“No, I don’t love him. My heart is granite. No one can get in. Not after John.”
I was born in 1975, the year the Vietnam War ended, but it echoed for years after with so much senseless loss. For fictional character Dani Marek, it took away her future and love of her life, John Nagy. Thirteen-years-old in 1965, Dani first sets eyes on her soulmate and seals her love with a glorious kiss at her first make out party. Throughout high school she spends more time becoming a part of John’s family, Hungarian immigrants who moved from Tennessee to Chicago, than her own. While John works afternoons in his family’s car repair business, she happily spends hours in the garage alongside he and his father. Adored by John’s mother Mrs. Nagy, who endearingly calls her Lánya (her daughter) she feels just as loved as a true daughter ever could. Upon meeting this young man who has their daughter’s complete devotion, her own parents believe it’s only ‘puppy love’, that it won’t last a week. Little do they know Dani’s heart is in it for a lifetime.
Dani isn’t concerned about what is happening in the rest of the world, preoccupied as she is with passion. She gives herself to John never imagining what is waiting around the bend, ready to upset all their hopes and dreams. As she is planning for her future, her own family crashes and burns forcing her to get a job if she is ever going to go beyond high school. With her family drifting from each other, a great divide opens. Worse, John’s won the worst sort of lottery, his number is called for the draft. She bides her time with work, school and endless waiting. As it happened to so many men, John is killed in action. This love will haunt Dani and infect her future relationships.
As her mother and sister Paige try to pull Dani from the depths of her grief, she becomes Paige’s project. Pushing her into modeling, forcing a social life upon her and encouraging her to meet men. Dani has a heart of granite now, a dead zone in the center of her chest. Her young heart only ever beat for John. What is the point in love now? She will be a hard woman and to hell with any man who comes her way expecting devotion. Then she meets a man whose middle name should be persistence, chasing her until she dates him. His arrogance is vile, it’s no surprise she shuns his love, tells him lies. Other men are fun for a while but are deceptive, and the bar scene gets old fast. Worn down she finally accepts his offer of marriage, the financial help is a reality she must face, needs even. Like most gifts, it comes with strings, making her feel like nothing but her husband’s possession. He isn’t who she thought he was, his family isn’t the warm nest that the Nagy’s home was, not by far. This spouse will never warm her heart nor measure up to her memory of John. In her quest to harden her heart, she bites off so much more than she can chew, dooming herself to an abusive marriage. A black cloud settles over her life. So much between she and her husband is forced, not even the birth of their child can soften his heart. No amount of pretending can make this life tolerable. It’s brutal, the years that follow and again fate deals her a shock. The aftermath will leave her a widow at 24 and a single mother caring for her baby girl.
Facing the wreckage of her life, Dani must own what she believes is her rightful guilt to bear. Money is no longer a worry, and she is able to have a career but the woman she has become is not the Dani John loved. It’s time to confront herself, to be better for the one thing that means the world to her, her little girl. Dragging ghosts from the past, can she let go and love anew? Can she forgive herself for each step that led her on such a damning journey? She isn’t the only who has changed, the dynamics in her own splintered family has altered roles. Old hurts, jealousies no longer singe her soul. Bridges are being built, but will she ever be open to love, will her granite heart ever melt again?
The time period this takes place was loaded with change, on a grand scale. Dani, like every single one of us, must take stock of her life, every choice, every mistake and decide if she will choose happiness or sorrow. A tale of love, loss and the trajectory of grief- how it burns everything it touches.
Yes, read it.
Published June 24th, 2021
Black Rose Writing