Bruised, battered, withdrawn out of fear, and never again to be open or available. That was the diagnosis of my heart. It had been through too much. Six years of pain out of a desperate struggle to hold onto a man who didn't love me, to save a marriage that was crumbling piece by piece as I frantically tried to hold it together. My heart became so very fragile as it broke with the realization that there was nothing I could do to stop the destruction of my twenty-three year marriage. My heart gave in and retreated to a deep, dark hole that was cold and isolated. There it felt protected. No one could find it, penetrate its barrier, or reach it there. I was sure. Yet life has a mystical way of bringing nice surprises and proving to us that lessons are sometimes worth all amounts of suffering. It's a lesson my heart has learned, grabbed hold to, and delights in daily as it yearns with the chance to share its magical recovery.
As I marvel in the splendor of it all, my mind retraces a path that began some 32 years ago. It's this path that brings me back to who I am, the qualities I hold, and the values I see in me as a girl, a woman, and a mother. Qualities that somehow had been forgotten as I faced that deplorable feeling of being unloved. These qualities come alive to me again as I relive a moment of my life that forever captured my heart. Now, in that moment, I receive the real meaning and the uniqueness of an undying, unrelenting love.
I was 12 and had just become obsessed with the male population. I was always on alert to get the attention of, impress, and snarl as many good-looking males as I could possibly encounter. So on a summer day, somewhere between June and August of 1967, I met and fell for "the love of my life". I had just arrived at my cousin's home and peered out the front window when my eyes set focused on a young boy in the yard. He had an athletic look consisting of board shoulders, toned muscles, a lean waist, and sun-tanned skin. "Who is that?" I asked my aunt, knowing that he was soon to have the pleasure of my acquaintance. We became friends, the kind of friendship that forms between boy-girl at that age. You talk when you have to, nothing too deep; maybe just a little flirting that goes nowhere. He never seemed too interested in anything but sports. He was always throwing out statistics, achievements, and record settings by Willie Mays, Roger Staubauch, and the Dallas Cowboys. What did I know, or want to know, about those guys? I just moved on, sort of gave up trying to compete.
Somehow, someway, at 16 I learned that we had a new family in the neighborhood. None other than "the love of my life", living just around the corner. The welcome committee wasn't quick enough for me. I jumped in my car and devised a plan that included circling the block several times a day hoping to catch him outdoors. I couldn't imagine that his personality could stand the confines of being inside for too long. It only took a few days before there he was and here I was. I invited him over. He came. This time we were ready.
Ready to fall in love as teenagers, ready to commit our hearts, ready to plan a future, and ready to cause a major disturbance with the neighbors as we became overheated in the glow of the porch light. We did everything together. He taught me about baseball and I grew to love it under his direction. He taught me to drive a volkswagen gear-shift, to enjoy drive-in theatres, get excited over the World Series and Super Bowl; and he taught me about love. These lessons I just never forgot.
We grew up, graduated from high school, and said goodbye. Through the years, my family would often relate news of him to me, as I'm sure his did the same about me. I knew where he was, I knew about his life, and at times I cried to think how I missed loving him. On occasions when my sisters and I would be having one of our "girl talks", laughing at the dinner table and bringing up the past, they would witness a tear when he became the subject. In my heart, they always knew, there was a special place just for him. There was only one time during all those years that I was married and living away when I actually had a chance to speak to him. It was short, yet overwhelming, completely emotional, and forever engraved in my mind.
The love affair with my husband, Jerry Davis, began at 18 and lasted, I suppose, until the night he secretly crept away taking all his belongings. Leaving our children and me behind with no phone number or destination, leaving sound asleep the three people who loved him above all things. Myself, my 12 year old son, and my 2 year old daughter would wake in the morning and feel what was the anguish and horror of an abandoned heart.
As I think back to our years together, they seem very blurred. I can still visualize Jerry and I as a young couple making all the normal plans for an everlasting future. We accomplished so much materially through the first 10 years of marriage. Our jobs had taken us beyond even our own expectations and we felt as if everything we touched turned to refined, glittering gold. I remember that I sometimes felt as if we lived a fairytale. He was the charming, intelligent prince who had taken me to his magnificent castle to indulge me in all life's finery. It was good. We grew together as adults and had a love affair that felt solid, solid enough to face my inability to conceive children, solid enough to withstand job transfers, and solid enough to forgive and forget any deficiencies. We adopted a perfect baby boy that supplied that one need that we both felt we lacked, the need to be a mommy and a daddy. Now we had it all! How could anything possibly disrupt the life we had created, worked so hard for, and comfortably settled into? Yet, oh so gradually, I saw the man I thought I knew transform from a lovable, sensitive husband into a miserable creature who was cruel, selfish and full of hateful deceit. I was told without even a bat of an eye, a hint of sorrow, or hesitation of words, "I don't love you and I don't want you anymore. You need to leave". I set frozen, numb, petrified, needing a reason, some explanation. There were none. I spoke while trying to control the trembling of my entire body. "Please show me, tell me, how can I fix this". I pleaded for answers. There were none. That was the end of the conversation. A conversation that tormented me for six more years as I vowed to stay. I prayed, begged, and soon lost all confidence, self-esteem, and pride in myself.
My prayer was repetition, "Lord, just please do something/anything to change his heart towards me." Nothing changed his heart. Not the birth of our own natural baby girl, not the pressure of business associates who loved us and wanted our reconciliation, and certainly not the continuous flood of tears from his wife. The shower stall became my refuge. I could turn the water on, my children weren't around, and I could cry my heart into a wretched frenzy. There were letters full of apologies for any wrongdoing and vivid descriptions of my love on page after page. These were all unread, destroyed and tossed in the garage for my benefit. There were nights that he never came home, doors slammed and locked in my face, and so much blatant evidence of another woman. It was a nightmare from which I could not bring myself to awake. My mind grew weak with worry, my stomach churned with a never-ending nervousness and lost all need of food, and my physical features soon revealed the outward picture of the horrid story within. I saw a different woman in my mirror. She was pathetic with little spirit, no hope, and no will to survive. Life without Jerry Davis was unthinkable. It just couldn't be done.
Divorce, such an ugly word, such a nasty task for anyone to ever have to undertake. I felt the loss, failure, and finality of it all. Life just didn't quite work the way I had planned. Suddenly, there were new challenges, tough decisions, and plenty of responsibility, all lying at my feet. I felt it. I was scared, frightened with thoughts of loneliness, financial despair, and humiliation. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to close my eyes and drift away to a warm, safe place where I could refuel, gain strength, and be "me" once again.
I came home. Home to my mama and daddy, home to a few treasured friends, home to a new beginning in a place that was so much a part of me. No richer, wiser, sweeter decision has ever been made.
Only seven short months passed after I became a new resident of my hometown, when a divine appointment occurred. My day had been spent at the hospital, taking care of mama, talking with our friends and family who came to visit; and especially enjoying the company of my baby sister who had flown in from Maryland. It was a day that can make you feel foggy, drained, and tired, all from just sitting. So I had tried to shake off some of those feelings by going to another floor in the hospital to make a visit. A visit that seemed to take much longer than I had planned so upon my return to mama's room, I felt anxious and hurried. As I rounded the corner and headed down the long hospital corridor, I saw him. "What is he doing here?" "It's him. " The face, the body, the voice, the smile, the electricity, the emotion, "the love of my life." Here he was right in front of me. As the distance between us disappeared our eyes locked on one another. There was the quick "hello" and then as if no one was within miles around, we directed all our thoughts on the last 25 years that we had been apart. There were questions, long explanations, laughter, precious memories to recall, plans, and the magic of just being together. I learned that his dad and my mom had acquired the same "neighbor status" in the hospital. His dad was in the room right next door. My sisters, always on alert when it came to him, had heard his voice while sitting with my mother and went to investigate. They found him; I love them even deeper for that one act.
As we parted that night, I knew that something was different. I knew in just those few hours that I was not the same. There was a feeling, a feeling that seemed almost forgotten. It was one of those feelings you get when you know your heart is stirred, you know your mind is consumed, and you realize your emotions have taken control. I knew. I felt my heart poke its scared little head out of that cold, dreary place at the thought of warmth, tenderness, and acceptance. What a revelation, that as a woman, I still possessed those feelings. They had not died. In just that one encounter, so full of magical bliss, I sensed an undeniable leap of my heart.
Within just a few months of our first meeting, the lesson of my life unfolded. It unfolded as my heart revealed the story of a passionate young love that silently tucked itself away, finding a secret chamber in which to survive, and exposing itself at that one moment of divine appointment. My heart came alive, confirming and validating that this was a rare second chance for two young lovers. I was learning. In every meeting, in every touch, in every intimate moment, I was learning. Learning of the sweet message of a smile that can't quite be contained when our eyes meet. Learning about the yearning for more when hours spent together seem like only minutes. Learning about compliments, attentiveness, and the thoughtfulness of surprise love notes and romantic cards. Learning about a man, a real man, who shows strength of character in every area of his life. And above all this, learning about the value and appreciation of having the love of someone who holds your heart.
Once upon a time I thought I knew about "love". I did not. I thought I had experienced the excitement of another just entering the very room. I had not. I thought I knew the pleasure of tenderness and warmth from another. I did not. I thought I had been truly loved in the past. I had not. I was sure that I had entertained ecstasy. Most definitely, I had not.
Only now, through this wondrous lesson of the heart, do I realize that through the years I had lost the picture. The radiant, colorful picture of love that wildly blossoms with no limits, uninhibited, unselfish, and truly sacrificial. Somehow, it had vanished. Had I never had that experience, or had it been so long that the memory had faded? For what I believed in so completely, what I fought for so rigorously, and then eventually what I so painfully lost; holds no comparison to what I have rediscovered in my thriving heart today.
Shirley W. Davis