Wes was nearly done writing a long letter he had been working on for two days. He put the pen to his lips and listened to the wind blow outside. Another cold and lonely Christmas had come and gone, but working on the letter gave him special purpose.
He lived in a small storage shed in his friend Larry’s back yard. In the ‘60s, Wes thought he would be drafted and sent to Vietnam, possibly to die, so for over a year, he hopped trains across the Lower 48, took odd jobs to get by, and met Larry along the way. Both men played guitar and harmonica. They were shy, too, and they especially liked the blues, so they shared a deep understanding of the life they were living. Neither of them was drafted, and in time, they both returned to mainstream America.
Wes met Joy in 1976 in Greeley, Colorado during a gig. She strolled boldly to the stage and requested “Sitting on Top of the World.” When Wes asked her what her name was and Joy told him, he said, “I bet.” Wes’s band played the song, and the two went out for breakfast after the show. Joy liked Wes’s gentle charm, and he liked her energy and perceptive understanding of human nature. Wes also came to realize that something terrible had happened in Joy’s life that would forever remain a dark secret that he would simply need to leave alone. Some things had to remain in the shadows.
For these and other reasons, the two grew so comfortable with each other, they could sit together happily for hours without saying a word. They were married within a year. Wes worked construction and Joy sold real estate. She earned most of the money, which was fine with both of them despite the somewhat patriarchal conventions of the day. The couple bought a house under Joy’s name and lived a quiet, intimate life for twenty years. During that time, their relationship blossomed into something neither of them could imagine losing.
Then Joy contracted breast cancer. Her diagnosis came so late that things fell apart with stunning speed. Before anyone could even begin to process the situation, she passed away on New Year’s Day of 1997. Over the next year, a few predatory members of Joy’s family wrestled the house away from Wes through some cunning legal wrangling. This, compounded with back and knee injuries Wes sustained in the construction business, left him a broken man. At this point in his life, he needed to escape Greeley and everything associated with it. He couldn’t live with any of those memories. He loaded up his ’95 Ford Econoline and left the area for good.
For a few years, Wes drifted from state to state, working odd jobs, drinking heavily, and keeping to himself. Each day became an exercise in forgetting, and each person he met reminded him of someone he didn’t want to know. He finally figured he needed to settle into one place for a while and try to function in a reasonably civilized manner although he knew he would never again be normal by most people’s standards. He wound up at Larry’s front door in Reno, Nevada. Larry’s house was too small to share with another person, but Wes was grateful when Larry offered him the opportunity to live in the shed. Although the winters were chilly enough, even with a decent space heater, the shed became his home, and after a while, he showed no great desire to live anywhere else. He continued to work odd jobs, and he and Larry put together a reasonably popular three-piece band that played in clubs and at concerts throughout the region.
The band would be playing a gig that night, so Wes knew it was time to finish the letter and start loading up the Ford. He wrote two final paragraphs he had been thinking about for a long time:
Sweetheart, your mom and I named you Misty because she said you would come to us through the mist of our crazy lives and soften everything. My goodness, I can’t believe you’re already 17 years old. Where in the world does the time go? You look exactly like your momma, and you’re smart, too, just like her. She would be so proud of you. You have no idea. You’re what we always wanted. Always keep in mind that I’ll never ignore you. I wish we could be together right now. I would hug you so tight!
I hope you can forgive us for never being able to conceive you. Lord knows we tried everything to bring you into the world. We just didn’t have any luck. But that doesn’t mean we can’t talk now. Maybe some people would think I’m crazy for writing these letters, but what difference could that possibly make? They’ll never know, and it’s nobody else’s business anyway. Besides, you’re more real to me than anyone else in my life, your mother excepted. I will love you two forever and ever, my sweet little angel. Thank you for being in my dreams. This little shed is never cold when I think of you. Anyway, I have to go play a gig. We’ll play “Sitting on Top of the Word” in the third set as always, and I’ll write again soon. I promise.
Wes folded the letter, placed it in a blank envelope, and slipped it under his bunk with the others. As he rose to grab his guitar and harmonica, he thought about what he would write in his next letter. There was still so much to be said.