Native Max Magazine contributor Tree Mangan (Diné) shared her love story as apart of our Love Issue: Dedicated to Highlighting Love that Surrounds Us series for the month of February.


I recall one afternoon being in my room, sleeping as usual, when the quietness erupted with screams that came from the master bedroom. The screams were coming from the one person I thought could never raise her voice in such a hurtful way. I immediately bolted for the bedroom to investigate what was wrong. Unfortunately, our home was always full of emptiness and hugs and laughter weren’t really a part of our everyday routine. So of course, I wasn’t surprised that yelling exploded and echoed through the hall of our tiny rundown two-bedroom trailer.

I love you more than love
I love you more than love

As I approached the bedroom, I saw two people I loved entangled in a fight. My mother’s tears poured down her red face as she threw my baby sisters toys at my father. He was against the wall covering his face like a game of dodgeball, being hit with shattered dreams. I had never seen my mother so upset. What in the world could make her rage out like that? She was a whole different person. Her love, her pain, and her complete-self were in pieces on the floor. She looked as though she had finally exploded.

To this day, I remember the feeling I had, the pain in the pit of my stomach, and the questions that raced through my head. How could two people who committed themselves to one another through ceremony under the Holy Spirits act out like this? What could be so difficult about communicating and loving one another? What did I know? I was just a kid growing up in an alcoholic home.

My father and mothers traditional ceremony. At age 5, I was the flower girl
My father and mothers traditional ceremony. At age 5, I was the flower girl

Growing up, my mother was the only parent around who worked two, sometimes three jobs and still had hot food on the table for myself and two siblings.  We all loved our father. He worked his ass off, but he wasn’t around emotionally for any of us. Our home was always spotless, and all three of us behaved in hopes that dad would stay in a happy sober mood. After thirteen years of trial and error between my parents, a divorce ensued. Needless to say, my outlook on marriage and finding prince charming wasn’t positive.

My young mother and myself at age 1
My young mother and myself at age 1

As I grew older, I continued to see family members fail in their relationships. People I thought would stay together forever eventually ended their commitment moving on to someone else. It seemed the word “love” would get tossed around like a game of ping-pong. Seeing this throughout my young life, I made a promise to myself that I would never marry and have children. I didn’t want to waste my time going through heartache and put my future children through the hurt and pain that I witnessed throughout my childhood. With that commitment, I went off to college.

I was excited to leave New Mexico for the first time, explore life, and play volleyball. Never did I think about having a boyfriend, but I guess I blossomed from the thirteen hour trip from NM to Kansas because no boy had ever looked my way and told me I was beautiful. Unfortunately, I began dating and went straight from a five-month relationship with my first love. We dated for four years. In our fifth year, he gave me a promise ring under the 4th of July fireworks. It was a romantic moment and all my doubts about love and marriage seem to disappear because my heart was glossed over. That was short-lived, as our relationship soon disintegrated and I was stuck with a meaningless ring living alone in Colorado, depressed and heartbroken.

Once again, the same painful gut wrenching feeling came back. It felt as though my world was over and the Holy Spirits could just take me right then and there. It took me over a year to recover from it. At that point, I was back in the saddle. I told myself I would never love someone like that again nor get married and have children. Again I lived each day with this commitment, no person was getting in. There was a close attempt from a great person who I had known for years. He lived far away but managed to always be there when I picked up the phone. As soon as the words, “I love you” came from his lips, I ran away, leaving him no explanation. It wasn’t until about a year and a half later that my soul began to change.

After a summer off in NM, I made my way back to CO and continued my education. Having four roommates and friends next door, we decided to go dancing. It was a Wednesday night and we showed up at the hot college spot. The place was crowded and we all were having a good time. As I was looking around at all the beautiful people, I couldn’t help but notice a dark handsome guy straight across from me. Our eyes met and he smiled, I smiled back thinking, he’s gorgeous! The rest of the night, with the beautiful beer smelling crowd between us, we continued to flirt with our eyes and smiles. The fluorescent lights came on and the nightlife was over. He still had not attempted to talk to me and so I went back to my unpacked dorm with only memories of his smile.

All through the week, I thought about him, mad at myself for not taking the initiative. I promised, if I saw him again, I would say something. Soon I found myself back at the nightclub waiting. I crossed my fingers my eyes would lay upon this beautiful person again. As the crowd grew and the music got louder and better, I look across the room and there he was. After a few smiles, I finally gestured to the dance floor and silently asked if he wanted to dance. He nodded and waved me over to him. I made my way through the beer smelling crowd, passed the dance floor entrance until I finally met those dreamy eyes and that sexy smile up close and personal. With the music blaring, it was hard to hear, so he brushed my hair to the side and whispered in my ear, “Hi, I’m Mark, do you want to dance?” My dumbass, thinking back, should have walked away after asking him the same question before I traveled the 100 miles to meet him. Instead, like a star-struck idiot, I nodded my head yes. He grabbed my hand and walked me to the dance floor where we danced until the fluorescent lights came on. From that night on, we were never apart.

I hadn’t felt like being around someone so much since my promise ring was put on my finger. When he wasn’t there, I thought of him. When he was there, I thought of him. It was lust at first sight. It was exciting and I felt alive again. After a few months of this fresh new feeling, it began to fade for me. My brain started thinking again, overpowering my emotions. I started pushing him away, a trend I was used to. My idea of love and commitment were terrifying and there was no such thing. I knew it wouldn’t last. No relationship does, not for me anyway. And so I kept my bitchy attitude up to get rid of him.

Mark didn’t get the memo I didn’t want a relationship. Instead, he pushed and kept pushing back. Even at my ugliest, he tried and tried. At about three months in, he told me he didn’t expect it back but that he loved me. My bitchy response, “You can’t fall in love with someone in such a short time.” I ate my words. It was about four months into our psycho (me) relationship that I got pneumonia. I felt like I was on my death bed and Mark stayed by my side the whole time. He took care of me and comforted me the best he could. One night during my sickness, I woke in the middle of the night with sweat beads on my forehead. As the blue moon was shining in on us, I could see him so clearly, laying there sleeping so soundly. Maybe it was because of the high body temperature that I started thinking differently, thinking that he’s taking a chance with this relationship too. He put his emotions out there, the most sacred part of him: his heart. He had given that to me and he had proved over and over again by his actions that he was committed. So as I lay there, drifting off to sleep, I brushed his hair and whispered in his ear that I loved him. The next morning, when he woke, it was very easy for me to say. At that moment looking into his eyes, I knew he was definitely in love with me too.

As time went on, our relationship grew deeper and deeper. I loved this man and there was no doubt he loved me too. Unfortunately being young and insecure with ourselves and our relationship, we let outside sources interfere with our growth as a couple. At the beginning we probably had more downs than ups, always arguing about stupid things that didn’t matter. My mouth had no filter and I would speak without thinking, hurting him with my words. Our personalities were very different from each other. He was a morning person, I was not. He always had a positive outlook on things, I did not. He loved cooking and eating a big breakfast, I hated cooking and didn’t like any kind of breakfast. Our relationship grew thin and I was afraid, that once again, my heart was going to fall out and I’d have to pick up the pieces.

Without knowing, we both were learning the hard way how to communicate our feelings. Mark was always good about wanting to solve the problem right then and there. I had to let it be for a little bit and filter my brain before I spoke. That alone was a tough one to solve especially in the heat of the moment, but we learned through communication that we needed to meet in the middle. Issues within our relationship seemed to escalate to the point of, “It’s over” but then one of us would come to our senses and apologize even if they weren’t at fault. After so many “It’s Over” moments, we continued to do the opposite and grow stronger.

Our struggles were typical of any new relationship but we both fought to stay ourselves as an individual and to find ways to work as a team. It wasn’t easy, especially at our young age of 20 and 22. I thought I was mature beyond my age and I knew everything about myself. Of course, I didn’t, which made it harder to build a relationship with myself, let alone someone else. Somehow, we fought through and made it.

New parents with our first child, Reece
New parents with our first child, Reece

After a year of being together, I went home for Christmas break and met my niece for the first time. I fell in love instantly and I wanted to be a mother. So selfishly, I only thought of myself and the feeling of motherhood did not dissipate. On top of trying to build a relationship, my dumbass wanted to bring a baby into the world. Given that we were not married and weren’t stable financially, I still encouraged Mark and asked him to make me a mother. Of course, he was the intelligent one and ran through the scenarios of bringing a life into this world and that we were not ready to be parents. I won. And after conceiving on Valentine’s Day, our first baby was born on Halloween. It was the most exciting moment of my life. How could I tell myself that I would never have children? My love grew bigger.

Although it was the most precious time in our lives, it was also the toughest. We put all of our attention, heart, and soul into this little boy we called Reece. We lived for him and nothing could change that. Unfortunately, we struggled tremendously leaving our relationship status on hold to raise a child. It took a toll and again we were arguing and screaming at one another but this time it was worse because there was a little person listening.

I recall having an argument with Mark that escalated so quickly. The oceans of tears running down my red puffy face as I stood there yelling at him. In the other room of our two bedroom trailer in Illinois, our toddler son came running out crying and hitting his dad telling him to stop yelling at me. At that very moment, I traveled back to our two bedroom trailer as a child and realized I was in my mother’s shoes. The thoughts of horror that may have raced through her head of having me see her at her worst. The same gut-wrenching feeling rushed through me but this time at the other end of the spectrum. Here I was, everything that I said I was not going to be, was playing out right in front of me. I had failed as a mother and a girlfriend and most importantly, I failed myself.

Happy moments of the three of us
Happy moments of the three of us

We continued living in a daze until, like most couples, they get married. We were content without a ceremony and didn’t feel like a piece of paper would make a difference. After five years and a child in, his parents and my whole family were constantly asking when we were going to tie the knot. After four straight deaths in our family, a special occasion needed to cheer the family up. Our wedding day was beautiful and I felt in that moment, we definitely loved each other. When the honeymoon was all over, we went back to the daze and disputes.

Everything I said I would not be, there I was, married and with a child. We both constantly tried to make it work but it would always end in confrontations. Soon, we both gave up and we both decided, “It’s over,” and this time no one apologized and took the blame. A few months after the honeymoon, we called it quits. I thought a sigh of relief would come over me, instead, dread and heartache consumed my vital force. I felt like I lost a part of me, my soul was not complete and the pit of my stomach exploded. I was alone, just the way I wanted it, right? My heart had fallen out but I was too tired to pick up the pieces.

We were separated for a good seven months and had to communicate with each other for the sake of Reece. Between pickups, drop-offs and weekend stay, we saw quite a bit of each other and soon, our visits got longer and without trying, our friendship blossomed again. Mark was about to graduate college and I was able to move up in my position at work by relocating back to NM. This was going to be the end of us completely. I was going to move with Reece and he was going to finish his degree and move back to CO only seeing his son on occasion.

tree-6When the time was slowly approaching for us to move, I couldn’t help but think it was the wrong thing to do. I still loved Mark and I knew he still loved me but we just couldn’t figure out why the constant battles. One afternoon, Mark was in the usual routine of picking up Reece and we began our usual conversations about how things were going with one another. The conversation took a turn and the next thing we knew, we were in each other’s arms just holding one another. It felt right to me, his arms were my home, it was where I belonged. Just as I was ready to melt away, he let go, walked out the door and drove off.

I had never cried so hard nor ached that much for someone in my entire life. As soon as he walked out the tears began to flow uncontrollably. As I sat wrapped around my knees in the middle of the floor with only memories of meaningless fights, I was hollow. In the depressed emptiness of our home where there was very little hugs and laughs, I hoped for a miracle. Before I could let out a scream of breath, I hear a car pull up and the engine turns off. The door opens and Mark comes rushing to me hugging and holding me tight once again. I knew right then and there, I would never let him let me go. I was home.

Unfortunately, I already had papers in for my transfer, so Reece and I moved. It was planned that after Mark graduated, we were to all meet up in CO and be a family. I think a short time apart helped us grow afresh. We learned to communicate again since all we could do was talk for hours into the night on the phone. We fell in love with each other all over and it was magical. So magical, we decided to get pregnant again.

Family pictures in Arvada CO. *Photos by Kim Shokouhi
Family pictures in Arvada CO. *Photos by Kim Shokouhi

As time went on, we were back in CO with two children, Reece and Kayah, living in a nice suburban area with a three bedroom home. Our life and family were much better and we continued to flourish. Behind closed doors, we hugged, laughed and we told each other we loved one another. It wasn’t perfect and of course, we still had the occasional arguments but we were mature enough to not let it escalate and we did our best to not let our children hear us.

Looking back at the torture we put ourselves through, the hurt we caused each other, it’s a miracle we lasted. I feel that we evolved together as one while still holding on to our own individual personalities. He allows me to nurture my goals and dreams and I continue to grow. His loyalty to me as a friend and a husband surpass my expectation of what he has done for me and our family. He is a role model for what a father and husband should be.

I feel that one would know deep down inside if they have found the love of their life. I look back to my first love and although I really did love him, I knew deep down inside it wasn’t meant to be. As much as I ached and prayed to have him back, I thank the Holy Spirits for unanswered prayers because someone better was waiting for me. I knew Mark was the one the day I told him I loved him and I wasn’t just throwing the word ‘love’ around.

2015 family Christmas photo. Reece (16), Kayah (10), Bly (5)
2015 family Christmas photo. Reece (16), Kayah (10), Bly (5)

The memories from my childhood and all the heartache my parents endured taught me some lessons about love. I love my parents and know they tried but they chose divorce for their own reasons. They still love one another but in a different way. My father is now remarried and my mother seems happier living her life and they remain friends. As I continue to see relationships grow and fade, I feel like I have won the lottery of love. My relationship with my husband is fulfilling. After eighteen years together and three children later, we can read each other’s mind like putting on the same t-shirt without knowing it, or what I’m thinking, he’ll say. Pretty corny, I know, but he is my soul-mate and I will grow old with him.

Far from the little girl that lived the reality of shattered promises of love and devotion and promised never to marry or have children, experiencing the life changed all that. Thankfully through trial and error, I learned how to love myself as an individual, which allowed me to open my heart and love my relationship as a wife. I found my true love, my prince charming that every little girl should believe in. My outlook on love and life is strong and I am totally completely eyepopping, seriously groundbreaking, passionately, deliciously head over heels in love with my husband over and over again.

18 years in August 2016
18 years in August 2016