Love: The Real Story

Melody Dawn

© Copyright 2018 by Melody DawnE

Painting of a cherub.


I hummed and sang. Spinning, twirling, dancing. Imagining and pretending. I was Cinderella. I was in love with prince charming. I hoped he would find me. Sometimes I was the princess other times it was my Barbie. I must have watched and reenacted Walt Disneyís Cinderella over a hundred times, dreaming of the day I would fall in love, get married, (wear a beautiful gown), and live happily ever after.

When I was a little girl visiting my grandmaís house, I would ask her to tell me a bedtime story. Grandma would lay down next to me on the soft pallet and tell me about her life and how she met my grandfather. She was attending a Bible Study meeting at college and he entered the room, and as soon as she looked him she knew. She said, ďGod told me he was the one I would marry.Ē God didnít tell him, but she was right they did marry. And she spent her life loving him until the end. Theirs was a beautiful love story and I hoped mine would be as lovely and as enduring. Little did I know that my desire for love would teach me lessons that would never leave me, and perhaps this is the greatest lesson: real love is not a fairy tale and real life love is lived together both happy and sad.

My First Cousin

I was barely a year old when he kissed me, or maybe I kissed him. I donít remember the kiss, but I remember the photograph. It wasnít just once, it was as least twice: once in the church after the wedding, and once by the pink dogwoods. My grandmother had the picture framed in a glass heart. Kissing cousins. Sweet. Innocent. Cute. He was my first friend and playmate. We bathed together, slept together, and played together- we were first cousins and best friends. We were children playing like adults. It was developmental mimicry; I was not attracted to my cousin, but I do love him. He was a special part of my childhood. His name was Jonathon. We made many memories, shared holidays, created plays about farting, kept secrets, played games, shared stories, we were, and still are family. That was long ago, now, we are both grown with families of our own; we rarely speak except the occasional family visit. We have more wrinkles, worries, and weight than our young versions, but we will always be family and love each other in that manner.


I was sitting in church doodling. Mom said I was supposed to be listening to the preacher, my dad. She glanced down at my envelope. Embarrassed, I tried to cover my scribbles: I love Tas. Tas was six, I was five. He had brown hair and eyes. He liked baseball and swimming. His parents owned a mansion and had a maid. His dad owned the local pharmacy. Even at five I was wise to the world, I knew this was the man, or should I say, boy, was for me. That was until my father moved us away and I experience my first heartbreak and failed life plan. How would Tas love me as I loved him if we were ten hours away? Distance is no match for love, but this of course wasnít really love it was just a silly thing most people call puppy love. My feeling fizzled and died. I did not love Tas.

Childhood Crushes

There were many other schoolgirl crushes here and there, my mortal enemy who I eventually decided had nice blue eyes that maybe werenít as annoying as I first thought. Todd, kina not really. Adam? Maybe, no, not really. Jason. Yes, definitely. He was a wrestler for Ross. His mom made their whole family sing together at church, which I thought was adorable, and he once irritated our youth minister so much that he threw a pen; I liked that boy, the singing wrestling social rebel. I once went to a football game with his sister, just so I could sit next to him. It was thrilling, but eventually his family left our church and my crush faded. I did not love these boys.

Movie Star Crushes:

As a preteen I had posters of Jonathon Brandis in my bedroom. I always thought he was cute, but most of the other teen heart throbs didnít really interest me, I guess they were attractive, but I didnít know them. Most young girls seemed to adore various Hollywood icons, but I preferred those who seemed as if they had an interesting story. My dad bought me the movie, Mighty Ducks. My favorite actor was Vincent A. Larrusso, a young teen with blonde hair and brown eyes, and there was something about him that drew me to him. I even wrote him a letter once. However, my truest Hollywood crush has always been: Tom Hanks. His movies literally move me. I sense his authenticity, and I admired his skill at acting. Forest Gump has always been one of my favorite films; of course who doesnít love Sleepless in Seattle or Youíve Got Mail? While I admired many traits of these Hollywood icons, I knew I wasnít in love with any of these movie stars.


During eighth grade I had my first ďboyfriendĒ experience. My friend Erica and I would hang out with her youth group at their church cafe. I donít recall Joel asking me to be his girlfriend, but I remember he shaved. His face was tickly and as an eight grade girl that delighted my senses. I thought he was so mature. I was right and wrong about that; I found out later that he smoked pot. That discovery made me happy that I had turned my face away just in time to avoid the kiss he tried to give me. I did let him hold my hand. That was enough for me, after all I was only in eighth grade. I think I broke up with him over the phone. I didnít want to kiss him, so I figured he shouldnít be my boyfriend. I did not love Joel.


When I turned thirteen I had my second boyfriend, Brandon. His mom was my softball coach. Sometimes I would sneak out and meet him at the park during the summer. During my fourteenth birthday I met him at the park. We played on the play set and he chased me around. His grandma brought us soup. We sat inside the tunnel and he kissed me. I thought I was in love. And for three years I was, but he wasnít. He would break up with me and ask me back out- it was torturous- he broke my heart- not just one time, but time and again. I know he cared for me, but he was a young teenage boy with so many options how could he settle for just one? I understand that now and I smile, but then I just wished he cared for me like I cared for him. I hoped it would work out, but it didnít. And now, now, Iím glad it didnít I couldnít see then that out of everyone I ever dated we were the worst together! Heís a nice guy and Iím a nice girl, but together we were toxic! Really we arenít much alike. He was a jock, a skilled baseball and basketball player, and me I was and still am a nerd who can barely hit a ball.
I was fourteen when he kissed me and fourteen when broke my heart the first time. We broke up in August 1995 and I remember thinking, how and why do people do this? Why love someone who doesnít love you back? I thought I never want to do that again. Maybe thatís why I didnít get over him for three years, I hung on to him. I thought why date many people when you just want one someone to love. I wasnít made for dating, so I faithfully loved Brandon hoping he would love me, until I realized he would never love me. So finally during 1998 I moved on. When I was fourteen I felt love for the first time and when I lost it I knew that kind of love was not something Iíd do again. Now I think Brandon was my first love, but in truth I love the idea of love more than I ever loved him.
Chris was also a wrestler, he had these big burly arms and sweet brown eyes. We worked together in the MH (Mentally Handicap) room at the high school helping teens with disabilities. He came to a church revival with me, and after that we never did anything together again. I guess he realized I was a ďgood little preacher girlĒ and that wasnít the kind of girl he wanted. He was a partier. Someone once told me that he date raped a girl; I hope that isnít true, if it is I feel sad for them both- and relieved that wasnít a part of my story. I did not love Chris.
Then there was Luke, a soccer player with blonde hair and blue eyes. He was outgoing and funny. He and some other guys made up a pretend lacrosse team and made announcements about it every day over the loudspeaker at school. Once he stood up in the middle of class and sang a jingle. He didnít care what people thought about him, I like that, but Luke never liked me. Iím not sure he even knew my name. We were in a writing class together and he wrote the most beautiful love poem, for another girl. I was sad and jealous, but I knew he didnít like me. I did not love Luke.
The Others

I had a few dates to school dances a friend, Chris, and a blind date whose name was also Chris. I did not really like these boys, and I know I did not love them.
Jimmy (the first)

1999 introduced me to a young man named Jimmy. We had a mutual friend and he agreed to go to prom with me. He was silly and sweet. Tall and gangly. Dark hair, brown eyes, and a few pimples. He was also wrestler and a theater boy. Interested in computers, math, science, and technology. Jimmy was a kind funny guy and we got along well. After graduation we went to a bonfire together and he soon became my boyfriend for the summer of Ď99. It was a summer of fun, dancing, swimming, and staying up and out until 2am! Jimmy was a great kisser and snuggler. He was also an underwear model, although he never molded for me he did dance with me in the middle of the fair. He was fun and we were young and care free. Once I even went to Catholic mass with him. His parents were wealthy. He had one older brother and his mom loved dogs. We had a lot of fun, but I remember the moment I knew we would break up. We were driving on the highway and there was this beautiful picnic spot I said, ďIsnít that the perfect spot for a picnic, itís so beautiful.Ē  He said, ďNo,Ē and something else boring. Why did that one silly meaningless interaction tell me he wasnít the one? Iím not sure exactly, but I just knew that even though weíd had a lot of fun, but our fun was about to end. Given the circumstances we werenít right for each other.  Sometimes you just know. We broke up a few days later.
Later that fall, he came to visit me at college and wanted us to get back together, but I knew it was pointless. He was Catholic, I wasnít Catholic, and I wasnít interested in becoming Catholic. God and religion was nothing more than just a part of family tradition to him, but to me religion was vain and God was to be of primary importance, greater than any tradition. Regardless, I wasnít sure how the daughter of a Baptist preacher would fair long term with a traditional Catholic. Sure Catholics and Protestants could marry without social shame or stigma, but how would that really work with marriage and raising kids? I knew it wouldnít. And four years of college is a long time to date one person especially when that person isnít close, and so I knew for me it wasnít love. Did he love me? I donít know. He definitely liked me a lot. I liked him a lot too, but I donít know if we were in love or if he was in love with me. I think I might have broken his heart and that makes me sad, but it was better to do it sooner rather than later. Of course itís possible he was just a little sad and his heart was just fine. I donít really know. Whatever Jimmy is doing now I hope he is well and happily married. He was a nice person. Iím glad we dated, but also happy we didnít marry. Somethings are just meant for a season. Iím glad we shared a season. Now, I hope if he looks at old prom pictures and sees my picture, I hope he feels that way too. I think Jimmy helped heal a part of my heart and make me feel lovable. He treated me well that was a nice experience. I think I loved Jimmy, but I was never in love with Jimmy.


I had just moved into college and I was friendless. A group of people were going to a movie and that sounded like fun, I was invited and agreed to join them. I had the perfect pony tail, he yanked it. I was annoyed. This wasnít grammar school, I thought the boys would be more mature, I should have realized then that he wasnít, but I didnít. We started talking and had a fun bantering of sorts. His name was Dustin, he was a college soccer player. He had squinty blue eyes, disheveled brown hair, and a short stocky build. We became fast friends, I believe itís safe to say I was drawn to the annoying and soon we werenít just friends we were best friends. He was a pre-med science major, and terrible at grammar and writing. Heíd come to my window, throw a rock at it to get my attention and request that I proofread his papers for him. He was very studious, and often spent late nights studying. He was desperate to join a particular fraternity, but was rejected several times. This sent him into a depressive state and he drank and drank. Heís send me instant messages and weíd talk and talk. He was raised Southern Baptist, but his experience of church wasnít great- he hated going and now that he was in college he was more than happy to escape the claws of any religious denomination.

He drove a silver mustang and once he needed to make a late Wal-mart run so off we went. We were pulled over by the police and they asked me to drive instead. I peeled away from the side of the rode and he chided me. He was upset I was driving his beloved car, I was amused. Weíd often go to Waffle House for a late night snack, or hang out inside his door room. Once I remember he stopped me in the hall and looked at me, and I knew, he wanted to kiss me, but he didnít. I donít know why. We went to a dance together and had a lot of fun, but he never kissed me, or asked me to be his girlfriend, maybe we both knew that would just end in disaster.

Junior year he met a girl who would have sex with him, so he started spending more time with her and less time with me. I was sad for him, I knew this girl wouldnít make him happy. He once told me that I was the kind of girl guys married, not the kind they dated. I donít know if that was compliment or not, it didnít feel like one. Dustin decided to keep drinking and slowly he distanced himself from me. I truly loved Dustin, but I could see the path his life was taking and I knew I didnít want to join him on the way to where he was going, so we parted ways. Iím not sure what happened to him, I hope heís okay, I really did love him, and I think we could have fallen in love, but it was prevented. We adverted disaster.

Jimmy II

After the summer of my freshman year I worked as a camp counselor at the Salvation Army. A young man named Jimmy worked there too. He had spiky blonde hair, and bright blue eyes. He was tall and skinny. He wore a visor and was a punk. He lived a hard life and was trying to give back. He had his left ear pierced and attended a charismatic Pentecostal church. He flirted with me all summer. I know he liked me, at least a little, but I think he knew he had a lot of personal life baggage and there was a divide we could never cross. He was also attracted to an older woman with children and spent the night at her house helping out with her kids often. Towards the end of the summer he told me a very disturbing story that I couldnít tell was true or false. He said that he had a girlfriend he loved and they were in a terrible car wreck and he saw her decapitated. He said it with such a blank expression I couldnít tell if he was traumatized or just lying. The last day we worked together I just bluntly asked him if he was going to ask me out on a date or what. He was non-comital and didnít really answer, and that gave me my answer: I had been a fun girl to flirt with at work and that was all. I did not love Jimmy the second, and he did not love me, we just worked together.


The summer of 2000 I had a friend named Jon. We went to Young Life together. He joined the army. He had asked us to write him letters. I love writing so I agreed, I think I was the only one. At the time we weren't really friends, just pals, but I loved writing and could sympathize with being away from friends and family and wanting some human contact. So I wrote him once a month or so. I wrote powerfully encouraging letters, hand written with bright bold colors and I prayed for him. I guess he fell in love with my letters.

One year he came over for a New Yearís party and stayed until almost morning. My best friend, Stacey, and I gave him several social cues that it was time to leave, but he didnít want to leave. Initially, I was amused by his lack of understanding about the simple sublet social rules of when to leave, but eventually I really want to him to go, I was tired. Finally, I just said to him, ďIf my parents wake up in the morning and you are still here, I will be in trouble.Ē So he left. Sophomore year he came to visit me at college, quite unexpectedly. He sat outside with me. We laid on a blanket and I read. He was kind, sweet, and cute. Tall and skinny with big blue eyes. Maybe we went to dinner, I don't remember now, but I do remember walking down the alley in the dark, and he danced with me in the street. It was quite romantic.

When I returned home for spring break, we went to Meijers, and I remember walking through the store and he came up behind me and wrapped his hands around my waist. It felt nice. Later that night he kissed me. Spring break ended and he promised to visit me during finals. We made a plan and I waited, and I waited, and I waited, but he never came. I planned my finals scheduled around when he said he was coming, I felt silly and quite foolish. My friend, Danny, said he's pee on Jon's car if he saw it (he was a silly boy, but Danny was a good friend). Christina, a very close dorm friend, told me to call him, but not to let him give me an excuse. She said, "A boy who forgets you isn't a boy worth remembering." So I called him, I asked him what happened and he told me, he just forgot. He went over to a friend's house, spent the night and forgot we had plans. I said okay. He apologized. We didn't make any more plans, I certainly didn't trust him, and I felt used. I wasn't his girlfriend, and clearly I liked him more than he liked me. I liked him still for a long time after that, not him really, the idea I created about him inside my head. I missed writing him, I probably just missed having someone to write to that was really fun for me.

A few weeks later during Bible study I learned he had a girlfriend, his friendís sister. I felt very hurt, especially when someone asked, "I thought you and Jon were dating?" It was embarrassing, humiliating, and heartbreaking. So for way too long after, I felt very hurt. I know Jon never loved me, he didn't really even like me- he just loved my letters and he used me for a weekend. (Good thing I was a smart girl and I only gave him a few kisses!) I loved Jon as a person, but I was not "in love" with Jon. I didn't really even know Jon, and yet I did, he was a scared, and cowardly boy who often went along with the group instead of thinking for himself. He joined the military because he wanted to be brave, even though he wasnít. I didn't like him at all really, just the idea of him. He too liked the idea of me, but he did not know me at all. I guess we were friends, then had two or three dates, and then never really spoke again. I'm glad we didn't talk after that, I can forgive, but I don't know about trusting a person like that- even as a friend. I understand forgetting, we all do that- but I know when I'm not important enough to remember.

Jon was a nice guy, but not the guy for me. Jon really hurt me, I wish we had just stayed friends. I think for us that would have been better. I think to him this whole situation wasn't a big deal, but to me it was a big deal. Jon wasn't my boyfriend and he wasn't my friend, he was just a guy I wrote letters to and went out on a few dates with. And I wouldn't do that again with him. It wasn't worth it, but I didn't know that then. That was Jon, I did not love Jon.


Greg was one of my closest friends during college. We had started our freshman year in freshman family groups and quick became friends. He was a short and small boy with black hair and small blue eyes. He was very kind. We were like brother and sister, at least thatís what I thought. Then one day in the cafeteria he came up to me and asked if my roommate and I wanted to go out on a double date with him and his roommate. I told him Iíd ask her and let him know. Since Greg asked me I assumed, he was asking me on a date. My roommate agreed and we all went out to a local cafť for dessert. I sat next to Greg in the car and at the table. We all four laughed and had fun. A few days later he asked what my roommate thought about him. I laughed. He asked why, I told him I had been confused, I thought he wanted to date me. We were both relived to find out that we felt we were just good friends like brother and sister. He was a good friend and listener. We would often play rounds of Frisbee golf and chat. Sophomore year he decided to leave, he had joined a fraternity and he told me he felt like he was losing himself, and if he didnít leave he would become someone he didnít like. Whoever he became, I have no doubt it was great and I hope he tells his kids how we had one confusing date. I loved Greg, like a brother.


During my senior year of high school there was a young man who became my best friend, his name was Matt. He had blonde hair and sweet brown eyes. He was funny and sarcastic. He played hockey and loved computers. I thought we were just friends. He convinced two classes to vote for me for senior superlatives. At my graduation party a friend gave me a flower and I hugged her, he said, ďIf Iíd have known that bringing you a flower would get a me a hug I would have brought you one too.Ē I just smiled. I would have given him a hug if heíd just asked. I started dating Jimmy and we went to a different college. He met a girl named Sarah and she became his girlfriend. We would still talk, e-mail, and visit during breaks. He even helped me hack into the Miami e-mail server so I could e-mail Jeff, a co-worker. He was a good friend. I didnít even know he liked me until I had a boyfriend. Although it wouldnít have changed anything. I cared for him, but I was not in love with him, maybe we could have fallen in love, but we did not.


I had a friend, Jeff, a co-worker. Jeff was a handsome, big guy with arms like steel. He had big blue eyes and a kind jovial laugh. He mostly didnít smile, but when he did it was contagious. He was shy, but loved to joke. He was a grill cook, I was a waitress. He hated the corporate Bob Evans. Everyone knew he liked Michelle this pretty blonde waitress, she of course was not interested in him; however, they partied together a lot. One day one of the day shift ladies, Pam, said to me, ďMelody, I think Jeff likes you.Ē I looked at him and thought, he is cute, maybe. One night I was in the stock room and he was talking to me about my sister, who had stopped by on her way to prom, she looked beautiful. He told me that and added, ďlike her sister.Ē I smiled.

He told me he was interested in coming to my church. I invited him, but something came up and he didnít attend. My friend Matt got Jeffís e-mail for me and I e-mailed him. We started to send e-mails back and forth while I was at college. He suggested, via e-mail, that we go out when I come home for a visit. We planned a date for a Monday. He came to church that Sunday. My friend came over to my house to do my hair and make-up. I remember what I wore. These light blue sparkly pants and a sequined shirt. He picked me up at 4:30pm and took me to dinner at a nice restaurant called Bahama Breeze. We had a delicious dinner and I was surprised he was quite easy to talk with. He drove me home and dropped me off at 7:30pm. Later he told me he had made plans in case things didnít go well. When I asked why we went so early he told me he hated waiting in crowds for dinner.

We went out again, bowling, it was fun. Then we got a carry out dinner and helped a friend whose car had broken down. We dated for a few months before he tried to touch me. One night we were going to a movie and taking a walk in the mall before it started. Our hands brushed and he clasped mine. I smiled. He was a gentle giant.

I asked him if he would come with me to my sorority dance, he told me he had a big school project due and wasnít sure if he could. I thought maybe he didnít like me. His friend told me later that he was nervous about dancing. He agreed to go with me, and we had fun. He told me he didnít come for the dance, he came for me. The dance was on a riverboat, I thought that would be so romantic. When we stepped outside and looked over the deck at the brown muddy Ohio River I realized it was just dirty. We laughed about that. Then we talked. I donít remember what he said, but I do remember saying, ďI do not like labels.Ē It was a hint, one he took literally. Even though I explained I had been hurt by other boys and I just didnít like people who pretend to care for you, but really didnít. He thought I meant I did not want to be his girlfriend. Later than night my roommate told me that he had been asking me to be his girlfriend. I wondered how she knew that? Later, he told me she was right. He didnít say that, how was I supposed to know thatís what he was saying?

A few months later he said, ďI know you donít like labels, but Iíd really like you to be my girlfriend.Ē I agreed. That was the first time he kissed me, it was at his parentís house. We were downstairs on the couch and I agreed to be his girlfriend. I smiled so much my face hurt the next day. I liked this boy.

Soon I told him that if he wanted to date me he should know that I wasnít going to have sex with anyone until I was married. After we were married, he said it was so cute when I told him that, I wasnít attempting cute I was serious. Sex was serious, I didnít want a disease or a baby with a random ex-boyfriend. Nor did I have any desire to do such an intimate thing with many people, one was enough for me. Maybe Dustin was right, maybe I was the kind of girl guys wanted to marry, not the kind they wanted to date.

One day Jeff and I were snuggling and kissing and he looked at me and said, ďI love you.Ē I stopped and stared at him. His statement was genuine, but unexpected. I donít remember exactly what I said, but I know I did not say I love you too. I wanted to think about it. Love is a decision to me, not something I rashly say because a person makes me feel good. I had only said I love you to one other person, and I truly regretted that. I thought it would be cruel to say ďI love you too,Ē if I didnít. My best friend said it was mean that I waited a day to tell him. I decided I loved him and a day later I told him.

I hated leaving him for school, I cried and cried and missed him so. Iíd send him letters and weíd talk on the phone and heíd half listen to my rants while he played a video game. Heíd come visit me at college and I drove home most weekends to visit with him. We talked about marriage and then one day he took me out on a special date back to the place where we had our first date. Then he brought me back to his house. He danced with me, prayed with me, and then drove me to a park with a fountain. He made me close my eyes the whole time, and when I opened them there he was on one knee with a basket, a bear, and a very fancy big ring. The ring was so big, I thought he must have been teasing me. He asked me if I would marry him. It was surreal and I didnít know how to respond. The moment Iíd waited for my whole life was upon me and I said, ďAre you serious?Ē He said, ďYes.Ē I still wasnít convinced, I asked several more times. I knew what he was proposing, marriage, and I knew marriage is the trickiest of all relationships and it is until death, I wanted to know he was serious. He convinced me and I said, ďYes.Ē That was October 19, 2002, less than a year later on October 3, 2003 we were married.

We spent the night in a hotel suite. Two young virgins who hadnít a clue. Itís a memory Iíll always treasure, not like the movies, better. A sweet innocent experience you can only have once. The beginning of a life of love, so we hoped. The next day we opened our gifts and went to our apartment. I had to work Monday, our lives together started and I remember a few days later he looked at me and asked, ďWhatís wrong? Arenít you happy?Ē And I couldnít put into words how I felt. The magical fairytale wedding had ended and now here I was actually married, and I thought I donít know whatís next? I had spent my life dreaming of getting married, not being married. I knew it was a serious life-long commitment and I loved and was in love with this man, but suddenly I realized thereís a lot of life after ďI do.Ē I wondered, how do we do the ďHappily Ever AfterĒ the movie ended at the wedding? I thought about the shoes I wore to our wedding, they were models of the glass slippers like Cinderella. We even had a picture of him putting the shoe on my foot. I tried to tell him what I was feeling, he thought I wasnít happy with him and then we had a fight. I didnít remember fights in Cinderella or in my house, I couldnít remember my parents arguing, I supposed they did, I just did not remember it.

We soon went away for our weekend honeymoon trip to Gatlinburg. It was nice just the two of us and things settled. We read together and enjoyed each other and just being together. A few months later we got a dog, a shitzu we named Oreo. That spring we decided to buy a house. We were so proud that we had good enough credit to purchase a home at our young age.

We bought a hot tub. We took a trip to a Caribbean island. It wasnít paradise, but it was good. We had been married about a year and Jeff had a friend, Scott, who needed a place to live. We offered him a room in our home. He soon quit his job. He was around our house all the time. It was stressful. Jeff left. I didnít want to be there, especially alone with his friend Scott. Once he asked me to rub his back. I just said no, and stopped being home when he was. I knew Jeff was drinking, not just a few drinks here and there a lot. His back kept hurting from his basketball injury. His doctor prescribed Oxycotin. Finally Scott moved out, but Jeff wasnít the same. I thought once he had been smoking pot in the attic. I was scared. I had never done drugs or even been drunk. I noticed he start to run out of his pills early. I got a bad feeling. We would fight about his medicine. He would hide vodka and stay out until two am at the bar. I was scared, and I didnít know what to do. I tried to talk to my dad, but I didnít say much. Dad said, ďJust pray for him and see what God does.Ē

We went to a concert once with his friends, and I knew when he came out of the bathroom, he was high from the pills. I was scared, he was driving us home. He said he was fine. Heíd get sick and throw up. I knew something wasnít right. Once I saw what looked like pill powder. I didnít want to think about it. One night I locked myself in our bedroom, crying I called my mom. He was yelling, I donít know what about, I was so scared. Mom asked if I was okay. I said, ďYes.Ē Jeff wouldnít physically hurt me, I knew he wouldnít, he loved me. But I couldnít understand what was happening to the fairy tale, was this love? Why was it so much harder than I thought it would be?

One night he told me he had been robbed. That a man with a gun stole his pills. I knew he was lying. I questioned him, he asked how I could question him; he had been robbed at gunpoint. What could I say? He had filed a police report. He got more pills. I was scared.

A few times he stopped taking the pills, he went through withdrawals. But then he went back to taking the pills and drinking. We had to miss things sometimes. He was too sick to go, but I knew why he was sick. Once I took his pill bottle. He yelled at me and said mean things. I was at work. I didnít know what to do. I got in my car and cried. I drove up to a stop light. The boys next to me must have seen me crying. They wrote a message on a paper, ďGod loves you,Ē it said. I cried. I felt alone. I prayed for help. I went to my parentís house and I sat on the porch. I cried and prayed for help, I didnít know what to do. No one was home. I just wanted to be home again Ė to feel safe.

Then one day I decided to take a new job. I called Jeff to tell him about it, his message at work said he was on leave. Leave? I wondered. My stomach sunk. What was happening? I called him, he didnít answer. I called his friend D.J. who said Jeff was okay, but he didnít want to talk to me. I went home and I waited. I cried. I waited. I cried. I prayed. He came home. I hugged him. I asked what happened. He said heíd been put on leave from his job. He was being charged with three felonies for doctor hopping for pills. I sat down. I listened. I cried. I hugged him. I told him I forgave him and we would get through this together. Ashamed he told his parents and my parents.

I started my new job. I found out I was pregnant. He went to court. I called and they told me he had been sent to jail. I called my best friend. She met me there. I just sat outside and cried. How had this happened? Then I saw him come out, I ran to him. The court had a drug program. He entered rehab. If he finished the program the felonies could be expunged. He was angry, I was relieved. The man who pressed charges saved my husbanídís life, our family.

We went to our babyís ultrasound. Both of our moms were there. We saw her head and the tech moved the screen. She was silent. Now what, I wondered? She left the room without a word. She said weíd have to see the doctor and our moms would need to wait outside. The doctor said our little girl had a birth defect, gastroschisis. Did we want to terminate the pregnancy? No, we both agreed. Whatever this defect is, this is our baby. Jeff was in rehab and now this? His faith waivered, he questioned God, I remain strong; I had no choice.

Soon I was hospitalized for a week. Then I was put on bed rest for the rest of my pregnancy. People at my work offered their sick time so I could keep my insurance. Jeff cashed in his retirement, we sold things. We went to doctorís appointments. My parents took me. Jeff went back to work at Bob Evans.

Then one Friday morning my water broke. Jeff jumped out of bed excited he would be missing work, I was nervous about the labor and delivery. She was to be a C-section. We called our doctors. They were waiting for us. Jeff put on scrubs. I saw the needle. I was scared if I moved, I could be paralyzed. A nurse helped me. I was numb. They cut me. They pulled her out. They carefully placed her in a bag up to her neck. They brought her to my face. I kissed her. Then they took her away. She was placed in an incubator and taken to the Childrenís hospital. The nurse was kind enough to find me a single room, so I could be alone. I cried. I wanted my baby. They brought in a machine and I attached the cups to my breasts. I sobbed. This wasnít a fairy tale, it was a nightmare.

Visits, surgeries, and lots of support from family and church members and two whole months later we brought home our baby girl. We were a family. Jeff graduated his rehab program and enrolled in an online Masterís program. He and I worked different shifts and took turns watching our miracle baby grow. She was a delightful gift. I was pregnant again, and this time it was far less dramatic. I had a second c-section and a second little girl. Jeff continued in his program. We were doing well, busy and stressed, but definitely blessed.

Our debt started accumulating. We entered a debt relief program. Jeff graduated. He got a job as a counselor helping people with mental health and addiction. Our girls grew. We had birthday parties, and holidays, family vacations. We had ups and downs. Happy and sad times. Jeff struggled with depression and I worried. He stayed strong, but was often was sad. He would over spend, over eat, and over work, but he kept working and I kept trying to love him. Jeff was, and is, a good kind man. Every day he goes to work and helps people and every day he comes home to us. Some days heís happy, but a lot of days heís not.

This October we will have been married for fifteen years. Several years ago we attended a wedding and got into an argument. He said, ďItís just not the same as it used to be. Itís different.Ē For a long time I thought he meant that he didnít love me the same. Later we talked and he said we have a committed love. He knows I will not leave him. He knows I have decided to love him. He trusts me, he said.

A few years ago we attended a marriage conference on Valentines weekend. During our lunch break we were in a car wreck. That day was an ironic picture of our lives together. We havenít lived happily ever after, but we have lived together through the happy and sad times.

Reflecting back it seems that even when I was barely one, I was obsessed with this notion of romantic love. What person hasnít been intoxicated by such a grand endeavor a lofty notion as this absurd and idealistic thing we call love? Even as a child I tottered after it and even then it eluded me. This grand mysterious thing which we feel, but do not really know. So many have I loved, but I think none as much as love itself.

And sometime during the last fifteen years Iíve fallen out of love with love so I could learn to love Jeff a real human being. I choose to love Jeff. Maybe some people know instantly, I didnít. Maybe some people marry their soulmate. I donít know if I have a soulmate, but I have a spouse. Maybe some people have a fairy tale story, but my story is real, ordinary, and sometimes difficult. We are just two people who love each other and keep trying. Jeff has a history of addiction, and depression. He has asthma, a bad back, and some other minor health issues. A few years ago I went to counselor to talk with her about my feelings about all the things we have been through. She asked if I wanted to divorce my husband. I replied, ďWhy would I trade one set of problems for another?Ē And I was annoyed that she seemed to think the problem was my husband. Thatís not the problem, I love my husband.

I donít know what happens next in our love story, but I know itís not over yet. And I know that love is something you keep practicing. Sometimes itís easy and sometime itís hard, but love is one of the few things worth fighting for.

I get mad at him for putting his shorts on the banister, leaving his shoes in the kitchen and he gets angry with my critical tone, and moving his things and forgetting where I put them. Yet no matter what happens at the end of the day I lie down in the bed next to him and Iím grateful weíre together. I know when I come home Jeff will there and that makes me smile. I know this is love, real life committed love. Iíve read about the chemicals that fire in your brain signaling love and giving you a high. That high and those brain chemicals help establish bonding, connection, and attachment. Most studies indicate those chemicals fade after two years and couple enter a stable form of love, committed love. Itís just science, not magic. What happens next is work, hard work, thatís the real magic.

Itís easy to love someone when you are enwrapped in the euphoria of brain chemical and just their presence makes your senses crave their touch, but it is difficult to love someone when theyíve hurt you, pushed you away, betrayed your trust, or when they just have trouble connecting with you. Marriage is like a crucible, burning away the ugly parts of your soul. It has shown me I am not as selfless as I would like to believe. I am no saint. My own selfishness often leads me to do things I wish I didnít. The truth is we want to be loved, but we do not want to love.

Itís easy to love prince charming, a fictitious character, but itís hard to love a real life person who isnít always charming. Itís easy to love a beautiful girl in a lovely gown, but who loves a girl in her rags? And if itís the same girl how can you really love one without the other? I wonder, if the prince had met Cinderella in her rags and saw her mopping the floor, would he have still loved her? Was it her beauty that drew him or her or something more?

As a middle aged woman I realize my longing for love has been to be loved for more than just my beauty or ugliness, but to be loved in my entirety. To be loved not just for who I could be, but who I actually am, and that encompasses not just the lovely things about me, but also the unlovely. My wise husband has said to me many times, ďYou canít get from someone what they canít give.Ē I was taught that marriage is a picture of Godís love for us, but I think often marriage is an idol. I have loved love more than I loved any real person including the God I say I love most. In my desperate thirst for love Iíve realized, the love I crave isnít human love. The love I desire is unconditional divine love, agape love.

I have always been drawn to the God of the Bible because it is indeed the most absurd love story Iíve ever heard. A God who becomes human, dying just so that He can have an eternal relationship with mankind that is ludicrous indeed! That is powerful divine love. Loving you not because you are lovely, but because you are His creation. A counselor at my work once asked me, ďWhat is this idea of unconditional love is that even a real thing?Ē We expect things from relationship, thatís normal. Yet if love is just a set of conditional expectations that expire when unmet, that doesnít feel like love. If I love someone merely because of what I get from them then love is simply an exchange, a barter. That doesnít feel like love. Is love just a feeling created by the brain and experiences through our senses? Is love only a powerful blends of chemical concoctions essentially the same as a drug? I hope that love is more. What it is exactly I donít know, perhaps some combination of the two or something else entirely.

Many years after Walt Disneyís Cinderella, there was a more modernize version of the story a movie called, Ever After. I recall the last line of the movie, ďAnd while Cinderella and her prince did live happily ever after, the point is they lived.Ē To truly live is to experience both happiness and sadness together with someone you love. To love is to learn to love the whole person as they are, not as you want them to be. To love is to learn to do what is best for that person, even if it costs you. Perhaps the greatest lesson Iíve learned about love is that it is an infinite mystery I will never completely understand.

I donít know what happens next in my love story, but I know I still have a lot to learn about this thing we call love. My husband and I are just human. Our love for one another is often conditional and we certainly havenít lived happily ever after, but we have lived together. Iíve learned that the fairy tale love for which I searched can never be found in man, but only in God. Love is not a fairy tale rather it is what makes a story real.

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