Je t'aime

"You can close your eyes to the things you do not want to see, but you cannot close your heart to the things you do not want to feel." -- Johnny Depp

Love is nearsighted

Some people come into your life as blessings; others come into your life as lessons. My first "lesson" had blonde hair and eyes the color of the sky just before it rains, a dark blue with a whisper of gray. We were both 18 and met at a summer job when I came home from college after freshman year. Those eyes and the bold, smart-ass smile that stretched cheek to cheek were his invitation; teasing, daring me to look. I did, and I fell.

My mother died exactly five months before I met him; my house became a gray, empty box without her in it, and the bare-knuckled disappointment when the fragrance of her pot roast and gravy didn't greet me at the door made me want to turn back around and head anywhere but home. Comfort food was her, "I Love you," the caress she gave instead of hugs. I went to bed thinking about the tender crust that cradled her luscious lemon meringue pie and woke up praying her French toast was waiting for me in the kitchen, its warm, buttery syrup a perfect pool on the plate.

My father parked himself on a barstool during the day and worked nights, his pattern not much different from when Mama was alive. So when the lesson walked into my life, I had "Pick me!" written across my forehead. My desperation for a big 'ol happy family was like a constant ache I carried just beneath my breastbone, and I dreamed about going to his house, one with a cozy kitchen where apple pies bubbled in the oven, his mother in an apron asking, "How about a nice, big slice?"

I buried Daddy two years later, his lungs and pancreas no match for two packs of Camels a day and too many beers to count. Within six months, I walked down the long aisle of the Presbyterian Church and met my "lesson" at the alter, wondering how the hell I got there. His Catholic family no doubt wondering where this sassy, upstart, lackadaisical Protestant came from.

We were two kids on that alter, and after some nervous "I dos," we made our way back down the long aisle and out the door where, for the next 9 years, we commenced to unload on each other every hurt and disappointment we had ever suffered....but did I ever love HIM? I had fallen, but for what? Him? His family? How he looked when his blonde hair curled in the Midwest humidity, framing his perfect cheekbones? Forty years later, I still don't know the answer.

What I DID love in a way that had a faint whiff of anxiety about it, was our beautiful daughter. After losing Mama and Daddy, would I somehow lose the one and only precious thing in the marriage? I can't tell you the exact day she lost her first tooth or describe what she wore to her second birthday party, but I can close my eyes and feel her sturdy little self not yet two, head resting just barely on my shoulder, as she slept draped across my torso in the car, long before we trussed kids up like Thanksgiving turkeys in the back seat. I can see that day 35 years ago now, the lesson driving and me holding her, protecting her from what I knew wasn't good in our own little house. As I inhaled the sweetness of her soft toddler hair, damp from the sun dancing across us through the windshield, I knew what I had to do. For the love of her.