hour shift again, he called the sergeant asking to be reassigned to a post closer to home and he needed Saturday night off.
A woman relieved him Wednesday morning, which was a good thing and he didn’t have to give the guy who hung him out to dry a piece of his mind. The sergeant sent a man for him to train on the post the second week of February and he was going to a steel foundry within a mile of his apartment. The man was likeable, and they had a nice chat as he walked him through the buildings and explained what to look for as they drove around the campus. “Keep an eye out around the gym at two or three in the morning, that’s when the basketball team gets in from road trips and the coach gets a little upset if you don’t swing around and see the players safely to the dorm.” He was assigned to the foundry and after the night of training thought this would work out.
“Mike, I need you to take over tonight at TWU again,” the sergeant called around four in the afternoon. “The background check came in on your replacement and he’s only been out of the state pen for two weeks.”
Not exactly the kind of guy you want to hand a ring of keys to buildings with millions of dollars of equipment.
“Okay,” he said. “As long as it’s only temporary.”
Temporary turned into another two weeks. Finally, he was replaced and began walking around the steel foundry. It took forty-five minutes to make a round and he didn’t get a lot of time for study, but this semester he didn’t need as much. They should warn new students’ missionary prep and spiritual foundations are a full load and not to take anything else. The weather was warming up and when he talked to Marsha on the phone, she seemed warmer to him. At least she had more to say about what she was doing.
“TAP (Theta Alpha Psi) is having their pre-spring break party next weekend and Dr. Culpepper has cleared me to drive,” Marsha said. “I’ll be there Friday night and will drive back Sunday morning.”
“Where are you staying?” Mike asked. Wayland doesn’t let the Greeks have private houses.
“Harold and Missy said I could use the couch in their living room,” she answered.
“Could I join you?”
“I wouldn’t mind,” she said.
Mike talked the sergeant into letting him off without pay. “Take things slowly,” Jim said. “It’s a good sign she’s willing to meet with you so don’t rush anything physical.”
Plainview brought back a lot of memories. Three years of races won and lost, parking for hours on farm roads talking and being close with a number of different girls, but mostly Marsha, the summer of their heated love. The campus looked the same, but he was an outsider now and it felt different. He remembered the oppression of being treated like a child and comparing it to the freedom of seminary.
She was at K-Bobs. Inside she was laughing and having a good time with her sisters. He took a seat by the front door not wanting to intrude. His heart ached watching her smiling and laughing without him. She looked over and her face went to a scowl. She said her goodbyes and they left.
He followed her to Harold and Missy’s where they were met with a smile. “So good to see both of you again,” Missy said.
Harold helped Mike bring in his travel bag and Marsha’s suitcase. Missy and Marsha were roommates their sophomore year and started telling each other everything that happened since graduation. Harold was pastoring a church in Olney and was putting off going to seminary while Missy was teaching English at Plainview High School. After Missy was through telling Marsha about trying to get football players to understand that a noun is like a quarterback and a verb is like a pass rusher and a direct object is the receiver of the noun’s pass, they all laughed.
“We’ve got to visit one of our members in the hospital in Lubbock,” Harold said.
“You two make yourself at home,” Missy finished his sentence. “We’ll be back shortly.”
Watching them drive away Mike was at a loss for something to say. Marsha went inside and sat on the couch. He sat next to her but not too close, showing the bracelet she gave him for Christmas and their names he had engraved she looked, but didn’t say anything. She wasn’t wearing the cloisonné heart. “I’ve missed you.”
“I know,” she said. Then changing the subject, “I’ve started candy striping at the hospital,” this brought a smile to her face. “You should have seen Dr. Culpepper when he walked in the dining room and saw me.”
“Are you enjoying it?”
“Yes,” she said. “It gives me something to do.” Changing the subject again, “What are your classes like?”
Mike smiled, “I love the congregational singing class. Professor Walker takes a hymn to start the class and for an hour we sing it ten different ways. Fast, slow, a Capella, you name it. Then we get into music theory which isn’t as much fun. I use that week’s song at church on Sunday and Jim’s told me how much everyone likes the different ways to sing it on each verse.”
She started stretching her back, “It’s been a long time since I drove that far, and my back is killing me.”
Mike knew he cue, “Let me help.”
She took off her top handing him a bottle of lotion. He took it as a good sign. She lay face down on the couch while he kneeled on the floor and spread the lotion over her back then started rubbing it in. It was good to feel firm skin and able to touch without flinching. She pulled her top back on and they prayed for a few minutes before watching Hee Haw.
Harold and Mike went in the back yard to talk about what his church was like and what was going on in West Texas while Missy and Marsha folded out the bed. When the lights were out there wasn’t a lot of room in the bed and they were close, but Marsha kept her back to him, and he kept his hands to himself. In the morning after breakfast and he was leaving he kissed her lightly on the lips which she immediately wiped. I have a long way to go to win her back. This was a good start.
Semester over the church gave him a five-hundred-dollar love offering to help him move back home. In two weeks, he would start watching picketers in front of a grocery store. He brought his grades up to B’s and all would be well except for the last time he talked with Marsha. After he told her his plans of finding an apartment and sitting out a year before they went back to seminary, she said the dreaded words, “I don’t want to stay married.”
He asked, “Have you prayed about this?”
“That’s all I’ve done since I left the hospital,” he could hear a cry in her voice.
“Don’t you still want to go to seminary and become a missionary?”
“Thinking about seminary only brings back painful memories.”
“Do you believe God wants this?”
Adamantly she said, “It’s what I want.”
Hanging up the phone Mike’s world shattered. He was cried out, prayed out and lay in more emotional pain than he knew possible. Closing his eyes his mind screamed in anguish. Exhausted there was a calm and feeling of God’s closeness and he knew he had His undivided attention. All he could think to say was, “I hurt.” A peace descended on him helping him accept his loss. The pain was still there, but it was bearable. It brought back scripture verse he memorized the semester before:
25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
In this time of personal tribulation things were looking bleak, but it was also when he should: straighten up and lift up [his] head, because [God] is drawing near. He wasn’t alone and God was with him and giving him strength to endure the unendurable.
Telling Jim what she said he advised, “If that’s what she wants and you can’t persuade her differently, get the divorce and come back. Don’t let this ruin your service to the Lord.”
Shaking his head, “The divorce won’t be easy,” he finally said the words as the reality was setting in. “There’s a fifteen-thousand-dollar hospital bill and as much as I still love her and want to be with her, if she’s running home to momma, she can take the bill with her.”
“I know how you feel,” the older man said. “But legally you’re responsible too.”
Mike shook with anguish, “There’s no way at two dollars and sixty cents an hour I can ever hope to pay even half of a bill that size.”
With Jim’s arm around his shoulder, “Leave all this to the Lord, he’ll find a way to change her heart and take care of the money. Get your life together and come back even if it takes ten years. I didn’t start seminary until I was thirty-eight. Life’s a marathon not a hundred-yard dash.”
Driving out of Fort Worth starting the sixteen hour drive he was angry at Marsha. As much as Jim was advising him to come back, he knew he never would. The Baptist partly line was someone who was divorced and remarried was living in sin and his children from a second marriage would be bastards. This much he knew about himself: he wasn’t going to remain single from the age of 23 until he or Marsha died. Music directors and lower staff in a church didn’t matter as much, but missionaries were considered pastors, not staff.
Becoming righteously indignant he thought, God called me to be a missionary, and I will be one with or without the blessing of the Southern Baptist Convention. You don’t need a seminary degree to do God’s work. I’ll find a way.
He stopped at Snyder, Texas and ate at the smorgasbord. Everyone on the team when they headed this direction in the bus loved stopping here for lunch or supper. There was a wide variety of food and it was all you could eat. With three plates full of food he thought back over all the trips and races with Marsha cheering him. It brought back watching her board the plane and leave for home. He knew there was still a strong love between them that day and none in the hospital or afterwards.
If she wanted a divorce, why didn’t she say so then instead of stringing me along for five months? Then becoming introspective, when did I first know the marriage was over? Thinking back, it wasn’t when Marsha finally uttered the words; it was when she closed the box on the cloisonné heart.