A story I was asked to write for a friend, and this Introduction will tell you why:
He might have been a tad short for his weight, but no one would have dared to tell him so. The pudgy Jack Emmitt wore a belt around his middle like an equator, barely noticed and not for the purpose of holding up his pants. For that purpose he wore a pair of black suspenders with a single red stripe along the outer edge and a clasp in the middle of his back emblazoned “MAC” as if they were part of some Scottish tradition. The non-descript gray of his suit could have been worn by any man in Russia, Italy or Israel, though none would assert that it had been worn by an American in any of those countries.
Jack was an American undercover.
When I met him, he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the throat, a death like none other. Terminal. Determined. Unafraid. Alone. He wanted me to tell his story. I agreed.
He bore no resentment to the freedom he’d lived for, nor did he bother to judge those who corrupted the nation he loved. He simply lived in another time. He knew another age. In his mind, no matter how bad America became, he’d spent his time battling the enemy and from that America was safe.
The lights were dim, they bothered his eyes. There was the first revelation, his memories of childhood. My mother had been a graduate, dressed in black pencil skirts, white button front blouses with rolled sleeves, her hair rolled in a net that kept it tidy and arranged. He admired her from the second grade, a round faced child with missing front teeth.
Suddenly his words stopped. Exhaustion took him to that restful peace that comes when no energy is left. I waited. Seated in a chair near the table, his bed nearby. I simply waited while he slept. He awakened within minutes, never sleeping long. I listened and took notes. My scribbles continued as I attempted to catch up with the words he’d been saying. His story filled the dim lit room, and page after page of my spiral notebook.
I’d put off the trip as long as I could… Almost a year after he begged me to come to his home in Kansas, I sat there in a Nashville Hospital, writing his story. His gasping breath warned me that each may be his last, and yet, he wanted this story told. I kept writing. I knew there might be vacant pages, missing details, but I’d find a way to fill them in.
“One more thing…” His voice was a rasping whisper, “Please don’t use my name. My daughter doesn’t want my story told, but I do want it told. Even if it’s under someone else’s name.”
His eyes were soft in the night light.
“Do you have a name in mind?” I asked. His fingers held mine tight as he whispered the name.
“Jack. Jack Emmitt. Tell the world this story is about Jack Emmitt. There will be one, a guard in a Russian jail, knew my name as Jack Emmitt. I never revealed my name, but he seemed nice and wanted to know. I told Oscar my name was Jack. Jack Emmitt.” He slept and I wrote. I wrote every detail, flipping from one page to the next, my notebook – 70 pages of wide spaced paper – was smudged, scrolled, tattooed, and doodled up, but I had a five hundred page book in my mind. “Jan, when you write it… tell Millie I really loved her. She was the reason I kept coming home. I loved the kids, every single one of them with every ounce of my being… But Millie was the reason I risked the trip back to the states, every time I came home. The love of my life, on our wedding day was the love I longed for with every single breath I took. I don’t think she really knew.”
I was thirty minutes late arriving at the airport for my plane home, but they let me board anyway. Notes in hand, I carried his story in my heart.
And the story of Jack Emmitt has been born… It will be written from the pages and pages of notes, scribbles and doodles, but deeper… the words of Jack’s story will come from my heart. And, Millie, for the record, I wasn’t able to tell you before you passed onto the other side, I hope you’ve found him… I hope you’re wrapped in the arms of the man who risked it all for a glimpse of the woman he loved, for a night of wonder. I hope he’s telling you now and for all eternity, that he loved you with every single breath he took.