I don't have too many words of wisdom or inspiration today. So this is all I'll say:
It’s a good thing my dad instilled fearlessness in me at an early age. Because of that fearlessness, I was able to take care of myself after my mom died. I didn’t know what I was doing but I just followed my gut and tried to imitate my mom – minus the hair-pulling and bops on the head. (I didn’t do those things to myself.) The fearlessness I speak of is the kind that makes me believe in myself; the kind that allows me to make decisions without having to run them by 100 people first; the kind that makes me confident; makes me take initiative; makes me be proactive in getting what I want, doing what I want.
At the end of my trip to Buenos Aires in January 1988, I boarded an airplane heading back to California all by myself. It was my first time flying alone anywhere and here I was, 17-years old, on a 20-hour flight with a layover in Chile. On the outside I played it cool, but on the inside I was nervous and scared – but not scared enough to not do it. My dad and Felicia were staying in Mar Del Plata until March to continue overseeing his two businesses. In the meantime, I was going to stay at my Aunt and Uncle’s house with my three cousins (two of which I was going to public high school with).
After my mom died, I yearned for a mother-figure and my aunt (by marriage to my dad’s brother) filled the role very well. She became my surrogate mom and because she had two daughters similar in age, I think she could relate to me more than the other adults in my family. Although I had grown up seeing my entire family every single Saturday during my whole life with my mom, I had never gotten to really know my aunt until after I lost my mom. I immediately felt comfortable opening up to her and sharing my thoughts, feelings, and struggles without feeling judged. Her parenting approach was very different from my mom’s. She was more of a “friend” to her daughters and didn’t instill the fear of God in them like my mom had in me. I liked it a lot. It was easy and fun to talk to her.
My cousins and I had grown up together and had always gotten along. I have fabulous memories of my childhood and teenage years with them. When I started going to high school with them, our bond grew closer. Then, when I temporarily moved in with them, they became like sisters to me. They welcomed me with open arms and made me feel at home. They were excited to have me as their guest. I remember them showing me to my room. I would be sharing a bunk bed with my youngest cousin. My aunt gave me space in the closet and bought me my own little chest of drawers. It was a small gesture of kindness but it meant the world to me. I felt like I belonged and like I was finally somewhere that felt like “home”.
Immediately, the day after arriving back in the U.S., I went job-hunting. I spent a couple of hours going around from retail store to retail store in a shopping center nearby, looking for “Now Hiring” signs and asking for applications. (Listen up kids, in the olden days that’s how you searched for a job. There was no internet!) Where I really wanted to work was at a cute, fun-looking flower and gift shop. Although they didn’t have a “Now Hiring” sign, I decided to go into the store anyway and ask for the manager. (Fearlessness in action) A “manager” came over to talk to me. I asked if they were hiring and he said “no”. We chatted a bit. It turned out he wasn’t just a manager. He was the owner. He told me about his shop and showed me around. He explained to me about plants and flower arranging. He showed me photos of headdresses he and his partner had made for various competitions, as well as photos of Rose Parade floats he and his partner had worked on. I was fascinated by all of it, but mostly by him. He was friendly, warm, and funny and seemed like someone I would want to work for. At the end of our conversation he told me he’d give me a job! (Later I found out that he only worked in the flower shop one day a week. The other days he worked as a hair designer. I just happened to come in on the right day!)
I excitedly wrote Robbie a letter to tell him about my new job! I knew he’d be happy for me especially because I had offered to help him pay for a ticket to Canada (see my previous post). During my trip, we had also discussed where he would live once he made the move from Canada to California. While we were in Argentina, my dad had thought maybe Robbie could move in with my aunt’s mother for a while until he found a job and got established, etc. Luckily, my aunt’s mother was on board with the idea. She agreed that Robbie could move in with her when he arrived in the U.S. I was very excited about these now-very-realistic plans. It made much more sense for Robbie to temporarily move to Canada and then make a permanent move to the U.S. than for me to temporarily move to Buenos Aires. However, the more real things became, the more panic I started feeling. I started wondering “What if I make him leave his mom and brother; make him move thousands of miles for me, and then I decide he’s not the man I want to marry?” I knew I loved him with all my heart and I was (near) certain I wanted to marry him, BUT…what if I was wrong? What if I wanted to date other guys? What if I was jumping into this too soon? What if I was stuck with him here in the U.S.? I wouldn’t be able to just break up with him that easily if he was living with one of my relatives! I suddenly felt trapped and confused.
In the meantime, I was having fun at my new job. I was working just three or four days a week from 4:00pm – 8:00pm. (Don’t ask me how I remember the hours. I just do.) I really liked the job, the atmosphere, and my co-workers. One co-worker in particular became fast friends with me. His name was David (not really, but let’s pretend) and he was quirky and funny. Again, just like I shared with all the people I met, I told David all about Robbie and our plans for the future. And again, just like had happened with Jay, I found myself giving David rides home after work (why the hell was I attracting losers who didn’t have cars???). One day, about a month after working with David, he asked me to the movies AS FRIENDS. I accepted thinking “What’s the big deal? He’s just a friend. I can go to a movie with a FRIEND.” I have to admit, I liked the attention and I was flattered by his interest in me. But then we held hands at the movies, and then damn it, wouldn’t you know it…he kissed me. (I’m feeling kind of slutty telling all these stories but honestly, I swear on a stack of bibles, I was as holy as they came back then!)
Anyway, I was back to feeling like a sinner-whore who had betrayed her loyal, innocent, long-distance boyfriend AGAIN! My guilt got to me quickly and I cut it off with David although that was hard to do considering we worked together! But I gave him a long speech about not being able to see him outside of work anymore because my heart belonged to Robbie and we were going to be married one day, blah, blah, blah. I’m sure he didn’t believe an ounce of what I was saying but a week later, for my 18th birthday, David bought me a license plate frame that said “Happiness is Robbie and Jackie”. It was David’s way of assuring me that he knew I was serious about my intentions with Robbie and I really appreciated it.
The more I imagined Robbie moving to the U.S., the more scared I became. That feeling of being “stuck” with him kept popping up. As a grown adult, I realize that my fear was of getting stuck taking care of him when what I really longed for was someone to take care of ME. I didn’t feel confident that Robbie could take care of me and our future family in a country where he didn’t know the language. He would be coming here with just the clothes on his back, staying in a borrowed room, starting to build his life with me from ground zero. Don’t get me wrong…I knew Robbie was intelligent and hard-working, but I felt a huge burden of responsibility whenever I imagined him here, living just a few miles away from me. (I didn’t see it then, but I certainly see now the tremendous similarity to my dad’s own story of coming to America.) I was just 18. I didn’t really know what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t that.
Meanwhile, David and I started hanging out together all the time. We acted like a couple but we didn’t identify as a couple. My letters to Robbie had started dwindling from the moment I had met David. I had gone from writing two or three times a week, to once every couple of weeks, to once a month. I really believed that (most likely) Robbie and I would be together, but I was putting my focus and attention on the person who was tangible and near me – David.
In April 1988, just three months after leaving my beloved boyfriend behind in Buenos Aires, I wrote him a letter to let him know that I was cooling things off with him due to my plans for college and a career (which was really all B.S.) At the time when I sent the letter, it seemed like the right thing to do. I wasn’t breaking up with him. I was just re-assessing our pace and putting “us” on hold. I knew I was being hard on him by accusing him of being immature, irresponsible, unrealistic, and lacking ambition. Looking back, I can’t believe how cruel and mean I was. I don’t know what would have made me call him all those things, but I suppose it was my way of justifying my interest in David. It was also a way of making sure Robbie wasn’t going to show up in the U.S. anytime soon and become my responsibility. I had come to the disappointing realization that every time I envisioned him here, it wasn’t what I actually wanted to see come true.
After I sent the letter, I told David about it, thinking that now he and I could start more of a real relationship and see where things went. Well, David had news for me. You see, what he hadn’t mentioned in the previous three months of knowing him was that HE HAD A GIRLFRIEND! I had virtually spit on the man I had loved for a year and a half for an asshole I had just met, and it turned out he wasn’t going to be mine. Talk about karma. I was floored and oh so very angry. But I thought maybe I could still salvage my relationship with Robbie. Maybe it wasn’t too late to say “Never mind. I made a mistake! Just kidding!”
But it turned out to be too late. My letter had crushed Robbie’s ego. Like Bon Jovi sang, he had been shot through through the heart and I was to blame. I had given love a bad name. Robbie's response letter devastated me. He called me out on my bullshit. He wished me luck in finding someone “man enough, grown-up and mature enough” for me. He wrote he was sure that someone else had stepped into my life. He said that he knew I would never get over him but that he would easily forget about me. But at the end of the letter he wrote “I’ll always be here. You know where I live. You know my address.” To say that I wept buckets of tears is an understatement. I was so broken-hearted. My intention hadn’t been to lose him forever. I had only wanted to slow things down! What had I done?! For the first time, since losing my mom, I was all alone. No boyfriend. No one to make me feel like I was their top priority in life.
My favorite word is courage. One of my life mantras, when facing something scary is “I have courage.” It donned on me just two years ago that I have courage. At the time, I was only seeing the courage I had had in the previous four years. But now, re-living my life, re-counting my story, I see that I’ve always had courage. I think courage and fearlessness go hand in hand. But I also believe you can be brave and scared at the same time. (That’s what Brené Brown says.) Because if you think about it, it’s usually scary when you’re doing something that requires courage.
I was hard on myself back then for the terrible mistake I thought I had made in letting Robbie go for David. I called myself stupid and I thought it had served me right to suffer and not get David in the end for all the pain I had caused Robbie. But now I see it all as a lesson in courage. I bravely took a risk and gambled on my relationship. I was scared of the outcome but I acted fearlessly. Most importantly, I wasn’t settling for what I knew deep down in my heart wasn’t what I wanted. And THAT takes courage.