When Different Worlds Collide

My husband is one of the people I admire most in this world. Sometimes with everything I’ve been through, I forget just what his life was like growing up. He’s not one to talk much, but once in a while, I get a glimpse of his child and young adulthood. It helps that I’ve known him since I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Our story reads somewhat like a novel. We grew up in two different worlds that somehow managed to collide. I grew up in a great neighborhood surrounded by family; aunts uncles, grandparents and cousins all just down the street or around the block. I went to church every Sunday, enjoyed large family gatherings, hot meals on the table every night and some rather strict rules about where I walked or rode my bike and when I was expected home. We had a pool in the backyard and my grandparents and parents owned cottages on two different lakes, places where we got together with family and made treasured memories. He grew up in the capital city, in a few different very rough neighborhoods. When he visited the same lakes, it was with a bunch of friends, perhaps in a stolen or unregistered car, to get away from the city heat and take a swim. That’s not where I met him though. I met him in the back of a newly constructed mall, a great place to go and hang out for a few hours until my dad picked me up (if my dad thought I was doing anything other than shopping he would have never let me go). As I was growing up with love and comfort, he was growing up with hate and prejudice; at least from his dad. He picked up his first cigarette when he was six or seven. He used to accompany his father (not by choice), who was an oil burner service man, to various residences. His father taught him at a very young age that if he wanted something, he should take it. They were poor, so his father would search the basements of the homes he worked in, for what he felt people had hidden away and according to him “forgot about,” and therefore didn’t need anyway. I remember him telling me about the one and only time his father took a ring to give to his wife (I have no idea why, if he loved her he certainly had a bizarre way of showing it) and was caught and had to take it back from her (of course she had no idea it was stolen) to return, or face arrest. Beside that one time, he was never caught. He was a mean and hateful man who filled their tiny apartment with guns (and even a few grenades, as he was obsessed with weapons) in easy reach of all five kids. His mother was strong, she would try her best to keep the family safe and together. He told me of a time when he was little, that she made Sunday dinner and she and the kids went off to church only to come home and find that his father had dumped the entire dinner in the trash. His father drank and thought nothing of hitting his wife and kids (except one daughter and there are unspoken suspicions as to why he favored her). My husband would be told to steer the car and work the pedals when he was old enough, while sitting on his father’s lap, so his father wouldn’t be caught driving drunk. His dad would take him to the dump with his uncle to shoot rats, as a pastime. My husband hated his father and loved his mom and siblings. All the girls in the family learned to “hold their own” in a fight, as did the boys. My husband is five foot four and would never back down from a fight no matter what size the other guy was. His father eventually took off, leaving his mom with five kids. The way he tells it, he and his brother were getting older and if he stayed, my husband would have eventually killed him. He was a cruel and viscous man who went on to marry another women and father more children until he died in his forties of a massive heart attack. By that time, the damage was done. His mom hopped on welfare (her only option with five kids) but was determined to use it only for a short time to get on her feet and began taking classes and found a job at a bank. It was hard though, for her to supervise all five kids and hold down a full time job, so my husband (and most of his siblings) ran the streets. His mom was one of the strongest people I know who raised her kids the best she could and no matter what they did as kids and young adults, they ended up with values and strong morals, it just took a while to get there. One night, while riding through a dark cemetery on his bike, on his way home, a man jumped out from behind a headstone and tried to grab my husband, he was about ten. Reacting in fear, he grabbed the screwdriver he carried to fix his bike and stabbed the man. He never looked back, he was petrified. I’m sure he didn’t kill him, just startled him enough to get away. At ten, I was watching Sunday night TV with my parents and siblings tucked into a warm house, I can’t even imagine riding my bike alone in the dark through a cemetery. My husband did his share of stealing and was very good at it. All the cops knew him, but could never catch him. Cars were his thing, he could steal a car from anywhere, take it for a joyride or hold into it for a few days and dump it later. He’s been in a number of police chases, but was never caught. He sounds like a horrible person, but he’s not. You have to remember, he was taught when he was little, over and over by a very controlling man, if you want something, take it. He never committed a crime against a person, carried a gun, and only fought when he had to. Eventually he was “ratted out” by a so called friend, and took his punishment like a man, doing about a year or so in jail. The man I’m describing, despite everything he’s been through, is the kindest, big hearted and moral man I know. He gives back every chance he gets by helping the homeless, his friends and family. He is loyal beyond loyal. He has saved my life more than once, by just being my friend. During my twin sister’s divorce, he would randomly stop by to check on her, always offering her extra money for groceries or whatever she needed. He adores my kids (as well as my nieces and nephews) and would do absolutely anything for them. He has faith, believes in God and knows he’s been forgiven. He never thought he would live past eighteen, so every day is a gift to him. His siblings are all successful (with the exception of the one that was dad’s favorite, not surprisingly, she’s pretty screwed up). About five months ago, he and all his siblings, some living in other states, never left their mom’s bedside in hospice, as she lost her life to cancer. My husband has been beaten by the police, his father, people in the tough neighborhoods he lived in and by life in general. He goes to work every day as a mason (and a great one), he pays the bills and never says no when I ask him for something. Ironically, he does not value “material things” and will wear a shirt until it falls off his back, yet wouldn’t deny me money for a pair of boots to add to the fifty or so I already have. He doesn’t have a high school education but is one of the smartest people I know. He has more common sense than some people with multiple degrees. Throughout  my life and the “tough times” I thought I had, he has always been my friend. He’s protected me, so much so that when we dated, he wouldn’t let me drive into his neighborhood alone and would walk to a safe place to meet me. He would reach under the hood of my car and do something unknown to me, so my car wouldn’t be stolen when I spent the night at his apartment and leave the light on all night in the bathroom, so I wouldn’t be frightened of the cockroaches that would scatter if I turned on the light in a dark bathroom. As a matter of fact, that’s how we met, with him trying to protect me from his best friend’s brother who I was infatuated with and had a reputation of using young girls. He’s flushed a large amount of drugs down the toilet because he saw where he was headed if he didn’t. He respects me and my family. Sometimes when I think of the things he’s experienced and the life he’s led (and I haven’t even written the half of it here), I wonder how we managed to connect. We were truly worlds apart. When I was still a little girl, he was already a man. He’s never laid a hand on a woman and has no respect for anyone who does. His friends are his friends for life, me being lucky enough to be one. As I write this it sounds like I make a lot of excuses for his behavior in his younger years, the funny thing, he NEVER does. He despises his father to this day, but never blames him for his own actions. He knows what it means to truly take responsibility. He is living proof that anyone can overcome and change. There is no doubt in my mind that God was working when he put two people living in different worlds together. We would loose touch for periods of time, but we always managed to connect somehow. He has always called me his princess. We got married last Christmas Eve in front of a few family members and friends. I knew he would be nervous, and being a man of few words, I typed about two lines of vows. When it came time to say them, I panicked, he did not have the paper I typed. He choose not to read what I wrote, but instead to speak from the heart. This is one line from what he said “you have always been my princess and tonight, I’d like to make you my queen.” Yup, I think I’ll keep him.

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