I’ll never forget my reaction upon first seeing my cousin Ruthann’s new boyfriend Jim back in the eighties: whoa! He was just stunning. Tall, dark, great smile. And his personality? Kind, reserved, respectful. Yes, I’ll say it: too good to be true. But he was true. And so was my cousin Ruthann. She matched him perfectly, inside and out. I’ll let you in on a little secret I’ve always kept to myself–regretfully–until now. Growing up I wanted to be Ru. She was so blonde and pretty and happy and always hung around the cutest boys. She was–and still is–so sweet and kind and nurturing. And then when she nabbed Jim? My God, the perfect couple. There is no couple I’ve ever known like them. That is the truth. Anyone who knows them will probably tell you the same thing. So when I heard of Jim’s passing on October fourth, I was wrecked. Devastated. Trying to make sense of how God could do this. As a family member and someone who loved Jim, the pain was awful. But as a writer who wants to believe in the happy ending, as the pre-teen girl who vowed to NEVER get married unless I could find a man like Ru’s (obviously I couldn’t; still single, people), I was punched in the soul. Jim was threefold for me: a great person, an awesome husband, and the best daddy a girl could ever want. Two children survive him, and one of them is a girl. A writer. In a funny twist, not only was Jim my ideal version of a mate, but the ultimate father. No disrespect to my own father, whom I loved dearly and who I know loved me, but my parents split when I was three, so I didn’t grow up with him around the clock. There was no daily reminder that there was a big, strapping man who always had my back and loved me no matter what. So not only did Ru get the best husband, but her daughter got the best daddy. Two for two.
The last time I saw Jim was too long ago, January 2000. I was on a road trip with three of my best girlfriends, Lisa included. We stopped in Memphis to have lunch with Ru and Jim. We stayed in a hotel, which Ru was quite upset about: no family came to visit and didn’t stay with her. And although she’d met Lisa and one of the other girls before–we stayed at her house during 1997’s road trip–I felt four of us would be imposing. Plus the fourth gal was so moody and judgmental I didn’t want to bring that into Ru’s home. I thought for sure her smart mouth would have something to pick apart about my cousins. But after an awesome lunch–which Jim insisted on covering–the four of us walked out of there and got in the car and . . . silence. We drove a little, and the moody one was the first to break the silence. “Rachel, your cousins are two of the nicest people I’ve ever met.” I nodded. “Yep. I love them.” “Me, too,” Lisa said. “Really sweet,” agreed the last. We rehashed what was talked about, especially the U.S. Navy plane that almost killed the GooGoo Dolls. “That was us,” Jim said proudly, tongue-in-cheek.
“God, if I could find a man like that,” the moody one said, all of us having just turned thirty, all of us still single. The car went silent again, for quite a long time, all of us inwardly reassessing where we were with our recently cut-loose men, all of us hoping another Jim Swilley was out there somewhere, waiting for us to find him. The answer: nope. Jim was one of a kind, and he will be missed by all who knew him. And if you didn’t know Jim, consider yourself missing him, too. You hold the saddest position of all, one of never having been touched by the gentlest of hands.
I’ll end with some lyrics from Richard Ashcroft’s song, Brave New World. It’s a beautiful, haunting song that I listened to non-stop when both my father and brother passed.
Into the brave new world
I hope I see you on the other side
of this changing world
When my ship pulls in
I’ll try to believe in anyone
look at the shape I’m in
But for now
I’m just sitting at the table
and wishing I was able . . . stable
I hope I see you on the other side