When my husband, Fred, first saw me I was painting. I was painting letters on a theatre drop curtain. My hair hung long within a braid. I was kneeling brush in hand. I did not see him standing in the fly-space looking down upon me. The first time we ever talked, we stood in front of the old soda machine in the Green Room at OSU. As the old machine hummed its refrigerated whine, I sipped Mountain Dew and spoke of Randal Flag. Fred looked at me with golden flecked blue eyes and quoted the Dark Tower back at me. We fell in love talking Stephen King.
We married and never stopped talking. We were always looking forward to each new King book. We moved many times in our 15 years of marriage, but the first thing Fred always did was set up his Stephen King shelf of books. I called it the shrine. He loved to show friends and guests these prized books. He said if there ever was a fire the books would leave with him. Fred’s house had burned down when he was but thirteen years old: fire was never far from his thoughts. He assured me he would save his books. He said he would also make sure I got out okay… afterwards. Even in Labor with our second son, Fred brought me a book to read, and thirty minutes after delivery I was chewing ice chips and reading Cell.
Last spring, early in the year, Fred could talk of naught but King’s upcoming book Under the Dome. He was so excited it would be a November release of a long awaited story. He briefed me on the tale; the concept: a dome was encasing a small town in Maine and tensions trapped within. So Fred would say his back hurt and teach his classes and talk of Steven King. March came, and with it sadness. Fred had no slipped disk or muscle pull. His back hurt because of cancer in his spine. He lay in the hospital heart-sick and imprisoned in a body and a bed. He turned to me and said, “What if I don’t make it till November? I might not get to read Under the Dome.”
Two days after he learned he had metastatic kidney cancer, Fred celebrated his 39th birthday in a hospital bed. With his feeding tray came the hospital cake sparkling with ice and tasting of freezer burn. A friend gave him the comic book version of the Stand. Our youngest son gave him a Dora Balloon. I decided to try to get him the best gift ever. I could not stop his illness or get answers from his doctors. I could not walk for him or take his pain away, but I could try to get a galley copy of Under the Dome.
I emailed Deborah our wonderful book buyer at Child’s Play- the toy-store where I worked. I asked her to please contact Simon and Schuster and see if it were possible to get a copy. She emailed her rep. Charlie and he contacted Tyler Le Bleu the marketing manager at Simon and Schuster. Tyler cleared the release with Stephen King.
The book came on the perfect day. This was the day the oncologist said we could get surgery. With surgery Fred could live two more years! Two more years he would have watch his sons grow older. In the midst of this rejoicing, I leaned over his bed like a princess in a fable and kissing him gave him the book. He was so happy he could not believe it. “I guess I’m really dying,” he said. “I get my make-a-wish.”
Thank God for that book. Fred took it on every radiation transport in the next two weeks. He read some everyday. The man, who could read a Stephen King book in less than 24 hours before he was sick, spent the next three weeks reading Under the Dome. Pinned in MRI machine double-dosed with Adivan, I would scream the words of Stephen King at him above the train roar of the machine. Fred tried to read many books while hospitalized, but he only finished one… Under the Dome. I guess that makes a lot of sense, for it seemed like we living in a bubble-trapped with those who wished to harm us and those who wished to help…and not sure which was which. I remember the one passage I read aloud to Fred. The character Brenda prays to God after losing her husband. “God, this is Brenda. I don’t want him back…well do, but I know You can’t do that. Only give me the strength to bear this, okay? And I wonder if maybe…I don’t know if this is blasphemy or not, probably it is, but I wonder if You could let him talk to me one more time. Maybe let him touch me one more time.” That is when I burst in to tears and said to Fred, “I told you I would read to you but how can I read that?” “It is okay, Reggie,” he said.. I will read myself.” And he did.
The weeks passed by and Fred grew worse. We left the hospital and went to hospice. We moved into a bigger apartment so Fred could go home to home hospice. For the first time in our life Fred would not move his shrine himself. We moved the hospital bed into the room and arrayed his books all around. He came home on June 11th. He said the books looked nice. Each day he grew weaker and had more trouble breathing. The morning of June 17th two of Fred’s friends came over: Jeff and David. I warned them Fred was not too good today. I could not wake him. They came any way. Jeff brought a book- Lisey’s Story for Fred. I laughed and said he already had it. He had everything by Stephen King. And then I showed them Under the Dome, the secret book: Fred’s prized passion… his make-a-wish. Fred breathing was so labored now. Each breath seemed its own private war within his body. I stood beside him caressing his arm and holding the book. Three minutes later Fred died.
I want to Thank you Stephen King for Under the Dome. I want thank Tyler and Charlie and Deborah. You did a great good thing. You helped me show Fred there was nothing I would not do for him. You showed him there are many people who care. You shined a light in our darkness. We finished our love like we started it…talking Stephen King.