The Happy Ending

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Since it’s the Valentines Day Issue, I suppose I should write about love. But that’s a little hard to do when you’re only nineteen; no one takes you seriously when it comes to love. However, I do have a little more experience than the average teenager. The experience isn’t necessarily my own, but the experience of what I come from. Everything I have always known about love was written in my DNA.

I was, afterall, the product of a love story.

In 1985, My mother’s growing wanderlust pulled her down from small town Cincinnati where she had stayed put her entire life, to big city Texas, where a sense of adventure and a lifelong dream to be an inner-city school teacher brought her.

Meanwhile, my father came from divorced parents in a Chicago suburb. After working his way through college, he took a screw salesman job that landed him in Texas.

They met at a time when they weren’t looking for the other. My mother wanted a cowboy to teach her how to do the two-step and my father wanted to focus on his rent-paying job. But when they did meet, nothing in their worlds ever mattered the same again. Or so they say. 

A force that some may call fate and others may call my mom’s friend Rhonda brought my father and mother together at a bar. That night, she danced the two-step with a screw salesman instead of a cowboy, and he went on a hunt to find matches for a schoolteacher after she mentioned she collected them. Needless to say, they fell in love just minutes after meeting each other.

I don’t know if I believe in fate or destiny, and I don’t know if I believe in angels. But there was something divinely perfect, something stronger than death and more powerful than circumstance that brought a screw salesman from Chicago and a schoolteacher from Cincinnati to the same place at the same time. 27 years later, the screw salesman has become a successful businessman and the schoolteacher has become a mother of three.

I like to think of myself as the happy ending, in a cinematic kind of way; the happy-couple-with-their-baby-wrapped-in-blankets-at-the-hospital scene, the shot before it fades to black and shows the credits, with an upbeat pop song that’s supposed to tell the audience exactly how to feel about the ending.

But here’s the full disclosure about the Valentines Day Issue; I worry about writing to the people in my life and not in my life that don’t have a Valentine. Even the strong independent people who love being single can feel sad and lonely when all they hear about is love.

So I want to talk about a different kind of love, that’s just as important as romantic love, and completely necessary before you can find romantic love. It’s cliché and typical, and I risk sounding like your middle school therapist, but I want to talk about self-love. Some of you might feel insecure when you look in the mirror or unworthy when you meet a good enough person that checks all the boxes. You might even question whether or not you can do the job you’ve always wanted, when presented the opportunity to try.

But one day you’ll be able to look in the mirror and appreciate the individuality that stares back. One day you’ll be able to look at your body that may be less developed than the other girls in your grade or your hair that looks too flat against your head. You’ll be able to fall in love with your loudness, even when you worry people are rolling their eyes, and appreciate your endless faith in the world, even though that faith may screw you over. Or at least, that’s my experience. You can really only talk from your own experience when you’re a teenager.

After your newfound acceptance (or what you think is acceptance at thirteen), you’ll meet a lot of people, some that will be awkward and forced, others that will be puppy dog love you’ll recover from, other little crushes and flirtationships that won’t be who you are any more than the awkward pre-teen body in the mirror. But you’ll think yourself worthy of a good person, even when you don’t really understand love, but you love yourself enough to want it. You’ll feel forced into constant text messages or AIMs from “boyfriends”, and feel extensive and guilty relief when you go on a family vacation and can’t have a phone or computer.

And then one day you’ll log onto Facebook and an upperclassman will message you because he thinks you’re cute. He’ll want to take you on dates, unlike any of the other boys and you care enough to risk the embarrassment of asking your mom if you can go, also unlike any of the other boys were worth. You’ll leave for vacation without a phone or computer and you will count the minutes until you come back. He’ll be tan and laugh like a little boy and have magic hands that are always cool, even when yours are clammy around his. You’ll look out the window at him waiting for you in the driveway and think that he is your friend, above all else. Not just the boy your cheeks get red around, or the boy you stay up late on school nights to video chat with, but the boy that is your genuine best friend.

You’ll think that this kind of stuff only happens to adults who are ready to get married, this doesn’t happen to fifteen-year-olds. But it is happening to you and it will keep happening even when you uncontrollably sob from PMS or act so stubbornly he has to learn how to give in every time or when he finds out how terrible you are at sticking to plans or being on time. And after a while, you’ll feel that he believes you’re perfect. Not because he says it, exactly, but he laughs when your arm gets stuck in your coat and he’ll stand up to get you syrup when there isn’t any on the table, because he remembers you need syrup on your pancakes. 

The next few years will be lessons in growing up, learning how to depend on a person and let them depend on you. But then he’ll leave because he has to, and the only thing you’ll have left is your ability to write about him. Thousands and thousands of sentences about the hominess and comfort in his arms wrapped unconditionally around you, or his honesty and integrity, or the first time you didn’t worry he’d leave when you showed your insanity. You’ll write about the way he’d put you to bed over the phone every night, or the way he’d really believe you were pretty, even when you knew you weren’t. Maybe you’ll show him your writings, and maybe you won’t. Either way he will always be the boy who made you write, who made you understand love at a deeper level than any rom-com or philosophical understanding ever had, who made you fight and laugh and wallow in someone’s absence for the first time in your life. He will always be the boy who started your old heart, who ripped the air out of your lungs in the gentlest way possible.

In the end, I don’t know what my own love story will be. I know as much as a nineteen year old would know, with my young love and optimistic romance. I’m lucky enough to have been able to learn about love in a first hand experience; even though that experience was what most people would call naïve. I don’t know what true love may look like on the grander scale of life, but I do know I learned how to feel perfect to another person, and how to let another person depend on me.

Some people’s love stories seem to be a series of small loves or a rather big love that started younger than expected, like my parents. Some love stories are mother-and-child love, or a lifelong friendship built around dependence. But every love story start with self-love. For me, I don’t know, nor do I worry what my love story will be like or how long or short it will be. Hopefully it will be a grand love story that works against all odds and all expectations, preferably with a castle and a soundtrack of love songs, as my three-year-old heart still hopes for. 

But what I do know for sure is there will be someone near my side at the very end of life, whether it is my husband or my child, alive or dead, romantic or a friend. I tell my friends who freak out about finding a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day not to worry. Romance is not the only kind of love, and now is not the only time.

Whether you’re single, divorced, married, or “it’s complicated” (whatever your Facebook status says) for this Valentine’s Day, in the grand scheme of your love story, it won’t really matter. What matters is in years and years, many Valentine’s Days from now, when you’re at the end of your life with the person you love most.

Decades after I thought my parent’s love story had ended, my father still dances with her in the living room, kisses her goodbye every morning, brings her spaghetti and they eat it in bed. They still listen to Frank Sinatra on Saturday mornings; still get lazy and angry and they still tease each other like they’re in 7th grade. My father never forgets to hold my mother’s hand and my mother would never take him for granted. Decades later, they love like they’re 25, appreciate each other like they just met, and still do the occasional two-step.

I realize that their love story is not just how they met and the best part of their love story is not the breathlessness or excitement of the first night and the first kiss. It’s not even the promises and passion on their wedding day. The best part of their love story is sharing an eternity together and choosing this life and this friendship every single morning, even after the breathlessness and excitement has fizzled away.

So I guess I’m not that the happy ending in my parent’s love story. I’m not even close to the ending at all. The happy ending doesn’t come for a long time, until two old people with twenty-five-year-old hearts look back on their long lifetime of fights and laughs and friendship and the love that has been built up and bent and tested and swelled but never broken, even for a split second; the love that will exceed this lifetime and these bodies. The two twenty-six-year-old hearts that still promise to never leave each other lonely, that can look back on the one life that they’ve made together.

One day I know I will have my happy ending. But until then, I’m excited to write my own love story, whatever it may be.

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