By Elaine Taylor Special to The Pineapple When anyone asks my dignified, stiffupper-lipped husband, how a guy who’s been an investment banker in financial capitals of the world—London, Tokyo, Hong Kong, New York—ended up blissfully hitched to a broad from red-white-and-blue Texas, he deadpans in his clipped British accent, “We were channeled together by the spirit of Elaine’s dead lover.” Hundred percent true; but not as effortlessly mystical as it sounds—even if you’re into that stuff. I grew up in redneck, white-trash, blue-collar Texas, where a girl was a big fat nothing—less valuable than a good huntin’ dawg. Terrified to wake up thirty years later and find they were right, I scratched out a role in the corporate testicle festival. By age 40, I earned fat, man-size paychecks. The price? A heart as tough as armadillo hide, and my “love life” a dispiriting trail of relationship roadkill. Desperate for a peek at my future I consulted an astrologer-psychic who fanned out her Tarot cards, did her California woowoo thing and assured me I would someday have the kind of love about which stories are written. “But,” she said, “not until you’re ready.” Sheesh. How much readier could one woman be? The psychic pointed me down the path of a 1-2-3 Get-Ready-for-Love Plan: Write a Perfect Mate List: Let’s face it: if you’re “on-the-market” you have some form of that list running through your subconscious 24/7, right? And it works! My first iteration, decades earlier, was, “tall, dark and handsome.” Yep. Exactly what I got . . . and pretty much nothing more. This time I went beyond the kind of description found on a driver’s license. Honed and refined that list over multiple years. (Sadly, this was not an overnight process; but isn’t the possibility of a soul mate worth the time?) Define what “love” will look like when it finds me: Seriously? How no-brainer is that? It will be, “Wonderful! Spectacular! I will be ecstatically happy!” Which, of course, was just another lazy variation on the driver’s license list. To my surprise I struggled with this—couldn’t figure out even how to start. Until Emily Dickinson inspired me: Heart, we will forget him! You and I, tonight! You may forget the warmth he gave, I will forget the light. Unload the emotional baggage: No emotional baggage here! OK, OK . . . I was a Peterbilt truck with no side mirrors, hauling a semi-trailer of festering emotional manure that rocked along in my blind spot. Yeah, it probably couldn’t hurt to drop a load. After much mewling and twitchy dithering, I hunkered on my therapist’s sofa, unleashed a lifetime of repressed tears; and summoned the courage to face down all those hurts and betrayals—both those done to and by me. Over time, the volume diminished on the “you’ll never be good enough” sound track that had been hammered into my psyche. Painful? Absolutely. Emancipating? Beyond words. Over this years-long process I discovered three critical truths: It is not possible to find long-lasting, deeply satisfying love unless you believe yourself worthy of it. I had to learn to love, and find contentment with, myself. As a woman clawing her way in a man’s world I defined “emotional strength” as all sharp-edges and impenetrable boundaries. I had to relearn that tenderness and vulnerability are the DNA of true emotional strength. When the time came, I used that strength to love a dying man who had once broken my heart. A man who desperately needed to receive love, even as he could not return it. I accepted and found peace with the fact that I might never share my life with the Perfect Mate. So what would I do with all the love my heart yearned to give? I stopped focusing on what I did not have . . . and sought a way to give what I could offer to those who needed it. I began to volunteer at a homeless shelter for families—the kind of place that, but for the grace of God, I might have needed to land in my early, below-thepoverty- level, single-parent years. My journey through the Get-Ready-for- Love Plan was neither easy nor quick. But it was worth it for the lessons learned, for the woman I worked so hard to become, for the love and respect I feel for that woman. As it turned out, my reward was exponentially greater. That dying man I loved fifteen years ago? Two years after his death the psychic told me he was sending my soul mate—a lover who would bring “warmth and light” for the rest of my life. Seriously! She said it. And he did! That soul mate, my husband, has been my Perfect Mate since 2001. Thankfully I was ready for love—I was ready for him . . . when he found me. Elaine Taylor is a former IT headhunter and Contingent Workforce Management consultant to Fortune 500 companies. When she lived in San Francisco, she was involved with Raphael House, a shelter for homeless families, as a regular volunteer and as a member of the Board of Directors. She teaches Story Structure through OLLI at Duke University. KARMA, DECEPTION and a Pair of Red FERRARIS (May 5, 2015) is her only work of creative nonfiction. Currently she lives with her husband and two highly indulged Weimaraners in the Raleigh/Durham area of North Carolina.