The Atheist Letters: A loss remembered (Part 1)

by Don Hartness

As I held her, she started to cry.

It was our last weekend together. Come early Sunday morning, I was gone: bound for Wyoming  and to the safety of my brother’s house. Two and a half years together, all coming to an end. “It’ll only be for a little while,” she told me when my I got my financial aid package in the mail from my parents. “It doesn’t have to be forever.”

It was a lie. Deep down, we both knew it.

There are few in this life who find that elusive state of true love. Fewer still are those who find another soul in this life whom they can spend every waking moment with and never grow tired of their company. We were a couple of lovebirds, chirping away every day. Countless hours of conversation, sometimes lasting whole days, without pause. There wasn’t a nook or cranny we didn’t know about each other, sometimes to our chagrin. So many memories, so many good times, so many dreams…all crumbling away under our feet.

There were too many challenges; an army of locusts, all conspiring to ruin us. The ineffectiveness of our newly held educational degrees in an economic meltdown of epic proportions. Even the headhunters weren’t advertising anymore. The local university went into a hiring freeze, effectively freezing the entire town. Her parents, financially isolated and above the fray, didn’t take kindly to helping their daughter and, by default, her new fiancée. The many relational challenges for two people intimately acquainted with heartbreak and emotional pain from past spouses/lovers. Even the age difference had become a strain.

One other thing: that unspoken elephant in the room called ‘faith’. In public, the family never had a disparaging word. In private, they never had a kind word. Their attack was relentless. In the end, they achieved their goal.

“I’m so sorry I hurt you!” she sobbed as the tears soaked my shirt. Her tears made mine fall as well.

“I’m sorry I hurt you!” I moaned in reply, gripping her tightly. “I let you down! You have nothing to apologize for; you never, ever intentionally hurt me.”

My pardon intensified her sobs. An eternity passed as we held our mutually broken hearts. As we held each other that last night together, she told me something I will never forget.

“Nobody has ever loved me like you,” she whispered.

‘So why am I leaving?’ I thought. It was a question that haunted me for a long time.

That morning, I must have called her number every hour on the hour. I wanted her to answer my question. I wanted her to stop me. I needed her to explain to me again why I was leaving, why we couldn’t try again, and what role her family played in all of this. Most of all, I needed to know why we were throwing away something that neither of us would likely ever find again in our whole lives. Each time, I was sent directly to voicemail. By the time she turned it on, I was already too far away to turn around and go back.

Not that an offer was ever extended.

It was the summer of my anguish. It wasn’t just losing her. It was the culmination of an entire lifetime of failure. The loss of a group of friends led by my best friend’s mother. The divorce. Losing my children. Experiencing the injustice of a child support system used by my bitter ex-wife as her personal attack dog.

Then there was the frantic and futile search for the basics of survival. Running from job to job and from career to career, only to see each move destroyed by that unholy union of ex spouse and government entity. Robbed by a business partner. Left for dead by a friend. Played for a fool by a woman. Humiliation on my ex-wife’s couch. Slander, betrayal, abandonment, and hatred. All for no reason, capped by losing a woman I viewed as my soulmate.

The worst part? I honestly believed that I was following God’s lead through all of it. My prayers led me to these incidents, breaking my heart many times in the process.  As I sunk into a financial and emotional hole, the questions boiled down to just one:

How can this be a God of love?

My brother, a recent convert to Mormonism, had an opinion. He and his new wife believed that all of this was meant to lead me to conversion to the LDS church. Although they did not pressure me, the hints and prayers were in the background. On the other side, as I struggled to pick up the pieces, my question led me to many websites claiming that my faith was all in vain, and that the evidence supported this conclusion.

As I pondered the question through tear-stained eyes, I looked to the hills just outside of town. Winter was coming. Insidiously, a random question posed to Google one day revealed an easy solution involving a bottle of whiskey, a bottle of sleeping pills, and the first night of real winter. A few more months and eternal bliss from a life full of pain would be mine.

But first, one last prayer.