Kathy G Writes

harnessing the power of words

4th & Pine

Kathy Gustafsson - May 7, 2021


I loved the feeling of our bed, the mattress perfectly formed to my body, the expensive 700 thread count sheets, and the deep navy blue quilt.  I felt him staring at me from the armchair in the corner.  He stared at me all the time these days, but the sicker I got, the more his expressions eluded me.  I opened my eyes just enough to confirm his presence and see if I could guess his emotion.  Fear?  Pity?  Longing? 

I memorized each inch of his face.  The crow’s feet around his eyes which made him look distinguished, the bits of silver starting to show in his buzz cut, his elegant nose.  He hated me calling his nose elegant, which of course made me say it constantly.  His shoulders had broadened in the last few months, evidence of time at the gym lifting weights.  We didn’t talk about it, but we both knew he wanted to be able to carry me if necessary.

I thought about our first date, a picnic on the grassy median at 4th and Pine.  Who in the world would think of such a thing?  Cars rushing by while we ate fried chicken and sipped champagne.  I wish we could have one more date like that.  I wished we could go back to the carefree days of endless possibilities.


She was staring at me again.  She doesn’t think I can see it, but I do.  Her eyes are swimming in frustration these days.  Frustration at the pain, frustration at her lack of control, frustration at God, she’s probably frustrated with me.  And I can’t blame her, in the last six months this disease has taken over everything in our lives. 

She often joked about shaving her head, but when it came time, devastation washed over her.  She sat on the toilet while I shaved it off, hair and tears mingling in her lap.  She gasped and cried harder when I took the razor to my own head.  I wanted to show her ‘for better or worse’ were more than just words in a ceremony.

I often rubbed my hands over the red fuzz covering her head now, thinking of the long red hair she had when we met.  I thought about the spunky girl who said yes to a date on a street median, and it made me chuckle.

“What are you laughing at?”  Her words slurred, by drugs or exhaustion, I didn’t know.

“I was thinking about our first date.”

“The median at 4th and Pine?”  She struggled to sit up.

“Let me help you.”  I arranged the pillows behind her for support.

“I can’t believe you organized a picnic in the middle of the street.”  Her tone dreamy at the memory.

My friends knew how much I liked Rose, and they gave me a hard time about it non-stop.  ‘Just ask her out already’, became a mantra anytime her name came up.  I wanted to give her an over the top first date to set me apart from the other yahoo’s clamoring for her attention.  Then driving down Pine, I noticed the flowering dogwood trees on the median, and thought it’d be a perfect spot for a picnic.  My friends dubbed the plan crazy and said she’d never agree to it, but each one signed on to help me.  Dennis set up the chairs and a radio, Jake would stop with the food, and Robert would be last with dessert and flowers. 

“Why’d you agree to go?”  In thirty years, I’d never asked. 


It was my turn to laugh.  My brother and George met playing on a softball team, and had quickly become friends.  I fell hard and fast when George started coming around, but I assumed he only saw an annoying younger sister.  When he asked me out, my mouth gaped in shock and I mumbled ‘yes’, not paying any attention to what he wanted to do. 

 “You finally asked, that’s why.”  As the words left my mouth, a searing pain shot through my belly.  I rolled over on the bed and screamed.

“Rose!”  Panic strangled his voice.

I stopped screaming and started to cry.  He sat on the bed and pulled my body to his, holding me while I cried myself to sleep like a petulant toddler.


I wanted to take it away.  Remove this sickness from her body and return her to the vibrant woman she wanted to be.  After she fell asleep the remembrance of our first date stayed on my mind.  We sat there until the sun set and walked slowly back to my car in the orange glow of the evening.  I didn’t want to take her home, I wanted her next to me from that moment on. 

How could I give that to her again?  Recreate the moment when ‘we’ started?  I laid her head on a pillow and called Erin as I left the room.  “Hey kiddo.  What are you doing tonight?”


I woke in a daze, dreams of sunsets and fried chicken lingering at the edges of my mind.  That crazy man!  I can’t believe how happy he has made me over the years, and now I’m putting him through this nightmare.  I wondered again how we could have another night to just be us, one night without the thought of this thing which has overtaken our lives.

The door slowly opened, “Mom?”

The site of my beautiful girl took my breath away, “Hi Erin, how are you love?”

“I’m good mom, how are you feeling?  Dad said you had an attack earlier.”  Deep worry lines were etched between her eyes.

“Lasted just a minute, wiped me out, but I’m feeling better now.”  I hoped the lilt I forced into my voice would ease her concern. 

“Want me to help you get a shower and put on some clean clothes?” 

“That’s just what I need.”


I heard the shower start and knew I had about thirty minutes to finish getting things together.  Erin and I strung twinkle lights in the trees of the garden, arranged the deck furniture on the grass and pulled the fire pit out of the garage.  The table between our two Adirondack chairs awaited our dinner, with an ice bucket cooling down a bottle of our favorite champagne. 

I started the fire when I heard the shower shut off.  From the open windows I could hear the wonderful sound of her and Erin chatting and giggling, which meant she felt better.  I loved watching her with our children - she had this way of mothering that encouraged big dreams, but kept them rooted in reality.  I don’t know how she did it, but our children were the better for it.

I brought our dinner out from the kitchen, fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, and fresh green beans.  Erin had pulled dinner together at a moment’s notice, with one of her remarkable apple pies in the oven to keep warm.  A meal far better than my offering on that first night.


“Would you like to have a cup of coffee with me in the garden?  The roses are still in bloom.”  Erin shot me a smile. 

“Coffee, roses and you, what could be better?  Help me down the stairs?”

Erin and I walked arm in arm into the garden.  “What’s this?”  I stopped short taking in the picture before me.

There he stood, his grin the origin of Erin’s.  “Talking about our first date made me want to be spontaneous.” 

I sat in one of the chairs, as Erin wrapped my legs in a blanket.  She kissed my forehead gently and wished us a good night.  “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”


We talked long after sunset, the twinkle lights and fire glow creating a world where just the two of us existed.  We didn’t talk about the disease, enduring six months of hell, or what was yet to come.  We laughed about the studio apartment we rented for two years.  We talked about our kids and how amazing they were.  Then we settled into a comfortable silence, gazing at the embers of the dying fire.  I carried her up to our room at the end of our date, praying she’d be next to me for a long time to come. 

Lying in bed, she whispered against my neck, “Thank you for a perfect night.” 

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