The figure watched quietly as the young man far out across the beach walked with what seemed to be a purpose first across the soft, powdery sand and then the damp, slightly muddy tidal channel before reaching the white and firmly-packed grains of the exposed sandbank. Strongly he walked, his head held high, his dark blue eyes reaching out to the distant shore across the bay - strongly he walked, until he felt the distance between him and the land had grown enough for his purpose. Pausing, his chin began to fall towards his chest, his shoulders to droop and stoop, his fingers to twitch as if to the beat of a silent drum. The memory returned, as he had known it would; as he knew that it always would when he opened that particular door in his mind. She was gone.
For months he had come here to grieve, to allow the intense sadness to take hold of him while he walked, to lay bare his pain upon the silent and impassive landscape. Feet dragging in the sand and kicking up tiny rooster tails which drifted away on the warm breeze, he trudged forward, thinking of nothing except knowing that the pain still remained. She was gone - the woman who had meant everything to him, had been everything to him, and who could never be adequately replaced. Through his insecurity, his jealousy, his fear and possessiveness; he had thrown it all away, and she was - beyond any hope of redemption - truly gone.
The silence of the vast expanse of sand mocked him, held him, exposed him to the sun and the wind and his pain, and excluded all else. Here, all that existed was the reality of his sorrow, and here he could express it like nowhere else. A mile or more away a solitary and indistinct figure shimmered in the heat haze; surely too far away to hear or see what he was experiencing; safely isolated from his pain. For all intents and purposes, he was alone on the sand. He stared out to sea and took several deep breaths, knowing what was happening to him yet again. With a final deep breath, he opened his mouth and hoarsely screamed his pain to the world. Long and hard he shouted his hurt, alone, there on the white sand...long and hard until his body had nothing left to give, his throat burned, his chest heaved and ached with the finality of the truth. She was...
In the shimmering distance, unnoticed, the indistinct human form paused and changed direction.
Softly, as if in slow-motion, he crumpled to the ground and lay with his face toward the unfeeling shoreline, the breeze blowing sand against his back. The figure in the distance - seemingly unconnected to the earth - still floated in the heat haze like a half-seen ghost, the wind still blew and the sun shone down without pity or care upon the young man as he lay, eyes unseeing, pressed against mother earth. His mind flickered desolately, the truth yet again tormenting him, the idea of simply stopping here, now and for ever, teasing him with a cruel whiplash of daring... why, after all, prolong this agony? Why not simply allow the ocean to claim him and...and...remove all traces of him? Closing his eyes in self-disgust at the thought, he half-listened to the hiss of the sand across the sandbank until wakefulness and his torment mercifully drifted away.
Eventually, the fog of despair relented enough for him to awake, sit up slowly and cross his legs in front of him, just as he had done all those years ago in his first school classroom when the teacher was reading a story. In these moments he was that small, lonely child again. He had memories that could never be taken away - even though he would wish away one in particular. He had memories of a life, a life that once included her and his total, unrestrained love for her. It slowly came to him - as it always eventually did, of course - that he had, after all, a life now. A life to live, a life not to be discarded as something that had come to an end. Surely, he thought, there was more.
The sand blew and caressed him gently as, with the truth unlocked once again, the tears rolling unchecked down his face, he told himself out loud what he knew he would live with after all:
"She's gone, gone...for ever."
A heavy silence surrounded him. He closed his eyes and sobbed, not noticing the shadow pass across him, not even hearing the faint rustle of sand.
All he knew was the shock of a soft hand upon his forearm.
Instinctively, he knew that touch, but as he felt it, he knew that it was impossible; it simply couldn't be real.
"She's gone." he whispered, shaking his head, and dismissing the illusion.
"Not any more." came a voice - a real voice - one he knew so very well and had not heard for too long. His eyes snapped open and there she was, sitting cross-legged, just like him, right there, really there, in front of him. Her eyes; those glorious eyes, bored into him and tenderly held his fragile, brittle heart as he searched for a new, seemingly impossible truth.
"I lost you, forever." he said, his voice breaking and his eyes closing against the tears.
She leaned in to him and with a gentle smile and a single tear falling down her beautiful cheek, softly held his face in her hands; "Only one thing is for ever, my darling. Us.".
I opened my eyes to the soft light of a new morning as the dream dissipated. Those moments on the beach had been almost thirty years in my past, and the reality had been a little different. It had all happened, except for the final moments. Yes; I had cried, yes I had called out to the universe and to the god that I then believed to be real, cried out to anyone and anything to take away my pain, to make it all somehow different – to bring her back... Yes; I had slumped to the sand, had drifted away - but she hadn’t, after all, come back. She had, indeed, gone. She was gone, in those words I could feel it all over again, and as I opened my eyes to the grey light of a fresh day, the sadness and the pain flooded over and through me; the memory of that deepest heartache briefly overwhelming the first thoughts and feelings of a new day.
Nearly thirty years had passed, yet the aching emptiness of that loss had never left me. I’d suppressed it; hidden it away in a mental maze, unwilling to let go of it completely yet also afraid of it, hating it, wanting it to stay hidden yet present for ever. As always, my dream had felt so very real; real because of the depth of that pain which had accompanied me through all those years like a dogged hunter, unwilling to let me get away and able to strike me down whenever my guard dropped. That agony had never truly healed.
How could it.
Letting out a deep sigh I turned onto my side to find my wife’s eyes smiling at me. She has wonderful, blue eyes; a deep blue like the waves crashing on a beach…that same beach… I lose myself in her eyes. My wife is very beautiful in so many ways…she is my definition of beauty. I am very fortunate to know her and be loved by her.
As I looked at her that morning, the dream that had haunted me for decades washed over me one more time, the sensations of those distant moments still fresh in my memory. It made perfect sense; lying there, I was looking onto those very same beautiful eyes from my dream. The dream always seemed so real because my love was real, my pain had been real, and the woman I loved was real. Here, after all, were those same eyes – her eyes, her face and her tender, loving touch – the touch I once thought that I had lost for ever. My wife is, you understand; her.
Somehow, incredibly, in spite of the bewildering improbability, more than twenty years after I lost her, she found me. Yes, she found me. Half a world and half a lifetime away, my first love found me once more. By doing so, she quite simply changed my life. By an incredible coincidence she found me at a time when I needed her most, when I was again suffering - when I felt alone and was staring into what seemed to be a lonely future. She found me and I lost myself in my love for her all over again. We are indeed for ever.
Is it better to have loved and lost than to have never known love at all? Yes, perhaps – but, I think, only if that very same love is discovered again. Otherwise, it's nothing less than torment. For twenty two years I knew and became familiar with the haunting emptiness of believing that my first, most complete, and enduring love could never return. Now, every day I figuratively pinch myself; this is, after all, the kind of good fortune that I never dreamed would visit me in my lifetime. Yet here it is.
Perhaps it’s a benevolent deity smiling down upon me – or perhaps it’s the randomness of the universe – perhaps it’s karma – or perhaps…
It doesn't really matter why or how; my good fortune today is to be me, living this life with all its twists and turns, now enjoying this most intense and satisfying of human feelings; to be in love (and for the last thirty years or more I have never not been) with the person who is in love with me. I can’t imagine anything more magical or more wonderful than that, and even while I am enjoying it, revelling in it, dancing within it; I am grateful.
I’m grateful to be me in this moment, and to have what I have. Today, you see, is our wedding anniversary...