"A Southern Boy"
By: Amanda Jones
With the loss of millions of lives each year to the disease of cancer, 68 year-old Delores , reflects back on the loss of her husband as she remembers the 10 year anniversary of his death.
The door opened to the old twin home and closed back shut. A large brown jacket was strategically placed across the sofa as footsteps approached the side of the living room occupied by Delores and her young granddaughter. Her husband picked up his bag of salted peanuts and chewed them one by one as he watched the nightly Channel 6 news. His stature and muscular build made Delores feel protected as she lay across her antique sofa. The light quickly flashed as the image of a young teenage girl who had been raped and murdered jumbled across the television screen. The girl’s face illuminated against the large mirror behind them.
By the strong stare on his face Delores knew her husband had been upset by the senseless violence in the world. His career as a cop had led him to help many people, but he couldn’t fully cope with the reality of how his team had sometimes let someone down. “This is a crazy world, but I sure am glad I have you to love in it,” his raspy voice whispered to her. For the rest of the night he stared silently at his black leather Bible thinking about the search the innocent girl that had been lost. That night she peeked down at her husband from the stairwell and knew he would always try to protect her.
On a weekend in October, 2001, Delores watched her granddaughter while her daughter and son-in law took some much needed time to themselves. She ate slowly and was unenthusiastic at the fact that her husband hadn’t joined her that morning for breakfast. “He has a lot on his plate, he doesn’t deal well with letting people down,” Delores explained to her granddaughter through the mirror as she took the yellow rollers out of her hair. His best friend, she knew that something was truly wrong when she heard him fumble with his instruments. He began to play slow jazz music from his oak red bedroom. Delores walked slowly upstairs, and he caught her stair from the crack between the door and the hallway. She saw elevating wet tears fall down his cheeks.
Delores clearly remembers meeting William on her 16th birthday. She was wearing a red and blue cotton dress with white bows interlocked in her long cascading curly hair. William grew up in Nashville, Tenn., where for the first part of his life he had been the only child. Delores describes her husband as being the innovative type, always inventing things out of what he could find. She explains, “For the most part I think he spent his young adult years trying to find himself.” He had once told her, “Tennessee is dusty and hot, filled with people who possess an unfulfilled dream and a strong urgency for hope.” When he was 15 years old his parents separated and his father remarried. William sadly left his beloved mother and decided to move to Philadelphia with his father in hopes of better opportunities. When he got there he was faced with the uncanny reality of a new step mother, 7 other siblings, and a father who was too indulged in his new life to pay his only son any attention. “I became bitter. Before I met you I had nothing. I vowed to myself that I would devote my life to helping people because I feel like nobody ever helped me,” he once said to her.
Delores sat in the modern surroundings of her daughter’s suburban home and reflected on her marriage that lasted more than 45 years. She looked about with glistening eyes at the reality of the four beautiful children that she bore as a result. She knew that she and the children had made William feel accomplished as a man. He felt he was changing the world and raising his children to follow in his footsteps.
Delores remembers what happened that same October night like it was only yesterday. “I’m consumed with a series of events that I wish I could forget,” she said twirling the tea bag around in her cup. At around 6:05 pm, William had ironed his uniform and packed his navy blue duffle bag for his overnight shift at work. A few moments later when he was in the shower getting ready for his shift, Delores went through his bag. Looking closely without trying to make too much noise she found a gun, keys, books, food, and a big bottle of medicine with an orange trim.
She had went to the doctor and soon they had devastating news; for weeks after this Delores was the one responsible for making sure William met his daily doctor appointments. He died within weeks. He had been diagnosed with a terminal stage of liver cancer. Delores looks angrily at her hands, “He didn’t tell anyone, if he hadn’t kept it as secret we could have saved him.” The doctor told William that he had months to live and would experience extreme pain in the process.
Retired Fox Chase Cancer Research doctor Till Newman reflects back on the life of William and describes him one of his “fighter patients.” William had been stricken with a primary level liver cancer that forms directly in the tissue of the liver. Dr. Newman scratched his head as the family made their way through the halls of the hospital, which they visited every year in order to donate money to cancer research. “Liver cancer progresses in stages you see. William knew that something was wrong just shy of the months that the disease began to affect his body. When I did speak to him months later after his condition had been diagnosed, he said he was in denial. He couldn’t configure in his mind how he was being overcome by something that he had no control over. He was embarrassed by his sickness for the fact that it left him vulnerable and out of his role of being a ‘protector’.”
On the anniversary of her husband’s death, Delores wisps’ back and forth the pages of her old photo album. She smiles brightly at their wedding picture and the image of William in his Philadelphia police uniform which served as his prized possession. Rocking back and forth in her seat she stared awhile before saying, “I’m thankful for every day we spent together, and I’m not bitter about his disclosure of the disease. He was a helpful and caring man. For just that alone he served his purpose on this earth.”