Wednesday Writing Prompt - Saved by the Brit

I've been reading blogs of some very talented women, and I decided to take a deep breath and throw my words out there, too. This is from Princess Nebraska: Tell a story of a time that 1) something that you were looking forward to turned out to be a disappointment or 2) something that you were dreading turned out to be something fantastic.

He was British. Twinkly blue eyes, studying at Cambridge, a camp counselor from the boy’s side. Did I mention his wonderful accent? We first kissed in the backseat of a friend’s car the night we met. We camped out once a week, on our precious nights off, in the tangled woods by the lake between our camps, rarely leaving the muggy, shaded privacy of our little green tent. We talked about everything and reveled in the differences between our cultures, schools, families, childhoods. He wrote me romantic notes on textured blue stationery with a chisel-point fountain pen, always signed “All my love, Michael.”

We left camp, frantic to spend every moment of the next two weeks together before he went back across the ocean. We tiptoed across the creaky floorboards of my parents’ old farmhouse, late at night, to whisper to each other. He spent two weeks with me as I settled back in to my dorm. Our months apart were filled with anguished longing. We didn’t yet have e-mail, and he didn’t like to talk on the phone, so I checked my mailbox anxiously for those blue envelopes. When they came, they would be stuffed full of 20 or 30 tidy pages of writing, the words as endearing as the elegant script. He sent my roommate money to surprise me red roses delivered with a hand-written card on Valentine’s Day. I mailed him pictures of myself wearing his rowing crew sweatshirt. I cried myself to sleep listening to tapes of Pachelbel’s Canon playing behind Mick’s voice, brokenly and beautifully telling me of his love.

Finally, the school year ended and I was ready to leave for my semester abroad. In preparation, I’d mailed an expensive airmail package, scented with perfume, containing champagne glasses. I bought a new outfit, stuffed my backpack full and triple-checked that I had my Eurail pass. My window seat was next to a father and son who didn’t believe in wearing deodorant. As the long flight neared its end, I shimmied past them, let out my breath, and went to the lavatory to make myself beautiful. I looked down in horror. My over-dyed indigo blue skirt had rubbed off all over me. My arms from the elbows down, my legs from the knees up, all were a dusky shade of navy. No amount of soap would change that. I cried, until I realized that he hasn’t seen me for 10 months and what color I am is probably the last thing he will notice.

I could hardly wait to disembark. I took a deep breath and walked out of the passageway, envisioning a passionate embrace like in the movies, looking anxiously for his spiked hair and blue eyes. I don’t see him. I walk, ever more frantically, between the gate and the luggage claim, pushing through the crowd, panicking because I'm in a foreign country and Mick isn't there. How could he not be here?

Suddenly, I see this short little man, – shorter than I remember, especially now that his hair is shaved and no longer spiked – dart past me, pushing a luggage cart. I whip around and grab his shirt. It’s Mick. He pecks me on the cheek, picks up my bag, and heads for the car, shouting over his shoulder that there are two international terminals and he went to the wrong one because the U.S. flights rarely come into this one. He drives the little car recklessly through winding roads to his mum’s house. I don’t think she likes me, but she tries. Mick chastises me for leaving some cooked carrots on my dinner plate, because it was very insulting to his mother. When we go up to his room, he chides me for not packing the champagne flutes better, because they shattered in transit, so he threw them away. He’d never mentioned their pets, and my allergies are extreme. So after a chaste good-night kiss and a few puffs on my inhaler, I still can’t breathe, so I spend the night sleeping in the hard ceramic bathtub, the only spot in the house not infused with cat dander.

I followed him around Europe for a month, submitting to his every whim, financing all the luxurious extras on which I insisted (like a scoop of gelato or Nutella to spread on our bread). I endured conversations in which he insulted our educational system in general and my abilities in particular, compared to the far superior British institutions. I stood meekly behind him as a Greek hotel owner berated him for stealing the drain plug from the sink. Of course, we also walked along the beaches at sunset, where he wrote “I love Kelly” in 3-foot letters in the sand. We took turns reading from the same novel, and shared a pair of headphones to listen to music. After we returned to England, I rode the bus between Oxford and Cambridge on weekends, foregoing the field trips planned by my instructor in favor of college parties and rowing crews and bike rides along the canal. Three months later we parted, another teary goodbye.

Back at school, peering day after day into an empty mailbox, I spun the combination over and over, hoping somehow I just couldn’t see the envelope for the reflection in the small glass window. Finally something was there, but it wasn’t the crisp blue envelope I expected. Instead, I found a flimsy airmail letter, written not in fountain pen but scribbled in ballpoint. No “all my love, Michael” at the end; instead, it is signed “Mick,” and the only other thing I saw before tears obscured my view was the opening line, “I don’t love you anymore, Kelly.”

He never wrote again.

It took months before I could think of him without crying. It took me years to be able to genuinely say I was grateful that he could see what I couldn’t. I needed a man who respected me, who thought of me as an intellectual equal. It sounded glamorous to move to Europe and marry a British Naval officer after he completed his studies in engineering, but would I have ever fit in among a class of people who would always see me as inferior, coarse – a vulgar American? Would I have been happy with an atheist, even with my immature, barely-formed Christian beliefs? Could I have truly married a man who was shorter than I? Would I have ever been able to become the woman I am today, the woman I have come to like, the woman who walks confidently and trusts in her mind and stands behind her choices and gladly gives and receives friendship and laughter and love?

When, out of the blue, Mick Googled me twenty years later, my heart pounded at the sight of his name in my Inbox. But then I gave thanks. Thanks that I didn’t quash down who I really was anymore in order to be liked by a man. Thanks that people out there believe enough in my brain, my words, and my thoughts to hire me. Thanks that God brought me back home and helped me find the church that helped me truly find Him. Thanks that He had given me the life I now have, with an adoring husband and three interesting, all very different kids. Thanks that I was given the opportunity to remember that part of my life and understand that I truly now had all I could ever want. Thanks that he had seen what I couldn’t. Thanks for this man who, not so graciously but nevertheless truly, saved me from that and allowed me to become me.

15 comments:

SLynnRo said...

Lovely post. I shamefully wrote this prompt and failed to participate!

G. Savant said...

I participated in the wednesday writing prompt for the second time ever and, after posting and waiting all Wednesday, I have realized that I've been "pwned", as the gamers say. Where the heck were everyone else's posts on the prompt?

I feel like someone had told that there was a pool, no really, no foolin', up on the roof of the high school. Just go up there and take a look, there's the door to the roof, yeah, it's fine. And then I get up there and guess what? No pool. And the door locks after I go through it.

Well, thank you, Mrs. Stanley, is what I'm trying to say. Thank you for making me feel not-so-alone. Your post was an excellent read, really reminded me of some incidents in my own past. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Well I read this the first time and my thoughts were of anger.
I read this the second time and my thoughts of anger had abated.
I read this the third time and I thought that M had been very selfish.
I came back half an hour later and I think that I now get it.
What a great piece of prose (even if it is slightly disparaging on the Brits) with a fabulously happy ending.

Kelly O'Dell Stanley said...

Is that you? I hardly recognized you without the fountain pen...

Anonymous said...

As one who saw your heartbreak first-hand, I loved this post. M. was truly exotic - intelligent, self-confident, forceful, and completely different from anyone you'd ever known. The "Mick period" opened the world to you - and made you strive so much more to prove yourself than you would have without having known, and loved, him. He was just faster to realize that there were huge discrepancies in your lives that you couldn't overcome. I don't know about his life, but you've become a truly together woman, and so the story should read, "it ended happily ever after."

Corinne said...

This has given me so much to consider (your post has been on my laptop and my mind all day). I love how you've taken me through the emotion of the moment. In memory of those indigo-dyed times of our lives, 'cool beans.'

G. Savant said...

Well, there it is. my friend. One whole weeks and no wedneday writing prompt, and no stepper-up-to-the-platers, including myself. I felt that I was unworthy, but obviously I was wrong. So I will be posting a Gentleman Savant-flavored WWP on my site within a day or two. I'm taking over!

Kelly O'Dell Stanley said...

Please DO take over. I've been feeling like I'm the only one with nothing better to do -- maybe I just don't have a life, and maybe in fact I'm a total loser -- but then I looked at my Inbox and to-do list and realized even if I am a loser, I certainly have plenty to do. Still, though, I'm looking forward to your prompt.

Corinne said...

I keep checking for the next piece of your writing? Please drop everything and entertain me!

Kelly O'Dell Stanley said...

Corinne - I'm sorry, I can only do that if there is, in fact, some other long unresolved aspect of my life that finally needs to come to a reasonably satisfying sense of resolution by my posting all the details online for the world - and the person involved - to find. Who else can I write about??

A different Michael? said...

She was American and working on the other side of the Lake. Not my normal type she was taller and a redhead, but she possessed a beauty both on the surface and deeper that attracted me from the start. The small spark ignited into a flame of passion that was fanned by our growing love where we revelled in discovering our differences. Our romance was intense with every valuable moment spent together, a hurried chat here, an evening off there or a glorious full day in the woods sunbathing, picnicking, making love and skinny dipping in the pool near where we camped.

I followed her home where our love deepened. Her with the confidence of being in love in her home environment, showing me off on every occasion, me seeing her with this added poise and elegance which I had not seen before. Could life be any better?

There was a dark and ominous cloud on the horizon, my return ticket was booked, and my own university term was about to start. With more than a few tears in my eyes and the heaviest heart we parted with promises to write knowing that we were destined to be together. How could something so good turn into the worst moment ever as I said goodbye. Would we see each other again?

Letters were frequent, powerfully passionate and spoke of the time that we would be together again. The day eventually came but the movie style reunion did not materialise, not through want but circumstance of me going to the wrong terminal and stressing out waiting for the plane that would never arrive. To be honest I am not sure we could ever have delivered on either of our expectations having rehearsed it and committed it to paper so many times before.

We rediscovered our love, memorable and beautiful moments as we travelled around Europe on a shoestring. Interesting countries, laughter, historic locations, intimate moments, absurdity, too many trains and lots of talking. The good times were great however a small scratch started to appear on our relationship with differences exacerbating scratches into cracks, albeit tiny ones. But our love was strong enough to overcome anything, not least the differences of culture and me roughing it while she craved a little luxury beyond our budget.

The trip behind us we made the most of the remaining weeks. How much did I love her? Enough to cycle 55 miles to visit her, enough to hold her, enough to reassure her, enough to make her sabbatical to the UK the best.

And enough to let her go.

My life was mapped out from Cambridge to the Royal Navy. It would never have worked. Like a caged and beautiful bird she needed the freedom to be released, to spread her wings and fly away to bigger and better things and not be waiting for me on the quayside of a foreign country outside of her friendships and the unconditional love of her family.

And so the plan was forged, to deliver the killer blow in such a way that there would be no chance of resurrection and our lives would divert never to converge again. It took me over half a dozen drafts to write a letter so horrid, so full of vitriol and lies that she would not wish to contact me in a millennium. Of course I still loved her and I was in tears as I dropped that letter into the pillar box on that fateful day, but I knew that her pain would be short lived and she would be surrounded by the support that she needed. She would grow stronger, find someone else, different and better.

The plan worked.

The next twenty years in one sentence. Graduation, Royal Navy, marriage, four houses, professional qualifications, fun times, success. But I never forgot her and what a complete and utter bastard I had been in executing that dastardly scheme. If there had been prizes then I would have been an Olympian.

And then I read the post in the box of doughnuts. Having never been on the site why did I search and look on the day that it was posted? Nobody will ever know. Feelings of mild anger, a small amount of betrayal but realisation that I had never been the intended audience so why should I care? Move on.

But I did care.

I cared that my memories were of much better times. A tender romance, what we thought was an undying and committed love, of fun and happy moments. I knew that I was not viewing things through rose tinted spectacles and I felt that maybe she had let the bitterness of disappointment taint what had been the best thing ever. Her Christianity now helped, forgiveness and the fact that I was now seen as something of a saviour but was I studying the words too deeply and reading between the lines? Had she rumbled my plan?

I made my return post. How little I knew that these are tracked by country so I need not have had to put a small reference to nationality in there. Of course I wanted her to know it was me. I wanted to explain why things turned out like they did. And most importantly I wanted her to remember the exceptionally positive things, and not the hurt as to how things ended. And I wanted to put the record straight. I always thought that I was a good wordsmith, I tried a couple of emails but the words would not come, the immediacy of delivery, the almost instant response and the analysis of the words were not going to work this time. I tried to contextualise previous unrelated experiences how memories in the Navy were of camaraderie, exotic runs ashore and exceptional professionalism, not tedious operations in the Arctic or spending just two weeks with your new wife in the first four months of marriage. Why could she not remember the good times; had I completely poisoned everything?

Counsel came from an unexpected quarter; make the call she urged because if you do not then you will regret it for the rest of your life. The lady that I had dinner with in the hotel had an acute wisdom and perception and not just because she was completely remote from the personalities.

So I’ve been given the blessing to respond in the public domain. How do you reply knowing that her friends, her vicar, her husband and her children might read this? Well firstly tone down all the physical side but how can you do that? Two teenagers with raging hormones, exploring and enjoying their sexuality. That bit cannot be totally left out although I have tried. I wondered did I exploit the situation and take advantage? No we were equally to blame and when we set off we did not realise that we had boarded the fast train to potential self destruction. But what a fantastic journey that we undertook even if we did get off early.

But what of the call? Uplifting, revelatory, conciliatory, some laughs, almost some tears, some silence, some absolute rubbish, no criticism or blame and I had forgotten the language barrier too! How could she not be angry? How do you express what you wanted to say in the past? How do you make up for the obvious pain, distress, disappointment, rancour and hatred that had been used to get over such a terrible thing? I do not know the answer to that but I am thankful for the understanding and the honesty that was displayed. I am also thankful for the Atlantic Ocean, and the knowledge that she was totally and utterly fulfilled in life with the love of a devoted husband and the unconditional love of children which allowed a frankness that I did not think possible. Was there still love? Yes, but not the all consuming love but a fondness and affection borne out of the reminder of what we had, not what we did not achieve. I’m probably wrong but only she knows the answer to that.

So what? Should I apologise for being a total cad? Should I seek gratitude that I saved her from a life that would not have worked out, even though it might have been fun finding out? Should I be jealous that everything is now a bed of roses without my interaction? Should I be pleased that everything worked out so well for her? Was I right to make that post? And would I do everything all again? Definitely yes, just a little bit, no but there is deep admiration, over the moon, yes and absolutely with a small caveat on that letter.

Thanks for being you. Thanks for being so understanding. Thanks for taking the call and thank you for remembering the good stuff.

Ne regrette rien. Never forget the good times, they are always better than the bad.

…until 2028.

Anonymous said...

Michael - What a heck of a man you've turned out to be! This whole story reads like a book, or movie script. I'd like to tell you a few things off-line, so need to get your email address from Kell. I figured, though, that you're waiting to see if anyone read, or anyone cared......yes, and yes. Ann, "the anonymous."

Anonymous said...

Mick, I loved your post and as a person who knows the "now Kelly" I want to say thank you. Thank you for helping her resolve this long unresolved portion of her life. I've known her for going on 10 years now and hearing her talk about the "Mick period" of her life has always sparked pain behind her eyes. I'm glad that she can now look at it and see it from a different aspect. Thanks again,
Kelly's friend Tami :-)

papillon said...

kelly-
I feel like an unknown cousin of sorts...I am Judi Chippendale's daughter.
And I want to thank you for your post...It mirrors, so beautifully, a situation I have very recently gone through...Greece, however, rather than England...
I too see what should have been obvious (with red flags shooting up everywhere!) when I got to his country...
But the results of becoming so broken are wonderful, yes?
We appreciate what is good and real and true and timeless in our existence.
Thank you, thank you, angel.
amy

Kelly O'Dell Stanley said...

Amy, thanks for introducing yourself. Your mom has been so good to/for my mom, and I'm so thankful for that.

I'm sorry for what you've been going through... and happy you got to go through it, at the same time. I obviously didn't have many positive memories, until he found my post from the other side of the ocean. Being able to ask questions and put away doubts I've harbored for 22 years has been so healing. And if nothing else, it's a great story and I find myself glad to have been part of it. I hope your story is one you can look back on with fondness and that it, too, has a happy ending, even if it's not the expected old-flame-comes-back-and-carries-her-away-into-the-sunset storyline.

P.S. Your comment came through twice and I tried to delete one but it still left a blank space, making it obvious. I guess I'll learn as I do this more :-).