I have been reading a box of letters I've carried around, unread, for 35 years.

It's a love story and it's beautiful and makes me cry. All of them are from my mom (Mary) to my dad (John) who was in Viet Nam that year (1968). Mom had left her abusive husband (with Johnny's help) and was waiting for him to return so they could marry and start their life together.

I wish I had Johnny's side of the letters, but I only have mom's. She was 28, had three little girls and no money. The letters detail her struggle to survive, her battle for a divorce from her ex and her longing for Johnny. She wrote nearly every day for nine months. They also sent tapes, though those have not survived.

She tells her daily life with three small children. She sent children's drawings and a list of the first words I learned to read. She tells him how important it is that he survive. Always, how much she needs him and the life they will create together.

I was there. I was 6 and I remember this. I remember mom crying all the time, not having enough food, bill collectors pounding on the door and her hiding from them, the red white and blue letters from John... soo much coming back to me.

It's an amazing story. It does remind me that romance novels drive me crazy because "happy endings" depend on where you end. If you stop when he comes back, marries "us" (he said that), carries us off to our new home in Oklahoma, and they have another baby, then it's a happy ending.

Problem is that the happy ended 6 years later when a hit and run driver killed him.

Mom went through a grief purge in 1976 and tried to throw away all of his stuff. I managed to save a lot. I remember finding the letters and deciding not to read them but to save them for the future. I carried that box of letters around for the next 35 years, knowing that when mom died, I would read them.

These letters are such an amazing window into the past. I've always planned to write a book about mom's life.

After he died, mom became an activist. She changed the world in so many ways, saved so many women's lives, both individually and through the changes she helped bring about. She never remarried. On her deathbed she was talking about how now she would "go dancing with Johnny" again.

It makes me cry for her again.

My husbands say it's why I have a thing for tragic angsty romances. And why I still like to give them a happy ending no matter how much bad happens. Someday though, I will write the story where one dies and write about grief.

It's so important but most love stories don't write about surviving that kind of loss. Even most tragic love stories have both of them die, like Romeo & Juliet. The really hard thing is honoring the person by going on.  Mom did it for us - four children.

When dad died, my aunt sent my mom a bouquet of six roses - one for each precious year they had together.

Remember that makes my tear up every time. Those six years though - they were worth it. They saved us. They taught me it could happen, that love like that was real.


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