Setting: April 6th, 2012
Inside: Broken. Years of cynicism and failure to hope leave me bereft of the desire to believe in love; my heart is concealed beneath layers of dried blood and disbelief, shame, and devastated expectations. Vicious, more recent circumstances have left me a bag of bones. Cracked and dried, I am likely to disappear any moment now. I can't find myself in my own reflection. My heart and mind are in a dark room; I try to stay in the light for fear that if I don't, I will vanish.
Inside: "... Wow."
Tall, dark, and handsome. A beautiful, Tom Selleck mustachio'd face, a charisma that you cannot fake and would have to be blind to miss, and that rich voice that grabbed the ears of all the passersby until he had a crowd surrounding him, captivated. He drew you in, made you wish he was talking about you. I wish I could remember the monologue he was doing at the time. I was too distracted by the fact that he had an American accent. I honed in on this like a homing pigeon.
A casual graze, a hand on the arm, a touch on the knee, sliding our stools closer to each other and fitting together like dancers who are waiting...waiting...waiting for the music to start. I realize the time, and I have to leave. He accompanies me to where I will meet my friends, at St. Stephens Tavern across from Westminster Abbey. He's only been in England a couple weeks longer than I, but he knows his way around, and I follow in sweet relief. He reaches over and takes hold of my hand. *If you knew me then, you'd have known that you do not hold my hand. Not. Ever. And yet, I looked down at our hands and our fingers, interlocked, looked like the most natural thing I'd ever seen. We sat in St. Stephens, sharing fish and chips and linking our ankles underneath the table, beneath the low-hanging ceilings of a room lit by an orange glow of amber glass bulbs. When my friends stepped outside, he grasped my hand, his own eyes smiling as he looked into mine... then slowly leaned in to steal a kiss. I let him, at first holding still and then leaning into him as the softness of his forehead pressed against mine. I smiled shyly and laughed away my embarrassment at this public display, which I never allowed before... but I was also surprised at how it felt like the most normal, and necessary, thing in the world. And I'd known him not three hours.
The next 6 weeks are a dream. Meetings in the city, trips out to the countryside to meet his sister with her husband and her children, who live in a fairytale Beatrix Potter landscape; late night strolls through London awash in the bright lights of street lamps and the buzz of a city that holds us in the palm of its old, knowing hands. Bridges, train rides, tulips, always tulips... wine, sudden thunderstorms... the rain soaked adventure of a couple so young, free, and hopefully in love that we rested in the ease of each other like a ship that had finally reached port and now anchored, rocking, peacefully, her beams creaking in the slow cadence of the sea as she held closely to the strength of the dock.
He and his friend did occasional performances of Shakespeare in the Tube (the London Underground)... pretending to be mere passengers and then breaking out into performance mid-route. It was amazing to watch. I was his Juliet; the stunned looks on the faces of the passengers when he took the kiss from my lips. They thought I didn't know him from Adam... the gasps were audible. It was a thrill ride.
Never was I safer, more accepted, more lavished with kindness, respect, tenderness, and love. Never was a man so
eager to know about my passions and interests, more interested and enthusiastic about my own life than I was. He handled my fears and doubts and hesitations like a .... like a woman whisperer. And his patience was a mile long... although I can't know for sure, since I never once reached the end of it. Never once was it exhausted. And I lost my train pass at literally every stop. Every. Stop. You need it to get in and out of stations and onto the double decker buses. That's dozens of times a day where I rummaged frantically through my many coat pockets and my canoe of a purse, searching for that little orange slip of paper. Never once did he grow angry or impatient. It was remarkable. I could've cried. Never a roll of the eyes, or a bite of the lip, or a shake of the head. Never: "WHY can't you just keep it in the same place?" or "Why do you wear so many layers?" or "why is your purse so big?" (I would've asked those questions!) ... only: "Here, darlin', let me hold your purse for you so you can look." What kind of man was this? He was an angel, I tell you.
Love is tested in adversity, and mine was no exception. Our respective stays in England ended, and we parted. Promising to see one another again, we made plans to relocate, to be together. This is where the "alas" comes in. Time and distance did their worst. It killed us both in cycles; first me, then him, then me again. But what I noted in myself, and what I wrote about in my first ode to my love (my blog from last May, "On Speaking Italian"), was that my instinct for self preservation was gone. Gone. That has never happened before. Let me emphasize this for you, because this is pivotal. It was like having terminal cancer (self preservation), and then being told that you were in full remission (boundless love). Not a trace of my former shell; my heart had emerged from years of hibernation. There was life and strength in my bones, no longer the dry and brittle things that were so close to dust before. And in the testing of my resolve, and in the trying of our relationship, my test results showed that my heart was good, my blood was moving, and I was strong.
When I say strong, here is what I mean: in prior experience, if I detected any trace of breakdown in a relationship, I was out of there while the body was still warm. Pain, rejection and failure were things I wouldn't tolerate, and had no time for. A deteriorating relationship was not worth my time, especially because (I came to realize) I'd never really cared enough for the person to walk out the dying process with them, to allow the thing a natural death. This isn't to say that I've never cared for anyone. But in times of conflict- when the first red flag went up, I was gone. And yet here I was, faced with the possibility that time, distance, and circumstance were tearing from me the only man I have ever loved, and I was determined to stand there. Not leaving -waiting. I was going to cut myself open and hold my heart out, keeping nothing hidden and holding nothing back. If he didn't want me, I would've accepted it. In fact I tried to end it several times, because I thought that was what he wanted. I would've waited forever, but more than anything, I wanted him to be happy and free (even if that meant without me). I really did. But he wouldn't sever the tie, at least not with his words. He couldn't. And I wanted him so badly that there was very little I wouldn't have done to make it work. But in love, you cannot do the work of two people. One can be willing but their willingness cannot compensate for the others' slack. That is the boundary even I couldn't cross.
If I look back with perspective, I know in my gut that the love itself was the gift. He gave me a glimpse of something I thought was a myth. You may say that since I no longer have it, it was a mirage. But I defy that. I held this love in my hands, like a dove, and felt its heartbeat. It was as real and alive as I am. And I am. With the I Am. And the realization that fell on me like first rain on a barren field was this: the love that he showed me a glimpse of is the Love that He has for me, which is already in my possession. That is the truth that gripped me, beyond my own ability to grasp it. I have no bitterness; only a little pain. The song "Somebody That I Used to Know" has a line that says "You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness" and that is so true. The reason is that sometimes the sadness is the only souvenir you have left, and you want it to be tangible still. If the pain is gone, you're afraid you've forgotten them. Sadness is like a memory that we keep; we worry that we will forget the voice of a loved one who has passed. We fear will we lose the emotional ecstasy of a love that we have lost, so we cling to the pain of it to remind ourselves that it was real.