The Personification Of Love (previously published as Shades of Gray) Sample Chapter

Living in such a wonderful place, I soon became aware of the vitality inherent in the living things around my little home. I perceived every living thing with a new understanding and in greater light. The light was the energy emitted from the living things, independent yet connected to every other living thing. Each beam of light was vibrant as it flowed down the rays of sunshine and fell against the shadows of the thick woods. Within these beams of light I perceived the fabric and the patterns of life that created tiny rainbows of beauty. They were different in size and various in shape, not quite spherical. Watching the lights spiraling dance brought joy to me as I became aware that space was no longer empty but filled with sound, movement, and light. As an observer, I experienced the vitality of every change in my environment and recorded what I could with the camera that my father had given me. With every click of the shutter, I tried to express what my mind perceived. Each day wove me into the connection of the things around me. My yearnings for more connection increased.
I was making direct contact with consciousness of the mineral, vegetable, and animal intellects. The energy of intelligence connected me to nature’s mind. The promise of all the mystical traditions of the world was there. My sacred quest was real, and I knew it, felt it, cherished it. I never wanted to go back to living a life inconsistent with that of the Goddess.
I felt awake. This wasn’t an impression of any external movement flowing into my perception, but as though my life was being drawn out to nature. I had the sense of acting upon the various natural energies moving in and throughout my being. I felt synchronized with the rhythms of some larger life. I felt the trees, the flowers, even the boulders and began to study the nature of these things. Although my understanding at the time was vague, I was aware that I must follow my soul’s calling.
I found friendship with everything around my little home. I always asked permission to take a photograph because I respected all that lived within nature. Just as I would say to another human being, “Pardon me, would you mind if I snapped a photo of you?” so did I also ask other subjects. I always received a response. The earth was new and fresh in those days when I honed my craft of photography.
It was a day like any other day, a warm day to be walking along the river’s edge. I was out looking at the beauties of nature on my way to a favorite place for photography when I saw a tall figure moving swiftly among the trees. I could only distinguish the jeans and red plaid shirt, but the energy of this person’s lights was that of a very sad person. Curious, I strained to see better, but the vision had gone from me. I was sure it was a living person because the body was clearly visible, but having lost sight I continued on. I knelt in the same spot where I had knelt in prayer for many days. It was a spot where I allowed myself to sink into my thoughts, calm my confusion, loosen my grief, and pray for direction. Still kneeling there, I glimpsed the most beautiful hands I had ever seen, angelically fair, as if carved from pigmented marble by the most skillful carver. They shimmered with lights that communicated love. I continued to kneel, looking at them in silence. The face and head of the owner were hidden from my view, and the owner was unaware of me. I watched those eloquent but unmoving hands. They were in no way clasped in prayer, folded in patience, or closed tight in despair. They were as listless and motionless as the hands of a statue. I thought for a moment that I was having another visit from the Goddess, but in a fraction of a moment, I realized that this vision was mortal in every way.
I considered snapping a quick shot, but even though they were magnificent hands I didn’t want to make a nuisance of myself. I could read the human lights, and they were desperately shouting to be left alone. I understood and respected this desire and gave way to the privacy each one deserves. Night was falling. It was time for me to go home. The sound of the rushing river hid the sounds of my soft footfalls as I made my exit.
I wasn’t doing anything dishonorable. I only saw what came into my vision. I think that evening by the river a spell of sorts was laid upon me. I was captivated by what I saw. The vision inspired my soul. I was fascinated and yearned to photograph those perfect hands against the backdrop of nature. I craved to see the colors of love, which I had never seen before.
In the days that followed I communed with nature, whose language I was still learning. I began to think I would never see those hands again. Some weeks later, I was again walking the river’s edge. It was a beautiful autumn day, and the trees were splendid. Lost in the foliage, I was looking for wild raspberries that ripen in October. They would, I thought, make great subjects to shoot as well as a sweet snack. I walked slowly, searching the bushes, and again I saw the same well-built creature. I stood still, and in a minute, I saw the long ebony hair that hid the face of this person. The elegant hands were folded and supporting the drooping head. I watched in silence. I would have given the world to have had the courage to approach, but I thought it best that I not intrude, and so, not wanting to be seen, I hurried into a patch of thick pines. Concealed I focused the lens of my camera and snapped a shot. It would be my first photo without asking the subjects permission. I felt guilty.
As I stood among the trees, I heard moaning … moaning that vibrated in hopeless tones, moaning that disturbed my heart. I turned to go, wanting to assist this sad, broken creature, but the moaning grew louder and deeper in a tone warning me not to approach. Its echo brought me thoughts of misery, yet the voice had an undertone of sweetness as well as sadness.
For days after my last glimpse that haunted my mind, I wandered lonely with my camera on the banks of the river. At times I also carried the cumbersome tripod. As suggested by the property manager, I had set up a darkroom in the main house, and after consulting many how-to books I began to develop my photos. This remote location was a brilliant place to learn my craft. Of course, my first pictures were underdeveloped or overdeveloped, but I acquired the skill quickly, and soon I had some photographs that I felt were worth keeping.  Mother Nature communicated with me, and I felt her calling me toward photography. With every photo, I began to feel a purpose in my life. My favorite photo was of the moaning figure whose tones reverberated the length of my spine. I studied this photo, feeling moved by the sight of such an elegant creature but also entranced by the sadness that enveloped the figure. Even on paper, this creature spoke to my heart.
My solitude extended through October as the beautiful figure I had seen continued to elude me every day I ventured out. With great disappointment, I worked my craft and moved forward in my skills. The first week of November went by as uneventfully as the previous weeks. Then, when the snow covered the ground, I imagined I saw someone walking through the pines. I envisioned a tall, well-grounded figure finding a seat or leaning against an old fir, still hiding its face from me. I soon realized I wasn’t imagining this. I was seeing the residual energy of a moment just past. I worked to forget what I saw however, and returned to my photography and communing with nature. My routine became predictable. I did the housework of the main property, then brought wood into my little home where I stoked the cook fire and prepared my dinner. Once I had completed my obligations, and while the sun was still up, I walked along the river looking for subjects to photograph. I did this in a state of prayer, which for me was stretching my awareness and embracing the vitality of nature.
One day early in the winter I went for a walk first thing in the morning. I didn’t usually go out that early, but for some reason I felt a strong urge to go out before setting to work. I walked the usual route along the river. The air smelled delightful and fresh, and the sounds of rippling waters were magnified by the stillness of the morning. The tall, snow-frosted pines pointed toward the heavens as the rich energy from the blue spruce and the willow all seemed to take the chill away. The nature of the world was exposed. I sat on a rock near the water’s edge, feeling my passion for nature rise up in me and looking for a direction to point my camera. Above the surging waters, I heard the faint sound of moaning. I listened carefully, hearing the cries of pain and discomfort, then stood up and looked around. It was difficult to tell where the moaning was coming from. Strapping my camera over my shoulder, I walked into the thickest wooded area, and in the distance I saw what appeared to be a heap of clothes piled on the rocky ground. I ran toward it, my heart beating wildly, and soon came upon the beautiful hands clutching a bulky, water-soaked winter coat. I stood quite still for a second. What should I do? I decided to go to her. Her graceful figure was bent as if in deadly pain. Her lights confirmed her condition, as well. Her face was turned from me, and sunk toward the ground.
I knelt down by her side, gently touching her. Her pathetic moan changed to a startled cry that caused me to jump back in surprise.
“Are you hurt?” I asked.
To my bewilderment, she didn’t say a word. She turned away from me.
“I don’t mean to distress you further,” I said, “but common humanity doesn’t have allowances for me to leave you here.”
Still she said nothing, nor did she move. I felt something was inhibiting her, keeping her silent. I cannot describe the feeling, but I knew that I had to intrude on her private moment. I reached over and raised her head and saw that she had taken leave of her consciousness. When I tilted her head back, brushing the wet hair from her face, I was compelled to cry out loud as I beheld that face. She was bruised heavily about her eyes, the right side of her face was especially damaged, purple around the temple and forehead. Her nose was swollen and bleeding, her lips split and inflamed. When I touched her, I expected her to awaken, but she didn’t respond.
Behind the damage, she must have been an attractive woman, strong yet delicate in every way a woman could be. Whoever had harmed her must have had hate running wild through them because they hadn’t hit her just once, but had beaten her severely. I looked around, hoping to find her assailant, but there was no one in sight, and I saw no residual energy anywhere. I ran to the river and dipped my scarf in the cold water, then returned to her and placed the wet cloth on her head. She opened her eyes and looked at me, her pure green eyes hollow and inconsolable. I was immediately lost in those eyes, hypnotized by the loving energy she radiated, energy I had perceived weeks earlier. I had to shake myself to focus on the situation at hand.
“Was I near death?” she asked me in an odd kind of whisper.
“No, I don’t think so, but I’m sure you are seriously injured,” I replied, not knowing what else to say.
“Help me get to the river,” she said. “Lay me face down in the water and let me float away. Death is the cure for my injuries.”
“I will not!” Was it a coincidence that she, too, thought of the river as death’s calling?
“Who are you?” she asked.
“Me? Well, I’m Maggie,” I replied. “Maggie Fitzgerald at your service … but not at the service to help you die today. And you, dear friend, who might you be?”
She lay still for a moment, not saying anything. I could see she was collecting her wits. She sat up, holding her head in her hands. “My name is Connie McCarthy.” She spoke with an Irish accent. With a hateful look, she added, “Go away. I can’t be helped.”
“Connie,” I said, “you have no need to worry about me. I’m not important. I only have concern for you. Have you hurt yourself more than your head?” I could see by her lights that she had multiple injuries, more than she was perhaps aware of. I studied her. It seemed as if she all at once woke to full consciousness of where she was and what had happened to her.
“Yes,” she said, “my arm.”
“Will you let me see it?”
With the strength of an ox, she tried to push me away, and she said foul words, but I refused to leave her. I could see the pain in her arm becoming unbearable.
“You shouldn’t trouble yourself with me,” she said in a gruff voice.
“Don’t fear me,” I repeated. “I can’t leave you here in this condition. I live not far from here. Would you allow me to help you to my home? I can take better care of you there.”
By that time it was getting dark and the snow was starting to fall again. A winter storm was on the way. The temperature dropped suddenly, and I could see that Connie understood the gravity of her situation. She was soaked to the bone and already shivering.
“Let me do all that is in my power to help you,” I suggested, “and when I can do no more to assist you, then we can be strangers again if you so choose.”
“You don’t know me,” she protested. “You don’t know my situation.”
“I don’t need to know anything in order to help you. Just come home with me before we both end up frozen out here.” I still didn’t know if someone might be in pursuit. Strong winds picked up, blowing around us and through us, giving me a solution to motivate my hesitant stranger. “I only want to help you,” I said. “I can’t take a look at your arm out here in these conditions.”
“So, you are Maggie?” She seemed to be irritated by my persistence. “I’ve watched you walking in these woods, taking pictures. I often wondered what you might be like and why you were always alone.” As she spoke, I could see that she was having trouble forming words with her bruised lips that were leaking blood. I could also see the pain in her eyes. “You wander around in these woods as if you were a widow being chased by the ghost of her husband,” she added sarcastically.
Her words hurt my soul, and I had to turn from her in an attempt to hide my emotion.
“Oh, I see my jest has failed. You are a widow.”
Holding back my tears, I nodded. “Yes, I have buried a husband. I walk along the river and think of his dim grave, but here by the river I look at the wonderful sights around me and find comfort. Now, Connie, let me have a look at your arm in the light of my home.”
She reluctantly agreed, and I helped her walk to my small home, where I stoked the fire in the stove to warm us. Connie came into the kitchen and sat under the electric light. Her poor face was morbid looking in the brighter light, and her clothes were soaked with river water and blood. The amount of blood alarmed me. I feared she had open wounds yet to be discovered. She allowed me to wash the blood from her nose and lips. I cleaned her face the best I could, but as soon as I removed the blood, her bruises became more apparent. Her eyes were beginning to turn a darker purple and close down into slits. She was in a wretched condition, but I found her compliant. I put my camera on the shelf.
“Now let’s see your arm.” I said, not waiting for protest.
But Connie was strong willed. “I can’t move it! It doesn’t need your help. I can get along just fine.”
“Oh, I see.” I turned away and gestured for her to leave my home. I could see the pride in her face, but finally it let go and she spoke quietly.
“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt for us to look at it under the electric light.”
As I helped her pull off her wet, heavy coat, I feared she would faint again from the pain. I took her arm in my hands as gently as I could and tried to hold it still so we could get the coat off. It was broken and badly bruised. Once the heavy coat was off, I saw just above the collar of her shirt the most terrifying mark. It was the mark of a human hand that had gripped her so hard it left a discolored print around her neck. I acted as if I hadn’t seen it and turned, tending to her arm.
“Connie, I fear it’s broken. You’ll need more help than I can provide. How long were you out there in the woods in this condition?”
“I don’t know. Since before the sun came up.”
“Why didn’t you call out for help?”
“Call out for help? I would never do such a thing. It would have been better for me to lie there and die quietly.” A sudden hot flush came over her face.
“I can’t believe the words I’m hearing,” I said. “Proud words is what they are! There is no disgrace in calling out for help when you’re hurt.”
“I would rather crawl away and die alone!” she snapped back. “I don’t take kindly to pity. Pity is for the weak. I could endure anything over being pitied.”
“Connie, the sweetness of pity from those that love us is soothing.”
She seemed disgusted with me, but I was more trying to distract her from her injuries than engage in a debate.
“Did you like the people that pitied you when your husband died?” she asked. “Did you like to hear, ‘Oh you poor thing, I’m sorry for your loss, it must be so very terrible’? Did you enjoy them hanging their heads low on your behalf? Did it make you feel good when they called you a poor widow … did it?”
“You have a cruel mouth,” I replied.
“You are a pathetic soul, aren’t you Maggie. Not a brave bone in your body.”
I laughed aloud at the seething stubbornness she displayed. I couldn’t help it. She didn’t offend me, she tickled me.
“I know of a very brave and proud woman,” I said, “but we won’t dare speak of her right now. Let’s leave that for another day, shall we? Your arm is badly bruised and broken … so, what is the best thing to be done for it?”
“Well, if I must live, then I suppose we should do what we ought to.”
“Perhaps I could get you in my car and take you to the hospital,” I offered. “If we hurry, we can get through the storm.”
She looked doubtful. “You have no idea where the nearest hospital is, do you?” she barked at me. “Besides, I have no money for a hospital. And I doubt that my arm is broken.”
“You’re right, I have no idea where the hospital is,” I confessed. “What can I do for you?”
She touched me softly with her uninjured arm. When her beautiful hand caressed me, I felt a chill travel through my body. “Why are you so kind to me?” she asked. “I really want to hate the world right now. You are making it so very hard for me to hate everything and everyone. Don’t you see me as poison? Rid yourself of me. You’ll be better off.”
“I will do no such thing! I will help you to the extent of my abilities, and after that if you want to return to being strangers, that will be your choice, and I will honor it.”
“I’m all right,” she said again, but I could see the pain was beyond her control. “Let me be.”
I wanted to obey her wishes, so I left her in my little house and ventured through the wind to the main house. I recalled seeing a cabinet full of medicines when I had cleaned the master bath. I went right to the bathroom and gathered some bottles of medicine and other supplies to treat her arm. When I returned, I found her still sitting on the chair, sunk into exhaustion.
“Does your arm hurt much worse?” I asked her.
“No, it’s not bad.”
I could tell by the lights around her face that she was hot with fever and nearly fainting from the pain. “I believe you are too proud to recognize the pain you are in,” I said. “I found some supplies that I think will help. Let me know if you need anything else that I haven’t thought of.”
She just nodded at me. Never once did her proud spirit yield to the moaning I had heard in the woods, though I could see her dazed expression and knew the throbbing throughout her body caused it.
She took a deep breath and looked at me. I knew she couldn’t wait to leave me once I was done. “I’m very grateful to you, Maggie, for your soft ways,” she said. “You have been too kind. Thank you.” She spoke almost indignantly.
“Is that some kind of dismissal? Is it your hope to leave as soon as I have doctored your arm? I would invite you to stay until you have healed more completely. ”
“I will not impose upon you further.” “I intend to take care of you. When you’re well, you can leave my home and I will forget you … anything you like, but I refuse completely and decidedly to let you leave in your condition in this weather.” I spoke firmly to her because I could see that her lights were dimming.
Embarrassed and confused, Connie looked at me.
“Let’s pretend I’m no stranger to you.” I drew closer to her. “Think of me as someone who is your friend. I respect you and your situation, whatever it may be. Take a moment before we begin and prepare your mind.”
Most women would have reacted in an outburst of tears, but not Connie. She concealed her emotions and her pain. Pretending that her discomfort had completely disappeared, she looked squarely at me.
“You are too kind. Because of your hospitality, it would be rude of me not to be grateful.” Connie now had a strange look of peace on her face. She let go of her consciousness again and began to fall from the chair. I caught her in my arms and whispered soothing words to her, stroking her forehead and gently laying her on the floor of my little home.
Her eyes opened again. “Your hands,” she said, “your low voice and your soft hands relax me, Maggie. Don’t take them off of me yet.” Her eyes rolled up into her head and she fell away from reality again. I was frantically wondering what I could do for her, as it appeared I was capable of nothing more other than holding and reassuring her. I held her with one hand and tried to bathe her face with a wet rag with my other hand. There was still dried blood in her nose and her poor lips continued to bleed. I pulled my arm from under her so I could gather the materials I needed to wrap her arm. But even that slight movement woke her and she looked up at me, filled with fear again.
“Don’t hurt me anymore!” she pled, not recognizing me.
“Connie,” I said, “It’s me. Maggie. I’m not here to harm you. Don’t be frightened, dear. Let me do this work without a fuss. You’ll be all right.”
I’m sure she wanted to make some protest, but I started to work on her arm with determination. I had no medical training and was baffled as to what to do. As I looked at the light around her, I had an intuition about what should be done, and I acted. Connie returned to her oblivion, and I examined her arm. I located the fracture. Instinct poured through my mind, and I knew not only what must be done, but also how it must be done.
Poor Connie, I thought as I worked. She had suffered so much. I thought I was gaining her trust, but now I feared the pain of my working on her arm would cause her not to trust me. I used my knee and both hands to reset her arm with a loud snap. Connie woke up instantly, combating me or some unseen evil. It wasn’t easy for me to keep working on her injury while she resisted me and spoke words that didn’t make any sense, rambling, crying, screaming. She didn’t recognize her surroundings, or me, for that matter.
I wrestled with her for a long time, finally getting her to take the morphine I had found in the main house. I wish I could have persuaded her to take the pills earlier. It was cruel to set the arm without them.
Eventually I was able to finish her arm. I examined her further. I wanted to find the source of the blood on her clothes, but after investigating I found no puncture wounds. However, I suspected that she had some broken ribs, nothing life-threatening, but very painful. I was thankful that I had come across the bottles of medicine in the main house. The morphine was a blessing. As she lay there with eyes shut tight, I took a long hard look at her. Her neck was a dreadful sight, covered with large handprints, a man’s hands. I realized that someone had tried to kill her. I was fearful that whoever wanted her dead might learn that she had survived. Did he want to finish his work?
I thought about putting her in my car and driving her to the Prince of Wales Hotel and asking them to give her safe quarters. Already, in her stubborn, cantankerous manner, Connie had found her way into the depths of my heart. I could in no good conscience surrender her to anyone and chance never seeing her again. I knew I was no doctor, but I had been a mother and had cared for my daughter when she was ill. I also had healed other family members when needed. I decided, given the location, the perils of the storm, and my previous ability to heal, that I was fully qualified to look after her. I got her to my bed with some difficulty and eventually I was able to get her comfortable and warm under the covers.
While Connie was resting, I quickly ran back to the main house, where I opened the gun cabinet and loaded a Winchester 30-30 rifle and a Colt .45 pistol. I brought them back to my home with a box of extra ammunition for each weapon. I was resolved to protect Connie from the man who wanted her dead. I placed the rifle by the stove and kept the pistol with me in my skirt pocket.
Connie’s ill health was not life threatening, I could plainly see, but the pain had brought on fever to the point of delirium. If I had learned to adore her when I first spotted her in the woods, my affection for her during this time became intense. Her large dark green eyes pursued me through the long, stormy day. She shook in pain, screaming at people not in the room, suddenly sitting up in bed and crying words that I have never heard before or since. But somehow I soothed her when I touched her or spoke to her.
The storm continued into the night. It was that night that has woven itself into my memory and created memories that have lasted through the length of my life. During the long, strange night, a weird hush filled my house more fully than the light from the dim oil lamp. Connie’s voice sounded like nothing on this earth. It sounded like a faint, sweet song, like sad music with words concerning death and farewell. She spoke of leaving, never to return to this world again. And sometimes she spoke of sunshine and flowers.
“Good-bye,” she moaned. The words died off in a sweet intonation, only to come again through her cracked and swollen lips. It was easy enough to imagine that some threatening cloud or shadow was tormenting her. She was being pursued, but by whom? And why? I sat in a rocking chair with the rifle across my lap and the pistol in my hand all night. I sat near Connie while she wandered through the secret places in her mind. Occasionally she awoke in fear and I tried to sooth her. When the wind blew against the house, I thought it was someone trying to get in and I sat up straighter, at the ready. I was worried about Connie and her condition. At the same time I worried that whoever wanted her dead was coming for her. It was a long night.
And yet no one came looking for Connie. As far as I could tell, she was safe with me. But her injuries refused to heal. I didn’t know what to expect, but I soon realized what an awful struggle she was engaged in. She rambled in her delirium, calling for help and telling a sad story of torture. She cried out not to be harmed anymore. She implored her captor to release her.
Except for her words, my little home was so quiet I could hear the river flowing, and the sound of it soothed my soul. The river was my reassurance that everything was going to be all right. I could feel the presence of the Goddess. She was near and helping me to understand my role in healing Connie.
But Connie’s words filled the air with distress and fear. She screamed, “No, don’t!” over and over again, then talked about a man wearing dirty boots. I rushed to her side and took her hand.
“Let it all out, my dear,” I said. “Whatever I hear, I will attempt to forget. Your story will never be known beyond these walls. Your words are safe with me.”
I doubt she heard me, but I talked to her anyway, as if my words could penetrate her dark and distant mind. She lay on my bed in my nightclothes. The muddy, blood- stained clothes I had found her in lay in a heap on the floor.
The next day, she began to regain consciousness.
“My head hurts.”
“I know, dear. You have been through an awful situation. You are safe here with me. I have some pain pills. Would you like one?” She nodded and I brought her another pill and a glass of water. Poor thing, she was a pitiful mess.
“Connie,” I said a little later, “I’m going to bathe you. You still have mud and blood and dirt on you. I think a sponge bath might help you to feel better. I’ll take these filthy clothes and give them a good washing, too.” I touched her lightly on the shoulder to make sure she heard me.
“You are too kind to me,” she replied in a weak voice. “Thank you.”
I did the best I could at scrubbing her clothes, but the blood was set unrelentingly and had deeply stained the cloth. When her clothes were as clean as they were going to be, I hung them by the stove to dry. Then I turned my attention back to Connie. I wanted to wash away her bruises, to wash away her pain.
After heating some water on the stove, I made a washbasin out of a large mixing bowl and brought in fresh towels. There was no curious prying on my part, but when I turned the covers down, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Her whole body was bruised and had scabbed-over wounds in random areas. I was suddenly seeing the dreadful reality of a terrible tragedy. I was weak, perhaps, or even foolish, but I stood there, my eyes blinded by hot tears. Her battered body told me the story of the man who was determined to get inside Connie after she refused him. It was a sight that would have touched any woman’s heart. It was as if I were in the presence of the dead. Connie wasn’t moving now. The pills had taken affect by that time, and she lay still, barely breathing. Her knees were bruised, and when I turned her over to wash her back, I saw the unmistakable print of a boot. She had knuckle prints on her ribs, and I saw the signs of force that marked her inner thighs. The light that surrounded her was flickering and dim, but within the dimness I could read a shimmer of love colored in burgundy.
What awful story was her body trying to tell me?
What man was capable of doing such damage, of this violent passion? Whoever it was, I hated him for his trespasses. I had a sympathetic mind and considered myself a forgiving person, but I couldn’t forgive what I saw there, what I read in the faint flickers of Connie’s light.
It occurred to me that my eyes had taken in what Connie wouldn’t want me to see, and now I knew the dreadful thing she didn’t want me to know. I felt like someone who had been summoned to examine the sudden movement of a hand that drew back a white sheet from a dead face and left it exposed for witnesses to view. I hastened to complete my task of washing Connie while she slept, but I could never forget what I had seen.
I ached for her as my hands washed her limp body. I wanted so much to wash away the pain and ugliness. I wished that my hands held the power to release her from the ugliness of mankind. I wished she could forget what had happened to her. Even though I hadn’t known Connie for very long, I remembered my first impression of her while walking by the river. That impression was of a sweet woman lost in sadness. Her crying by the river had spoken to my heart of her condition. Love was something I hardly admitted to yet, even as Connie held her place in my mind and in my heart. Now, seeing her battered state, I wanted to love her all the more.
I can’t explain the attraction. It was divinely orchestrated.

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On The Other Side of the Golden Gate Sample

Aug 10th

My skin is generously shaded with colors, but mostly it’s soft brown. Some people have called me a light- skinned black woman, but I don’t see myself as black or white. I don’t see race in myself. I just see me. I’m a blend of my parents: a white mother and a black father. Although they contributed to my appearance, I never knew them at all.

When I stand in front of the mirror, what I see are my imperfections. Some small, almost undetectable birthmarks, some wrinkles and veins that decline to stay deep under my brown skin. But it’s a large, particular scar that bothers me. It has left me looking unbalanced. I have two arms, two legs, two eyes, two lips, two nostrils, two ears, two butt cheeks. But I have only one breast.

They made me a prosthetic so I look balanced when I’m wearing clothing. I can almost show my cleavage, it looks so natural. But I know it isn’t natural. I used to be proud of my body. It was fit. I wore it well. I felt secure inside it. But now when I go out in public, I know I should feel normal since no one is pointing at me, but I’m very aware of my missing breast. My body is disfigured.

I should be over this. It’s been eight years and the threat is gone. The cancer shouldn’t come back. Is it ever really gone, though? I’m paranoid that one day I will get the news that my enemy has returned. I’ve had dreams lately that freak me out, dreams of an illness so bad there is no treatment, no remission, no escape.

I can read my body like a book. There’s the smiling scar from when Conrad was born and the stretch marks from my other two kids. There’s the scar under my eye from my childhood, when my friends and I were having a dirt clod fight and Becky, my best friend, landed a good one that split my cheek wide open. How did we ever stay friends? It seemed like she was trying to kill me.

Becky became my best friend after the car accident, the one that killed both of my parents and sent me to live with my grandparents. That was in the days before MADD and strict laws regarding drinking and driving. My parents were on their way to get me when a drunken man drove his car into them, head- on. He was so drunk his body went limp when the cars collided. He only suffered bruised ribs, a concussion, and a broken wrist. But the impact was so awful that my parents had a closed casket funeral. My granddad had to go to the morgue and identify the bodies. He told me that that moment changed his life. He said my mother, his daughter, was recognizable only by the pattern on her dress and the wedding ring on her finger.

I take care of my skin; I like how unique it is. I’ve lived in this town most all my life. It’s a small town with mainly white folks, and I have never been aware of any difference in color. No one treats me any different because of my skin. This small town is my home. I love it here. In the past, I had good offers to leave it, but when it came down to it, I couldn’t. I love it that much.

But I was writing about my scars, wasn’t I?

I don’t see taking care of my skin as a chore. I see it as a ritual. When I’m spreading lotion on my body, I also rub it over my scar. I feel it. I’ve become intimate with it. It doesn’t hurt, but sometimes I feel a strange almost tickling sensation under it, like the nerves that were cut are confused and don’t know what to stimulate. I can feel the nerves firing, but then they surface in another part of my body, not where I’m touching it.

It’s different from the paresthesia that is associated with the nerve damage by the chemo. That’s more like a slight burn, or sometimes a severe itch. My scar is different. It’s the scar that has made me ugly and at times unwanted by my husband Colt.

Colt is a good man. He’s a fantastic father to our children. He’s a great husband. Or was. But ever since the mastectomy, he avoids intimacy and if he has to touch me he does ever so gently that I barely know I’ve been touched. Is it me? Or is it that he’s found someone else to give his affections to?

Aug 11th

There had better be a real good reason why Colt isn’t home by now. It’s damn late or very early in the morning, depending on how one looks at it, and I’ve been up for hours worrying about him. Maybe the band wrecked that old bus of theirs and they had to spend the night at the hospital. Maybe every one of their cell phones has lost its charge and he has no way of calling home.

God help him if he’s out cheating on me!

If he’s fooling around with some whore he stumbled across while I’ve been home alone in this bed, he’s got something coming to him when he does get home.

I suppose she’s young and cute with two perky boobs and a tight ass. She probably looks at him with wanting eyes, young eyes, or worse, seductive eyes.

How can I blame her? He’s damn good to look at, especially when he’s on stage. And that voice of his…. It’s just my bad luck (or Colt’s good luck) that I’d get old and ugly and he’d stay young looking and handsome. I see the girls looking him over when we go out. I used to be proud that he got those hungry looks. Now that I’m fifty, I’m afraid of those looks. I’m afraid of girls looking at him.

What should I use to the knock the shit out of him with when he gets home? I don’t want to kill him. Hell, I love him too much for that. I just want something heavy in my hand when he makes his excuses. Once I see the lie in his eyes, I’m going to swing and BOOM! I’ll knock the lie right out of that deceitful mouth.

Like I said, there had better be a damn good reason why he didn’t come home, or tonight I’ll be down on my knees begging God to forgive me for the beating I gave him.

Aug 12th

Well, Colt came home this morning and tried to feed me some bullshit story about his sister being sick. Hell, that woman’s been sick all her life! He’s never needed to spend the night with her before.

What bothers me is how concerned he looked when he told me the story. The other thing is, I checked my voice mail. He’d left me three messages and sent two texts saying his sister needed him. That damn cell phone sits at the bottom of my purse. I never hear it ring.

I listened to Colt tell me his story. I pushed my suspicions aside and played along.

The thing is, Colt is my Achilles’ heel. I’ve always loved cowboys, a man with harden muscles from working with cattle and the land. Not the city dude in boots and a hat, not an imitation but the real deal in faded jeans.

I remember when we first began dating. I was so naive in the ways of cowboys. But not men in general. I’d had my share of men before I found Colt, but Colt was my first and last real cowboy. He lived on his parents’ ranch and mileage was accumulating on my Mazda RX-7 because I visited there so often. But I didn’t mind. How could I resist a man that rode a horse named Mr. Personality? Little did I know that I was being carefully extracted from the independence I was so proud of.

My grandparents had passed away a year apart. I was young and filled with romantic ideas, but I was also lonely and still grieving. My granddad left me their house and some money. I sold the house, hoping to rid myself of the pain that lingered from their deaths, and bought a loft in the middle of town down by Washington Park.

I remember it too well. Winter was coming on, and the threat of being alone was starting to overwhelm me, so I spent more time up at the ranch. I’m sure Colt and his family thought a ranch was the last place a black, hippie girl wanted to be, but I did. In fact, I was there so often that his dad, Garrett, asked me if I had moved in without him knowing it. I was there so often that his mom, Tammy Jo, became someone I would gladly call my friend. She told me she was thankful for me because I seemed to tame the wildness in her son. If I did tame him a little, it came naturally. I didn’t put any effort into it. Back in those days I remember how, after I spent the night there, I would get up to get dressed and Colt would pull me back down on the bed and then he’d spend the next two hours putting another smile on my face.

I had been out of college only a year. I thought I knew things. I thought I was smart. Well, he taught me things that made my degree seem worthless. He has a degree in veterinary science, so he’s book smart. But his real knowledge comes from nature and the animals he works with. He’d gone into the Marines to get the G.I. Bill for school, and when I met him he’d been out of college for two years. He’d decided to help his father on the ranch. On the weekends, he played in his band. That is where Colt really shines. On stage.

I’m not an aggressive person, and before I met Colt, I always detested hunters, guns, and anything I saw as destructive. But Colt spoke about going to places like Alaska, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana to hunt eatable animals. Caribou. Musk ox. Elk. Deer. Dall sheep.

“Have you ever shot an animal?” he asked me one time.

“No,” I said. “No, I haven’t.” I wanted to tell him I didn’t like hunting or hunters; but I already knew that I was in love with him, so I acted interested. I didn’t want to put him off.

“Do you want to go hunting with me sometime?”

“That’s something for men to do, isn’t it? I’ve got no business killing an animal.”

“I can see your perspective,” he said. “I won’t hunt anything I don’t eat, and I eat it because it’s the healthiest food available.” At first I didn’t like the taste of his wild animals, but after a while eating them in every meal, it grew on me. I’d work in the kitchen with Tammy Jo using elk burger, venison steaks, or Dall roast to make a meal with, and the meat was always complemented with corn, carrots, potatoes and even eggplant that she grew in her own garden. I doubt she even had a thought that her garden was filled with organic produce, but that’s exactly what she grew. I’d always wanted to be an organic farmer, and working with Tammy Jo taught me a great deal about gardening, canning, and storing the harvested vegetables. It didn’t take me

long to enjoy what Colt’s mother put on the table. Colt and his family were pure country, not just cowboy boots, western clothes, and pickup trucks. I knew I’d met the real deal, a fading breed of folks who’ve been replaced by modern conveniences. I’m from the city, and I won’t argue that I have a city attitude, but I appreciate Colt and his family for the lifestyle they’re living. Sometimes I feel guilty for taking Colt off the ranch. We live in town now. That’s because the reality for me is that if I’m raising a family, we need health insurance, a steady income, good schools, and (I hate to admit it) all the other modern conveniences. I guess I need to be fair, though. Little did Colt know he was being extracted from the life he loved.

Oh, crap, I got off track again. Colt and his family opened their home to me and I spent my first Christmas since my grandparents passed away with a warm, comfortable family. I was aware how important it was for me to have someone like Colt in my life. More important was having that feeling of family. I didn’t just want it; I needed it.

I also hate to admit it, but I was a suspicious girlfriend. After losing my grandparents I realized that just because I loved someone that didn’t mean they would be a permanent part of my life. I felt vulnerable and when he got a phone call and I wasn’t sure who he was talking to, I interrogated him. “Who was that?” I’d say, and then I looked in his eyes for glimmers of deceit. Or if I hadn’t seen him for a day or so and he came and gave me a big kiss and a hug I used the kiss and hug as an opportunity to sniff him for the smell of another woman. I was afraid of some beautiful ranch woman who knew how to hunt and was strong in ways I wasn’t. I was afraid he’d found someone who could love him better than I could.

He never knew I didn’t trust him. But can anyone blame me? He was a dream right out of a romance novel. I was sure every girl who ever saw him wanted to be with him. When his band played, I’d hear the women in the bathroom talking about him. Some women can be very explicit. All my jealousy and suspicions were pushed away, however, on the second Christmas. That’s when he proposed to me.

Aug 13th 

Imet with my financial advisor today to discuss my retire- ment and investments. Afterward, I drove to Washington Park and took a few minutes to stroll and think. As I walked in the park, I thought about the future and what I would do in my retirement years. I don’t think I can handle too much leisure. Maybe I could expand our garden. I love working with the dirt and watching the growth of everything in the garden. It gives me peace. I give each and every thing growing there a name. Every plant is a friend of mine.

Gardening gives me a sense of peace. My mother-in-law taught me it was fine to love gardening, it was all right to individualize the plants. I love her big garden. I remember how Tammy Jo helped me during my bout with breast cancer. Gardening became my therapy.

At first, the cancer wasn’t a moment of high drama like we see in movies, where the star is overwhelmed by illness and the doctor comes running into the exam room, yelling at the nurse to do several things to save the patient’s life. Cancer is sneaky. It creeps up quietly, achingly, it can be slow and elusive and subtle. I was fighting symptoms thinking they were the illness. But the symptoms weren’t the main event. They were only transformations of a deeper problem that twisted itself up in my right breast. The deeper problem that manifested and would have to be excavated out of my body had created fear, grief, and stress that had no boundaries.

During my war with cancer, our insurance company determined it was a preexisting condition and wouldn’t cover it. How can they do things like that? Colt and I went through colossal financial difficulties, including threats of losing our home, repossession of our vehicles, and liquidation of most of our assets. It was a very dark time for us on so many levels. So, today as I walked I was thankful I still had my retirement fund and could discuss it with my advisor. I was thankful to be healthy enough to walk around on a hot summer’s day.

Thank you, God, for remission! I don’t necessarily believe in God, but isn’t that who we are supposed to thank in times like this? Maybe I just don’t know who God is.

I thought about the blessing of remission while I was walking in the park. I didn’t want to squander my retirement years doing mundane crap. It was strange. It was as if my walking only made me think about my remission more and that led me to want more than the life I’m living now. Things have changed. I don’t know if it’s Colt, the kids, or me. I don’t know, but what I do know is that something’s changed at home. And work…well, work is shit. It’s full of politics and cliques. I’m so tired of all that.

While I was walking, drifting along in my thoughts of gratitude for life, I was suddenly besieged by a craving for a Mountain Dew. It’s funny, but during my treatment phase I started craving Mountain Dew. To this day, I’ve never lost it. There are a couple hot dog venders in Washington Park, but only one of them sells the nectar I was in search of. I found him, bought my soda, popped the top, and took a long drink. The fizzy liquid quenched my dry throat. Ahh, relief.

I sipped the rest as I walked. The sky was as bright and blue as it should be on good summer days. Soon I felt moved to pray. When I pray, I pray to my granddad. He’s the closest person to God I ever knew. In fact, in my mind he was even better than God, and that’s why I pray to him.

If I had one wish that could come true, it would be that I was young again and with my granddad. He made the world a simple, loving place to live in. He wasn’t ever afraid of anything, and he knew the answer to my every question or doubt. To be honest, the older I get, the more I need his courage. The world isn’t simple anymore. Since the cancer, I’ve lived every day in fear. Just once, I would like to feel in control of my life. I feel like the things that are the most important to me are the smallest part of my life. Like gardening. It’s important to me but I never seem to have time for it.

I have a small garden, but I still miss going out to the ranch and helping Tammy Jo. I’ve been so busy these last few years that the things I used to do, the things I like to do, have been put off for other “more important” things. Maybe when I retire I’ll have time to keep a big garden. I feel sad, though. By the time I’ll be able to retire, Tammy Jo will probably have passed. Time is my enemy.

Aug 14

In order for me to be any good in the office, I have to put myself in a state of fantasy. I have to almost hypnotize myself by daydreaming about retirement and a better life. If I don’t pause from my fantasy of retirement, my fingers get stiff and don’t function on the keyboard. It’s as if when I’m lost in my daydream, my body goes into some kind of autopilot and does work in a timelier manner.

I had to write something by hand today, and I was embarrassed by my penmanship. It was so inelegant. I remember when I was young. In college, I was proud of my handwriting. I got pleasure out of watching my hand form the letters, like the capital B with its curls and swirls, and the little f that adds so much personality to the letters in a sentence. I had a way of innovating my handwriting that people took notice of, but today it only looked wiggly. It looked like the handwriting of an old woman.

I don’t dislike the mechanical, non-human part of my job. I like the routine nature of my work—data entry—and all the thousands of entries that I input every day to generate a temporary balance and assure the management team that everything is in order. This doesn’t tire me. What it does is give me time to think about other things. It allows my mind to dream.

Sometimes I feel like I’m two different people. One is the person that knows the work in the office like a machine, the woman who is completely a master of the ins and outs of her job and is always confident, professional, and efficient.

But the other me is a dreamy and enthusiastic woman who is full of frustrated passion. I’m a sad woman who longs for more from her unsophisticated life. I’m an absent-minded woman who has no concern for how much data she’s processed or if the account is balanced. A woman that dreams of romance, excitement – who longs to be understood.

The insufferable part of my job isn’t the routine. It’s the latest dilemma, the unexpected urgent demand that comes down from the constantly shifting management team. The director comes down and demands a special task get immediate attention. I cringe when I hear the words “Can you do me a favor?” because they always have some complicated surprise hidden behind them. There are also those times when my supervisor tells me, “The management staff would like your team to gather the data for Account X.” Concealed under the casual request is the real demand that screams URGENT. Like an audit of an account over the past five years. Or the forecast of an account ten years into the future. Since the request is more than routine everything within me stops, and the two people that live inside me have to work together. The daydreaming comes to an end. I can no longer think about my best interests, I have to shift and think about what is good for the company. Why should I care about the approximate profit from one of our accounts in the third quarter of the fiscal year two years ago?

I had a dream last night that’s been bothering me all day. I relived the death of my granddad. There he was, dying in his bed, with his doctor standing there. He was a practical man, my granddad. Even when he was dying, his attitude was that he’d better get on with it because any delay would keep folks from getting their chores done. In my dream, I looked at the doctor, and he said, “Your granddad has lost his voice. He can’t speak for himself.” I could see that. Granddad was in pain, his breathing

was shallow. And then he forced a breath past his vocal cords. He made some coarse, rough sound. But he wouldn’t say any words. He was only crying out because of the pain.

Then the doctor put a syringe in my hand. “The law says I can’t do it, Hope, but you can,” he whispered after he’d look around to make sure no one could hear. “You’re his closest relative, so it will be considered an honorable act. Just put this in his IV tube and he’ll be dead. Give him the relief he’s asking for.”

“No,” I almost shouted. “No, I can’t do that. I love him.” I held onto Granddad’s hand and cried, “I love you so much I can’t do this, I just can’t.”

The doctor said, “It’s an act of love. You can do this. It’s an act of mercy.”

I knew my granddad wanted me to do it. I knew if he could have done it himself, he would have already done it. I looked around the hospital room. As the inflatable hospital bed moved him, it groaned as much as he was groaning. The feeding pump hummed at a low frequency, the oxygen mask hissed, the alarm on the IV pump kept beeping. Granddad’s hands were tied to the sides of the bed so he wouldn’t try to harm himself. His face was pale, paler than usual, and he had dark rings under his blue eyes. His gray hair looked waxy.

That dream was so real, I could even smell the antiseptic used to clean the floor. As I studied my granddad, the words quality of life danced through my mind. I wanted my granddad to be alive. Selfishly, I wanted him with me forever…but not tied to a bed, unable to talk or feed himself. Then the words death with dignity surged through my mind. And I grabbed the syringe out of the doctor’s hand and stuck it in the IV line, killing the one man I loved more than anyone else in the world.

“Thank you,” the doctor said. “You know, he was my best friend. I just couldn’t stand for him to suffer any longer.”

And then I looked at my granddad and he smiled at me, and a sense of peace came over me. It was a strange dream. Part of it was true. My granddad hadn’t been able to speak. He’d been restrained at the end. But his death really came in the form of a severe stroke. No one injected anything into his IV line, and the doctor was a stranger to him, definitely not his best friend.

I wonder about dreams. Why do we have them? Are they some kind of communication? From who?

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