It's impossible to understand Leif without knowing of his quest for love. I've already written of that, and posted his thoughts on dating, but I haven't written about the women he loved. Leif wanted to be in love. He was a romantic man who wanted the companionship and friendship of a soulmate and was actively searching for one beginning in high school.
His first love was a beautiful young woman in Puerto Rico. She went to a different school and her mother worked in the office with Leif's Dad. He only went out with K. a couple of times but he was head over heels in love with her and carried a torch for her long after we moved away from Puerto Rico back to Kansas. He never had a girlfriend during his senior year at Manhattan High School there, though he dated quite a few young women.
At a Society for Creative Anachronism event (Lilies War), which I think was in June 1994, he met Nikko, and married her a few months before his 21st birthday. I've already written about their marriage and divorce, and subsequent friendship.
After he climbed out of his depression when he came back from the army and losing Nikko, he again began dating and looking for love. He had a pretty good case on L. and hoped it would develop into something, but somehow it never did.
Then, after he graduated from KSU and began working at Sykes, he met J., a young woman who looked a lot like Gillian Anderson (Scully on the X-Files) and fell deeply in love with her. J. had a toddler daughter and had been in the army. Leif took them in and was prepared to make a life together. He got a better job at Western Wireless next door and she continued at Sykes. Sykes sent her to the Philippines to train people there for a call center (effectively making their team train their offshore replacements). While she was gone, he determined that he wanted to ask her to marry him and he had every reason to believe that she would. He bought the gorgeous ring above and showed it to me, thrilled.
I wanted so badly to be happy for him, to rejoice with him, to praise his choice of rings and bride, but I was concerned; concerned that the ring was beyond his means, concerned that J. wasn't ready to settle down, concerned that he would get his heart broken again. He was walking on air, though, and I didn't want to burst his bubble. I wanted his wishes to come true.
I asked him whether he was ready to be a father and he said he was. I think he had come to love J's daughter, too. Earlier in his life, he had said he didn't want children, but by this time, I think maturing had made him think perhaps he did, and being around J's daughter had convinced him. I took care of the daughter a few times. She was a cute little girl. I have a photo I found on his computer of the three of them going to the zoo in Manhattan, Kansas. J. and her daughter spent Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2003 with our family, and I have lots of photos of that, too but I won't post photos of anyone without their permission.
The night J. got back from the Philippines, Leif proposed to her and she accepted. He was ecstatic! He posted the news and the photo of the rings on the ZAON forums. I hoped things would go well, but a week later, she gave back his ring and left town. He was left with the payments on the ring and heartbreak, but he hoped the would get back together. Ever since that day in 2004, they had contact on and, and they both said they loved each other, but they never got back together, and Leif never got over her. He loved her till the day he died, and when he died, friends immediately asked if something had happened to her. Leif knew he would never have her, went on with his life, and continued to seek for another love, but he never really let go of any of the women he loved.
When we moved to Florida, he continued to search. He dated quite a bit and found someone he cared a lot for. Some strange circumstances broke up his romance with L., oddly enough, another friend of his somehow poisoned the relationship with thoughts that he was getting back together with J., which didn't happen. Although Leif loved J., I think by that time he knew it wasn't going to be a relationship that would happen or that he could trust and he was ready to find a new love even if he couldn't get J. completely out of his mind.
Then he found Donna. He was fascinated with her frenetic, mercurial intelligence and street smarts, her cuteness and bubbly personality, and overjoyed to have found a woman who not only liked to ride motorcycles and play online computer games (like his favorite PlanetSide), but also read Douglas Adams and was a model. He moved into an apartment with her in February 2006. For a time he was in love with her, but their relationship with through numerous ups and downs and he eventually and regretfully concluded that although he cared about her that their relationship was destructive to both of them and he wanted to end it gently and still be friends. Unfortunately, it didn't end well and it ended on top of his cycle accident. He did not take it well, and by November loneliness and depression had set in. He sent this email to me:
"No things are not bright. Rather dark actually as I struggle to find purpose. People have asked why I stayed with Donna. Including Donna. The simple answer is that she gave me a reason to exist. I had a purpose when I was with her. I had skills and knowledge that could benefit her. I had a reason to exist. That is the hardest part of this whole thing. I don't miss Donna; I just miss having a purpose. A reason to keep trudging on despite the fact that each day holds far more dificulties and irritations than it holds joys or pleasures. Part of me is relieved she is gone; part of me misses having someone that cared that I was there and was better for it."
I cried when I read that email. I felt so sad for him. How could my son, who wanted so badly to love and be loved, who needed so badly to be needed, to be someone's hero, be so lost and without a purpose in life? I think it also deluded himself that he didn't miss her, just as he tried to insist he didn't miss Nikko. It was that old male bravado again. Show no weakness. It was obvious that he missed them, missed the companionship, even if he didn't miss the problems. He knew the relationships were over, knew they weren't right for him, but just the same, he was so lonely and berift. I worried terribly about him between that email and March 2008. We tried to stay in contact every day, tried to see him as often as he would allow, which was about once or twice a month. When he came for Christmas he was clearly not a happy man. When he was here for his last birthday, he was subdued and preoccupied, looked depressed. As I've written, the photo of him at his last birthday made me cry. I had to cajole him into smiling, but his eyes did not smile. He looked so sad.
He got back into the dating game with Match.com and eharmony.com and tried again. I tried to get him to look at some other possibilities, organizations, SCA, but he focused on the online world, and he found someone yet again. In March, he began corresponding with and talking on the phone with D. who lived in another city in Florida. He was thrilled to have found someone he considered not only compatible but ideal in several ways. He only had one date with her and he immediately started sending me text messages all about her, then sending photos. He was totally smitten. I was so happy for him, but worried that once again, he would find disappointment and wondered how he could survive another one.
He never saw her again. The night they were to have a second date, her mother had a heart attack, and she had to cancel. He was willing to wait, he said. She was worth it. We saw him on Easter, March 23, for the last time. He seemed so happy, so animated. He talked about her, hoped it would work out for him. We hoped so, too. She, however, had pulled away to be with her family after her mother's heart attack. While Leif understood, he felt left out and lonely again.
Somewhere in this time, he lost control of his finances. He had lost his GI Bill benefits in February when USF decided the classes he was taking didn't meet the requirements. That cut his monthly income. Then he applied for loans and didn't get them because he was maxed out on his credit cards and couldn't pay his bills. We found letters rejecting his loan applications on his desk, neatly laid out as though he wanted us to find them. Perhaps he felt he wouldn't even be able to see and date D. without any money for dates and the gas to get there. As a joke, he sent me text messages about the gas mileage his RX-8 got. I was more than a little slow on the uptake.
Leif: "Have I told you about how great my car is for the quarter mile?"
Sent on Saturday, Mar 22 2008 at 5:46:06 PM
Mom: "Didn't know you were on a racetrack. Is this happening right now or is it a fond memory? Amusing. You can't afford gas to come here but apparently can afford a much more costly potential ticket or accident or using lotsa gas.:-P love your car? Sure is pretty!"
Leif: "No its a joke... Normally that means drag racing however in my case..."
Mom: "Joke? In your case?"
Leif: "At $3.50 a gallon a tank costs $50. One tank lasts 200 miles. Therefore 4 miles per $. Or one mile per $0.25. " In other words my car is built for a quarter ($0.25) mile."
Mom: "Argh! 4 mph? That bad?"
Leif: "No four miles pet dollar not gallon."
Mom: "Oh, that kind of 'quarter mile.' Kind of a sad joke, tho. Did you come up with that? If so, otta send it to Stewart or Colbert. Ok. Little slow here."
Leif: "14 mph but a quarter a mile.:-@"
He was joking on March 22nd. He hadn't yet received the rejections on his loans. 18 days later he was dead.
On the "desktop" of his computer I found this letter to J. I don't know whether he ever sent it to her. I was written February 18, 2008, a month before he met D., and less than two months before he died:
"I must say that as I write this I am a bit intoxicated. While I am not so intoxicated as to be unable to think clearly I have learned that for individuals like myself which are prone to be overly cerebral and rational such moments are not a dilution of ourselves but rather a liberation of our souls. Forgive me if my execution is not as brilliant as I would desire but the clarity is present. If you know me at all I always seek to make sense of things, to understand and to rationalize. I seek to find order in the universe and o make sense of things. I am not sure if it's my close connection or some other factor which makes it so hard for me to reconcile my undying love for you, but I cannot deny that never in my short life have I felt even a fraction of what I felt in those brief moments which you smiled at me. I have spent years trying to forget that moment in my car where I looked at you sneezing in the sun and knew I loved you. I have spent countless hours trying to move on, to find other more rational choices. I have tried so hard to ignore what I felt for you or at least not to think about it. But it is all for naught. In 33 years I have only once known what the word love could mean. All else is facsimile. All else is make believe. Even as I go though the motions of mating with other women in a vain attempt at self glorification and distraction I am only reminded of the brief magic I knew with you. My Mind reels against this idea as My cold rational Machiavellian realism tries to reconcile your unfettered optimism. Yet I can see that this is why I love you. You are so unlike me. So countervailing in your purpose as to balance me. As a cold hard realist your optimistic idealism represents everything which is lacking in me. All the goodness which I might neglect in favor of the practical and realistic. By contrast I would ground you in your noble but often unrealistically idyllic dreams.
"I really think we are a better match than might be readily apparent. I am grounded in the dark reality of existence and long for one to give me home and inspiration. Perhaps if I may speculate you are frustrated by the difficulties of translating your idyllic visions into reality in tangible form.
"But enough analysis. I do too much of that.
"I have known few things in my life. Of the things I have known I have been able to rationalize most of them. If I tried I might be able to do so with this but I don't want to. I just know. I just know that you are the only woman I have ever loved. And Increasingly I am coming to believe that you are the only woman I will ever love.
"I have made lists, looked at criteria, analyzed to no end. But nothing changes the fact that you are still the face I picture when I think of love. All others are stand-ins. Substitutes, facsimiles.
"How I wish I could convince myself not to love you."
I think there is a lot in this letter that makes one pause. The sad truth of unrequited love, the terribly loneliness and emptiness, but I also think there is some self delusion. He loved J. deeply and with all his heart, but in a sense, he could continue to love her like that because he never had to make it work. He could always pine away for what he didn't have. He didn't have the cold realities of the relationships he'd had that didn't work out. This one ended so quickly, just five months after he met her. It was the symbol for all he wanted in life, in a woman, and never had to pass the test of reality, of living together long term. He says she was the only woman he ever loved like that, but there were others, and he had talked about them to me. He liked to convince himself with his cold rationalizations that he didn't really miss those he lost, like Nikko and D., but he did miss them, terribly. And he stayed in contact, always. He could see some things clearly, but not completely, and some he could not really see at all.
But one thing is true. Leif died of a broken and lonely heart as much as he did from anything else. In his lonely male code, he was shut up in a tower of alone-ness, seeking for one woman to release him, and he never found her. I'm not sure the woman he needed really ever existed. I'm not sure any woman could have lived up to what he needed from her. Never-the-less, I wish he had found her. How fervently I wish it.