Sunday, May 14, 2006

Thoughts of Mothers' Day, and the Guy Who Loved Her Too

It's Mother's Day. I'm thinking of my own mom, and of my wife, the mother of my son.

She can be tough as nails, yet inside lies a tender heart, and a little girl's sense of wonder. She's one of the bravest people I've ever known, and a mere kiss on my cheek from her still seems to travel straight to my soul.

I'm also thinking of Wade Harter, who died thirty summers ago.

When Rhonda and I started dating during our senior year in high school, Wade Harter, a friend to us both, confessed to me that he'd been in love with Rhonda since he'd first met her. It was a strange moment, but Wade was such an earnest, honest, stand-up guy that the episode really didn't live up to its potential for awkwardness.

Rhonda loved him too, but not in that way. I already knew that.

Wade came from a poor family, and had no hope of attending college through any help from his parents. He carried college prep classes, worked thirty-six hours a week after school and on weekends, and was an overachieving average-sized guy on the football team. Despite a country-bumpkin demeanor, he was smart both in the academic and practical sense. He was also one of the genuinely warmest, kindest, and funniest people I've ever met in my life. He was the sort of guy who would drop everything to help someone out, despite the fact that he hardly had enough spare time to blow his nose.

I expected that Wade and I would no longer be friends. I was wrong. Wade, being the special man he was, stayed friends with Rhonda, and with me. At one point, I remember being worried that I would somehow ruin the developing relationship with Rhonda by overthinking things. It was Wade who reassured me and bolstered my confidence, all the while with a hurt look in his eyes. I was lucky to keep him as a friend. I was lucky that he happened to like the guy who'd won the heart of the girl he loved.

I went off to Army flight training a few months after graduating from high school. It's an old, sad story: boy gets girl, boy goes into military, boy loses girl. It wasn't long before things grew strained between Rhonda and me. We tried to hold on to what we had, but then came horrible news.

Wade had secured a full-ride scholarship at the University of Wyoming. It was his dream come true, as he wanted to live the rest of his days in Wyoming. But then, on the Fourth of July, between his sophomore and junior years, a drunk driver crossed over a double yellow line and slammed into Wade's car. Wade was killed instantly.

Wade's death seemed to dissolve the remaining glue that held Rhonda and me together. We'd already broken up, but after Wade's death, we talked less and less. Soon, we would simply stop talking.

The feelings between us didn't disappear, though. Rhonda and I saw each other again in 1993, eighteen years after breaking up, and we married five months later.

Hey, sometimes I still don't believe it.

So now, I wish my wife, and all the mothers out there, a Happy Mother's Day. Our little boy will soon turn six, and I cannot think of a mother alive who has showered more love on a child. I'm thankful that she fell in love with me back in 1974, and not the guy who I know in my heart was the better man.

As for me, I think of myself as a good husband, and a good father, but I hope that someday I'll be as good a man as Wade Harter.

That's a tall order.

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