January 22, 2011 | Posted in: Family

I have been very lucky in love. It was no accident. It was a very determined choice on my part.

I met the love of my life, Bob Samuelson, just short of my 21st birthday. I fell hopelessly in love with him when I was 23. I married him when I was 25. Last year we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. Falling in love 30 years ago was a difficult journey for us because, sadly, we were married to different people at the time. The painful lessons learned from breaking up two homes are stories for another day. Today’s story is about making the decision to love and be loved.

I don’t know if every child fantasizes about what it means to fall in love. I know I did. I can remember being in first grade and having a crush on Thomas Addison, an adorable little boy at East Elementary in Brownsburg, Indiana. I wondered what it would be like to kiss him and be kissed (sweet little kisses on the cheek and maybe the lips but as a six year old I couldn’t imagine love being anything more intimate than this!). I imagined we’d live happily every after in our treehouse, holding hands and swinging on our swingset forever and ever. This, to me, was how love looked when I was six.

When I was 11, my father was very ill (with epilepsy) and he and my mother and two youngest siblings moved to Arizona to find a better life. In order to finish the school year, my sister Cheri, my brother Chip and I were staying with our Aunt Millie and Uncle Ernie in Lafayette, IN.

Oakland Elementary. 5th grade. And there he was. My next great love, Mark Carrel. In Mr. Johnson’s class. A more angelic boy you’d never seen. Three days my senior, I was crazy, crazy, crazy about him.  I loved that he’d carry my books home every day. I wanted our walks to last forever.

We were so young, so innocent. I can remember our after school hours of playing hard kicking balls [or chasing fireflies] until we were called in for dinner. I’d think, “This must be what it means to be in love. Laughing and playing and walking home through life together.” Without so much as a hint of him even trying to steal a kiss, I loved Mark with all my heart.

Later that summer, I moved to Arizona to be with my family and Mark and I went on to become penpals. To this day, we still stay in touch and I still love him. I can only imagine what would have happened had I stayed in the ideallic hamlet of Lafayette… I undoubtedly would have ended up marrying that chivalrous boy next door … and we’d probably be chasing a whole collection of little fireflies of our own. (That said, Mark’s living happily ever after with the love of his life, Heather. They are a beautiful couple! Thank you, Mark, for being my friend nearly my entire life. You represent all that is good about childhood.)

From there my concepts of life and love became much more complicated. When I was 13 my father started showing the outward signs of being mentally unstable. Life became far more difficult and increasingly alarming for all of us. There was never any money. Dad couldn’t keep a job. He was angry all the time. And frightening to be around. For safety’s sake I knew better than to think of boys very much. I was far more interested in school and doing what was necessary in order to have a better life when I grew up.

The next love of my life came along when I was 16. Geno De Santa. A good Catholic boy. So sweet and brave and kind. That said, my father had already crossed the brink of insanity and he was more violent and brutal with each passing day. As the oldest, I was the one on the receiving end of the blunt force trauma. Geno, who came from a very loving family, attempted to protect me from my father but he was no physical match for a man who was possessed by powerful demonic forces. He was chased away by my father and as I watched him [reluctantly] leave, I felt as if my protector had been vanquished.

Geno holds a special place in my heart because during the time we cared for one another, I received the most brutal of three life-threatening beatings I would receive from my father. And it was during this particular beating that I made the decision that if I could make it out of my house (and childhood) alive, I would never ever be abused again. The precise moment the decision was made was one of my life-defining moments.

I was struck that it wasn’t made after the beating as one might expect. Nor was it made while I was licking my wounds over the next two weeks. It was made at the height of the beating with my back forced against the recliner and my father’s fist pummeling my face, loosening my teeth, blackening my eyes, bruising my body.

I am amazed that to this day I can remember the entire incident in stark detail but that I don’t remember the physical pain. I can only remember the calmness of my innerself. The 16 year old girl who was observing the incident in a-matter-of-fact sort of way. And all the while making a life defining decision, throughout the worse of the struggle, that would impact the rest of her life.

Afterwards, Geno and my two best girlfriends in high school (Mary McCabe and Pam Freund) held my hands while I healed from that beating. No criminal charges were filed against my father. No adults at my school said anything to me as I returned to school wearing dark sunglasses and sporting a black and blue body to match my blue and black uniform. It was 1973 and I guess people didn’t question how people treated their children. How far we’ve come since then.

Geno aside, a few months later, my father was in jail for committing a capital crime. Murder in the first degree. He was never a free man again. When he was convicted I said a silent prayer for it was then that I realized I was going to make it out of my house alive. I was 16 and free to choose a better life for myself. And I knew, for certain, that I would only choose to love men who loved me and cherished me and protected me. As a woman in her 50’s looking back on how her life has turned out, I realize being lucky in love didn’t happen by accident. It was a choice made for me by a 16 year old girl.

When I was a child, I loved as a child. But I loved wisely. And I am very blessed by my priceless childlike love relationships with both Mark and Geno.

As an adult, I’ve been deeply in love three times. All three are  wonderful men. I married the best of them.

I share this story with you today for one reason. It makes me very sad to see people suffering so when it comes to unhealthy and toxic relationships. Especially when those relationships are do-it-to-yourself situations.

We have two choices in life. Healthy relationships or unhealthy ones. If you’re in a healthy relationship, I’m rejoicing with you. If it’s unhealthy, we can either say, “Because of my past, I am going to keep choosing bad relationships.” Or we can say, “If I can get out of this relationship alive, I will never EVER be involved in a bad relationship again! I choose to be honored, loved, cherished and protected. I will love deeply and be loved deeply in return.” It’s as simple as that.

As one adult speaking to another, I assure you, once the decision is made, you will find the world is full of people willing to love you on your terms. From experience, our world is filled with good and honorable men and women waiting to love and be loved. This 16 year old girl knows, first hand, that you can make a decision to choose wisely. Claim what is yours, and then make it happen.

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The love of my life, Bob Samuelson. His love has made my life worth living. (Thank you, Darling, for being more wonderful than the dreams I dreamed as a child. And, thank you, too, for being the man I needed most to heal my heart and soul. As a woman, you are what love looks like to me. I love you. On purpose and by design.)