Deanna: A Story of Love and Change
© 1997, 2017, All Rights Reserved
By Ken K. Gourdin
January 31-April 9
The next night, Deanna called and asked me to come over.
“I have something I need to tell you,” she said.
Just when you think you know where you stand with a woman . . .
I pulled up in front of Julie’s house and shut off the ignition. Deanna saw me through the front window and came out.
“Can we go for a walk?”
As we walked, she told me, “For the first time since I came here, I feel like I’m finally in control of my life. I don’t want anyone to mess that up, and I’m not strong enough to keep that from happening if I stay here.”
“I know,” I said. Neither one of us said anything for a long time, until I finally continued, “When I heard you were leaving a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t sad—just relieved. I’m still relieved, but I’m pretty sad, too.”
“I know,” she said. “So am I.”
“Remember when I told you I’d gladly give up what we have if it keeps you away from Scott?” I asked.
“Well, I guess now I get to put my money where my mouth was, don’t I?”
She didn’t say anything, slowed down, and finally stopped walking. I matched her pace.
Finally, she started to cry. “I don’t want to lose you,” she said.
“I don’t want to lose you, either, Dee,” I said, as I put my arms around her.
When she stopped crying a few minutes later, I said, “There’s something I’ve been wondering about. Will you promise to not get mad at me if I ask you a question?”
“I blame Scott more than I blame you for what’s happened between us. He knows exactly how to push your buttons. But do you ever ask yourself what might have happened if you’d broken up with him back in October?”
“All the time,” she said, and she began to cry again.
“Me, too,” I said. “Me, too.”
Several more minutes of silence between us said what no words ever could. We just held on to each other.
Finally, I told her, “It isn’t going to be easy for me to let you go, because I love you. But sometimes that’s what real love is—letting go.”
* * *
When I left late that night, I was unhappy and unable to sleep, so I took advantage of the time to study. She finally called at about one o’clock in the morning.
“Did I wake you?”
“Can I come over?”
It was as if we both knew that the clock was ticking on our relationship, and we wanted to take advantage of whatever time we had left. We left the dorms and went to the Temple again. It was a comforting reminder that not everything good had to come to an end. Since we had already said our goodbyes, we simply held each other in silence. There was nothing left to be said which we knew how to say.
* * *
Deanna was just beginning to understand how much I loved her, and she was finally starting to trust me enough to love me back. Now she was gone. Did that mean I wasn’t supposed to love her anymore? I hoped not, because I did. But if love isn’t love until you give it away, what was I supposed to do with all the love in my heart that was meant for her?
I couldn’t deny that a big part of me wasn’t ready to let her go. Trying to hold on to her hurt. Trying to let her go hurt. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost, confused, and lonely. She had carved out her own unique place in my heart, and how that she was gone, I didn’t know how to fill it.
She kept in touch with our mutual friends, and hearing from them how well she was doing put me between a rock and a hard place. I had always said that I wanted what was best for her—and I knew that it was best that she leave, and that I had to let her go. But that didn’t change how much I hurt.
I guess I could have let the hollow place in my heart be filled with anger for Scott, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted, instead, to remember Deanna—The Real Deanna Lopez. And I couldn’t be angry at Scott, no matter how much I tried. I could only feel sorry for him, that the only way he could fill the hole in his heart was by taking advantage of other people, and by taking things from them that he didn’t have any right to take.
Scott’s idea of “freedom” was being able to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, to whomever he wanted, without having to face the consequences. But Deanna had finally learned that true freedom means being free from guilt and pain. And I felt sorry for Scott, for the pain he felt because he didn’t understand that.
As time went on, I began to realize that I didn’t have to stop loving Deanna even though she wasn’t a part of my life anymore. I mean, people get divorced all the time, but that doesn’t mean they stop loving each other. If a breakup like divorce can’t take away the love in a commitment like marriage, why should I let our breakup take away my love for Deanna?
I knew my love for Deanna would change over time to let me love someone else the way I’d once loved her. But just because love changes doesn’t mean it ever has to go away. And I knew that when I met and married my eventual eternal companion, it never would have been possible if I hadn’t met, loved, and learned from Deanna.
I also began to realize that I didn’t do what I did to help us. I did what I did to help her. I was happy that she had the Holy Ghost back in her life. He would help her get back home better than I ever could. And together, they had finally beaten the bad influences in Deanna’s life and replaced them with good ones.
She had finally found the courage to pay the price to make that happen. I had been praying she would find the strength to do it for months. My prayers had been answered, even though they weren’t answered in the way I would have liked them to be. This brought an Old Testament LDS Seminary scripture to mind: My ways are not your ways, neither are your thoughts my thoughts. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My thoughts higher than your thoughts, and My ways higher than your ways.
* * *
One Sunday a few weeks after Deanna left, my LDS Priesthood Quorum had a lesson called “Christ Suffered for Us,” and it reminded me of her. The instructor played the Song “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” by Afterglow, and I realized that what the master did for the old violin is a lot like what happened to her.
She used to feel like the old violin—dusty, battered, and worthless—until the Master dusted her off, tightened her strings, tuned her, and played a beautiful melody. Now she was making beautiful music because she had finally realized she was worth more to her Master than even a Stradivarius would be to a master violinist.
I knew that for the first time in her life, she was finally able to look at herself face-to-face in the mirror, and say, “I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father. He loves me. I love Him—and I love me.” I knew that for the first time in her life, she finally recognized that the Atonement—Christ’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, His sacrifice of His life, His death, burial, and resurrection—was meant for her.
And I realized that no matter what we had to give up to make that happen, it was worth it.
* * *
I had left the story of our relationship in my journal hanging for almost two months, but I knew that it wouldn’t be fair to myself not to finish it. Some things had happened in that time which helped me put our relationship into perspective. I decided to end our story with a letter addressed to Deanna, and dated April 9:
You will never see this letter. I’m writing it for myself alone as the final chapter in our relationship. Please understand that even though there is a huge void in my life right now, if I had our relationship to do over again and I knew how it was going to end, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It was worth every minute.
I’m in a Spanish literature class and we’ve just finished reading a play called La Dama Del Alba—The Lady of Daybreak. The play is about a mother whose daughter, Angélica, drowned in a river. It begins on the fourth anniversary of her death. The mother has been unable to get on with her life. She is still mourning Angélica’s loss because her body was never found nor buried.
The family takes in a beautiful and mysterious stranger known only as The Pilgrim, who falls asleep on the couch and misses an appointment she had nearby. As the play continues, the grandfather finds out that The Pilgrim actually is The Grim Reaper. (I know this is starting to sound strange, but please bear with me.)
Martín, Angélica’s husband of four days before she died, is still living with the family. He saves another girl, Adela, who tries to commit suicide by jumping into the river—but fails, of course, because The Pilgrim misses her “appointment.” The Pilgrim leaves, but not before telling the grandfather when she will return.
Adela then live’s with the family. She moves into Angélica’s room, wears Angélica’s clothes, and sits where Angélica sat at the dinner table. Adela essentially takes Angélica’s place, and everyone in the family is happier because of the void which has been filled. Months pass and everyone (including the grandfather) forgets about The Pilgrim.
Martín finally confesses his love for Adela, but he decides to leave rather than act on that love because of the complications involved. For example, Adela has a problem because she doesn’t think that the mother will be able to accept that she has taken Angélica’s place in Martín’s life, and Martín has a problem because he has been keeping a secret from the family all of this time: Angélica didn’t really drown in the river.
Martín had taken a long trip to buy the things necessary for the wedding and for his new life with Angélica. While he was gone, Angélica met and fell in love with another man. Martín returned to find a different woman. He tells Adela that Angélica’s eyes had a coward’s shiftiness, that her voice had become as grating as sea sand, and that her hand shook when he put the ring on it at their wedding.
After the wedding, Angélica got sick. When she thought Martín was asleep at night, she lay awake and cried, but he heard her. On the third night, she left the house and ran for the river. He chased her. She boarded a boat and crossed to the other side, where her lover was waiting with two horses. Martín gave chase the whole night, but was unable to catch them.
Even after all this, though, he still loves Angélica. He didn’t want to tell the family what really happened because he didn’t want to destroy her honor or tarnish her family’s memory of her even though she had made a mistake. So he made up the story of her death.
At the same time, he loves Adela, but he doesn’t want to destroy her honor, either. The townspeople have been questioning Adela’s reputation because she and Martín have been living under the same roof, unmarried, for all this time, but even though he loves Adela, he can’t honorably express that love without marrying her, he can’t marry her unless he divorces Angélica, and he can’t divorce Angélica unless he can find her.
So he decides to leave. Before he does, though, Adela convinces him that since it is the last night of the Festival of San Juan, they should at least enjoy dancing and celebrating together before he leaves. We also had a special night of celebration before our parting, but it wasn’t me who left, but you.
While they are at the festival, the Pilgrim and Angélica both return. Angélica tells the Pilgrim that she has come back to beg forgiveness of her family for what she has done. The Pilgrim convinces her that this would only complicate things now that Martín and Adela have fallen in love and the family has accepted Adela as one of their own. Angélica calls this situation unfair, but the Pilgrim convinces her that there is only one way she can take responsibility for what she has done.
After everyone returns from the festival, one of the farmhands runs in to announce that Angélica’s body has been found, and everyone sees the Pilgrim as she returns from her errand. The mother has already accepted the fact that Angélica is dead; she just wanted her body to be found for a proper burial. So she’s happy, because to her this is a miracle.
The upshot is all of this is that there is another similarity between the relationship described in the play and our relationship. Like Martín, the honor of the women I love is important enough that I would do anything to protect it, just like he did for Angélica. I’m proud that I was the first man you’d ever gotten close to who didn’t try to destroy your honor. I’m proud that I stood by you and defended your honor even when others were questioning it, just as he did for Adela.
It hasn’t been easy to write this. It has brought back some painful memories. I know I need to get on with my life. I know I will make other memories. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that until I put our time together into perspective. And I want a written record to exist which tells about The Real Deanna Lopez. I hope I had a lot to do with helping her find herself. Thank you for the way you’ve enriched my life and for the things you’ve taught me. I will always treasure our time together, and I will always love you.
That letter took me several days to write. As much as I might have wished our story ended differently, I thought it was a fitting denouement to that particular chapter of my life. But my life was about to take an interesting turn.