I thought about writing this yesterday, as yesterday was Valentine’s Day. But no, Valentine’s Day is for young love. Sweet love. Romantic love. The ‘quiver-in-your-stomach’ love. Real love is much harder. Stronger. Not quite as sweet and romantic. Or maybe it’s more so, I’m not sure. All I know is that my story just isn’t a Valentine-type of story. Not saying it doesn’t have it’s ‘ahh’ moments, but for the most part it’s been brutal, and hard, and a lot of work.
Let’s set the way back machine for 1977. I know, that’s before most of you were even born. Let’s not make the old lady feel older, okay? I lived in a God-forsaken little town in the middle of God-forsaken Kansas. I’m not making that up. I really lived there. Okay, I EXISTED there. I was always on the outside, even with my own family. I never believed the religous bullshit, although I learned to play the game very, very well, to keep from being ‘spanked’ (read beaten.) I don’t remember how old I was exactly…I think about four. I don’t even remember what the question was. But I do remember the Sunday School teacher looking at me in absolute horror, and then telling me that “good little girls don’t ask questions like that!”. To this day I don’t know if she told my mother or not. I don’t remember any subsequent ‘discipline’ but then I was getting smacked around almost daily, so I probably just don’t remember…I’ve blocked a lot of that time out. I do remember thinking that what I was hearing was the biggest line of crap ever, and if a little kid can figure that out, what the hell is wrong with adults who buy into that shit?
Anyway, the town had once been an oil-boom town, although my father caught in on the very end of that, and then only as a water-truck driver, for minimum wage. We moved a lot, sometimes twice in one year. If we were in one place for longer than four years, it was a miracle. As a result of those moves, I didn’t go to the same elementary school for more than two years in a row. Back then, elementary school went to 6th grade. “Junior High” was 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. High school was 10th, 11th, and 12th grades. Then there was the local ‘JuCo” or “Junior College”. We call them community colleges now.
I never had friends…acquaintances, yes. But never friends. I was always on the outside looking in. During my junior high years, we lived several miles south of town, and my mother refused to drive into town more often than to drop off and pick up my younger brother and I. Which meant two things: I had to make the 2-mile walk from the junior high to the elementary school in twenty-five minutes, and there were no ‘extra-curricular’ activites for me.
I was in the 8th grade when I met him the first time. He was so damned cute, beautiful blue eyes, blonde hair…and a girlfriend. But damn, I had a crush on him! I used to try to figure out how to get him to notice me. Not that I had much of a chance at that time. I was chubby, and one of my not-so-favorite nicknames was ‘Snaggletooth’, because of the extreme twist of my front teeth.
Now, I didn’t realize it then, but Hubby was as much on the outside as I was, and for the same reasons (my parents were Assembly of God, his were Baptist. Enough said there!) He didn’t believe any of it either. And, our parents were poor. There were no calls to the counselor’s office in highschool to discuss our college plans. No, we were expected to be poor, and do common labor. No dreaming big for us! (Silly fools…I dreamed of escape damned near every day! Although when I actually could have done so, I didn’t realize it!)
During highschool, I did date. Actually, I was looking for love in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways. I still had a crush on Hubby…although I didn’t see him often.
Then, after graduation, I was attending the local JuCo, so I could learn how to use office machines and become a secretary. I worked in a grocery store on the north side of town. Where Hubby’s mother happened to frequent. One day, she came in wearing a pin that had his boot camp picture in it. He was still as cute as ever, and his eyes were still as blue. I made a comment about how good looking he was. His mom smiled, and told me it was difficult to see, because it was so small. “I’ll bring a bigger copy the next time I come in,” she told me.
Okay, the ‘next time’ was thirty minutes later. She had a 3"x5" photo for me, plus a slip of paper with a loooong address and phone number on it. He was in Millington, Tennessee (just outside of Memphis) in one of the Navy training centers, and, his mother informed me, he was more than willing to write to me if I wrote to him.
So, what the hell. This was the beginning of September. The world was still buzzing about the death of Elvis. I was bored as hell at school. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life…but being a secretary wasn’t it! And, I’d had absolutely NO encouragement regarding my writing (my first story was written when I was six years old. It was about Daniel Boone and Mingo and a cherry pie. What I remember the most about it was how angry grandpa was because I’d used an entire new notepad to write it!), so that wasn’t even a thought in my head.
Hubby wrote to me, and told me he was coming home for a visit over Columbus Day weekend (we here in the Great Northwest call it Indigenous People’s Day…we’re cool that way. :) )
During this time, my mother and I had had the fight of all fights, and I had moved out. I was living in a rented RV at the time. So, no problem with having to stay at Hubby’s parent’s house until nearly 1 a.m. (While I was at ‘home’, even though I was 18, I still had to be home by 11 pm…I kid you not!) When the car pulled into the driveway, we were there to greet him and his friend. Now, his friend stepped out of the car first. No way in hell, I thought. Then, Hubby crawled out from behind the steering wheel. I swear I heard a ‘click’ in my head, a voice said, “There he is! Mr. Right!” and I determined right then I was going to marry him.
We spent most of the weekend together, as I did have to work, and we just happened to be doing freaking inventory that weekend. He was cute, and sweet, and funny, and I liked the way he kissed and he was good in bed, and best of all, he was not ever returning to our little town to live!
I wanted to leave with him that Monday morning. But, I didn’t. Two days later I received a long letter from him. In one paragraph, he told me how much he loved me, the next, that he was going into sea duty, and I’d be alone too much, but he really loved me and wanted me with him, but the Navy…back and forth until I wasn’t sure what he was trying to tell me.
Then his brother came into the grocery store, with a message from their mom. I was to be at their house on Thursday evening, as “BJ” (nickname from his parents, he hated it!) was going to call. And he did. And we talked. He asked me if I’d like to pick my Christmas gift out at Wieseman’s (local jewelry store.) I’m no dummy. I figured he was talking bracelet or some such thing, even though the first thing to pop into my mind was ‘diamond ring’. So, I asked him what kind of gift? It was so cute, he hemmed and hawwed for about five minutes before he finally said, “an engagement ring?”
Yes, Virginia, it DID happen fast. I can’t explain how I knew…how sure I felt about it. I had the “quiver-in-the-stomach” every time I thought about him, and every time we talked on the phone, I couldn’t stop smiling for days. (We only got to talk once a week. Yes, this was before internet and cellphones and Skype. How did we survive?)
We were married on Saturday, December 17th, 1977, in the wedding my mother always wanted. Neither of us had friends there, because my mother wouldn’t pay for additional invites for anyone not on her ‘approved’ list. And between the two of us, and buying the rings, we didn’t have the money for invites either. But that was okay. We were married, and we were getting the hell out of Dodge. Okay, Great Bend actually, but same state.
During the drive to Washington, I never once doubted what I was doing. I was young and in love. We were too young and dumb at the time to know we were too young and dumb. On our wedding day, Hubby was 19, and I was 18. Yeah, young and dumb and in love.
So, it was a cultural shock to move to the West Coast. But we loved it. Sea duty, where Hubby spent 18 months out of the first three years of our marriage out of the country, sucked. But we got by. We had our ups and downs, our fights and problems, and there were days I seriously questioned just what I had signed up for.
We purchased a mobile home the first year we were married…it was cheaper to make payments on it than the local rent at the time. No jokes about trailer trash… We owned our own home, and it was cute, if I do say so myself. Two bedrooms…with one bedroom at each end, thus avoiding that long, narrow, dark hallway. It was home for ten years. Well, eight and a half, but I haven’t gotten to that part of the story.
Then, two weeks before our 3rd anniversary, our first son was born. Okay, this was it. I had a husband I loved, a new baby, a cute home…I was really happy. Let me warn you…when you look around, and you’re happy, TREASURE those moments. Because life is about to beat the living hell out of you.
Two years, two days and twelve hours after Son was born, we had another little boy. Two words you NEVER want to hear in a delivery room: “Uh oh.” Yeah, welcome to hell. We had a special needs child. Not just any special needs, either. Oh, no. Being who we are, we had to do this thing up right. Our little Tommy was a total enigma. Doctors at the Children’s Hospital in Seattle said it was as if every syndrome available was laid out like a smorgasboard, and Tommy looked it over, and took a symptom from this one, two from that one, another from that one…
Through tests we learned that during the forty-eight hours between the eighth and tenth day of pregnancy, the fetus was attacked by a virus. I’d had a bad cold during that time, so we’re assuming that’s what hit him. If you had taken his brain, and put it on a table, it looked just fine. But the synapses were too far apart for the electrical impulses that are brain function to occur normally. Nothing in his little body worked correctly. He could see light and colors. He could hear. But he’d never be more than a newborn. I can’t tell you the number of hours I spent cursing every god I could think of for allowing my baby to suffer so. Every time he had a seizure I was terrified that it would be ‘the one’, and felt guilty as hell each time it was over and he was still breathing and I cried because the hell we were going through continued.
During all of this, the Navy, in it’s infite wisdom (and that’s sarcasm, folks) decided it was time to move our family. And not just anywhere. Oh, no. Hubby was going to be a Company Commander at the Great Lakes Training Center in Chicago, Illinois. For those of you who don’t know, being a CC means living with the recruits for the most part. Work days for CC’s are between fourteen and twenty hours long. No time to come home, or even if you do, it’s just long enough to grab a little bit of sleep.
I will give credit to the command here (we returned to Whidbey Island, I’ll get to that in a bit). They did their best to change minds at the top. One chief…ONE…decided to be an asshole. When we and Hubby’s CO filled out paperwork requesting a hardship delay, we explained the situation, and then offered any paperwork necessary. This chief wrote across the top page “attach said papers”. Asshole. We did. But it didn’t do any good. The transfer was a done deal.
I had two babies, one just over three, the other just turned one, when we got the news. Hubby swore up and down there was no way he was leaving me alone in Chicago, which would basically have been the situation.
Hubby’s parents just happen to have a large, four bedroom, two-story house. And by this time, it was just mom and dad. So they decided that the only solution was for me and the babies to live with them. Particularly since one of those babies was special needs.
Okay, we move. Have I mentioned that I HATE Kansas? And, in podunk Great Bend, not ONE of the resources that we’d been utilizing were available. NOT ONE! No pediatric neurologists, no pediatric physical and occupational therapists. Nothing. In fact, the doctors at the local hospital literally asked us what we expected them to do when we took Tommy in one night after he’d had three bad seizures in a row. Not a goddanmed thing, sparky. Goddess, did I miss the Children’s Hospital!
After careful, tearful, heartwrenching discussion, Hubby and I decided that there was no way I could care for Tommy on my own (both his parents worked all day) plus, we didn’t want our oldest son to wake up and find his little brother’s body. So we decided that Dr. Franklin was right, the time had come to find a good place for Tommy. (Read institution. I hate that word. I hate those places, as necessary as they sometimes are.) We went to the local health department for help. The cost was prohibitive. As in more that what Hubby made in a year! The solution, we were told, was to give up custody of Tommy, put him in the state’s care, and they’d foot the bill.
There is nothing, I mean nothing, that will rip your heart out like the thought of having to give up your baby, just because you can’t afford the health care he needs. If we lived in any other civilized country, it wouldn’t have been an issue. Here…big issue. But, we were granted a miracle. In the person of Judge Laughlin. On the day of the hearing, my dear father-in-law went with me. I was called up to the bench. The judge went through the papers, the social worker smirking on one side of me, my FIL holding my hand on the other side.
I’ll never forget the look in that man’s eyes when he looked up at me. Sympathy, yes. Even a bit of empathy. And very deep kindness. He asked me if the only reason Hubby and I were reliquishing custody was the cost of the care. It was, I replied. He smiled, patted my hand, and said, “Don’t worry, Little Mama. No one is taking your baby from you.” In the blink of an eye that kindness had been replaced with rage, and he turned to the social worker. He then barked that there numerous programs to help people such as us, and he wanted the top three program applications filled out and on his desk by five-thirty. Did I mention that our court time was one-thirty? That smirky social worker actually looked scared.
The next day I received word that Tommy had been accepted to a program and that Social Security would pay for his expenses. My grandpa, who had paid in all of his life, and died of a stroke before he could retire, paid for my baby’s care. At least that’s the way I like to think about it.
Okay, so living apart, having a special needs child…that’s some tough road for a relationship. And trust me, it can make or break a marriage. What happened next nearly broke ours…except for the whole being in love with each other thing. See, Dr. Franklin had told us Tommy probably wouldn’t live beyond the first year. With lots of love, and lots of help from a dozen different people, Tommy actually started to thrive. He was almost two when we took him to the Winfield Hospital. He was two years, ten months, and twenty-six days old when pnuemonia took him from us.
I could go into the hell that weekend was…no one should ever have to bury a child. But this is about my marriage…my love affair. So, for now, I’ll skip ahead.
We still had our mobile home. In fact, when Hubby got of of the Navy in March of 1986, we only had about four payments left on it. He also knew that his chances of getting a decent job were a hell of a lot higher in Washington state than they’d ever be in Kansas. Besides, I hated Kansas, and so did our son…who cried because we couldn’t go to the beach. Or to the mountains. A brown, prairie lake is NOT the beach. And there aren’t hills tall enough in Kansas to even resemble the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Living with Hubby’s parents hadn’t been bad, in eighteen months my MIL and I had one fight. One. And I still adore her to this day. But it wasn’t home. Kansas wasn’t where we wanted to be, where we wanted to build our lives.
So, home we came. Back to Washington. Now, there are seven stages of grief. Take my advice: go through all of them. If you cut that grieving process off, you’ll have trouble like you won’t believe. Because of the circumstances, that’s exactly what Hubby and I did. And when we got home, and he got a shitty job managing a video store, things between us became…rocky. I needed to talk about Tommy…he couldn’t. Things improved a little bit when I found work. Until I started having what we thought were angina attacks, but turned out to be chemical overexposure. So much for the factory job.
Finding work in a little town when you’re not a ‘pretty person’ (read not skinny), nor related to someone who owns the business, or friends with someone who owns a business…let’s just say that finding work in this town can be difficult if you don’t have an ‘in’, or a degree in something. I had neither. Tight financial times are hard enough, but add emotional baggage…sheesh!
Hubby managed to find a decent job with a corporation, working on the Naval base. Okay, finances easing up, a bit. But the problem in our marriage was still there. One day I told him I wasn’t happy. He looked at me, shrugged, and said, “Find something that makes you happy.” Now, at this point in time, I hadn’t written in..well, years. Didn’t even think about it. But I did think about the fact that the man I loved was suddenly someone I couldn’t talk to. Couldn’t turn to. This was the same man who had held me when I cried after a particularly grueling day with Tommy, and whispered, “It’s you and me against the world, and we’re gonna win.”
So, I left him. It was the worst three weeks of my life. I’d asked him to go to counseling. He’d refused. I left, and the first thing he did was to make an appointment with a marriage counselor. You know what we learned in counseling? That we were meant to be together. That when we’re in sync, we’re unstoppable. When we’re out of sync, however…Holy Hannah!
Well, we got back into sync. The first night I moved back home, we talked all night. Things improved financially for us. Oh, we were never rich. Not even ‘comfortable’, I suppose. But we kept the bills paid. Made certain our son had everything he needed, if not everything he wanted (although he said his only complaint is that we never bought him a Nintendo. We’d bought him a computer system. He bought a Nintendo from a friend. And then never used it because he and his friends were playing games on the computer. Go figure!) When Son had finished high school, I was able to get braces for my teeth. Hubby told me that my teeth had never bothered him, but he wanted me to be happy with me. So at age 40, my husband did something that my parents never did, because they were too damned selfish to spend the money on the kids. (When I wanted and should have had braces put on, my mother bought a fucking organ. Yes, she did. And she wonders why I hate the damned thing! But, she was organist at church and needed to practice, right?) Hubby never even blinked at the cost, although I almost went into vapor lock over it! That’s love, my friends.
Time has a way of passing without you realizing it, until one day, the time is going so quickly it makes your head spin. Life moved on, and we moved with it. On our 25th anniversary, we snickered and chuckled all day. Because if we’d have shot each other on our wedding day, we’d have been getting out of jail. Twenty-five to life…out on good behavior. Get it? We thought it was absolutely hilarious. Of course, we do have warped senses of humor. Last December (2016) we celebrated our 39th wedding anniversary. Yeah, how about that.
In 2009, Hubby was laid off. We worried and fretted, but he found another job. Working for less than 1/3 of what he’d been making. And then starting this year, with the increase of our medical insurance, we’re making even less now. But ya know what? We’re doing okay. We’re getting food on the table. Bills are getting paid. We don’t go out much, but then, we never did. We’ve never been ‘joiners’. We’re really much more comfortable at home together. We enjoy getting out with others, but…only occasionally.
We have a good life. Yes, we worry about our medical expenses. I swear, I did NOT sign on for this getting old shit. NO ONE warned me about the aches and the pains…mostly caused by being young and stupid and taking falls because we were young and stupid. I don’t remember being offered a warranty on any parts or labor, and believe me, the parts are going! But…still. A good life.
I look back on my wedding day, and all I can think is that I had no clue what love is. Not really. I loved Hubby that day. Not like I love him now. That love had to grow. Be nurtured. We work at our relationship. We say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. He thanks me for every meal I cook. I thank him every time he empties the trash. I thank him for driving me to the grocery store. I thank him when I splurge and get something I want. He thanks me for making tea for him to take to work. He thanks me for ironing his clothes. I do those things for him because I love him.
I can’t imagne my life without him. He has this way of talking to his computer games that makes me giggle. He comes off with comments that have me rolling with laughter. We have these little ‘inside’ jokes that send us into hysterics while people around us think we’ve lost our minds (or in Son’s case, he just rolls his eyes, and mumbles about ‘insane ‘rents’.
‘Old’ love…love that has survived years - decades - of life, that my friends, is REAL love. It’s warm and beautiful and it’s something to be cherished.
I wish for all of you, ‘real’ love.