When my efforts to spend time with my boyfriend in 1984 over the Christmas holiday were thwarted by his mother, I had to regroup and figure out what to do. At first, I just thought there’d been a mix up with schedules. It was beyond my comprehension that someone would so deliberately work to exclude me. Especially someone who was kind to my face (except for that episode of mocking laughter at my expense). I was too naïve to understand the machinations in play to block me from her son’s life. I was a slow learner.
After I realized that every one of my days off his mother had scheduled activities for their family sans moi, I scrambled to switch some shifts around and get some friends at the hospital to cover for me. There wasn’t much I could do around the holidays because of people’s plans, but the nurses I worked with were very kind and supportive. They did what they could to help. I was able to join my boyfriend’s family for a little while on Christmas Day, but it’s a wonder I would even want to. I just wasn’t wrapping my head around the situation yet.
After Christmas, the two of us were able to arrange an afternoon out for tea. As always with that relationship, I accepted what was rationed out to me as though I were lucky to even get an audience. Over the years, I’d rarely gotten angry about it, and instead I felt the old familiar pain of hurt and rejection. Of course I’d never been really cherished and celebrated, or even acknowledged as a girlfriend like I’d seen in the other couples we knew in college. That wasn’t my lot. I could only yearn for that unfamiliar practice I saw among those other couples, that habit guys had of letting people know who their girlfriends were. I didn’t realize what an ominous sign it was that most of our friends didn’t know we were dating. Somehow it didn’t send up red flags that something was terribly wrong when he told me he wasn’t comfortable saying he loved me a few years before so I should know that was the case until I heard differently. I didn’t realize what a bad sign is was when he wouldn’t talk to me when we were in groups of others or that he never asked me what I was doing for the weekend or asked me out on a date before we parted at school on a Friday afternoon. I was too trusting, too gullible.
That afternoon after Christmas that we met for tea, we eventually got to talking about our relationship. He said he just wasn’t there, he wasn’t at a place yet to do something permanent. He wasn’t ready to make any decisions, and didn’t know when he would be. And somehow—truly by the grace of God, by some great miracle—I had the courage to utter the words, “Then I don’t think I can wait any longer for you to decide.”
Now I realize he probably heard those words with great relief. He had a knack for turning things around to make it seem that I was the one making the choices he wanted or to get me to ask for forgiveness and a chance to try again, trying harder, after I found out he’d been cheating on me. I know that now. But then, I didn’t feel empowered. But now I know that I was. I was taking my first big, healthy step to rid myself of a very destructive bad habit. After I said I couldn’t wait, he said, “I know. And I can’t ask you to.” So altruistic. It probably had nothing to do with the girl he’d grown fond of on his mission trip. Probably.
I wasn’t ready to face saying goodbye right then. Going into the afternoon tea, I’d had no idea that it was going to go that way. I still wasn’t comprehending that I was nearing the end for good. And he had almost another week left before leaving the country again. Since we weren’t ending things on bad terms and we only had different timeframes and life circumstances, it didn’t mean we couldn’t still spend time together.
But his mother had a different plan. And remember how I said she was a woman who got what she wanted?
When I talked to him again, he told me his parents had said to stop seeing me. To cut me off.
But we couldn’t say goodbye over the phone. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with saying farewell, but I knew it couldn’t be that way. I wasn’t thinking beyond the moment I was in. I couldn’t cope with more than that. The day he came over, I had a friend on standby who knew what was happening. She said to call her when I needed her. She’d be over, or I could come to her house. Whatever I needed. She was my phone-a-friend and lifeline tied into one.
We said goodbye and he skipped down the stairs as I watched, and I either imagined or heard whistling. I called out for him to stop, to come back. I couldn’t watch him leave. I announced we’d say goodbye again, then I’d turn away, shut my door, and not look. I couldn’t watch. I would call my friend instead of watching him walk out of my life. He was kind enough to indulge me. But it was clearly of little concern to him. He was being set free, while I was having my heart ripped out of me.
We said Goodbye Take Two, and I ran to the phone and dialed my friend. We made plans and I drove to her house. Somehow I made it there. And she helped me through the first horrible hours of the weeks that were ahead of lost days and black holes. I’m surprised I could keep my job, I was so devastated and unable to function.
A few months later, I started getting mail from him, casual letters that kept me up to date on his life and asked what I was up to. They were we-can-still-be-friends letters, the kind that people who have little at stake can more easily pull off. At first, I loved them. Again, I’d take any ration of love offered. But then I realized the entrapment. I began to watch for the mailman. Disappointment was my friend again, when nothing came for a while. Each time, just as I was beginning to feel and function better, something would show up and whiplash me again. Finally, in another miraculous moment, I wrote back with the new spine that was blooming in me, writing that while “I’ll always remember our time together fondly, it’s time to move forward. Never write to me again.” A glorious moment of taking back my life.
Though at first glance it doesn’t look like it, but the Christmas of 1984 held a miracle for me. It was the season of freeing me from the chains I’d forged over too many years to a hopeless relationship that would only destroy me. I’m thankful for that horrible Christmas. Without it, I never would have moved on to discover the wonderful Christmases—and so much else—since.
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