One thing I know about life is that it is unpredictable.
Like many grownups, I recall a time when the days went by slowly and I could hardly wait a whole year for my birthday and Christmas to come again. Time stops, and the world stops, and you have captured a moment of childhood forever frozen in time. The world is perfect, just for that moment, and everyone and everything is in its proper place. Changes come along, but they are not significant enough to change your world of childhood bliss.
Then the day comes when change happens with a crash. Something or someone who had a place in your life is gone or altered. Maybe the difference is in you and the change you had to make.
Time moves slowly for the young, and, for many of the young, time is not happy but a period of suffering. When times are bad, young people need to hold on and hope for change, because change will inevitably come.
My husband Chris was born in Somerset, England. There was nothing in the life he was living to suggest that he would ever live anywhere else. There was nothing to suggest that a life-altering event was looming in his future.
People in their mid-fifties don’t expect the kind of upheaval that happened to Chris and me. He lived in Somerset, England, and I was living in the Pittsburgh suburbs. It was only through mutual friends that we met by email and began a correspondence.
We started writing each other in July 2004, and he came over for a visit in October. By mid-October, in the motorized ambience of Quaker Steak & Lube, we decided to get married over our chicken wings and French fries. Then and even now, I marvel at the speed with which it all happened. Everything in our relationship clicked into place, and the timing wasn’t as bad in reality as it seems to be in my telling of it. It has always been my contention that there are at least five people in the world with whom we can make a good marriage; we just have to find one of those persons. In Chris, I had found one of my five people.
For the next two years, we swallowed a morass of paperwork on both sides of the Atlantic trying to arrange a fiancé visa for Chris. I had visited him in 2005 and made many trips more later, and we had decided early that it made more sense for him to move to the States than for me to move to England.
I had been to England several times before meeting Chris, but I had never been to The West Country – those English counties of Cornwall, Dorset, Devon, and Somerset that compose the peninsula that juts out from the west of England into the sea.
I was there in March and saw the newborn lambs scampering behind their mothers in fields already beginning to burst into spring. Chris and I experienced the bucolic thrill of being chased by an enraged swan who didn’t welcome us getting close to his brood of cygnets as we strolled along a pond beyond the wooded glade. During that visit, Chris and I took a bus to London for his medical examination; both of us had already been vetted by law enforcement personnel on both sides of the ocean.
I was there in May and June to see carpets of bluebells, wild garlic, neon-pink campions, stalks of foxglove, and tangles of rhododendron bushes ablaze with purple blossoms. Chris and I took another bus to London for his interview at the US Embassy. As we waited in line for entry, we saw heavily armed uniformed men surveying the queue doggedly. We said that it was likely that everyone in the queue had been identified and vetted. Throughout our visit to the Embassy, we were impressed by the caliber of the staff. Given a ticket upon entry, we took a seat in a large arena where a couple of hundred other people sat awaiting their appointment with Embassy personnel. At the end of the room was a large screen displaying the ticket numbers of customers currently being served. It was quite an efficient system.
When Chris’ ticket number was called, I was told to step back and be quiet as the interviewer quizzed Chris with a combination of quick intelligence and personal warmth. We didn’t have to wait long to be told that Chris’ fiancé visa had been approved. The officer held onto Chris’ passport and said that it would be delivered by courier the next day. Disappointed, Chris replied, “But tomorrow is my fiancée’s last day in England before she has to return home. We were hoping to do some sight-seeing.”
With an obliging smile, the officer said, “We’ll try to make it early in the day.” Sure enough, there was a knock on the door when we were still in bed the next morning. The behavior of everyone at the Embassy was professional, efficient, and courteous. They made me proud.
In September, I returned to see yellow gorse and purple heather carpeting the hills of the West Country. We said our goodbyes to our English friends and prepared for the movers and the flight ahead.
On Chris’ last night in the place that he had called home since 1967, we had to sleep on the floor. Chris’ furniture and possessions had been packed and vaulted the day before by a couple of movers who buzzed through the house like tornadoes, packing everything in sight, including the cheddar cheese Chris had just purchased. I clutched our passports and documentation and didn’t let go, fearful they would pack that too if I set it down for a minute. Everything was put into a huge locked shipping crate that couldn’t be opened until it made the journey from Southhampton to Baltimore. Only then would it be unloaded into a moving van and sent home to Pennsylvania.
Before we left the West Country, we visited the cemetery where Chris’ immediate family was buried. His parents were there, and so was his elder brother who died of cancer years before at the age of 58.
Chris and his elder brother had disliked each other, but his bequeathing six pairs of used socks to Chris in his will was a bit of whimsey. Just as strange was the inexplicable addition of Chris’ name on his brother’s tombstone, in anticipation that Chris would be joining the family as well.
No one could have guessed that Chris would leave his life in England at the age of 56, find a new life loaded with a myriad of new possibilities and opportunities, and be buried 4,000 miles away.
I have come to realize that the end of a person’s story might be nothing like the middle or beginning. Change comes quickly sometimes, perhaps too quickly. Good or bad, change is often life-altering. Maybe even life-shattering.
When days are gray and the ennui of routine makes us want to scream, it’s important to remember that change is ever lurking in the background ready to pounce and bring us joy or pain.
Photos: 25220553 © 1000words – Dreamstime.com, Weerapat Wattanapichayakul | 123rf.com, Image 242387 //pixabay.com, Heliosphile | Shutterstock.com