Her husband left her penniless and heartbroken, but Lee Gaitan found love in ways she didn’t think possible.
On Christmas Eve, 2002, the same year that my father died and my mother hovered on the brink of a coma, my husband of 22 years looked across the living room at me and unceremoniously announced that he had he lost every single penny of our savings, retirement and investment funds on a harebrained business venture…and that he was leaving me and our daughter…to move across the country…to live with a former stripper…and her five children. Merry Christmas!
With the slamming of the door behind him, the comfortable world I’d known shattered into a zillion pieces, and I was thrust into an unfamiliar one where my identity was suddenly redefined: ex-wife, divorcee, single mother. Not to mention, penniless and homeless, thanks to my ex’s financial flimflamming.
Even more devastating than losing my house and my life savings (and possibly a kidney if it sold on eBay), was the loss of my family. My nuclear family was a small one indeed, but it had been, I thought, a good one. When my ex deserted, he took not only that family from me, but also the larger extended one from his side that I’d come to regard as my own. There were in-laws of all sorts that I had grown very attached to and oodles of cousins that kept my daughter—an only—from feeling lonely. How would I ever rebuild a family for my daughter and me? Even if I remarried sometime, I was past the point of having more children and blending families of step-children was often a difficult undertaking. The grief I felt over this loss was almost unbearable.
But, I’m not here to sing the blues about how a man done me wrong. I say this only as prologue to another unexpected turn my life took four years later. Seemingly against the odds, I learned to trust again and fell in love with an especially wonderful—and handsome— Colombian man.
When we married I was once again thrust into new roles I had never imagined for myself, such as second wife and stepmother—and stepmother to two sons. Talk about unfamiliar worlds. I knew practically nothing about boys. As the youngest in a family of three daughters, I’d begun swimming in a sea of estrogen at birth and the water hadn’t changed much in the years since. In three generations of reproducing, only one Y chromosome had successfully made it upstream in my family. Sisters, daughters, nieces—those were my areas of expertise. The notion of adding a double dose of testosterone to the mix was both wildly appealing to me and intimidating at the same time. What if I weren’t any good with boys? I mean, did boys shop?
Enter two exceptional young men who immediately put my fears to rest. Handsome, smart and talented beyond measure, my Colombian stepsons are also kind and loving and possess the kind of quick wit I value almost more than solid food. They are, as all who meet them note, the essence of something so rarely seen nowadays—they are gentlemen, their impeccable manners a tribute to their father and mother’s influence. Yes, these two had me at “Hola.” They embraced my daughter and me as the rest of their family, as the pieces that had not been missing, yet somehow strangely completed the picture.
My daughter, still reeling from her father’s abandonment when she first met the boys, soaked up the attention of two big brothers like a thirsty sponge. The boys in turn got a kick out of having a little sister to variously tease and/or fawn over. The first time we all took a family vacation together, my husband and I marveled that the three kids bonded as if they’d been hatched together. The very real brother-and-sister relationship that blossomed almost magically among them brought healing to my once splintered heart in ways even my loving husband couldn’t have.
Yet, although I love these two young men as my own, I have always been aware that I am not their mother. They have a mother, the woman who gave birth to them, wiped their noses, changed their diapers and is now generous enough to share them with me. Out of respect for her I refer to the boys as my stepsons when introducing them to someone new. In the beginning, this practice led to a cross-cultural misunderstanding between us. Apparently, the “step” words have a negative connotation in Spanish, which I didn’t realize until the day my stepson called me out.
“Why do you always introduce me as your stepson?” he asked, joking, but obviously a bit hurt. “It’s like you don’t want to claim me as yours.”
I was crushed that he’d thought this for even a minute. He couldn’t have been more wrong. Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than claiming him and his brother as my own. A few extra stretch marks were a small price to pay for the happiness they’d brought into my life. I would have worn those motherly scars proudly. I explained my rationale to him, and we acknowledged that there were bound to be misunderstandings as we were blending not only two families, but two cultures and two languages to boot!
All things considered, we were doing remarkably well. And eight years later, we’re doing even better. The “kids” are now all young adults and have started families of their own. We’ve been blessed to add two daughters-in-law, one son-in-law and a granddaughter to the mix.
If your world has shattered, for whatever reason, and your heart is in tatters, don’t despair. I know it may seem impossible to believe right now, and it may take some time and struggle, but healing and restoration can come to you in the most unexpected ways and in the most unlikely forms. I recently saw a photo from our last family trip that my daughter had posted to Facebook. She captioned it simply, “Best Family Vacation Ever.” Yes, it was, and to think the restoration started in large part with two boys who were definitely steps in the right direction. And P.S., they do like to shop!
Photo: Flickr/ Ariane Hunter