My parents have hated each other since before I was born. I saw them kiss once, a quick goodbye peck on the lips when my dad dropped us off at the airport for a trip to Walt Disney World while he stayed at home with the dog. I got the impression my parents didn't confide much in each other, but they told me lots of things. Here is how they ended up together, based on the stories they each told me.
My parents met in high school when they worked together at a local fried chicken joint. They weren't friends, and they attended different schools on opposite sides of town. My dad graduated and enlisted in the air force to avoid being drafted to the front lines of the Vietnam War. My mother graduated a year later.
My dad worked on airplanes as a mechanic during the war. When he wasn't in Vietnam, he lived in a house near the base in Reno. He loved the dry heat of the desert and still talks about it in a wistful sort of way. He got into a motorcycle accident while he was home on leave at the age of 21. He said he was riding his motorcycle when a cop hit him while making an illegal left turn. The handlebars of my dad's motorcycle had pushed around through his back, severing his spinal column. He spent the next two weeks in a coma, and when he woke up, he said he received notice that the police had benevolently decided not to ticket him for the accident and also that he was never going to walk again.
My dad had been seriously dating a beautiful red-haired girl at the time of his accident. He'd been planning to propose to her. She was the love of his life, he told me. When he woke from the coma, he drove her away. She had still wanted to be with him, but she deserved a fully functioning man, he didn't care what she wanted, and it goes on. I don't think he really expected her to leave, but she finally did, and he was alone. The scenario seems predictable if you've met him.
He was still recovering from the accident when he received a letter from my mother. She was still living with her parents in the town where they'd both grown up, taking a course to become a licensed practical nurse. She'd read about his accident in the local newspaper and wanted to reconnect. I presume this was about the time that my dad realized the beautiful red-haired girl wasn't coming back and that my mother might be his last option.
My mother said she had liked him when they worked together at the fried chicken joint in high school but that he'd been a jerk then. Now he was paralyzed from the chest down, wheelchair-bound, and largely dependent on someone to take care of him. Why should that change how I felt about him? she wondered. "Everyone has a right to a little bit of happiness," she told me. Besides, the doctors had only anticipated he'd live five years beyond the accident. With her help, he could have a wife and a house and a child in that amount of time. "I always thought of your dad as my first husband," she explained. And she started writing him letters.
My parents wrote back and forth, and when my dad moved back into his parents' house in their hometown, my mother started coming over, courting him. She was only twenty but had already been engaged twice. My dad was sorry to leave Reno. He'd liked the desert. He'd liked riding his motorcycle. He'd liked the red-haired girl. My parents' dates largely consisted of hanging out at my dad's parents' house, snacking and watching television. A man my mother used to date came back to town for a visit and asked if he could take her out. My mother asked my dad what she should say. He said he didn't care, they weren't exclusive, and she could do what she wanted, so she made plans. When their date finally rolled around, my dad asked her, "Are we getting married, or what?" She canceled the date with the other man, and my parents were engaged.