Many years ago, when I was 18 I married the man who saved my life. I loved him desperately at the time, thought I couldn’t draw breath without his smile. Because we were good together but we were also really bad together. He was ready to settle down and be a husband, be a man, but not really. I was still spinning, from all the pain that had been inflicted on me and that I had inflicted on myself. I didn’t know how to love with my whole heart and didn’t know how to trust anyone to love me. Then again, perhaps I knew enough not to trust.
Although we were married for five years, we did not spend the entire time living together, in fact spent less than two years under the same roof. When I was 23 we came together for a brief time because I wanted to see him, to know what I was walking away from, what I was giving away. My heart hurt then, I knew I still loved him but we couldn’t be together because I was ready to heal and grow up and he couldn’t be part of it. The baggage we had didn’t belong together and the life I wanted didn’t have a place for our history.
I had shared all my secrets with him; he knew the darkest parts of me. He let me cry them out in fury and fear. He never told me it would be ‘okay’, only that he wouldn’t let anyone else hurt me, ever. I believed him. Sometimes he told me I was strong, but he also told me I could be stronger that I could be more. He hated my weakness and my fear of the world, when I was 18 I was afraid sometimes even of him, mostly I was afraid he would fail me, or worse still that I would fail him.
We failed each other.
I have married since then of course, badly and well. I have loved since then, also badly and well. Each time I near a milestone, a birthday or an anniversary I wonder though what would have been had we been different, or in different places in our life. Was his love for me conditional on his need to save me? I often think this might have been a part of it, I was broken and he set about to fix me. Within our marriage, during our time together I didn’t grow stronger but dependent on his approval. My heart beat for him, his anger would send me in a tailspin. We had a normal marriage with normal arguments that couples have, but looking back I wonder now if this is true given how truly dysfunctional I was.
I was blind to his faults, seeing only his care for his extended family and me as the measure of the man he was. His care was strange though, did not make sense to anyone but him. I am grateful today but then I only wondered why he put his future, his wife and his life in danger. He sent me away, telling me nothing but that I must go that I was a risk he couldn’t afford. I left broken hearted with an uncertain future, rejected by the man who promised to love me and to save me.
My husband was an armed robber.
I had returned finally to my father’s house. I was across country when a phone call came from my sister-in-law, she told me my husband had been convicted of armed robbery along with two of his cousins. This was how he had been paying the bills, no one knew. Not for months, but he knew that soon they would be caught and this is why he sent his daughter and me away. He was sent to prison, I wrote him while he was there but he said he wanted me to file for divorce, to end our marriage that it would be best for me.
I didn’t do it. I would not do it until he was released.
Three years later, he was released from prison on parole. I had saved my money to return to Texas to see my now convict husband. I didn’t know what I thought of the situation. I still loved him in my heart but I had gotten stronger, I had started to dream of a new life. In our letters, we had shared our dreams and they weren’t the same.
I took the bus from Seattle to Austin; it gave me time to think. He met me at the bus station in Austin. He looked the same, his smile was still the same but his eyes were clouded with pain. It was a sad reconciliation; we stood in the middle of the station and held each other. We had both changed; we were different people with hopes and dreams that flowed in different directions. I didn’t have money back then for hotels, I stayed at his sister’s house and he was staying with his mother.
We sat up late that first night we talked until morning. I asked the question I never asked in my letters.
He couldn’t answer; maybe he just wouldn’t answer. We talked about hopes, dreams and the future. We talked about love. In the end, we talked about ending our marriage. We both cried. For three days, we talked and we cried. We hugged and we cried some more.
At the end of those three days, he took me back to the bus station and put me back on the bus to Seattle. He stood and watched me leave, he waved as the bus left the station; he didn’t smile just a small wave of his hand. We knew it was the end and I think we were both sad.
He knew me better than any person in my life ever had. I think he disappointed me worse than any person ever had. Now and then, I search for him, just to know that he is still on the earth. I think I would be sad to find out he was no longer alive. He was my first real love.