When I fell in love with him, I didn’t know he already had two wives, two families. I didn’t know much about love. I was a student of love, new to the world.
I first saw him over the white fence with the wires to keep the Irish Setters on his side of the fence, and when I met him I had mud on my new shiny leather black shoes and ankle socks that made me itch. I had jumped into the mud puddle the way the Robins jumped into the bird bath, forgetting it was Sunday and I was a well dressed child.
I had forgotten church and my white sweater.
Now I had to show my mother I had ruined everything, I was mud soaked. Why couldn’t I dress like my brothers, why did I have to climb trees in itchy fabric and have the barks of trees scratch my thighs?
I was afraid of my mother a little bit even then, the way she began to come into my bedroom sometimes and ask me to be her mother when I didn’t know how yet. Other times I nestled into mother like the bird who couldn’t fly yet. Sometimes I wore her missing feathers, they stuck to my sweaty summer skin.
This was not that day.
I squished and stomped across the half acre to where she was standing with him, and the cloud lifted off her face as I got closer, and she started to laugh at my mud soaked dress, my stained ankle socks, my ruined shoes.
And that’s when he put the box down he was carrying, his first gift to me and lifted me over the fence. His hard palms and thick fingers in my armpits, The box with the blonde doll with socks and shoes and a dress now on the ground. The gift of the doll was secondary to the new gift of his soul as my mud smeared all over his blue pants, his newly cleaned shirt.
He was the stream by my home, always there and always moving. He smelled of oil and grease and parts of cars seemed to sprout from his fix it body. I loved him that day, his smell, the creases in his neck, the way his gray hair lifted in the small wind, his thick, brick like body and being against it. Nobody had held me like him, nobody’s thighs were designed for my body like his.
Every Easter I spent hours, sometimes stayed up all night making him the perfect decorated egg, paint and glitter and magic -then I brought it to him, cupped into my hands and he marveled at it as if it was the only egg in the world, as if every problem we both had would disappear in the hatching of love.
He taught me to swim, said he wouldn’t let go and then he did let go, but I didn’t sink, instead I grew fins.
When I didn’t talk, he never asked me to talk. He didn’t hold up flash card pictures. We sat together in silence, with what poet Robert Bly calls the Third Body between us, under the crab apple tree, petting the dogs, watching the blue jays knock eggs out of the Robin’s nests, the cruelty of nature and the beauty side by side. When I was old enough, maybe nine, he introduced me to the rabbi who survived the holocaust.
Finally, when everyone was sure something was wrong with me for not talking, he taught me how to talk by teaching me how to read.
It was summer, we were in a metal lawn chair with blue paint peeling off and dogs at our feet. That summer, I learned to put sounds together to form words, and through the stories of others, I learned to speak.
When I was nine years old my mother told me the truth about him, about the two wives, the two families.
She said he was a terrible man, a liar, and I couldn’t see him anymore. I cried for lifetimes in my pink bedroom, I cried back to the beginning of time, as if he had betrayed me, but like letting go in the pool, he had not let me down, though he was as far as the moon then, and just a yard away. I could smell his heartache, and I knew our hearts beat in sync, no matter where he was, no matter which family he chose, we would forever be in sync.
Before I learned the truth about him, he took me to Wildwood New Jersey to the public swimming pool in summer because by now I was a fish, and the woman who checked our tags told him he had a beautiful daughter. He pulled me closer and said Thank you.
He was my father and my husband, my soul mate and my first friend, my mentor and my thick bodied angel on earth.
Later, when I told my mother I would have been his third wife, she slapped me.
But I had married him that day he taught me words would take me to another world, a safer world. Story saved me in his lap, when I was four years old. Between us was our Third Body, the spirit that brought us together.
Now, I never see loving two people as a crime.
Yes, the first man I loved had two families, my mother’s best friend and another wife in another city close by. My mother shamed him. But this man never turned away from hurt or the hard work of love. I understand now he was multiplying love and I was the recipient of his multiplication.
Both women were at his bedside twenty years later when he died, but by then I had stopped making eggs with glitter, I was in my selfish years.
This day, on Valentine’s Day, I honor the third body that brings all of us together. The spirit glue that stands between the people we meet who forever shape us, even in their flaws. Even in our flaws.
Every Easter I make a special hard boiled, decorated egg for him and I leave it in the moonlight, with glitter and paint and passion.
Dear Russ, your name still lives on my lips, the worlds of possibility you opened for me now live inside me and inside others. Every time I read a poem or write an essay, I know I am writing to you, honoring the love that shaped me into the woman I am today.
On Valentines Day I honor my guardian angel, the first man I loved who had more than enough love for everyone.
“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.”
Keep spreading the love. I know you will.
An invitation to write: Write about the Third Body
The poem “A Third Body” by Robert Bly is one of my best-loved poems. The man and woman in the poem do not long for anything other than what they have in this moment. Content to be where it is, not leap out, not seek. Rumi write a lot of this quality of being in union in this way. The flavor of the third body comes into every union. The nature of love itself is a sacrament. When two people are in union, be it a mother and a child, friends or a couple, they feel each other through the “third body” that exists between them.
The Third Body is a shared presence, a connection of two souls. Through the third body, we are asking another to share our journey – a partner, a friend, a child. There is no greater invitation in the world.
Your Story: Write about the Third Body of a union, that spiritual connection between you and another person when you no longer longed for more, when things were at their most perfect.
For a deeper memoir exploration through the Hero’s Journey, take Laura’s 12-week workshop in a workbook with STORYquest, the Writer, the Hero, the Journey.