I received a call on last Friday night about a death. I had not spoken to Sharon in over 30 years, and I assumed that I would be the last person she would want to tell of her brother’s death.
He was, as the Bible says, the husband of my youth. I was 19 years old when I married him, trying desperately to escape my mother’s home. I did not expect his death to effect me so deeply, as it has been nearly 32 years since I last spoke to him.
I can’t say that I loved him because I had never seen love between two people and had no idea what it was meant to look like or feel like. I was just happy that someone took enough interest in me to rescue me from a home absent of any emotions, particularly as I was a corpulent teenager.
He was six years older than me, had served in Vietnam, was thin and good-looking. There was a feeling of relaxation about him, like he had no worries, that appealed to me in my loneliness. I was captivated by the thought of romance finally finding me, especially after enduring intimate violence in the last relationship.
That he did not have a job did not bother me, because I did not know that it was detrimental to having a good relationship. All of the women whose homes I had lived in were self-sufficient, with no man in the house, just women and children. So, I had no clue that his lack of employment history should have been a red flag.
But after two years of spending six months living with his family and the other six months living with my mother, I had some inkling that I was not going to rise above the poverty line. As we spent our days playing Bid Whist and drinking beer in various homes, I finally realized that one of us needed to work, that love would not pay bills or fill an empty stomach.
Yet, it was adopting my children that really brought home to me the importance of work in defeating poverty. I took an oath to get my children out of poverty and went looking for work, leaving the kids with him and my mother. After many entreaties to come home, I finally resigned my job and returned to him.
The second night back, he nearly strangled me to death for leaving in the first place. He threatened to beat me every day until I learned to respect him, which anyone with good sense knows is not going to happen. When I left again, that was it. Mama took the children, I returned to my job, and he found someone else to beat on.
About 12 years later, at my mother’s funeral, we made our peace. He complimented me on how well I had raised my sister’s children and told me that our hometown had been too small for me, that I was always meant for bigger things.
I advised him to marry the woman he had started dating while we were married, whom he called his “soul mate.” Considering that they were together for nearly 45 years, I guess he was right! I was told that after her death, he just stopped eating and wanting to live.
To hear of his death really shook me this week. I was so young when we married, and for a while, he made me feel loved when I most needed to believe that I was lovable. He also brought me out of the shell that I had created around me to protect myself from the rejection of others.
So, he played a major role in crafting who I am now. The lessons I learned from him, some very painfully, have shaped how I see relationships and life. I am glad that he found true love, and I hope that he was saved and is in the arms of God. And I hope that if it is possible that he is back with his beloved wife.
I guess his death also brings home to me more clearly my own mortality, as the people who shared my younger days are starting to die. Although I have forgiven him for the violence, I have chosen not to attend his funeral. I just don’t think it would be appropriate for his children and grandchildren to have me there, someone out of the distant past. They don’t know me and don’t really need to.