My 30-some former business partner, Teresa, is as kind and gentle as she is accomplished. An unassuming, natural beauty, she radiates wholesome good health and has that glow from within that you read about in books. In the business world, she attracted males from 6 to 60 who seemed not to care one whit if they made fools of themselves over her. Hardly a week passed without flowers delivered from some new admirer, often someone who had spotted her from afar. But attention like that never seemed to faze her.
Teresa’s head wasn’t turned easily, but I knew she was falling in love when she begged me to leave the office one spring day and drive with her to the downtown historic district. Five minutes later, we pulled up in front of nifty little cottage and got out of the car. She directed me to a piece of broken sidewalk in front of the house from which a tiny wildflower was sprouting.
“Interesting,” I mused. “It reminds me of that Tennyson poem, Flower in the Cranny.”
“Really?” she said. “This is Martin’s house! He pointed this out last night after dinner, and I thought it was pretty poetic of him to share it with me…and now, Tennyson!”
Martin. He was a brilliant young oncologist, the divorced father of three spirited young children he doted on, pulling them from one riotous adventure to the next. Instead of going to Disney World, they went on safaris. Instead of having standard birthday parties with cake, ice cream and balloons, they ate sushi and visited the local cemetery at midnight with cans of Silly String. In their dad’s charge, the kids could stay up late and forget to take a bath, or brush their teeth, or even wear shoes — for days. They could play hooky from school on a whim, and read Tolkien all day. They could run wild in the woods and bring home multiple pets from the animal shelter.
Although Mark was at the top of his profession and making lots of money, it meant little to him. Unpaid bills piled up and the utilities were shut off more than once due to oversight. Over time, his very practical wife grew weary…then irritated…then downright angry at what she viewed as his chronically-irresponsible behavior. No one could blame her. She left him, but his patients remained true-blue loyal; he was saving their lives and building their spirits on a daily basis, and few doctors were as gifted in those ways as Martin. Perhaps the sheer weight of his profession created the need for his free-style existence outside the office, his errant inclinations.
When Teresa and Martin began dating, I was genuinely happy. He had the look and charm of a teenager — lean and athletic, with a perpetual grin and rock star hair. He made you laugh, especially at your own folly. Once I saw him in the grocery store and he stared into my cart and frowned in mock disapproval at my bacon, microwave popcorn, and Coco Krispies. “Where’s the fresh spinach? The kumquats? The lentils?” he wanted to know.
Teresa and Martin’s romance blossomed over the next year. They had a lot in common. She loved his children, and they loved her back. The duo advocated a healthy lifestyle and ate “low on the food chain,” carefully choosing only the freshest, least-processed “super” foods packed with antioxidants and other good stuff. I remember them driving all the way across town on a regular basis to buy the perfect organic juice and peanut butter. Fresh air and exercise was a priority for them. While my husband and I sought leisurely refuge in the mountains or on Florida beaches, Teresa and Martin travelled to exotic locales I can’t even pronounce just to scuba dive or rock climb or dance with village people. They seemed to be in perpetual motion.
When Teresa found a tumor on the neck of her beloved, aged cat, Max, Martin opened up his office at night and gave Max radiation treatments in carefully-prescribed dosages that actually prolonged his life. Once her old car started sputtering and she came home to find a shiny, new Volkswagen parked in her driveway — the doors unlocked, the keys in the ignition. From Martin.
My husband and I liked and admired Martin more and more for his kind heart and goodness to Teresa. But some of his impetuous behavior and unorthodox ways began to wear on me… his relentless high energy and his deeply competitive spirit in games as frivolous as Life or Scrabble. His charm was waning. I blew up when I heard he had gone to the library and checked out Teresa’s favorite children’s book, out of print at that time. He wrote in its margins, decorated it elaborately, wrapped it up, and gave it to her as a surprise gift. Even though he dutifully paid the library for this ‘lost’ book, I despised the lie it represented. “That’s public property, for heaven’s sake!” I shrieked, not to him but to Teresa. “He’s depriving another child of a good read!”
Teresa and Martin eventually parted ways, but they remained good friends. Both were good people trying to find their way in the complicated world of Singledom; heaven knows that can’t be easy. One afternoon, Teresa got a call at our office: Martin had been in an accident.
He had been riding a new, ultra-lightweight European bicycle to the country club pool. Going much too fast, he hit a speed bump and flew over the handlebars, landing on the concrete cart path near the base of a tree. A golfer found him there comatose. Two days later, he died of a traumatic brain injury, never reaching consciousness. He had not been wearing a bike helmet.
Today, Martin’s children are in college doing brilliant things. Their father’s joyous spirit and loving heart is their legacy. Teresa and I closed our advertising business, and I began doing consulting work, contracting with my former employer, Pilot International. Teresa moved out of town and married. Her second child will be born any day now.
I think of Martin frequently, especially as I cart my way through the aisles at Kroger. I wonder why this incredible young doctor with so much to give… and so much to live for… could tend to others’ lives so impeccably…while risking his own so carelessly. But that is not a question for me, I know. The best I can do is eat vegetables (as instructed) and do what I can to promote brain health and safety.
Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower – but ‘if’ I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.
–Alfred Lord Tennyson