I can’t tell my story without starting with my husband Matthew, because we have shared this story hand-in-hand. He and I are about as different as your proverbial night and day, but we obviously have something that clicks because we’re still together after over 50 years. I’m not sure exactly what it was - divine intervention, astrological collisions, or the right combination of tarot cards - but I’m convinced our meeting was meant to be.
When I began attending classes at Central Texas State University in the late 60’s, I had a boyfriend, from my days at junior college. We had sort of come to an understanding, in my view, that it was ok to date around when he indicated to me that he had his eye on my best friend. My wounded ego quickly became an afterthought, though, when I walked on that college campus and saw thousands of people my age, looking not for just an education, but probably the most fun they’d ever had in their lives. FREEDOM!! The atmosphere was intoxicating. I asked myself incredulously, “You mean I don’t have to answer to anybody? It can’t be!” But it was true.
I had no shortage of date possibilities in this vast sea of eligible guys, and it had only taken me about three days to move the boyfriend’s picture from the desk, then to the closet, then to the trash. Nothing was said between us…the letters just stopped. Being a girl of the 60’s, I foolishly had great hopes of earning my MRS, maybe even before I graduated. The actual degree was an afterthought. I already had a year behind me from junior college. The rest would take care of itself in time. After all, I cleaned up good, took pains to be as close to a ten as possible, and also had a brain and a sense of humor. Ironically, the only thing I lacked, and I knew it, was self-confidence. But nobody else had to know that.
Like most underclassmen, I attended most of my classes in gigantic seminar format, and U.S. Government 2305 was no exception. Two days a week about a hundred scholars would gather in an auditorium setting and osmose the lectures of the venerable Dr. Rausperger (the old guy was actually pretty entertaining). Then, on Fridays we met in a small lab setting taught by one of Dr. R’s crazy ass hippy activist graduate assistants. (The TA’s wife later went to prison for domestic terrorism.) I first noticed Matthew in the large seminar when the semester had barely started. You know those eyes in the cartoon animals that pop out of their heads? Wowsers! Good lookin’ guy!! Tall, with wild, crazy dark hair, and, wait …who dressed this guy? Plaid button-up shirt, Bermuda shorts in a different plaid, and loafers with no socks? Nevertheless, I surreptitiously followed him after class just to see where he was going and watched as he sauntered all alone toward the Student Union Building. I made a mental note to check into this further, for sure. The following couple of weeks I followed the same routine…I was really attracted to this stranger who seemed to be a loner. When I went back to the dorm and brought up my secret crush to my new dorm friends from Chapel, Texas, describing him as a big, exceptionally good-lookin’ guy with thick dark curly hair that flew everywhere, and absolutely no taste in fashion, they cried out in unison: “Silva!”
Apparently, “Silva” was one of a pair of buddies at Chapel Junior College that the girls worshipped from afar. The handsome duo’s apparent lack of awareness of and/or interest in their female classmates’ idolatry made them even more attractive, it seems. From the beginning, my Chapel friends opined that my beauty queen status made me a perfect match for the God-like “Silva.” Unknown to me, they had also been trying to convince “Silva” of the wisdom of this match. Both of us, though, had ignored their pleas laughingly. I knew, of course, when they automatically connected my secret crush to the elusive Silva, they were concocting the connection because it was a romantic notion. After all, the campus was crawling with 15,000 students, half male. What were the odds?
After a few weeks or so, and my continued stalking of my secret crush from afar, one of my Chapel friends, Jeannette, who had a crush on Silva’s roommate, suggested that we walk over to the guys’ apartment on the other side of campus. It would serve two purposes: get her a longed- for date with his roommate, and reveal if my secret crush was, indeed, the celebrated Silva. I thought it was a bad idea. After all, we had been warned not to participate in off-campus shenanigans, at pain of possible suspension if our behavior got out of hand. This was a time when all women lived in dorms with a strict curfew. Best to be good girls and stay safe and cozy in our little dorm bubbles. I lived in mortal fear of the Dean of Women, Imalue Bentley Dickson, (also widely known as I’m a Bent Dick), whose severe hair and rimless glasses struck absolute terror in the hearts of CTSU coeds. It was rumored she drove around at night with night vision goggles that could see through the walls of guys’ apartments. But my friend Jeannette was NOT a rule follower in ANYTHING, I was to learn, and she convinced me this little jaunt might result in me finding the love of my life. If not…who cared? She just really wanted to get to know his roommate better.
So, we took off, afoot. It seemed to me the walk was miles, though, it was actually only a few blocks, but I was jittery. What if Dr. Dickson was flying around in an invisible helicopter? The imagination soars to ridiculous heights. But when we got there in broad daylight, Jeannette knocked loudly on their cheap, paper- thin, college apartment door, while my heart beat wildly, and the object of Jeannette’s romantic quest answered the door. They were both there. And his roommate was, indeed, my secret crush. “Silva” and my Adonis-like classmate were one and the same! He smiled a lot, but he didn’t have much to say, nor did I think my attempt at charm was working. Here I was with the catch of the year
swimming around my hook, and he didn’t seem even remotely attracted to the bait! How could that possibly be? I was a pageant winner whose beauty, wit, and intelligence were matchless. Somehow or other, though, is this awkward situation, we all made plans to go on a double date to the campus welcome dance later that night. My heart rocketed to the moon! That night, we danced some, sat around some, talked a little…not really possible with the noise of the band and the chatter of excited college denizens. I managed to give him my number… to one single phone at the end of my dorm hallway. Always occupied. He didn’t seem to know we were in the same government class, and I chose not to tell him, so the next move had to be his. I really believed that pushy girls never go anywhere in romance. The fact that he didn’t call or come around the next couple of weeks was a disappointment, but I was wrapped up in my studies and date offers from other guys, and nice girls in those days NEVER made the first move. (Thus, my reticence at Jeannette’s bold idea.) I was resigned to the idea that this love match just wasn’t meant to be.
But, sitting in the local drive-in hamburger joint with my friends, I was surprised when the car door opened, and Silva and his roommate jumped in our back seat. Oh, my beating heart! I demanded to know why he had asked for my number and then hadn’t called, and he said sheepishly he had lost the number. I didn’t stop to consider that he could have easily taken the short walk to my dorm, if he really wanted to, but I chose instead to believe that he had been pining for me without hope that our paths would ever cross again. Regardless, phone numbers were exchanged, on both sides, and the history of our relationship began.
I was smitten with this tall, dark, mysterious man. He was a man of few words, a Mona Lisa smile, and the most beautiful, full, soft, well- defined lips I had ever seen on a man. His face reminded me of the Greek statues I had admired in books – aquiline nose, heavily lashed brown eyes, smooth skin, and the afore-mentioned killer lips. He was a large man – 6’3”, Tom Selleck without the dimples. I learned he was an athlete – no surprise. There’s no question my primary attraction, like my peers at Chapel Junior College, focused totally on his good looks. But as I got to know him, I was also drawn in by his quiet demeanor. The strong, silent type. John Wayne, but better looking. He was so unlike my dad – the charmer, the wit, the complete jerk. Matthew Silva sucked me into his mysterious aura without even putting out much effort. Little did I know at the time, the quality that so mesmerized me at first, his tendency to keep his thoughts to himself, would later be an object of contention between us. He liked to consider things long and hard before moving; I liked to jump in without caution.
I didn’t tell Matthew about my secret stalking for many years thereafter. But imagine my shock when he described to me in detail what I wore and how I wore my hair on the first day of class in that huge US Government seminar. Like I said, it was meant to be.
The early years of our relationship in college were a little rocky, lubricated lavishly with alcohol and immaturity. Nary a weekend passed that a party was not in the offing, and occasionally we piled a group of equally irresponsible college nitwits in the car and headed to Dallas or Oklahoma…the nearest places where one could obtain alcohol – without a thought of appointing a designated driver. But most of the time we partied at home. Nobody had any money, so we’d all chip in, and the “legal” ones amongst us would purchase the perfect ingredients for a party: fruit punch, wood grain alcohol, some Pearl Beer, and a trash can. Trash can punch was the stimulus for bountiful uncontrollable laughter, deep, meaningful conversations, and the occasional disagreement, often ending in unpleasantries, like the well-oiled coed who put her cigarette out on Matthew’s cheek. He’s still not sure what he said to incur her assault. Then of course, as the party and the evening wound down, the smell of trash can vomit perfuming the atmosphere, several revelers drifted off into deep slumber, scattered about the host’s apartment. Everything looked quite different the next day. There was a reason the floors in college apartments were linoleum, not carpet. They were so sticky, we dare not walk barefoot for fear of leaving behind a layer of skin from the soles of our feet. There was always plenty of punch left, sporting a generous coating of dead fruit flies. No problem, skim ‘em off, and save the punch for Saturday night. God knows it was well preserved! I’m not sure how we all survived the recklessness of youth.
The Chapel, Texas, crowd at Central Texas remained pretty much intact, with a few other interlopers from other towns, like me, mixed in. In those days, as I have said, campuses kept tabs on their women and reported to parents their daughters’ comings and goings. If we spent the night out of the dorm, we had to officially check out, and a carbon copy of our checkout slip was promptly sent home. I wonder if my mom wanted to tell me I wasn’t fooling anyone, when every weekend I checked out to Sally Temple’s house. Sally was one of my roommates, who in fact did go home every weekend to see her boyfriend, but I sure never saw the inside of her house – nor the outside either. I don’t think she made it past the first semester at Central Texas, she pined so much for her true love, but we continued to check out to her house every weekend till several months before we graduated. We continued with that home notification practice until our old Southern Baptist university president, Dr. Jonas, retired, and a new, progressive one, Dr. Makus, hailing from the now historically famous Kent State, was appointed to take his place. Wow!! He was only there a couple of years, but the locked tight bars of the college women’s prison blew off during his tenure. Not only were we able to wear pants on over 32-degree days, we could pretty much wear whatever we wanted – go naked if we chose to. Nobody cared. I’m astonished looking back at how the atmosphere of that campus changed in the short two and a half years I was there. There must have been a lot of people behind the scenes pushing for reform, just waiting for Dr. Jonas to make his exit, so they could change our college culture and join the 60s revolution.
The country was in turmoil, and nothing reflected it more than the unrest taking place on America’s college campuses. The Viet Nam War, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Woodstock flipped our campus demographics from a bunch of crew-cut rednecks and button-down preppies to long-haired, pot-smoking, acid-dropping hippies in what seemed like an instant. Some of the more radical SDS and Black Panthers members staged sit downs and demanded an audience with the college president, like he was the local barber. I know. I worked in the presidential suite, and saw it happen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a radical cultural metamorphosis in my life, and there’s no question the events of those years, both local and abroad, had an impression on who I was to become, a woman very much aware that I was considered a second -class citizen. I had never given thought to the limitations put on women before, nor, probably had many of the women who attended college with me. But I became determined my daughters would never experience the kind of discrimination the women’s movement fought against.
But one thing didn’t change – the notion that Matthew and I were an exclusive pair, and everybody knew it. Did we love each other? I know for sure we were in love and caught up in the excitement and inborn hormonal electricity that keeps the lights on in a young, new relationship. We studied, I more than he because he was smarter, and we both held part time jobs, but the impetus of our lives was fun. Music, movies, friends, laughter, sex, sports, alcohol – these were the center of our universe. In other words, we were typical college students. Life was good!!
We barely got through a week in those days, though, that we didn’t have a major war of words that inevitably led to my tears. I was a loud mouth – always voicing my opinion without filter, trying to establish my place in the order of the universe. In truth, I was insecure and needy, and felt that my life could not possibly be complete without him by my side. He was just the opposite. He kept things in. You never really knew exactly what he was thinking. I didn’t understand it then, but he was lacking confidence, just like me, though his outer demeanor would never have betrayed his angst.
He had come to Central Texas circuitously. In his tiny high school in Cantrell, Texas, he had grown up regarded as the super athlete, in all areas – football, basketball, and track. His natural quiet demeanor didn’t squelch his popularity, because he had grown up with his classmates, and everybody knew him and liked him. He didn’t really push himself in school, but he was smart – so much so that his SAT scores and athletic prowess earned him scholarship offers to many colleges across the country. His recruitment trip to the Big City sealed the deal. It was their prestigious flagship university for him. But he in no way prepared for the intoxication of the Big City nor the rigorous standards of his university. Back then athletes weren’t pampered with special tutors to make sure they earned a degree. They were meat – plain and simple and a lot of them fell by the wayside quickly. So, despite his athletic promise, his lack of academic achievement earned him an exit from this prestigious university and a guarantee of being sent straight to Viet Nam. To avoid that, he entered a private business school, decided on a degree in accounting, and went on to Chapel Junior College the year after that, and from there to Central Texas as a junior.
And so, his life had been altered. He was no longer a college athlete, his priorities were straight, and he was dead serious about getting his degree. And, of course, he met me. As stated before, the personality trait that drew me most to Matthew was his air of mystery. He was so unlike other guys our age – those who were braggadocious and so obviously a long way from being grown men. The ones who crowed about their conquests and snickered about tits and ass. The ones who behaved like my father. They say you are attracted to the person who is most like your parent, but in my case just the opposite was true. Matthew and my dad could not have been more different. So, the biggest adjustment we have had to make over the years is the difference in our personalities. I tend to tackle a problem out loud, pounding on it over and over till his nerves wear thin. I just talk the issue into mush. Conversely, he tends to overthink or to answer a question with a repeat version of the same question. Sometimes his terse answers to my queries make me want to climb the wall and slide down with my fingernails digging deep furrows of frustration in the drywall. But other times his short comments make me laugh my face off.
The odd thing is, when we began to suffer our trials with Kristine, our daughter, it seemed to me that Matthew and I talked to each other much more than we had in our earlier years. Careers, homes, kids…all those things take up so much of your day, there’s little room left for long, deep conversations. But when parents go through the hell of a child’s addiction, there is no choice but to turn to each other for support. They say hardships can either make or break a relationship. Our trials made ours stronger and deeper. We became best friends.