When my wife of sixty years passed away, I discovered that I had been living a lie with a woman I didn’t even know.
I always believed I was happily married to a wonderful woman who loved me, but at the age of 82, I learned that my whole life had been a lie, a sham, and that I hadn’t known my wife at all.
Elaine and I had been married for sixty years when she passed away after a sudden heart attack. I was devastated. I had married Elaine when I was 22 and she was 20 and she was my whole world.
I had always wanted children, but when Elaine and I decided it was time to become parents in our late 20s, we discovered it was not to be. Doctors told us Elaine had a problem that in those days was insoluble — no IVF back then.
I suggested that we could adopt a baby, but Elaine told me she couldn’t possibly love another woman’s child. I tried to persuade her, and we came close to the only real clash in our entire married life.
Eventually, I gave in. I loved Elaine, and there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her, so I devoted myself to my wife and spoiled my kid brother’s children. Funny thing is, Elaine didn’t much like spending time with my brother’s family.
She said it reminded her of what she couldn’t have, so I used to visit on my own. It was my now elderly ‘kid’ brother and his sons who helped me when Elaine passed away.
Six months after Elaine died, I finally started to pack her belongings with my older nephew’s help. We were going to sort her clothes and give them away to the Salvation Army. Elaine would have wanted to help others, I thought.
In the back of her closet, I found a little box in which she’d put little mementos from our marriage, a flower from her wedding bouquet, now frail and yellowed, a few snaps from our honeymoon, little things that marked anniversaries, and one old letter.
We can spend a lifetime with someone and not know who they really are.
My nephew handed it to me. “That must be an old love letter, Uncle Tony,” he said. I frowned. I’d never written Elaine a love letter because we’d never been apart. I looked at the envelope and saw that it was addressed to me.
The envelope had been opened and by the look of the letter inside, it had been much handled. I unfolded the letter and saw the signature. It was from Laura! Laura Burton had been my childhood sweetheart, my first love
I’d been crazy about Laura until I walked in on her kissing my best friend. I guess that was when I started dating Elaine, on the rebound, but it ended up being the best thing that had ever happened to me — or so I thought.
I started reading the letter, but my eyes were strained, so my nephew read it aloud to me. “Dear Tony,” Laura had written nearly 55 years ago, “I guess this letter will come as a bit of a shock to you, and I admit I should have contacted you earlier, but I hadn’t the courage.
“Circumstances have now forced me to tell you a secret I’d sworn I’d take to my grave: I had a baby, Tony, our baby. We were so young back then, and when I found out I was pregnant, I didn’t know how you’d react.
“So I confided in Steve and asked his advice on how to break it to you, and that was when he told me he loved me and kissed me. You walked in and were so angry. You wouldn’t listen to me, no matter how I tried
I thought if I gave you some time, I could make you understand what happened, but within three months you’d married someone else. I decided then I was going to respect your marriage, your new life.
“I was going to raise our baby alone, and I did. What I didn’t count on Tony, was that I have now discovered I have cancer. Anthony is nearly six years old, and the sweetest boy. You’d be so proud of him Tony.
“What I wanted to ask you is: could you and your wife find it in your hearts to take Anthony and raise him as your own? As you know, I have no family, and my mother died last year, so Anthony will be sent to an orphanage when I die
“I’m terminal now, Tony, and the doctors say I have at the most six months. I am including my phone number, so please call me, tell me what you’ve decided
I had tears running down my face when my nephew read out, “All my love, Laura.” I was trembling. I couldn’t believe that Elaine had kept this from me. I had a son, a helpless little boy who’d lost his mother to cancer and had been left alone in the world.
How could Elaine not have told me? I realized that Laura’s letter had come at around the time we had been discussing adoption, and I remembered how bitter she had sounded when she’d spoken about other women’s children.
I had missed out on the possibility of being a father, of raising my son, who’d probably been shuttled from foster family to foster family, thinking I’d abandoned him. Laura had died thinking I’d rejected her and her son…
I was robbed of my son by Elaine’s jealousy, her insecurity. Or maybe she never wanted a child at all. I remembered how she’d avoided my brother’s kids, all kids, really. She’d always said it was because it reminded her of her failure, but was that it?
I think the Elaine I loved didn’t exist at all. She was a fantasy, and she allowed me my illusion. My son would be in his sixties now, a father, maybe even a grandfather and I’d missed it all.
My nephew was determined to help me find Anthony, and he started contacting Laura’s old friends, but most were deceased. Finally, he managed to find an Anthony Burton online, who seemed to be around the right age and he contacted him.
As it turned out, Anthony had believed that I’d abandoned him to his fate, but when we explained everything and sent him the letter, he agreed to meet me. He brought along his oldest son, a handsome young man named Frank.
Anthony looked so much like Laura, but he had my eyes and my smile. There was something, this connection, and I realized we’d both been hungry for this father-son bond.
Anthony and his family took me into their hearts, and I now have three grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren with a sixth on the way. My youngest granddaughter, Rachel, tells me it’s a boy and it’s going to be named Tony, after me. Finally, I had a family.