It was the year I was in school studying to become a surgical technician, and it was significant in several ways. It would be the first major step I took toward a career in healthcare.
I was very good at scholastic endeavors, once I got beyond high school, so I was at the top of my class academically. My instructor was a graduate of the St Cloud Hospital School of Nursing, and was the first person to encourage me to go into nursing. She thought I’d make an excellent nurse. I think she even wrote a letter on my behalf to Sister Mary Jude to help me get into school.
Her name was Terri, and she was totally infatuated with me. She mentioned that more than once, and not just to me. She announced it to the entire class. In Terri’s defense, I reminded her of her ex-husband, and while they were no longer married, they remained good friends. She became a very good friend of mine.
1980 was the year I kind of saved my own bro’s life after his spleen ruptured. It was the year my brother, Bruce, was diagnosed with an astrocytoma wrapped around his right optic nerve and and needed brain surgery to remove it.
It was the year I finally got over my break up with my high school sweetheart, five years earlier, and fell victim to the total agony of love once more. And it was the year I got my DWI and ended up going into CD treatment at the St Cloud VA.
A lots of stuffs happened in that twelve month period. Sometimes it seems to me that half of my life occurred in that one year.
* * * *
Her name was Mary Terese Pyka. She was a farmer’s daughter from Royalton, MN. I met her at a wedding reception at the Royalton American Legion, I think. I can’t remember who got married. I may not have even been invited to the wedding. Be that as it may, I walked into the Legion, and saw Mary sitting at a table with a few other girls.
And, yes, I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.
I bought a couple beers, walked over to her table, and asked if she wanted to dance. In between dances, we talked. She was going to St Cloud State University, business major, and was a couple of years younger than me. I had taken several General Education classes at SCSU after I was discharged from the Army, so we had that in common.
Mary was smart and beautiful, two of my favorite qualities in a woman. She was about my height, long blonde hair, eyes as blue as the sky, azure pools a guy like me could get lost in, and a totally hot body.
We drank and danced the night away, and had a really good time. I told her I’d like to see her again, and she gave me her phone number.
I’ve always been rather partial to brunettes, so I was actually kind of surprised that I liked Mary as much as I did. Most, if not all, of the women I dated post-Maureen had dark hair and eyes, much like Maureen. And the more they resembled her, the better I liked them.
Mary didn’t physically resemble Maureen at all. If she resembled any woman I’d previously had a crush on, it was Judy Kostelecky, my seventh grade classmate who got dead way too soon.
* * * *
I was about halfway through with my surgical technician training when I met Mary. I did half of my OR clinicals at the St Cloud Hospital, and the other half at Unity Medical Center in Coon Rapids. I had just moved into an apartment across the street from police department in Coon Rapids with my buddy, Gary Miklos. I think that was the last time we were roommates.
I called Mary a few days after the wedding reception, and we talked for a couple of hours. We talked on the phone a few times, and we really seemed to hit it off. I asked her out. We agreed to meet at the Ground Round in St Cloud. She went to school and worked in St Cloud, so she would already be in town. It was a Wednesday night in early May. I told Gary where I was going, and who I was meeting. He knew who Mary was. She was a sophomore at Royalton High when he was a senior there.
I bought a single long stemmed pink Gerbera daisy, and gave it to Mary when we met in the parking lot. We had a couple of drinks and dinner, and talked and talked. I told her some of my Army stories, and made her laugh a lots.
She told me a lots of stuffs about herself. And one of the things she disclosed was she had never had sex. I just about choked on a handful of peanuts.
“Let me get this straight. You’re twenty-two years old, and you’re still a virgin?”
“Yep. I’ve been saving myself for my husband, and my wedding night.”
“Wow. I didn’t think girls like you existed anymore.”
“Is that a bad thing?”
“No, just a surprising thing. Given my checkered past, I didn’t think I’d ever meet the Virgin Mary in person.”
In the parking lot, I asked if I could kiss her. She smiled, and nodded. She was a very good kisser. In that regard, she reminded me very much of Maureen.
* * * *
I know I fell deeply in love with Mary in a very short amount of time, and she fell equally hard for me. I was the first guy she fell in love with, so everything was new and exciting to her. I was probably ready to give love another chance, but I was surprised by how quickly she broke through all of my defenses. No one had been able to do that since Maureen. We started dating seriously, and spent as much time with each other as we could fit into our schedules.
I drove out to the farm to meet her parents. Her dad loved me. Her mother hated me. I took her to The Ranch to meet my family. My parents loved her. She was a darling young woman.
I sent flowers to the farm, and her workplace. I sent her cutesy romantic cards. We talked on the phone almost every day that didn’t see each other. We talked about our respective days. We talked about getting married. We talked about everything and anything. My phone bill was off the charts.
When we were together, we couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. We kissed for hours. More than once Mary looked me in the eye and said she no longer cared if she was still a virgin when she got married, but I thought her dream was really very sweet, and almost sacred. I actually declined to take advantage of her.
Yeah, I can’t believe it either. I think my affair with Nadina had everything to do with my response. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tempted to pluck that cherry, but by not plucking it when it was so freely offered would hopefully balance the scales a little more in my favor with God, maybe. It’s probably what I thought at the time at any rate.
That only made her love me more. As for me, I couldn’t have loved her more if I had tried. I was happier than I had been in years. I was finally getting my life together. I was doing well in school. I had job offers from both of the hospitals I was training at. And I had a gorgeous girlfriend that was crazy about me.
Life, as I saw it, couldn’t have gotten any better. And if that was true, it could mean only one thing.
* * * *
On Labor Day, Gary and I bought a keg, and had a little party at a park several miles from our apartment. It was a warm, sunny day. We played Frisbee and listened to music. It wasn’t a big party, maybe twelve to fifteen people, and I drank a whole lots of beer in a very short time.
I got a DWI driving back to my apartment in Coon Rapids. I was taken to the police department across the street from my apartment, and booked. My BAL was 0.28, almost three times the legal limit. I knew I was guilty of drinking and driving, so I decided to give my full and complete cooperation to the cop that was processing my violation. I was such a nice guy about the whole thing, the cop actually apologized to me.
“Most of the guys I bust for DWI’s are real dicks, you know, cussing and swearing and lots of lip. But you’ve been really nice about this. I almost feel sorry for busting you.”
“Hey, you were only doing your job. And I clearly deserved it.” I said. And I meant it.
I was given a ticket, and a court date. And because I had been such a decent guy about the whole thing, the cop drove me across the street to my apartment, rather than lock me up. He wished me well as he drove off to serve and protect the community once more.
Believe it or not, that actually happened.
I have no clear recollection of what happened the rest of that day. I’m not sure when I told Mary what happened, but I do know she cried herself to sleep that night. And the next time I saw her she told me I had broken her heart.
“I don’t know, maybe this is what happens when you fall in love.” she said, her eyes full of tears. I had no verbal response, so I held her close and we kissed until we both felt better. But it was only a temporary fix. My DWI was the beginning of the start of the end of our relationship.
* * * *
I made arrangements to check into the St Cloud VA before I ever set foot in the courtroom. I figured it would make me look better to the judge. I was given a $450.00 fine, and 45 days in jail. The jail time was suspended pending my successful completion of a licensed CD treatment program.
I had just successfully completed my surgical technician training, and then checked into treatment at the beginning of October. I would spend roughly the next ninety days at the St Cloud VA.
Mary came to visit me. She was still in love with me, and happy that I was getting the help I needed. However, there was this one little thing. Mary’s mother was very upset that I had entered an alcohol treatment program.
“Would she be happier if I just kept drinking?” I asked. Mary merely shrugged in response.
We talked frequently on the phone, and she visited occasionally, but her visits became less frequent, and she seemed distracted at the beginning of our visits. I attributed it to her being the only woman in a room with, like, fifty former drunk guys, and most of the them couldn’t stop staring at her. She was kind of totally gorgeous.
She came to see me on my birthday. I could tell by the look on her face something was very different this time.
“I have something very difficult to tell you. I started dating another guy.” she said, looking at the floor. “I think my relationship with you will be too complicated for my family.”
“You mean, your mom.”
“Yes.” she said, looking at me. “You’re a really sweet guy, but my family comes first to me. And especially my mom.”
“Man. This totally fucking sucks.” I said. “Just tell me his name isn’t Rick…”
I know I tried to talk her out of breaking up with me. It had taken me five years to give my heart to the extent that I had with her, and I really didn’t want to have it broken again. But Mary wouldn’t be swayed by anything I said, and that was that. I walked Mary out to her car, and kissed her goodbye. I watched her car as drove off, then stood in the parking lot for several minutes, holding the freshly broken pieces of my heart in my hands, thinking I was done with love forever.
It was the last time I ever saw Mary Terese Pyka.
As I was walking back into the hospital, I couldn’t help but think, I totally should have fucked her when I had the chance!!
* * * *
I was discharged from the hospital the following Friday. My counselors wanted to keep me in the hospital longer, in view of the fact that my relationship with Mary had just dissolved, and I had been very open with them about what had happened when my relationship with Maureen had gone south.
Yeah, I was still talking about that in my group therapy sessions, and how much of an impact it had had on my life.
My counselors didn’t think I’d be able to stay sober for an hour if I was discharged. I actually don’t know how I stayed sober as long as I did. In retrospect, I stayed sober to prove to my counselors and Mary’s mom that they were wrong about me.
I called Mary a couple of times after I got out of the hospital, but she had moved on, and asked me not to call her again. I called her mom once. I told myself it was part of my making amends, but mostly I wanted to know why she disliked me as much as she did.
“I just think my daughter could do better than you.” she said, and hung up the phone.
As much as I hated Mary’s mom for hating me, and most likely being the driving force behind her daughter’s decision to break up with me, I had an immense amount of respect for Mary for making the decision she made for the reasons that she did. I wouldn’t have chosen my family over her if our positions had been reversed. In fact, out of all the people I’ve ever known, she’s probably the only person who would’ve done that.
I spent hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom. I thought about killing myself, but I knew that was something I would never attempt again, no matter how appealing it seemed at the time. My mom would drop into my room occasionally and give me short pep talks. My dad told me to get my head out of my ass and get a job.
Thanks, dad. I know I didn’t think much of your advice at the time, but you were right. You were right about a lots of things I never acknowledged.
I applied for a surgical technician position at St Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, MN. They were hiring, and I needed a change of scenery. I got a call from the hospital saying I wouldn’t be hired because I had just completed treatment for alcoholism. I thought about it for about a week, then filed a discrimination lawsuit against St Mary’s Hospital with the State of Minnesota.
Five years later, shortly after I enrolled in nursing school, my attorney and their team of attorneys would reach an agreement that I agreed to never discuss.
In essence, the hospital didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing when they decided not to hire me after getting treatment for my alcohol problem, and the hospital slipped me several thousand dollars to make me go away.
My attorney advised me to take the deal, and after five years of legal wranglings, I took it, even though I really wanted St Mary’s to have to admit to all kinds of wrongdoing.
* * * *
Of all the women I’ve loved and lost, I have the most questions about Mary. Would I have stayed sober if we had stayed together? I probably never would’ve met Nancy, or her dead husband. And then I never would’ve gone to Wyoming…
Sometimes I wonder, and that’s all. I don’t wish I had a time machine. Given the Law of Equilibrium and Balance that governs time travel, the South would probably end up winning the Battle of Gettysburg if I found a way to stay together with Mary, and I’m not willing to accept that as a fair and equitable trade.
Would her mom have ever changed her mind about me? Would my children with Mary really be as bad as I was in my youth? I think the answer to that has to be Yes!
Maureen and Mary were the only two women I would’ve been willing to make babies with, and God made sure we didn’t stay together so He wouldn’t have to break His promise and flood the planet once more.
I’m grateful to God for that, as heartbreaking as it was for me.
And there’s this: God might have actually spoken to me if I had fathered any children, but He probably would’ve told me to kill them, like unto He did with Abraham. But unlike Abraham, He wouldn’t have offered me a way out.
That Mother’s Curse. That’s not something even God wants to mess with…
I’ve tried to find Mary on social media. She has a LinkedIn profile, but I’ve never tried to contact her as much as part of me wants to. I tell myself she got fat, and looks totally matronly now, like her mother, wearing those floral gingham dresses. And I think to myself, thank you, Lord, for sparing me from that fate!
I have no idea who she married. I’m sure he’s a decent man, but a better man than me? Yeah, that’s not happening. And in terms of a stellar life partner, I know I couldn’t have done any better than I did with my lovely supermodel wife.
All in all, my life has turned out far better than I expected it would. And I’ve lived far longer than I ever thought I would. I’m retired, and living in paradise. Except for varying degrees of back pain, life couldn’t get much better.
I’ll take the back pain. Maybe that’ll help postpone things going totally all to hell again any time soon…