I was married at age 20 to a man who was 11 years my senior. When I married the man, I was a recent Brazilian arrival doing a lot of drugs and hanging out with all the wrong people. I thought getting married would settle me down and straighten me out, but instead it marked the beginning of the worst period of my life. The man was intelligent and creative, but he was also possessive, manipulative and had an ego that didn't allow any other human to occupy the same space as his. Within the first year the intelligent man showed himself as delusional and abusive. It took me a long time to understand that the man's bravado was a cover up for deep-seeded insecurity that he was able to go to any lengths to hide. Three years into the marriage, I no longer knew whether what I thought and felt was real or not. Only my fantasies -- where I took refuge -- remained mine. In them I dreamed of being rescued and of living the love story I so craved. But back in the real world my husband was busy spraying beer all over me and undermining any attempt I made to stand on my own two legs.
One day, as I stood on the edge of a subway platform, I thought I could make it all stop if I took one step forward. I'm a survivor, and that kind of thinking scared the hell out of me, so I summoned all the courage I had and sought out help. After a few phone calls, I found myself lying on a Freudian analyst's couch for nine months while getting reacquainted with myself. At the end I bought a Suzuki Samurai and decided to head to California. My ex-husband's parting words were, "You will never amount to anything without me." He was a nice guy to the very end.
When I finally landed on the Pacific shore, I felt free and excited about starting a new life. I didn't care that I didn't have a job, money or friends. But once the enthusiasm of my newfound freedom dwindled, the picture of a woman lost and confused materialized. The abuse I had let come into my being in New York City had followed me to the beaches of L.A. I got involved with every jerk in town and ended up being the victim of a crime.
I was spiraling down, but nothing seemed to stop me from continuing to hope and dream of a gallant man rushing to my rescue. I thought about all the books I had read and all the films I had seen, and they always had a happy ending. But after a few years of great disappointments, I was ready to throw in the towel and stop caring about finding love.
It was then that I met Chris Rubin, who was self-assured, kind and had no desire to rescue me. He thought I was perfect the way I was. We fell in love, neither one of us needing to dominate, change or control the other.
Our first two and a half years together were everything I had ever dreamed a relationship could be. Chris was a journalist and wrote about food, wine and hotels. And so we traveled, dined, drank and danced around the house while singing made-up, silly songs. But in April 2006, the world, as if displeased with our happiness, came tumbling down. Chris was diagnosed with a rare vascular cancer and was dying. He needed a liver transplant for a chance to battle his cancer. I thought I had known pain before, but nothing came close to what I was experiencing. We hung to hope and eventually, with only hours to spare, Chris got his second chance at life. A new liver was put inside him while his old cancerous one was sent to research.
We got married and embraced life with passion. Our new philosophy became to live life fully. But while we had great plans, life's plan was greater. Ten months after the transplant, cancer returned metastasized to Chris' hips, spine and lungs. We fought with everything we had, but this time, what we had wasn't enough.
Two days before Chris died, he looked at me and kissed me with profound tenderness. In the sweetness of his kiss, Chris wanted me to know that he was leaving, and his parting gift to me was his undying love.
On Aug. 15, 2008, after only five years of knowing Chris, he died in my arms -- the place where he felt the safest and I the happiest.
In all my trials, tribulations and daydreaming, I had never considered becoming a widow. None of the books and films I envied had that as an ending.
I felt ripped apart, raw and faced with a choice: to embrace life or to let my aching heart dictate my existence. I chose life. But I needed to do something for myself that I had failed to do in all my years of life: I needed to journey within and find out once and for all who I was and what I wanted.
I took my time and settled down to listen to my thoughts and feelings. I cuddled and embraced myself when the hurt cut through my skin. In this process, I discovered the love I had always craved had been within me all along. And if I allowed it to flow, it would change my life.
Today, I don't need another person to live, to dream or to feel complete. I understand that feeling content really comes from within. And if I happen to meet someone else in life's journey, it will be to share, not to make me whole. I no longer need to be rescued.
If you are feeling unloved and unworthy, I hope that you, too, find the love that already exists within you. It all starts by respecting your own heart and thoughts.
Follow Deborah Calla on Twitter: www.twitter.com/debcalla