Love Can Happen. And It Can Change Everything.
When I was 6, my dad died. When I was a teenager, my mom died. I went to live with my grandmother, and a few months later, she died. I was left homeless and alone. Somehow, to this day I still don’t know how, I managed to get through high school. I lived in a Pinto and a box my last year. This was in a small town, back in the day. No idea why no one ever tried to “intervene”.
Anyway, I was lucky, because I was smart. Somehow, God’s grace, I don’t know, I managed to get into a very good school. I went.
Because no one ever bothered to tell me I didn’t have to pay my mom’s debts, I did. I worked at multiple jobs throughout my college days. No social life, just school and work. By the end of it, I was exhausted. I paid off her debts. In retrospect, they weren’t that much. Just a few thousand dollars. But back then….I remember someone at the hospital where she’d died telling me it wasn’t a charity hospital. I was a minor! If I’d known any better, I would’ve realized I didn’t owe anyone anything. But no one bothered.
Anyway. As I say, after college, I was exhausted. In every possible way. I scraped together my last paycheck and fled the country. Lived in Paris, kicked around, did menial jobs that only foreigners who lacked work papers could do. Even there, I was trying to work myself…toward something? Away from something? I don’t know. But one day a friend said I should go with a group to Mykonos. It wasn’t that far, really, so I said sure.
Down there, I met a girl….She didn’t speak English, and though I’d been living in France a while, my French was pretty poor. But we began talking, then hanging out. It turned out she was a French medical student, about to become a doctor. We met again back in Paris, fell in love, and married.
Less than a year later, she was dead, from an infection she’d contracted on location with MSF. Once again, I fled from grief, back to the States.
I was devastated. Wiped out. Less than nothing. Saw no purpose in anything, in life, in hope, in despair, in sex, nothing. I began working, for no reason at all, really, except that I wasn’t dead, as a child abuse investigator. I thought maybe, I still don’t know, that possibly by trying to help some kids I could help myself.
It may not have been the worst job I could imagine, but it wasn’t far from it. I was trying to help kids in a society that only paid lip service to wanting to help kids. I worked in a physical abuse unit; we investigated physical abuse of children 0-6. Everything you see in the papers, I saw. New workers routinely quit as soon as they finished training and saw what the job was like. Those who managed to stay all developed personal problems. Alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, and suicidal ideation and attempts were common. And this was among the workers!
Anyway, as I also mentioned elsewhere, after a child was killed in front of me, I again fled. This time, to law school.
In law school, I was a wreck. I remember taking some sort of stress test, just informally, and I don’t remember the scale, something like if you score a 4 you should try to seek help. I scored a 26. Or something. It’s been many years. I no longer remember. But I was way off the chart.
I remember taking a course in Juvenile Law. We actually studied the case I’d had, where the guy killed his child. I was too burned out even to read it.
Grief was all I knew. I remember distinctly, one day, walking to school, thinking that no one cared if I were alive or dead. It was true; it wasn’t maudlin or self-effacing. I saw that every care we had ended the moment we did. That all the things people cared about were superficial and meaningless. I can’t say I was suffering from PTSD; it seemed as though my whole life had been traumatic.
Then, one day, just out of the blue, a young lady came up and introduced herself to me. She said something nice; I don’t remember what. I’m no great-looking guy. Maybe this happens to redditors all the time. But it never happened to me.
I was too burned out/devastated/whatever word you want to use there even to speak to her. It took me more than a year actually to do it. More than a year and a half.
But one day, at some party, after I got drunk, I went up to her and spoke. I told her that it was brave what she’d done, that it was something I would do, go up to someone and say hi. She didn’t even remember doing it. But we talked some more, and that was it.
Then, a few days later, the AIDS quilt came through. Via a different story I may/may not tell some other day, it so happened that I knew a number of people whose names were on the quilt. I went to see it, saw their names, came out and wept.
So senseless! Life, suffering, loss. My first wife, my friends, my parents, that little girl. All of it, and for what?
The woman, who I’ll call M–, came over and talked to me. She had volunteered to help with the quilt, and she’d seen me so distraught. It turned out that we had a number of classes together. We began to see each other at some of the beer events. In that regard, you’ve never seen a beer event until you’ve done one at law school. So much pressure, so much work; routinely law students got drunk as skunks.
Anyway (sorry I realize I’m saying that a lot), M– and I began seeing each other. That summer, she came to see me a few times while I was clerking. That fall she asked me to live with her. Some time later we married.
It’s been 17 years. M–is like a gift from…whatever you want to call it. God. The universe. Luck. But to me she felt like a gift from God, a reminder that he hadn’t forgotten about me. For some reason he’d thought it important for me to undergo the pain and struggle.
What I can say: from the moment M–and I met, my life changed for the better. Financially I stabilized. Eventually I grew into a law practice and a job that I loved. Realize, here, I went through 9/11. I was at the Twin Towers when it all happened. I won’t go into that here, as I’ve been flamed when I tried to express myself on reddit about it, except to say that for some reason my life has continued to seem like a lightning rod for chaos. I realize of course it’s all just coincidence. But it hasn’t mattered because of M–.
We have two gloriously wonderful children. Both very young. And obviously I had them late. But they are the most beautiful things I ever have seen. More beautiful to me than starlight. That it all came so late, what my early life was like….None of that matters anymore. It doesn’t matter that it took me so long to get here; it just matters that I finally have. All because one woman took a chance to speak to me. And to love me.
So yes, I have known love. I have been blessed 3 times to know it. (I talked elsewhere about the third.)
It is real and it can happen. I am no one special. But I am proof that it can happen.
Love can happen. And it can change everything.