Sample memoir, a turning point story of love, heartbreak, religious conflict, and personal growth, approximately 2100-word autobiographical short story and chapter of memoirs in progress. While each life story is unique in content and style, this suggests one approach to one significant life experience.

By Dolly
Haik-Adams Berthelot © 1995, 2002

When the movie’s lead character, a good Catholic virgin, lost her true love to his drunken emotional/sexual weakness and a scheming pregnant woman, I whispered to my friend Jodie, "I've lived this." Later, I tried to explain, and was surprised by tears. Three decades after "The Larry Crisis," that loss--and gain--had power. Even now, I consider it a crucial turning point in my life.... 

In 1964, I was a naïve sophomore at Southeastern Louisiana College (now Southeastern Louisiana University) in Hammond. Larry and I had been “going steady” about a year, were madly in love, and planning to marry. While I was away at college he still lived with his parents in Bogalusa. 

Larry’s pudgy smile and endearing chuckle came easy, as if a private little joke tickled the edge of his consciousness. Though living an hour apart, we danced romantic weekend hours at The Brown Door, SLC’s favorite smoky hangout. Our song was Andy Williams’ enchanting "Moon River." Larry graduated from Bogalusa High the year before me and didn't go to college. I'm not sure what he did after high school, or what he intended to do with his life. He was an attractive, charming, popular guy with, I would now surmise, absolutely no depth whatsoever. Once, as Larry was about to kiss me in lush Zemurry Park, a bird pooped right between us. I should have paid attention!     

Religion was our obvious stumbling block. I was a devout Catholic, product of a rigorously Catholic family and eight years at Annunciation Catholic School. Larry was Pentecostal--not actively practicing, but too committed to his family's faith--or to his own ego, who knows?--to agree to rear our children Catholic, as was then required. Somehow I had remained a virgin, in spite of our passion, and he "respected me" too much to push for sex.  

This was 1964, before most Southern girls even knew of the pill, before the sexual revolution that would soon rumble over from the wilder West Coast. Yet several friends and classmates had gotten pregnant, in spite of our similar upbringing. Being the oldest of seven children for whom I was often responsible, I had no delusions about the challenges of motherhood, and wasn’t eager to experience that role. Catholic indoctrination, strict parents, and the terror of pregnancy all assisted my restraint. But it is the folksy admonishment of my best friend's mother that lingers. Dot Nastasi urged repeatedly, with her Southern accent and the crisp brevity of a lifelong waitress: "You girls keep your legs crossed and your mind on Jesus!" I tried my damndest to comply, to stay as pure as the priest and my parents preached--and to work out this niggling denominational dilemma.  

To deal with these issues, Larry and I decided on a brief period apart. The religious conflict forced questions that opened a window in my mind. Permanently. How could it be right for two people in love to be blocked by their differing faiths?  How could one religion require that a person promise his children to another?  How could two religions both be the “one true way”? While I wrestled with weighty philosophical issues, Larry, I was to learn, was tumbling more physically with a less restrained young woman from our hometown. As luck would have it, the girl happened to share my mother's first name, Elaine. 

A Ouija board, a fortune teller, and my Mother all had insights I lacked. On one of the few times friends and I used a Ouija board, it spoke volumes.

“Will I marry Larry?” I asked, just for kicks.

The magic board raced to the word "No."

Friends and I gasped. To my surprised, "Why not?" Ouija spelled "baby" and "alcohol."

Completely ignorant of the occult or psychic, I dismissed the message, or tried to.  However, my own mind knew more than I admitted. Just before that revelation, I wrote a haiku poem about misguided trust. My written words surprised me, as they often do. 

Trust and honesty have always been among my deepest values, my most cherished ethics. As a child I recall lying to my mother only once, on some trivial matter, and the burden was so great that I confessed two years later! One day in the l950s, when my parents found a cut in the vinyl seat of our metal kitchen dinette chair, they questioned my younger sisters, Carolyn and Rita, and me. I was appalled that they would doubt me for a moment. IF I had done such a stupid thing, denial would not have been an option! Even as a "rebellious teenager," I chose to argue for my rights and wishes, rather than (like my more pragmatic siblings) smile and nod deceptively and do as I pleased. A trustworthy person, I assumed that in others, and was, therefore, super vulnerable to betrayal. 

That same spring, two friends and I visited a French Quarter fortune teller, again, just on a lark. We went in giggling and came out shocked. Her statements to each of us were distinctly different, and each incredibly on target. She, too, said I would not marry the man I expected to. Gazing into a glass of water, she saw “a severance,” yet a wedding ring. 

As the religious/philosophical questions multiplied, my prior certitude shattered. In poured the fresh air of open-mindedness--and the emotional frenzy of flailing in a tumultuous sea. One day during Mass I experienced a quiet reassurance, almost an audible voice urging calmness.   "You have time to resolve all this," I heard, "Don't panic." I truly did relax a bit, after that. One day as I walked through the library, a large book, probably comparative religion, urged me to pick it up. The inside cover contained a remarkable list of maxims, the golden rule reflected in a variety of the world religions. Suddenly I understood. Though much harm was done in the name of religion, the best of all religions was in this common and very sensible mandate—which I embraced then and do now: love everybody, and treat them right, as you’d like to be treated. If Christian, Hindu, Moslem, Jew, and Buddhist all preached the same core value, perhaps a Catholic and a Pentecostal could find common ground! 

Things were getting better and better between Larry and me, more hopeful for a shared future. Wedding talk became more frequent, marriage more fathomable. That pivotal Friday night, we actually window-shopped for rings! Why did he do that? I’ll always wonder.  

After all the happy wedding talk, he dropped the bombshell that would change our lives. Near the stroke of college curfew (was it midnight then, or 11 pm in those more innocent times?) he walked me up the tall dormitory steps as usual, then suddenly jerked the cover off my illusions: He had seen Elaine during our few weeks apart--though he insisted “she means nothing.” At Mardi Gras in New Orleans, they had sex. “Just once,” of course, while drinking too much. He'd recently learned that she was pregnant with his child.

"Under the circumstances, I feel like I really have to marry her. It's the only right thing to do, to give the baby a name," he rattled on. "But I love you and I always will."

In a state of speechless shock, I stammered, "Uh huh. I'm sorry," and walked zombie-like into the dorm.   

Messages from my mother were piled on a metal spindle at the check-in desk. As I trudged inside, Mom called again on the hallway phone. Students had no room phones then, and cell phones were decades in the future. I stood blankly and listened while Momma told me she'd heard so many rumors that she had recently called Larry and Elaine in for questioning.

Momma ran our family's Adams Red and White grocery, the neighborhood store which served as a lively conduit for gossip. Like a mother lioness protecting her nearly grown babe, she had called them in behind the butcher section to ferret out the truth!  Small towns and close families afford such checks and balances--but they aren't foolproof.

 “No!” they both insisted, “No involvement at all.”  I knew nothing about the rumors or the maternal interrogation. Mom apparently believed them then, so she had said nothing to me. 

Now she had learned the truth herself and believed he had finally told me everything tonight. She expressed loving concern and anger over the duplicity, which she had witnessed first hand: "How could they sit right there lying to me when she was pregnant! And them already married!"   

Already married?? At that final shock, I simply fainted. Blacked out flat on the old plastic tile floor. Somehow, it was even worse knowing that not only the sex, and the baby, but also the marriage itself was a done deal. This night was like waking from minor surgery to find all limbs amputated. Without your knowledge or consent. No hope. Unthinkable. 

Though Mother rarely called and never left our grocery store during the workweek, the next day she and my sister Rita drove the hour to Hammond to make sure I was all right. I was, actually. We all sat on the bunk beds, talking. It was the first time, I think, that any of my family came into my college world, or my private world. Somehow, I felt remarkably strong, fortified by a solid core of self-confidence, righteous indignation, and loving support. 

Friends helped enormously. After a few tears and days of heartfelt conversation, a bunch of us had a spontaneous ritual burning (long before I’d ever heard of such practices), igniting Larry's letters in the metal trash can in my dorm room. That was stupidly unsafe, of course, but cleansing. We doused the fire as it started to roar out of bounds. And we laughed a lot. I resolved not to let the whole mess damage or embitter me, but to learn from it. Somehow I knew I would survive, and be all the stronger for this loss.   

I saw that neither a religion nor a person should dominate your life, that I had to make my own path, create a life beyond any man or any narrow dogma. And I would do so. Till then college life was filled with classes and Larry; there was little time--or inclination--for creativity or for my own personal development. Within a week I got involved in theater, which I had loved in high school and have since. Like a reactivated soldier, I marched over to the Lion’s Roar, and resumed newspaper writing, which I’d shelved since a stint on the Bogalusa Daily News. My very personal new student newspaper column, "Thinking On..." quickly became popular and respected. Circumstances suddenly opened up the editor’s position the next year. I was surprised (and rather terrified) to win the position. That success spurred my early journalism career and has impacted everything since. I had an exciting new life. 

But life is not always logical, progress rarely a straight path. Some months later, susceptible to Larry’s pleas, I almost slipped back into his arms. “I love you, not her,” he insisted. “I plan to give the baby a name and then divorce as soon as it’s born. I want to marry you, just like I always have.” Such gallantry. He begged for reconciliation, and I reconsidered, briefly.  Fortunately, my own growth, my parents' horror, and Larry’s repeat performance joined hands to save me. Betrayal doesn't always kill love, at least not instantly. I still wanted to be with him. My parents went berserk (I could not tell a lie, remember), insisting that I never see that scoundrel again. The evening of that wrenching family feud, I ran over to the empty little park behind our house, lay on the grass, and cried. And prayed. God was still a personal friend to depend on then. I sometimes miss Him. 

Shortly thereafter, I met Larry, just once, at the home of a college friend in New Orleans.  I told him I would not see him until the divorce was final, a year or so later. Louisiana required a long waiting period. We both professed undying love. Yeah, right. 

Some months later, while I was dating a new and better man (whose proposal I refused), I heard the rumor that Larry was seeing a red head in Baton Rouge. Then someone mentioned they were married. I never heard from him again, and barely cared. 

Through the years, Mom passed on sad stories of Larry's son, an essentially fatherless child, who grew, rather predictably, mother chided, into a criminal. I have always felt some responsibility for this boy's fate, the child who almost seemed half mine.  On trips to Bogalusa, I have occasionally glanced about, for a boy, and then a man who resembled my misguided young love. I've even managed some sympathy for his mother, who no doubt had her own demons, and paid a heavy price. 

This trauma transformed a gullible small town Catholic virgin with no goals beyond marriage into a determined student, a “career woman,” a feminist, a free thinker, eventually an agnostic/existentialist/humanist/mystical Unitarian Universalist. A girl who might not have made it through a bachelor’s degree at the regional college became a world-traveled writer and doctoral level communication specialist, married for decades to a far superior man. And the mother of a cherished son quite unlike Larry Junior. It could easily have been quite different….If only we could all foresee the potential benefits of our trials, traumas, and tragedies. Perhaps we could bear them less painfully, even face them gladly. 

Too bad I never saw Larry again. I've never had a chance to stun him with one important message: "Thank you, Larry. Thank you."   The End

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