One Helluva Year

In the summer of 1983 I had just graduated from Wright State University with a B.F.A. and worked at Miami Valley Hospital.  I was the third shift receptionist at the nursing school dormitory on weekends, and my chief duties were preventing the uninvited from entering the building and expelling the invited (boyfriends) who stayed past the curfew hour.  I spent my free time painting and drawing to get ready to apply to graduate school. I wasted a lot of time and emotional energy trying to manage the end game of a disastrous relationship with a woman named Jane.  I decided to wait her out until she finally decided to dump me as I knew from experience that she could be vindictive if she felt wronged.  She finally came by uninvited on a Sunday morning an hour or so after I had fallen asleep.  She seemed surprised to find me in bed, even though she knew my working hours, but pressed on.  Jane quickly said her bit and was out the door before I had completely woken up, and I remember feeling a mixture of annoyance and relief as I heard her quick, sharp footsteps retreat down the hall.

I intended to take a break from romance for a while, but Dave, a friend of mine from the University of Dayton, had other ideas. He may have been listening for the sound of my front door slamming when Jane exited my life. Before I had time to revel in my new found freedom he arranged for me to meet two women who were complete strangers. The first appeared to have been coerced, and maintained an attitude of vigilant indifference whenever I spoke to her as I attempted to figure out why she was sitting in a chair next to me. (Dave the Matchmaker tended to strike without warning or explanation.) The second woman was Judy, who in less than a year’s time became my wife.

Judy and I began dating steadily, and we both knew early on that our relationship was significant. We shared many interests and attitudes and spent a lot of our time together simply talking. Unlike some of the women I had dated in the past, she had a kind heart and a steady moral compass, and was direct. She didn’t care to play games, and I began to trust her completely. I thought that I had finally found a clear, straight path to happiness, and was surprised when twists, turns and obstacles sprang up before me.

My sister Carla gave birth to her first son in early September. My family’s happiness was undercut by our growing concern for Tony, my younger brother. He had gradually become more and more listless after losing a job a few months earlier. In November he landed in the hospital the day after we celebrated my Grandfather Reger’s 80th birthday. The diagnosis was complete and irreparable kidney failure. Tissue compatibility tests were performed shortly after, and it turned out (as I somehow already knew) that he and I were a nearly perfect match. I agreed to donate a kidney when the results came back. Tony was surviving on dialysis but only just. He needed another chance.

Judy and I got engaged in February, and my brother and I went under the knife about one month later. I almost died during the operation when the stitches burst on the cut end of my renal artery and I lost half of my blood in a matter of seconds. The surgery was a success for my brother, and his health was restored almost immediately after receiving the kidney. He still has it thirty years later and is healthy and happy, and I have suffered no after effects.

It took me a few months to recover. In the scramble to reach the burst artery my intestines got battered and rearranged, and I had the uncomfortable sensation for weeks afterward that my insides were roaming about trying to find a stable, new configuration. Judy helped take care of me when I left the hospital and offered comfort when I dealt with two difficult things that occurred while I was still recovering: one of my cousins committed suicide shortly after my brother went through a minor rejection episode.

Judy and I went to visit her parents when the pain from the operation had largely subsided and my strength had begun to return. Her Mom and Dad knew about our engagement, but we had never so much as spoken on the phone. They lived in eastern Pennsylvania, about 12 hours down the road from Dayton. I was nervous about meeting them because Judy had told me that her parents had disapproved of a previous boyfriend that she had brought home, and he, obviously, was no longer in the picture. We stayed there for three days, and I managed to pass muster. When we got back Judy and I began to plan the wedding.

In the middle of the summer of 1984 we both began to have trouble with our roommates. Our impending marriage seemed to stir up envy and animosity in both households, so Judy and I decided to move in together. We found a small house to rent near the western edge of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, and shared a few anxious moments when huge bombers violently rattled our windows as they descended  to land. The first time it happened we had no idea what was going on, and I was struck by the odd notion that giants had suddenly come from beyond the horizon to crush us.

I wasn’t sure whether we’d make it to the altar as we began to learn how to live together. Our families had radically different assumptions when it came to domestic matters, and we were both surprised at times when our expectations were not met with enthusiasm and understanding by the other party. Most of my relationships had been ended abruptly by girlfriends who suddenly found me unworthy of their affection. I spent three weeks waiting for Judy to come to a similar conclusion, and only relaxed on August 25 when she walked down the aisle of Immaculate Conception Chapel and joined me at the altar.

Judy and I have gone through other roller coaster years during the thirty years we’ve been married, but few match the sheer intensity of the year of our courtship. I could call that time a trial by fire as we both had to find inner resources to deal with the more difficult moments, but there were so much happiness in the mix that no title seems to fit. When I look back I’m sometimes surprised that we managed to pick our way around the rubble and potholes of such a difficult path, and sometimes have the sneaking suspicion that our marriage was preordained. No obstacles could have blocked us. At other times I think that we just got lucky to find each other and stick. In the end all I can say is that it was one helluva year.

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