Rumors of his death … by
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I never really lost track of Hugh completely over the 40-plus years we’ve known each other. We met in Palo Alto when I was a 24-year-old writer and he was 42 and an extremely talented industrial designer. We were inseparable for the next three years. Our goals in life eventually diverged and he went back to his old girlfriend Becky–someone whom I didn’t like or respect for a variety of reasons. The breakup was particularly painful for me and I didn’t want contact with Hugh for a number of years, although I knew he had stayed in the area and had moved in with Becky.

The floor under my feet seemed to drop away, and a roaring began in my head. I must have replayed the message 10 times. Was someone playing a cruel joke?

Eventually we would communicate sporadically and every so often see each other. Mutual friends told me when Hugh had a quadruple bypass, and I visited him in the hospital. Once, nearly 30 years after we broke up, we unexpectedly ran into each other at the San Jose Symphony with our respective partners. Becky glared at me. Afterward, my sweetheart said, “He’s still in love with you.” At that point I tried to avoid contact, although occasionally we would check in with each other. He once mentioned that Becky was diagnosed with Parkinsons. Years could go by without a word, but I never stopped thinking about him.

About two years ago, I ran into Katie, a mutual friend. “Marian,” she said, “I’m sure you want to know that I’ve lost track of Hugh. I’ve called his friends Jim and Bob, and they haven’t heard anything for months. Someone thought he had cancer. Hate to tell you this, but I think he passed away.” I had to turn my head to wipe away the tears, while I thought, “How cruel of Becky not to tell us anything.” As someone who needs closure, I had to find out what happened and find some sort of death notice.

Thus began the search. Hugh hadn’t used email, as far as I knew, so no luck there. His common last name increased the difficulty. Katie kept trying to find people who might know something, while I went online. No obituaries, no death records anywhere, from the Bay Area to Hugh’s hometown near Galveston, Texas. No social security records, and no records of any kind, except an odd trust document that showed Becky had given Hugh her house. That didn’t make sense … I located Becky’s address, although no phone number, but I didn’t feel that I could contact her. Every few months I’d try again, with a new website, a new angle. Nothing. It seemed that Hugh had just vanished. By the beginning of last year, I made my peace with not knowing, and maybe never knowing. I abandoned the search.

About six months ago, I started getting calls on my land line from the 812 area code. I didn’t pick them up, and there never was a message, so I considered them robocalls. Out of curiosity, I looked up where area code 812 was–Galveston, Texas. Then, in the beginning of November, I returned home one afternoon to a couple of missed calls from the same number. The phone rang again, and this time there was a message. I pressed the play message button and heard, in a soft east Texas accent, “Hello writer, this is designer. Would love to talk with you.”

The floor under my feet seemed to drop away, and a roaring began in my head. I must have replayed the message 10 times. Was someone playing a cruel joke? The voice was familiar if a little older and shaky. I swallowed, and my hands trembling, called the number. It was indeed Hugh. “You’re alive! Are you in Texas?”

“Yes, I’m alive,” Hugh replied, “I’m on my sister’s phone plan but here in San Jose. But I wanted to tell you–Becky died two weeks ago.” Suddenly everything made sense–the Parkinsons, the trust document, and the confusion of who really had passed away. He wasn’t that well, I could sense that, but he could still make me smile, even under the circumstances. We talked while we both cried a little and laughed a lot. The call concluded without a lot of closure. We might see each other sometime, or perhaps not, and either will be OK now. I’ve already gone through the searching and grieving and am ready to remember the smiles and joy.

 

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Marian, what a tender, beautifully written story! This is proof that just because you can’t be with someone, no matter the reason, you don’t have to stop loving them. I’m not talking about carrying a torch, just that love, in whatever form it takes, be it romantic, platonic, or familial, transcends circumstance. If you’re true and honest, It doesn’t take away from other love, it adds to your depth of experience, caring, compassion, and ability to love others. I’m so glad you were able to reconnect with Hugh in this lifetime!

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Marian, I love this story and am so glad you finally reconnected. For me, it’s the not knowing that’s the worst.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Lovely story, Marian. How difficult not to know for so long, then to get that call out of the blue! Even in this internet age, we can’t find everyone. I’m glad he got in touch and now you know and have that closure.

  4. A wonderful story Marian, so glad you and Hugh spoke, and so good now to remember the smiles and the joy!

  5. Suzy says:

    As everyone else has said, it’s a wonderful story and what a relief to know. But he was in San Jose when you talked in November. Is he still there? Unlike everyone else, who seems happy that you have closure, I really want you to see him. I don’t know how you can resist the idea of getting together after all these years. Regardless of how it turns out, it would be something I would have to do. If you do, and you don’t want to write another story about it, at least send me an email!

    • Marian says:

      Suzy, that’s an interesting take. Part of the reason I didn’t initiate a get-together was timing. He was going out of state to spend time with his girlfriend’s family, and then the holidays hit. That said, I do plan on calling him, and we’ll see what happens. Anything with Hugh always seems to yield a good story.

  6. From the title to culmination, you expertly kept me guessing at the final scene. And what a response to the call, ears roaring, floors dropping away! An abrupt response to the shock of losing a partner, that call. I also was moved by your final reflection with no need for closure — “I’ve already gone through the searching and grieving and am ready to remember the smiles and joy.” Oh yeah. I always dance a quick step to victory when I come to that conclusion.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Charles, I’m glad the story resonated with you. It’s amazing how a combination of snippets of information, plus a misdirection or two, can lead to a mystery. Once I got through the experience, it felt as if I had a balance between a sweet past and the here and now and could accept both.

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