When breast cancer invaded our lives around twenty-something years ago, Judy quickly entered a period of marrying me off again to another.
It was awkward for me as Judy focused long and hard on planning my long years ahead, just in case her’s were short.
Reacting to her cancer in the first few weeks, it wasn’t about giving me a new play mate. That was the last thing on her mind, and probably made her skin crawl while thinking through her plans.
At the time we had baby twin sons, aged just one year, so her priority was to ensure that they were cared for in the best possible way by the right nurturing, maternal, loving and fun sort, should her life turn to absolute custard.
She was just 33 years old, and I was 29.
She was protecting her babies, her Seb and Al.
Irrationally or not, she did a lot of thinking out loud, like she was workshopping potential suitors for me for when the time came. Whether sooner, or later.
Her workshops were more a discourse, a ruminated choosing, though, and not a discussion.
These "conversations" would usually occur something like: "She's such a caring soul, and I love her to bits, and she’d surround our children with so much love and caring and devotion, and treat them as if they were her very own. Yes... Yes, yes, yes… But no, no, no, you'd end up fat, so no. She would cook for you too much, over-love and over-care for you, and you would eat all that she offered, and more, and you would grow too slow and fat to play with the children."
At the time I can remember not knowing where to look, and not knowing how to feel. The mere thought of being set up with someone for practical reasons to protect our children made me shiver. It was not right. This was my soul mate proposing future pairings with people who were not my soul mate, and it made my skin crawl too.
Lord knows what each of her choices would have thought.
I knew exactly what I would say immediately after every discourse ended, waiting patiently for her to finish, to get the thoughts off her slightly busted chest.
Back then, although still not confirmed, it was almost certainly early stage breast cancer, and everything I'd read and heard in the brief couple of weeks since we had received her initial diagnosis dismissed it as a death sentence. The odds were strongly in favour of it being fixable, especially as it had been found so early.
So despite her desperate ruminating and rushed forward planning for the worst, with her being a brand new mother fiercely defending the safety of her children, it was natural for me to say the right thing out loud, punctuated with a long hug, each and every time she finished.
"You're not going anywhere, hon."
And for a long time, I was right.
We never imagined that something like breast cancer would be the thing to prematurely end our love story. After all Judy and her doctors kicked it in the clacker first time round, and had been thoroughly checking her frequently ever since.
Back when, it had indeed been graded as "early" breast cancer, as expected: just one discrete Stage I lump with evidence that it may have spread to a fraction of one lymph node, so surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy did the job nicely, albeit brutally.
Many years of passion and growing babies ensued, educating them the best we could, showing them a wonderful world and a loving life together, and of us loving the bags out of our family togetherness.
And then stage IV metastatic breast cancer eventually arrived in our lives like an aircraft landing but unexpectedly skidding off the end of a runway in a storm, with pilot becoming passenger, slipping into a muddy field, undercarriage and engines ripped off, and turning all four of our lives suddenly upside down. Her cancer was the body equivalent of spilled Jet A-1 everywhere ready to be metaphorically ignited, stinking in the sudden stillness after the crash of her diagnosis.
Without treatment, Dr Rob guessed she had about three months.
There was a lot less talk of marrying me off when her cancer returned with a vengeance, despite it being diagnosed quickly as a terminal condition. Fair enough, because our sons were mostly all grown up, and young adults, and less highly dependent on a motherly nurturing aspect in their life. She'd heaped loads of that in their lives to date. Judy felt comfortable that she had done a great job of bearing them, raising them, guiding them, sacrificing for them, helping them, and loving them to bits, and most recently, had mentally handed them off into the care of partners of their own in readiness for them to begin their own independent lives.
Occasionally, there were some half-arsed attempts at match making me again, when Judy was reminded of how lovely some lady friends were when we bumped into them, or chatted here and there. At a wedding, at the horse races, at a birthday party.
The reason was purely to make sure that my heart would be the thing that was well cared for into the future.
Every time her choice for a mate to succeed herself was voiced, she had given it thorough and heavy thought for very different reasons to those twenty plus years ago, and made each suggestion with earnest love and respect. She didn’t give me her reasoning out loud, but I knew all the reasons why for each suggestion without hearing them. She didn’t need to explain, as being together as a loved-up couple for so long we only needed to exchange a glance to know what each other was thinking, and why we had thought it.
"We don’t need to speak any more, do we? We just grunt, understand, and laugh."
- Steve, with a giggle
I’m glad she didn’t feel the need to voice any more detail in those moments. Then I would have had to wait patiently until she finished, and look away to deliver a lie: "You're not going anywhere, hon."
My grunted replies would have made her delight in her choices, though. I saw it in her eyes.
Her reasons for the suggestions would have been that in her mind she had accepted the reality that she was going to die at some point in the near future, given metastatic breast cancer is always a terminal illness, and she wanted me to continue to live life brilliantly. Modern medicine is pretty cool, but the lab coats still haven't got their heads around solving this Stage IV nasty, so her life just became about extending the "when". What she would not have accepted was that when she died, that I would be left devastated and lonely.
She was right to be afraid of that.
I am devastated and lonely without her.
After the first few suggestions, thankfully she stowed all of that talk for good. We just got real busy living and enjoying the rest of the time that we had left, with me thinking that Judy had turned all her thoughts and energy towards keeping our little family together and loving life for as long as she could.
Blokes are a simple lot though, being easily fooled by silence on a topic. I learned recently from one of her close friends that from time to time Judy had continued to workshop the subject, but without me.
Instead of positive reinforcing thoughts about the right one for me, she was desperately worried about all the wrong sorts, though, and was afraid to leave me potentially in their clutches.
There's no recorded list of those that she was concerned about, and no little black book that she had secreted into my bedside drawer whilst I wasn't looking, fuck it, so I'm on my own to guard my heart, my sons, arse and assets, both corporal and financial. There are probably some clues left on Facebook messenger, but I'm in no hurry to do anything life changing, so her phone can stay in her handbag in the kitchen drawer.
I am so glad that she offered her thoughts and suggestions out loud to me, though. She accepted that I would need someone, and was well ahead of me in that thinking. She still is. That she spoke them out loud might assuage a pile of shit that my brain will surely heap on itself in future.
If a tryst were to happen by accidental circumstance, I would feel like I were having an affair. I guess that stems from how in love that I was with Judy, and how madly in love with her that I still remain.
If I did hold another with love and intent, I would irrationally feel like hiding it from my sons, who are now grown men, and in no way idiots so they'd pick up on it quickly. If I did, I would hide it from Judy’s mother, irrationally or not (one does not fuck with the head of one’s mother-in-law, does one? Love you, Madge.)
Still, Judy would not have wanted me to hide anything. She spoke out loud, repeatedly, to tell me that it’s okay. She needed my heart to be well taken care of.
"But if she’s a bitch, I’ll fuck her up from Heaven..."
I still proudly wear the diamond emblazoned wedding ring that Judy sealed our original love affair of marriage with, and smile at the hope that it possesses apotropaic magical properties, warding off any nasty advances.
Fattening aged fingers and knuckles forced it off my left hand earlier this year for a re-size, though, with it annoyingly managing to cut off circulation over summer, making my finger ache despite me losing a tonne of weight. I didn't wan't to be without finger or ring, so it caused me to think and act, even if slowly and carefully.
It has a new home on my body, a procrastinating, indecisive, and agonising half year later, and now sits on my right hand, away from its rightful left-hand place that it kept guarded and bear hugged to a crush with love for the past twenty five years. As my friend Erin would say, on the right is now its "forever home".
I thought about this shift a lot, and agonised over it seeming a betrayal, thought by me, or as viewed by others.
It's move is not an invitation. I don't desire the space vacated to be replaced with the ring of another, so that has in no way influenced me. I've no intention of going there, but still I would never say never. To say "never" would be stupid, however unlikely it is, and yep, I'm not stupid. But lightning would need to strike twice though, gaining another soul mate before that happened, and I'm not even sure they come in twos. My mate Clarkie would describe them as "rare as rocking horse shit".
When wearing someone else's medals, those who have passed, they should be positioned on your right hand chest to be worn in their honour, and never the left covering the heart. There's rules for that. Although nowhere near remotely the same, I think a move to my right hand away from "the ring finger" perfectly honours my paramilitary policing Princess Sexy Jack.
But that's not the reason.
I look at that ring and remember me gasping when she slipped it on my finger.
I later learned that she had smuggled the exquisite loose diamond back into the country, sans duty, then commissioned a jeweller to replicate a Cartier design to set it in 18k gold for me. Loving the design, she wore a smaller yet near identical piece as right-hand jewellery, too, with her cheekily and sneakily also commissioning that, near the same time as mine, sort of replicating the "Wonder Twins" ring thing of Zan and Jayna in their animated cringe-worthy TV show from our childhood. She didn't even know then that twin sons were coming. Thoughts of the twinning ring thing make me bloody grin so widely (Google, young ones, and cringe), and it reminds me how instantly close she and I became, so very long ago.
Her twin diamond ring lies locked in our safe forever, getting a visit from me every now and then. A gift to herself, I consider it far more precious than her engagement ring sat in the box beside it, even though that was a gift from my heart, and a far better stone.
She didn't wear her engagement ring for the entire time that she was a police officer, instead swapping it for a near identical costume job (with a slightly bigger, but worthless rock) in the same design. She didn't want Joe Shitman pinching her real one, so while precious, the real deal wasn't precious enough to wear every day and guard with her life. Her life was far more precious. But she always wore her Cartier Wonder Twin ring on her right hand, though, probably thinking that the fake big rock on her left hand would make an effective decoy to throw at Joe.
I feel my wonderful newly goldsmith expanded rounded band, twist it, and see the mesmerising colourful refractions in the near flawlessly graded brilliant cut stone that she sneaked across the border, and when I do it brings thoughts of our riot of paired love dancing into my heart. I look at my right finger now, just as Jude would have looked at hers on her right, thinking those same thoughts of our awesomeness.
So I wear it there because that is where Judy wore hers. For me that's a thing far greater than marriage.
As time passes, I know that I will likely form a relationship with someone else, some day, and I know that Judy would want me to. I'm fifty one, which means I've got just 18,800 days on the odometer, give or take. One owner, low days, but well run in, so while I've got some damaged panels that want beating, I've still got a lot of living and loving left in me. She knew that if I found somebody in future it would be with no disrespect. She wanted me to.
I do hope that Jude won't be too pissed off should it be no one of her choosing, though. She better be a bloody good sort, or God help her when word reaches Heaven.
Judy knew in her soul that I was her soul mate, and would be so for eternity, as I know in mine that she is mine.
Nothing earthly could possibly change that.
Apotropaic magic (from Greek αποτρέπειν "to ward off" being από- "away" and τρέπειν "to turn"). It's a type of magic intended to turn away harm or evil influences. Pronouced as in apo-tro-pay-ic. #smartereveryday
Jack. Australian slang for police officer. This term originated in Brisbane, Australia in the mid to late 1980's and spread to the rest of the country. The term was coined by graffiti writers and street kids that frequented the city mall. The police congregated by the Hungry Jacks burger restaurant, so they became known as the Jacks.
Random footnote, with no referral, so I fucking hope it gets read. "A heart is not able to be over-filled with love, with one love needing to be replaced by another, or love being conserved. Its capacity for love is not bounded by the laws of physics, or chemistry, rather the heart has infinite capacity." - Steven F.W. Saunders, October 2019. #quotemewhenimgone #loveyoumoreprincess 😘