JR and I spent a considerable amount of time together. He was my first love, a love that set the pattern for what I was to expect from love in all my future relationships. Which, unfortunately for me, was not a good pattern at all.
JR was the youngest son of a Jehovah's Witness elder (the equivalent of a priest or pastor). His mother can only be described as a "Christian martyr" who spent most of her time, when not working, preaching the "good news" of an impending Armageddon to her neighbors. The rest of her time was spent keeping house.
JR's father was an abusive man. He would often get into fist fights with his teenage son or threaten him with a baseball bat. He and JR's mother slept in separate rooms; his father even kept a lock on his bedroom door.
From the outside it appeared that this was a "spiritual" JW family; a family to be emulated. But on the inside it was obvious that nothing could be further from the truth. The first time I went to JR's house for a family dinner, I was struck by the tension in the air. It was cold and sharp as if a Winter breeze filled the whole house. As much as I bitch about my upbringing, the home I grew up in was a warm and inviting one. It felt safe and secure. JR's did not. There was always a feeling that something was about to go horribly awry. And it did. It always did.
I remember one typical family dinner where JR's father got into a verbal spar with his wife about how distasteful he found the meal she'd made that night. I'd never seen such a display of malice between spouses. It frightened me. And if I'd known any better, I would have left that house and never returned. But I was in shock. And that shock kept me pinned to my seat, looking at JR to save me from this uncomfortable situation. He didn't. He was as numb as I was. So I sat there and finished my dinner while JR's parents continued yelling at each other.
Over the four years JR and I were together I became the target of the rage he felt towards his parents. I would get almost daily phone calls from JR, often drunk, that he'd been kicked out of the house and was contemplating suicide, or worse, leaving the religion. I spent most of my teen years playing JR's therapist, talking him through another day, while crying alone at night. But JR was not appreciative of my efforts. I remember so many conversations that would end with him saying, "Game Over. You LOSE!" As if every conversation we had was a mind game where he had to be in complete control.
But I loved him. Or at least I thought that love meant sticking around to help someone when they were down, even to your own detriment. You see, I was in love with JR's potential. I thought that if I just loved him enough, he'd turn into this kind person who could love me back. I even thought to myself "Just stick it out. Armageddon is almost here. And after that, God will make him into a better person. All his flaws will disappear." But Armageddon never came. And God didn't make JR into a better person. And JR wasn't making himself into a better person. And I was coming undone.
As I approached my 18th birthday, I broke up with JR. I would like to say that the damage ended there. But I had stayed too long. The mindfuck I'd endured exposed to JR and his crazy family had wormed its way deep into my psyche. Some days I still feel that cold shiver that pervaded that house run through me, like ice.
In all of my relationships with men since I have fallen in love with their potential and not the reality of who they are. I see what might be, not what is. And it has cost me, time and time again. While I may not have been waiting for God to wave some cosmic magic wand and make the man I love into a person who can fully love me back, I have hung on to wisps of hope that somehow, some way, things are going to change. But they don't. They just don't. People are who they are and when they show you who they are, you should pay attention.
What ever became of JR? Well, the last time I saw him was at his wedding some 6 years ago. He was tall and thin and handsome, just as I remembered him. But nothing really had changed in him. I was close to his niece then who informed me that JR was as abusive and crazy as he'd ever been, perhaps even worse now. I took no delight in this, although I was glad that it wasn't me joining him as wife. JR had wreaked his havoc on my life but at least he would be able to do it no more. In that I took solace.
But the most memorable moment of JR's wedding occurred when his father and I shared a dance.
“Who invited you this evening?” JR's father asked me.
“Your son,” I replied.
“I think he still has a soft spot for you in his heart. I always thought it would be the two of you getting married.”
“No thanks,” I said. He looked surprised. “Your son wasn’t very nice to me,” I said, strangely calm.
“You never said anything to me,” he said with a tone of empathy in his voice, something I had heard little of in the time I'd known him. Age and time seemed to have mellowed him in a way I couldn't predict.
“What was I supposed to say?” I replied.
“Hmmm…I guess I had something to do with that," he stated, with a glint of regret in his eye. "I wasn’t there for JR. I worked a lot. We didn’t get along.”
“I know,” I said, “I know.”
“So why did you come tonight? Why didn’t you just tell JR to go jump in the lake?” he mused, laughing.
“Some chapters need to be closed,” I said, with a surprising confidence. He looked at me and nodded without saying another word.
Later in the evening as I prepared to leave, it was JR's father that met me to say goodbye. He shook my hand, hugged me and whispered into my ear, “You told me the truth tonight. I’m glad you did.”
They say that the truth sets you free. I don't know about that. But once in a while, if you're lucky, it lets you experience a moment of grace where the past doesn't seem as suffocating as it once was. And perhaps, that is enough.