James Churchill's headstone, Mount Hope Cemetery. I couldn’t face it—your dying. Later that day a nurse got in touch with me, and asked if you would like to sell any of your organs. I said no, I want you back whole.
  • James Churchill's headstone, Mount Hope Cemetery. I couldn’t face it—your dying. Later that day a nurse got in touch with me, and asked if you would like to sell any of your organs. I said no, I want you back whole.
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DEAR JAMES,

This is the sixth letter I have started to you for I never finished or mailed the one I wrote in 1988. I was too sick to write the year before, and here it is 1993, but this one I will finish. I want to tell you and maybe you can tell your mother if you see her, how responsible I am, along with many others, in your “unwarranted death,” as a lawyer labeled it—I call it “premeditated murder.” Did I maybe help save your life in the beginning to only help take it in the end? Did you die due to my wrong decision, or is it a part of God’s plan, or simply fate? — I don’t know. I will never get over your unnecessary death, and have been sick for more than six years.

Margaret Churchill in her teens. Almost everyone we ever knew are dead now, and I have no one to talk to,

I met you October 9, 1956, exactly 30 years before you were taken to that horrible hospital. It was on a Tuesday evening at the Blue Note around the corner from my office. It was my first time there, and I had stopped in out of loneliness and because they had a “happy hour.” You, another man, and I were the only ones there.

James Churchill, age four. One of your teachers wanted to adopt you, but your mother said no, even though she had five other children. Did the teacher see in you what I saw?

I think you bought me a drink and asked me to play a game of pool. I said I didn’t know how so you taught me and let me win the game. You were so good you could have played “Minnesota Fats.” You asked me to meet you there the next evening and go to dinner. I had lived in San Diego for six months and you were the second man I had met — if you could call the other one a man. I said I would meet you there. I certainly didn’t go for you, you were so skinny, but there was something terribly nice about you — a nice single man.

Anthony's Seafood Restaurant. Sunday I went to Anthony’s alone. We went once a month for 30 years and you would get this satisfied look on your face eating your clam chowder.

The next day a friend came into town from Los Angeles, called me at the office and asked me to go to dinner. (Isn’t that always the way.) I am not one to stand anyone up, but I didn’t know how to call you — and you were so skinny. So I went to Lubach’s with him, never thinking I would ever see you again. As “fate would have it,” I ran into you again the next evening. I had walked out from town after work to visit a woman I had met who I heard was dying from cancer, and there you were in line at a movie theatre to buy a ticket. I walked up to you and said “I’m sorry about last night,” and you said in the sweetest voice I have ever heard, “Oh, that’s all right.” When I came down from the room — which was almost right away for the woman was so sick and didn’t want visitors — there you were sitting in the lobby waiting for me. It was so sweet of you, and we went for a drink around there and I guess we started dating from then on.

You were the dearest person I have ever met and my best friend for 30 years, besides being my boyfriend, girlfriend (I never had a best one, you know), my sweetheart, husband. My father, brother, son, and the person I have loved most in the world. At first there was my mother, father, and older sister (who treated me like her daughter) and then you in my heart. Now, dear, it is you above all others, for doesn’t the Bible say, “to forsake all others”?

When I first met you, you gave me a music box that played “Always,” and you signed birthday and Christmas cards to me, “Always” and under that your full signature, James O. Churchill. I never liked your two first names, James and Oscar — you were named for your father — but I do now. At first I called you “Jimmie” for you were so thin and seemed like a boy. Later you became “Jim” until I loved you with all my heart and I gave you an endearing name, “Jamie.” You said you were English, Scottish, and putting your finger alongside your handsome nose, you said, “and a little Jewish.” I don’t know what you meant by that, but you were a little French too. I know you as a very nice English gentleman. I read we probably all came from the Celts. Who knows?

My sister said to bring someone with me for Thanksgiving dinner. I told her I only knew two men, and would bring the best: you. You always smelled so good. A nice gentleman with perfect table manners. I loved having dinner with you. On my birthday you took me to the Cotton Patch, and being New Year’s Eve, the waitress looked aghast when you asked her if the piano player would play “Happy Birthday” for me. Of course he didn’t — you with your white face and me a nobody — a couple of nobodies, they thought. Somehow we made it through 1956.

You were 38 when I met you, and had dark reddish-brown hair and big, dark-brown, honest eyes that cried in your white face. You were so skinny that I finally decided you should see a doctor. So we went to one you had played cards with. He immediately had you admitted for you had an advanced stage of tuberculosis. After a week they moved you up to the Veterans Hospital where you spent the next ten months.

I didn’t get up to see you much — once in a while on a Sunday. But I did write you often during the week for I knew you were lonely as no one else ever came to see you. One day writing to you on my lunch hour with no one else around the office, I shouted out, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” And wrote it in the letter for I was thinking of you (and I sincerely hope you do). I have never been a Bible person, so I don’t know why this came out, but there was something so good about you, and I hoped you would. One time I came to see you, you told me you had slipped in the shower, and one time that a black man in that huge room had given you a bad time. I worried about you. The next time I came, you hopped around the bed in the cute little way you had for you had something to show me. You had knitted three shawls for therapy and they were pretty. A light blue one that I sent to your mother, and I kept the yellow one and wore it some, and the black one I had for years. You were always so happy to give.

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