My Twenty First

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

I stopped celebrating birthdays.  Now, I celebrate when I turned forty-nine.  Next Tuesday will my twenty-first anniversary of that day.
I look back on many such celebrations.  I think about the anniversaries and the ones I simply called my birthday.  My grandmother celebrated anniversaries for many years.  I think she celebrated turning forty-nine for thirty years.  She called it bicycling backwards.  She would say that age is a scorecard for some, an excuse for others, and a reason to rebel for others.  She was the rebel; How did you guess?
The first birthday I celebrated was my sixth.  It fell on Easter Sunday and taught me a great deal about living in a loving home and being loved by all those around me.
As I face my twenty-first anniversary I remember my twenty-first birthday.  It was on a Friday.  April 21, 1972.  My husband and I were living in Oklahoma City.  The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, by Roberta Flack, was playing on the radio.  Bruce and I had been married almost three years.
We had been and still were very much in love with one another.  We were both virgins when we married and discovered how to love one another together.  Each day it seemed we learned to love each other more than the day before.  We had been best friends in high school.  We met in the gifted program.  I had to take the class because (due to Daddy's work) we had to move almost every year.  I had already taken all the "senior" classes by the time I got to that school.  So, I was enrolled into the gifted classes to learn advanced literature and the arts.  Even after getting married, we were still best friends.
He was going to college to be a broadcast journalist.  Bruce had a rich, deep voice that I knew belonged to a future anchor for a national news program.  His voice I often called delicious.  I loved just listening to him. He was really excited about the news, president Nixon, etc.  He was a wonderful writer as well.  His scholarship would pay for one more year before he graduated.  He loved my birthdays because I was six months older than he was.  For six months he would tease me by calling me "his old lady", a term I hated.  He only called me that in private, so I guess I just pretended to get upset.  We had a one-bedroom apartment.  I had my dogs and I think a couple of cats back then.  His nickname for me was Daisy May because of the Beverly Hill Billies. I always had some critter to save.  We had a three speed bicycle for transportation.  I would ride on the handlebars to get to the campus each morning.  Then take the bike back to get to my work.  We were too much in love to feel deprived of anything.  As long as we were together, we were happy.
My grandmother is the one who saved our marriage.  Yes, we were in love.  I was working full time and working as a teachers assistant (to make extra money).  My sleep was necessary and important.  Bruce could snore so loud, when he stayed at the frat house, his housemates made him sleep in a room by himself.  His snoring was making it impossible for me to get any sleep at all.
 I went to my grandmother in tears.  How could I live with a man I could not stand to sleep with.  Sleep being the operative word.  We had no problem in the bedroom other than me being able to sleep there ... with him.  My grandmother gave me the best advice for any marriage.
She said that when you love someone you must learn to love the whole person.  When you learn to love the whole person, knit-picking stops. You cannot hope to have a successful marriage if you only love the good parts.  I took her words to heart. I started looking for good things about his snoring.  Soon I realized his snoring meant he was at peace and resting well.  I wanted him to have restful, peaceful sleep.  I began to love his snoring.  It got to the point that I could not fall asleep myself until I heard him start to snore.  Likewise, I told him about what my grandmother had said, and he bought two tubes of toothpaste.  Mine was the one that was squeezed in the middle.
We were both looking forward to my birthday.  I knew he was trying to get ready for finals as well as my birthday.  It was a special birthday too.  I would get to vote.  I could actually say, "I am of legal age."  Grandmother says that is all anyone needs to know.  In fact, she said that is the only answer to the question, "How old are you?"  That I ever have to say from my twenty-first birthday going forward.
I remember our one and only disagreement Bruce and I ever had.  And, even that was just a mistake.  I had been reading a science fiction novel one night while I was waiting for him to finish his last final and come home.  I was managing a fast food restaurant at the time.  He would always come pick me up to give me a ride home.  He had been teasing me about a new girl that had started to work there.  She was very pretty, and she had flirted with him earlier in the day.  He had made the statement that he would not mind getting locked in the walk-in with her.  I gave him a nasty look, and he assured me he was kidding.  He even said, it would take a deathly virus to make him stop loving me.
I had been reading a science fiction novel about viruses escaping from a lab.  I had just finished the chapter when all the viruses and germs got out of the lab.  I fell asleep.  In my dream Bruce had gone to the restaurant and gotten contaminated with the super bug and was in the cooler with this new girl.  He would not let me in.  I was so upset I threw my hands up.  The gesture woke me up, but just slightly awake.  Bruce had come home, and not wanting to wake me, had undressed and slipped into bed.  When I woke from my dream, I took my pillow and started beating him with it.  He instantly woke up, and we had our first and only fight... until he finally got me completely awake.  We both had a good laugh afterward.
Bruce had not told me his heart had started racing again.  He had his first ventricular tachycardia about three weeks after we first got married.  His heart was pumping so fast it could not pump blood.  This was during the time when the Vietnam War had forced the lottery on the nation.  Vance's lottery number had come up.  He was in college, but he was not taking enough hours to shield him from the draft.  I told him to go to the hospital ER and make sure someone recorded it while it was happening.  The idea was with this on his record, the military would not want him.  I sent him to the ER and I went to work.  The hospital called me at work and told me they had admitted Bruce.  He was in intensive care for several weeks.  He had test after test.  It seems he had rheumatic fever when he was very young.  It had damaged his heart.  He had been taking medication for it since that time.  I did not know he had stopped taking it after we got married.  He had decided since there had been no problems, he was sure he no longer needed the medication. He was released of course and did disqualify for the draft.  Once back on the medication all was well. We had also learned to use meditation to calm him until his heart returned to normal.  I did not realize until he had once again stopped taking the medication a week before my twenty-first birthday.
He had not told me his heart was racing.  We spent the day before my birthday, on a wonderfully romantic picnic.  He had served the peanut butter and jelly (grape) sandwiches.  We also had potato chips and cookies for dessert.  The only meal he knew how to make.  Thank goodness my grandmother had trained me well.  Even back then I knew how to cook.  He had written another poem for me.  We listened to the radio and just enjoyed each other's company.  I think we discussed all the world's problems in one afternoon.  We even danced barefoot in the kitchen.  We started with the twist and ended with a waltz.
He was very tired when we went to bed Thursday night.  We had spent a wonderful day together.  I woke up on Friday morning and realized he had snuggled up to me, with his head on my shoulder.  I opened my eyes and looked down on this man I loved with all my heart.  I leaned down to give him a kiss on his forehead and wake him up.  His body was cool to the touch.  He had just died.  I felt the last warm breath leave him like an unseen ghost. I held him for a long time.  The tears flowed.  I could not seem to let go.  I knew I would never be happy again.  The phone rang, it was my mother calling to wish me happy birthday.  I whispered, "Momma, today I am a widow."  I have learned a great deal during my short marriage with Bruce.  I had learned so very much about life itself.
I learned a great deal from Bruce, my marriage, and life during this time.  Bruce was twenty when he passed.  Life can be very short.  Cherish every single day as if it were the day before your last.  I learned to love the good and 'bad' until my love was for the whole person.  Love is empty if it only includes fair weather days.  I learned even the deepest pain can sometimes bring you peace when you think upon them.  I learned to enjoy the laughter because when it is all over that is what you want to remember the most.  I also learned that when your focus is on the love, the hardships are easier.  I also learned to wake up before you start beating your husband for something he did not do.  What once brought me pain now brings to gratitude for having Bruce in my life.


Submitted: April 18, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Texasjane. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:



A very sad memoir. Did Bruce have rheumatic fever? You wrote something else, perhaps understandably.

Sun, April 18th, 2021 3:13pm


Yes he did. I kept trying to remember what they had called it but could not. His heart would beat so fast it could not pump blood through it. It is a bitter-sweet memory. I still a prayer for him every birthday. Even when I was married to someone else (years later), I say a prayer for Bruce. I guess I needed to finally write it down. I was coming up on a twenty-first anniversary, and it made me think of my twenty-first birthday. Next Tuesday, I turn 70. It still makes me cry. Thank you for responding.

Sun, April 18th, 2021 8:47am

JE Falcon aka JEF

Parting is always sweet sorrow when true love in involved. May the memories linger as sweet as the words you have written, and know he'll always be with you.

Sun, April 18th, 2021 5:11pm


Thank you so much. I did not know then that I would be a widow three more times. I had 4 wonderful love affairs with my husbands. Not a bad one in the lot. Bruce was my first love. He has been gone a long time, but every birthday we spend a lot of time wrapped up in my dreams. I play the music and dance barefoot in the kitchen with a mop named Bruce. Thank you for your response.

Sun, April 18th, 2021 1:30pm

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