Disclaimer: This story includes mentions of suicide and sexual assault that may be triggering to some.
“Years ago, when my best friend Laura was dating, she would arrive flustered to work. When I would ask why, she’d say, ‘I had to rush over to Warren’s and make his lunch and vacuum before I came to work.’ I told her she was crazy. She gave me that look that said, ‘You think you can do better?’ I told her, ‘The guy I end up with is going to cook and clean and do everything I do.’ She said I was crazy.
My vision of the type of relationship I wanted was like the Three Musketeers—all for one and one for all. I thought I would know my partner so well and he would know me so well, we would be almost telepathic.
There were a couple of rough bumps before I got what I wanted. I am sensitive enough that a story pulling at my heartstrings draws me right in. He was adopted. He was working two jobs just as I was. Then he began to ply me with flowers and gifts of which I told him I needed none. I initially admired him for his work ethic until I saw he was trying to buy my affection and really wanted a mother figure. When I broke it off, he said he was going to commit suicide, and when I called his bluff, he said he was going to ask my sister out.
As a victim of the Barbara Cartland era, the next relationship with a man fifteen years my senior ended up in virginal date rape and an eventual pregnancy. I lost myself for a time, thinking I was now ‘ruined,’ and no one would want me or my child. I actually tried to make things work with this man because I thought my child needed a father. Shame on me. I gave him every excuse for his behavior such as he was misunderstood, and his forced marriage years earlier due to another unexpected pregnancy must have been tough and could be why he was so stand-offish. I felt sorry for him rather than me—until I came to my senses and saw him for what he was.
I knew there was someone out there for me, and I wasn’t crazy. I prayed. I worked. I went to college and raised my son on my own. I wanted my son to be proud of his mom, and for him to have a good start in life. I built myself up again piece by piece.
Then came that fateful day when I met my husband. He had graduated top of his class in the United States Air Force Navigator program, which gave him first choice of assignments. He wanted to be the second seater in a fighter jet and wanted to be close to home. The Niagara Falls Guard fit those parameters.
Serendipity happened. An experienced pilot wanted to fly to Cape Cod to participate in an Air Show, and he needed a navigator – even if the guy was new. My mom had been out of town and asked to have my son for an overnighter—his first. My girlfriend asked if I wanted to go to the Air Show. I had a car, she didn’t.
Even Mother Nature had a hand in our meeting. While we were there, the weather became unfit for flying or jumping, and the air events were canceled. We went to the base club and watched our beloved Boston Celtics in a playoff game. During that game, a foul happened, Bill Laimbeer took down Larry Bird, and all kinds of mayhem broke out.
My husband and his pilot were listening to the game on the radio and were trying to get to the Officer’s Club to see what happened. Someone had locked the door and couldn’t find the keys, so they were directed to the club where my girlfriend and I were.
Our table was the only table available for them to sit at.
We’d joke about how Bill Laimbeer and Larry Bird got us together. That night, we ended up going out dancing and for pizza, he called his parents to let them know he had arrived. When we left the hotel’s dance floor, he stopped at a vending machine. I thought he was going to get gum or mints in case there was a kiss at the end of the night. Instead, he bought a wax pack of baseball cards that also had bubble gum in the pack. He asked me into his hotel room, and I asked him why he wanted me to come in.
His response—’Whatever you want to come in for.’
He was the first guy I didn’t have to pretend with, the first guy I could talk with like a regular person, the first guy I didn’t have to try and be on my best behavior or try to impress.
We spent the whole night together talking about our growing-up years, our prior relationships, and what we wanted out of life. I even told him about my child, and he never hesitated, knowing he was getting a package deal. What really sealed the deal for me was the story he told me about the girl he had been seeing. She was interested in the bedroom, and he wanted a relationship, so he broke it off with her. He had already figured out what was important to him. Somewhere around five in the morning, we fell asleep. His pilot came knocking a few hours later, and he made sure not to let the pilot see I was still there. More points in his favor.
We managed more than thirty-two years of marriage and thirty-four years together. As any couple will tell you, there have been some highs and some lows. I reached new levels of understanding who I am based upon how I saw myself through his eyes. I learned to compromise more because of him. I wanted to be better because of him.
While we both flowed into some of the traditional roles because they were more suited to our interests (I did most of the cooking, and he did the majority of the finances), each of us did all the roles required of a couple, a parent, and a working person. This came in handy when one of us was ill, lost a job, or was away taking care of a sick parent or for extended work periods.
When we were dating, he said, ‘I need a partner who can take care of herself.’ He was in the military and was away for months at a time, and being mom and dad, ‘chief cook and bottle washer,’ was necessary.
My standards insisted on an equal partner but more so, someone who was my best friend and would stand the test of time. I wanted a person who would pitch in no questions asked because that’s what you do for someone you love.
Oriah Mountain Dreamer said it best in her poem, ‘The Invitation.’ ‘I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.’
He did repeatedly. On June 5, 2021, my husband passed unexpectedly. His heart stopped. Even though our youngest son was with him when it happened and gave chest compressions, he was already gone. The paramedics and emergency room physicians couldn’t save him.
This past year has tested the patience of many due to Covid, close quarters, job loss, and health concerns. The time we spent together showed me how right we were for each other, and it was such a pleasure spending more time with him.
I was laid off in February of 2020, and even with our reduced family income, he allowed me the freedom to find something I loved to do—even it was volunteering. When I came down ill for three weeks, he did the laundry, shopping, meal prep, and household chores, and he took great care of me on top of everything else he was doing—and he did it with a smile allowing me space to recover—and no guilt.
He was as concerned for my relatives as he was for his own and made time to drive five hours each way to ensure our ninety-one-year-old uncle had visitors and his cherished Milky Way bars. When I thanked him for coming with me on the drive, he told me, ‘You helped care for Aunt Mary for ten years as she dealt with Alzheimer’s’—and it was true.
He took care of our boys alone four days a week for months while I went away and cared for my mother as she was dying. I was by his side when his mother became ill with countless trips to the hospital and visiting her at home. When he was laid off, my income kept us afloat. When we played catch-up on bills, he worked a full and part-time job.
We covered for each other when we both went back to college. While stationed overseas, he went for his master’s degree when I was pregnant and raising our young children. When we got back state-side, I went back to school.
I am not saying it was easy. I am not saying there weren’t days we didn’t speak to each other. What I am saying is I knew who I wanted to be with before saying ‘I do.’ I had high standards, and he met them.
Finding joy has been tough since his passing. I realize how much of my life was happy simply because he was in it. I notice how many things he did because I now have to do them alone. Taping the Hallmark Channel, flipping through the commercials during a recorded show, sweeping up the crumbs on the kitchen floor, getting the mail, reaching for items high on the shelf. He did them graciously, routinely, and with love. It has been the recognition of those moments that come in like a tsunami, punching me in the gut and taking my breath away.
Flashy clothing, cars, and jewelry all go out of style. Being married to your best friend never does. When you are lying in bed, barely able to lift your head from the pillow, and you hear the washing machine going and see the laundry folded nicely on the chair at the foot of your bed, and he brings in freshly cut up orange slices and kiwi and asks if you want your water bottle refreshed, you’ll know what true love is.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristine Benevento. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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