Almost 30 years ago, I remember feeling truly self-conscious for the first time. It was the night I met the man who stole my heart. I was a cocky teenager -- an Italian girl from Long Island -- with a whole lot of attitude and confidence. In my mind, there was no place better than New York, and no person superior to me. Until that fateful night when I met him, and I didn’t feel so “all that” anymore. I suddenly went weak in the knees and experienced a yearning like a little girl who desperately wanted a special toy in a department store’s window display, only to realize the glass kept it just out of reach.
We met at a wedding, both of us in the wedding party. He thought I was in my 20’s – I was 16. We laughed and danced all night. It seemed perfect, a Cinderella evening if ever I had one. And, then I told him how old I was; he was 11 years older. This proved to be a problem for several people, but I didn’t see an issue. I knew everything. I also knew what I wanted; it was right before me, but there remained that imaginary glass barrier between me and what I desired.
The glorious evening ended and we agreed to write to each other. We wrote for several months about dreams and the future. The letters were memorable and sweet, and I kept them neatly tucked away to read and re-read. But there was one that I will never forget, the last letter I received from him – go to college, have fun and we’ll talk when you’re finished. It broke my heart -- the heart that knew better than everyone else. How could he do such a thing? What gave him the right to shatter my dreams like an impertinent tyrant? What made him think he knew better? I stowed those letters in the deepest recesses of my memory box, just like I did with my emotions.
My youthful infatuation, stubbornness, and vainglory kept me from seeing that he was a wise and good man. They were not only my dreams he was taking control of, they were his, too. He had a career, and I was a still a child. I needed time to grow and learn about the world, about love and about commitment. It wasn’t a high school romance that he was looking for; no, he wanted much more than I was able to offer at 16. So, he moved on and, admittedly hurt and angry, I stopped writing his name all over my notebook pages in Spanish class – Mrs. Tonkiss was grateful for that.
I saw him once when I was in college during a visit to friends on Long Island, but suffice it to say, that didn’t end well, probably because I wasn’t ready to deal with the hurt that re-surfaced. I decided to bury it deep inside where the hurt, anger and regret couldn’t touch me anymore. A year or so later, someone mentioned in passing that he had gotten engage. I assumed he would be married, with a two kids and a cat. I was involved with someone at the time and just shrugged it off, not allowing the emotions to take charge again. For an instant -- all that I would allow -- I did feel a twinge of loneliness in my heart. I couldn’t help but think that I had given up on something special.
The years flew past, and I was a senior in college, unattached and lacking direction. That Christmas, as in prior years, I went home to be with my family. This particular Christmas break, however, was different -- I felt very disconnected. My parents had relocated and I had very few friends where they now lived. I just moped around the house and helped with the cooking and cleaning, basically getting in the way. I was just miserable.
My cousin called on New Year’s Eve to wish everyone well. She asked how I was and if I was still seeing that guy from school – no one in my family liked him, and for good reason. I told her that I was wisely unencumbered, and then she offered something that made me catch my breath – he was in New York for only a few days, unmarried – no wife, no kids, no cat! Was this a second, I mean third, chance to possibly get this right? Would I finally be able to reach that toy behind the store window? I got his phone number and took a deep gulp, swallowing my pride as I dialed.
Questions raced through my head: What would he think? What would he say? Would he ever forgive me for that last meeting that ended so poorly?
I said, “Hello, it’s me.” He didn’t say much really; he asked how I was and how school was going. It was a very short conversation that ended with only a cordial “take care”. I couldn’t blame him, in the past I had been impetuous, immature and well, a kid. But, things were different now, and as I hung up, something wouldn’t let me accept his cool and brief demeanor as the final word. It jolted me to the core, that sensation that I had just made another terrible mistake. I grabbed the phone and called him back, this time I had a lot to say, starting with I’m sorry and ending with I miss you. He seemed cautious, but pleased; I was so happy, I couldn't sleep that night -- a memory that each time revisited makes me feel comfortable and secure.He went back to his work in California, and I went back to school to finish my final semester. He promised to call the following week, but I couldn’t wait – remember, I admitted to being impetuous. From once a week, the calls escalated to once a day. And, before I knew it, I was booking a flight to California to see him. I couldn’t believe the anticipation, and that feeling of self-doubt, that again manifested in me on the flight from one coast to the other. But, when I saw him again at the airport, my anticipation was relieved and my self-doubt melted away -- I knew. It was that very evening in March of 1987 when he proposed and I accepted. Our separate dreams were about to become one unified hope for a beautiful future.
We were both Catholic but, to quote a dear friend, I was "not so meritorious" in the practice of the Faith. So, only in retrospect am I able to attribute this marvelous meeting of souls to God. There is, in hindsight, no other explanation to account for all the near misses, happenstances and shear miracles that kept us apart and put us back together. While we walked different paths for many years, our hearts never left the true path of union in God -- his plan for us. We received the Sacrament of Matrimony during the Holy Mass on June 27, 1987, just 6 months after we spoke on the phone that New Year’s Eve, but slightly more than 6 yrs. after we first met. We have been married ever since; through good times and bad, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part. And so, today I gratefully recognize God’s hand in my life and in this story. I firmly believe that I live the Scripture: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.” (Jer 29:11)
|Lyle & Kathy -- 6/27/1987|
And so, the story continues…