In 1967 my stepfather volunteered for a tour of duty in Viet Nam in order to get me the hell out of Dodge (or in this case, Fort Sill, Oklahoma) before I could run off to marry my Panamanian boyfriend at the ripe old age of 14. Geez Dad, really? You’d rather fall on a grenade than have a married teenage daughter?
I’ve been spending a lot of time organizing old photos, and stumbled upon some yearbooks dating back to seventh grade. When two thick, dusty letters came tumbling out of the one from my freshman year in Lawton, Oklahoma, I was intrigued. Both were from my 9th grade boyfriend , one mailed several months after we had moved back to Texas. It was five handwritten pages pledging his undying love for me; it definitely did not sound like it was written by a typical 16-year-old boy. It was bursting with the certainty that we would indeed be married some day, have a family, and spend our lives happily ever after, so sweet, so innocent, so optimistic.
The second letter, in the same hand, shook me to the core. It was written by the same boy, seven years later, who, after graduating college at age 21, had come back to the only address he had for me in Nowhere, Texas. When a stranger answered the door, professing not to know what had happened to the previous owners, he went to a next door neighbor, who had remained close friends with my parents.
For those of you following the events in “Texas Toast”, how is this for timing? He arrived at my old house in Nowhere precisely ONE WEEK after Boy and I moved to NYC! If it had been 7 or 8 or 10 days earlier, how very differently things might have turned out. The neighbor politely excused herself and went into the kitchen to phone my mom. After much discussion, it was decided that it was best to let sleeping dogs lie, and not disturb the powers that be. So, without my knowledge, this wonderful boy was told that our family had simply left and disappeared, leaving no forwarding information. Shaken and crestfallen, he went to check into a motel to spend the night, and the next morning he brought this letter to the neighbor, so that they could pass it along to me in the event that I ever returned.
He spoke of the seven years we’d been apart, and of knowing with total certainty that we would reconnect. He spoke of all the times he’d visualized that meeting, how I would look, how we would feel, and of all the many plans he’d hoped would materialize. At the end of this letter, which brought tears flooding down my cheeks, my mom had added her own note to me. “My Darling Daughter, If you should ever find this letter, please don’t hold our not showing it to you against us. Your Dad and I were only doing what we thought was right at the time, and I pray to God that we were not wrong. As much as we disliked ____(Boy), and your decision to go off to NY with him, the choice had already been made; the die was cast. Who were we to mess with God’s plan? Please, please don’t hate us.” Love, Mama.
Needless to say, I needed a long, hot soak and a glass of Pinot that night, and as I was pondering all this amongst the bubbles, I recalled noticing several misspellings in that four-page letter, written by a 21-year-old man, recently graduated from college. How would that have worked out, I wondered, since I adore words and their sounds and their meanings possibly more than life itself? Would it have embarrassed me, or caused me to cringe, if he used poor grammar or misspoke? Would I have yearned for something or someone better educated, smoother, brighter? And that line of questioning brought me to what I will now call “The Ice Cream Contemplations”.
If I had married this lovely boy at a very early age and stayed in Oklahoma, I probably would not have traveled the world over, spoken French, and become enamored of exotic cuisines. Wouldn’t have become a successful print, TV, and runway model, or worked with Jack Scalia and Tom Berenger and Rene Russo.
Ergo, I would have remained vanilla, but probably quite happy nonetheless. A lovely bowl of vanilla ice cream does not sit around feeling sad that she isn’t chocolaty and brown, and full of nuts and marshmallow bits. How could she? She doesn’t know that chocolate, nuts, and marshmallows exist! If you don’t know something is out there, whether or not it’s better than what you may have or know, how could you possibly miss it?
Three glasses of Pinot later, and with the bath turning tepid, I acknowledged that hell yeah, I probably would have been very happy and contented with this lovely boy and Oklahoma, with numerous grandchildren underfoot, and 44 years of history together, instead of 44 years of admittedly glamorous, wildly exciting, but very tumultuous escapades, marriages, and careers.
Ok, I’m exhausted now. Night Night.