My husband was a deadbeat. Not by choice but a series of unfortunate events. He grew up an orphan and bounced around home to home and eventually the streets. He’d gotten severely injured working for a construction group as a teen, long before we had met. From the same site he developed multiple respiratory afflictions that followed him all his days. His rags were unsightly as he pumped my gas on a fall evening. So, I gave him an extra $20 for his services.
He said, “miss, we will never meet again and it wouldn’t sit right with me if I didn’t take my only opportunity to ask the most beautiful women I ever seen out for coffee. May I treat you to a cup. Or two? Or three?”
I asked him where he was going to get money for six cups of coffee. He told me while holding up that bill “I just got paid darling. Besides, I don’t like coffee. I could sit and watch you drink a few though.”
“What are you gonna eat then?” I asked
“Your smile is all the nourishment I need.” Without a beat I smiled. “Mm mm mmm, there it goes,” he rubbed his stomach. I don’t know why but tears formed around my eyes. “Are you thinking about how you’ll break it off with your current partner?” That made me laugh. It made me laugh and laugh and then I notice he never approached my window, keeping a good distance. I wiped my tears and waved him over,
“How can you tell I’m so beautiful from over there?”
“Oh no, I’m in my work clothes sweetie, I smell like last week.” He said fluffing his ripped coat. There was no mistake he was homeless, but I played along.
“So when are you not in your work clothes?”
“Oh baby I work twenty four- seven,” he waved off the question, “when you were fishing for your card, that’s when I saw you.”
“So you just gonna stand over there?” I couldn’t believe I fell for this man.
“Why would I ruin this moment with how I smell?”
“So how am I gonna see you again?” I asked him. In that moment he pondered the question. He walked over to the car and knelt down to the window.
“Tell me your coffee order and meet me here tomorrow same time.”
“I just got gas and I’m only in this area for it.”
“See I told you I’d never see you again,” he sucked his teeth, a lightbulb went off “how’s this, I’ll wait a week and I’ll be here with your coffee.” I nodded to that and asked his name. “Maxxwell. With two X’s.”
“They said when I was born I was a big baby so they added a X.” I laughed again.
“I’ll see you later Maxxwell.” He nodded and I was on my way only after I told him my favorite coffee.
I came back a week later. I didn’t need the gas, but I wanted to see him and there he was. Coffee and a some croissants in hand. I parked by the air pumps and he came over. Through the window he handed me the drink and food and sat on the ledge to enjoy his food.
“You not gonna get in?” I leaned through the window.
“This smell won’t come out them cloth seats. Hard working woman like you doesn’t need another reason to come to the gas station. Especially since your tank nowhere close to empty.” He was observant.
“Get in,” I waved him over. He shook his head no taking a bite of the bread. “I ain’t coming back if you don’t.” He jumped off that ledge so fast. I laughed so hard. The smell wasn’t too bad, and he was mindful about dropping crumbs. Before I knew it, I’d been there for hours. That’s when he’d told me about his life. That’s when I shared about mine.
Contrary to him I’d been adopted and raised by a wonderful couple. They’d passed away a few years ago but set me up to live a good life. I had my dream career and my whole life ahead of me. Not once did his eyes shift from amazement. He had no inclination of jealousy. Most men in better positions are.
“Do you want to- “
“Yes.” He said.
“I didn’t even finish the question!” I spat some coffee out. As calm as he could say,
“I’m here for anywhere and anything with you.”
I took him home.
We got married two years later. Would’ve been a year but his health quickly declined, delaying our wedding. We got married at the courts since we both had little friends. Some of his friends from the shelter came. Not a single one of my coworkers I invited came. They’d been highly against our partnership. They’d fear he was only using me, his condition would be a burden, even insisting he’d turn my house into ‘bum-central’ inviting other less fortunate people over.
They quickly came around after our first year together. He’d drop me off at work and although I told him he could take the car wherever he wanted he said he had no better feeling waiting home until it was time to get me.
And when we got home the house was always immaculate.
I mean, I did my part as I’d lived alone for years since my parents past but he stayed true to his word. He worked twenty-four seven. He maintained our home through his illness and made repairs the electrician always overcharged me for. He was mindful of his usage around the house, he said ‘I’m used to having without. Now that I have I couldn’t overuse if I tried.’ One thing about that man, he was always honest. No matter the situation he told me the truth. I loved him for that. So, when he came home after a few days working a new job telling me he couldn’t handle it I believed him. The next day he was searching for something else he could apply to do. In the mean time he got his GED online which in turn helped his job search.
However, He was too sick to ever keep a job though he tried. He soon required daily medication and could barely handle medium social gatherings. Regardless of those facts I love him. For such a sick man he was gorgeous. That man was kind and stubborn. Stubborn to love me as however he could. Stubborn to do whatever he could.
At first he raked leaves and cut grass for neighbors on the street. We had decided he shouldn’t go to certain houses as single and married women would invite him in for overtime pay. We kept it cordial when we saw them and their families in public. Each year he said the money he got was ‘not enough’ and as sickly as he was, he found work each holiday season as a per-diem employee at our local food and clothing stores. He brought in money we didn’t need to always surprised me with a gift for my birthday and Christmas.
Four years ago he came home from raking leaves and had this shameful look spread across his face. Without asking he told me he lost his wedding ring inside the neighbor next door. With only 30 minutes to spare I was able to go over and fish it out before her husband got home. We had a long discussion that night but kept it cordial with the neighbors after the fact.
He worked as hard as he could to keep our marriage together and we managed to weld it back together. From that day I wondered what he could do to do better, as he already did all he could. I soon had to tell him I didn’t need breakfast in bed before work, my shower steamed and ran before I got in, my clothes pressed and car warmed and the extra things he did around the house. Day in and day out Maxxwell did not miss a beat.
Call me what you will but I had forgave that man. At least I thought I did. It was fall again and everything had been as it was when we first got married until he came around one day and told me He’d lost his ring again. He had the same horrific look on his face from the last time. He openly told me it’s been gone for a few days, and he had no idea where it was. He ‘hoped’ he or I would find it. I stood up and went next door. She denied any activity with him this time around and I wasn’t about to ask any other home about my husband’s whereabouts. It had been especially cold this year, so he didn’t rake leaves as much due to his lungs burdening him.
I could tell his chest was bothering him from watching him under the overpass after I’d kicked him out. I told him to go find where he had left it. That was 5 days ago. I threw him out with his medication and the clothes on his back as I prepared the divorce papers. He pleaded he didn’t cheat on me, that didn’t know where it was but after I shouted at him, He swallowed hard and said,
“Thank you for being my lifeline all these years. I will never make up for what I did those years ago, and I’ll never get the chance again,” and he walked out.
The leaves in my yard built up for the first time in 10 years. He’d raked them after the first shedding of leaves this fall but now it was my turn to permanently take over. I took my anger out on the red, brown and orange ombre of leaves until, my heart dropped into my stomach. With a twinkle and shimmer, tears streaked down my cheek. I left his ring in the yard and started my car to the overpass. The cold bit my legs as I ran for the tent he had been near last I saw him. The foul odor of garbage and god knows what burn my nostrils the entire sprint down. I heaved in front of his zipped closed tent calling his name for him to come out. When I gasped for air my eyes found his medication box outside, the same way I had given it to him, yet to be touched. My nose had finally picked up where the stench came from.
For years, I held a sliver of anger toward him clouding the reasons why I loved him. One of them I held dear but neglected to remember; he never lied.