Her Two Love Stories, from Dark Prince to Shining Knight
She was born during the Depression, came of age during World War II. An only child, she spent much of her time and considerable intellect focused on educating herself. She entered college at 16, finished undergrad and her Masters, was working on a PhD in Clinical Psychology. If only she'd used some of its wisdom on herself.
The Dark Prince
She was lovely but inexperienced, sheltered, refined, a lady. It was the late 1940's and she was a good girl. Until she met the man she thought was The One. He turned out to be The Wrong One.
But for her, thank god, not The Last One.
He was nine years older, running the family business, divorced with a child. A former college football star, a decorated veteran, a rake, a rowdy, a ravisher, a bad boy who made her feel so good.
He swept her off her feet. She'd only seen such a lifestyle in the movies. Clubbing, drinking, dining, dancing, romancing... and yes, love-making. Lots and lots of it. He seduced her, introduced her, maybe even loved her, in his own twisted way.
She was head over heels in love with him. Her parents were frantic. They knew he was Trouble. But she'd been a bookworm, a wallflower, blossomed late. She became a knockout with a strong will but no sense of her own power.
He was the first bee this flowering woman encountered and she was convinced he was The One.
Over her parent's objections, they set a wedding date. She was 22. Though he'd captured her heart, in her head she knew it was wrong. But the plans were made, and oh, he made her feel so good.
She suffered the night before her wedding, filled with anxiety and dread, knowing she was making a huge mistake, but unable to say no, back out, give him up.
Her suffering was nothing compared to the horror her marriage immediately became. Her charming, devoted, debonair lover was, as a husband, also demanding, dismissive, cold, crude. He flirted openly with every woman in sight, cheated on her even during their honeymoon, cursed a blue streak, yelled and oh, got piss-faced drunk every night. If she said no, please no, he took her anyway. That didn't feel so good.
Still, she loved him. Sober, he was bright, witty, charming, charismatic, loving. A well-known, admired business leader. A popular friend and colleague. A man's man. A ladies man. Women wanted him, she had him. Was determined to keep him.
She created a beautiful home, produced children, took her place in the community, was the perfect wife, mother, neighbor, hostess. They were the perfect couple.
The Sick Reality
He ran the business brilliantly when sober but, oh, not so much when out gambling, drinking and whoring. He traveled a lot. At home, during the week he got drunk every night. Weekends they went to parties and he got drunk. They hosted parties and he got drunk. Once, visiting her parents he was so fried he passed out in bed holding a lit cigarette. Almost fried them all.
He was a mean, angry drunk, did unspeakable things to her, to his family. The love was leaving, she could not. She did charitable work to escape. She went back to school to escape. She launched her career to escape. She chaired committees to escape.
She did everything but the one thing she should have done: take her children and really escape... forever.
He hated her career, her accomplishments, her recognition by the community, her independence. He was jealous and suspicious. A theme running through many of his drunken rants, Who were you flirting with, don't lie, you're not home with the children, you're out there with other men!
She was too proud to run home to Mommy and Daddy. To let the world know she'd failed. To admit to herself what everyone already knew, the truth about him, them, their awful marriage.
It was the 1950's, 'nice people' didn't get divorced. But it became harder and harder to avoid the obvious -- that he was far, far from nice. That he was deeply, deeply disturbed.
After the children left for summer camp, she finally left him, went back to her parents "for a long visit," and quietly hired a lawyer.
From afar he pleaded with her to return, he would change, she was his life, he loved her. But her love for him had died.
And then, so did he -- as they say in the medical profession, "by his own hand." A lethal combination of drugs and alcohol.
His obit in the local newspaper read "heart attack." Her heart had been attacked too. It was broken. So was her spirit.
The Shining Knight
She found an apartment, a school for the children, a job counseling troubled teens... not noticing she had two at home (another already married at 19). A grown woman, a widow, a mother, she reverted to the intense focus of her college days. Work, kids, her parents, home. Work, kids, her parents, home. That was it.
Gradually her extended family and friends drew her out. Reminded her she was still youthful and healthy, she needed a man, they needed a father. She started to attend small dinners, parties, allow friends to fix her up with men. Each fell for her brains, beauty and charm, she was indifferent to all. No man could be trusted.
Then a friend called. Told her of a man separated from a disastrous marriage, two children. Seven years older, a successful man, running the family business. Tall, handsome, charming. Uh oh. All too familiar. No! Her answer was firm.
The friend persisted. Had known her late husband. Insisted this man was different. Old fashioned, in a good way. Distinguished. Decent and kind. Very refined. A light social drinker only. Bright and funny, loyal to a fault, stayed with his own deeply disturbed spouse til they had to commit her. He was a real catch, women clamoring for him, don't throw this opportunity away.
Okay, she'd meet him. First date, he came to the door, they looked at each other, both thought hmm, this has potential. They had a lovely dinner, he asked her out again, she accepted.
She'd slept with her first husband on their first date. This man didn't even try to kiss her.
Dating with Children
On their third date they were sitting in her living room having coffee. She was thinking, I like this man, I want to know him better, I want him to like me. He's so proper, I wonder does he like sex, does he like me?
Then the phone rang. They both jumped, it was 1 am. Uh oh. Her younger daughter. "Hi Mom," she heard, "I'm okay, don't get mad at me, but I got arrested. I need bail money."
The arrest was minor, the kid tried to use a fake ID to get into a bar. She was furious. What the hell to do. Her thoughts racing, she said calmly into the phone, "How much is your bail?"
And she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Her best chance at happiness probably would walk right out the door. But wait, not yet! Because this had never happened, she didn't know what to do. Panic was clear on her face.
He gently touched her arm, "How much does she need?"
"Oh. She says $300."
"Ask her if there's a bail bondsman there and we'll work it out." Which they did. He paid. And made her laugh about the predicament, the timing, teenagers.
He had no intention of leaving. With a young son and a teenage daughter of his own, both traumatized by a mother who never laughed, only screamed, ranted, cried, he was impressed, relieved, entranced by this self-confident woman who'd accept his help, thank him for it, then laugh with him about it. Appreciate his kindness. Appreciate him.
A New Beginning
She realized in a rush her guard had finally come down, this man had done it. With patience and decency. She was falling in love, the right way this time, slowly, carefully, with her head as well as her heart. Desire was there, but it could wait.
At some point they fell silent. Sat and looked at each other, both thinking, this is it, I've found The One. Their first kiss was sweet, comfortable, healing, liberating. A touch of the passion to come, but not a hint of danger. Both were older, wiser, knew the difference between The Right One and The Wrong One.
He wanted to court her, win her love, give her his in return. But he wasn't free, no legal way to divorce a spouse in an institution. Eventually they rented a home in the next state where there were "no-fault" divorce laws. They'd have to live there one full year to get the decree.
They each continued to work, only one of the children was home, the rest in college. Still, it was hard for him, not in his lexicon, he felt he was "living in sin."
Then, incredibly, his wife got breast cancer. Refused treatment despite pleadings by all. Was lucid enough that to treat would have constituted "assault." Lucid enough to again refuse a divorce.
Eleven months after they'd moved to the no-fault state, his sad, angry, disturbed wife died in her sleep. Medical jargon again, "suicide by terminal disease."
Less than three months later they were married. Quietly, just family. He needed to assuage his enormous discomfort, he wanted to make her "an honest woman," a wife, a mother. He wanted them all to be a family.
He wanted to be her partner, her lover, her friend. A father to her children. A member of her family. He wanted to bring her into his family, show her off with pride, buy her gifts, take her on trips, spend the rest of his life making her happy.
After 38 years together and 35 years of marriage, he's done all that and more. He worships her still. She's starry-eyed still. People marvel at the depth of their love for each other. Their commitment. Mutual respect.
Their children, who lived through it, don't marvel. They accept, as they have from the beginning, that their parents found in each other The One. True Love.
Or, I should say, OUR parents. Which is what we all call them. Mom and Dad. Our kids call them Granny and PopPop.
By the way, my grandmother adored him. If only she'd lived to see them marry. If only my grandfather had lived to see his daughter, his "ray of sunshine" find her shining knight. And true love.
Thankfully, we see it every day.