Are you confident that you have met your soul mate? I was quite certain…more than once! Who am I kidding? I had every warning sign that my first two serious relationships were doomed to be complete disasters, but I was so desperate for love I consciously ignored those signs that were blowing up in my face like grenades. My 102-year-old grandmother even said to me once, during my second marriage that, “There is only one lid for each pot. Other lids will work, but only one will really ‘fit’.” How could she see through the nightmare I was living at that time, when I couldn’t even see it myself.
I cannot remember at what point in my life I lost myself. I can remember being such a carefree child, so full of happiness. I recall being 5 years old or so and I was dancing in my backyard in the dark while tons of lightning bugs flickered and sparkled everywhere. The night sky was perfectly clear, and the moon was so bright. The radio was playing the song, “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest. I can remember spinning in a circle till I was dizzy. What I knew of life was perfect. But as life would have it, at some point, something inside me started to twist. Maybe it was the time a stranger whistled at me and when I kept walking without acknowledging him because I was embarrassed and he yelled, “Fuck you, you have a big nose anyway!” Perhaps, it was the first time I really liked someone, had my first real kiss, and he was mean to me the next day. It could have had a lot to do with being heavier and not as attractive as everyone I hung out with and being the only one not to have a boyfriend. I wanted one so bad that I never really realized the price I was paying along the way.
I dated guys in high school, but nothing too serious. In June of 1986, I met someone down the shore in Wildwood. I remember the exact place and time. We spent the day at a pool party at the Thunderbird Hotel. I was 16 years old; he was 18. It’s funny, I have no idea who I was down the shore with, where I stayed, or what else I did that entire weekend, but I do remember walking home from the party with this guy. He was so stinking cute! He had on white shorts and a pink Izod shirt with the collar sticking up. As we walked, at some point, he reached for my hand. I can remember losing my breath for a second. And when we got to the corner where his hotel was, he leaned over and kissed me, literally making my heart skip a beat. It was the first time that ever happened to me. We dated on and off that summer through the winter of 1986. I can’t say it was serious, but it was so easy and sweet. There was no arguing, no expectations, no stress, no jealousy. He lived at the beach that summer, so I didn’t see him all the time and when he came back home that Fall, I was a senior in high school, and he was beginning college. We had a lot of other things going on. By the end of that first semester, he decided that college was not for him and he enlisted in the Military. I do not have a ton of memories from that time frame, but I recall kissing him goodbye on his parents deck off their kitchen at his going away party. We exchanged a few letters: his talked about basic training, mine talked about wanting to go to the senior prom. And then I never heard from him again. I went to his parents’ house to make sure he was OK, and they assured me he was. I resigned to the fact that he must have met someone else and so life sadly went on.
As I look back right now and I evaluate this time in my life, I can see why my self-esteem may have been a bit damaged, but I don’t think I was different than any other awkward teenager. What was different was how I chose to evaluate it and categorize it in my life. I internalized all the bad things I experienced as a teenager and somehow saw myself as this completely unworthy person. I did not understand that we are not the things that happen to or are said to us. I would have done better to live by that childish thought process of “I am rubber and you are glue…”. You know, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones…” So many of us fall into the trap of absorbing these terrible things we experience and allowing them to define us.
It would be so easy for me to blame my poor self-image on the people in my life for ‘making’ me this way. But I have learned to take responsibility for many things, and this is a one of them. As an adult, I can clearly look back and recognize the role I played in the things that went wrong and how my early adulthood unfolded. But when I was in the thick of it, I could not see what was going on or see any way out. Had I have had any sense of self-worth; I clearly wouldn’t have stayed in an abusive marriage for almost 8 years. I absolutely wouldn’t have moved on to spend another 13 years in one of the most fucked up and damaging relationships that was so bizarre and painful, that I only can only refer to it all as unspeakable. I regretfully allowed myself to morph into the events in my life.
So, let’s get back to where we started with all of this. When my second marriage fell apart, I was defeated with no direction, no self-love, no self-worth. I began to pray, meditate, and read lots of self-help books. And as I became stronger, my life took an interesting turn. Remember that military boyfriend who completely ditched me without so much of a Dear Jane letter? Well, I learned through social media he was still serving our country for over 2 decades and ironically, he would be home for the holidays! Curiosity started to get the best of me. What the hell ever happened to him? Who did he meet? Did he ever get married? Why did he never write me again? I found myself needing some answers so I did what every sane person would do. I reached out to people who were friends with him to arrange a get together for when he got home. Maybe it would help me to move on or at least understand why THAT relationship fell apart.
I was so nervous. It had been almost 25 years. I was divorced twice, had 4 kids, put on weight, was nothing short of a train wreck emotionally. We talked briefly when he arrived in Philadelphia to tell me he was here and that he was looking forward to seeing us all on Sunday night to watch the football game at a local bar. I couldn’t believe the words as they came out of my mouth, “Would you want to meet me for a drink tonight?” I regretted the question immediately. To my surprise, he said yes. We met at a local bar in our parent’s neighborhood. As I walked in, I saw another old friend standing at the bar. He spun around to say hello to me and then he said, “You are never going to guess who this is?”, as he re-introduced me to this old boyfriend of mine. We all laughed, and I let my friend believe I was equally surprised to see this guy there. It was so nerve wracking, but the beer eased the awkwardness. He looked the same to me. I mean, older, some grays and wrinkles like me, but the same sweet smile. I finally got up the nerve to ask why he never wrote me again. He explained that when he received my letter saying I wanted to date other people, he realized how his decision to go into the military was unfair to me because I was still in high school, so he decided to let me go. THAT WAS NOT WHAT MY LETTER SAID. After the last letter I received from him, I had realized that he would not make it home for my Senior Prom and I wanted to know if he would be OK if I asked someone else to go. I didn’t want to miss it; I was seventeen and self-centered. Talk about a lack of communication. He proceeded to tell me that once his life became more settled over that next year, he came back to talk to me, but when he asked around (this was the world before internet and cell phones), he had heard I was pregnant. If you recall in an earlier blog, I was pregnant at the end of my first year of college. That was it. I spent the next 25 years between 2 miserable relationships however bearing and raising 4 great kids, so it wasn’t ALL bad. He spent those years still single and serving our great country. By beer number 3, it felt like we had stepped back in time. It was so easy, so fun, like we never missed a step, like a quarter of a century did not completely escape us. It was great, right up to the second he told me he was being deployed to Afghanistan in about 3 months for the next year. NOOOOOOOOO!
The unit he was deploying with was stationed in California so after the holidays, he had to return. We talked and skyped every single day while he was on the West Coast and he deployed out of the Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey which gave me the opportunity to see him for a few weeks before he left. One night during this process, he arrived at my home with a gift. It was an Army sweatshirt. Inside the pocket was a stunning ring. As he gave it to me, he asked, “Will you hold onto this for me until I come back. I promise I am coming back this time. “It literally broke my heart and scared me a bit. Would he really come back and if so, what kind of a partner could I be? I had proven I was terrible at relationships. However, I accepted that ring and wore it and a sweatshirt he left me every day. Ironically, at that time, I owned a business which gave me access to certain military bases. So, on the day his unit left the country, I drove him onto the base. I had to keep saying to myself PLEASE DO NOT CRY. After saying our goodbyes, I watched him walk down that driveway toward the bus. He was in uniform with his bag in his hand and as he walked away he looked back one more time. I literally felt ill. How could this happen to us twice? It was so unfair. Thankfully, technology had advanced and we were able to Skype…No more stupid letters to misunderstand one another. I took my computer and headphones everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. If I went to dinner and bars with friends, I opened my computer waiting for him to wake up. I went onto the beach and took my computer with me. When I drove to my office at Fort Drum in upstate NY, I used my phone as a hotspot and had the computer sitting in the passenger seat. We spent the first year of our relationship with no physical contact but spent every possible second together in cyber land. During this time, I worked on me. I worked on trying to come to terms with the things I have been through, liking myself again, and finding peace through forgiveness. I must admit, I did not come close to accomplishing those things in that year, but he supported my growth when he returned in 2013 and I continue to work on it every day. In April of 2016, we were married on the beach in Wildwood, New Jersey…almost 30 years after our first date.
This love is so different than any love I have ever experienced. It is just like the bible says. It is patient, it waited 25 years for us to figure it out. It is kind. I sometimes find myself waking up in the middle of the night and we are still holding hands. And I melt at the kiss on the forehead before I fall asleep. Our love is not easily angered. Don’t get me wrong, we do not always see eye to eye, but we agree to disagree. At least that’s my take on it. Our love protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres. Most importantly, it never fails. Not even when we learned a year and a half into our marriage that he had Stage 3 Laryngeal Cancer. And by the sweet grace of God, his cancer went into remission and has remained in that state for over a year now.
I have leaned so many lessons on this journey. First, communication is key. What if he wrote a letter asking what I meant? What if I wrote a letter asking why he didn’t respond? WHAT IF? Communication should be a required subject in school and taught throughout various stages of our life. How much of life’s stress is based on miscommunication? I try hard to not think of the time we missed and focus on being grateful for the time we got back. And speaking of ”what if’s” …what if I didn’t let the things in my life define me and just saw them as unfortunate things that happened to a good person. Would I have spent 50% of my life in such disarray and chaos? Perhaps self-love, balance and kindness need to be practiced by us all a little bit more as well. I am not sure who set the standard that we NEED someone to love us. I apparently didn’t know how to love me. If I couldn’t find the good in me, be happy with me. How could I ever share that with another person? Maybe I had to learn all of this before I could enter this special relationship. Finally, I have learned that love happens on its own terms and in its own time. It cannot be forced. Don’t try to make a lid fit your pot! And now I know for sure that the right love is very patient. It will wait for you and it will find you in its own time, if you give it a chance. Persevere Bitches!