I'm finally sitting at my kitchen table with my computer open in front of me again. It's been a strange four months of abstinence when it comes to writing and not at all what I intended after sending my twentieth book, in seven and one-half years, to be published in January of 2023. That series (The Trouble With Strangers, The Hearts of Strangers and The Truth About Strangers) had forced me to open thirty year-old wounds and reexamine a very painful and debilitating part of my past. While the storyline was fiction, the trauma, self-doubt and hope that life could become better was very real because it was based on my own marriage of emotional and mental abuse that caused my body to start shutting down and the doctor to tell me that I would be dead in six months if I didn't do something to relieve some of the stress. That wasn't easy when the source of that undermining anxiety was coming from the very person who has vowed to be there to love, protect and support me.
Walking away, and losing nearly everything in the process--home, friends, family, financial security, my standing in the community and even my own children until they were able to see beyond the lies and coverups he immediately began spreading--wasn't easy. But the man I had married twenty-two years earlier knew how to manipulate and coerce and make me look like I was a crazy person only fit for being committed because I had the audacity to leave him. But taking my life back and fighting for what I knew was right, despite all it cost, soon brought some of the peace I so desperately needed as I continued to pray for help, understanding and guidance while continuing with my education. I went back to my teaching position at our small local high school that fall with only a couple of teachers and the principal in my corner. He called me into his office the first day and told me to watch my back because the good people of the community were out to crucify me and would stop at nothing to make sure it happened. That was a bitter pill to swallow after serving them in so many ways for nearly two decades, but people believe what they want and can become very vocal and almost obsessively cruel about it.
I suppose one of the worst days was when a so-called good woman I had known for many years came to my small, dark and drafty basement apartment where I was trying to put my life together again to tell me that I could never return to Heavenly Father unless I went back to my husband, made things right with him and then stood in front of the congregation at church and apologized for disappointing everyone. They had looked up to me and I had failed them. That came just days after my one any only confrontation in the parking lot with my husband where he told me that if I would just come home I could have my own bedroom and come and go as I liked as long as we could be seen together in public so everyone would think my leaving had been a huge misunderstanding and we were doing great. My answer was a resounding "NO" even when he told me that he had grown to love me but just hadn't bothered to tell me.
The heart-felt series I had just completed was a way of bringing closure to a very traumatic experience--where I truly had come frighteningly close to losing myself completely--by letting people I would never meet know what had really happened during some awful years of betrayal and psychological torture. You see, I had promised God before leaving the house I had helped to build with my own hands, the flowers I had so loving planted and the beautiful memories I had created with my children when we were alone that I would never say anything negative about my husband to them or anyone else who knew us as a couple because Heavenly Father had witnessed what went on inside our home and was the only one who could fairly judge since no life was sin or error free. I just wanted to keep on living so I could be there for my children should they ever want me as part of their lives again.
But I digress. What I really want to talk about was what happened during February, March, April and May. It put me in a tailspin of emotional upheaval that I'm just beginning to work through since I still believe in happy endings, even though I have yet to find one for myself. You see, I based one of the characters in that series on a man I met several years ago. He was handsome, charismatic, talented and involved with someone else. But there was a definite spark between us that only grew stronger during the brief moments we saw each other when I went to visit my sister twice each year. Believing in the sanctity of relationships, I didn't think much about him until a year and a half ago when he became unexpectedly available and during one of my visits really kissed me. For a girl who has not opened her heart to anyone for over twenty years that was a very heady experience.
We began texting and talking on the phone occasionally but I was leery of any real involvement because we were so different and lived far enough away from each other that it was unlikely we would ever spend much time together. But having a writer's imagination when I started this series he unintentionally became part of it. Our friendship seemed to be growing in the right direction and I even send him a homemade quilt for Christmas because he was always saying that he needed me to keep him warm. I loved how he made me feel desirable, playful and so unlike the very reserved and cautious person the world saw. During one of our lengthy --3 to 4 hour-- telephone conversations I let it slip that I had based a character in my latest book on him. He said the honor was all his and would love a copy. I sent The Trouble With Strangers knowing he would never read it because he'd never read an entire book in his life. He'd floated through school on cliff notes and the movie version of most everything. But even if he did, he would learn more about me and perhaps even see in himself the possibilities I did.
I was excited and yet filled with a certain amount of apprehension to see him in April because I knew at least one of my peculiarities would have to be dealt with eventually. But ten days before my flight his mother died unexpectedly. He'd lost a brother in November which made this death doubly hard. Even though I tried to be there for him he pulled away somewhat--a very natural thing to do in times of grief--and I wasn't sure what would happen when I got there. One of the safety provisions my sister and I had set in place for when we traveled was to stick together like glue so we wouldn't end up in a situation we couldn't handle. She was married and I was single, and we both had strong religious beliefs that kept us from being party girls like most every other woman we met.
He took us out on his pontoon boat for a lovely afternoon soon after we arrived, but when we got back to his house he caught me alone and asked me to sneak him into my condo room late that night so we could be alone. Here I was a senior citizen who had been alone for twenty years facing a moral decision I thought had been left behind for decades. My heart screamed out to know what it was like to make love to a man where the sexual tension was causing my whole body to shake. I had only had sex during my marriage. Any hope for love was destroyed on my wedding night when my husband told me I had married him under false pretenses because my breasts were not as big as he thought they were. But as I looked into this amazing man's hopeful eyes and watched his full, inviting lips move sensually back and forth I knew I could never betray God by giving in to physical desires. I believed God meant it when he said that physical intimacies were sacred and not to be shared with anyone other than a spouse. The man standing in front of me had had many lovers and I couldn't become just another conquest to him.
To say that I handled the situation poorly is an understatement. I tried to get my beliefs across through the tears. He said he understood as he kissed my forehead and would never be the man to persuade me to stray from anything that was truly important. But as my sister and I pulled away from the curb I knew that while he might understand my desire to do what I felt was right he wanted more than a plutonic relationship. It was all or nothing with him just as it had been with every other man I had dated after my divorce. I cried most of the night and the rest of the week was nearly intolerable. He avoided eye contact whenever he saw me and made sure he wasn't available to talk. He disregarded every text but one and that was only to say that he didn't know he was acting cold and that he always wanted me to be his friend and know that he loved me. We barbecued before I left but there was no hand holding or snuggling, just a few quick pecks on the lips that let me know we were at an impasse that would never be crossed until he was willing to talk.
That hasn't happened yet and I've been home for almost two months. I've received two brief texts. One with smiley faces only and the other saying that he's just moody and knows he pushed a wrong button that made me have to put him in his place in front of my sister. He figured we laughed about it all the way home.
I will spare you the rest of the sad details, but I've been nursing a bruised spirit along with a broken heart while trying to understand how I could have been so wrong about someone's intentions and desires. He opened his heart to me about so many things and shared parts of his life that I knew were painful for him to discuss. I also know that I never should have expected a relationship to continue when I wasn't willing to bend to the desires of the flesh like most everyone in today's world of promiscuity and satisfying every desire does. I even know I would have been dumped eventually anyway because I'm not exactly experienced in that area and have set eternal goals that will only be realized if I stay true to my beliefs. But even that knowledge doesn't stop the pain, the tears, and the wondering what I could have done differently that might have saved what I thought was a worthwhile friendship.
But I am glad that I'm finally able to articulate my feelings in what I know is a safe environment. No one out there in cyberspace knows who I am or who I am talking about, but every one of my readers knows what it's like to be hurt by someone he or she loves. And yes, I did love that guy and still do, but I'm ready to let him go and try to get on with my life. That means focusing on what's truly important to me--family, work, church, community, service, starting to write again and becoming closer to my Heavenly Father and my Savior. Through all the heartache of the past few months there has been no one for me to talk to other than God and I know He will always listen to and answer any prayer in the way that will be most beneficial.
I haven't been able to talk to my sister about what happened even though she was there. She believes his only motivation in pursuing me was to have sex and when that didn't happen he was no longer interested. Maybe she's right since I'm way past my prime and there are plenty of willing women, but I'm not quite ready to believe someone over sixty is still that shallow, even if he is moody. I think he saw something different in me that he liked but didn't know how to pursue a relationship that wasn't based on instantaneous physical gratification.
Anyway, that's something that may never be known and full recoveries from anything out of the ordinary take time. But unless something drastic changes, come the end of September I will be seeing him again and have no idea of the reception I'll get. It could be a very cold and tearful one. That's why hope that God will make everything right in the end is so important. It helps me find fulfillment and happiness in what I have now, and I have a lot. Not just the one thing I've wanted my entire life. Meeting the right man while still in mortality is looking more doubtful each day, but perhaps by the time I pass through the veil I will have learned what I need to about loving and being loved. After all this life is a test, not just a place for self-indulgence and taking risks. And when we need answers to our most pressing problems we need to quit filling all our moments with unnecessary distractions so we can hear what God has to tell us.
That's what I'm trying to do now. It's quiet and peaceful where I'm at, and there's plenty of time for reflection.