Deanna: A Story of Love and Change
© 1997, 2017, All Rights Reserved
By Ken K. Gourdin
December 29-January 15
Rodrigo Lopez (Rod, to his friends) though he wasn’t tall, was lean and muscular. Though a somewhat weathered face and calloused hands revealed someone who was no stranger to hard work, his dark, deep-set eyes revealed a quiet, keen perceptiveness and intelligence. Though he was somewhat quiet, he was neither unassuming nor afraid of making his views known forthrightly when he felt the occasion called for it. He didn’t volunteer much about how he felt about my relationship with his daughter, and I wouldn’t necessarily have blamed him if he had wondered whether I was right for her. Though there would be times to come in which I would wonder whether his acceptance was moot because his daughter’s “acceptance” of me was in question, his acceptance came tacitly, and with time.
Bonita Lopez (Bonnie, to her friends) sported the deep tan of someone who spent considerable time outdoors, both for work and for play, with blue eyes and sandy-blond hair. More forthright and freely spoken than her husband, she was more of an open book, volunteering information she felt relevant as the occasion warranted. Interestingly, though, on the subject of whether I was right for her daughter, she was, perhaps, even more reserved than her husband. While she certainly didn’t intend to convey the message that the task would be impossible, winning her over would take effort on my part.
I met her dad, Rod, for the first time on December 29th. Most of the time he’s a quiet man, but he has a good spirit about him. Deanna told me he’s not very demonstrative when expressing his feelings. Sometimes that’s hard on the women in his life, who are exactly the opposite. Still, I got the impression that it’s important for him to look out for his family, and even though he might not show it very often, you know he loves them.
I’d met her mom, Bonnie, briefly when she’d come up for the University’s Mother’s Weekend, but that meeting had consisted of a “Hello, nice to meet you,” and then a “Goodbye, nice meeting you.” When I met her for the second time, though, I found that Mrs. Lopez was the kind of person who could make friends with the devil himself if it weren’t for just one thing: He wouldn’t let her.
* * *
After they’d given me a chance to get settled in, I showed them the video tape I had made introducing them to my family, giving them a tour of the house, and subjecting them to my off-key, off-beat rendition of Unchained Melody, which, of course, was dedicated to Deanna.
“You’ve got a nice family. They all seem like really down-to-earth people,” Mrs. Lopez commented.
Deanna and I traded invitations for dates. She gave me two teddy bears. The first was a small, dark brown one with a heart glued to his chest and a note attached which said, “Here’s my heart. It’s real, it’s fragile, and it’s yours. I love you.” The second was a larger, light brown one with a note which asked, “Won’t you please go to the Preference Dance with me? Love, Deanna.”
“You want me to go to Pref with the bear?” I asked.
We laughed, and she said, “No, the bear wants you to go to Pref with me.”
“Oh. In that case, I accept.”
“And as long as we’re on the subject, there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you,” I said.
“Go for it.”
“Okay. I was going to recite this for you on bended knee in front of your LDS Institute class, but since your parents haven’t ever seen one of my life performances either, they’re an even better audience.” I should have been less eager and more nervous, but, fools rush in . . .
I got down on one knee, took her hand in mine, and looked over at her parents. “Are you ready, Mr. and Mrs. Lopez?”
“Ready when you are,” Mrs. Lopez answered. And I began:
May I pose a question for your consideration?
I wait for the answer in anticipation.
If you listen well, I’ll tell you my desire.
I’ll tell you the lone wish to which I do aspire.
It’s not for lands or mansions, or territories broad.
In comparison to this, all those would be a fraud.
It’s not for thrones to rule on, or subjects to my reign.
In comparison to this, all those I would disdain.
It’s not for maids or servants to hear my beckon call.
In comparison to this, those matter not at all.
None of these would fit the bill to quench my lone desire.
Then if not these, what would it be? Have I led you to inquire?
Now I’ll proceed to answer the question in your mind.
I’ll try to do so quickly, so as not to be unkind.
I can see it in your eyes—that you’ve grown tired of waiting,
So now I’ll ask the question that you’re anticipating.
Deanna L., so fair, so fair, so fine, will you be my Valentine?
I know you’re the fairest of them all.
Will you go with me to the Sweetheart Ball?
February 12th is the night of the dance,
So tell me, Dee Dee Baby, will you take this chance?
The early bird may get a worm if that’s the best he can do,
But there’s never been a bird that ever had a chance
to get someone like YOU!
“Well?” I asked when I finished, waiting on bended knee.
“Absolutely,” she said.
But there would be a lot of history yet to be lived before either the Preference Dance or the Sweetheart Ball.
* * *
I could easily understand why Deanna’s parents wouldn’t want to warm up to me too easily. They had seen plenty of apples which looked good on the outside only to have worms on the inside. I decided they could look all they wanted to at this apple, they were never going to find a worm. Even without having met any of them, I already knew that I was head-and-shoulders above all of the men in Deanna’s previous relationships. Her parents might not have wanted to admit it, but they knew that, too.
I did get an inkling of how they felt about me twice, though. One morning before Deanna had gotten up, Mrs. Lopez and I were talking while she made breakfast, and I asked her, “Ma’am,” may I have your permission to speak freely?”
“Of course,” she assured me. “What’s on your mind.”
“What do you think of me—of us? I mean, what do you think of our relationship?”
“Well, Eric,” she said, “Deanna’s still young.” Translation: Don’t get too involved with my daughter. “But you have been good for her.” Translation: If nothing else, you have convinced Deanna, her father, and me that even today, the word “man” isn’t always a synonymous with the term “pond scum.”
The second occasion was a candlelight dinner we had with her family New Year’s Eve. In the back of my mind, I had wondered if Deanna hadn’t more-or-less orchestrated my being there without the express blessing of her parents. But among the thanks given in the blessing on the food by her mom was, “We’re grateful to have Eric in our home.”
Even though it was a small thing, it did a lot to put me at ease. I mean, even people who are trying to hide their true feelings behind a gracious mask wouldn’t lie to Heavenly Father in a prayer, would they?
Other than at mealtimes and some other activities during the evenings with her family, Deanna and I spent the vast majority of our time together, talking, laughing, listening to music, reading scriptures and other books, and playing games. We had a great time, and I thought I made a great impression on her family.
* * *
We’d booked a flight together back up to Salt Lake, then I would drive us back to school. She was quiet the whole trip. By then I had known her long enough to know when to feel comfortable about her silence and when to feel uncomfortable, and I felt uncomfortable.
I tried to make small talk both on the flight and on the drive, but I would have had better luck getting a corpse to talk to me. I don’t think she said more than a dozen words any time she opened her mouth. I could tell that her mind was working furiously over something—and perhaps her heart was doing the same. I knew that when we got back, she would probably tell me, “We need to talk”—and deep down, I knew what we would talk about and what she would say about it.
Just when you think you know where you stand with a woman, she’ll tell you that you don’t, I told myself. You’ve done it again, Jensen. Your problem is that you want way too much, way too fast.
The trouble was that I didn’t think I was misinterpreting any of the signals she was giving me, was I? No, but whether she knew what she wanted from me was another question entirely, and I don’t think she did.
When we got back to the University, we went for a walk.
“I’m still a little girl in many ways,” she told me. “I have a lot of growing up to do, and I don’t want to limit that growth by becoming too attached to any one person.”
Her mother’s words came echoing back to me, along with what she hadn’t actually said but had clearly implied: Deanna’s still young . . . Don’t get to involved with her . . .
Deanna continued, “I need to see other people, and I want you to see other people.”
I sighed. Just when you think you know where you stand with a woman . . . Since her mind was already made up, there was only one thing left for me to say. I agreed—reluctantly: “Okay,” I said—but I was sore, and she knew it. Neither one of us said anything for several minutes while we continued to walk and I tried to sort out my feelings.
I thought you felt the same way about me as I felt about you. You told me so yourself—didn’t you? Have you changed your mind?
Then I realized that even though she still felt the same about me as I felt about her, if we were both to act on those feelings there would have been only one thing for us to do, and neither one of us was ready for that. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that intimacy is a serious thing, one which should be preceded by an equally-serious commitment: marriage. We had known one another for about four months, and neither one of us was ready for either of those things.
“So what you’re saying,” I ventured tentatively, “is that you’re not ready to make a commitment which matches what you feel for me?”
She sighed with relief. “Exactly. Look, what we have is special. No one can take it away from us. We still have Pref, and we still have Sweethearts. That’s not going to change.”
What we have is special. No one can take it away from us. But that wouldn’t stop someone from trying. When she told me she wanted to see other people, I should have known who was on her short list.
* * *
It wasn’t long after that before I began seeing Deanna in the same old places with the same old faces—with Scott and his friends where they always hung out. It’ll be okay. She’s strong enough to handle it now, I told myself. But I found out later that she’d told herself the very same lie.
It wasn’t long after that when Mike, a mutual friend, approached me in alarm and told me that he’d heard from Deanna herself that she was allowing Scott to do the same things with her that he’d done before.
“We can’t leave her alone,” he said with urgency.
“Look, I believe you,” I said, “but I don’t know what I can do about it. First of all, she has drawn a circle around herself and told me to stay out. If she wants me to come in, she’ll erase part of it and let me in. If she doesn’t, she won’t. It’s that simple.”
“Yes, she has drawn a circle around herself,” he agreed. “But there are two Erics: There’s the one who is her friend, and there’s the one who wants more than that. She only wants to keep one of you out.”
“As much as I hate to admit it, you’re right about that,” I said. “But there’s another problem. You’re talking about controlling her, more or less, and that won’t work. It’ll just make her push us away even harder. She’s got to decide what she wants—and what she doesn’t—for herself.”
As hard as Mike tried to solve the problem himself, he wasn’t very successful. In the weeks that followed, I would get periodic updates from him about what was happening. “I saw Deanna with Scott again today,” he’d say, shaking his head as though I were the one to blame.
I’d never felt more frustrated—or more helpless—in my whole life. I wanted her to not be scared of my feelings for her. But I wanted her to stay away from Scott even more. After we first met, I probably could have accomplished the second of those two things as her friend and nothing more. Now, I didn’t think there was any way I could convince her I wanted her to stay away from Scott just for her sake and not for our sake.
But I didn’t want to stop trying, either. I figured it was time for some “tough love.” The next time we talked I actually did most of the talking, and tough love is exactly what she got.
“I know exactly what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” I said angrily. I didn’t see any point in trying to hide how I felt. I was mad—mad enough to care—and it might help if she actually knew that.
“You’re trying to prove to yourself, to me, to your friends, and to your family that you’re not worth loving. You may as well knock it off, because it’s not going to work with me. I don’t know what I have to do to prove to you that my love for you is unconditional. I don’t love the things you’re doing to yourself, but I’ll never stop loving you!”
I continued, “When we came back from Christmas break, things were going so well between us that you decided you didn’t deserve it. You decided that it wouldn’t last. You told yourself that you were just pretending, and since you’ve never felt good about yourself, you decided to go back to living down to your self-image. So you went back to doing the same things with the same guy, and that’s how you proved to us all who you really are!
“Well, I’m not buying it. I saw the real Deanna Lopez for the first few weeks of school and during December, especially the week we spent with her family. She’s gone, and she’s been replaced by her Evil Twin Sister. You may be able to convince everyone else that your ‘Good Twin’ is the act and that this is the ‘Real You,’ but I’m not buying it. Like I said, I’ve seen the Real You, and this ain’t it!”
I pulled back, but only because I needed to catch my breath. I wasn’t even close to being done. Just because I was out of breath didn’t mean I was out of emotions. I had been saving those up for months.
“I’ve lost all control,” she moaned.
Here we go again, I said to myself, and launched back in.
“That’s garbage. It’s a cop-out. You haven’t lost control, you’ve given up control—to Scott, and maybe even to the devil himself. Neither Scott nor the devil”—when it came to Deanna, was there a difference? Sometimes, I wondered—“can make you do something you don’t want to do. No one can take back control of your life for you. You’ve got to do it for yourself—and you still can, no matter what Scott, what the devil, or what anyone else tells you. What other choice do you have?”
I paused and softened my tone. “Deanna, Christ knew every sin you’d ever commit before you even committed it. But even though He knows all of our sins, he loves us anyway. He still loves you, and I still love you. But you’ve got to love yourself enough to change—enough to repent. You’re only nineteen, and that’s way too young to give up on life.”
Her reply was a quiet, “Thanks, Eric.” We were both silent for several minutes. Finally, she turned and said, “I have to go.”
“Deanna, wait. There’s one more thing I need you to know before you leave.” And this time, I was mad at myself—not at her—for having to say it. I took a deep breath and plunged back in. “Don’t ask me to lie to you and tell you I don’t have feelings for you, because I do. Maybe if I didn’t, it would be easier for me to help you. Maybe what you need most right now is just a friend. I know I’ve messed things up for you by wanting more than that, and I’m sorry. I don’t want you to be scared of what I feel for you—or of what you feel for me. But I’ll gladly give that up if it keeps you away from Scott.”
* * *
I had tried everything I knew to rescue her from the dark hole into which she’d thrown herself, apparently with little success. What I didn’t know was that other people had been considering the same problem, and had come up with their own solutions.