It wasn’t a typical love story then and I suppose it’s not so much now either, at least not the kind we think about in this season of Valentine wishes and dreams.
You have to be this young to believe that you are this much in charge of life; that destiny has already been completely met. To know that the only education you need to make your dreams come true is your own thoughts and a chat with your friends – to be so heartbreakingly unaware of the precariousness that will haunt even the babies to come.
She was a naive, pretty, eighteen year old small town girl who had no idea that so many of her dreams were going to turn into a lifetime of regrets. She picked out her dream man, 20 years old, so very handsome and tall, and who held out to her a bouquet of the loveliest promises.
Not long after meeting, she became pregnant and it probably wasn’t much longer after that, that the first flower from that fragile bouquet fell. The images her thoughts weaved for her future were simple, but meant everything – little home wrapped in the white picket fence of love, and lovely family dinners, family picnics and parties, and Christmas trees loaded with gifts.
She had intended so many occasions of wonderful for herself, and for me. We were supposed to be that family that she envied in the movies, the love stories that she placed herself into in her favorite books, and in those images in Norman Rockwell paintings that confirmed how life was supposed to be. Sweet dreams sweet intentions.
They were slapped away brutally. Literally. He wasn’t ready for that dream. Not at that time, not completely, maybe never. He was more drawn to the calls of a wild party. He had many more bottles to hoist up, and while he ‘owned’ her, he was nowhere near finished with his explorations of women. Her resistance to ‘his way’ led to her learning that promises were only his dreams in the moment and they were nowhere near as real as those first black eyes.
I don’t know when I first heard or saw him hit her; I can remember that only from about age four. I know that when it happened, I became very still as my heartbeat filled my ears. I must have learned by then to make myself invisible. The only way she could make herself invisible was to run away. Some might say she didn’t learn how to do that right soon enough.
She did leave, many times, but somehow he would find her. Us. Sometimes her friends would tell him where we were; sometimes even her own brothers would sell her out during drunken party conversation or under threat. Sometimes the loneliness and fear conquered her and she would call him herself. She finally left for good when I was thirteen.
She didn’t leave her dreams though. Not all of them anyway. She still thought she could find that one good man. That’s how life was supposed to be. Wasn’t that ever reinforced on every song on the radio, TV shows and magazine headlines? So that’s what she pursued, even while the rest of her life was floating in a jumbled mess around her.
She had her share of boyfriends for some years, but no one could last for long. They either owned their share of chaos and/or they couldn’t bear to deal with hers. It would take years for the stars to align for her. Maybe it was all the prayers she cried through to be delivered from that loneliness and to fill the need for someone to watch over her, because he came for her, finally.
It was not the typical script for a ‘let me rescue you’ love story. He was just as messed up as she was, but somehow, eventually, this one wanted to get it together, with her, at the same time that she had reached her breaking point.
Somehow, armed only with whatever bit of guidance that was to come their way, they pushed through all the debris of their lives and rebuilt everything. They did as best as they could, which turned out to be very well. Their turned-around lives are far richer, and have lasted three times longer, so far, than their early trek over those fiery, alcohol-fueled coals.
Now she prays, hard and often, that her lessons of recovery from hell have been seen by her children, and their children, who learned all too well the modeled example of her youth.
Dreams do come true, but not from behind the wall of recriminations, isolated introspection, and avoidance. The answers could be easy, but it’s still work to carve out the road to them. This can’t be any harder than it is to stay in pretension that all is well, to stay in hell.
I will pray that her prayers are answered for her. Again.