I dialed him early, something like 7 in the morning, and he sounded groggy as though still in bed. He grunted as I laid out what had been haunting me for months. Why didn’t he speak?
With me in Memphis and him in central Mississippi, 250 miles lay between us, but it had been the uncharacteristic distance in our telephone calls—all of which I initiated—that bothered me.
I’d asked him previously what was wrong. He said he had been busy. He was a cop, climbing the ladder of success. But that morning I’d had enough brush-offs. I insisted on an answer. With irritation in his voice, he whispered: “I can’t talk about it right now.”
That one sentence demolished eight years of a crazy dream that he’d reciprocate my love and marry me. Though he suggested the situation might not be what I thought it was, I knew it was. The truth unfolded over time, and the life I’d known burned to the ground. It was devastating.
When I reflect upon that period, I feel glad. Yes, I’m glad my dream of marrying him did not come true. It was for the best. I know—we say that—but I am not being superficial. I’ve come to believe if we wait long enough and search hard enough, we often discover the crushing agony of our dearest dreams will be redeemed. It’s a process.
I was 32 years old when I found out about the other woman. I set out to rebuild my life. I grieved. I pondered previous conversations, looked for clues as to what went wrong, read books on forgiveness. I prayed. Briefly dated someone who looked like the guy and then dated someone seven years younger than me. Yes, I was in deep pain. In time, I stopped asking myself questions. I didn’t need answers. Nor retribution.
In 2006, at age 39, I fell in love again. To another cop. The month after we buried my father. If you think I’m foreshadowing trouble, you’ve read between the lines correctly. I, however, believed Jeff’s materialization was destiny. Instead of being 250 miles away, I’d been with my father in his last days, and now that he was gone, God was giving me a husband. It would be Jeff. He was all that I had missed about my first love and more. For all of like three months, tops.
A trifecta of grief followed. I’d lost my dad, my mother was dying, too, and the man who spoke of marriage to me slowly but inevitably convinced me that I should cut off all contact with him. That was a complete divergence from my pattern.
I’d always held onto any shred of hope. Instead of waiting eight years this time, I had only waited one. Jeff sometimes emailed and sent me texts. I was bitter, but I wasn’t mean. I replied, but I did not engage. Maybe, finally, I was learning something. It was a painful but powerful experience.
Yet I wondered, were all the good ones taken? Was it too late for me? I was my mother’s caregiver, tied up in work and stress and grief. How could my dream come true? I got bold. I didn’t just pray to be married. I prayed for an exceptional marriage.
I met Richard on a church camping trip. We started dating months later, and then in 2009, we married. Not a day passed that I did not celebrate my good fortune. Even as I grieved the loss of my dad and then of my mom 16 months after the wedding, I rolled around in the joy of being loved and treated well. (I still do.)
For our fifth anniversary, Richard whisked me away to Mackinaw Island in Michigan. We stayed at a luxurious hotel and ate until our pants nearly popped. A few days after we returned, I woke from an afternoon nap, logged onto Facebook and learned Jeff had killed himself. Suicide is always tragic. Jeff’s shooting death landed three years after his third marriage and a few weeks after his wife left him. She described the marriage as abusive. She also revealed Jeff had been homicidal the night of his death. He’d put bullets in their wedding photograph.
Of all the emotions and thoughts I had about that situation, I’ll share this one with you: It could have been me. I felt I’d dodged a bullet. Literally.
By 2016, I was ready to sell my grief story. My search for a “safe place” in the wake of loss. I’d been working on the book for five years, and now a major publisher was interested. I was 90 percent sure my book, my “baby,” was going to get the coveted, affirming seal of approval. Instead, two weeks after I’d sent a proposal to the editor, I got a rejection.
In the writing business more than 20 years, I knew rejection was commonplace, and yet I took it personal. I took it hard. Depression. Confusion. Where was I supposed to take my dream now? I tried to regroup, and then I got very sick.
The first episode was Valentine’s Day 2017. My doctor suggested irritable bowel syndrome, but changing my diet didn’t help. I spent most of the year fatigued, my writing plans kicked to the curb. I stayed at the house a lot, and the neighborhood kids came over after school. Their grandmother was rearing the girl and boy, both under age 10, but it still was a shock when their mother was killed that summer in a vehicular accident. Richard and I stepped in to help with the kids. We tutored them, played board games with them, and watched movies with them. They stayed the night a few times. We fell in love with them. They were sort of like the children we didn’t have.
Doctors finally figured out why I had been sick for seven months. I had a bacteria in my gut called Clostridium difficile (C diff.). A round of antibiotics cleared it up. By then, it was early fall. Basically, a whole year had been wasted in terms of career advancement, but then I realized something grander had happened, something more important than a book.
Had the publisher pursued my book, I would have been busy writing when the kids arrived home from school—and the summer their mother died, and in the fall, when I had tutored them. Instead, I leisurely gave my time to them. My Facebook friends tell me we’ve been a blessing to those kids, but the truth is I am the one who has been most blessed. The kids stretched my capacity for love and selflessness. I hope I’ve made a lifelong impact on them, but they certainly have on me.
My dream to write and publish a book is not dead, only delayed. That was the best thing to happen—for me and the two little God-given angels in my life. And, as it always has, time will tell a story that will prove that every dream of mine may not come true exactly as I envision, but it will always be for reasons I’ll someday be thankful for.