"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."
Walt Whitman (1819-92)
"When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break."
Akhenaton (d. c.1354 BC)
And now, the current weather, from some random person we pulled off the street:
Monday, December 22, 2003
A Heart Ripped Asunder
blind-side Function: transitive verb Date: 1968 1 : to hit unexpectedly from or as if from the blind side 2 : to surprise unpleasantly 3 : how my first broken heart hit me
Broken hearts are never easy, but that first big one is life changing.
I was reading back through these entries the last few weeks and I realized that I had skipped someone very important. Problem was, it's painful for me. Maybe that's why I subcounsciously rode right over it. Or maybe I wrote this and deleted it. In any event, it's not here, even though I mentioned it a couple of times. (Note: I have since found that entry, I had filed it as a draft and it never posted correctly, You can read it on December 13th but I liked this one better anyway.)
Well, I'm gonna cover it now, so hang on.
It was June, 1976. I don't remember the exact day of the week or anything, but I'm betting it was a Sunday. I was riding down the road in the campground to my campsite, it was midafternoon, and my life changed.
Just like that.
To my left was a goddess. Just walking down the road.
The wind was blowing gently, her long brown hair was caressing it as it went by. She was tanned, slim, and had a walk that could stop a train. As I passed and saw her face, I lost my heart right there.
THIS was the girl I wanted to marry. I knew that as surely as I knew the sky was blue. So I stopped my car, backed up, and introduced myself.
Her name was Patty Cox. I was 16, she was 15. And she had captured my heart like a fly on flypaper.
This wasn't love at first sight, it was more like worship.
You see, people who have bipolar experience emotions in a deeper and more intense way than normal people do. And my brain was letting loose all the stops on this one.
We saw each other all week, all day and every evening. Mostly just hanging around with each other, going swimming, playing arcade games, walking on the beach in the moonlight. She was as wonderful to be with as she was beautiful, and I had never seen anyone so beautiful as her. Every moment with her was a feast, every moment apart from her was starvation.
Time has blurred the details, sadly, but I can still remember the feelings I had. Those never go away. Someone said once that feelings are how our memories actually work, and I think that is true. In Patty's case, in my mind, that's how it works. When I remember her, it's the feelings that tie every memory together.
At the end of the week, her family went back to Charleston, West Virginia. I stayed in Myrtle Beach, missing her every single moment, feeling very incomplete without her there.
I took out my guitar and wrote a song for her. I did that a lot whenever I had deep feelings to deal with.
I'll just take a minute and write a love song of how I feel about you....
You're the apple of my eye You're an angel from the sky....
There was more of course, it's kind of sophmoric and I can't remember all of the words, but thats the gist of it.
In August, her family came back for another week, and things between us cranked up to the next level. I played the song for her and she cried. We spent almost every waking minute together.
After a couple of days, I decided it was time to crank things up even further. I went into town and bought a pre-engagement ring for her.
When I got back, she had gone somewhere with her cousin. I went back to my trailer and sat there, waiting. I was a nervous wreck. I paced back and forth, lay down for a while, paced some more. Then I was so nervous that my stomach cramped up like I had a charley horse, and I doubled up in pain on the floor.
She opened the door about that time. How humiliating.
I gave her the ring, and she accepted and looked at me tears flowing and joy just radiating. I could have just gotten lost in those beautiful eyes forever, and lived that moment until eternity burned to ashes.
Those few days were among the happiest I ever knew. Memories from those days still are etched in my mind like beautiful crystal figurines.
I remember, her laugh, how it sounded like bells on a windchime, just bubbling out of her like cool fresh spring water from an artesian well.
I remember holding her hand, how her fingers were so slim and dainty, how they fit into mine.
I remember the look in her eyes after we kissed, the sparkle, the flame.
I remember the one lock of blond hair that ran from the crown of her head down her back, mixing with the dark brown cascade.
I remember how she looked framed in the moonlight, silver and shadow, and how amazed I would be that something so pretty could even exist at all.
The moment she left with her family to return home, I started counting the seconds until Thanksgiving when I would see her again. I drove south down Kings Highway, just listening to a Yes album, and ended up at Brookgreen Gardens.
I went in and walked around among the huge statues, and let the cool stone in the August heat try to heal my heart. I had never been there before, and if you have not visited it it is huge, believe me. You can easily spend a day or more in there.
I came across some sculptures there that spoke to me powerfully.
One that I will never forget was "Man Carving His Own Destiny" by Albin Polásek.
This sculpture of a man literally chipping himself out of stone, to me, finally said what I had been feeling for so long. I truly did feel like I should be able to carve myself out of the stone that seemed to be holding me back. It impressed me that someone else had felt that very thing. The sculpture loaded me with determination and purpose.
I walked slowly through the giant ancient oaks, covered with spanish moss, and listened to the sound of the cicadas darting between the trees. The presence of the place eventually was so overwhelming that I was able to find some solace, some relief, some healing, in the atmosphere alone.
As the days passed, I counted off the moments until Thanksgiving when I planned to drive up to West Virginia and see Patty.
School started back, and every day I would race home to see if I had a letter. We were writing back and forth like, well, like two kids in love. Her letters were scented, her writing thoughtful, her penmanship flowery. Just holding one and knowing that she had held it days before would light me up inside.
And we would talk on the phone maybe once a week. We never could talk long, because the rates back then were pretty expensive, but we would squeeze a few minutes here and there.
As the weeks passed, the letters from Patty became less frequent. They stopped being scented.
Then one day I noticed her voice sounded strained on the phone. I asked her what was wrong.
"I lost the ring," she said. She said she had been swimming in the Kanawha river in Charleston and it had slipped from her finger.
I told her that was no problem, a ring could be replaced. Back then, I was not too perceptive.
The letters got further apart, maybe only once every two weeks now.
Finally, the week of Thanksgiving came. That Monday, there was a thick letter from Patty in my mailbox. I had been asking her for a map, and figured that this letter had the map and directions to a hotel.
The letter started with "Cliff, I know this is going to break your heart, but..." and I stopped right there.
I could not bear what I was holding, could not read it, could not face it. This couldn't be real.
I drove back to school and found my friend Bobby, who was thankfully still there. I asked him to read the letter. Bobby gently informed me that yes, the letter was in fact what I most dreaded. She did not want to see me. She did not want me to come. She did not want to be together.
Bobby helped me hold things together until I was composed, then I drove home. I called Patty, even though I still had not actually read the letter. I was in tears. I had never, ever been this hurt.
I can remember it now, sitting beside my mother's bed with the phone, asking her why, unable to believe it still, hoping desparately that there was something I could say to fix this, to save myself. She said that she did not think she could fit into my social class, which she saw as so much higher than hers.
Her father was a coal miner. Mine was an insurance salesman. So what, I said.
But nothing would sway her. What was dead was dead, and I could not fix it.
We both hung up the phone in tears.
My parents figured out what had happened pretty quickly. My Dad suggested that I maybe go spend a night at the beach. It was after the season, but my best friend John lived there, and I knew he would be around.
I got there and it was cold, the trees had dropped their leaves, and the place was pretty much empty. It matched my mood perfectly. I was quietly desparate and, to be honest, dangerous. I was empty and cold inside, more than I had ever been before.
This was back during the CB radio craze that lasted for a year or so back in the late 70's. Everybody had CB's and you could turn one on at almost any time and meet people. Since no one was around at our usual spots, we tuned in.
Before you knew it, we had the attention of two girls. We chatted back and forth as we drove around, then suddenly found ourselves in the same parking lot. They got out of the car, and so did we.
One was not bad looking, the other one was really fat. I got the one that wasn't fat.
We ended up back at her place, which was a camper trailer that had a room added onto it parked behind a restaurant. Her name was Debra, I think. And I am ashamed that I am no longer sure about that. We spent a couple of hours talking by candlelight while John and the fat girl watched television in the other room, with John trying very hard to keep her from trying to snuggle.
I slept there that night, and I did not leave until the next morning. But even then, nothing had really happened.
That afternoon, I realised I had left something at her trailer, so dropped by before I returned home. This time, no one was there except her. When I left three hours later, I had lost something I had intended to give to Patty. And it was cold, empty, loveless. More an act of revenge than passion, for me.
I was already becoming calloused, a user, a taker.
Three weeks later, just before Christmas I think, Debra called me, she was in the town where I lived. She was spending the night with a friend of hers, and wanted to see me. This was a little uncomfortable for me, since it was getting dangerously close to breaking my rules about never allowing my behavior at the beach to infringe on what I did at home. But I decided to take her to dinner and a movie, what could that hurt?
We went to Village Inn Pizza. I ordered a medium Supreme, or whatever they call the one with all the stuff on it. The pizza came to the table.
And she said she was not hungry.
She did not want any at all.
I thought that was odd, how could she not be hungry? Have you eaten dinner?
No, she said.
I pressed her, because I certainly could not eat an entire pizza by myself. She finally confessed to me that she would not eat in front of other people.
Wierd, I thought.
Today I know that this was a sign that she was very insecure, and also a sign that she felt my opinion of her was very important to her. At the time I was oblivious to these things.
So we did the movie, went to her friend's house for a bit, and I went home. There, I thought, that's over and done with.
Three weeks later, just after the new year, she calls again.
She has two weeks off from work.
She has already checked into a hotel in town and intends to spend the entire two weeks with me.
My alarm bells are going off like crazy. According to my rules, my lives at the beach and here where I live are never supposed to cross, never ever ever, and here they were playing demolition derby with each other.
I tell her that I simply can't, that I have obligations, that I am in school, that I already have a girlfriend here (a lie, but I was grasping at straws.) She is at once angry and upset, then calm and weeping. I feel awful doing this to her. I am scared for her, she is so upset.
I drive to the hotel, and go to her room. When I go in, I see a half eaten take out dinner on the table from a drive in next door.
She does not touch the food while I am there.
I try to say something that will make her feel better, but there is really nothing to say. I've broken her heart and ripped it to shreds, just like mine had been, and I was completely blind to that. I felt sorry for her, even then, but the magnitude of how I had so casually played with her heart just wasn't clear to me.
Now, I know better. The poor thing, how unfair that I treated her that way. She did not deserve that.
Then again, I did not deserve what happened to me either. That's no excuse though.
The next summer, one afternoon John came running into the trailer, saying "Guess who I just saw! It's Patty, and she has this HUGE ring on!" So, I went to the arcade to see her. Yes, it was her, and yes she had a huge engagement ring on her finger.
Of course, I immediately started letting her know how well I was doing without her. We talked for a bit, and I was really trying to tell her that no, my life had not really been impacted (just sideswiped like a sledgehammer had hit me, but I would never have admitted that to her!) and I had not even thought about her in who knows how long (which was probably hours and not days.) I acted proud, cold, and cocky. She gave me back a necklace I had made for her, and left.
That night, her sister came into the bar where I was entertaining. "Patty caught a bus back to West Virginia tonight," she said. "Do you know why she came here?"
"She wanted to check you out one last time before she got married."
Oh man. Talk about blowing it.
Thats another one of those soldering iron moments. And that's Patty's story, in a nutshell, sandwiched between those emblazoned memories. That incredible first sight, and that tragic final wash of realization. And in between, moments of incredible beauty and tragedy.
But hey, it still hurts.
It still hurts.
Deserve doesn't have anything to do with real life, after all.
I'm not talking about one of those vengeful hurts, no, not at all. I'm older and wiser and I know other things must have been happening. No, it's a hurt like I lost a dear treasure, maybe the dearest of all, and I was a great deal to blame for it, and forever less than whole because of it.
Patty, if you ever read this, you have always held a special place in my heart and still do. I hope your family is everything you ever wanted and that happiness follows you like a cloud, and my gosh I would love to hear from you.
Debra, the same goes for you, and I'm sorry.
There are many ways of breaking a heart. Stories were full of hearts broken by love, but what really broke a heart was taking away its dream - whatever that dream might be. Pearl Buck (1892 - 1973)