How can a pool noodle come to mean so much to me? How does it symbolize our love? Or his personality? Or how much he cared for me?
Can I salvage it? Can I take a large, sharp steel cutting knife and slice off the frayed edges? Will that make it new again? Whatever I do, it won’t bring him back.
In April 2017, we were staying at a friend’s condo in Treasure Island, Florida. We were hanging on for dear life to what we had created, to our future, to his health, to our happiness. He was a little weak at that point, but I had no idea how bad it would get in a few short months, or that he would be gone before summer’s end. He was still a formidable man who caught everyone’s attention when he walked into a room – he seemed larger than life at six foot five inches tall, with those broad, impressive shoulders. I’m sure I was one of the few people who noticed the change in him.
He once taught a 3-day class for a communications job and he was jokingly introduced as Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura. One or two of the students actually believed it until the day the class was over. He said he felt bad for them, because they were a little embarrassed when they realized they got suckered. He found it hard to fathom that they believed it, but I understood. He was large and intimidating, and anyone would believe he was a wrestler, with his towering height, those massive hands, wide shoulders, shiny bald head… he just looked the part.
But what he looked like and the real man were two different things. Despite looking like a tough guy, he was squeamish and caring and sensitive. He told me he had gone fishing once in his life, and as he watched the fish he caught flopping about on the deck, he was appalled. He said, “The fish couldn’t breathe! I had to throw him back. I couldn’t watch him suffer like that. And I never fished again.”
He never had to prove his toughness, because nobody ever tested him. He said he never had to throw a punch in his life. He was a bouncer once, in his early twenties. He said if there was a brawl or a bar fight, all he would have to do was walk up, square his shoulders, and anyone would run, even a boisterous drunk.
I think my father was a little intimidated when he met him. Did he need to worry about me? Would this large man who claimed to love his daughter hurt her or protect her? I was nearing 40, and he and my mother desperately wanted me to get married. I was a single mother of a 14-year-old son at the time, and we were living in my father’s house. So yes, he really wanted me to find a man. He often implied that he would die a happy man as long as I had a husband to “take care of me.“ That’s how fathers in his generation thought. A woman needs a man. My 95-year-old grandmother also confirmed that ideology. For five years, I worked full-time, while raising my son and simultaneously earning my Bachelor’s Degree. When I graduated, I called to tell her the happy news, and she said, “That’s great. Now when are you going to find a husband?”
And within a year I did. And that man did take care of me. Yes, I’m a feminist. Yes, I am capable of taking care of myself, and I can handle life alone. Despite that, I enjoyed how Rick made me feel loved, cherished, and “taken care of.”
But now he’s gone, and I take care of myself, again.
On our last vacation, the one we took three months before he died, I asked him to buy me a pool noodle so I could use it to prop my head while I floated in the swimming pool. And “the big fella,” the man who always did things in a big way, bought me the largest pool noodle they had. It’s a jumbo pool noodle – nearly 6-inches in diameter. And it’s fuchsia pink – which he knew was my favorite color. When he returned from his shopping trip and came to the pool with it, I laughed to myself when he handed it over to me. Because it was so typical of him, with those giant paws, and that lofty view he had of life in general, to buy the biggest pool noodle they sold. Bigger than I expected – and in that perfect color.
And I remember feeling great love for him that day. For the man who was larger than life and who did everything in a huge way. I knew I was the luckiest woman in the world to find this man who knew everything about me and loved me and wanted to please me with even the little things in life, like finding me this big fuchsia pool noodle. And I also remember being aware that we may not have much longer together, that the cancer would probably win, and that I’d lose my larger-than-life lover. And I was right.
This cheap pool toy, with its ragged edges, brings back all those feelings and memories.
And for that reason, I cherish this pool noodle. So I sliced off the ragged edges, and I’ll try to salvage it a bit longer. Because, to me, it’s so much more than a pool noodle. It’s a symbol of a very large, extremely loving man, who once took care of me.