More Than Life Itself
Diane Stark (McConnell) Sanfilippo

Introduction

Before I reach the time in my life when my mind will no longer retain my most precious and personal memories, I feel an urgency to tell our story, the story of a boy named Billy, of how we met, and how much we loved.

Not only is this a love story, rather a story that recalls the death knell of an age of innocence in our society - forever gone. I have heard others call this era a lack of caring and/or knowledge, but most of us trusted our elected leaders to take care of business, and to provide the example in their daily lives, public and private, for the rest of us to follow. We respected our leaders, our President, our minister, our principal, and others who stood on the pedestal of honesty and trust.

Never again will young adults live in the carefree days of the early 1960’s, before the ‘hippies’, ‘free love’, and before television brought the horrors of war into almost every American home. Surely one remembers exactly what he or she were doing and where they were while a horrified nation watched our President assassinated on a sunny afternoon in Dallas, but this was just the beginning of the end.

It would not be long before our national news consisted of roll after roll of newsreel, showing, in graphic detail, our sons, our brothers, and our husbands cut down in cold blood right before our very eyes. Soon, again horrified, we watched another of our leaders fall to an assassin’s bullet, then another and we all began to wonder who would be next. How can we ever forget the flaming monks protesting the war, the rows of flag-draped coffins waiting on the tarmac to be loaded onto cargo planes for the long journey ‘home’, or the children burned by napalm fleeing naked down a dirt road? Yes, our days of innocence were numbered, and so were my own.

Everyone has a story that is unique and worthy of telling, but most families and friends listen with one ear closed and never really hear what the storyteller has to say, their memories forever tossed about on the wind, as if the words were leaves to be blown away and forgotten. Still others do not want to hear the truth, or to acknowledge their role in another’s life, and in this context, I must make sure this will not happen to our story. Perhaps if one truly listens, much of my own life will fall into place with understanding, since my very being lies buried in these pages.

In today’s world where living together and pre-marital sex is as common as sliced bread, it is not often a love such as ours exists where both partners fall more in love with the other as each day passes. Certainly, while we were by no means the first, nor will we be the last, it is a rare moment in time when two young people know, from just one glance, their lives have forever changed, and their yesterdays no longer have meaning. This is not just a love story, but also a story of survival and triumph over evil where the bonds of love were far stronger than those who wished to sever them. Yes, love wins out in the end, but how and why, well dear reader, you will just have to bear with me while I tell our story.

I have always had difficulty not telling the truth, it shows on my face, and my family knew instantly when I was ‘fibbing’, or at the very least ‘exaggerating’. Like most anything I decide to do, I could not ‘fib’ just a little bit, but made up glorious stories not believed by anyone with any sense at all. I suppose this was my ‘creativity’ coming to light at an early age when I told all in my first grade class that my father was a ‘big game hunter’, since ‘salesman’ was not a very interesting occupation. Although, from the time they could understand, I have always taught my children if you tell the truth you never have to remember what you have said. For this reason, and since I doubt if I could fabricate a story more poignant, this is the truth, exactly as it happened.

Although not blessed with instant recall, my memory is like a camera and takes a photo of time and events, and from these stored photos, I have recreated my story. Most of the dialogue contains the exact words spoken, while the other recalls what we would have said during certain situations since I clearly remember our reactions, and perhaps the very words we spoke. At times when I felt ‘stuck’, it was as if an angel whispered the words in my ear, and perhaps he did. I do know that he sat beside me throughout, jarring my aging memory with his own still young one, I just know the words and memories I was looking for seemed to pop into my mind as if by magic, or another more divine hand.

Needless to say the entire story is the truth, unflattering at times to all involved, but the truth nonetheless. My family, and selected friends, may be the only ones to read this story. Some of my children, for their own reasons, may choose not to read it, but I want them to know I wrote this for them and for their children. After all, it is a story about them, since through Billy, and through me, they are who they are, and who they will become.

I have lived a good life for the most part. At least I have tried in the last years, as age and illness has caught up with me, to be a truly kind person, and if that is my only epitaph, I will have led a worthy life. I have been a good mother and a good wife, maybe not the best, but the best I knew how to be under the circumstances. Perhaps I have been a better mother than a wife, at least the second time around, but by the time my story is over I fervently hope that all will understand why I could never give wholly of myself, and of my heart, to any man other than my darling Billy. I have never wanted to love in that way again since I doubt if I could survive another parting. My heart was never the same from the moment Billy McConnell walked into my life, and when it was all over, the remains of that same heart had hardened into a lump of coal for fear it might shatter if ever again I loved anyone ‘more than life itself’.

Why now when the effort involved in remembering broke open the scars on my heart and laid bare the wounds, while not forgotten, had mostly healed? Why not when the memories still lay fresh in my mind and my empty nights seemed to stretch on forever? For the very reason I did not wish to offend or insult anyone, but now it is safe to be honest since most of the villains have now gone to wherever villains go after they have finished making trouble and creating heartache.

My life began the night I met Billy McConnell. He was perfect, the most handsome boy I had ever seen, and he looked exactly like the ‘mystery boy’ of my adolescent and teen-age dreams with the exception of his dark hair. His penetrating pure blue eyes and aquiline features, give or take a scar or two, were almost too perfect, and he was almost too handsome to be real. The very best thing about him was he did not seem to know it; or at least he did not act as if he did. This is where I shall begin my story – that fateful day when my life, and Billy’s life, changed forever.

This is our story, exactly as it happened, the good and the bad, without fabrication, or any elaborate plots - just the story of two young people, too much in love whose forever was not as long as forever should be.




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