My husband is my miracle. Truly. He saved my life. But I certainly didn’t have any clue about his saintliness early on.
I was hanging in the lunch room at Portland’s most majestic funeral home, Caldwell’s Colonial Chapel. While crafting my perfect boyfriend wish list with a Super Big Gulp close by, someone’s breath ruffled my hair. I looked up and saw Dirty Jersey. Dirty Jersey was a guy who tended to always be right where I happened to be, at any given time. It was sort of flattering, sort of creepy, possibly most annoying. He kept trying to get my attention.
“What do you need?” I half-barked. Couldn’t this young jerk see I had important pre-marital business to attend to? Making my list over here, buddy. Find your own damn coffee filter.
I gave “Dirty Jersey” this name for all the obvious, stereotypical reasons. First off, he was from Jersey. He also had a predilection to wear black leather; plus he sneered and swore a lot. All I ever heard him talk about was chicks, sex, cars, sports, gadgets and beer, not necessarily at the most appropriate times. But the guy was our cremator so I needed him. He hung alone in the bowels of the building, breathing in the smoke of the dearly departed. Crematories aren’t exactly open air, and the real creepy ones aren’t without a fear factor.
There were lots of stacked boxes marked “personal belongings” and hadn’t been touched in ages. That alone spooked me. Many people who have worked at Caldwell’s have spoken of hearing sounds and seeing black shadows during all hours. Rumors flourished of whispers in the hall ways, lights going out and coming back on, or that you’d leave a room with the lights off and suddenly see them switch on. Even the water went on and off. I always felt myself getting light headed when I went down there.
And that’s where “DJ” spent his time, raking the coals of those who have shuffled off their mortal coil. And the “Creeper” was hot for my action. I often found him slinking around the periphery, rocking one of his black Kangol caps when I shared details of my blind dates. One by one as I lined my dates up and then shot them down for my female co-worker, and the “Incinerator Baiter” would voice his completely negative opinion as my dater hater.
He lived in an ancient, yet elegant funeral parlour that had been quite stately in its heyday. Ross Hollywood Funeral Chapel stood on a brick foundation nearly three feet above the level of the grounds with capacious steps approaching the verandahs and entrances. On one wall was an early-sixteenth-century icon on wood of a little boy; on another were three pencil drawings by the Old Masters. A seventeenth-century Flemish chest with ebony and inlaid red tortoiseshell stood in a corner of the room. The walls were saturated with red velvet wallpaper.
Very slowly I got to know this man, a riddle wrapped in a mystery. Our dates at the parlour seemed magical. We would cross the roof and traverse a thin attic space which suddenly dropped us into the balcony of the chapel. We would explore and laugh all night. Navigating the bizarre hidden doors and passages were about as much fun as you can have sober with your pants on.
Dirty Jersey, treated me as if I’d hung the moon myself. He made me feel confident. Unlike other men, he didn’t shirk from my self-proclaimed status as a funny girl. He admired that I was a mortician, pursuing a less traditional career path. He looked at me with big worshippy blue eyes and I loved it. I loved every second of it. He wore a permanently bemused expression, had a mop of curly hair and held a bit of mischief in his dark eyes. How come I never noticed that before?
He asked me to marry him the following St. Valentine’s Day. I planned a cross-country wedding in five months, and on July 9, 2006 we were married at a palatial palace…in New Jersey.