Image courtesy of Michael Ableman
A few months ago I took a business trip out to Texas. On the way home I found myself sitting next to a kindly-faced older man named Mike Wright, who engaged me in conversation about the agricultural state of Austin. Mike explained that he owned a farm and was going to California to attend a seminar on how to plant a special bacteria in his soil that would encourage the growth of the crops he wanted.
"My second wife and I love the country," he said. "I never been to California. We ain't been separated more'n five days at once."
This naturally led to a conversation about his life and past. I was particularly intrigued by his use of "second wife" - he didn't seem much like the divorce type. At some point he began talking about his first wife, a woman to whom he had been married perhaps 25 years, give or take a little.
"We were so happy ... and so different," he mused sadly. His eyes watered slightly and he elaborated a bit on their life together. She liked to play the piano, and they lived next door to their respective best friends, another longtime married couple.
"If anything ever happens to me, you ought to marry [my best friend]," she often said. "You two are so alike."
One day a wildcard took them both by surprise and changed their quiet, happy lives. I didn't know much about Lou Gehrig's disease until gentle Mike began his painstaking elaboration of what it was like to see it overtake the person you love.
"It disables the muscles you use the most, to start," he said slowly. "So for her ... it was her hands, her piano-playing hands, that first went. So for us, Lou Gehrig's announced its arrival when the music stopped."
Lou Gehrig's crept over and across other vital muscles, slowly disabling and eventually asphyxiating the vibrant woman he loved. In six months she was gone. In so short an amount of time between complete happiness and total desolation, it must have been like the wind just up and took her one day.
"Sometimes it's slower, it can take years," he said. "I'm glad it didn't take years. I couldn't see her suffer like that."
This was probably the tragedy of Mike Wright's life. He moved away from the home they shared and their two best friends, then vanished for awhile. Then one day, years later, he ran into his former next door neighbor's wife, the woman his wife once joked would be his perfect match.
"She divorced," he said. "And we found we are very much alike! We married soon after that." His smile was bittersweet. "We do everything together - we're very outdoorsy. Neither of us like to be apart. And we both miss my first wife very much."
The talk with Mike Wright made the plane trip a short one. After a pause during which the plane began to descend, he took my ticket stub and wrote out, "When the Music Stopped - Mike Wright."
"That's the book I wrote about my wife," he said with the gentle, arresting smile I'd become familiar with. "Look it up on Amazon - read it and see if you like it. If you don't, you let me know and I'll send you your money back."
We shook hands, and he asked me to give him a call next time I find myself in Austin and crave a fresh-farmed meal.
Talk about organic marketing.
If his is the kind of story that moves you, here's where you can pick up a copy of his work: