Once upon a time, a boy in college came across a gorgeous brunette who changed his life. They began dating and soon met each other’s parents, not knowing it would be the only time the boy would see the girl’s father standing. The father unexpectedly became ill, was hospitalized, and not long after passed away. It was, of course, a difficult time for the girl, the baby of the family, but the boy was there for her to help her mourn and eventually recover.
It was Valerie and me. We met November 2, 1985 as seniors at University of Oklahoma, and I met her parents the following spring break. Before the semester finished, Valerie’s father, Van, had a foot infection that led to amputation, and later that year he passed away. Valerie and I were not yet engaged, but I was a pall bearer at Van’s funeral.
It was also Trenton and Jessica (sidenote: Trenton and I are also both the middle child, with an older brother and a younger sister). They met at the University of North Texas in the fall of 2014, six months after Trent’s second heart transplant. We had discussed Trent taking off that semester following the transplant, but he refused. Were it not for Trenton’s desire to keep going, he and Jessica might not have met.
Trent had met Jessica's parents, Gary and Daphne, near the end of 2014. In March, 2015, Gary suffered a ruptured aorta early in the morning and was rushed to Baylor hospital for emergency surgery. Jessica had driven from UNT to the hospital to be with her family and Trenton felt the need to be there for her. Trenton rode the train south from Denton to a stop where I met him and accompanied him to Baylor.
Having not previously met Jessica’s parents, I felt I should stop in and say hello, so I parked and we walked together into the hospital, onto the elevator, and to the second floor where I motioned to Trenton to lead the way. He asked, “Is this the waiting room,” which gave me pause for a fraction of a second before realizing, “Oh yeah, you don’t know where the waiting rooms are; you know where the operating rooms are. Yes, this is it.”
It was my first time in that waiting room since Trenton’s transplant nearly a year earlier, and memories flooded my mind. I recalled the hours of waiting (those rooms are aptly named), the friends and family joining us in the corner we had claimed, and how they distracted my thoughts from the surgery. Now we were there for Trenton to comfort someone, rather than for us to be comforted.
The surgery went well, and days passed as the family remained hopeful for Gary’s recovery, but one problem led to another until doctors determined Gary would not survive and could go home on hospice to pass away.
As the father of a young lady not fully out of the nest, I thought about the pain and regret Gary must have had for leaving Jessica. I wanted to reassure Gary by telling him that he need not worry, because Trenton would treat her the way I would want a young man to treat my daughter.
I texted Daphne for a time convenient to visit, but Gary was having problems and it was put off a day until Daphne notified me that I should come soon, because Gary was going home. It was not long before I arrived to see nurses working on Gary’s oxygen mask. I stood in the room with his family for a few minutes until the nurses finished, at which time Daphne told Gary I was there. Gary stuck out his hand and, in a weak voice said, “Nice to meet you.” There was little chance to say anything more than a quick hello before nurses surrounded Gary again. And that was it, no chance to reassure him of Trenton’s care for his daughter. He was sent home the next day and passed in the early afternoon.
Jessica joined us later in the year for the wedding of Austin and Kira in Oklahoma City. Leaving for the rehearsal dinner, the boys and I walked out of our hotel room just as Valerie and the girls exited from their room across the hall, Jessica third in line, and I caught just a glimpse of her sliding Trenton’s meds container into her purse (INTERNAL GASP!…SHE’S HANDLING THE MEDS!). It was a sign that Jessica might be serious.
Some months later, I mentioned to Jessica that Trenton’s mind and personality are not like that of most. However, it’s not the average person who changes the world; and those who are supportive of the uncommon mind have the best chance of being at the center of significance. I guess she was OK with that, because soon after, Jessica learned how to make Trenton’s meds.
So, what’s the next chapter? For Valerie and me it was getting engaged at Reunion Tower, overlooking the skyline of downtown Dallas. There we agreed to live happily ever after. You already know that not every day has been happy, but I can claim we are living (still) thankfully ever after…thirty years so far.
For Jessica and Trent, it was getting engaged at a restaurant with the skyline of downtown Dallas (including Reunion Tower) in the background. I hope they remember that the most meaningful life includes challenges, but because of it, and with persistence, they can live one that is Still Thankful.
P.S. My family is pretty intelligent, but my boys have certainly raised our average IQ with the ladies they have brought into our gang.