All through this time, I never forgot about Joanne. She wrote once or twice after I got home, even after we were married, I believe. She always told me to follow my heart.
I will never forget that one day though. When our oldest was less than a year old, I got a letter in the mail notifying me that Joanne had been killed in a car accident in a mountain pass in the interior of British Columbia. Her mother wrote me the letter, telling me she had died in a pretty violent accident, and stating that there was a little box filled with the things I had given her as gifts over the year we were together, and did I want that stuff back. I remember sitting on the stairs of our little 2-bedroom condo and shedding a tear for her, out of guilt and out of sadness. I had always thought that I would one day gather the brains and the courage at the same moment and get in touch with her and tell her how sorry I was for what had happened, that I treated her poorly, and would she please forgive me.
Instead I wrote a letter to her good catholic mother. I told her that if she felt okay about it, that I would be honored to have my little box of trinkets occupy a place among the things they were keeping as a remembrance of her. I also apologized to her, in place of her daughter, and asked for her forgiveness for breaking her daughter's heart and treating her so poorly. She wrote back and of course forgave me, and told me that Joanne had indeed waited for me to come back to her, but it was okay, she had decided to move on with her life, had forgiven me, and had a boyfriend at the time she died.
She said they would be happy to keep my small gifts along with her other things they had decided to keep, and she told me she loved me, and I needed to forgive myself. A wise woman indeed. My heart broke for the whole thing, and I felt absolutely terrible. Then her mother told me to just follow my heart, and everything would be okay. No kidding! She sent me the obit from the newspaper, along with some information about an endowment fund that had been established to provide a some music scholarships for the high school we attended. (That fund still operates today, 25 years later.) I wrote out a check for as much as I could afford and sent it away, guilty as hell.
Over the next several months I replayed in my mind what I would have said to her, had I been able to gather enough brains to make a call, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and move on with life. I've never forgotten the advice to follow my heart though.
From a career perspective things went well for me. Not saying it wasn't tough, but it really wasn't out of the ordinary, especially compared to other people we knew in basically the same circumstances we were in: young (very young), with a young family, basically beginning the education process, trying to figure out who we were, separately and together, and fitting into the church culture. As we were in this phase of life, we lived very close to my in-laws, and very close to everyone with whom my wife had gone to high school with. We all had little kids, school, and all that stuff.
What was weird though, was something that I have found common in lots of other geographical areas we have lived: there was open campaigning for callings (or jobs) within the church. This was true particularly the case among the wives, who were by and large ALL stay at home moms. Whenever someone was asked to do something in the church, and a position opened up by that vacancy there were always the rumors and speculation. Along with this came the inevitable call to some one, and the others were left, sometimes wondering why THEY weren't asked to be the president of this quorum, or the head of THAT organization. This bred a lot of disappointment, competition, and judgment. If you went through this process several times and weren't tapped to take a job that carried a certain amount of responsibility, you were somehow lacking. This can be a tough thing and is a microcosm of life in the corporate world. Except that it wasn't supposed to be that way in the church. Wives started whisper campaigns, the men competed for the positions, and feelings were hurt.
This was true where I was, but I am sure (because of later experience) that it is the same elsewhere.
This competition spread to career choices as well. I wanted to be a teacher, then a recording engineer, while everyone around me was in either law school, medical school, CPA school, or dentistry. And that was it - there were probably a dozen people in that little group of friends, and I was at the bottom of the pile. For the wife, she then was doubly motivated to see that I at least got a good church job. In the end however, I was teaching music to the elementary aged kids, every Sunday. This was an unspoken source of contention between my wife and I.
As far as the private life was concerned, it wasn't too much better. But I was doing well in school, and I was liking what I was doing. To hell with everybody else's expectations, let everybody else go to school to learn how to wear a suit and work a calculator for the rest of their boring lives. That wasn't for me. Shoot me in the face right now, please. I needed more. I needed more than black and white input into my life.
My wife felt a lot of pressure for me (being that she married a person who wasn't from that original med school/dental school/law school group) to get one of those positions and show that I was worthy of her, and that I could measure up to these people. My RESPONSE to this pressure was to act in such a way that she didn't like, and in a way that made it appear that I wasn't remotely interested in the job. When my first kid was 3, I pierced my ear with an ice cube, a needle, and a potato. One of my first outward acts of rebellion.