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The Dirty Little Secret About True Love

love-and-forgiveness-9I devoted the entire month of February to love for the simple reason that it is the most important thing in all of existence. It is what makes us whole, human. Without it, we are mere mortals with no hope of a spritual dimension, an eternal, an other.

Yes, it’s that big. But it’s also deceptively simple.

And because I love you Cold readers so much, I’m going to let you in on a little secret about love. I guarantee this is all you’ll ever have to know about it.

Come closer. I’ll whisper it in your ear. Are you ready?

The thing about true love is that the romance novels are spot on!

They might not be all arty about it, and their dialogue can be downright dreadful. Their plot lines might make us cringe. But they strike at our heart’s deepest desire – sincerely, savagely, with a fist – not an open hand.

And for those of us who have been blessed with love, those sugary-sweet, dog-eared paperbacks are familiar on a blood-level. The way a mother knows every naked emotion that crosses her child’s face.

That’s why I leave you with a good old-fashioned romantic love story. My friend Tim put to pen this lovely memory about his courtship with his wife and published it on his blog some time ago. He was kind enough to let me re-purpose it here.

“The story begins in the summer of 1969. 

I was home on a thirty-day leave, my reward from Uncle Sam for re-enlisting to go to Vietnam. Don’t ask about that, it’s something you really don’t want to know. Anyway…. during that thirty days, I spent as much time as I could with a girl named Chris. She had eyes that were a golden brown, and a  smile that made me feel so warm and fuzzy inside that I started calling her Sunshine.

Our relationship was pretty normal for Midwestern kids in our situation. We took my dad’s Ford to A&W where we drank root beer, ate potato chips and listened to the radio. We went bowling, and I taught her how to shoot pool. I fancied myself a musician back then, so I played my six-string and sang to her.

It was basic casual dating while I tried desperately to get in her pants.

Thirty days seems like a long time, but it was going by pretty fast, and as the end of my leave approached, it dawned on me just how much I would miss her when I left. I realized that this was the real deal, that not being around her would leave a gaping hole in me… a hole that I wouldn’t be able to fill with anything else. Schemes of how I could hold on to her while I did my time on the other side of the world started buzzing around my brain.

I was nowhere close to being a cultural sophisticate, but I knew that some token of my affection was called for. The run of the mill band of gold with a gemstone sounded too conventional, and I couldn’t afford it anyway. I racked my brain until I arrived at the kind of solution that only a morally bankrupt, socially inept boy from Gary, Indiana could come up with.

We spent a final afternoon at a State Park in Illinois, and I knew that this was the time to do it. As we were walking back to my dad’s car, I took a pop-top pull tab from a can of soda and slid it on her finger. Luckily, she didn’t bust out laughing or snort in disgust.

She just gave me that smile that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside… Sunshine.

Maybe that pop-top didn’t have anything to do with it, but Sunshine and I ended up getting back together when I came home in October of 1970. Pretty close to Christmas of that year I scraped up the money for a real ring with a tiny diamond mounted on it. It wasn’t much by a lot of people’s standards, maybe even laughable, but I liked its simplicity. The next weekend, I made the drive from Fort Knox, Kentucky to Michigan to get her reaction. We drove over to Howard Johnson’s where we drank coffee and ate pie. I pulled out  the ring and asked her if she would marry me.

Again, she gave me that smile  that always managed to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside… and then she said yes.

I guess I really didn’t have a date in mind when I gave her that ring with the tiny diamond on it, but good old Uncle Sam did his part to hurry things along. It wasn’t long before I got orders for Germany. I knew I couldn’t face being away from Sunshine again, so I asked her if she would come with me. She said yes, and  we were married a couple of weeks later, in July of 1971.

over the threshold

Like any couple, we had good times and bad times. Money was made and spent. Houses were bought and sold. Children came along, grew up, and left. The stream of time flowed relentlessly on. Memories of who we were back in the summer of 1969 were worn down to pebbles and washed downstream. It’s hard to remember just when, but somewhere in the stream I stopped calling her  Sunshine.

Thirty-some years later, I’d forgotten all about that pop-top. Its memory had worked its way downstream until it sat at the bottom of a deep pool of my mind. The pool was muddied with all the other memories that ended up there, many of them worn down until they were smaller than grains of sand.

Then one day at work, some unknown current of thought broke the memory loose and forced it upward through that deep pool. The current was strong. It pushed the memory upward so fast that it broke the surface with a little bloop, then plopped back down into that muddy water. A circle of waves rippled out from where the memory had landed… waves that grew wider and moved along the surface… waves of a memory that tickled my brain until I could suddenly see me giving Sunshine that stupid pop-top, just as clear as the day it happened.

And there I was… grinning inanely in the middle of the day. My coworkers had no idea what was wrong with me, and my boss looked at me like he wanted me to pee in a cup. I ignored them, and just kept grinning stupidly at the memory. For the next few days the thought of that pop-top rattled around inside my head, banging up against the sides until I had to do something to stop the racket.

It took a little time and a bit of subterfuge, but I found out that Chris had actually held on to that pop-top. It was squirreled away in a box with other reminders of my lunacy, high up on a shelf in a closet.  I dug it out and took it to a small, family run jewelry store… the kind of place where the husband repaired jewelry and installed watch batteries in the back, while the wife ran the counter. The jeweler’s wife and I exchanged ideas about what to  do with the pop-top, and eventually we agreed to make a necklace out of it.

Somehow, the jeweler made a mold of that pop-top, and was able to make an exact copy of it out of gold. On this he mounted a small diamond, then soldered on a loop to run a chain through. His wife helped me pick out a simple gold chain to pass through the loop, and the necklace was complete.

pop-top-love-necklace

That’s what you see in the picture, the jeweler’s rendition of the pop-top pull-tab that I gave to Sunshine in the summer of 1969. I know it doesn’t look like any piece of jewelry you’ve seen before… you probably think it looks more like some kind of fishing lure… but for some reason or another, I like it.

I gave the new and improved pop-top to Chris as an anniversary present, thirty-four years after I’d put it on her finger for the first time… a rock from the stream of our past that I pulled out and had polished up so we’d remember. She wears it often, and when I see it hanging around her neck it makes me pretty damn proud that she thinks enough of me to wear it, that she thought enough of me to keep that stupid pop-top for all  those years in the first place.

And every once in a while, I’ll reach out to touch it… and she’ll give me the smile that still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Sunshine.” –Tim Dittmer

Is There a Cure for Dreams?

 

love-flies-away

 

I remember years ago, sitting with a group of lovely new mothers in a “Mommy and Me” class, as we talked about the changes that motherhood had brought into our lives. Most of us were first-timers at this parenthood thing and we got to talking about intimacy. Namely, how to maintain it with our husbands when there was a chubby, adorable, needy, often screaming new family member who was drinking our blood and sucking up all of our attention.

We were each telling funny stories about aborted attempts at romance, when I said something to the effect of, “Here we are, having made this beautiful creature with the love of our lives, and we’ve no time or energy to make any more love.”

I was trying to be funny and encouraging, but one of the women looked up from her new babe and said, “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have married the love of their life.”

Hers was a brave and painful revelation. I’ve never forgotten it.

I’d met this woman’s husband. He seemed like a great guy and they appeared happy together. They probably were. And yet, there was someone else on her mind. Someone with whom she would never be fighting for a stolen kiss, a caress, a hurried tryst before the inevitable waking sounds of their flesh and blood turned into a full-out wail.

love-on-swings

Longing for what might have been is a love story that can be hard to ponder. There is no happy ending pay-off – at least not in the traditional sense. The happiness lies in the past, or in fantasy.

And that’s why the following story broke my heart.

“I dream of previous lives-the one where we’re young and you walked me to the car after your gig so I wouldn’t be alone in the parking lot.  One where we met for drinks in the afternoon so that we could have the entire restaurant to ourselves. There’s the time a neighbor dropped by. Before leaving he said, “I saw you two last night. He’s in love with you. His eyes never left you and I could see them dance as you two laughed.”

One sultry night you show me how to play my favorite song.  The problem is, I have no talent. You sit behind me, press my long fingers into a chord, you slide our hands up and down the neck of the guitar. Then you caress my neck, ever so softly. Butterflies and kisses in the moonlight. We make music together for a brief, shimmering moment.  The night sings the touch of your skin into every song.

hunters-guitar

Your tenderness captures my love.

You propose to me-I accept, swept off my feet, and you let me choose the ring. I imagine the entire scene, the time you first place the diamond on my finger and whisper…now you’re mine forever. Then you take me in your arms, quote Marlowe and say, Now, make me immortal with a kiss.

I keep the good parts of you with me, secure…safe within a box locked deep inside my heart.

I brush my hair; two long strands fall together into one. I toss them first to the left then to the right. Unhappy with the effect, I start again.

I dream in past versions of myself…call my lover your name by mistake, he takes his coffee the same way you always did, then I gaze out the window and wonder if you remember the way you and I fit together like the ocean and the sand…the sky and the land.

I write in streams of consciousness which mean nothing. My mind is filled with chapters of books, with characters living the life I wanted with you.  Stories of our break ups, our love-making, your hands on my body. Two are one.

Alas, for all that was and all that might have been. Thoughts of our dream that never came true are remembered as a kaleidoscope of hopes and yearning in passionate shades and paisley swirls. Ghosts and shadows cast by candles haunt me. Waltzing into my mind…stolen kisses in a darkened hallway…your silhouette against an ebony sky…the two of us.

m-in-bed

Under the full moon, filled with magnolia on a honeysuckle breeze, you take me in your arms and we know. Days when you call to say you love me…there is always more to be said…of all we want and the castles in the air that you build for me. Our secrets and wishes on stars.

Illusions of you are the key to the magic inside my heart and soul.

A wistful sigh reveals those shattered shards and ashes from a fire long ago.

A tear tumbles down my cheek. But, I’m healing and learning.

And, I often see you and we are one.

One dream at a time.” –Hunter S. Jones

Impossible Love

Stories of unrequited love are usually dripping with ennui and longing. The promise of what could have been grips you like a toothache, and suddenly you’re kicking yourself for not having the guts to bare your soul to someone who you felt in your heart had been waiting for  you to come along. If only you’d had the nerve.

The following story is a bit of a twist on that, and one that left me feeling hopeful instead of wistful.

“Long before I had the guts to come out, I tried to overcome my ‘unnatural inclinations’ and suppress my gay desires. I know that such stories are plentiful these days and really old news from a past we’ve all moved on from.  So I promise I won’t bore you with that old chestnut. This is only to set the scene for my first love, experienced in the late nineteen-eighties.

I channelled my amorous frustration from being a closet case into relentless political work against nuclear power.  It was a mere few years since Chernobyl, and it seemed a worthwhile cause. Instead of army service I carried out alternative work in a school for severely disabled children

During the summer holidays I was manning the reception and spent most of my days reading political magazines and writing letters to various editors, while a gang of handymen sorted out renovation work at the building. They were tough guys, cool as they came, beer-drinking football players who looked like they would laugh at me if they had known I was gay. It was obvious how little they thought of me and one day I overheard them referring to me as “the poet”, with contempt. I made a point of ignoring them after that. Weeks of resentment and exchanges of unpleasantness followed until the new term began and our lovely students replaced these men.

I was glad to see the back of them and was gobsmacked to find myself at a party with one of them. How could our social circles possibly overlap, I wondered? I froze and stayed away from him.

But later, wined and jolly, with my best female friend in tow, I overcame my resentment and intimidation.

Luke was incredibly good looking and wasn’t quite as cold at the party than he had been at the school. When I laughed hysterically about one of his dirty jokes the ice between us broke and he smiled. I was relieved that there would be no more awkwardness. But things got better than that: Luke got up from his seat and sat next to me on an old sofa and put his arm around me.

“I always thought you were just an arrogant arse wipe,” he said and grinned cheekily. “I’m glad I was wrong.”

I smiled and said: “Ditto.”

Luke was all the man I aspired to be. I admired his confidence. I was often shy in those days and not used to being treated as an equal – especially not by tough guys. Luke spent the entire evening with me and my friends and for days after that, he was all I could think about.

A social barrier had broken down and a door had opened to a future I had never envisaged for me. Luke was funny and a born entertainer. He had sought me out for company, not the pretty girls or guys who would talk about the Bundesliga.

When I was with him I felt more confident and it seemed my best sides came out naturally without me even trying. Yes, Luke didn’t read books nor cared much for politics, but he was a decent guy who looked out for his friends and had a soft core under his hard exterior.

It wasn’t long before I realised I was head over heels in love with him. The girls fell over themselves to get his attention, too, but he didn’t pay them much heed.  At no time was I under the illusion that he was gay, either, nor did I ever confide in him about my feelings. I didn’t want to ruin a good thing. I treasured his friendship.

Then one night, in a club, he grabbed me on the dancefloor and kissed me in front of everyone. It was done like a joke and people laughed, but it wasn’t funny to me at all. For me it was the most electrifying and defining moment in my romantic life. I had kissed girls before but…

It was the time of Robin Beck’s “First Love”, the soda advert that was being played everywhere that summer and that was exactly how it felt: Electricity flew…
The fact that the kiss was taken as a prank spared me the worry of people thinking I might be gay. Instead, we were hailed as two guys up for a laugh.

For weeks I hoped for a repeat of the kiss, tried to create situations where we were alone and we could kiss again, but it never happened.

“You’re a decent guy,” Luke said to me. “Your friends are lucky to have you.”

Eventually he met a girl and we saw less of each other. I was heart-broken but was never able to tell. Eventually I moved away to study and we lost touch.

But the fact remains that this man, the object of my desire who couldn’t love me back, gave me more with the unexpected friendship and kindness than future boyfriends would. The feeling to be singled out by such an unlikely person taught me to lose my fears and negative expectations and to trust that love can be found in all places.

Later it would be the memory of this kiss that drove me to leave the gay capital of Britain, Brighton, and move to Bath, where I met my partner of ten years in a street café. We all are worthy of affection and love, will be special to someone and have qualities that someone will recognise and love. That is the magical and wonderful way of love. Unexpected and impossible as it was, it stayed with me up until this day and helped me love myself more than I ever did before.” –-Christoph Fischer

christoph-love

 

For Love of Samu

samu-2Our dog, Milo, was adopted by my husband and I soon after we were married. I remember bringing him home in our convertible like it was yesterday. That crazy beagle-spaniel mix just sat there, tongue hanging out, letting the wind tear through his coat.

It seemed like the best day of his life, and we were beside ourselves. Milo was our first baby, you see, and we took him everywhere we went and spoiled him with way too many treats. We even called him “baby” and allowed him on our furniture, although we’d sworn up and down we’d never do that. We bought him a five-star dog bed that we put right next to our fireplace. As far as dog lives go, I think Milo’s was right up there Gary Fisher’s.

Unfortunately for Milo, our human babies came about a year after his arrival.

Oh, he tolerated them as best he could, but let’s face it, he pretty much hated their guts from the get-go. I couldn’t blame him. His needs had taken a backseat to our parenting and he wasn’t getting nearly the amount of walks and tummy rubs that he used to be able to demand like a Lord of the Manor.

By day, when the kids were at school, he was a cuddly, affectionate dog. He slept at my feet as I wrote and licked my husband’s ankles.

But at night, Milo became a beast.

He growled at my son, taking food out of his little hands and leaving him crying without the least bit of remorse. He bit our second daughters toe, drawing blood. So, there! He seemed to say. He growled whenever our youngest daughter even walked into a room.

Our kids desperately wanted a relationship with Milo – wishing he’d sleep in their beds, play with them outside and do all of the things their friend’s dogs seemed to do. But Milo would have none of it.

Still, after a long illness, when we had no choice but to take Milo to the vet and have him put down, I sobbed and heaved, hardly able to pull myself together. I couldn’t even be in the room when he got his shot. That I had to leave to my husband, who petted and whispered to Milo as he slipped into infinity.

Hardly a heartwarming story, but it’s the best I can do.

That’s why I have another one for you. This one is from Michelle Gwynn, and you better get out your handkerchief. This is a pet love story that should go down for the ages.

samu-3

“Sometimes, love walks into your life and changes it in ways you never expected. In my case, love walked right up to my front door one chilly morning in October, 2002. He had big green eyes, white fur with gray spots, and a loud meow. It was love at first sight.

I was destined to be the local cat lady, and when another feral cat I cared for brought this poor stray to my doorstep, I just couldn’t say no.  I named him Samuel Duane. Samu for short. Yep, there’s a story behind the nickname.

The morning Samu came into my life changed everything. 

I put out extra food that morning, and took a moment to let him sniff me. I reached out, and he rubbed his head against my hand. He was friendly. I left for work. Eight and a half hours later, I arrived home, parking where I usually park. This time, someone was waiting for me.

“Well, hello there,” I remember saying.

He was very happy to see me, acting more like a hyper dog than a cat. He bounded along beside me all the way to my door. I didn’t quite know what to do with him. He wanted to come in, but I already had two indoor cats, Sophie and Emmie. I was cautious about letting another cat around them without first having him checked out by a vet. Plus, I still didn’t know if he belonged to anyone. Since he was friendly, I figured someone had raised him. I gave him some attention, but kept him outside.

Yet he stuck around.

Finally, after I’d determined Samu was truly on his own, I had his nails trimmed, had the vet treat him for fleas, and brought him home. This time, he got to come inside. It was a test.

Mr. Charmer made himself right at home, and Sophie and Emmie seemed okay with him. Well, damn, now I had to name him. I considered his personality, his distinguished looks, and decided he looked every bit like a Sam. Of course, I’ve never been one to settle for simple names. He needed a full name, including a middle name. Sam became Samuel, and because he was so darned nice, had to be named after my favorite uncle, Duane. Samuel Duane was now an official member of my family. He didn’t even seem to care about going outside anymore. He’d found a home.

I swear, Sam was like the Walmart greeter of cats. Every person who came to visit received his full attention. Even non-cat people fell in love with him. I had to check bags when friends left after a visit to make sure no one was smuggling my cat out.

Then one day, my nice cat showed a nasty side. My brother came by, bringing with him a tiny little black Labrador puppy he’d recently found. Like me, he just can’t let a stray animal go uncared for. My mother happened to be holding the puppy when Sam began snorting like a bull, yowling, and arching his back. All the short hair on his now chubby body stood up like a porcupine. He did not want to share! He kept leaping at my mother’s hands trying to get to the little dog.

I put him outside on my screened-in patio. He paced back and forth, mad as heck.

When my brother left, taking his pup with him, I let my cat back in. I made the offhand comment that Sam, with his big gray spot on his white back, looked like a killer orca swimming to and fro around its prey. Sort of like Shamu, but in this case, Samu, the Killer Cat!

From then on, he was Samu.

He slept on my bed next to my hip, followed me everywhere, and had me wrapped around his paw. Samu even learned how to blow kisses. The only kiss-blowing cat I’ve ever known. When I kissed his head, he would click his teeth, making a funny chirping sound that vibrated his chops. He also had a very unusual love for baths.

We went along like this for six years, happy, healthy, a family. Then, he began to experience problems. Samu developed kitty constipation. He’d try, but no payload. On those occasions, I took him to the vet for what amounted to a cat colonic. He’d get his pipes flushed, and with a change in diet, and medication, he did all right. But then the problem came back, it was far worse. More tests were run, and it was discovered that my boy had a condition called Megacolon. This meant his small intestines lost their ability to move things along. The colon actually loses its elasticity, and stretches out, hence the ‘mega’ portion of the name. Stuff would pile up, but not move. Humans can also develop this problem, but there are viable surgical alternatives for people. None for cats. 

Dietary changes weren’t helping. The medication no longer worked. Continued enemas weren’t a feasible treatment option. He was hurting, and there wasn’t anything I could do.

Reality struck me like a knife in the heart. I spent the entirety of the next day torturing myself. The vet said there was no surgery that would help him. No more treatment options. I knew what this meant, but I wasn’t ready to face it, and yet, I couldn’t bear to see him suffer. He was whining in pain each time he tried to use his box.

With the world’s heaviest heart, I called the vet clinic. An appointment was made for 2:15 that afternoon, but the morning was all ours. Samu sat on my lap, and we did ‘kisses’. I let him eat whatever he wanted. For a little while, we sat outside on the patio soaking up the sun. I took as many pictures of him exploring and sniffing my plants as I could. I told him how much he meant to me, how he’d changed my life, made me happy, and was a good brother to Sophie and Emmie.

The cruel clock kept ticking.

On the way to the clinic, I sang “You are my Sunshine” to him, horribly off-key, past the lump in my throat. Inside the waiting room, I was quiet. I just couldn’t speak. When they led us to the special room at the back of the clinic, they kindly sedated him so he would be calm. There, I held my baby, scratching his ears, and kissing his head. He was too wonky to kiss back by then.

When the doctor came in, I couldn’t breathe. He knew what I’d gone through trying to find a way to save my little buddy. Quietly, he said, “Okay, I’m going to push the medicine, and he will simply go to sleep.” I panicked, but held my tongue. I kept hold of Samu, his little head laying over the crook of my arm, and told him how much I loved him until he was gone. In that moment, my heart, or what was left of it, broke. I howled from the depth of my soul. Tears blinded me, and I couldn’t be consoled.

My Samu was gone, and all I felt was pain. 

For the next two weeks, I couldn’t leave my room. I just wanted to be alone. I didn’t want to eat, or see anyone.

After the third week, I remembered my camera. Desperate to see his sweet, furry face again, I downloaded the pictures. There he was, chewing my fern, rolling in the sunshine, and even sitting on my lap, his favorite place to be. Samu’s last day was a good one despite his gastric discomfort. It was Samu’s day, and all about Samu. I added these pictures to all the other pictures and videos I had of him, taking a stroll through the memories. I could see how happy he was, and how many people were happy to have met him. Everyone wanted to take a picture with “Michele’s cool cat, Samu.”

In his short time, he put a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces. In that same short time, I learned what being a pet mom to a fur-baby was all about. As the weeks turned to months, and the months became a year, I finally found a way to be at peace with the hardest decision I’d ever had to make. I realized that to love someone means to put their needs above your own. Samu needed an end to his pain. 

To hurt so much when love leaves only means we have loved well, and with every fiber of our beings. It means we were the lucky ones.

As for Samu, then, now, forever, I will always love you.

samu

A Love of My Life: Fallita, My Maternal Grandmother

The grandmother is a beloved stock character in Czech literature. It’s no wonder, because with the exception of the unlucky, a grandmother is a fixture of Czech family life. Not only does a grandmother often live with the family, as my mother lives with us, but she is an active, loving, and sometimes infuriating part of the power dynamic.

At least for the parents.

For the grandchildren, she is mostly joy, forbidden candy, folded laundry – crisp and ironed, sugery compliments, and the occassional embarrassing episode. A grandmother might think nothing of asking her teenage granddaughter – loudly and in public – if she’s still feeling constipated, for instance.

I, myself, had a grandmother with whom I shared a clausterphobic, crazy-loving, frustrating and blessed relationship. Without her, I would not be even be a sliver of the woman I am today.

This is a woman who taught me how to stand up for myself, and gave me the courage and encouragement to start a business, write books, fall in love, and ultimately leave my family and home to live for years in a foreign country. Leaving her behind to miss me terribly, while I went off in search of adventure.

Yet she never said a word about her own heartache, cheering me on and listening to my stories with rapt attention.

As a mother, I now understand how difficult that is, and how much love it takes to help raise a headstrong and independent child who will one day bid you adieu.

My friend Catalina understands that, too.

I consider Cattalina a soul sister. She’s a writer, fellow immigrant, and true romantic. She’s an early Cold reader, and she and I have a sort of mutual fan club going on. When I reached out and asked for readers love stories, she jumped right in, head first. I love that about her.

And here is her story.

“I grew up in Mexico with a clear understanding of the irrelevance of chronological age. My grandmother who was born in 1898 was always active, always young. The bond that was so special and transcended generations is one that to this day holds an important place in my heart.

For one school year as a child I lived with her and my step-grandfather in Pineville, Louisiana. A year filled with armadillos, squirrels, Southern traditions and country girl adventures. An immense change from the Mexico City routine of my childhood. She was seventy and tried to teach me how to do a headstand! I never succeeded, but my grandmother’s headstands were flawless.

We never called her abuela or abuelita, she was to us all always Fallita. A nickname for her Christian name Flavia. She had some interesting tales of our ancestry which included her assurance that we had the blood of German pirates dating back to the 1600s. Although a few years ago Ancestry.com’s DNA test disputed that.

Her stories of the fun and frivolity of the 1920s piqued my curiosity and made my imagination dance as a teenager. The meals she cooked, she endeavored to whip up with the privilege of doing so only when she wanted, as she had a fabulous cook; Aurora.

Another of her gifts and hobbies was sewing. Only a machine stich could compete with her precise even-handed stitching.

And Fallita was as old-school tough as the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey. I liked even her pointed remarks, touched with mean-spiritedness. When we love someone, after all, we need to love them wholly; flaws and gifts alike.

She lived to be 88 and to date over thirty years after her death, I miss her and feel her loving presence at times. Love after all, real love at any rate is everlasting.” -MCV Egan

Reader Valentines: Because Sometimes Your Stories Are Just Better Than Mine

love-cloudSeveral weeks ago, I received an email from a woman who’d joined my Cold Readers Club. I receive emails from readers pretty much every day, and most people just write to say thanks, which I love.
But every once in a while, someone spontaneously writes to tell me their love story. Maybe it’s because love is a thru-line in almost everything I write – whether it’s a personal essay or a historical thriller. Even when I seem to be writing about something else – faith, parenting, war, literature – somehow, someway, readers will often link the theme to a love story in their own lives.
This touches me immensely, and has actually changed the way I look at my characters and how their lives unfold. Truth be told, it changes me as well. I find myself reflecting on the love stories in my own life, feeling grateful for every tender kiss, heartache, poetic romanticism and burst of goodwill that has ever graced my journey.
So starting today, and going all through February on Cold, I’d like to feature some of the love stories readers have been kind enough and brave enough to let me share.
And I’d like to start with the brief but passionate and hopeful story of the woman I mentioned at the beginning of this post. I’ll call her Larissa.
For those of you who are Cold readers or members of my email newsletter, Cold Readers Club, you might remember an essay I wrote about why men must start reading fiction again. In it, I lamented that 80% of all fiction readers are women and how over the course of a generation, men have all but abandoned the novel.
My essay was a call to action! It was a dare. I wanted it to light a fire in the hearts of people in our Cold universe, and urge them to start pestering the men folk in their lives to pick up a damned book and read a story that’s not about work, or politics or how to build a bookshelf.
What I got was a love story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
love-by-sea
“When I was 41 years old, Mac, a young man I’d known for some time came to my house looking for a friend of his. Mac’s buddy, you see, was renting a room in my house and Mac had come over to hang out.
Mac, I should tell you, was twenty-one years old and far too young for me.
I had first noticed him at a party some months before and I can honestly say he took my breath away. Six feet four inches tall, wide-shouldered with slightly long golden hair and piercing blue eyes. I mean they are BLUE! It’s the first thing most people notice about him.  He’s a construction worker so he had the strong body to go with the gorgeous face. But, alas, he was way too young for me as I said, so I didn’t give it a second thought.
Then he showed up at my door.
As his friend was nowhere to be found, I pretty much shrugged my shoulders and asked if Mac wanted to join me and my roommate for a quiet movie night. Ours was a fun, casual home, where friends were always welcome to drink a beer and eat chips while lounging on the couch, so this was nothing out of the ordinary.
It was my roommate’s turn to choose the movie, and he chose “Alien vs Predator,” a movie he knew terrified me. I said there was no way I was watching that film unless somebody sat with me and held my hand. But before I could even finish the request, Mac jumped up and plopped down next to me. He not only took my hand, but put his arms around me, holding me to his chest. I WAS SHOCKED! And nervous, and didn’t know what to do. But I went with it. I was powerless not to.
Long story short, my roommate ended up skipping out to visit some friends, leaving me and Mac alone to watch the rest of the movie.
Only we didn’t.
As soon as my roommate left, Mac bent down and kissed me.
‘We’re not going to watch any aliens and predators, are we?’ I asked.
‘He looked down at me and simply replied, ‘no.”
At first, it was a casual thing and I didn’t allow myself to take it too seriously. But as we spent more time together, I came to see that Mac was a wonderful conversationalist, deep and complex for so young a man.
He impressed me by his knowledge and love of Bob Dillon and other musicians from my era. And as he spent more time in my house, I started to notice that he tended to disappear quite often. When I went looking for him, I usually found him in my library.
As a voracious reader and true bibliophile, I was intrigued.
Mac would have several stacks of books out on the library desk trying to decide which book he wanted to read next. And he almost always had a book with him wherever he went. So, over time, we got in the habit of getting up early on Sunday mornings to have coffee and read companionably on the loveseat on my front porch. He told me about his favorite authors – Tolkein and Pat Conroy. How much he loved “Prince of Tides,” and thought one of the best quotes to ever grace a page is, “My wound is my geography.”
I told him I loved George RR Martin, but that my favorite quote did not come from his books. He said, “One who reads lives a thousand lives, one who doesn’t lives one.”

Well, naturally I agreed to marry Mac despite our twenty year age difference.

And so you know, eight years later, we are still happily married and spend our evenings reading and listening to great music.

Our book collection has grown considerably over the years and the only time he has ever complained about all the books was when we had to move. Books are very heavy.  We still don’t have a TV. Haven’t had one since we got together. Our nights are spent reading with our cats curled up in our laps or talking, or talking about what we are reading.  Mac is reading the Sovereign of the Seven Isles series by David A Wells and is on the second book titled “Sovereign Stone.” He loves the series and we talk about the books and characters a lot since I read the series previously and recommended it to him. 

I’m reading some books by Scott A Combs – Galactic Guild Comedies titled “The Kili Wanna Affair” and “The Feel Good Affair.”  They are so much fun and I keep laughing out loud while Mac just looks at me over his book with his eyebrows raised. We know if there’s a book that that can do that to one of us, then the other is sure to want to read it next. 

Mac usually tells people he fell in love with me for my library, and my cooking. Since he’s a great cook himself, I think the former was probably what did it for him.

As for me, I can tell you there are not many men like him these days. Especially in the younger generations.  I am so blessed to have found him. He is still the best husband any woman could ask for. And I think I truly am the luckiest woman on the planet.”

Please join me next week for more reader love stories. And if you haven’t already, join my Cold Readers Club. You might just get lucky.

love-on-grass

 

Calling All Lovers!

There is not one of us in the world who doesn’t wish for love to come and bust down our door. To run right smack into that person who napalms our very beings, then makes our dreams take flight.

This is why, in one way or another, I write about love in all of my stories. The dark ones like Welcome to the Hotel Yalta are punctuated with love’s longing – even when my characters are doing horrendous things that push any sincere entanglements ever further from their grasp.

It’s why I’m in the throes of writing an epic love story that is just turning me inside out. No, this will not be a romance novel in the spirit of Harlequin and Danielle Steele. All of my usual themes will be on full display – like killers, curses, and destinies.

And when you read it, I want you to taste blood and feel your heart pounding so hard it’s like a thundering coal train. When you put it down, I want you to ache.

Writing so blatantly about love has been an evolution for me. But a natural one.

Ever since starting Cold, so many of you have written to me about your love stories. Next to my children and my marriage, that trust has been the greatest privilege of my life. By opening your hearts, you’ve opened mine.

So, in honor of the coming Valentine’s Day holiday, and in celebration of how much meaning your stories have brought to my life, I want to showcase true-to-life love stories on Cold. Your stories. Reader stories.

You don’t have to constrain youself to telling me about a lover. It can be a story about your dad, your child, a beloved pet.

Just make sure to answer these questions: How did you find one another? How did you know it was love? Was it sudden, like love at first sight? Or did love wrap its body around you slowly like a python? How has your love story unfolded over the years? Where does it stand now? How has it changed your life? Take yourself there, and give up all your nitty-gritty details.

You can post your story in the comments section, or email me privately: victoria@victoriadoughertybooks.com

If I do write about your story, I will only attribute your name to it if that is what you specify. If you wish to remain anonymous, that’s fine, too. Just tell me. And if you wish to share your story with me, but do not want your story considered for a blog post – say so. I would never, ever betray your confidence.

I wish I could write about every story that will be shared with me. Truly, I know from experience that there will not be a single one that isn’t worthy of a post all its own. Time and the editorial process, however, are strict masters. Only a small handful will be chosen.

Thank you.

reading-with-love

My stories:

The Bone Church – oozing with love.

Cold: Essays on LOVE, faith, family and Other Dangerous Pursuits

Welcome to the Hotel Yalta – bloodthirsty love!

 

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