There may be a reason—well, really there are several—but I became a romance writer because I believe in happy endings. I know life does not always give them to us, but I still believe that sooner or later, they do come.
I know I have mentioned and alluded to “Dusty” a number of times in this blog. I’ve never really shared the story, though. I was twenty one when I met my first love, in many ways the greatest “love of my life.” Sadly that story did not have a happy ending but I call it unfinished because I still believe there is more to be written, though not in this world and lifetime.
At the time I was two years past high school having missed a year as a time out between my sophomore and junior years. I was working long and hard as a real cowboy girl, putting in fifteen hour days in the summer and dark to dark in the winter. There were anywhere from 30-50 horses, mules and donkeys mainly in my care. I was responsible for their feed, water, exercise, and stable and corral cleaning as well as breaking and training many of them. It was not an easy life and made more difficult by the fact I was ostensibly working for my dad with whom my brother and I had many issues.
Dad was in declining health both physically and mentally and not an easy person to deal with at his best. There were times he micro-managed, others when he was virtually absent for days on end, and constantly critical, demanding and often quite vicious about it. Nothing we did was ever satisfactory, me especially since I was ‘in charge’ over Charlie, then in his early teens. Our frequent reward was tantrums and lectures.
With 20-20 hindsight I can look back on my teen and young adult years with better understanding and put names on the problems I had to deal with. I was a prime example of the elder daughter type who always had to try to ‘fix’ things, be responsible and attempt to please and placate everyone. Impossible under the circumstances!! That was bad enough, but I was also the child half of a serious case of emotional incest which accounts for the extremely strict and limited social experiences I’d had at that point. I could not be my father’s sweetie and spouse but darned if anyone else could violate my ‘purity.’ I might as well have lived in a nunnery!
Anyway at that point, major construction efforts were going on in the Verde Valley with the new cement plant being built, some housing and mercantile expansion etc. Quite by chance I met one of the team leaders and for those unfathomable reasons by which people are sometimes drawn together, we hit it off. For a number of months Dusty and I did nothing except talk; I’d be out riding and we’d cross paths, often on Friday afternoons when they got off early working four ten hour days and a half on Friday.Gradually we learned about each other. He was in his late thirties, a veteran, an adopted orphan, caught up in a brutal custody fight over his nine year old son and hampered somewhat by having quit school to go into the service and not having a diploma. He had also suffered from asthma most of his life but had overcome it most of the time.
I explained some of my circumstances although many I never spoke of and hardly even recognized or understood at that point. I did know trying to get out at night to go on a regular date would be nearly impossible and for awhile that was okay. Dusty would come out to one of the areas where we housed a bunch of stock on a leased place and help me feed, doctor or do repairs some evenings. Maybe we would ride a little while together, still talk or simply share some time. Although raised in the east he had come west young –after one enlistment--absorbing all of the aspects he could and had a secret dream to own a ranch.
The closeness and respect built gradually until we admitted we were in love. About that time the company moved him to another project but he came back every chance he got to see me. Even though letters and the visits we could manage were our main contact, we reached a point of commitment where we were talking about the rings we wanted to have when we married in a year or so.
Then all hell broke loose. There was an accident at a work site where some equipment was damaged and a couple of men were hurt. Someone in the higher echelons had it ‘in for’ him and he got the blame. They said he lacked the education and experience and such to manage properly etc. For the time being, he had also lost the custody issue but still pursued it. All the stress and problems gave him a very severe asthma attack about which I did not learn for some weeks. Remember, there were no cell phones or email in the 1960s and my family then did not even have a regular phone!
This catastrophe was made much worse for me when about the same time my family’s many issues finally imploded totally. My parents’ failure to pay a bunch of bills –there were lawsuits which were always supposed to get the finances back to good again but they never worked--resulted in livestock being seized, a truck repossessed and finally the family being evicted from the rented house they then lived in. By then I had started college in Flagstaff so had most of my personal things with me but was roman riding across two very different worlds. I lost many animals I had loved and labored for, saw my family homeless and dispersed and my father institutionalized for some months with an insanity plea in lieu of a felony conviction for assault. He had supposedly fired several shots into a vehicle that turned out to be a guy delivering newspapers early in the morning.
Once all that dust settled, I finally learned through a couple of mutual friends that Dusty had been fired and had taken work in California. We kept in sporadic touch for quite awhile but it was difficult. I still held to hope and I think he did too, but then I left Flagstaff after graduation and took a job with the US Army in Fort Huachuca and moved to Sierra Vista. I had no way then to reach him to let him know where I was. He moved a lot in the new job and again, no cell phones.I wote thru the comany but did not hear back for months. Late that spring I started seeing the man I was to marry a few months later. When Dusty finally called me, I was recently married and told him so, as gently as I could. I wept over it but it was too late.
It was a long time before I found Dusty again —or rather anything he had gone through between the late 1960s and 2003. After Jim died I went on line—oh, if that had only been available forty years earlier! They now had many “people finder” sites and so many other tools. It took some time but I eventually learned he had passed away September 8, 1993, some two weeks after his August 20 birthday. I briefly contacted his son then but only to confirm that fact. John did not really know me as I had only met him briefly a time or two when he was still a small kid.
Several years ago I did meet Dusty in a dream. He said he was not angry or hurt; we both knew we were just not meant to share this lifetime despite our hearts’ wishes. He had remarried after a time and apparently she had been a good person just as Jim Walton was to me. In the dream we parted in peace and calmly.
Then a few days ago I dreamed again—just a fragment came into waking with me but in that bit we had finally gotten back together. We walked into a store selling Indian jewelry and western wear etc. It was near my birthday and he wanted to get me something for that and an immediate token of our being together again at last. In a display I saw a ring, very similar to the ones we’d talked of in earlier, happier times. I told him that was what I wanted. The clerk took it out just before I awoke, leaving the image clear in my mind.
In the next day or two an ad popped up on my computer. I have bought jewelry items to include some turquoise things from several e-venders so I see such often but this one had a ring—a ring just like the one from my dream and the style with which we had once planned to be married… I ordered it.
I may be a romantic nut-case; in fact I am sure I am! Still this seems like an omen of some sort, a communication between two very connected spirits who currently exist in different realms. I feel it reaffirms a bond that has never been broken. If he will have me, I owe Dusty a life—he saved mine several times when I was in deep depression and disarray over things at home—and also the lifetime we did not get to share in this one. I wear that ring now as my talisman, a symbol of my promise until I can either confirm or release it. May this story someday have a happy ending…