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The Story of Us

When I think of Jim, it isn't a mental picture of him, or a specific memory, I think of his spirit. Perhaps it is the way I met him; but I doubt it. There is a magic something, an essence that transcends time and space and transmits itself to me, a special energy. If it sounds strange, well, neither of us claim to be anything less than different, so there we go.

I have started many times to write the story of us. I should start with a poem, that would be fitting as we are both poets, but then again I have poems about him written and posted for all the world to see. As a writer one thing I always say is don't concern yourself with who thinks what, or hurting people's feelings if you want to be a writer. It's true, sort of. If you write short stories, you can't worry about offending Great Aunt Ginny. Life is too short for that, and the ability to write stories is a gift, isn't it? If you worry about that then your will to write is just not that strong; it's an excuse.

Ah but my essays are another matter. They are true, or the truth as I see it, and where they involve other people I do need to be sensitive to their feelings. Where my feelings are such that they would be hurtful, perhaps they shouldn't be said. This essay isn't hurtful though, quite the opposite, it is beautiful. And so it is, as two souls who live in the realm of dreams and emotion and seeing the world through wide open eyes, our dance is one that many just don't understand. It is because they cannot hear the music that plays for us, it is because they cannot feel the sunshine glow that surrounds us.

It is easier to talk about the two of us as a unit, because we share so many similarities. Endless books will tell you that you need balance, that you need opposites to trade off strengths and weaknesses, but you know, and I speak for myself here, I've done that. It didn't work. Extroverts exhaust me. Detail people drive me crazy. Judgemental people make me angry for not seeing the greys in their black and white world, for not understanding that there may be more than one way to achieve an end. Logical people seem cold to me - emotions aren't logical, you can't argue feelings with fact.

I am an INFP. There are books and tests and web sites and a gazillion written words out there that talk about the Myer's Briggs personality types. All of it is interesting, informative, but of course its true value is understanding yourself. It isn't meant to be used as some people use it, to classify people into good or bad or whatever. It does explain a lot though, and for me, when I discovered about ten years ago that I wasn't the only person in the world who was like this, it was wonderful - I wasn't weird, I was just a bit rare. There were others out there like me!

It wasn't until I pulled a tendon in my foot four years ago that, bored out of my mind and surfing the web, I searched on things INFP and found a group of like souls. Out of curiosity I joined, and it was an incredible thing to be writing to and reading things from other INFPs all over the world. It was great!

Later that year a new person joined the list, and like me and most of us there, he had a web site, and wrote short stories and poems and songs, dabbled in painting, you name it. Still, there was something intreguing about the way he wrote his posts, and since his web site was mentioned, of course I had to go there. At the same time he visited mine. We liked each others web abilities, and we liked each other's writing. This led to mutal backpatting and help! emails for web things. He liked one of my short stories, and posted it on his site. I liked one of his poems, and put it up on mine. This is nothing odd for either of us; when we see something that deserves to be shared, we do what we can to share it. We began editing each other's works in progress and that too was interesting and fun.

Oh the wonders of internet chat. I had a couple of chat buddies on the list, as did he. One night a mutual chat buddy linked us all up with another mutual list friend who was chatting with someone suicidal. What should she do? We collectively tried to solve the problem, for a person only one of us had heard of, and was somewhere far away. Thankfully that person came out of it fine, no thanks to us because we didn't know exactly where they were so were limited in information we could give the State authorities, but in the end, we had a wider circle of people to say hi to by chat if we wanted. It was an interesting beginning, that group of Canadians and Americans.

So our communications broadened, Jim's and mine, and since we both spent a lot of time on the internet for various reasons, and had a bunch of people we chatted to, we got to know each other as people. It was fun, this friendly fellow from down in the States, far enough away there was no thought of ever meeting him, special enough that we could be ourselves and we became good friends, in that ozone pen-pal kind of way that internet chat can be. Still, I was a friend he talked to about things like the loss of special cousin, and girl friends, and life in general. Me, I didn't delve into my love life, told him I had children and left it at that because at the time I was working on getting out of a marriage that was painful to us all. He sent me a link to sound file of him reading a poem of his that I loved, and though it killed his web site for a while, (he didn't know you weren't supposed to put sound files up there, even if they were his own voice). I saved the file fortunately and would listen to it, relishing the sound of his voice. He has a lovely voice, one that when I heard it just made me feel happy inside. I still listen to that poem, even though I have the real thing here everyday now.

We consoled each other about people close to us who had died, and I gave him advice on work and his life, this among all of our writing and web stuff. It was fun. In the back of my mind there lived the thought, I'm glad he lives so far away, if he were here, I think I could fall for him. He had said if ever I wanted I could phone him, but I didn't. It didn't seem right, especially since I was in the process working out details to be free. Besides that, really, what would I say?

Then when I could leave, lawyer's advice: get rid of any internet stuff that could hurt you. Well, I'm not one of those people stringing along people on the side, never have been, but I looked at some of the emails we sent editing stories we were writing and stuff, and realized that though I knew that that particular paragraph related to a chapter in his novel, or a paragraph on a story of mine, it could be misinterpreted. And so it was, all of our old communications got deleted. But before I did, I had to tell him, if there's anything that you need to keep for the next edit or something, please, don't delete it, everything we've written up to now is gone. And I explained why.

My leaving meant three months living on the couch because the townhouse I was supposed to have fell through. That was fine, but it was a very long and strange summer, one of the hardest things I have ever gone through. One of the lessons of splitting up I learned the hard way was that some of the people who are very supportive in listening to your troubles are probably also the most likely to be shocked and appalled that you would actually do something about it. So a lot of my net to fall back on emotionally was at the time soundly questioning my judgement and thinking I truly had lost it this time. They were waiting for me to come to my senses, in between long lectures of "how could you?" He was my listening eyeball, because I could finally tell him what I was going through, and at the same time he was having girlfriend situations that needed a listening eyeball too.

Then came d-day. I moved out, the internet was down for about ten days and I was unpacking anyway. I sent him something when I was back online to tell him and he was busy busy at work and I sent him a usual email birthday card thingie. He sent me something about breaking up with someone he really liked, and about another woman that was planning for him to be her next husband, whether he wanted to or not. I sent something silly on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001. I still have that sent email, it seems so odd now. Working where I do, that day was incredibly weird indeed, frightening in a way, and Jim, well, Jim was supposed to be at the radio station he volunteered for, and he lived 50 miles away from New York City. Late that night, my mind still reeling from it all, the t.v. shut off because I just couldn't stand to see it anymore, I sent him an email. Are you okay?

He was, but there were some terrible things about that day: the images of the firefighters for his father had been a firefighter; the call from a friend of the radio station talking to them about the cell phone call from his son, daughter-in-law and their daughter on one of the planes saying goodbye; the whole atmosphere, and there was me on my end explaining the situation here - Canada trying to land all those planes and find homes for the people, and people with people stuck at the border not able to get home, and on and on...there was so much. My daughter, not being told anything at school coming home to the news and them talking about where I work and then showing buildings falling down...then later, a Pakistani friend of hers frightened for her life and that of her relatives. Real life became surreal in those uncertain days.

So a few days after we were chatting online and he said, can we talk on the phone? For 15 minutes? So he called. He said "hi" and my heart leaped into my throat; I just wanted to listen, not say a word, but of course I didn't. Our fifteen minutes turned into 2 hours, and it took only a couple of quick calls to realize that with us there was no such thing as a quick call. We had a whole lifetime to catch up on, and the warmth we both felt was real, so often we would talk late late at night so we could just go to sleep after, the sound of each other's voice in our ears. We have an incredible connection, psychic even if you believe in such things - there was stuff we just knew about each other. Things neither of us had spoken of, we simply knew.

November he asked if it would be okay to drive up and give me a couple of old computers for the kids to use. I said no. As much as I loved our conversations, I simply wasn't ready to meet him. I had this fear that, in the twilight zone of picking up the pieces and getting on with my life, I could easily fall for him and could just as easily fall away from him when the dust in my life settled. And also, there was that nagging thought: he's American. Now what would I do with that? Nope, just too complicated. I needed to feel complete in myself and in my life before I contemplated anybody for anything more than going for a glass of wine and a chat. My life was already far more complicated that I could imagine at that time.

So friends we were, magical, wonderfully creative friends (how many times we started these fantastical silly stories online, him writing a line, me another, to dissolve in a fit of giggles at the end) who also had rather busy lives on our respective ends.

By January everything had started to settle; my world had a nice rhythm, son was finally in school, kids and ex were now content with their respective situations, and I knew that life was not only okay, it was good. I had done this big thing, certain I was at long last on the right track; I had enrolled in university and actually started a course, routines were working nicely, the fog had lifted.

I also had come to the point that thinking, okay, maybe a date with someone might be a good idea. Someday. At a Christmas party a well meaning friend insisted I dance with someone and told them to dance with me; I recoiled in horror (poor fellow! I feel bad about that, he actually is a nice guy and it had nothing to do with him). But now I was thinking, well, maybe if such an opportunity came by again I wouldn't recoil but would do my usual blushing, staring at the floor and grunting something that approximated a yes. Between that tendency (and my very shy way of not looking in someone's eyes when I dance with them, people hate that, I know) and my ridiculously tangled life I figured that date would come, oh, maybe sometime around July 2022. So okay, things were, well, as normal as it gets for me.

I had plenty of time to work on my web stuff, and chat with Jim, and chat with my other friends. One friend and I had a Saturday night "date"; she and I would chat on the computer and watch a line up of shows that included our favorites, haunted houses, maybe a good movie or something. I played my guitar, yay!, after so long, and I was so incredibly glad to be myself again.

Myself is not something most people can handle. Myself includes days and nights drifting into each other as I get lost in a story I am writing or a painting I am painting; it means me transfixed by subject and devouring everything I can on it, only to drop that for the road that subject then led me to; it means taking courses that may or may not mean anything to anybody but me; it means me locked away somewhere playing the guitar for hours on end, sometimes writing a song I may remember to write down at the time, or one that I try to write the next day and can't because I was lost in the muse then and I'm not now. I had a boyfriend once who was so proud to tell others I could write and yet, was equally proud he had ever only read one book in his life; he never read my stories and resented the time I took to write them. Others are more honest; they just shake their head and say: weird. Not everyone though. I have been fortunate in my life to have met many creative and interesting people, people who others shake their heads at and say...weird. Jim, I am pleased to say is also one of these creative souls.

By February daughter was suggesting I save up my air miles so we could go to Connecticut to visit Jim. I thought that was adorable, but it was also a good sign; she thought he was okay; even more important, it was okay for mommy to want to see someone. Jim would talk with the kids on the phone if they were there when he called, and they always had a good chat. He was also good for advice on friends because, well, being a kid means that friends are either great or awful and rarely anything in between. Jim is the eldest in a family of five, has quite a few nieces and nephews, and he is a nice brother and uncle. Jim was busy at work around Valentine's Day, so for fun I sent him some CDs and Canadian stuff: a t-shirt, a maple leaf magnet, herbal teas, that sort of thing. I sent it as a surprize, and the biggest surprize I think was that he arrived home from work late that night, only to be greeted by a parcel with Canada Customs stamped on it. And to my surprize a few days later there was also a package, CDs and some radio station t-shirts for us.

By March I was exhausted from all of everything, mostly work really, and needed a weekend away. I was actually able to do that, so I chose to go to Niagara Falls because it was close enough that it wasn't really travelling, and easy to come back home quickly if I had to. Jim would be in the area that weekend. He and I were talking one evening and it was one of our deeper discussions on life, and we were cursing fate that had him there and me here and I said, "you know, if it were one of my friends telling me they got along this well with somebody and them thinking there's no way, I'd say, why ever not?"

A cloud lifted. Why ever not? So we decided, since we could actually meet face to face that weekend, well, even if we couldn't stand each other in person, it would be good at least to share a cup of coffee and see the live version once. We had no expectations, how could we? We were 500 miles and two countries apart.

I am basically a shy person, and there are times I literally can't go somewhere or talk even, I freeze; invite me to a party by myself, you're inviting an empty chair. So normally, for me to arrange something like this would just as likely end up with a real or mythical crisis that needed to be dealt with and a boat load of apologies, and me annoyed with myself for either not saying no to the crisis, or angry for making one up. Though in recent years, most of my crises were real enough indeed that I didn't need to make anything up, this time, as I was driving down the 403 it occurred to me: I'm actually going. Now there was no guarantee that he would actually be there, but it was a strong possibility, and my normal reaction would be to be a bundle of nerves jangling inside. Oddly though, there wasn't. I felt happy. I really did. This driving down felt good. It felt great too, just to be going away. A wee holiday. Yay!

So I had a pleasant evening, then came a phone call to my hotel: I'm at the 7-11 and I'm about to check in. I felt like a little girl; I peeked through the curtains at the parking lot; a car beside mine pulled out, moments later, a black car pulled in. Its occupant sat for a couple of minutes. Then a man stepped out, he was wearing cowboy boots and a green fedora, and in one hand he had a guitar and a bodhran, the other, a suitcase. This just had to be Jim. He looked so American. I quickly turned away from the window and thought, oh my God, what do I say to him?

What did I say to him? Well, when we met, my first words were the very astounding: "You parked right beside me!" And then the equally gracious, "Are you ever tall!" He laughed and my mind was a whirl as he said stuff about Customs and the drive and the weather and the big Canadian flags at the border crossing that he said to the top of my head (because, as usual I was staring at the floor and casting sideways glances at him), and then, "can I give you a hug?" We hugged and it felt like the most right thing in the world, this was the hug and the arms I belonged in. Weird. Yup. But if there is such a thing as love at first sight when you've known someone for a couple of years, well, this is as close as that gets. It just felt so right and warm, and in that hug I felt suffused in sunshine, as did he. Nothing either of us had felt that before, and what's more, the sense of, "well there you are!" Like we had been searching for each other all these years. Who knows? Maybe we had.

That weekend was so wonderful; we viewed the Falls (and oh boy it was cold, the wind was just bitter), we walked around all the sights, did a little shopping for souvenirs. We had lunch at the Rainforest Cafe, holding hands the whole time, the waitress telling us she hoped she could be so much in love when she's our age, and we laughed and said we'd just started dating but it feels like we've been together a long time. We had a lovely dinner that night, and the connection we felt online and on the phone was a thousand times stronger in person.

We had breakfast on the Sunday, and sad to be going our separate ways we decided it might be fun to surprize the kids when they came back, so, even though he would be getting home just before dawn if he did, he followed my car home (and that is always a dangerous thing, we wound up having coffee in Brantford thinking, what the heck happened?). Little fellow thought he was great, daughter was intregued but sad, an issue we talked a lot about; then Jim went home and called me in the wee hours to say there was a snow storm in New York State, and he was fine.

That was it. We knew we had to see each other again, and damn the consequences. To find something so special, we had to at least try. So we did. Fate has a curious way of making things fall into place though when things are meant to be. Our next visit was in Montreal, the closest point to Connecticut in Canada, and he was free that weekend, so, since I was in Montebello for a week in April, no problem meeting in Montreal. Again, it was a beautiful weekend, we had a calleche ride, an old drunk stopped us on the street to sing us a love song, and it was just so special. I've always had a fondness for Montreal, and now, he does too.

We decided then and there that my long weekend in May would be great for a trip to his friend Larry's house in Boston, a city I've been dying to see, and so that would be our next adventure. But then I had bought two small window air conditioners on sale and discovered I needed help just to get them in the door they were so heavy, and so, on a whim he drove up to help me. Oh, and the bottom stair on the townhouse was missing, there was a replacement but it was cement and behind the office and too heavy to move...oh, and there was only time to do one air conditioner since we decided to drive around Southern Ontario seeing the sights, and visiting a friends trailer at a nice trailer park, and... then there was a party at my boss' I was invited to and I could bring a the time between March and mid-June there were a million reasons to visit each other.

On one of the visits we went to look at a trailer he had found on a trailer sales site; it was in Barrie, was that close? Yes. Well, it was considerably less that what it would cost for one like it in the States, and since his mother was selling the house and they were in the process of packing up all their stuff for them to bring to brother's farm in Vermont, after all that, he would have money for a trailer and to live on for a while, and he thought there could be no better place than to have the trailer near me for a few weeks while he decided whether to live in Alaska or what, but mostly, he needed to decompress and we both needed to spend time dating in the same place and see how it went.

He arrived in June, his car with two port holes to view from beneath all the junk and after a 20 hour day. The rest, we can proudly say, is history. That summer he spent time bouncing back and forth between the States and the trailer, but the difference was this time I was with him. We went to his cousin's wedding in Connecticut, and he showed me his old house, and the beach house he lived in one summer, and the radio station, and walked down the beach on the Long Island Sound, and paid a couple of visits to Vermont; we went to Ithaca to see also where he lived for a while, and by the end of the summer we knew. If the will of fate and Canada would have it, we would be together for a long long time. I asked him to move in with me September 1, 2002 and with a few more trips back to the States that fall, he came in as a temporary resident in November.

A year and a half later, we have been through a lot, including a relocation back to my home area with all that entails. And the sunshine? It lives on.

I finally understand all those songs that were written about 500 miles; this is a long distance, far enough it takes the better part of a day. Close enough that it's not too far.

We have a nice life, and though fate brought us together it is now up to us to make sure we make this work. People who are close to us and know us as a couple, they understand. Those who know Jim as Jim, they really like him. He is a sweet and gentle person, who volunteers because they can use his skills, who helps where help is needed. On our bookcase there sits an envelope full of thank you cards from the children in my son's school class for a CD he made of them all saying Happy Holidays (it was Jim's idea).

I guess there will always be some who can't understand why I left my ex, or who have trouble with the fact that for the time being, I am "living in sin". But that's okay, there are many things I don't understand about other people's lives. Who am I to say what is right or wrong anyway? I can say though that there needs to be more compassion in this tired world, and when there is love, it is something to be cherished.

As for Jim and I, well, I can't say where the winds of fate will blow us next. It's not for us to know. But I will say, may there always be sunshine. To you, may you find your sunshine also, and when you do, hold on.

(c) Catherine M. Harris, March 2004