Interrupted Love Story
By Ursula Villarreal-Moura
A year before Vietnam, they met at a business school in San Antonio. He was bent over his spiral notebook waiting for class to begin when she strolled in wearing copper hot pants and sandals fit for Cleopatra.
This story of how my parents met never gets old. Its effect on me is similar to coffee—alertness mixed with giddiness and mild nausea. Their genesis is the preface of my life.
While they were falling in love, my father was drafted into the Army. My parents, barely boyfriend and girlfriend at the time, vowed to pen each other letters. Within weeks, my father was shipped off to Fort Bliss in El Paso for basic training, then to Arizona for clerk school, then to Fort Riley in Kansas for rifle camp, and finally to Oakland, California where he boarded a plane to Vietnam. His division was stationed in Biên Hòa, where he primarily spent his days crunching numbers for the finance department. At night he patrolled the lookout tower, calling in any movements he observed in the fields. In letters to my mother, he wrote about safe activities, like his microbusiness of selling sodas to fellow soldiers in the barracks.
Back in Texas, my mother jotted long, double-sided letters. The bulk of her correspondences detailed how much she missed my father, recent fights she’d had with her sister, and often referenced Rolling Stone songs. In each envelope, she enclosed square pictures of herself, posing in her front yard or standing unusually erect in her parents’ living room. I stumbled across a plastic bin of their mementos when I was fifteen. Too curious, I perused their letters to learn about them as young adults coping with longing and war. Reading their magnetism on paper instantaneously filled me with voyeuristic shame. None of these letters were intended for my eyes.
Upon my father’s return, my parents dated another four years before getting married, and another five before having me. I asked my mother why they waited so long to marry when they were so clearly in love.
“Oh, I wanted to make sure he was still okay in the head,” she joked.
Marriage suited them. My mother worked as salesperson at a typewriter shop while my father attended college full time. They started off without a car, which meant my mother rode the bus and my father carpooled with classmates. When I asked about these years, they drove me through a neighborhood not far from my high school. My mother pointed to a mint green duplex, saying they lived there. The following year they moved across the street, her hand swinging across the car, indicating the new place. Those, she sighed, were very good years.
They never admit as much to me, but it’s evident my parents debated whether to have children once they were married. Debated for years, and for years opted against it. I respect them for defying convention for so long, and I often wonder what happened to change their minds. Growing up, I often overheard adults ask my parents why they only had one child. My mother’s nature was to shrug off inappropriate questions, but my father derived enjoyment from responding inappropriately.
“The television set only broke once,” was his staple answer.
I can’t help but wonder if I was conceived as a result of societal pressure, or another equally trivial reason. A song, maybe, hypnotized them.
I’ve counted my parents’ smiles in photographs, and though I know they love me, I would be blind not to see the joy they shared before my arrival. I interrupted their love story and splintered their sleep. My prized possessions are photographs of their married life before me. Polaroids of my father petting a Siamese cat on his lap, of my mother writing postcards while on vacation, of a lit Christmas tree in their duplex with only two gifts tucked underneath. Blurry pictures of them chasing each other with flashlights and ghost stories, times when it made sense for them to fall asleep intertwined like a magical animal that lived for itself.
Ursula Villarreal-Moura’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in CutBank, Emerson Review, NANO Fiction, Lunch Ticket, DOGZPLOT, and elsewhere. She tweets at @Ursulaofthebook.