William Staley’s first girlfriend, a bonnie blonde named Leesa, broke his heart when she dumped him on the playground for a taller and stronger schoolmate. William ran home after school crying and told his mother that he’d NEVER love again and NEVER find anyone as good as Leesa. He was ten at the time. His mother gave her young son some sage advice. She said, “Make a list of the qualities that you like in a girl, and when you meet the right one, you’ll know it from your list.”
William took her advice and made a list of all the qualities he wanted in a girl:
1. Must be able to climb trees
2. Likes Hot Wheels
3. Good at math
4. Long hair
Staring at the list, he realized he’d just made a list of all of the features he’d found so endearing in Leesa. Sobbing and picturing her with their tall schoolmate, he ripped the list into a thousand pieces and threw them like confetti on his own sad parade.
William’s physical stature finally caught up to the rest of the boys in high school. During those formative years he fell in and out of love as often as the Dukes of Hazard crashed their muscle cars. He continued writing lists, crossing off features as they fell out of favor and adding on delightful new discoveries. Towards the end of his senior year, many bouts of “true love” were placed by “truer loves” and his list had changed a lot:
1. Can ride a ten speed
2. Smells nice
3. Has long hair, preferably blonde
6. Really smart
7. Wants kids
9. Has her driver’s license/ likes Dukes of Hazard
10. Can’t beat me in a fight
Off to college young William went, where he disocvered a whole new world of women. Worldly women – exotic women. He tasted the soft lips of a short woman with jet black hair from Taiwan, brushed tears aside on a homesick lovely from Bombay, India, and for a while dated a feisty woman from South Africa whose succulent skin glistened as she kicked his butt on the track and field.
With his lips whetted from the flavors of the world, his list also changed to reflect his maturing tastes:
1. Loves to travel
2. Smells nice
5. Likes ADVENTURE!
7. Has big boobs
8. Long legs
10. Wants a family but NOT RIGHT NOW!
And so on it went. William fancied himself a lover, not a fighter, and threw himself headfirst into every relationship, fancying that he was learning bits about himself and the world along the way. Invariably the heaviness of his “care” smothered most women and drove them away, and William used these times of great suffering to be introspective and learn about himself, all the while composing what he thought was tragic poetry and/or music lyric whose anguish would some day, no doubt, be the words spouted by future Romeos and Juliets around the world.
William graduated and took a job working in the financial industry. He viewed himself as a tragic Don Quixote, completely missing his own irony of a man who held a stable job with a clearly delineated career path had to schedule himself black days in which he brooded and didn’t leave his bed, fueling his angst and inner artist. He was convinced the great love poem lay inside of him, if only he could subject himself to enough tragedy to really feel it, and the words would then flow. Or if not a poem, then surely a sonnet. Or a play. Or a novel or even a TV mini-series!
Always pursuing the end goal, he never really thought about the women he was chasing, catching, and then losing along the way. He remembered each of them vividly – Lucretia with her Afro and drooping eyes that would laugh at him as her gazelle legs left him in the dust, Rajesha with her supple skin and small dimple on one side, Chin with the small bump on her nose he liked to run his finger down, Amy with her soft blonde curls who liked to read plays, Emma with the faint smattering of freckles across her nose who wanted to be a ballerina. But if you’d asked him what their dreams were, or what frightened them, William would have found himself at a loss to say. He remembered how they affected him, and the outcome of the relationship (always dramatic, always bad), but not much about who they were.
William was twenty seven years old when, for the first time in his life, he found himself alone, sans relationship, for a stretch of more than six months. Half a year was normally about as long as he would brood, suffer in his pain, write, and then crave more drama. Until this day when he got a call from his father Henry, that William’s beloved mother had passed away the night before.
William was stunned. His mother hadn’t been sick a day in her life. His father sounded far away and hollow on the phone, a man he didn’t really know. A man who was lost without his wife and had suddenly found himself alone in a strange world. She had been the family’s anchor and cheerleader. She was the glue. Without her, William realized that his father was a stranger to him.
He flew home the following day and together his father and he awkwardly went about preparing for a funeral, for which they were humanly and emotionally unprepared. Two foreigners in a house that no longer felt like either one’s without their shared love of mother and wife binding them together. Other family members and friends came and murmured condolences, leaving casseroles on the table for the unfortunate bachelors; they nodded mutely and each snuck sly sideways glances at the strange man across the room. Neither had found the time or energy to cry yet.
“William vowed to honor [his mother’s] memory by getting to know his father better and all the things about him that she had put onto her list.”
“William, could you help me go through her things? I don’t think I can do this alone.” William’s father sounded hopeless.
Together they stepped into the bedroom, and stifled their own grief to tackle the distasteful task in front of them. William could smell his mother in this room, this same house where he’d bawled about his love life and shared his triumphs with his mother. The void she’d left was almost palpable and couldn’t be filled by her things.
Silently William’s father took the more intimate clothes and lingerie drawers, and William opened the closet door to deal with the mess of dresses and hats and shoes that awaited him. Slowly and methodically the two men worked in silence, gently piling and inelegantly folding the clothes that had so recently encased her. Lost in their own grief and memories, the two men did not speak a word.
William stood on his tiptoes and pulled down the last of the shoe boxes that were piled precariously on the top shelf. The box came tumbling down and he realized it was empty. A lone piece of paper fluttered out and William picked it up curiously. He recognized his mother’s handwriting and held the list in front of him. He was still holding it minutes later when he finally broke down and cried for his mother.
He read the list:
1. A good heart
2. A full head of hair
3. A decent job
4. Comes home at night
5. Doesn’t drink too much
6. Doesn’t swear
7. Has goals, doesn’t just watch TV every night
8. Goes to church
10. Treats our children with respect
Suddenly he understood. The list wasn’t about matching qualities to find the perfect mate. The perfect partner would have qualities that mattered and made her unique. He realized he didn’t really know his father Henry all that well, but that he was everything that his mother had wanted, and so much more, and William vowed to honor her memory by getting to know his father better and all the things she had put about him onto her list.
Over the years William and his father Henry have become close. William ripped up his list, and married a wonderful girl he met in the park – a divorced woman with no college degree, who’d never left the state and who had a child from her first marriage. All things he would never have allowed himself to fall in love with had he stuck to his “list.” They have been married for almost ten years and have two more beautiful children, one of whom looks an awful lot like his mother….
Thank you William, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Kristen Kuhns and Story of My Life®