A True Love Story....Part Two
The ambulance arrived on an April afternoon in 1957. I was sixteen and had just arrived home from school. The sound of the siren pulled me away from my snack, and I stared in disbelief as the siren fell silent next door and two white-clad workers walked somberly up to the Conrad's door. I would learn later that Delores had died in her sleep the night before and Sam, overcome with grief, had rocked her in his lap throughout the night and the following morning, whispering “Don't leave me” over and over again. The days that followed were days of sadness for all of us in our neighborhood. When you are sixteen you just assume that those you care about are going to live forever. They are there when you go to bed, they are there when you wake up, and they are there at all the times they are supposed to be there, part of the landscape of life. I wasn't ready for Delores to die; it wasn't part of my scripted life. I pictured me and my wife and kids living in that same house twenty years later, complete with Sam and Delores inviting my kids over for lemonade and stories, just as they had done for me. And now Delores was gone, and if it could happen to Delores, well then, what about my mom and dad, or Sam, or anyone else I cared deeply about? My secure world was shaken to its foundation by the sight of my neighbor being carried out of her house on a stretcher, covered from life by a white sheet.
Sam was rarely seen after that day, choosing to spend his time in front of the television. I would go over occasionally to see how he was doing, and his answer remains in my memory to this day. He would tell me that each morning when he awoke he would ask God to take him that day so he could be with Delores, that life had no meaning for him without his beloved. Whenever I saw him he would be holding a picture of his wife, clutched in his hand, a constant reminder of the purpose of his life. It was sad to see him; he seemed to lose weight before my very eyes, and his sadness was palpable and omnipresent. But still I was touched by his devotion to Delores, a love so strong that death could not remove it from Sam's daily routines.
The years marched on; new neighbors came to our neighborhood, and anxious parents would tell their children to stay away from the house of the strange old man who never smiled. The stories of wagon trains and lumberjacks were told no more as Sam retreated further into his memories, always holding the picture that represented a love everlasting, always praying to God for finality. And so it continued for years until Sam could no longer wait for God's intervention and decided he had waited long enough for Delores.
I wasn't there on December 17, 1970. I didn't see Sam move the stool under the light fixture, ever so slowly, making sure that it was properly aligned. I didn't witness him tightening the belt around his neck, never saw him attach the other end to the fixture, nor did I see him step up on the stool or step off. I don't know what he saw that moment his brittle neck snapped, whether he glimpsed at the pictures on the wall or some imaginary vision of Delores filled his mind at that moment. I do know, because I was told by those who found the body, that the photograph of Delores was on the floor directly underneath his body, having fallen from his hand as he died.
I have thought of Sam often in the years since his death. The search for happiness has always been a subject of interest for me, as I'm sure it is for many humans. Basing one's happiness on another person is always a risky business. The philosophers tell us that true happiness can only be found within us, that serenity is born from within and not from outside stimuli. I understand that and accept it to be true intellectually. But we humans are not made of intellect alone. The heart tends to have its say more often than not, and I continue to marvel to this day at the quality of love Sam had for his Delores. By most standards in our world death is a rather decisive final chapter to a love affair, but to Sam it was only something he had to endure in order to be reunited eventually with his wife and best friend. His love never died. Death did not rob Sam of his wife; it was of no more importance to him than if Delores had gone on a trip when viewed from the overriding belief that he would once again be with her. And if God wouldn't aid him in that reunion then Sam decided he needed to do the work of God.
Sam's family knew me and shortly after the funeral they asked me if there was anything of Sam's I would like as a keepsake. I never hesitated. Today in my wallet I have the picture of Delores that Sam carried around with him every day after her death, and I have a note, written by Sam and pinned to the stool he stepped off of that December night. The note simply says....”Delores, now and forever, love Sam.”