A letter a day: How an MTSU professor honors his late wife


Photos by Tayhlor Stephenson / Contributing Photographer

Story by Tayhlor Stephenson / Contributing Writer

10/14/12

Hello, my angel:

Happy birthday, darling. It is now 4:36 pm (give or take a minute); you were born 58 years ago, at just this time. I looked at your birth certificate a little while ago; that’s how I know that. Exactly 58 years ago, my special someone came in to the world, even if I didn’t know it then. Of course, I wasn’t quite three months old at that moment, so I didn’t know much of anything, but who cares?

My reaction to this day has surprised me: there has been none at all. No hysterics, no emotional outpouring, nothing. I’m completely numb. I mean totally empty. I don’t know what I was expecting, but this wasn’t it. I don’t know if it is good or bad.

As a kid coming from a broken family, Stephen Robertson packed his bags as soon as he was of age and headed to Nashville, Tennessee. With his French horn clenched in hand, he walked through the doors of his new home: Vanderbilt University. He aspired to become a musician, which led him to the life and woman he would soon fall madly in love with.

The last Friday night in August of 1972, Vanderbilt hosted the band party that would alter his life forever.

As he stood alone, a brunette standing across the room caught his eye.

“Hi,” Steve said as he approached the clarinet player. Susan was her name. The two spent the remainder of the evening talking, which included some baseball talk. Baseball was Steve’s first love, but Susan knew next to nothing about America’s pastime.

Susan went straight home after the party, walked right up to her father and demanded that he share all of his knowledge on baseball. Her father didn’t have much to share, but it was enough for Susan to catch Steve’s attention.

The two never officially began dating, but midway through the next semester they both knew their relationship was going somewhere. They were married in August of 1975.

Eight people filled the living room of Susan’s childhood home in Nashville. Susan’s request of a small, simple wedding was fulfilled. A cake was eaten, and a piano was played. No more, no less.

Their honeymoon consisted of visiting relatives and rooting for the home team in St. Louis for a few games. Baseball always served as the background of their marriage.

This has been a very quiet day. Nothing fancy, nothing elaborate in one way or the other. I’ve been by myself and have spent a lot of time thinking about you- about us. We had something so beautiful and wonderful, didn’t we?

Fifty-eight years ago, you started your journey that would bring us together. I am so lucky that you did. Hopefully, you feel the same. I only wish we could have had more time together. I wish I had appreciated what we had more while you were still with me.

No day but today. I see people around me planning what they are going to do next week or next year or tomorrow, any tomorrow. I really don’t do that anymore, not more than I have to. Just get through today. That much I’ve learned: tomorrow never comes. I am still not as good at taking care of today as I should be, but my perspective has definitely changed. I am perfectly content with not seeing tomorrow now, so I will deal with it as it comes.

Susan became Steve’s life.

“She was it. She was the only girl in the world,” he stated.

Steve became a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, and she became a teacher for the blind and handicapped. They would each earn their day’s pay but couldn’t wait to return home to each other.

Life progressed and the couple welcomed two children into their lives: a son, Jeremy, and a daughter, Courtney. They later semi-adopted Kitty, a teenager they fostered but came to love as one of their own.

Steve and Susan did not only foster children, but they also adopted several animals including dogs, cats and birds. Steve grew to admire Susan’s love for helping others.

“She was always willing to give strangers a ride, money or food,” he says. One time Susan went to the vet and brought home a woman with no place to stay, lending her a bed for three weeks.

It was a life full of love and admiration. Steve had built the life he always wanted with Susan, but little did he know that things were changing right before his eyes.

There were only eight people in the room when Robertson married his wife in her childhood living room surrounded by family, exactly the way she wanted (Sidelines / Tayhlor Stephenson)

Susan was developing a mental illness.

Steve began noticing signs of irregular activity in Susan, but she didn’t want to leave the kids she taught or lose the security of money. After all, she also had her own children to provide for at home.

Things spiraled out of control, and Susan eventually became dysfunctional.  She became disabled and had to give up her job.

“She applied for disability benefits from Social Security and they gave them to her the first time,” Stephen said as he explained how bad she had gotten.

Susan withdrew completely and suffered personality disintegration. Knives were hidden, shattered windows were replaced and many trips to the hospital were taken.

“I spent several years sleeping next to her as uncomfortably as I could get myself so I would know if she got out of the bed,” Stephen said. For ten years, he slept with one hand on her at all times so if she moved to get out of bed, he could accompany her in concern for her safety.

She found medication that helped her mental state: Zyprexa. Soon after, the side effects of her medicine found her. Not only was she taking medication for too long, but it also caused her to gain a lot of weight, which put a strain on her.

I did my best to care for you, even if it wasn’t always good enough or what you deserved. And I always loved you, as much as I am capable of it. Sometimes I wonder how much I really did love you, since it has been said that one can’t love someone else if he doesn’t love himself, and I don’t know if I really like myself all that much, let alone love myself. You know about the inner demon I have, the one you kept at bay. This much I know, however: I loved and love you to the fullest extent that I am capable of it, and I am only able to do that because of you. Your love made that possible. To the extent that I can love, it is because you loved me first. So I really do owe everything to you, and everything I ever will be is rooted in your love for me. You have made me possible.

On November 12, 2011, Stephen’s car broke down on the way home from work. He called his daughter to come pick him up.

“We got home about 9:15 Saturday night, and I went into our bedroom to check on Susan. She was in bed, slumped over her book,” Stephen explained. He thought she was asleep.

Stephen walked into the room for the second time around 12:10. She hadn’t moved.

Susan had suffered a massive heart attack.

“After 36 years of marriage, 39 years together, you would like that the last thing you said to be I love you sweetheart, but I didn’t get a chance to say that.”

After Susan died, Stephen wrote a letter to her, and it hangs in the hallway of their house to this day. This would not be the last letter he wrote to her though.

Stephen has since filled five three inch binders with over 2,626 pages and more than 992,967 words with letters written to his beloved Susan. He keeps a record of these numbers because he writes to her every single night.

Robertson has filled multiple three-ring binders with love letters to his late wife, Susan. (Sidelines / Tayhlor Stephenson)

“If I happened to go to bed without writing, I would get up and turn the computer back on and write,” Stephen said.

“Some days it’s just a recounting of what happened as if I came home and she was sitting there and we were just talking. Other days, I get real emotional.”

Steve maintains a set opening in each letter, her name and date with a quotation, and a set closing with very few exceptions, which is “I love you Susan Gail.”

Most of his letters are about a page long, and once they go in the binder he doesn’t look at them again. His intent is to write until the day comes when he doesn’t have to anymore.

“You don’t realize how important somebody is and how much we had become one person, and so I’m missing a big chunk of me.”

Happy birthday, Susan Gail; I love you far more than I can ever say. I will always love you, as best as I can. I love you more than life itself, for you have made my life possible. You are everything to me.

To contact Lifestyles Editor Marissa Gaston email lifestyles@mtsusidelines.com.

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