On February 7th Charlie was packing for what would be his last business trip to New York. He kept telling me “AJ are you going to be able to handle having me in the same town for all day, every day.” Yes, I said. He looked up with his famous grin and said I can’t wait to start our life together, you know be a normal couple with a dog living in a condo by the river.” I just laughed and walked into the kitchen. In truth I was delighted that he was giving up the fast paced New York life for a slow-paced midwestern life. The Valet brought my car up first. Charlie waved eagerly and said seven more days babe. Seven more days and we will be together all day every day. I love you he shouted and he caught the kiss I blew. With those words I was off to work.
Thoughts of our pending wedding raced through my head and mostly I was pretty darn excited to have someone to come home to at night. To have someone who understood how far I’ve come and where I was headed. Charlie knew me better than I knew myself and would tell the bartender “The lady will have a crown and coke, light on the ice with a twist of lime.” When a man knows your drink of choice, he’s a keeper. Most of my problems were solved over connect four and whiskey. Charlie trusted me with reviewing his memos and briefs. He would tell me “AJ this is going to change the world, please review it and check my spelling.” Charlie was a damn good legal writer however his spelling skills needed polishing. Together Charlie and I made the perfect team. He was a successful litigator and I was one hell of a paralegal. Together we created the life that dreams are made of.
Soon the weekend was upon me and I was rushing around getting ready for Charlie’s return. Shopping lists were completed, the Ivy Staff came over and cleaned. Cullen was set and I had started looking for someone to take over the lease on my uptown apartment. My IKEA filled apartment was to be packed up and stored. Each morning I awoke to the voicemail light blinking on my phone. Charlie always left me voice mails when he was out-of-town. On Valentine’s day he left me a long one. The words are forever etched into my memory. “Hey babes, its 3AM my time, 2AM your time, which means you are fast a sleep plotting your world domination. I just wanted to let you know I am all packed and ready to come home. In you I found my home. My world doesn’t make sense unless you are in it. You baby are the reason I breathe, you are the reason my life makes sense. I love you. Happy Valentine’s day love.”
In that moment I knew Charlie loved me more than anything in this world. He called me through out the day to tell me that he was being delayed and hat he was going to take the red-eye. Our last conversation was around 4PM, he was driving back to the city. We talked about his day, how the trial went and if he thought he had won. Charlie asked me how I was, about Cullen, and my day at work. I told him that I was ready for him to come home. Home, never sounded so good he said. I could tell that he was smiling. We said I love you and hung up. I went about my evening and drifted off to sleep around 10:30pm. In my heart I knew Charlie would be boarding the plane and coming home. Home. That Minneapolis would truly be our home. Little did I know, that Charlie would not be coming home.
At 6:05PM east coast time Charlie became the fifth car in a multi vehicle crash. He was air lifted to a nearby hospital and under went emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain and spine. He was unconscious. His mother got the call from the state patrol around 8PM and she rushed to the hospital to be by his side. The Doctors said it wasn’t good and she knew she had to call me. Minah couldn’t bring herself to do it, Charlie’s brother called me and broke the news. I fell to the floor and prayed that he would be all right. The earliest flight they could get me on was the late night red-eye.
On February 15th I went to work and acted like nothing had happened. I was dying inside, yet I knew in my heart that nothing I did would change the fact that Charlie was dying. Bad weather would delay my flight till the morning. At 2:55AM on February 16th my phone rang, in my heart I knew what it was. Minah could only whisper “I am sorry.” In that moment I knew he was gone. Charlie died while in surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain. At 3:15AM his heart gave out.
If only I had known that February 7th was the last day I would see Charlie alive. Maybe I would have chatted a bit longer, gave him an extra hug, and played that morning round of connect four. Then again I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Because I know he died knowing that I loved him with all of my heart. I can die knowing that Charlie died loving me. Love never dies, it is the legacy we leave behind. I may not be able to see Charlie or hear his voice, yet I know he is always with me. He is the voice that whispers “you can do it” on cloudy days, Charlie is pushing me along as he knows a woman like me deserves to be in love and happy. One day Charlie will see to it that I bring a child into this world and he will smile down on a little girl named Charlotte Rae, his namesake.
It has almost been a year since Charlie died and I finally have the strength to let go. To let go of what could have been and to say hello to my present. Losing someone isn’t as hard as the letting go. Letting go was the hardest part of my journey. To me letting go felt like I was turning my back on Charlie and the life we had. It meant saying goodbye one last time and waking up from the land of what if. I had to let go of the past so I could let someone new walk into my life and fall in love all over again. Charlie would want me to move on and to be happy again. Charlie would want me to live life to the fullest and to love with all of my heart. An because of that I am able to finally let go. To let go of a beautiful broken dream.
That is what makes life beautiful, beautiful because we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Each day is uncertain, it is up to each one of us to live it like its our last. To love with our entire heart and to do whatever we can to make this world a better place.