Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Burning the Misplaced Pieces of the Past

Not long after Mark and I were engaged, I began to think about our love story, the one we would tell our children. We would share details that make all epic stories come to life: how we met as singing waiters our junior year of college, and how he compelled me to take his drink orders because it was against his moral code - a code I challenged him to find a cogent and systematic thought process to use for his defense. We would also share how he voluntarily bused my tables prior to driving me back to my dorm each weekend night in his white Honda Civic and how we carried take-home containers of chocolate truffe mousse to my room to share. We would even - maybe - confess how he stayed right up to (and even past some nights) the dormitory's visitation hours.

From courtship through engagement, the story of our early romance would convey to our yet unconceived children how our love surpassed all other stories of romance that might have been written for each of us had we not dared to take a chance on dating a type of person we never expected to meet.

I also wanted to safeguard our story from mythology - illusions about our romance or romances we had abandoned along with the romancers who had abandoned us. I wanted our children to know only of our misgivings and mistakes. Our love had not bloomed without rainy days. We had even endured a storm only weeks prior to our engagement. But bloom, it did, even surviving harsh seasons. The hardiest perennials do. Our children would need to know that.

They would need to know that the first bloom appeared about 29 years ago, back when I worried about notes, other love letters written by other suitors, being found by future children. Those scraps of paper outlined stories that should never be told, I believed. Not if Mark and I were to commit ourselves only to each other. We were collaborators of an epic saga, a saga that would birth beautiful children who would know only of the love that bore them.

Therefore, the other love notes had to be burned. No misplaced pieces of our separate pasts should supplant our storyline.

Our tale of love had begun to weave its way from the Chalet Room at Carver's Restaurant, and it deserved a clear path to the lively retirement abode we would choose for our most golden and final years. Our children should never doubt the wisdom we had exercised in our early 20s when we chose to travel a complex but unified path together. "Wisdom" and "early 20s." Could there be such a combination? If so, we needed to affirm it. Protect it. We needed to burn the notes.

Still, what if the relationship that our children would see in the future didn't live as vividly for them as any colorful tales they might freely concoct? Perhaps not having other notes would not matter. Even if evidence did not exist, vividly imagined details could be invented - by them, if not us. What if some mythological storyline - crafted even without the aid of rejected love notes - could unseat our real life story anyway?

Until our children could write the toughest chapters of their own hearts' tales, they could comprehend love. Not really. 

Love - sustaining love - is nurtured through careers and children and broken dreams and dream vacations and experimental vocations and heartaches and midlife crises and ordinary days of non-crises and retirement and, well, things I cannot know of either - not yet anyway. My great love story is far from over, and while I have witnessed other great loves, their endings have not been well documented - not as well as their beginnings. Perhaps endings are so intensely personal, so poignant and full, they cannot be wholly shared. Or maybe the greatest love stories have no endings because they do not end. What a merciful thought.

That is why those other notes - puzzle pieces of unseasoned passion - had to be burned; they were burned, turned into ash that matched the relationships that bore them. Our children cannot resurrect them. Neither can we.

Mark destroyed his on a day and in a manner of his choosing before I had a chance to add mine to his pile. Fitting perhaps, for we had collected them separately; separately they turned into ash.  I am grateful their embers flamed the fire that has warmed us for nearly three decades. Those relationships mattered too.

Today I took out the collection of love letters that survived those years - Mark's cards and hand-written pages to me during our courtship. I read one. Then one more. Still another. I read in search of me and the man I chose to marry. Can we really be found in the words of those love epistles? They are now as mysterious to me as they will be to our children one day when they find them. Hidden in plain sight.

I don't need to read them to recall who I married. According to those love letters, that man does not exist anymore anyway.

Anytime I need to recall the story of my life's great love, I will simply walk into my kitchen at dinner time. He will be standing near the stove, either cooking the evening meal for our family or insisting on helping me do the same. And when our family meal has ended, he'll help me bus our table - plates and glasses into the dishwater, pots and pans washed in the sink. There will be no need for him to drive me home. We will already be there. Our sons have seen that part of our story many times. That might be all they really need to know.    


Note: The poem that sparked my thinking is "His Elderly Father as a Young Man" by Leo Dangel. I would post it here for you to enjoy as well but do want to commit copyright infringement. I encourage you to find it in Home from the Field, © Spoon River Poetry Press, 1997.

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