“Sometimes the one who is running from the Life / Death / Life nature insists on thinking of love as a boon only. Yet love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings - all in the same relationship.”
- Clarissa Pinkola
Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories
of the Wild Woman Archetype
Hombre and I will have been married Twenty-Two (22) years on November 2. (Yes, I was a child bride.) We have known each other for thirty (30) years. He is the president of my fan club, and I am the president of his. I cannot imagine a life without him in it.
We met in September 1983, at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He was a freshman; I was a sophomore. I was a resident assistant in a freshman women's dorm. Each of our "corridors" was paired with a corridor in a freshman men's dorm. The two groups were to engage in social activities on a smaller scale to help the freshman make friends and adjust to college life. He was in my "exchange corridor" and he caught my eye right away.
Hombre was tall and slim, with a swimmer's body and a baby face. He had thick, dark hair, dimples and a twinkle in his hazel eyes. I was dating someone at the time, so although we flirted (outrageously, I'm sure), it went no further. We saw each other often around campus and at various social events. There was always an energy between us that made him seem more familiar to me than our interactions warranted. Each time we interacted, I had the sense that something was meant to happen between us, but the timing was never right - either he was dating someone, or I was dating someone or getting over someone or had recently sworn off men altogether. I vaguely recall a few impromptu make-out sessions. We just never got it together.
By my senior year, our contact was only occasional, though friendly and flirtatious. I graduated a year before he did. We did not keep in touch after I graduated. My new job, in sales for Procter & Gamble, took me to Oklahoma. I loathed sales and did not fit the mold at P&G. I promptly took the LSAT and applied to law school.
In the meantime, Hombre was in a serious relationship and moving forward with his own life. He, too, took a job in sales upon his graduation and moved to Cincinnati. As he settled there, I moved back to Ohio to start law school in Cleveland. In our oddly parallel lives, we each were in love with people to whom we were completely unsuited. Not only were we in love, but we were each engaged to be married.
I had met someone mid-way through my first year in law school who swept me off my feet. It was a tumultuous, passionate and somewhat obsessive relationship. When it ended, abruptly, toward the end of my final year in law school, it was to the relief of my friends and family, though it was devastating for me. The wedding dress and invitations had been ordered, the church reserved and the deposits made. I had not applied to take the Ohio bar exam, since I had planned to move to Florida.
At nearly the same time, Hombre's fiancee showed a marked lack of appreciation for his wonderfulness and they broke up, too. By then he had been transferred to Youngstown, Ohio, all unbeknownst to me.
I really hated Florida and had no desire to move there, but I had missed the deadline for the Ohio bar exam by many months. I had large student loans looming and no job in sight. I wrote a tear-stained letter to the Supreme Court of Ohio, pleading for a dispensation to sit for the exam. I started studying without knowing when I'd be tested: July or the upcoming February. I smoked and drank to excess.
I cried a lot (in private) and finally reached the conclusion that although the break up had been painful, my ex was not the love of my life. I realized in a moment of punch-in-the-stomach clarity, that we had never really even been friends; he didn't seem to actually like me, but rather the idea of me that he had created. He was uncomfortable with my loquacious, outgoing self, becoming possessive and jealous at every social event we attended. I realized that the problem had not been me; it had been us. It dawned on me that there must be someone out there who actually wanted a girlfriend who didn't hang on his arm; who would venture off with others at a social event; who had a life (and mind) of her own.
Two weeks before the date for the bar exam, I received notification that I would be permitted to sit for it. I loaded up on cigarettes and coffee and studied around the clock, while applying for jobs everywhere from Athens, Ohio to Anchorage, Alaska. I even considered the military. My growing stack of rejection letters was a fire hazard in the tiny attic apartment I lived in.
The three-day bar exam itself was as you would expect: grueling, stressful and yet oddly exhilarating. As soon as it was behind me, I gave up my apartment and house-sat for a couple of months. My brother and sister-in-law graciously stored my belongings in their basement. I found a job as a cocktail waitress, since law jobs in 1990 were scarce. I was a terrible cocktail waitress - so completely unqualified that I was forced to substitute charm for experience. At least the tips were good.
Finally, in mid-September, I saw a listing for a small firm looking for an entry-level litigator. The fact that it was in Warren, Ohio, was beside the point. They were as desperate as I was, by all appearances: a couple of older attorneys who no longer wanted to go to court and deal with the stress and work involved in litigation. I never considered not accepting their offer.
I moved to Warren the first week in October and plunged into work; researching, writing, going to court and learning how to operate a Dictaphone. Warren was a small town full of good old boys, so I was somewhat of a novelty around the courthouse. I only ever spotted one other female attorney at the courthouse and she was not at all friendly. The town had been heavily invested in steel and was well-rusted by 1990. There were not many young people who chose to live there if they had other options. I drove back to Cleveland every weekend to see my friends, at least those who hadn't moved away for work.
On Tuesday, October 30, my boss insisted I accompany him to a local Chamber of Commerce "mixer". It was time, he said, for me to begin networking so I could develop my own book of business. I walked into a hotel conference room filled with people and immediately spotted the only other person in the place who was under 60: my Hombre.
We greeted each other with enthusiastic, "What are you doing here?"s and "What have you been up to?"s and quickly made plans to have a drink together after the event, as I was being introduced around by my boss and couldn't linger.
We sat awkwardly sipping our wine at a hi-top table in a dark and cavernous hotel bar for only a few moments before our stories came tumbling out. I found out that Hombre lived just a few miles away from Warren, so we were practically neighbors. I found out that his experience with the local social scene was pretty similar to mine, although he had more stories to tell, having lived there for several years. I also learned that Hombre had survived his own heartbreak. He, too, realized that it had been a mismatch. She was too introverted; too clingy. He said he wanted a woman who was independent: "someone who will take off and socialize at a party and let me do the same thing; someone who has a life and friends of her own."
With a wee bit of panic, I realized he was talking about me.
We talked until closing time and made plans to go out to dinner on Friday night, the day I would learn whether or not I had passed the bar exam. He called me Friday to confirm and was genuinely pleased and excited by my good news. He took me to a Japanese steak house that night and completely won me over with his skillful use of chopsticks and his unabashed enjoyment of the entire hibachi chef performance. He took me on a tour of his local haunts before we headed back to my place.
There was no fighting the chemistry, and we didn't bother trying to. Perhaps it all went a little fast, but we were not children, after all.
Hombre had, until I surfaced, planned to relocate to Atlanta where his brother lived. He initially pretended that this was still his plan, but I was not fooled. I was not even worried about it. I just knew. He travelled there once or twice over the next couple of months with my full support. I didn't tell him that I knew we would be together forever; he had to figure that out for himself. Since we had forever, I could afford to be patient.
We moved in together Memorial Day weekend, 1991. He proposed to me in front of my entire, very large family, on July 11, 1991. We married on November 2, 1991, a year to the day from our first date.
In our life together, we have called 8 places "home." We have, between us, worked at 18 different places of employment. We have only ever had joint bank accounts. We have traveled together all over the United States and to Europe.
We struggled with infertility for many years and then we joyfully added two daughters into our family.
We have supported each other through times of downsizing, unemployment, career change and soul searching. We have challenged each other to be better people.
We have fully and unequivocally shared the responsibilities of raising our children, each of us taking off stints from work to care for them.
We have gone through periods of financial stress and periods of abundance.
We have enjoyed each other's company, laughed at inside jokes and humored each other.
We have buried and mourned three of our four parents.
We have fought and made up; we have debated and compromised, but mostly we have just kept on talking; talking until we reached a place, a solution, where we could both be happy.
There have been unhappy times; times when we struggled with incorporating our individual selves into the "we;" times when our priorities were not the same.
Every time we have come through a challenging period, I swear it has made our bond stronger.
I have felt it again recently: a further opening up and deepening between us, due, I think, to our recent soul-searching together for the lifestyle that would best reflect our values and then our mutual efforts to bring it about.
Just the other night Hombre asked me why I looked so happy.
I said, "I think I am falling in love with you all over again."
His answering smile lit up the room.