He always has me tell the story of how we met.
His eyes fill with tears every time.
But I should give you the back story.
I spent my childhood watching those I loved most grow up into adulthood. And leave me behind.
My sister Ruth, who perched me on her hip and took compliments for me as though I were her baby, she left for her own marriage when I still toddled around. She has been the voice and music through all of our lives.
We left Don in Illinois to move back to Texas when I was four. I was his Tabby Babby and he sang Jeepers Creepers to me. He could answer any math problem I asked.
Markie taught me how to walk and how to talk, and I remember riding beside him sitting on the arm rest of his Lincoln Continental, my arm draped in a proprietary fashion around his neck. And being jealous of girlfriends.
Shann went to college in our hometown, so there were some sleepovers, walks to Piggly Wiggly for cookie dough to eat out of the sleeve, and the beautiful gift of letting me be “Mommy Toti” to my nephews years later. And the one unexpected scoop of ice cream passed through the car window with her saying, “a peach for a peach.” Amazing how much love a silly ice cream cone can convey.
Mark and Shann left when I was in 2nd grade.
And then it was just me and my hero-friend Steve until sixth grade. The big brother who played with me until he had his first girlfriend. Cracking open rocks on the concrete driveway, pulling me on roller skates, a jump rope tied to the loop of his banana seat bike, all bouncy across the little gravel road. My own resident genius/Robin Williams who could take a rainy Saturday and one balloon and create a story of hot air balloons with amazing worlds to travel through, hours of us keeping that balloon in the air.
They grew up, our blended family of siblings, and left me behind in a house with three bedrooms and the emptiness an only child experiences when parents are locked through commitment and a ragged love in a marriage that is granite hard. Immovable stone walls and molten rock eruptions, and a Christmas morning that stabbed through our family and sealed my heart behind piles of debris. Love expressed through humans is a messy, broken thing. I never doubted I was loved. I just arrived at 16 knowing I wasn’t loved in a way that could be counted on. I love and am loved by my parents deeply. But for now we’ll stay with me at 16.
I was 17 when I left for college. I knew I was strong, capable, resilient, kind, and talented. And ugly, unworthy, unwanted, never good enough, not valued, and incapable of living on my own.
Those first couple of months, on my full-ride flute scholarship to a university I chose by default only months before, when boys would sneak up to the third floor of my dorm to ask me out for ice cream or pizza. When my roommate would answer the phone, “Tobi’s answering service.” When no family called to see how I was or just to say I wasn’t all by myself. Those were heady, confusing days. And after the friendship of a cute saxophonist who helped me with College Algebra grew into something more, after I broke up with him because he put me on a pedestal, I turned to what I knew I was worth. A relationship that proved I would never be enough. One that moved me deeper into isolation and away from a world that wasn’t asking how I was anyway.
After the first summer home from college became unbearable I moved back to school a few weeks early. I lied that the dorms were open. I just couldn’t breathe at home and was so tired of crying all the way to work each day. To what I thought was my only option, the first chair trumpet’s apartment. I had broken up with him at the beginning of the summer and he wanted me back. I was wanted. And I had no where else to go. After losing my virginity, my honor, and any hope for anything more, I said yes to him when he proposed. After he had threatened he would never ask again if I said no the first time. And I knew coming out of the courthouse that afternoon, one month shy of my 19th birthday, that I had made the biggest mistake of my life but would have to live with it and through it until I died.
Broken. Alive. Broken. Alive. Broken. Alive.
Do you see the broken behind the living when you look on others who seem to be wasting their lives? Do you see deeply enough to the wounded places, the I-have-no-one to champion me and I’m doing the best I can places? Or do you just see the barely living before you, and assume since they have air in their lungs they could scream out for help if they really wanted something different.
I tried. Valiantly. I juggled my 22 hours load and fought against taking on his as well. I endured days of silent anger that evolved through the months into physical rage, chasing me through the streets in his car if I managed to escape in mine. Both of us stars in the music program, him with his professor allies, me with a gentle flute teacher who insisted I could not quit. Two weeks before the end of my sophomore year I managed to convince the Dean of Students to let me withdraw from all coursework. By the end of the summer I had taken God off the back shelf in the closet and returned to church, convinced this was not the life God dreamed for me when He created me. And when I crossed the young adult Sunday School class, Kenneth Alan Benton leaned over to his best friend and said, “Who is that?”
He was told to stay away from me. That I was in a bad relationship. That he’d be better to steer clear. And as I chatted with an old friend in the row in front of him later he tapped me on the shoulder and told me children’s church was upstairs and to the left. Now that’s a pick up line. I whispered to my friend that he was a jerk.
But a few weeks later he used his pick up truck to take everything I owned out of my duplex. I had to leave quickly and the class of young adults came to my aid. They left me packing and went to deliver a load to my friend’s house. And my husband blew in with thunder and rage. I drove off, him rolling to the alley from his crouched position on my hood, my escape running the course of tears and hysterical laughter at the madness of it all. I ran into Ken in the hallway of the Postma’s house, palms splayed across his chest to stop my fall. He didn’t move but wrapped his arms around me. Me, this broken Scarlet Letter woman. I told him, “Don’t ever get married. It’s not worth it.” And my gentle, quiet man whispered in my hair, “It is when you meet the right person.” And he sealed that promise with a kiss on the top of my head.
He called his mom that night and told her he’d met the woman he was supposed to spend the rest of his life with.
Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. The miracle of that promise continues to unfold in and through our lives.
When I found the one my heart loves I held him and would not let him go. Song of Songs 3:4