It's been a week since his wife died. This December would have been their 50th wedding anniversary. Floyd and Patricia Valead hadn't been apart since they were young teenagers; he is now 71, she was 69. He feels like he wants to cry but he can't. The sobs come up from his chest and he rubs his calloused hands on his face, his head, through his wispy white hair, and shakes. His eyes are wet. But that's all that happens. His granddaughter tells him he will feel better if he cries.
Let it out, she says.
Right now, Floyd is focused on fixing the house. It is where Patricia died. Floyd's been there every day gutting it and scrubbing it, his friends alongside him. The walls have gone from black to gray. Nothing could be saved. Floyd didn't have homeowner's insurance.
He refuses to consider moving anywhere else.
"It's our home," he said.
The fire was quick. It was about 8 p.m. June 1 when Floyd left the house on Red Cardinal Court, in the tidy Crystal Lake mobile home park, to pick up a prescription for Patricia at a pharmacy a few blocks away. These past few years her health has been declining; heart failure, infection, oxygen tank, dementia. Investigators believe the fire started when Patricia lit a cigarette while still on her oxygen tube, causing an explosion. Floyd thinks she forgot to take it off before going out on the porch.
Before he left, she called him over to her.
"Give me a kiss and get back here," she said.
He thinks of that kiss now.
On his way back, he stopped at a friend's house a few streets over to talk about golf. Floyd's daughter had been forcing him to spend one day a week doing something outside of the house, something other than taking care of Patricia, so he and some buddies had taken up golfing.
While he was there, a neighbor burst inside:
"Floyd," she said, "your house is on fire."
Floyd sprinted to his car and raced to his house and ran inside. All he saw was blackness. The smoke was so thick.
"Pat!" he screamed. "Pat!"
He knew she was inside. He fell to the ground and crawled, feeling for her. He couldn't breathe. He stumbled outside, inhaled, then ran back in. Floyd was a bricklayer all his life and still does physical labor; yard work, lifting, hauling, power washing homes for his neighbors.
He is strong.
He pushed forward.
"Pat!" he shouted. He thought she might be in the screened-in front porch. It was her favorite spot. Finally, he felt her leg. Her body was slumped over a table. He grabbed her and carried her outside to the driveway and began breathing air into her lungs, trying to bring her back. Neighbors came and helped. Paramedics arrived and put Floyd, blackened from smoke, in an ambulance and Patricia in another. They got Patricia's feeble heart started again, but she was brain dead.
Nurses at the hospital cleaned the soot off her face. The couple's daughter, Kim, and her children were there. Floyd, still being treated for smoke inhalation, was brought into his wife's room. Their son, Chad, who lives in Michigan, talked to his mother by speaker from a phone laid on her chest. She was taken off life support and died at 10:52 p.m., less than three hours after she asked for her kiss.
Floyd has not talked about how he will live without Patricia. He is a buck up and carry on sort of person. He said he and his wife were made for each other.
"She just was for me," he said Wednesday, as he wiped sweat from his face with a towel as he worked on the house.
He always had fun with her, no matter what they were doing. They made each other laugh.
Floyd said their secrets to happiness were simple: Don't be the boss all the time. If you're wrong, admit you're wrong, whether it's in public or in private, just say you're sorry. If you want to do something and she doesn't, find something you both want to do. Compromise. When their two children were grown and Patricia went back to work, Floyd realized it wasn't fair for her to work all day and have dinner ready for him at night. It was his turn.
"Teach me how to cook," he said.
So she did. His food is nearly as good as hers, not quite, but close; the cherry pie, pineapple upside down cake, the roasts and gravies. The night she died, Patricia said she wanted breaded pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans and mushroom soup, and Floyd made it for her, all of it, happily, because he loved her.
Reach Erin Sullivan at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.