Wendy Golding, mentor and friend. Recently deceased lover of life and co-founder of Horse Spirit Connections in Tottenham, Ontario. A guiding, healing light, and force for good, to all who knew and loved her.
Dearly beloved …
How can you have gone?
One minute living your life,
The next ~ no life to live
And in my life
A gaping, lifeless, dark hole
Where once shone your living light.
Oh, how I miss you ~
Your touch, your presence, your grace.
Such tangible moments
A sorrow sore borne.
Alas, dearly beloved,
I must go on
Minute by minute living my life
In tribute to your wisdom, love and dignity.
Gradually filling the darkness again
With the light of
Your beloved memory ~
Your beauty, your essence, your face.
For such intangible comfort
I can scarce dream.
Dearly beloved ~ I miss you.
Sure, you turned out pretty good, but is there anything you wish had been different about your childhood? If you have kids, is there anything you wish were different for them?
“You ask such loaded questions,” Valerie reacted with a hint of chilliness in her voice. “I’m not sure I want to go there.”
“I don’t mean anything by it,” Adam tried to explain innocently. “I just want to get to know you a little better, that’s all.”
Valerie shuffled in her tippy seat at the small cafe table situated on uneven paving stones and stared off into the distance. How could she tell this new lovely man in her life, with whom she’d already been so defensive, that her childhood had not been perfect. That emotional isolation and abuse had formed her and that every day she lived with the self-imposed shame that someone would find out. She took another deep breath and turned her attention back to the eager young suitor sitting opposite.
“Please forgive me, there are just some aspects of my life I’m not willing to share with you. Not yet anyway.” She curled her lips into a pout and took a sip of coffee. “We don’t know each other well enough for me to feel comfortable showing you …” she hesitated. Was the very thing she didn’t want to demonstrate about to reveal itself if she completed this spoken thought.
“Yes?” Adam looked into Valerie’s big, brown, softening eyes that both pleaded for and rejected empathy.
Valerie pinched her lips together and finally decided to take the direct route.
“Look, my childhood was troubled. I practically raised myself emotionally which is why I can be so volatile sometimes. So, if you wonder if I wish my formative years had been different I would say yes. I wish I’d had at least one emotionally stable adult in my life on a consistent basis. One I could trust. That would have made a huge difference. As it is, I’m in my 30s and still find myself floundering my way through stuff that should be really straight forward.” Trembling, she took another sip of coffee and looked him straight in the eye. “I have found that once I open myself up in this way men usually leave.”
Adam sighed. Clearly Valerie was a beautiful, yet complicated, woman. They were only on their third casual date but there was something intriguing about her, and even this obviously difficult revelation on her part could not dissuade him from pursuing her.
“You must think me shallow,” he observed sadly, his gaze never wavering. “But I assure you that as long as you’ll give me a chance, I’m not going anywhere.”
Valerie’s shoulders dropped, all tension seemingly released. She smiled weakly and struggled with her words.
“You must promise me one thing, Adam. … One thing … ”
“Yes, Valerie. Anything.”
Valerie considered for a moment. Was this a man worth giving a chance? There was only one way to find out.
“Okay, Adam, you must promise me you will always be a man of your word. That you will resist the temptation to make promises you cannot possibly keep, and never give me cause to doubt you.”
Adam watched the emotional machinations at work in Valerie’s face even though she was trying so hard to hold back. The twitching corners of her lips; the tears welling up in her eyes and spilling into pools in her mascara-laden eyelashes. Here was a tender soul searching for something he knew he could give ~ emotional strength and stability born out of love. Yes, he already knew it was love, but he had no intention of scaring her with that notion. It would wait.
“Valerie, I know we’re just starting out in our relationship,” he paused as she discreetly blew her nose and dabbed gently at the corners of her eyes, “but I want you to know that there is nothing I want more than to be a source of happiness for you. I understand you more than you know and I’m also aware, from my own experiences, of what it takes to allow yourself to be vulnerable to another. I will not abuse the trust you put in me. I promise.” Adam reached across the table for her hand and Valerie allowed him to take it.
“Thank you, Adam,” she smiled. “And I will do my best to … to be open with you. I promise.”
After a contemplative moment of silence Adam had a suggestion.
“Want to blow this popsicle stand and check out the fair in Schomberg? I hear there’s cotton candy.” He smiled widely, his eyes inviting her to step back in time and free the broken child.
The delinquent one stares me down with vacancy in his eyes. It’s as if I’m looking at a ghost; an empty shell of a man I once knew who is no more. He’s returned following weeks away studying for his masters degree. It’s Christmas break, and my birthday, and he’s made this haunting pronouncement.
“I don’t know if I love you anymore. I don’t know if I’ve ever really loved you.”
The world I know is crumbling beneath my feet.
“What? What do you mean?” I clutch the bannister for support.
“I haven’t thought about you at all while I’ve been away. You don’t mean anything to me anymore.”
Now the room is spinning.
Five years! Five years of my life; my heart; my devotion given to a man who doesn’t know if he’s ever really loved me. My knees wobble. What is happening? After all that I’ve done. All that I’ve sacrificed. What have I been living? An illusion? Did I marry an ideal and not a man?
“I can’t be here,” I mutter to myself. Brush past him and run upstairs. Slam the door to our room, throw myself on the non-marital bed. He’s been home two days and detonated a bomb of lies in my heart. I am blown away by his deceit. My carefully protected world falling in shrapnel pieces about me.
A torrent of pain floods the plains of my face as my mind spins with the surreal knowledge I am not loved. Not loved by a man who’d said for years he’d loved me.
Lies!! All lies ~ the memory of which tears at what’s left of my broken heart and plunges me into an abyss of despair the depths of which cannot be measured.
And he’s so not worth it.
In my experience life appears surreal after some kind of shock, good or otherwise, to the system.
I’ve known both. This fictional rendition of a real event is the first that came to mind.
“There’s a gentleman I’d like you to meet,” announces my dear friend, Sara Bartholomew-McCreedy with a rustle of silk and wink of an eye.
I’m a young, childless widow, thanks to the Battle of Vittorio Veneto, and this outing is a rare treat after a year of mourning. They say “Missing in Action” is as good as dead, and since my William has been missing in action since that dreadful battle, he may as well be dead.
“Crystal Barton-Lane, listen to me!” Now Sara’s most emphatic. “He’s an officer of our age and station recently back from the war. Most pleasing to the eye, in fact. A friend of a friend of a friend. You know how it is. Not my type, but you’d like him. He owns horses and goes to the opera.”
Is she having me on? I roll my eyes. Sara’s at it again, trying to matchmake me out of social purgatory. The war has taken so many men of our age and social rank it’s hard to know where one stands. And those who have come back are often so traumatized I’ve all but given up any idea of finding a man to fill my dear husband’s shoes. Sara knows this, and still she persists.
We alight from the shiny motor carriage owned by Sara’s wealthy uncle who has offered both of us refuge in his sumptuous Bartholomew Hall until we find our feet, and make our way through the thickening London fog to the Savoy entrance. It’s 4 p.m. of a late fall afternoon. Darkness is setting in and we’re meeting this man ~ and one of these friend’s of which Sara has spoken ~ for tea at the Palm Court.
“Really, Sara, I wish you wouldn’t meddle in my affairs,” I turn to her, my annoyance on my sleeve. “I’m not quite at your level of joie de vivre yet. It’s only been a year and I still miss my William.”
Sara sends me a disarming smile.
“Crystal, darling,” she stops me before we enter the fine hotel and looks me straight in the eye, “it’s time to lift that dreary veil of tears and live. Live now! I don’t think William would want you to be moping around for him. You know how he loved life ~ the next adventure. I’m sure he’d want that for you.”
A vision of my handsome husband all decked out in top hat and tails that last night at Covent Garden and enjoying a fine performance of La Bohème makes me shiver. How excited he was about soldiering and leading a troop of his own to battle victory.
“Crystal! Snap out of it!” Sara’s voice brings me back to the present. “There he is …”
Through the amber vapours of a flickering gas light and beneath the lamppost a stranger emerges.
“The world is bent on destruction at the hands of those who would themselves destroy …”
Grandma Rose raised her tea cup to her lips and sipped. She seemed unperturbed by her words, while I sensed my rose-coloured glasses slipping.
“Fighting for peace is not the wise course, but those who know not how to love themselves can never demonstrate love, or offer true peace, to others. It is not possible.”
I felt hopeless. She’d lived her life while most of mine was still ahead of me. The world seemingly falling apart around me. Still, I could see her point. How many times had I witnessed the mask of love a-kilter on the faces of those who felt nothing but self-loathing? Their acts of redemption couched in resentment and frosted with anger. The glass half empty with a cracked smile on its face.
Fighting for peace ~ the greatest oxymoron of all.
“What is to be done?” I asked.
Grandma Rose raised herself up, replaced her tea cup to the coffee table, and focused her attention on me.
“Love yourself. Genuinely love yourself ~ warts and all. Look inside your soul. Whatever troubles you, address it, embrace it and love it away. Even those we consider unworthy just want to be loved. They act out for attention. They act out because they don’t understand the source of their pain. If people would just look inside to find, address and love away their suffering they would feel no need to cause suffering in others. Only when the people can find this place of peace in themselves will there be peace in the world.”
A sigh rose from the depths of my own suffering; a tear pooled in my eye. I knew she was right. I had learned a long time before that love begins at home ~ the home of my soul ~ and that it resonates and colours the lives of others according to my intention. Love begins with the inner journey ~ a painful journey I understood all too well. A journey that creates empathy and a liberating knowledge of self that disengages the power of pain and sets us on a course of love in its purest sense.
Grandma Rose, ever the philosopher, noted my discomfort and offered this consolation:
“When you ask the meaningful questions, my dear, it is my privilege to give you the meaningful answers. As my wisdom is born of the inner journey so will yours be. It is a hard road but one worth travelling. Remember, the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you would have have them do unto you.’ As long as you live by this treatise you will not go wrong … as long as you understand how you would like to be treated … and why.”
I wondered if it would be a mistake to come back; to revisit a memory that is long since buried yet yearns to be resurrected.
Yet, here I am.
I am not surprised the “Love Nest,” as my gramps used to call it, is in such a state of disrepair, although it wouldn’t be had it stayed in my family. When gramps died about 10 years ago uncle Morris inherited it. He was the oldest son (not the oldest child) and whether he deserved it or not, he got the beautiful white clapboard house where he and my mother and five other siblings had been born and raised, and where I and my brother spent all our youthful summers.
It was such a romantic place then.
Nestled in a collection of elegant trees that shimmied and shimmered in the summer breeze, keeping us, my brother and I, cool while we played at hide and seek and other childish games. Grampa would call us in for dinner from his rocking chair on the upstairs porch. He was the great overseer.
We always felt loved here.
Wow, the memories are thick as cob webs now.
The porch at the front there, its door opens into a small hallway that leads upstairs to three tiny bedrooms. The only bathroom in the house is downstairs by the kitchen. Oh, the arguments we had about who would use it first in the morning. Sometimes I won, but not always. You had to be up bright and early to beat gramps to the punch.
To the right of the door way is the parlour. It used to have an upright piano by the window which gramma played on a daily basis, usually in the evenings before we would retire to bed. For as along as I can remember we’d all (gramps, Joe and I) gather around her as she tinkled those old ivories with a conservatory flourish, and sing the old gospel hymns.
Gramma had a twinkling soprano voice so I always sang the harmony ~ usually the alto line, but sometimes I’d lapse into tenor, just to test my sight reading. And when I did that Joe would instantly switch to my part. He was always up for a challenge. Yes, we all had our own hymnals. I wonder where they are now?
Gramps had a resounding bass-baritone and when he got going the rest of us would just stop and give him the floor. And then we’d all collapse in giggles when he finish and realize he’d been singing all by himself while gramma played.
Thank goodness he had a sense of humour.
Gramma was a wizard cook. She loved that kitchen and because gramps loved to eat he made sure gramma had the best of everything she needed to whip up a culinary delight.
I swear the house oozed with the scent of fresh bread, even when it wasn’t baking. Sometimes she’d make cinnamon rolls, which were my favourite, and on Sunday’s she’d always bake a pie of some description to go with dinner. She’d go with whatever fruit was in season, and in the winter would use her own canned peaches, or whatever else was in store, to create a sweet delicacy.
My mouth waters just thinking of it.
Often, in fact most Sundays, she’d invite lonely old Mr. Humphrey from down the road to join us. He lost his wife during the birth of their only child, Marty (if I remember correctly), and never remarried. Raised that boy on his own. He left home after school and moved thousands of miles away to chase history in the Middle East.
Gramma hated to see anyone as nice as Mr. Humphrey spend Sunday alone. So, unless he had somewhere else to be, he’d always come by after church and in the evenings after dinner share his frontier stories (he was a historian in his own right.) Once he gave me a signed copy of a book about the early pioneers and the Gold Rush that he’d had published. He fancied himself the Kenneth Roberts of the West. He was a talented writer, to be sure.
Of course, not all the memories of this house are good.
Family reunions were held every summer up until the year gramps died, and while they were fun for the most part, I hated bumping into uncle Morris. He was a creep. Upon gramps death, 10 years ago, Morris inherited the house and its 25 acre property. Let’s see, ol’ miser Morris would have been in his mid-fifties, I guess. He’d had no children. Never been married, in fact, so had no incentive to keep the place going. He was the black sheep of the family with the energy of a sloth and consequently let the place run down. He lived like a hermit.
I never liked him. He was mean to my mother, his sister, and gave me the willies. I never wanted to be left alone with him when I was young, and discovered all kinds of excuses to lock myself in my bedroom to write in my journal when he came to visit. He was the one person who stood between me and care-free summers with gramps and gramma.
So, I haven’t been back here since gramps died and I’m not surprised to stand here and see the once beautiful house in such decrepit condition.
It’s for sale. Uncle Morris died last month without a will and the property must be sold to cover his heavy debt load, though what he spent his (gramps’) money on I can’t begin to guess.
My husband and I have talked about buying the property to keep it in the family. This old house is too far gone now to be saved, so we’d have to raze it and build another. That wouldn’t be so bad.