“Two things you will never have to chase: True friends & true love.”
― Mandy Hale
With Every Night There Comes a Dawn
Back in 2016, I was a married man to a French woman whom I’d met overseas four years prior. The relationship seemed like a true love story–at least in the beginning–and I brought her home with me to Canada, hoping to spend the rest of my life with her. We had our struggles, absolutely, more than I ever cared to admit–even to myself–but I had an idea in my mind about the kind of relationship that we had regardless of our repeated arguments. I suppose one could have called me a hopeless optimist or perhaps just desperate for love, but I can assure you that I inherited this trait from my mother. Every time my mom had fallen for a new guy, she fell hard; she’d pick up their hobbies, interests and being committed could kind of take over her life. I never really understood what the mechanism was behind it, or why she picked the guys she did because her choices never really made sense to me. I suppose It kinda felt like she was a sidekick in someone else’s story because her identity would always fade into the background and I became guilty of this too.
One Wednesday evening, my wife and I were preparing to meet my mother and her boyfriend at a restaurant out of town. I’d heard a bit about him from others in my family, but I’d been isolated with my wife since coming back from traveling and so we’d never met. I was a little anxious, to be honest, and I couldn’t wait to get it over with; but I also wanted her to be happy and tried not to make presumptions beforehand. We dressed up nicely for our dinner date and drove out of town to meet the new couple.
When we arrived, we parked our vehicle and walked inside Montana’s bar and grill. We beat them to arrival and were punished with savory scents on an empty stomach. But soon they appeared and my mother was dressed elegantly from head to toe, with her flowing blond hair and just enough makeup to compliment her smile. Her new boyfriend entered behind her wearing a casual pair of blue jeans, a leather jacket, a scruffy beard and a backwards baseball cap, providing a stark contrast to my mother’s appearance. The new man and I shook hands, and exchanged pleasantries, but I was left surprised by a strong odor of stale liquor on his breath.
Over dinner, we spoke about the typical mundane things that people always chat about during meet and greets: “what do you do for work?”, “how’d you two meet?”, “what’s your family like?”. Fred was sociable, friendly and excited to talk about his interests. He worked for a gas company, had a band, still prided himself on the size of his house parties and the mischief he’d get into with friends. I was fighting with the part of my brain that was comparing him to a high school dropout that never grew up as my mother smiled sweetly; I could feel how important this was for her. When dinner was finished, we were invited back to Fred’s place for a drink and more conversation; we accepted. Then as we left the restaurant, I noticed my Mom did the driving behind the wheel of Fred’s car after being told that they would need to stop by the liquor store to resupply.
Yikes! Some of my anxieties began to creep back up inside me, and by the time the night was over I was more fearful for my mother than I had ever been before.
I sensed rough roads ahead, but like a pedestrian watching a plane plummet from the sky, I felt there was nothing that I could do to stop it. It hurt me to see her falling into something so obviously wrong, but she thought she was happy, and who was I to disagree?
Less than a year later, the veil of my own “happy” marriage began to fall and everything slowly revealed itself to be a sham. After being approved for permanent residence, I’d discovered my wife had been cheating, lied to me many times and eventually left me for a coworker where I helped her find work. I’d felt used, broken and I doubted every decision that I had ever made; I even began to question my own judgment of other people’s character. The divorce process was long and uncomfortable, and my self-esteem had viciously hit rock bottom. I was collapsing inward like a neutron star, but my mother was always there for me…
I’d moved back to my hometown around that time and I was trying to strengthen the family ties that I’d been neglecting over the past few years. So one cool Summer night, I got together with my mother for a stroll through the city under the glow of yellow street lights like we used to twenty years before; the walks were always therapeutic for the both of us. We spoke about our problems, fears, relationship issues and life in general. By this point Fred had been forced into rehab by his workplace, went sober for a few months and then began drinking heavily again before being dismissed from his job entirely.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me in relationships,” my mother said to me with tears welling up in her eyes. “I can be happy one minute, and then upset or angry the next. Why can’t I just be happy?”
I chose my words carefully, “I don’t think it’s possible to just be happy all the time. I think our emotions are there for a reason to tell us something. I also think we’re a lot alike and blame ourselves before we blame others. But, we can’t always take the blame. You’re a very caring, giving person, and sometimes that type of person can be taken advantage of.”
“I’m just so afraid to be alone,” she admitted.
“I think–from what I’ve learned in the past few months–is that we need to learn to value ourselves before we can find someone else who values us in the way that we deserve; not just because we’re useful to them. But, it takes time and it’s hard work; I still struggle with it…”
We took comfort in our similarities and I took solace in the idea that maybe my personal tragedy and consequent healing could be the thing which inspired her to demand better. When she spoke about being happy, the tears in her eyes would always betray her truth. I knew what she needed to do, and I was waiting for her to come to that same conclusion.
Life carried on uneventfully, until one Saturday evening when I received a phone call from my brother saying that mom needed help moving her things out of Fred’s house immediately and it couldn’t wait. Upon arrival I found her racked with tears in a bedroom packing boxes and it hurt me, but I was secretly happy for her too because I knew she could be happier now. With her kids now old enough to look out for themselves, it was her time to evolve and find happiness.
In the years that followed, we leaned on each other for support and encouragement. I’d share my life lessons with her and she’d encourage me to make good decisions for my future. After hitting rock bottom, we took turns climbing out of that pit only to rediscover our values, our strength, our catalysts for change and the true meaning of family. We stopped looking for validation in our relationships and began to look for validation in ourselves. Having each other made that journey a whole lot less painful, and the rewards, always nearer to our reach.
This was a Non-Fiction Character assignment I had written for class.
Dedicated to my wonderful mother.