I was convinced once I decided to have my baby the chance that Bobby would ever be interested in me again, want me was questionable. My child’s father was a fellow Academy graduate, it made the plausibility even more doubtful, less likely. That fact alone made a remote chance become nil to none. Even with that knowledge, I knew in my heart what was right. What was best for everyone. I had decided I would raise my child on my own.
Over the years, I have been asked many times why didn’t I try to make it work with my daughter's father? Why didn’t I at least give it a try? In my heart I knew it was better to live alone then try to live with a man I didn’t love. It would have been unfair to marry a man when I was longing for someone else. At the time, I knew I could never love her father the way he deserved to be loved. If two people don't love each other, if they enter a marriage with good intentions but for all the wrong reasons, how long would the marriage last? Would it have been fair to either one of them, my Marine or my daughter? I truly believed one day we would each find someone to love us unconditionally. I prayed Bobby would be that someone for me.
I have always believed, when you want someone, if you can't be their lover and their friend, then take the next best thing, be their friend. Something was better than nothing. I would find myself at random times asking God to help me find Bobby again, if only to be his friend. I didn't want to lose him. On several occasions I would ask for a small miracle, to one day be more than friends with Bobby. I was willing to take whatever God would give me. As I would pray, I knew I had to stop dreaming and deal with reality. Dreams hurt. For now I had a plan, I needed to stick with it, not get sidetracked by wishful thinking. My two main priorities; finishing my degree and having a healthy baby. The rest, the wishful thinking, the dreams, Bobby, needed to be placed on the back burner, out of my thoughts. If I kept looking back it would be impossible to move forward. I needed to worry about surviving the next several months.
I had made a decision it would be better for me to go it alone. For some reason I convinced myself I needed to have my child on my own. It's amazing how easy it is to drop off the face of the earth. I soon discovered, if I did not call my friends, they did not call me. I was not angry, I understood, we were all seniors in college. We were all extremely busy. Besides college Leigh had a wedding to plan and Cathleen had her crushes. It may seem weird but at times I was content to be alone. When you are alone, you have no reminders of your mistakes. There are no reminders of what you don't have, what is missing in your life! My friends, their lives were going as planned, my life was screwed up. It was no one’s fault but my own. I had put myself on this path. I hoped the time alone would allow me to put myself back together before I gave birth. Help me become a stronger person. It wasn’t only me anymore, soon there would be another person I would be responsible for.
November I registered for my final semester at college. Luckily all the classes I needed to graduate were available at night. With evening classes I didn't have to worry about running into anyone. I was so scared like everything else in my life I was going to screw up my child as well. I kept reassuring myself, I had made the right decision. I tried to convince myself, no friends, no distractions should equal good grades. At least I should be able to bring my gpa up. Who knows if I was lucky graduate with honors.
A few weeks before Christmas I received a Christmas card from Martin. He didn't say much, he wrote he hoped I was doing well and to have a great Christmas. As I placed the card on my dresser I thought how much my life had changed in only a year. I smiled as I ran my hand over his signature, Love Martin. Part of me wished it was true, he did love me, I still loved him. It wasn't crazy love, it was solid built over time love. At that moment I missed him so much. I missed the way he could make me laugh when I was at my lowest. He had a way of making me realize things weren’t as bad as I thought. He always found a bright side to every situation. No matter how much I missed Martin, no matter how close we had been at one time. I was afraid to call him. Afraid of what he would say. What he would think of me.
A few days later I came home from class to find a big thick brown envelope in the mail. There was no return address, the postmark was smeared. Looking at it I assumed it was from a relative. I threw it on my bed then headed to the bathroom to get ready for work. After I showered I put on my robe, combed my hair, then headed to my room to get dressed. As I stood at my closet choosing what I would wear to work, I saw the large thick envelope laying on the bed. My interest was peaked. I picked it up, shook it, no noise, no movement, what was it? I sat down on my bed and began to open the envelope. When I looked inside I was puzzled, whatever was hidden inside was wrapped in paper towels. I pulled the clump out, began to undo the layers of paper towels. Nestled inside, soap on a rope and a Christmas card. I sat there, dumbfounded. It had to be from Bobby. I found myself saying, "Oh my God" out loud. As the words rolled out of my mouth I started to laugh. Who else but Bobby could get me to say those words, while in a robe no less! My laughter turned to tears as I opened the card and read, "Guess what I want for Christmas?"
My heart wanted that as well. I often longed to go back to Pensacola, our shower but I knew it was never going to happen, at least not this Christmas. I laid down on my side, buried my head in my pillow and began to cry. After a few minutes of self pity, I rolled over on my back, put my hand on my abdomen and said, "I am so sorry I screwed up. It's you and me kid. Please love me no matter what." I dried my eyes, placed Bobby's card next to Martin's. As I did, I asked out loud, “Have I screwed up so bad, that I deserved to be tortured? Why do you keep reminding me what I can't have?”
As I asked the question, I wasn't sure if my questions were directed at Martin, Bobby and/or God. I placed the soap on the rope next to the postcard, touched it one last time before I closed my dresser drawer. Later that night when I couldn't sleep, I found myself chuckling every time I thought of the soap on a rope. I had to admit, it was pretty damn funny! Part of me wanted to call Bobby, give him grief, tell him, seriously soap on a rope wrapped in paper towels. Ask him why I didn't even rate tissue paper? Let him know he left the price tag on. Reality would prevent me from making that phone call. What would I say? Hey Bobby loved the soap on a rope. I have often thought of our “shower”, I think about you often and oh yeah I am pregnant with another man's child. I was not envisioning that phone call going well or Bobby ever wanting to talk to me again.
Christmas 1984, to hear Bobby's voice again, to see him would have been the best present. My mistakes would prevent that from happening. I consoled myself with the knowledge, I got a card, soap on a rope, at least I knew he was still thinking about me. That night as I stared at both cards I was lost in emotion. I wasn't as strong as I thought, I could no longer do it on my own, I needed help. I got out of bed, knelt and begged God to please give me strength. I asked him to help me make it through my pregnancy. I asked for forgiveness, I was sorry I had let everyone down. I asked him to keep Martin and Bobby safe. Help them earn their wings.
As my belly began to grow, my friends lives went on without me. To distract myself from my loneliness I became the perfect student. I studied hard, never missed a class and aced almost every exam. My GPA soared my last semester to 3.8. To earn extra money, to fill the emptiness in my life, to avoid being alone, I worked extra hours teaching beginning gymnastics. My students and their parents were so excited over my ever expanding belly. It became their lucky Budha. Whenever one of my kids would try a new skill on their own, they would rub my belly.
Time seemed to slowly pass, winter finally turned to spring. Every morning and each night I was greeted by the postcard taped to my mirror. Occasionally I would reach up, touch it, wonder where Bobby was, wishing I could go back to Pensacola and start over. I wanted one more night with Bobby. I convinced myself that was all I needed to figure out what was going on with my heart. One more night would help me determine what this was, what I was feeling. Was what I was feeling real or a silly girl dreaming? Even though I longed for one more night with Bobby, a chance to redo my mistakes, I didn't want to change being pregnant. I felt my child growing inside me. I felt her move, we had bonded. I sang to her each night before bed. She was my child. More than anything I wanted to be a mom. I knew no matter how many mistakes I might make, she would love me unconditionally. She was part of me and I was part of her. I was terrified of all the responsibility ahead, I didn't care. I was more excited to meet her. Hold her, love her, be mom.
March turned to April, April to May. May, graduation, I had made it. Soon commissioning week happenings began to fill the airways on the local news. As I watched the festivities each night before bed, I wondered if Bobby was in Annapolis for his brother Kevin's graduation. I confess I was terrified that week to leave my house, afraid of who I might run into. It was an unusually hot spring, my body was having trouble dealing with the humidity. From the heat, from my stress, I was beginning to develop toxemia. To protect me, protect my child, my body sent me into labor 3 weeks early.
The last day I taught gymnastics was Thursday, May 30. I was admitted to St. Agnes Hospital the following day, Friday May 31, 1985. I was wheeled to my room by a very sweet nun, Sister Mary Rose. When she discovered I was alone, I had no one to keep me company during my labor she called out the troops. For the next 22 hours as I progressed through labor I had a tag team of nuns keeping me company. They never left my side. As my daughter went into stress, as her heart rate dropped, I was rushed into the delivery room for an emergency c-section. I was not worried, I was not scared. I had a team of nuns praying for us. I believe, I may have the only Methodist child who has been blessed by a handful of nuns and three priests within the first forty eight hours of her birth.
Monday, Sister Mary Rose came to my room with the form I needed to fill out for my daughter’s birth certificate. I recited all the information needed to fill in each box on the form, mother’s name, father’s name etc. She smiled contently until she asked for my daughter’s full name. By the look on her face I knew she was upset when I gave my daughter my last name, not her father’s. As she stood to leave, she asked if I was sure about her last name. I shook my head yes.
Later that night Sister Mary Rose came back to visit, she sensed that I needed to talk. I was amazed, as I held my daughter in my arms, I told her everything. She did not seem shocked. She did not get upset with my foolish ways. She gave me tissues for my tears. She held my hand, rubbed my arm as I confessed to her about the crazy path that lead me to my daughter. Her eyes showed only compassion and understanding. When I finished, when I had nothing left to say, she squeezed my hand, with the sweetest voice she explained to me, God brings people into our life for a reason. We need to accept them, not let our fears and insecurities send them away. She continued by saying, people are more understanding and forgiving then I believed. When I was ready, when I sensed the time was right, I needed to call my young man (Bobby) I was in love with. From everything I had told her he sounded like a very caring, understanding young man. Then added she had faith he would surprise me. She stood up, kissed my forehead. "Have faith in God. Have faith in yourself,” was the last thing she said to me before she left the room. For the next several days every time she would visit Sister Mary Rose would always rub my arm, smile and say, “Have faith and you will be fine.”
It took me awhile to get use to being mom. I was happy but I was still very lonely. Two weeks after returning home from the hospital Leigh drove over to my house unannounced to see what happened to me. She was quite surprised when I introduced her to my daughter. We sat in the living room, talked the afternoon away catching up. The first time Leigh held my daughter she exclaimed, “She is such a beautiful little munchkin”. The nick name stuck, from then on, for most of her childhood I called my daughter Munchkin. As the afternoon wore on, neither one of us mentioned Martin, my marine or Bobby. Before Leigh left she asked if I would be in her wedding that fall, I happily accepted. After hanging out all afternoon, I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me. I knew my life would never be the same but just maybe, if I was lucky, it might get be pretty close to where it had been.
Over the next few days, Leigh and Cathleen worked their magic. They started calling people, broke the news about me becoming a mom. Later I would learn, when they informed people, they were also given rules, what could and could not be asked. They wanted to make life as stress free as possible for me. Soon my phone began ringing from long lost friends wanting to catch up, excited to see the “Munchkin”.
I was most surprised by a phone call I received from an old football buddy, Steve. He had graduated from the Academy that spring. Steve was working at the Academy during the fall waiting for his slot at Quantico. The year before, during football season, Steve and I would hang out at parties and bars, cracking each other up with our commentary on the 'fashionably dressed' people of Annapolis. We were so caddy, yet it wasn’t mean, it was fun. No one heard our comments, no one knew, no one was hurt. They were wonderful evenings full of inside jokes and laughter. He was my bar buddy. I have many fond memories of all of us driving around in his big brown conversion van. It was such a classic ride! Steve called when he had heard I had a baby. He wanted to know if there was anything I needed? Anything he could do for us? In the span of our fifteen minute phone call I rediscovered what I already knew but had forgotten. The men and woman who graduate from the Academy have character, loyalty, compassion and they do not judge. I was invited to come hang out with the guys once again. I was surprised, to them nothing had changed, I was still Dinker. The only difference I had added a new member to our group. After the invitation to hang out, I apologized, I explained the thought of hanging out was wonderful but I would need a sitter. Sitters cost money, funds I did not have. About twenty minutes after I had hung up with Steve, my phone rang again. He had a solution to the funds 'problem', bring the Munchkin along. Everyone would hang out at his apartment, we didn’t need to go to the bars to have fun. A few hours later, Cathleen, the Munchkin and I headed over to Steve’s apartment in Annapolis. I wish I had taken a camera. That night three extremely large former USNA football players sat on the floor with their backs leaning up against the couch passing the Munchkin back and forth keeping her calm. It made me laugh as I watched them hand her off like a football. It touched my heart when she fell asleep nestled in Steve’s legs. As I watched her sleep I began to wonder if they had no problem with my daughter, was it possible Bobby might feel the same? Was there still hope for the two of us?
September 7, 1985, I was ready to leave the safety of my close circle of friends, attend a party with Cathleen. I found a sitter and headed out for the night. It was probably better I did not know who was hosting the party that night, if I did I would have stayed home. When we arrived, the party was packed. Once we entered the house Cathleen went in search of the keg while I looked around to see if I knew anyone. As I turned to walk down the hall, I saw him, Kevin, Bobby’s younger brother. He saw me as well. Kevin smiled and welcomed me to his party. Kevin pointed me in the direction of the drinks, bathroom and more party goers. As he turned to greet new arrivals, he suddenly stopped, turned back toward me and questioned, “I know you from somewhere?”
I smiled and shrugged. A little while later someone spilled a beer on me. Beer and white shorts don't mix, Kevin being a gentleman gave me his roommates BDUs to put on while my shorts dried. I had put the BDUs on, was walking out of the room, when Kevin got a huge grin on his face, “Bobby’s girl spring break 1984. I knew I met you!”
I leaned my head down, covered my eyes with my hand in embarrassment, then looked back up, shook my head yes. Kevin laughed for a minute, then his tone got serious, “What the hell happened with you two when he came up here?”
“I was stupid" was my simple reply. From that point on every time Kevin saw me at the party, he would smile, shake his head, mutter, “Bobby” under his breath as he walked by. The party was still going strong when I looked at the clock realized I needed to head home. I asked Kevin where my shorts were, I needed to leave. They were still wet, Kevin insisted I wear the BDUs home. He told me to bring them back later, or give them to Cathleen she would get them to him. He asked why I was leaving early I confessed to him I had a daughter. He immediately asked, “How old?”
I smiled, told him no she was not Bobby’s. He laughed, put his hand on my shoulder, said he was only teasing me. Then revealed he knew exactly who I was when I walked into the party. He had been 'messing' with me all night. As he walked me to my car, Kevin confided he knew I had a baby girl. He admired me, I made a mistake and took responsibility for it. That took a lot of character in his book. He knew girls who took the easy way out. Kevin opened my car door, kissed me on the check, promised Cathleen would get home safely, then said good night. As he shut my door, he added, “I will tell Bobby you still look hot.”
The same as his brother had done many times before, when I blushed from his statement, he smiled and winked. I pulled away and looked in my rear view mirror, I saw Kevin standing there waving bye. As I drove home I didn’t know what to think. I reviewed everything in my head. Kevin knew I had a baby so therefore Bobby had to know. Kevin didn’t care, he admired me, so how did Bobby feel? I had so many questions that would not be answered for quite a while. I smiled to myself as I replayed Kevin’s last words to me, “I will tell Bobby you still look hot.” That means good or bad, Bobby would be talking about me.
September 1985 Leigh and her handsome lacrosse player were married in the Chapel at the United States Naval Academy. One of the groomsmen that day was Martin. I had not seen him since the infamous spring break party. He was as handsome, as witty as ever. During the wedding I found myself daydreaming, wondering if I would ever get married. After the ceremony as the crowd gathered outside on the steps of the chapel waiting for the Leigh and her new husband, I found myself watching Martin and the other groomsmen prepare for the happy couple to exit. As the best man announced the newly married couple, the groomsmen raised their swords creating an arch for them to walk under. As Leigh passed under the last sword, the groomsman brought his sword down, smacked her on the butt with the flat part of the blade, welcoming her to the Navy. I stared at Martin in his dress uniform, I confirmed to myself yes he was a handsome navy pilot. Yes, he was every girl's dream. Suddenly I felt a rush of relief. Staring at him I realized Martin no longer had a hold on me. I was cognizant that I felt no pull on my heart, no longing, no guilt. I was over Martin. That night at the after party, it was such a relief to be able to talk to Martin with out any feelings of guilt, without any confusion clouding my brain. I was free of him.
Leigh and her new husband headed to Pensacola. I wondered if Bobby was still there, or had he moved to his next assignment. The fall of 1985 I found a job at a well known photography studio in Annapolis. I would spend my Saturday afternoons photographing weddings. During the week I worked at a gym in Laurel. Every Thursday I would load the Munchkin in the car and we would head to Quantico to visit her father. During my free time I would hang out with my friends once again. As winter approached, Steve and his buddies would head out to start to their military careers. My circle of friends, my safety net was getting smaller. I was beginning to feel very alone.
My munchkin’s father soon graduated from Quantico, headed to flight school in Pensacola. Winter passed, spring was in full bloom when I packed my car and headed to Pensacola to visit. The munchkin and I would stay with Leigh and her husband. One afternoon when my munchkin was with her Dad, Leigh and I went to the beach at Pensacola. I laid in the sun, closed my eyes, felt the gulf breeze on my skin. My mind wondered back to spring break two years earlier, the time I spent with Bobby. I knew Leigh’s husband played lacrosse with Bobby at the Naval Academy. I knew they were friends. I asked Leigh if Bobby ever said anything about me having a child. Her answer was short, “Not much.” I looked at her face trying to determine if Bobby really didn’t say much or if she didn't want to hurt me by telling me what he had said? Was she trying to protect me like she had always done in the past? My insecurities kicked in, I did not push the subject, I let it go. For the rest of the week, no matter how much I longed to find out any information on Bobby, I kept my questions to myself.
From 1984 until the summer of 1986 I lost track of the number of times I had visited the emergency room. Each time I was sick, I felt like I was having a heart attack. The pain would last for an hour or more. I would throw up, then the pain would subside. The diagnosis was always the same, I was too emotional, it was simply stress from being a single mom.
I knew something was wrong with me, yet I did not question the doctors. After several months of symptoms with no relief from the prescribed medicine I began to doubt myself. Maybe they were correct, it was all stress, after all I had been on an emotional roller coaster for two years. I began to believe the doctors and no longer sought medical treatment when I became ill. I concluded maybe I was an emotional basket case.
June, Friday the 13th my father was in a car accident and was rushed to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He would remain there for 6 weeks. While I was visiting him I had another one of my attacks. The doctor seeing me in distress, the pained look on my face gave me a quick exam. He asked if any tests had ever been run on my gall bladder, I said no. He called Kimbrough and ordered tests immediately. A few days later the tests were run, on July 2nd I was admitted to Kimbrough Army hospital for surgery. July 3rd I had my gall bladder removed. I was in the hospital for five days. Upon my release I was told not to work for the next 3 weeks. Since I was not allowed to work I lost my job. A week later disobeying doctors orders I attended my five year high school reunion. After our reunion Cathleen ran off to Pensacola with her pilot. Later they would marry. All my college friends were gone, I was now all alone.
A few days after our reunion I received a card in the mail with no return address. I instantly recognized the writing, it was from Bobby. I frantically opened the envelope, inside was a get well card. His message was simple and straight forward. “I hope you feel better soon. I only want the best for you. Bob P.S. Happy Birthday” I wondered, how did he know I was sick? I smiled for a brief moment, he still remembered my birthday. Then I read the message again, I only want the best for you. Was he saying good bye? Why did I have that feeling? He sent a card, he had to care a little. I knew by now he had earned his wings, he was no longer in Pensacola. There was no return address on the envelope, was it on purpose or did he simply forget. Did he not want me to write? Where was he? Then I saw the post mark, San Diego. I continued to wonder why there was no return address. I was convinced this was his way of saying good bye.
My heart sank. I spent the night running to the bathroom throwing up. My mom wanted to take me to the emergency room. She believed I was sick from doing too much after the surgery. I assured her I would be fine, it was probably something I ate. I knew the truth. This time I was sick from stress, I felt Bobby was saying good bye. Every hope I had secretly held on to vanished when I read the card. My new reality; I had no job, I had a child, Bobby said goodbye, I lost all my dreams. In my eyes I had nothing; I felt so very alone.
With the start of another day came the realization I had a daughter, no matter how I felt I had to keep moving, keep doing. She relied on me. I could not let her down. I had to keep going. I had to keep a positive attitude. I spent the first part of August looking for a job that would offer me a good salary. A job that came with benefits for both of us. I finally found a job at Macy’s Marley Station. I would work a few weeks training in the dress department before I would officially become the manager of the Attitudes department. I became fast friends with Cheryl, she was the manager of the adjacent department. We shared an office, aka a stockroom. Each morning as we checked in our new merchandise, we would talk about our lack of finding a good man. Over time we would share the stories of our heartbreaks and regrets.
Fall was fast approaching and football was in the air. The white uniforms were once again filling the streets of Annapolis and surrounding areas. It was hard not to notice the midshipmen in their uniforms as they walked through the mall. To me they were constant reminders of Bobby. I searched my soul trying to determine why I could not forget him? Why I could not move on? Searching for an answer as to why my heart refused to let him go. I had no clue, no explanation, I had no answers. I only knew from the moment I first looked into his eyes, my heart was never the same.
One day while folding sweaters, I heard a voice say, "Excuse me Miss." The first thing I saw when I looked up was the wording Navy lacrosse written across a t-shirt. For a second my heart jumped, I had to catch my breath. He was a very handsome man. He must have been puzzled when my eyes met his and my smile left my face. For that one instance when I saw Navy Lacrosse I was hoping I would look up and see Bobby. I quickly regained my composure, asked him what he needed. I helped him find a present for his mom. I mentioned to him I used to know a Navy lacrosse player but I lost track of him after he left Pensacola. I had often wondered where he was. Very politely he asked who the lacrosse player was. I answered Bobby Bianchi. He laughed, said he should have guessed, Bob always had the good looking women. I surprised myself when I very bluntly asked him if he knew where Bobby was? He informed me he believed getting ready to deploy as part of HC-5. I pushed my luck even further and asked if he knew how to get in touch with Bobby. He smiled, said for a good looking woman he could get me his address. He asked if he could use the phone. I handed him a pen and part of the register tape to write on. He hung up the phone, handed me Bobby’s military address. I put his mother's gift in his bag and thanked him for his help. Before he left he said, "Tell Bob I said he is one very lucky man!"
As soon he left my department, I ran back to my office and pinned Bobby's address on my bulletin board above my desk. I did not want to risk losing it. I begged Cheryl to cover for me I needed to run to the card store before I lost my nerve. I explained to her I could not believe my luck but I had Bobby’s address. She knew Bobby was my only regret, my biggest heartache. I believe at that moment Cheryl was more excited than I was. She was definitely impatient, I was taking to long gathering my purse, she yelled, “Go already. Get to Hallmark damn it!"
It took me a lot longer than I imagined to find the perfect card. I wanted Bobby to laugh when he read the card. More importantly the card, what I wrote, had to make him want to respond. I cannot remember what the card had imprinted on the inside, but I vividly recall there was a photograph of a bowl of rice krispies on the front. I thought it was perfect. I had “handed” Bobby a bowl of cereal when I first met him in Coronado. I wanted him to remember our first encounter. I remembered as we laid in bed in Pensacola, Bobby told me when he first saw me standing there in the robe, it drove him crazy. He wanted me. To further remind him of our meeting, I wrote on the inside something to the effect:
Got a job at Macy’s. Having a sale on robes next week, any suggestions on style or color? Still dreaming, Denise. P.S. I am ready.
On the way home I mailed the card. As I closed the mailbox lid I said a quick prayer. All I could do now was wait, see if he would answer. Everything was in Bobby's hands.
(Use the links to the left to continue on to part 6)