Stay With Me
My father broke my mother’s heart before I was born, and now, some twenty years later, she is still not over it. Theodore Loren Roberts was a twenty-year old Navy pilot when they met. After only seven months of dating, he asked my grandpa for my mother’s hand in marriage. Grandpa made them wait until Mom was eighteen. On the evening of my mom’s eighteenth birthday, Mom and Dad married. A month later, Dad was deployed and never came back. His helicopter crashed, and details about what and how are why are still sketchy to this day. They never recovered his body. They gave Mom a flag and awarded Dad a medal posthumously. I’m told, my father is a hero.
Though she rarely talked about him, I would sometimes hear her cry herself to sleep at night. When I found her in the morning, she would be fast asleep, holding his photo to her chest. He never even knew she was pregnant. She never had a chance to tell him. They were over before they had even begun.
I’d always wondered why we’d stayed here, where military families and bases abound. Every day there were constant reminders of the entity that took my father from us. My father, a man I had only known through a few photos, and yet, felt mildly connected to, was a constant but distant presence in my life. And yet, despite our pain, Mom still found it in her heart to volunteer to help new, young military wives with their kids, help them get settled, and stay sane.
People had always let us know how sorry they were for us and told us how brave we are. I remember being pitied by school counselors and teachers in grade school for not having a father and also being made fun of middle school. One year, someone started a rumor that my mom and I were abandoned and hat Dad had left us and wasn’t such a hero after all. Kids could certainly be cruel, and adults, even well-meaning ones, even more so.
Military life could be hard and lonely, and Mom didn’t want that for me. And even though Mom didn’t mention Dad much, whenever a guy with a crew cut showed the least little bit of interest in me, she would admonish me with a shake of her head and a stern glance. When we were alone, she would say, “I’m sure you know better than to get involved with a man in the military.”
Mom was right. I knew that. I would never want anyone to go through what she did or for them to struggle like we had, just to get by. My father’s death took nearly everything from us, and as I got older, my own resentment and pain was too much for my mom to take. She said I was selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see clearly. Maybe she was right. Or maybe I was just pissed that she had put so much stock into what a man could do for her, that she had subjected us both to an uncertain future with a man who could be killed at any time. Or maybe it was the fact that she had never gotten over him, that she had allowed herself to fall so deeply in love with a man whose death ruined for her life. Ruined both our lives. Or maybe it was because, in my heart, I knew I would never find that kind of love, ever.
Mom never remarried. Never even so much as had a date, as far as I know. Every now and again, she’d mention how Tom Selleck could ring her bell any day, but that’s about it. It’s like she had forgotten what it’s like to be loved. Or like her heart was forever broken and could never be repaired. I think the whole situation was too much for us both. When she was home, I was at school or working. When we were both home, we usually got into arguments over something stupid. Being around my mother was unbearable and sad.
So, I moved away instead of staying home for college like most of the kids around here. After three and a half years of being away, our relationship has improved. Tolerable. I now looked forward to seeing her when she has time to meet me for lunch or cook me the occasional dinner. What can I say? I’m a Southern girl. My happy moments revolve around food and country music.
I was about as far from home as I could get without leaving the state. If I’d stayed closer to home, my relationship with my mother would likely be irreparable by now. As much as I hated to admit it, her voice was always in my head. Warning me. Making sure I didn’t make the same mistakes she had. And now that I was in college and about to graduate, I was free to make my own mistakes without her judgment and criticism.
I’d managed to make it to my senior year without screwing things up too badly by refusing to date anyone — period. I’d gone out on group dates, or hung out with guys, but that was about the extent of it. To describe me as a prude would be misreading the situation. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have sex. I could manage that on my own. I just wanted to wait. For the right guy, the right time, and the right reason.
And, as my luck would have it, all of that would change, and I would find myself falling for the wrong guy, at the wrong time, and for the wrong reason. I was going to graduate from college in a few months, and the last thing I needed was complications. And if there was one thing I had learned from my roommate and my mother: relationships were always complicated.