The Mystery of Heart

Well, another creative non-fiction entry to the CBC contest is a non-starter, so here’s my latest essay for your reading enjoyment. A reminder, this is covered by the creative common license for reading purposes only. Any republication or transmission or use of any kind other than a link to this post must be with permission of the author only. Copyright Catherine M. Harris 2014.

The Mystery of Heart

There was a workplace accident today. It made the news. At first I thought, oh, that’s sad, but such things happen. And then the update said the 22 year old man was recovering well and my heart caught in my throat. I quickly texted the young man I thought of, and yes, he was fine. For a few moments prior I worried for my daughter, who, still studying for a final exam and 16 long driving hours away from him could be scared out of her mind if she heard the news report. Were I her, I’d have been. He is her first, maybe only – who knows? – great love, and I remembered from the ashes of a long ago time saying to the first love of my life, “Please don’t die, don’t die on me.”

Looking back it’s a bit silly I know, but I just loved him that much. I loved him so much it hurt, and I loved him so much that the thought of losing him terrified me more than anything I could possibly think of. I was sixteen at the time and when my great love became a little less stellar three years later and had come to the point of who cares, I looked at the void in my heart and pondered – wrongly it turned out – on the fact that my one chance was wasted when I was so young. I have plans to live to a grand old age; older than my great-grandfather who was still swinging his cane at cars in his nineties.

My father said to me once as I moaned my singlehood, “Have children if you like but for God’s sake don’t get married.” He was a man of black humour and his comments still make me giggle. My mother on the other hand told me on my wedding day when I was twenty-six that marriage is an experience everyone should have, even if it doesn’t work out. The Minister intoned, “Let those whom God hath thrown asunder, let no man join together” and well, maybe they knew something. Regardless of its outcome, this love of my life was my best friend, still is one of my best friends and is the father of my children.

In my darkest days after I left the marriage with two young ones and a bucketload of “if onlys” and after I had long ago decided there was no hope for me ever again, 9-11 happened. I worked very long hours dealing with a Canadian aspect of it when a far away writer friend who lived 50 miles from ground zero and worked for a radio station asked if he could call me so we could just talk. We talked for two hours until the telephone receiver burned on my ear. The sound of his voice made my heart leap; and in that 500 mile, two country divide I found the spark of love again. I was thankful for the reminder that maybe there was hope for me yet, because at that time there wasn’t any possibility he could be anything but a far away friend.

Fate has a way of making things happen when they’re meant to be. I really believe that. Thirteen years later my foreign friend is my common-law spouse; has been for twelve of them. The how that came to be is too long to tell right now but I can say that when we first got to meet in person – quite amazingly actually – we both knew that this was special. There was a magic I can’t explain, and with the passing of the years and many days both good and not-so, we know that for this moment in our lives we are where and with whom we should be.

It takes courage to put your faith and future into someone elses’ hands. Some say it’s easy just to walk away but that isn’t true. It takes perhaps less courage to pledge yourself to another than to say good bye. Your life implodes in ways you don’t expect. Friends and family can disappear. Grudges are held, accusations thrown. And in it all, there’s you. Picking up the pieces, puzzling together a new tapesty of a life which is hard when you can’t see all the parts yet. It’s lonely and not a little scary. Friends may or may not return, family doesn’t always forgive you. That’s just how it goes.

In my era of refinding myself after my marriage dissolved, I turned to an old family mystery. My cane-swinging great-grandfather had a wife and three children, one of whom was my grandfather. When the children were very young their mother went to the States and never came back. Great-grandfather years later asked if she wanted to see her now adult children but she turned him down apparently saying she had a new family. The shame and scandal of this hundred year old divorce became a project for me. I would find out what happened to her and maybe a glimmer of why.

For that I began my ancestral tree, joined lists, scrolled through births and deaths and baptisms, all the stuff of life we leave behind. After several years I finally found the answer. The first hint was the death of a baby we hadn’t known about. The second was a marriage of one of her sisters to an American man a few months before, and the third, the death of her mother very shortly before the baby’s demise. Could it be that post-partum depression, mourning for two and perhaps missing her closest confidante could have sent her away? It was the late 19th century, so it was certainly possible. From my viewpoint in this millennium, I wonder would she be thought of any differently today?

One of my lists provided the answer. She did indeed live with her married sister, worked at a nearby factory and a few years later married someone who also worked there. They lied about their ages, but her parents names were the same and her birth place was right. She listed her status as single on the marriage license. Back then I guess they had to take your word for it. They bought a house and had boarders. I haven’t found any children from this marriage – perhaps she couldn’t have any more. Regardless, they were married for over twenty years and the last I’ve found of her was a phone directory with her name circled and a date. Great-grandma, I want to say I think I understand and I certainly forgive you. Your children turned out very well, and your husband remarried and had a couple more children.

There’s one thing I tell anyone who asks about life decisions. It is: follow your heart. You never know what the next moment will bring or how long you have. And if that heart pulls you 16 hours from home or twelve and another country away take the chance. In the end, the sadness of never knowing what could have been may well haunt you more than the mistakes you make.

We live in a time of safety with warning messages plastered over everything with such words of wisdom like “may cause fire” on a lighter, and we are without a doubt a very judgmental society; just spend a few minutes on Twitter or Facebook and you’ll see that. The thing is, had I played it safe and married my philandering first love I wouldn’t have my wonderful children and I wouldn’t be sharing my life with a very caring man in a city far from home.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating marrying a wreck of a person just because they make something flitter in you. I am saying though that what others think is best for you often times isn’t. When you know it’s right, do what’s right for you. Like my mother said, even if doesn’t work out, it is still worth it. A life well loved is a life well lived indeed.

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