Authors: Tara Taylor Quinn
The Night We Met - Tara Taylor Quinn
I married the man I loved
I wasn't supposed to love Nate Grady, let alone marry him. But we found a love that triumphed over all adversity—just like Jane Eyre, my very favorite heroine.
I was young, bookish, naive—on the verge of entering the convent—and then I met him.... The day I abandoned my old life, the day I agreed to marry him, now seems an eternity ago. But despite everyone's objections, I fell for Nate. An older, previously married man. My first and only love. My husband.
When I looked into Nate's eyes on our wedding day, the rest of the world vanished. If I was crazy for doing this, I prayed the craziness would last forever....
San Francisco, California
Life started the night we met. Everything before this was merely preparation for what was yet to come. It was a Saturday evening and I'd gone to a local pub just down the street from St. Catherine's Convent. I'd been living in a private dormitory at the convent for a couple of years, studying education at the small elite women's col ege a block away—and was just two weeks from becoming a St. Catherine's postulant and beginning my life of poverty, chastity and obedience. The San Francisco pub wasn't a place I frequented often, but that January night I needed the noise, the distraction, as much as I wanted the beer that I would drink only until it got me past the unexpected tension I felt that night.
After al , I had prayers and then Mass with the sisters early the next morning, followed by religious study.
At a little table some distance from the shiny mahogany wood bar, I sipped my beer, watched merrymakers and pool-players, and contemplated the fact that I didn't belong anywhere.
Not on a date. Or at home watching television with my family. Not out with friends, not in a library studying and certainly not on the completely empty dance floor in front of me.
I was an in-between, having left behind the person my parents, siblings and friends, knew me to be.
And yet I hadn't arrived at who I was going to become. The friends I'd known were getting married, having babies, exploring the world and its opportunities while I was living on the outskirts of a society I was on the verge of joining. I had three years of religious study ahead of me before I'd be al owed to take my final vows and become one of the sisters with whom I'd soon be living.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't sitting there feeling sorry for myself. I'm far too practical and stubborn and determined to waste my time on such a defeatist emotion. I was simply taking my life into my own hands even as I gave it to God. Trying to understand the reasons for my decisions. Testing them. Making sure. Soul-searching, some folks might call it.
For that hour or two, I'd left my dormitory room at the convent and all that was now familiar to me, left the sisters and their gentle care, to enter a harsher world of sin and merriment and ordinary social living to seek the truth about me.
Was my choice to wed myself to God, to serve him for the rest of my days, the right one for me, Eliza Crowley, nineteen-year-old youngest child of James and Viola Crowley?
A woman's laugh distracted me from my thoughts. A young blond beauty settled at the recently vacated table next to me with a man good-looking enough to star in cigarette commercials. They held hands as they sat, leaning in to kiss each other, not once but twice. Open-mouthed kisses. The girl wasn't much older than me, but she had a diamond on her finger whose karat weight was probably triple that in my mother's thirtieth-anniversary band.
I couldn't imagine any of that for myself. Not the hand-holding. The kissing. And certainly not the diamond. They were all fine and good and valid for some lives. Just too far removed from me to seem real.
As I drank my beer, I saw an older woman sitting at the bar. I had no idea when she'd come in. The place was crowded, the seats at my table the only free ones on the floor, but I'd pretty much noticed everyone coming and going. Except for this woman.
Had she appeared from the back room? Was she working there? Maybe a cook? She held her cigarette with her left hand. There was no ring.
Judging by the wrinkles and spots on that hand, I figured she had to be at least sixty.
Had she always lived alone?
I pictured the house I might have—a single woman by myself. It would be white with aluminum siding, and a picket fence and flowers. I was inside, having dinner, I thought. A salad, maybe. I'd worked that day. I'm not sure where, but I assumed I'd be a teacher. I was patient enough. And I liked kids.
And the whole vision felt as flat as the tile floor beneath my feet. There was nothing wrong with that life. It just wasn't mine.
I imagined being my sister, my mother. I loved them, admired them—and experienced no excitement, no sense of connection, when I considered their choices for myself. I pictured myself as Gloria Steinem. I had courage and determination. Perhaps there was some contribution I was supposed to make to the world, some discovery or mission.
But I didn't think so. There was no fire, no zeal at the thought. Rather than change the world, I felt compelled to care for those who lived in it.
What about that woman over there at the bar, surrounded by people yet talking to no one, lighting up another cigarette. Was there something I could do to help her? Comfort her?
I didn't know, but if she asked for help I'd give it. Regardless of any discomfort. I was here to serve.
I wanted to be God's servant, ready for Him to send where He needed, when He needed.
Joan of Arc wasn't my heroine. Mother Theresa was.
I'd made the right choice.
Satisfied, relaxed, I reveled in my quieted mind and a few minutes later I was ready to leave the half mug of beer on the table and head back to St. Catherine's. I planned to write about tonight in my journal, chronicling for later years these moments of reflection and self-revelation. I was mentally tiding the page The night I knew for sure.
I just had to find the waitress so I could pay my bil . Good luck doing that, since the bar was so crowded. I couldn't even catch a glimpse of her. How much did a beer cost in this place? Surely fifty cents would do it, plus tip. I'd shoved a few bil s in the front pocket of my blue jeans.
"Hey, don't I know you?"
I started to tell the blond guy standing at my table that the line was wasted on me, but then I recognized him.
"You're Patricia Ingalls's older brother, Arnold." My reply was pretty friendly to make up for thinking he was hitting on me.
"Right," he said, smiling. "And you're that friend of hers who decided to become a nun."
Not quite how I would've said it, but...okay. He was, after al , correct. "Yep."
"My friends and I just drove in from skiing at Tahoe—and this is the only table left with seats. Mind if we join you?"
I ful y intended to tel him he could have the table. I was leaving, anyway. And then I noticed the guy who'd joined the group, pocketing a set of keys. Arnold was older than Patricia and me by four years.
This guy was even older.
It wasn't his age that froze my tongue, though. I'm not really sure what it was. He looked at me and I couldn't move.
And somehow, five minutes later, I found myself sitting at a table sipping beer with five athletic-looking older men.
And buzzing with nervousness because of the man right next to me—Nate Grady, Arnold had said, adding that Nate was staying sober so he could drive, which explained the keys.
Was I drawn toward him as a woman is to a man? I didn't think so. Not that I knew much about such things. It was just that he was so... vital.
I couldn't understand my reaction so, really, had no explanation for it.
"When'd you quit the convent?" Arnold asked after the beer had been served.
"I didn't." My eyes shied away from any contact with Nate as I replied—and my entire body suffused with guilty heat. For a second there, I'd wanted to deny my association with the church. With my cal ing.
Like Peter? Who later redeemed himself?
Or Judas—who never did?
"No kidding!" Nate's deep voice was distinctive, his words clear in the room's din. "You're a nun?"
He'd been a minute or two behind, parking the car, when Arnold had mentioned it earlier.
"Not yet," I assured him as though there was still time to stop the course of my life if need be—and at the same time shrinking inside, preparing to be struck down for my heresy.
"I've been living at St. Catherine's dormitory for the past couple of years, but in two weeks I move into the convent itself and start my formal training," I added to appease any anger I might have instilled in God, directing my comment to Nate without actual y looking at him. "It takes three years to get through the novitiate."
"You live with the nuns?" That voice came again, touching me deep inside.
"I live in a dormitory on the grounds, yes."
"Dressed like that?"
"Not around the convent, no." I didn't describe the plain brown dress I usually wore. Not understanding why his presence was like a magnet to me, I wasn't going to engage in conversation with him at all if I could help it. I tried to focus on Arnold and the other guys as they relived, with exaggerated detail I was sure, antics from their day, each trying to top the other with tales of daring attempts or perilous danger survived.
But frankly, I found their accounts boring. I kept thinking about paying my bill and excusing myself.
Our waitress passed, laden with drinks and I told myself I'd flag her down next time.
"Do you spend your days with the nuns?"
I shook my head, alternating between wishing I'd bothered with makeup or a hairstyle and feeling glad that I hadn't. Men liked blond bobs, not the straight brown wash-and-wear stuff that was cut just above my shoulders.
There was safety in mousy.
And in another six months when, God willing, I became a novice and received the Holy Habit, minus the wimple I'd be honored with when I took my final vows, my hair would be cut as short as my father's.
"What kind of order is St. Catherine's?"
Why wasn't he joining in the boasting with his friends?
"Teaching. Other than those who run the household, the sisters hold teaching positions, either at the private college I attend or at Eastside Catholic High School right next to it."
I didn't see how he could possibly be interested in this. And wasn't even sure he'd be able to hear me above the crowd.
"So that's what you want to do? Teach?"
"I want to serve God. Since the Second Vatican Council there's been a surge of energy directed toward education. And I love kids. So, yes, I do hope to spend my life teaching." Instinctively I turned to face him as I spoke. And couldn't look away. He had the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. And possibly the warmest.
"How old are you? If you don't mind me asking."
He leaned a bit closer, not disrespectful y, I somehow knew, but simply to ease conversation.
"Do you have any idea how lucky you are to know your calling in life at such a young age?"
The question reminded me of my reason for being in the pub at al —potentially the last time I'd enter such an establishment. "Yes," I told him, remembering the conclusions I'd drawn only a half hour before. And the resulting peace that had settled over me.
A peace I couldn't feel quite as intensely anymore...
"So what happens next week? Do you quit school?"
"No. I only have a few more classes to take before I get my degree and I can attend those during my postulant period. That's what I begin in two weeks."
"How's that different from what you're doing now?"
I could hear Arnold on my other side, delineating in great detail a downhill run he'd made that day.
"I'l be moving into the Mother House—the main house where the nuns live. Other than classes* I'll be pretty much restricted to living there. My day will start at 5:00 a.m. and end at 10:00 p.m. I'll have a uniform, mostly black, with a veil but no wimple, and my only possessions, besides my rosary and hygienic necessities, will be a sewing kit. Except for grace, meals will be taken in silence, and most general conversation will be limited to designated free time during the day. In another six months, when I become a novice, I'l read only religious books, and wil have no access to radio, television or newspapers so that I can focus completely on prayer, meditation and spirituality."
He'd asked. But I think I answered as much for me as for him. Hearing myself say the words out loud made them real. Official. I was prepared. And unafraid.
"And you're doing this because you want to?"
There was no derision or criticism in his tone—-just honest curiosity that spoke to my heart. "I can't imagine doing anything else," I told him with a certainty born earlier that evening.
"What does your family think of it al ?"
"I'm the youngest of five and my folks have been shaking their heads at me for as long as I can remember." I smiled. "Mostly they approve. They've already got sixteen grandchildren. And they're devout Catholics. They're proud that one of their offspring is dedicating her life to God's service."