“You don’t measure love in time. You measure love in transformation. Sometimes the longest connections yield very little growth, while the briefest of encounters change everything. The heart doesn’t wear a watch - it’s timeless. It doesn’t care how long you know someone. It doesn’t care if you had a 40-year anniversary if there is no juice in the connection. What the heart cares about is resonance. Resonance that opens it, resonance that enlivens it, resonance that calls it home. And when it finds it, the transformation begins…” Jeff Brown, Author
Holiday music sifts through doors and decorations dress the presence of city shops. Scents of apple, cinnamon, and pine waft in the air and strings of lights and candlesticks cast a glow from the apartments two and three floors above. I love this time of year. As I walk three blocks this evening to my destination, nervousness, and excitement mix with the joy of the season. I cannot tell which is more pronounced.
It has been thirty-two years since I last saw Colt. Colter Derrick Crissom voted shyest and most likely to succeed in our senior high yearbook. I wonder if I will recognize him. Or he me. Is he married? I heard he married. Is he still? If he is, will she answer the door? If she answers the door, why would it matter? The pounding of my heart tells me, somehow it matters.
I arrive at 371 Canal Street the address on the invitation to Colt’s gala. Soft lights embrace the front of the house and I hear music and laughter coming from inside. Outside I stand staring at a knocker on the door that once dropped will announce my arrival and there will be no turning back. My emotions are all over the place. It’s as if I’m a nervous teenager, as if the last three decades have evaporated, as if the time belongs to another woman in another lifetime. Where is she, the woman I know so well? She was here a mere few blocks ago, but the only sign of her now is an image reflecting in a windowpane set alongside the door.
I take a deep breath in and compose myself and allow my gaze to follow the branch-like etchings on the door. I release the iron crest and listen as its echo mingles with the gaiety inside. A minute passes that feels like more. I raise and release the crest again. Footsteps come towards the door. The door opens. It’s Colt.
“Liv! I can’t believe my eyes!” He says with an eagerness I had not expected. Before I can reply he has me in his arms. I return the favor. How long may I hold him? I wonder. I don’t want to let go.
“I can’t believe I found you,” he says as he eases his embrace. There are guests nearby. “I’m so glad to see you. Come in,” he says and gestures down the hall.
“Everyone, this is Liv,” he announces his arm securely at my waist. “I think you know most everyone. Excuse me. Please make yourself at home.” He kisses my cheek and whispers, “We’ll talk later.”
It’s been a long time since we’ve all be together. Tammy and Richard all the way from California. Dianne and Selena from Connecticut. Roni and Shane, Tennessee. Marie and Keith, Canada. Cheryl and Kim still nearby. The room’s abuzz with greetings, hugs, and the expeditious sharing of life events before we need to move and eventually mingle as other guests arrive. There are more familiar faces whom I acknowledge but don't stop. I have never been one for small talk. Even more so this evening because I am not fully present. My thoughts are on Colt and how the rest of the evening will play out.
The gala is festive amid a backdrop of Victorian décor set in a restored 1800s New England mill house which holds period pieces an antique lover’s dream. The foyer feels more like a grand hall and is wallpapered in a burgundy floral motif, accented with dark mahogany. Lofty rooms on either side display blue, white and rose panels with stripes edging the crown molding. The residence is extraordinary, but nothing speaks to the man I remember.
I move along the hallway until I come upon a breathtaking open space an immaculate kitchen encircled by a large conservatory. There is beautiful white and glass door cabinetry perched above a long Corian countertop with drawers beneath completing the space. An island with a stove, sink, and prep area sits in the center of the room. Sparkling pots and pans hang from a rotating ceiling pan holder above. My cooking skills are maintenance-based, but I fully appreciate the beauty and detail in its design.
I move through the kitchen into the conservatory where strings of miniature lights hug the top perimeter providing the perfect atmosphere for tables set for two dispersed around the room. An herb garden, basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, more, grows closest to the kitchen with medicinal rosemary, sage, bee balm and caraway complementing the mix. Ceramic and clay pots hold Gardenia’s, Hibiscus, and Rose trees. I love rose trees. Annuals, ferns petunias, geraniums, alyssum, and jasmine hang from crisscrossing rods above.
Sepp stands in the far corner looking out onto the patio beyond. Goodness, this place just keeps going. Colt’s older brother is four years my senior, tall, dark, and handsome just as I remember even with his now thinning hair. In deep thought, unaware of my presence, I stand quietly beside him. His six-foot-four-inch stature and my not-so-quite five-two elevation strike me as funny right now.
“Liv! How are you?” He says.
“I’m fine. Thanks. I didn’t want to startle you. You were in a world all your own.”
“You haven't changed a bit!” he says and offers me a hug. I oblige.
“Thanks,” I reply taking the complement in stride. I know full well the extra forty pounds and my gray hair lay in stark contrast to the 110-pound blonde he knew 32 years ago. Then again, he looks good to me too even with all those years behind us.
“Colt said you might be coming.”
“Yeah. I was surprised to get the invitation. Wasn't sure until the last minute.”
“It’s been a long time. I didn’t know what to expect.”
I nod, yes.
“It's all he could talk about. Liv. Liv. Liv. I’m glad you could make it. How do you like it?”
“Sure. And the house?”
“I’m having a nice time. The house…I don’t remember the two of you like this.” An odd comment to make considering I haven’t seen them since we were young.
With a smile he says, “You have to play the part, ya’ know. Its a great location, office and meeting space. And, as you can see, entertaining. You’re right, though,” he lets out a hearty laugh. “This is not where we unwind.”
“How are you doing? Where are you living now?” We get lost in conversation, reminisce about school days, and ruminate all the changes in town.
I feel Colt’s arm reach around the front of my shoulders and his other around my waist. “Can we go somewhere quiet to talk?” He whispers, and my heart starts racing. In truth, it never did regain resting mode.
“I’d love that,” and as I turn towards him feel his lips brush my cheek.
In this moment, my feelings are out of touch with reality. I feel young, passionate, and in love. Feelings decades old. “Oh, please don’t act like a nervous schoolgirl,” I tell myself. “You’re fifty-seven years old for heaven’s sake. Act like an adult!” And with that admonishment, an impetuous girl takes a back seat and I hold my composure. Thank goodness.
“It was nice to see you,” I tell Sepp and excuse myself from our conversation. “I’d love to talk more sometime.”
“Look forward to it,” he replies.
“This way,” Colt says as he takes my hand. “I can’t tell you how good it is to see you, Liv. How many years has it been?”
“Thirty-two.” I know exactly.
We remain quiet as we walk down the hallway to a discreet part of the house where seemingly out of nowhere an archway appears. We step through onto a spacious landing set atop a broad spiral staircase. Ornate iron railings grace its sides, and sea-green walls encircle the space. Lighting is dim but as we make our way down sensors illuminate each step then fall dark once we pass.
“That’s interesting. The lighting. I’ve never seen that before.”
“It’s to keep this area as natural as possible.”
“Natural?” I wonder aloud.
At the bottom, a hallway stretches in front of us with a single door at the far end, to my left an unadorned wall in the same sea-green hue, and to my right is a wall of glass the length of the hall. I assume a patio on the other side. But as my eyes adjust to the light, an ocean water aquarium comes into view.
“Oh my god, Colt. What is this?”
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” He replies. “It’s a hobby.”
“Hobby? It’s incredible. How’d you …”
“Fifteen years…in the making. Let me turn up the light a bit.”
The scene reminds me of snorkeling in the Florida Keys or Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay. I’m in awe. How much effort went into its creation? Why? I wonder.
“It’s a passion.” He answers as if reading my mind. “I’ve always loved the ocean, and the more time I spent diving, the deeper I fell.”
“Who takes care of it?”
“I do. Part of its charm.”
I’m sure I look puzzled as I think about the ten-gallon freshwater fish tank I had to give up because I couldn’t keep it clean.
“For me, anyway,” he says.
I feel Colt’s eyes fixed on me as mine are on the world beyond the glass. “He’s here. It’s like we haven’t missed a beat. After all these years.” The sound of a door opening interrupts my thoughts. Colt asks, “Will you join me?” I move away from this sea and toward the man.
When I enter the study, I’m alone. It’s spacious with a comfortable feel. Recessed lights glow onto two overstuffed chairs set in front of the fireplace. Old books and original artwork adorn bookshelves. A modest desk on the far side of the room sits framed by a large paned window. I walk over and run my fingers along its edge. Its only features, four simple, turn-carved legs and a plain drawer set discretely at its center.
“I bought that at auction.” I hear him say. “It’s from Amherst. Early 1800s. I wondered if Emily Dickinson ever sat there.”
I look up to see him holding a bottle of wine and two antique-gold rimmed wine glasses. It’s as if I’m watching my life play out on a big screen. He pours us each a glass then raises his glass for a toast.
“To old friends.”
“To old friends.”
“How are you, Liv? How’s life been treating you? Tell me. Did you remarry? You have a son, right?”
“Yes, one son. And a grandson now.”
“No! We’re not that old. Are we!?” He exclaims.
“Yes. Afraid so.” I know I’m beaming now—my family is such joy. “And let’s just say I’m married, and it is not working out. I don’t want to ruin our time together.”
He nods and his demeanor changes. “Are you all right?” He asks; his tone is serious as he takes my hand. Oh, my goodness. He’s looking out for me.
“Yes. I’m fine.” I feel him gently squeeze my hand before letting go and get the feeling he’s been here before.
“What about you? I heard you got married.”
“No!” He immediately replies with surprise. “I never married! Where’d you hear that?”
“I heard you got engaged a few months after we broke up and then married a year later.”
He laughs at the suggestions. “I was engaged briefly. But I never married. It was never attractive to me. The rumor mill. Don’t believe everything you hear,” he says chuckling finding humor in the mill. “I’ve had a couple of long-term relationships. But, no, never married.”
My mind and my heart feel like the twenty-five-year-old I was when I last saw him. I feel excited. Impulsive. I see the young man in him also.
We settle into the chairs in front of the fireplace. He kicks off his shoes and throws his feet onto the ottoman closest to the fire. I’m not surprised at all at how successful he is. I’m not surprised he’s still as handsome. What brings the smile to my face is how comfortable we remain with each other. He’s still the young man I remember even with all the trappings that come with success.
We talk about our past, family, life, challenges, and future goals. I ask most of the questions. One, because I’m interested and enjoy hearing all he has to say. And because my life has been hell for years. Unless I go back more than a decade, I have nothing I care to share. I hang on his every word.
“Remember prom night?” He asks. “I came across some pictures of us at the beach. You wore a blue dress. Who was the guy you were with? Was he from town?"
“I didn’t know anyone took pictures. I don’t remember you with a camera.”
“You never know,” he says with a sheepish grin.
I remember my senior prom, attending only because I didn’t want to feel left out. I would have preferred to stay home. What I remember most about that night, though, is the eight of us standing on the beach after prom and the long moment when Colt’s eyes met mine. I felt an incredible connection with him. It was more than attraction, but I had no words to explain it.
“No. He was from Westford,” I reply about my date.
"I’ll find those photos and show you next time," he says.
Next time. There’ll be a next time. I smile.
Colt pours us more wine and tells me about his restoration project in Virginia. “It’s fascinating. Each is a study of history,” he says with a fervor that’s rare in people. “You have to know when the house was built and what features would have been incorporated into the home. Most of the houses have been redone so many times they look nothing like they did when they were first built. You’d love it. It’s really something to see a piece of history come back to life.” Such satisfaction in his voice.
He tells me about three warehouses, one in Maine, North Carolina and Pennsylvania full of reclaimed wood and period pieces he’s salvaged: entire staircases two-or-more-stories high with their banisters intact, stained-glass-windows, lead glass cabinetry, moldings, fireplaces meticulously removed. “Some of the fireplaces and staircases have hidden compartments used to hide arms during the civil war and liquor during prohibition. Homes had fake walls where people hid from intruders. My dream is to go to Europe and restore a chateau in France or a villa in Spain. Someday.”
We’re in our own little bubble and lose all track of time until the intercom sounds, and a voice on the other end announces that guests are starting to leave.
“Would you excuse me? I shouldn’t be long. Would you like to wait here?” He asks.
I nod yes, and he steps into the hallway and in front of the ocean wall.
“Make yourself at home,” he says and closes the door.
Fascinating how I can get lost in conversation and totally forget how incredibly attractive he still is. A mix of George Clooney and Andy Garcia I’d say. His dark brown hair now salt and peppered, still full with a cut that’s tailored today as opposed to the long hair and sideburns he once sported. His build is more muscular today than it was in his twenties a fact that was not lost on me at our first embrace. I had remembered him as taller, but his height is just right seeing as I wear only flats now. How many women must be knocking at his door, figuratively and literally?
I get up from my chair and make my way around the room. The books on the shelves include architecture, restoration, history, and autobiographies. Some are first editions. Artwork dispersed among the books are original pieces signed by local artists. There are artifacts with notes attached: A Harris & Shafer sterling bowl dating back one hundred and fifty years; a carved wooden hand with a heart on its palm with a note, “Odd Fellows. 1880s. Folk art.”; a carving set is stamped Paul Revere Sterling; an early American powder horn and a Native American club found at the same location in upstate New York; a Native American medicine pouch, a tribal drum and moccasins. I wonder if they came from homes he’s restored.
An elaborate jade floral arrangement—each flower carved from different color jade—sits atop a slim, antique marble-topped pedestal in the corner of the room. I recognize the arrangement as a symbol of prosperity, wealth, luck, and friendship. How fortuitous.
Every item in the room speaks to me. The energy in the room is ethereal.
Between the bookshelves is a doorway that opens to a spa area. The tiled floor is off-white with an inlaid, blue spiral pattern that extends to the far side of the room where a pedestal tub sits as the centerpiece. In the left corner is a shower tiled with a decorative Mediterranean, hand-painted mural. Adjacent to the shower is a steam room. A small room to the right provides privacy for an old-fashioned pull chain commode with bidet. The thought and detail for this space is incredible.
A second door leads from the bath to the master bedroom. Fit for a king. I walk over and open the French doors to the patio, then take a moment to sit on the edge of the bed and look across the terrace. A section of the aquarium can be seen from where I sit. “Here is the man I remember,” I think to myself. “Character and authenticity.”
A rush of emotion comes over me. So many thoughts and sensations running through my mind and heart makes it’s impossible to decipher between them. My breathing becomes rapid and shallow and my anxiety builds. What is happening? Is it that I have become so numb, so detached from any real emotion these past years that all I’m feeling right now is overwhelming? I need to leave.
I get up, close the patio doors, walk through the master bedroom, the bath, and back into the study. For a moment I reconsider. Should I stay? No. I need to go. I step into the hallway and pause at the aquarium; its tranquility calms me. Just as I reach the stairs, Colt returns.
“You leaving?” He asks.
“Yes. It’s late. I had a wonderful time. I loved seeing you.”
The energy is palpable. Inspiring yet anxiety ridden. I fear my emotions will get the better of me and feel I must leave. But, to go where? Back to a place from which I desperately want to escape? I can’t stay here either.
“Excuse me,” I say as I look at Colt and manage half a smile moving past him and up the stairs feeling ungracious in my haste.
“See you soon.” He says.
“I’d love that,” I reply and stop to look back.
“I’ll be leaving for Virginia. But you’re welcome anytime.”
“Yes. Please feel free. Make yourself at home. It’s been too long. Let’s not wait another thirty years.” He smiles. “You still writing? See if your muse feels comfortable at the desk. It’ll be nice to know someone’s enjoying it.”
“I’d love to …”
“It’s a date then. Whether I’m here or not,” he says and offers a wide smile. “I’ll let Sepp know you’ll be by.”
Outside the night air aids in my composure. Alone with my thoughts, I think about the night I just experienced. And, with all this evening held, Colt’s memories of me touched me deeply. He spoke affectionately of a young woman I remember as a ball of anxiety and distress. “I admired you. When you wanted something, you went after it. You had dreams and you set out to make them happen.” In his eyes I was more than the chaos I felt and had value even if I didn't feel it. And he harbored no hard feelings for me walking away. If I never see him again, I’ll forever have tonight, this gift.
My heart is full of love and gratitude. Full of hope, I get into my car and drive home keenly aware of the disparity in the life I have been living and the one I wish to create.
Thank you, Universe.
Creek Island Road
I arrive home—a place called home simply because its where I reside. Eleven Creek Island Road is a sprawling presence with rolling fields and manicured lawns that is so picturesque even I can drive by and—for a moment after all these years still—imagine how grand a place this must be to live. Seven years in and I am in survival mode. The life in my soul nearly extinguished—until tonight.
The last thing I want to do is relive it all. Once was enough as life unfolded exciting, confusing, exasperating, and heartbreaking. Twice was enough talking with friends. Third time’s a charm with a counselor trying to understand what had happened while working my way out of the depth of despair. Was I too naive? Was it a false sense of loyalty? Did I chase the wrong dream? All the above? One thing I knew for certain: a strong independent woman walked into the relationship, and a shattered, unrecognizable shell crawled out summoning every ounce of emotional and psychological strength I could muster. How on earth could this have happened?
No, I don’t want to relive it all, but my story and the answers I found may help another. Through this writing, I’ve been able to cultivate meaning in the past decade and finally put it to rest.
Ten years ago, I’d been living the dream. Middle aged, middle management, career on an upward trajectory, traveling the world despite a fear of flying that was near paralyzing but as to not thwart my career’s upward momentum I obliged. I seen San Francisco and its famous Lombard Street, Ghirardelli Square and Alcatraz. Las Vegas multiple times attending star-studded shows, its lights and glamour. Miami in the heat of August, Minneapolis in frigid February, Seattle in the rainy season, Washington, D.C. in cherry blossom time, and Chicago when the wind was so fierce flights were cancelled. I extended my second trip to Amsterdam so I could tour the Van Gogh Museum, attend a concert at the Royal Concertgebouw, and with reverence visit the Anne Frank House. Hopped a train to Paris where I visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, toured the city by night and treated myself to a day at Euro Disney. I was in such awe of the Louvre I went back for a second day. My fortieth birthday, I gifted myself a trip to London, Stonehenge, and Bath.
I was also attending night school in pursuit of a college degree. I had bought a home for us and my youngest married his high school sweetheart.
We had it all.
I was living the dream, had everything I’d wished for, worked for, except one elusive dream of happily ever after which equated to a man in my life to share it all.
Life Isn’t Perfect
Life isn’t perfect nor is the retelling of my story. It’s convoluted, the piecing together of worrisome and exasperating circumstances that are now at times laughable. I feel foolish for not knowing better. I feel embarrassed for being so naïve, for having a warped sense of loyalty, for chasing an elusive dream, for giving away everything including my Self for the promise of a brighter tomorrow. I was high on life, felt as if I could handle anything. So, I guess life put me to the test. Don’t laugh. Okay, do.