1990. Things seemed to be turning around. Barry’s wife gave birth to their first child: a baby boy. My first husband and I became grandparents, but two weeks later, Howard passed away. I never did get the chance to make amends with him. My second husband, on the other hand, I was able to muster up forgiveness for. Somehow we remained friends until the day he stopped breathing. Now I’m not promoting letting people run over you, but there’s not really any worth in holding on to grudges. You don’t forget, but you do learn from the wrongs that others do upon you. It’s okay to forgive even the worst of people, so long as you never give them the space to hurt you again.
Anyway, I figured I’d had enough of Raleigh and decided to come home to care for my parents back in Henderson. The trailer park we owned was in need of better management and momma was falling sick. I became their caregiver for the next 15 years.
The ’90s dragged on rather uneventful and I sure was thankful for those years to breathe easy. Until one day, I visited my dentist only to be informed that Jim’s wife, Emily, had died. I was in utter shock and couldn’t believe that something so awful could happen to my best friend without my knowing. Life had just gotten so crazy so fast, as it does. And I guess I’d become so consumed by those hurting me that I forgot to be a friend to those who’d always cared for me.
I called up Jim and told him how sorry I was. How awful this was. How I missed him and I was wishing the very best for him in this difficult time. Just a little while later, Barry called me up worrying about some golf tournament he had to recruit people for. Remembering the days when Jim had taught me how to play golf at the beach, I told Barry he should call Jim up himself. And he did.
I didn’t dare tell Jim that it was my idea for Barry to call him up, nor did I dare tell him that I would be present at the tournament. But sure enough, he called me before the big day and… just like that, he changed my life forever.
After a few minutes of stuttering around the details of the tournament, Jim pulled himself together and blurted out, “Well dammit, I’m askin’ you on a date.” I was utterly surprised at his request. Even more surprising, though: the idea of a date with Jim excited me!
Now you know how many bad relationships I’d seen through my 70-odd years. But if you ain’t always willing to pick yourself back up, brush off the dust, and crack that heart open one more time, well then you’re just living with one foot in the grave. You might think closing off and protecting yourself makes you a survivor, and I’m all for independence, but there’s a difference between existing and living. To truly be a survivor, you gotta live. And to live, you gotta be willing to take risks each and every day. So I chose to risk my heart yet again. And thank the good lord Jesus that I did. It was the best first date of my life.
When he wasn’t playing golf, we sat outside at the tables and just talked. We talked and talked all damn day. It was the first time I ever looked at Jim that way, and even though he’d been my best friend for over a decade, I suppose that kind of made it like love at first sight.
We started dating just like that. It was a relationship like none other: one full of firsts. For the first time, our one year anniversary wasn’t celebrated with an engagement ring. For the first time, I didn’t worry about coming home to a drunk. For the first time, a man respected that I chose to be a caregiver for my parents. And for the first time, I was engulfed by true love. I realized none of my other relationships or marriages even involved love.
You go through phases in life. When you’re a little girl, you know true love is out there just waiting for you. You believe that no man will ever break your heart. Through the years, it becomes clear that many men will hurt you and try to destroy your faith in love. Sometimes, you begin to believe love doesn’t exist at all and laugh back at your childish naivety. But then the day arrives when you meet a man that’s willing to put up with your aged pessimism, just for the slightest chance to prove you wrong and make a believer out of you once again. It’s not like in the fairytales. He will never kill dragons for you, but only because dragons aren’t real. Instead, he will support you fully and unconditionally. He will wipe the tears from your face. He will embrace those you love and feel genuinely enraged by those who ever hurt you. He might not look like Prince Charming with his perfectly symmetrical face, flowing hair, and tones biceps, but over the years it will become ever-so-clear that he is the single most beautiful man you will ever lay eyes on. The sparkle in his eyes whenever they look into yours; the color of his cheeks when he gets embarrassed in front of you; the look of sadness that fills his face when he sees you cry; the sound of his laugh when you make a joke; the way he lifts your grandchildren into the air as if they were his own; the comfort of his embrace as you watch both of your parents pass away. No doubt, Jim was the most beautiful man to ever step foot on this planet.
Love is out there, I know it. It is a rare and it is a magical thing. And I had it that one time.