I have a confession to make. I only first told my mother I loved her this year. Same with my dad. It was always difficult for me to muster the words. I knew deep down in my heart of course I loved my parents, right? But I still couldn’t say the words.
I never understood either. I knew it wasn’t because I was afraid to. I said it once to a girl I was planning to marry once upon a time. I said it once to a girl when I was in high school who broke up with me I was trying to get back. That backfired by the way. Literally, her dad, a cop, threatened me with a shot gun!
Looking back on my life I still, to this day, have to stop and ask myself, what is love? Do I feel loved by others? Do I feel love towards others? I had to give this some serious consideration recently when I started telling the people in my life whom I think I love that yes I do love you. But it’s deeper than that.
I was raised in a bubble. I wasn’t sheltered from the world by my parents. However, I sheltered myself from the world because I was afraid. I did venture out in my teen years and make some friends but even that was a chore. I always felt like it was one of those things you said ONLY when you really meant it or when the time was right. I knew I didn’t want my mom to be dying in a hospital before she heard me say those words to her, because I did love her in my own way. I just didn’t know how to express it.
Then there was a part of me that was embarrassed to show emotions. That was rooted in my mask. I needed to hide behind a cold hearted shell to deter anyone from accusing me of being too feminine. I grew up in the Midwest in a rather conservative area so men weren’t supposed to show emotions and if they found out I wasn’t really a man, it could have been bad.
I look at the women I know I have said or felt love in my heart over the years. The first was a girl named Hannah. I can’t tell you at what point I went from she was a friend I cared about to a person I truly loved but I know it was after we broke up and before I moved away and lost touch. But it was one of those things where I kept asking myself did I really love her? In a way I was asking myself did I earn the right to say I loved her. I felt like I was her friend, we kinda sorta “dated” in a way for a brief moment after a long drawn out friendship culminated in a really bad decision on both our parts. I thought I loved her maybe as a friend but I never “loved” any of my other friends. So I went back to what did it mean to love someone.
Then I looked at Carmen. She was the woman I not only gave my heart to she gave me hers when she said she would marry me. Our courtship was intense but brief. We me on a hot summer day in July. I remember it like it was yesterday. She was next door watering the trees in her yard kinda looking over my way and tossing the water up at the tree and smiling. Then she would take a break, get into her car, drive around the grain elevator across the street from our house and pull back into the drive way. She would get out of the car, look my way and smile. The third time she did this I got the hint, drove my car over to hers, blocked her in at he driveway and said Hi. She smiled and said took ya long enough.
From there we parked our cars in their respective drive ways. She walked over to the property line and we chatted, in the hot summer sun for three hours nonstop. She told me her entire life story. I didn’t tell her much other than my deadname, age, where I worked and the very basics. I didn’t want to talk I wanted to listen. I wanted to soak up every word she uttered like it was coming down from heaven. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and here she was talking to me like I mattered. Me, a lonely loser with too few friends for her own good.
We talked that three hours. She told me about her brother who died in a house fire. Her mother who went crazy and ran off. How she was raised by foster parents. How it took until she was 15 before her dad got her back in his life. She told me she was a teachers aid at the elementary school up the street. She was finishing high school. Full disclosure she was 19 at the time and I had was about to turn 21 so we were both legal age. She was on the autism spectrum but I knew that going in. She had her faculties but she was definitely quirky. Which I loved.
The next day she knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to come over and have some carrots with her. We sat on her back door steps eating carrots dipped in blue cheese dressing and talked about nothing and everything. We went for a walk down the country road by our houses. Walked back and forth at least a half dozen times before both our parents, yes we lived at home, yelled supper and that was when I realized I spent an entire day in her company. No shame. It was not time waisted.
After a couple of weeks she came over to my house. We were talking. It had only been a couple weeks maybe three or four at most. We had spent every hour of every day we could together. I went to her school for lunch. I worked at Dominoes in th evenings so I brought her home a pizza or cheese sticks from time to time. Her step mother was encouraging us to blossom our love while my parents were hesitant but supportive enough.
Then one day in a whirlwind of emotions after a make out session discussing out futures I just said Carmen I love you and I don’t ever want to be away from you. Would you consider marrying me? She threw her arms round my neck, pressed her lips to mine and nodded yes as we kissed on it. It was kinda nice but also scary. I was very afraid how our parents would react. Not to mention in the back of my mind still wondering if I could suppress the inner woman fighting to get out forever.
It didn’ matter. We told our parents we were going to get married in the summer and move into an apartment that fall. Our families were split. Her step mom was al for it. Her dad not so much. Her uncles were dead set against it. My dad was indifferent. He said things like if that’s what you want or are you sure you’re ready but he didn’t push me either way. Mom was a little more assertive in her objections but she said her peace and left me be.
Things were going great until her grandmother stepped in. Remember when I said she was on the spectrum. Well her dad explained to me what that meant. She was 19 but had the mentality of a 15 year old. He said this was okay she could legally marry and he said he wouldn’t stop us and that if it was what we both wanted we could. But he told me she had an emotional state of a child. If she got worked up she could go into a fit. Worse, he said she had another issue they couldn’t cure that if it was triggered she could take a turn for the worse.
Needless to say her grandmother fought us tooth and nail. She lived with her stepmom, dad, and one uncle in her grandmothers tiny house. It was crowded. She got in trouble and was “grounded” for staying out with me too late. We of course ignored this and kept seeing each other anyways. This culminated in a stand off between me and her two uncles. The other one live in town. We lived out in the country.
It went south when she had one of those mental breakdowns over a fight one day when her uncle came to my house and dragged her, kicking and screaming, back to hers. Her dad came out of his house and began swatting her on the bottom. She hit the ground and began throwing a temper tantrum kicking, screaming, rolling around balling like a child. She got up, got in her car and drove off. The chased her down. The next day her dad explained to me she had an episode. She was having a breakdown. She needed time away from everything to cool down. One of her uncles was a truck drive. She was going to go on the road with him for a run across the country for three weeks. It was supposed to give her time to clear her head.
While she was gone her father gave me a choice. She said she needed help I couldn’t give her. He said he wanted to send her to a doctor to get her help. He said if I took her and married her she might not be well. In the interest of doing the right thing I agreed to break off the engagement and end our relationship. This was the first time I can honestly say I had my heart broken.
When she returned from her trip she was acting distant and weird. She wasn’t herself. She came to my house to get ready for church. We went to Sunday school in my car her and I. On the way there she broke into tears. She said her uncle molested her and she didn’t know what to do. I was disgusted. My instinct was to believe her. I went to my parents told them what she said she told them the story she told me. One of the ministers at our church was a cop. We told him. He opened and investigation and I was dragged into it. They subpoenaed our letters we wrote back and forth. I was interrogated. I was asked to divulge our sex life. I explained how we didn’t have a sex life. I was a virgin. They told me, repeatedly, you can tell us it’s okay you’re not in trouble, she was legal age to consent we just need to verify a few thing she said. I said we never had sex. We petted twice. That was it. Nothing else ever happened.
They took me aside, the officer took me aside in a private room and said be honest we need to know if you two had intercourse or oral sex ever. She insists you two did it all the time. I insisted we never did those things. She offered me oral once, I said, I refused because I was scarred.
After that they concluded and told me she was either confused or in a mental fantasy she couldn’t get out of. She was telling them all kinds of stories that never happened and thus no charges were filed. Naturally this put a rift between our two families so we moved. The end result one day one of the lawyers came to me and explained she was going away to a mental health facility to get help.
I asked if I could ever see her again. They said flat out no. They said she was gone and there was no indicator if she would ever come back. They said she wouldn’t recognize me if she did see me. I knew this was likely true because she had a tendency to retell the same stories over and over and get surprised when I knew how they ended.
They explained how the intensity of our relationship and the way it ended, the trauma of the breakup and the fighting, the road trip, everything, broke her inside. They said she may have been molested but because she insisted her and I had relations I insisted we didn’t the couldn’t trust her testimony. She couldn’t even tell them her phone number or address. She was gone. Empty. I lost her and was partially responsible for her new life.
They said if I ever want to get in touch the best I could do was write to the officer who could get a message to her case worker who could ask her lawyer if she could get it. I never got any further word on her. I never learned her fate. I walked away hollowed out wondering if I even knew what love was anymore.
To this day I see her face, I hear her voice. I remember whispering in her ears “I will never forget. I will love you until the end of time.”
Now, here I am two 19 years later and I still don’t know if I can love again. I still don’t know if I can ever lose someone like that again. If she had died, I could have grieved but the not knowing her fate. Knowing she was, what happened…I will never forgive myself.
Years later I tried to look her up. As a journalist we have tools available to dig deeper than the average joe. I did some digging. I came across a Facebook thread by her long lost mother asking everyone if they knew what had happened to her daughter. When I read her cousin tell the story from his perspective my heart broke. I was the bad guy in the story.
What is love? In my experience it’s just another painful emotion I would rather not have to live with.