Bless the Door that Closes
He explained it to me nicely. On that warm May evening, the crooked old lilac bush offered up a luscious scent from the yard as I sat on my front porch while my high school boyfriend of three years broke up with me.
He used all the right words. We’re just not right for each other. We’re too different. I just don’t think I love you anymore. And finally, we can still be friends.
Sadly, I never saw it coming and in the most grating voice, I whined, “Wh-h-h-h-y?”
I attended Mark’s funeral in his hometown, the same small town where he’d lived his entire life – the town where we met, dated, and later broke up just in time for summer. It’s weird to think he was only 57, two years older than me, a fact he took great pleasure in exploiting, lording his superior position over me on a regular basis. The sole reason I didn’t know something was always my “level of maturity.”
We met as teenagers a few weeks before Easter when our entire Catholic Youth Organization presented a re-enactment of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mark was a senior and I was a sophomore, not even yet sixteen. When I saw him during practice, his bleach-blond hair whipping in the spring wind, I told my sister to tell him that I would go with him to the Prom.
And we did.
Being raised Catholic and attending the same church in a very small town where everyone knew everyone (and their business), we struggled with the inevitable. We regularly faced the potential sins of going all the way, all the while getting closer and closer to the dark. Of course, there were rules. And then there were our bodies which we kept putting up against each other, soft-damp skin familiar and at the same time mysteriously strange as if we’d been here before, naked and terrified, longing for the truth behind all of these feelings.
He was my first all-in relationship, the first man for whom I would bend over backward trying to please even though I had very little to offer at the time. I certainly couldn’t make up the two-year difference between us that seemed such a big deal. But damn, I could try.
Our going steady included one year of dating and a year and a half of my waiting for him while he joined the Navy, completed his basic training, was assigned a post in San Diego and later discharged for medical reasons. Our going steady also included two and a half years of his waiting for me to stop being a virgin. When he returned, I did the only thing I could to hold onto this man. Six months later, he ended things.
After our breakup, we did not remain friends. Like most young adults we moved on trying to prove we could do better. We didn’t want or need lessons in love (or loss) back then. Although I tried not to, I felt a little resentful that I spent most of my high school years with a guy who wasn’t even there…and that he broke up with me soon after he got what he wanted. That is how I saw things at the time.
Bless the door that closes, even if you don’t know why.
At eighteen, I definitely traded my virginity to prove myself worthy of love. However, my “sacrifice” didn’t produce the results I expected: love, acceptance, a safe and solid future. It didn’t change the way Mark and I were together. However, when it was gone, I didn’t miss it at all. The invisible cloak of purity and perfection was just too heavy for this girl to carry.
I realize that I alone made my decision. And once I crossed the line, I also made my choice about God and religion and what I would hold sacred and for whom. I could never go back and be “good” again. Not in anyone’s eyes and so I ran away from the good girl and all she was supposed to become. I ran into the dark blinded by my ignorance, unaware that she was still secretly attached and as essential to my existence as my breath.
Later, much later, I would find her and we would be friends.
Mark was eulogized in the same Catholic church where we sat together on Saturday nights waiting for the sermon to finish so we could go to a movie or back to his house where we would fool around until eleven, the hour when I had to be home. From all that was said, Mark had a good life. He stayed where he knew he belonged. He married and had three children and three grandchildren. He owned his own business and had a close group of friends that loved him.
Sitting in the narrow pew, the smell of incense sharp and pungent in the quiet air, I thought about the good girl, about how we struggled to learn about loving another human being. Mark was right to end it when he did. He wanted to get married and stay there in his hometown where all of his family lived. I always talked about leaving, going to college, living in the city. I wanted a “bigger” life than that small town could ever offer me. Our needs were different. He saw that much better than I did.
On top of that, the years we were going steady hadn’t been smooth or easy. My mother’s alcoholism interfered in ugly ways. As I stretched my wings, she became needy, controlling and often disrespectful of my needs as a young woman for privacy, autonomy, and independence. If Mark heard the words, “I’m not allowed to” once, he probably heard them a hundred times from my lips.
Even though I hated to admit my predicament, I hated worse the possibility of my mother’s punishment. So I tried to pretend I was grown up, but I wasn’t free to do as I wished, not yet.
Looking back, I don’t blame Mark anymore. There were a lot of restrictions on dating me, requirements he might not have had with someone else. He deserved someone for whom he didn’t have to jump through a hundred hoops to get close to. He closed the door that led to our future together and at his funeral, even though we didn’t remain friends over the years, I thanked him.
As the final words of solace were offered to his family, I offered my own prayers of forgiveness for Mark, for doing what he had to do for his own happiness. I offered forgiveness to my mother who was doing her best to protect me and my life. And finally, I gave forgiveness to myself for believing that it was all my fault that he dumped me…because I wasn’t experienced at being a girlfriend. I wasn’t old enough, wise enough, or hometown girl enough. For being worried about everything and terrified of sex and sin and the contradictions inherent in doing what seemed the most natural thing in the world for everyone else. For years, I wanted to blame Mark for creating my fears and insecurities about loving someone, but they were already there when I met him, a teenage lifetime of uncertainty and doubt unleashed when I opened myself to another.
My point in sharing this story is that sometimes we can take a step back in time to find there’s a well of forgiveness available for an experience that didn’t go the way we imagined it would. Sometimes we uncover old resentments that we don’t need to carry anymore. We can lay them down gently now, if we want to.
RIP Mark Leach