Unity is strength. . . when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.
- Mattie Stepanek
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Almost thirty years have passed, but I have never forgotten my soul mate, the one boy who convinced me that dreams were possible and that I could do anything no matter how the odds were stacked against me.
The late summer of my fifteenth birthday I’d just moved to a small town in Tennessee and wished I could be anywhere else…until I met Ren. He wasn’t the boy in school that everyone loved, and he didn’t stand out in a crowd. But I loved him instantly. Looking back, I think it might have been his country twang or the way he could make me laugh when I felt like crying.
From the moment our gazes connected, we were inseparable. For one year my life was completely happy, fulfilled. Ren made me believe in the impossible. We talked about everything, even the stuff that didn’t make sense to anyone but us, and we believed our futures were intertwined because we couldn’t imagine living without one another.
My home life was a wreck, but Ren somehow made everything make sense. When I threatened to run away, he convinced me to hang in, to hold out for the final two years that would give me my freedom with a high school diploma. And the days I couldn’t take the abuse, I snuck away to Ren’s house where we sat and talked for as long as I safely could. Then he always walked me home.
Our first kiss didn’t happen until two months into the relationship because he didn’t want to rush me. He told me he wanted it to be as special as I was. Hearing someone tell me I was unique gave me a sense of hope for the future. And the moment Ren kissed me, I committed myself to him, knowing I was going to marry him.
I remember vividly the last day I saw Ren. It was the end of the first week of school. We always got off the bus a few blocks from our house so we had a little more time together. Holding hands, we walked down the gravel road leading to his house. We didn’t make plans to see each other that evening because he had company in from out of town. I kissed him goodbye, promising to meet him at the bus stop early the next morning.
The next morning, I arrived at the stop before seven. At seven fifteen, I saw Ren’s father’s ageing Ford lumbering down the gravel road, and I knew something was wrong. Ren’s father worked the early morning shift at the local factory. He’d have no reason to be coming home so soon.
Forgetting all about school, I raced toward that truck. I’ll never forget the broken words his father said to me. "Ren was killed last night."
My world collapsed around me, and I remember struggling to breathe. I’d never known such pain. My heart shredded, I fell to my knees on the damp ground. I didn’t know what to do, how to think, to survive without Ren. He’d been my lifeline in this hellhole I lived, and I felt helpless.
The small funeral held two days later, brought in most of the town. I sat outside on the back steps of the church because I had to say my goodbye to Ren alone. It was the last thing I could share with him.
That night, I expressed my words of love to Ren in the very first poem I ever wrote, and as the words poured out onto the paper, I felt his presence next to me. He’d always encouraged me in whatever I chose to do so I wasn’t surprised he was there. That poem spurred a lifelong writing career.
I have fulfilled a lot of my dreams just as Ren said I would. Now, almost thirty years later, I still think about him. With every career achievement, I thank him. The love Ren showed me gave me hope, and though his death tore through my soul like a knife, I kept going because he would have wanted me to. His love gave me a strength I didn’t know I had.