I never really fell into the "honey", "sweetie" habit. He was Jim Payne. Just, Jim Payne.
Jim and I worked together at a radio station, and some co-workers, Bill and Shelly, I'm told, coerced him into asking me out.
I'm so glad they did.
What a long, strange trip it's been.
We had a weird courtship, for which we were both to blame, and an awesome/awful marriage, for which we were both to blame. We separated in 2008, and the divorce became final...this August. Two months ago, he sent me an email joking about how I was a "free woman". It seemed as if as much as we both knew we couldn't live with each other, really ending it came grudgingly, but it almost makes you wonder, considering the timing, if he knew something.
Less than a day after hearing of his passing, the realization that the thing I could never fully bring myself to let go of is gone, is a shock to the system. A half a box of Kleenex later, I'm writing for my own indulgent comfort-seeking. Please forgive what will surely be rambling and incomplete.
From February 1999 up until last week, when my phone rang and I saw his information on my caller ID, I would answer the phone with "Jim Payne!" as if to announce him. He was worthy of the announcing. After we were married, when I answered the phone "Jim Payne!" he would respond with a hearty "Shelly Payne!"
It was our dumb little thing.
Around the house, when he came home from somewhere, "Jim Payne!" "Shelly Payne!"
Attending some event, after losing him in the crowd and finding him again, "Jim Payne!" "Shelly Payne!"
And recently, when he came to visit at my home away from him, "Jim Payne!" "Shelly Payne!"
When we were separating and divorcing, my friends all asked if I would go back to my maiden name and I said that I would not. This is why. This precious, precious, dumb little thing that I will never hear again.
Our last conversation, a couple of days ago, was about a receipt, of all things. Actually that was a fairly normal conversation for us--the man was somewhat pathological about losing receipts. He used to joke about how his life was "on a million scraps of paper". Knowing this about himself--how unorganized he could be--he still gave me crap for not keeping a daytimer. Anytime I would utter the words, "I forgot," he would say, "What do you mean, you forgot? Did you put it in your daytimer?"
No, he never did find that receipt.
Jim was in poor health from the day I met him until the end. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart surgery, a melanoma, MS. And then apparently, another heart attack that took his life. When a man survives so many heart attacks and is still as hearty as any 30 year old might be, you figure nothing will kill him. Of course, that's not true, but he definitely lived as if it was. It was his defining feature. You could tell that for him, it was just a body, and didn't have a lot do so with who he was. He followed whatever doctors orders made the most sense to him, and ignored the rest. Once, after having a stent put in a vein to his heart, he called me from his hospital bed to try to convince me to sneak him in some Taco Bell at the hospital. My mother was mortified. I thought it was kind of funny. Of course I complied.
This picture of him with a cigarette in his month was taken after three heart attacks and a bypass surgery, by the way...he didn't give a shit. It was what was so great about him, but also what was so difficult about knowing and loving him. You knew he probably wouldn't have a long life. You didn't want to believe it, but, you knew.
Jim often said that he felt like he had many lives. He had a life as a young single guy, a whole different life with his first wife and their children, a whole different life with me and my children, and of course, the life of the last four years in which he returned to Duluth to continue the pursuit of his passion for radio. This was a man who did a lot of things, and was loved by many, many people. It was quite an experience to be married to someone like that, and, knowing how much he was loved by so many, I realize that it was an honor to have been chosen for the level of exclusivity that comes with a wedding ring. Obviously, I'm not still wearing that wedding ring, so I'm not going to try sugar-coat what it was like in the day-to-day, but I can say without question that he changed my life, and my children's lives, for the better.
When his daughter called me last night, the words she used were, "He was such a force," and that is as good a summary as I have heard. The death of Jim Payne leaves a very big hole. To his sister, friends, and especially his children, I wish you comfort. Just think of all of the crazy shit he's going to do now that he's free of that broken body.