Love in the Shadow of Nuclear War 

- Enabling the Inevitable

Universal Love

The voice of  bird woke me

 

It was late afternoon. The birds' voices rang shrill and clear over the silence. A gentle breeze swept through the apartment. Jennie was still sleeping. The air was fresh, smelling of the sea.

As quietly as I could, I made my way to the kitchen. I had a craving for tea. I put the kettle on and sat by the table in the living room enjoying the sunshine that came through the partly drawn curtains. The atmosphere created a warm, peaceful feeling that underlined the stillness of the hour. The mellow sunshine shimmered in the palm leaves near the balcony, where a lizard made its way up the brickwork of the building. It moved effortlessly. It halted once, looked into the room through the window and continued straight up the wall. Moments later it disappeared. I went onto the balcony to see where it had gone. I couldn't find it as if it had vanished off the face of the Earth.

In the distance, a sailboat negotiated a turnabout in its play with the wind. On the grounds below us children were playing, diving into a circular swimming pool, and splashing each other.

I leaned over the railing to watch them. As I did, I remembered Harry's kids. Seeing the children at play jolted me. I felt a sudden emptiness. Fiona came to mind. Could I have seen her at the airport behind the wall of plate-glass if I had known that they were there? They must have been all there. They must have seen my plane approach. Fiona might have been told that this was daddy's plane. But they saw me pass them by without stopping at the most dangerous hour in their life, a mere ten feet over the runway, hardly a thousand feet from where they stood. We had come so close to meet, but too distant to touch and too far for a cry to penetrate.

I was glad when the kettle began to simmer. It woke Jennie. When I noticed her, she stood drowsily in the balcony doorway. She yawned, then joined me at the railing. She brushed her hair back, looked into the sunshine, squinted, then smiled at me.

"How fortunate she is, to be partly asleep," I thought. She didn't seem tortured by the thoughts I had just encountered. Hearing the kettle boil I went into the kitchen to make tea. The kitchen counter was open to the living and dining room area of the apartment. I could see Jennie perfectly from the kitchen as she stood in the light of the setting sun. She stepped back after a while, put her hands over her head and leaned against the frame of the balcony door, still looking out towards the beach. She said she was glad to see the sunshine.

Seeing her in the thin nightgown that I had bought her aroused a deep, profound feeling in me that became almost painful. Her silhouette was like a scene from a dream world in the light of sun touching her. Although she probably wasn't the beauty queen of the world, to me she was more than that. What I saw was angel, excitingly female, beautiful to look at. Only once before had I felt anything nearly as powerful as this, when I first met Melanie. Now this feeling resurfaced again in a new dimension. It pervaded my being. It fed me with life. It separated the moment from the logical, the familiar, and the things I had control over. It was insanity in the conventional sense, but it was totally sane in our new unfolding reality and Jennie was at the center of it.

This response, a response to a greater sanity, seemed to be built into the design of the human being that thereby becomes transposed into the surreal world where the conventional is replaced with the wonderful and the inexplicable. A door had been opened between us by the recognition of a truth that had been stored away in consciousness to be triggered into life by a greater openness towards reality. With so little certainty left now in the world, our being together became more profound in its reality. She was tangibly real. Our being together was real.

I remembered the day when I first met Jennie high up in the Rocky Mountains. She was coming out of Frank's camper to greet me. I had already felt a bit of that same feeling then. For one brief fleeting moment something had happened that day that had brightened the world. Perhaps it was the surprise of the situation that allowed her to respond without reservation to the innermost design of her as a human being, letting go for that moment all the traditions of relationships, responsibilities, commitments, obligations, and the myths surrounding them. There had been magnificence in this moment, a brightness that made the glaciers appear dull by comparison, and the mountains insignificant. Moments later when Frank introduced us the formality of it became a call to 'order' that drew the attention back to the conventional world by which the magic ended. Still, its echo had lingered in the mind.

Seeing Jennie leaning in the balcony doorway re-kindled still another feeling, one that I had first felt at the beach after we arrived on the island. It came as a sense of peace that unfolded by taking a holiday from the so-called real world, setting aside all the rationality of the ages that has kept mankind 'politely' distant from each other, including Jennie and I.

I knew that it was not by accident, therefore, that the nightgown, which I had bought Jennie for a present, had been selected by me for its exquisitely thin fabric that now appeared almost transparent. I should have looked away from her according to the rules of politeness, but there was something in the honesty of the moment that didn't allow this. Also, I had the feeling that I was not the only factor in the equation of this moment of peace. Humanity played a large role in its unfolding. I realized that I hadn't designed the nightgown that I had bought. I had merely bought it. It already existed when I entered the store. It had been created for a purpose, perhaps the same purpose that it now fulfilled, a purpose that is rooted in the design of our humanity, a design to acknowledge and respond to what is intrinsically beautiful and good.

Jennie's slender body stood darkly against the sunlit fabric. The sunlit gown suited her. She looked grander in it, grander than the most beautiful model may ever have looked, and more exquisite than the most exquisite work of art. How could I not gaze at her? How could I look away?

Gazing at her was wonderful. Nor did I design the feeling that I felt. I didn't design humanity. I wanted to touch her, kiss her nipples - right through the fabric if it had to be - run my hands over her back, her thighs, her chest. I felt infinitesimally close to her!

I knew that Melanie would never have allowed this, nor would have Jennie herself, just a day earlier. But now, we lived in another time. Our world had been turned upside down. We had become a part of another world in which everything that was human had become immensely more precious.

In the background to this peace and joy, thoughts of doubt resurfaced. I feared that we would never see Frank or Melanie again. We had been hoping against hope that they were still living, somewhere on this earth, we had been building scenarios that they might have escaped by. But was this just hopeful dreaming? They seemed too far distant, too far out of reach. And even if they lived, how would we ever find each other again in this overturning world? I wished them well. I wished them a good life wherever they would end up if they still lived. I dearly wished that we would see them again, but I wished more deeply that they would find hope, peace, joy, and happiness until that day would come. I wished that their world would be one without grief and without pain. I also knew that I was dreaming again. The world had become too much a caldron of agony for that to be likely.

I was going to say something to Jennie about this, but I decided not to. I didn't want to spoil the peace of the moment and its magic 'eternity' that had somehow crowded out the world we had known too much of, and the ugly reality we had seen. The unfolding peace had substituted in its place a different reality that I wanted to hold on to. I wanted this moment to remain. I wanted it to linger for all times.

When Jennie finally turned around and looked at me with a sad smile, which was so unlike her, the magic was over. But moments later the sadness vanished. Something was in the air. Did she realize what my thoughts were? She looked at herself, blushed, and stepped out of the sunshine. She went to the far side of the balcony where there was shade, and looked down onto the garden.

Strangely, at this moment I became angry with myself. I wanted to join her there. I longed for her, but couldn't move. Some hero I was! I realized that it was pure delusion when I imagined that one could simply cast to the wind the great apartheid that had divided mankind by sex since the most distant ages.

"I need you, Jennie," I heard myself whisper, but whisper was all I could do. Oh, why must the world of women be shunned out of respect, divided by marriages? Why did this apartheid exist? I needed more at this moment than it allowed. Mere survival was no longer enough in this unfolding theater of tragedy. Something had to drive the urge for survival. Survival should have felt like the most precious privilege in this torn-apart world, but it didn't suffice any longer. There is more to being alive than mere survival. Survival didn't seem precious in the face of the constant denial and self-denial that draws everything down to the lowest denominator. Why couldn't I acknowledge to myself what I felt deep inside? Why couldn't I tell her about it? I had to laugh at myself. What a hypocrite I was!

A girl named Vanessa came to mind; a stewardess I had long admired; a black African girl. She had told me how a friend of her once tried to console her in a time of a great personal crisis. This friend had said to her, "But Vanessa, I have never regarded you as a black person!" The girl nearly committed suicide over this blatant denial of the worth of her identity. And, damn, I was doing the same thing in a different way and couldn't help myself! I was saying to her, you are a wonderful friend, while I should be saying to her that I cherished her deeply as a most precious, beautiful woman, a gem from the treasure chest of our humanity. What on earth was I lying to her for with this act of silence, and subjection to apartheid? Was I even lying to myself?

Before I could find the answer, Jennie altered the situation. She came in from the balcony and sat into the living room, on the sofa across the way from me in the kitchen. There, I could see her clearly again, in her full beauty. "Would you like some tea?" I asked. I could almost kick myself. That was the least of what my thoughts were centered on. I poured the tea.

I pulled myself together as I looked for a cup. I promised myself; this time I will be honest! I started by serving the tea that I had made, and I did in a manner that allowed me to come close to her. I sat down beside her, almost trembling.

Oh how does one deal with a mythology, like marriage, that has persisted over countless centuries that shouldn't allow such closeness? I didn't know how. Apparently, neither did she. Once I had served the tea I feasted my eyes on her, unabashedly. That, apparently, was all the honesty I could muster. Naturally, it didn't escape her attention. She responded with a smile, a lovely, gentle smile. She didn't seem to mind that couldn't help myself, noticing, but neither did she come right out and talk about it. Nor did I. Thus, the silence continued, but in a more 'gentle' way, now.

Eventually, I became embarrassed by it all and escaped into the kitchen once more. My excuse, this time, was that I had forgotten the sugar. Of course, I could see her from there just the same.

Looking at her from a distance was different. Or was it? I had thought, that by retreating, the situation would become less intense. I was wrong. It remained as beautiful, as exciting, and as agonizing beyond measure, as it had been when I sat right beside her. I experienced a paradox in this that I couldn't resolve. There was a deep peace in those moments that refreshed the soul, but this peace left me exhausted as though I had run a mile in three minutes.

I filled the sugar bowl, set a small pitcher of milk beside it on a tray, and went back to her. The sugar bowl was shaped like a coconut. I had found it the night before in a cupboard. I placed some slices of lemon on a plate beside it. I did everything I could to avoid what I really wanted to do.

My heart began to pound as I came close to her again. She looked at me with a grin as if she wanted to comment. Perhaps the grin was in response to the shape of the sugar bowl. Still, she didn't say a word. God, she was as shy in her way as I was, and I was too shy to ask what in heavens' name the grin was for.

Eventually, I retreated to a chair at the dining table across the room. I knew deep within my mind that this wasn't a game. It was an exploration to find whatever had been lost through centuries of false civility, a search for something that could bridge the isolation which had kept us apart since the day we met. I feared that pushing too hard could widen the gulf, and pushing too little would cause the isolation to persist and perhaps be strengthened.

I suggested to Jennie that I should open the package of pound cake we had bought. I sliced it carefully, though still watching her out of the corner of an eye. She smiled when our eyes met. Moments later she got up and came towards the kitchen. She stopped at the doorway for a minute or two, until I had finished slicing the cake. I arranged the pieces carefully. Then she grinned at me. I responded with a grin of my own that turned quickly into a stare as she lifted her nightgown over her shoulder and pulled it off.

"Let's not play games with each other," she said to me as she folded the gown and leaned back against the doorpost. Let's stop playing games.

I stood petrified, with the plate of cake in my hand, my mouth wide open, stunned. There she was, like a beautiful dream: naked, honest, inviting, beautiful. The odd thing was that I still couldn't touch her. I began to reach out, but pulled my hand back. I held onto the plate of cake and carried it into the living room. I offered her a piece. She declined. Thank God she declined! I put the cake down. With the deepest honesty that was within me I put my arm around her and hugged her, gently. "Thanks, Jennie!" was all I could say.

I let go of her after a long time had passed, so it seemed, and sat on a nearby chair and kept on looking at her. Oh, why was she so patient with me? Was it compassion? Did she feel my great need? Or was it love? She felt soft, warm, wonderful, why did I let go of her? I valued her as a fragile remnant of a fragile world that was fast slipping away. I was frightened. What a laugh! Me, a veteran of thousands of flights, being frightened? Yes, I was. I was frightened for both of us. I knew she wasn't a dream, she was tangibly real, and the chaos in the world was real, too, but the two realities had become exclusive of one another. I also knew that none of that was cause. The cause was that I loved her.

I beheld her like a delicate butterfly, fluttering through the open balcony door where she had stood. As I saw her standing before me in the same brilliance, like the loveliest of all women, bold, free, delicate, infinitely precious, more cherishable than the most delicate butterfly, I stood up and embraced her again. "I am in love with you, Jennie," I said. "I always have been." I felt wonderfully alive. We were no longer just surviving, but living. At least I had begun to life. How absurd the denial of the past now appeared that I had wallowed in, in my thoughts before for all these years before, and even earlier, whenever I met another woman, which had blocked from me this wonderful experience of a boundless unity, of being alive as a human being.

Out of the depth of this re-awakening arose the total acceptance of her, and of myself too, a total honesty, an acceptance of my own feelings, an acceptance of her as she was, a feeling of unity unfettered by any myth or fear. On this platform I was finally able to embrace her fully and without reservation. It was as if we had gained access at last to a new dimension of reality that we hadn't even been aware of before.

She felt warm. I felt her breasts resting tightly against my chest. She felt wonderful to touch, soft, smooth, gently outlined. There was no shame in this union anymore, or tensions to mar it, or guilt, or torment, and no pain in the heart in response to being honest and free. Neither was there the rage of excitement that might have been associated with such moments had we stood on lesser platform, like a platform of uncontrollable passions that drives the human spirit to fill an emptiness with the intensity of rage. There was no emptiness in my feeling that led up this, that needed to be filled. There was only love that needed to be acknowledged and allowed to be. The isolation had been invalidated. Something had been created that was infinitely rich, which would now remain. "I have been in love from the first moment I saw you," I said quietly.

"I too," she said softly.

We remained for a long time in each other's embrace. It seemed that this moment would never end. The peace of it was reflected in everything. The lace curtains moved gently with the wind. The sun stood low, painting the sky a warm orange red.

"What a precious thing our human world is!" said Jennie with a soft smile once we faced each other again.

"And what a privilege it is to be part of it!" I answered and smiled back at her, "and to be able to experience its wonders!"

She nodded. "We should never take anything for granted that is so intrinsically good and beautiful."

"Especially not each other," I added, and kissed her. "What we take for granted we lose. We must build on what we have achieved. If we don't move ahead and build on every achievement no matter how slight or profound, we stand still. But life can't stand still. If we let life stand still we may be in danger to loose everything."

She smiled at me and pointed to the sunset, which she said was but the prelude to a new dawn.

I kissed her for this wonderful thought. The silence between us had finally been broken. For years I had respectfully nurtured 'this' silence. Now we had drawn the curtains aside.

The sky had turned a dark pink. The palms at the beach stood tall and black against the richly colored sky. There were no shadows on the lawn any longer. Still, the sand on the beach glowed as brightly as before.

"Oh, if only we could know where beyond the horizon our children might be," I said, "and Frank and Melanie!"

She nodded; "I wish I knew what they are doing, if they are well, if they are happy." Moment later she began to cry. "If only I could see them once more!"

I tried to comfort her. I said that they could be anywhere in the world, in China, Mexico, Japan, Europe, possibly even in the good old USA. "They might be in Honolulu, for all we know."

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if we bumped into them in Honolulu on our way back!" she said smiling again, and wiped a tear off her face.

I had to smile at the thought myself, but then I shook my head: "Don't get your hopes up too high, Jennie. There's a slim chance of finding them until there are computer listings compiled to help locate the displaced persons."

"But we are going back, aren't we?" she said.

I nodded; "I can't be at peace with myself in any other way, Jennie. I must go. We both should go, because our world is a human world and this world needs to be cherished. This means rescuing of it what can be rescued. The earth without human beings would be an empty sphere. It would be like a solar system without a sun," I said. "We must protect our humanity I all aspects and raise it up, because we are a part of this world, and this world is a part of us. We need it to be alive and the means consciously living, treasuring life, fighting for it."

"I had hoped you would say something like that," she said and put a finger over my lips. "You said enough, and you said it more beautifully than I could have. We'll both go back," she added. "Only let's treat ourselves to a quiet dinner together, before we go back, if we can. We need to celebrate what we have built here. That's an acknowledgment, too, isn't it? We need these celebrations."

I replied with a nod and a gentle embrace. "I know just the place," I said. "There is a great restaurant not far from here. It's a small place and right at the beach. There is a large tree growing right through the middle of it. We must celebrate our day there! This would be fitting our first day of really being together. Afterwards, I'll give Honolulu a call. I promised then that I would call to see what time they need us."

"Why don't you call before we go for dinner?" she said, and kissed me. "While you call, I will freshen up."

I raised my hand, slightly. I didn't like the idea. But she didn't respond.

"If you call now, we could plan our time better," she said moments later.

Of course she had a point there. Deep down, however, I couldn't shed the feeling that this was not what I ought to do.

"Maybe, they won't need us," she added.

"Ah, there is little chance for that," I replied.

Without saying another word, she went into the bathroom. Reluctantly, I went to my flight uniform and got the 800 number of the refugee center from my top pocket. I kept hoping that I wouldn't get a line through, but I also felt bad about this thought. The thought was that Honolulu was on another island and might be hard to reach. Still, I took the phone off its shelf and brought it to the chesterfield near the open balcony door as if I would be dialing for a long time. I knew I would give it my best in spite of my nagging reservations, because going back was in both of our thoughts. Skipping out in this hour of need was not an option.

As I waited for the circuits to create a channel to the operations desk of my airline, the desperation in Vancouver came to mind and our experience in Abbotsford. Would the chaos have become worse? It seemed logical that it should have. It might be absolute hell by now. We had to expect that. Fallout would surely have risen past the critical level. I was just about to hang up when I finally got through.

"Yes, can I help you?" said a voice.

"Do you still need volunteer pilots for the airlift?" I said. I stuttered out of a hidden fear when I asked for my airline, hoping in some slight fashion that the voice would answer, No!

"I'll connect you," said the voice.

I was connected to our Honolulu office. I was told that our company didn't exist anymore.

"I would like to speak with someone who is in charge of the airlift," I added.

I was passed back to the switchboard, then to security. Someone switched me through to the control tower. The tower, however, was too busy for anyone to answer the phone. Eventually I reached someone who had some dealings with what was going on.

"Just come any time you're ready," the man said, "we'll fit you in. The traffic's unbelievable. It busier than it was during the war. They group them into squadrons before they land or take off. And this goes on hour after hour. And the crowds we have here, like you wouldn't believe!"

"Do you know what the situation is like in Vancouver?" I asked.

"Vancouver was terrible to the end! It's closed now. They've got three-hundred-mile-an-hour winds that are feeding the firestorms in the South. Vancouver was shut down an hour ago. At midnight we'll have the last run coming in from there."

"Already?"

"A lot of people have fled to Vancouver Island. We're picking them up through Alaska. Alaska is one of the few places with enough fuel for an unlimited number of round trips. It's close enough too, to get to the island and back without refueling. The problem is, we have to land on a highway. An earthquake has damaged the only large airport in the north of the island. Can you land a 747 on a highway?"

"On a highway?" I asked.

"Yes on a highway! They took the dividers off a four-lane highway."

"Have we lost any aircraft there?"

"Some. Eleven all told. That's not bad, considering the risks."

"That's terrible."

"Oh, if you want an easy mission, I can pass you through to the East Coast Operations Center. All our big aircraft will soon be withdrawn. They have plans in place to evacuate the entire northeastern United States all the way down to St. Louis. The fallout has already spread as far as Kansas City and is getting more radioactive the farther East it goes. In two days it will be over New York like the Mt. St. Helens ash-fall had years ago."

I could well imagine what this meant.

I assured the man that I would much rather service a highway outpost than fly into the big eastern cities in such a crisis. I told him I would call back as soon as we were ready to leave.

"Don't hurry too much!" he replied. "I have no plane to give you at the moment, but I'll put you on the 'Vancouver Island run.' I have a small 747 coming in after midnight that is suitable for the Alaska run. I have you logged in for around two-AM!"

I said that was great. I had only one more question after that, how to get to Honolulu from Maui at two in the morning.

"Take the shuttle!" he said. "There is an hourly shuttle between Honolulu and all the islands to distribute the refugees. Take the midnight shuttle!"

I thanked the man, put the receiver down and called to Jennie.

"They want us!" I called to her.

There was no answer. I knocked on the bathroom door. "Vancouver has already been shut down. Three-hundred-mile-an-hour winds shut the airport down. Most have already by evacuated to Vancouver Island by boat."

"Not the entire city! That can't be closed already. That's impossible! That can't be!" Her voice came through the closed door, strong at first but getting fainter.

"Well, Jennie, that's what the man said. Most of the people have fled to Vancouver Island. We are going to lift them out from there! Apparently they have converted a highway into some primitive airport."

"Why don't you come in, Paul?" she interrupted me. "It's no good talking through a closed door."

I didn't need to hear this invitation twice. She was sitting in the bathtub surrounded by a sea of foam, with only her head sticking out. What a peaceful sight!

"I feel terrible that I asked you to call," she said. "This mission is troubling you, isn't it?"

I nodded. "Maybe we shouldn't go. Its tempting to just stay put."

"But if Melanie or Frank were there, and the children, wouldn't we go?" she asked.

"Of course we would. We would do anything to get them out."

"That's why we must go, Paul. That's why we must help, whoever needs our help."

"But not on the East Coast, I made that clear to them!" I said strongly to Jennie, and then laughed at myself. When I became serious again, I told her about the fallout pattern and the evacuation plans that the dispatcher had talked about.

"Of course I'm not scared of the fallout," I insisted at the end, "I'm more scared about the 200 million hand guns that people own, especially in the East. No! I'd rather take my chances landing on a highway in the remotest part of the wilderness."

I told her about the north end of Vancouver Island. This part of the world was apparently still free of fallout, but was crawling with over a hundred thousand people who became stranded there, waiting to be airlifted out. "We're their only hope," I said firmly; "we must go to them."

She stood up and reached for a towel. She looked rather sad now.

"Hold it! They won't need us until 2.00 AM!" I said. I tried to cheer her.

She began to smile again, and sat down deep into the warm water. Eventually she sat up and handed me the soap and a brush. "Would you wash my back, please?"

It felt wonderful being there, kneeling beside the bathtub, washing her back gently, her shoulders, legs, breasts.... The situation didn't seem at all strange or unnatural. It was peaceful. The disaster seemed so far away in this moment of intimacy that I tried to make last for as long as I could. Eventually she stood up and invited me to join her.

"Let's go to the bedroom," I broke the silence a long time thereafter.

She shook her head; "Maybe we shouldn't, I haven't any pills, I...."

I interrupted her, "I wish to God that we had enough of a future so that this mattered! How long will it be until someone hits the button in earnest and retaliates?"

I noticed tears in her eyes again. "Why did you have to say this? Couldn't you keep the illusions alive by which all those rescue flights have some meaning? There is always a reason for one to hope. There must be."

"And then what?"

She thought about it for a moment and began to laugh again; "OK, Paul, it still won't work. I have no pills, nor anything else. If we do come though this alive, and I know we will, we may have to survive under the most primitive conditions. Becoming pregnant in times like this might be fatal."

Now I began to laugh, too; "No, I don't want to invade you and get you pregnant. I want to appreciate you. There are better ways for doing that than getting you pregnant, don't you think?"

She looked at me astonished after I had stepped out of the tub. She let herself slide back into the hot water. She didn't even reply right away, but looked at me with a gentle exploring look.

Actually I was surprised myself, at the language I had used. How vulgar! I told her I was ashamed of it, but still couldn't think of a better way to say it.

"This means that you are totally serious," she came back.

I nodded slightly.

She shook her head slightly, but then handed me the towel again.

It was cool in the bedroom, refreshing, and comfortably peaceful in the dark atmosphere. One could see the shadows of the palm leaves projected on the far wall and the ceiling.

Eventually, and all too soon as it seemed, we dressed. I went outside onto the balcony, waiting for her there. I watched the gas-torches on the grounds. A breeze had come up. The giant fans of palm trees were swaying in the wind. The flames flickered. I wondered what we might have to face when we resumed our mission. Would we be able to return? Would we be able to stay together? Would we survive the next day, or would the nuclear fire spread further and destroy everything that is fragile, beautiful, and human?

When I looked up I noticed Jennie standing beside me. She smiled at me. She said she was ready now.

"We may not survive this," she said. "But if this is the end, let's end our life as human beings, helping one another."

I smiled back at her and nodded. Still, in spite of the happiness I felt being with her, I couldn't shed the feeling that this day might be our last one on the islands, if not our last day altogether. I didn't dare voice the thought. However, to judge by her lack of talkativeness, she might have been thinking the same.

I took great care to close all of the windows, took my coat from the rack, stepped outside and locked the apartment thoroughly, dead bolt and all, as though we wouldn't be back for many days. This time I decided to be true to my feelings. Perhaps Jennie did, too, for she suggested that we select the longest possible route to the parking lot, across the gardens, lawns, along the beach, past both of the swimming pools, the lily pond....

At the lily pond, we stopped to watch the old toads with great interest. Jennie had to laugh. They obviously believed themselves to be perfectly hidden, while in fact they were right in plain view near the torchlight. We could actually touch them before they would notice us and jump away.

It was fun chasing the toads, seeing Jennie laugh again like a child, and holding hands with her as though we were children, indeed, holding on to each other. By this playing the heavy mood dissipated. It was as if the New World we had touched upon had won us over. The Old World lay in flames, everything of value in it had been torn apart. But out of this chaos and fear a new spark had sprung that lit a fire in us that was new, a flame-less fire that seemed to be building, a fire that wasn't destructive.

We walked to the car arm in arm. I felt great. For years I had denied myself the right to be this close to her. I had denied myself what now seemed like one of the most basic rights of any human being to associate intimately with other human beings. We ended up embracing each other in full appreciation of our newfound reality, as two human beings, male and female, bound to one other by nothing more than a commitment to being alive. And this we were. We were intensely alive. In this fashion we arrived at the restaurant.

"Oh, what a romantic place this is!" she said excitedly as we entered. She was delighted with everything about it, the setting, the decor, and the atmosphere. I shared her feelings. The place was charming, simple, and comfortable. By name it was a steak house. We had smelled the aroma of roasting steak long before we crossed the street. Still, Jennie wanted to have something special, something unique to the islands, rather than steak. Following the waiter's suggestion we ordered the Mahi Mahi, which simply means the 'right' fish, the finest fish of the season. It was well prepared, covered with a delicious dressing, graciously served with a glass of white wine.

We had been seated in a quiet corner, at a table by the seashore. We could see the surf in the moonlight. The place was dimly lit. Soft music filtered from nearby speakers, mingled with the sound of the surf. This was exactly the contrast that we needed, a contrast to a world that we tried so hard not to think about. It was amazing that the restaurant was still in operation, and that the prices had remained the same as one would have expected in normal times.

Isolated by hanging baskets of flowers and planters filled with tropical greenery, I had the feeling that we were totally by ourselves in the restaurant. Perhaps we were. I had feared that the place would be crowded with angry people, all debating the horrors of a nuclear war. The opposite was true. Maybe the people were all glued to their TV screens. In this atmosphere of horror they probably didn't feel like celebrating their living, not even that they were still alive. Or perhaps they didn't realize, as we had realized, that they have a great treasure in themselves that is worth celebrating. We needed this wonderful intimate supper to celebrate those treasures of our humanity. This celebration also marked the beginning of a new era for us.

The service at the restaurant was not the greatest. There was only one waiter, probably the owner. But who cared? Who needs speedy waiters in times like these? We didn't. The place was an oasis for us, in which there was no talk about war. There was only music in the air that spoke of love, a flow of gentle melodies for and by a gentle people, the native Hawaiians.

"We are on a holiday," I said to her. "We are on a holiday of the kind I had dreamed about at the beach. We are on a holiday of love, filled with the most precious romance."

She nodded.

We smiled at each other across the table, often in silence. I wanted to tell her how much I appreciated the privilege of being with her. I wanted to say to her; I love you! I love you! I love you! But those words were not needed. They would have spoiled everything. There was no need to tell with words what our eyes said much better.

The gentle silence in these moments was filled with a symphony of communication, heart to heart, soul to soul. When words intruded the scene, they were anticlimactic.

"I knew that you have always loved me," she broke the silence. "You have loved me from the moment we met, as you said earlier. I had seen it in your eyes. You had loved me as no other man ever did, including Frank. I believe you even loved me in a way you never loved Melanie, or ever could, because in spite of her loveliness she also represented a barrier for you against other women. There had never been such a barrier between us. That made our love richer. I only hope that some day we can dissolve this barrier that Melanie had given herself to become, so that your embrace in love will be as rich as ours is."

She paused for a moment. "Except, why had I always felt so embarrassed for loving you? Why could I never allow myself to acknowledge my love for you openly, and to acknowledge our love? Would Frank have stood in the way? I always assumed he would have, without giving him a chance to defend himself against this indictment? I shouldn't have been that cruel to you and unjust to him."

I tried to answer, but she hushed me. "I don't think an answer can ever be found," she said. "It belongs to the past and the past is no more."

While we chose the desert, it struck me that I hadn't realized since we left Vancouver, how charmingly she was dressed. She wore the same black velvet dress and jacket that I had seen many times, that blended beautifully with her hair and her complexion. Perhaps her appearance hadn't had the same meaning before. I was lost for words, suddenly, to pay proper homage to her. I could only wonder why it had taken me thirty-six hours to notice what now was so overwhelming. I put together some phrases of flattery about her fine appearance, but they missed the mark by a long way. I finally invited her for a dance to the soft music that pervaded the place, a dance between the courses of our meal.

She began to grin when we sat down and I thanked her most cordially. She replied to me with that same smile on her face that I had cherished from the moment that I saw her that day at the summit of Milner Pass. "You're quite handsome yourself, Captain!" she said in the most romantic tone of voice as we became seated again.

Our dessert consisted of a giant orange, expertly peeled at the table, sliced, served on a bed of sherbet, and topped with a creamy sweet sauce that I had never tasted before. Perhaps it tasted so great because of the mood I was in. Perhaps the simplest, sloppiest pudding might have tasted just like that, as we gently stared at one another. I was glad we were quite alone in the restaurant. I had experienced something that day that I had never experienced before, a touch of life that I had virtually forced myself to ignore in the past, as much as the whole world had done, so it seemed.

"Tell me," I asked her, "what prompted you tonight to take your nightgown off?"

She grinned. "It was necessary! If you could have seen yourself, you wouldn't ask. You needed it off. But more than you, I needed this done. For most of my life I had hid beneath my wedding veil. Frank was everything to me, but it wasn't because this union was the pinnacle of my existence, as I told myself it was, but because there was nothing else. When the PA system announced in Vancouver that we had only fifteen minutes left to live, my whole world was suddenly empty. I needed Frank, but Frank wasn't there. Suddenly the whole airport erupted into a mad scramble. Everybody rushed about to get on a plane, any plane, to get away! People were crushed to death. Can you imagine what this was like? Then someone taps you on the shoulder. A stranger stands in front of you with a yearning to appreciate one final moment to live as a human being. Paul, in those moments before you die, you don't think anymore, you react by reflexes, you live by what's deep inside you. I embraced this man, can you believe this. The experience changed my life!"

I didn't know how to respond. I didn't know whether to shake my head or nod.

"Paul, when it became evident later on, that we were going to survive, Frank came to mind, and with it a feeling that I had done some great wickedness to Frank. I felt ashamed for it, but out of the depth of my soul came another message, a deep-seated protest. What should I be ashamed of? Ones feelings aren't the domain of another. My feelings are mine, not Frank's! In reacting to them to what flows from the depth of my soul, how could I possibly hurt Frank, unless he regarded me, indeed, as his property, which I was sure he never had."

"It felt so good being myself at last," she said. "It overwhelmed me. In this tumultuous overturning I saw myself no longer as Frank's wife, but as simply me. I saw a person standing on her own two feet, though still deeply in love with Frank, except this love was suddenly richer. Now, this new dimension of love has expanded to also include you, fully, and the world," she grinned.

"When you landed in Vancouver, there was hope again. You were the last plane coming in with people on board, except you came without Frank. I felt a numbness setting in, an utter hopelessness. I stood there in tears, as you know. But if this had happened ten minutes earlier I might not have been moved by my love for Frank, as I had been then. I might have felt totally empty inside, as if, with Frank gone, there remained nothing left of my life. This brief episode at the airport during the moments of chaos and an unfolding love for a man who might have struggled against similar barriers, had somehow taken away the wedding veil and given me my life back in which I could love Frank for the wonderful person he is and always will be."

I could only stare at her as she said these things. "I had no idea," I said.

"It really feels great being my own master again," she added. "I feel a freedom now, that I can't even define, that I've just begun to explore. I feel so different, so rich!"

My mouth hung open. "I thought you and Frank had the most wonderful marriage anyone could possibly have!"

She nodded and smiled. Her smile was as gentle, just as it had been all evening. "Paul, I wasn't referring to that when I spoke about the wedding veil. I was referring to the veil itself, which one creates in one's own mind, which isolates one from the world. Frank had not done this. I had created the veil. Humanity had created it. A veil hides, you know. It hides and hints at something mysterious, and by that it takes away from what there really is. That's what I'm free of. That's why I had to take the nightgown off which you had bought me. It had become an impregnable veil. This beautiful thin nighty suddenly appeared to me like another wedding veil, if you believe that. It had to come off. I'm free of those myths now that I have lived under, the mythology that forces a person under its spell to behave like a different human being. It dawned on me during the moments of great crisis when I embraced the Russian soldier that I really wasn't any different than I had always been. I was the same person that I had been before Frank and I were married. The veil of the mythological was gone, that separates people. It has separated the sexes into two isolated camps, and I had been stuck in such a camp for so many years, but I am no longer. This doesn't mean I won't wear your beautiful nighty again. I will gladly wear it, but not as a veil. I will wear it as a token of your love for me. I will wear it proudly, whenever it can be worn proudly, when it is no longer a veil, even if it is so thin that it won't hide anything."

She told me that she actually had to laugh when she realized the utter absurdity of this 'thing' called a wedding veil. She said that it is a contradiction in language. "A wedding should signify a union," she said in a most serious tone. "Not a separation. A union that is solid, secure, a platform from which one can build upwards to reach for infinity and embrace the whole human race. Frank and I should have supported each other in this reaching higher on the scale of our existence, instead of mysteriously tying each other down as servants to some ancient model for relationships which reveals itself as inherently unnatural, which in the end isolated me from my own self. This model had strangled both of our lives, Paul. This is what I'm beginning to feel free off, that allows me to love Frank and not mourn him, that allowed me to love you and take my nighty off for you with love. I really wish that Frank could be here so that I could tell him about my great breakthrough."

I suppose, I must have smiled, maybe grinned, or laughed.

"That's not something to be taken lightly!" she protested. "You're caught up in this river, too. I know are, even as deeply as I was. I also know that you have become freer. Everyone will come to this point who is honest with himself, or herself. The man at the airport was a soldier, Paul! As far as I could tell he was from Russia, a naval officer whose ship lay at anchor in the harbor. I am sure he would have laid his life on the line to defend his world. It didn't really sink in until much later that the soldier I held in my arms had in effect stood ready to kill the very person he himself would be, were he by birth married to the other side. And he would have done it gladly, Paul! The mythological veil, whatever its name may be, hides mankind from itself. Under this veil, atrocities are committed with ease. Maybe that is what I meant when I said we mustn't play games with one another. God only knows how many people have been put to death under this veil, or been tortured to death. In ancient times the death sentence was actually being applied against those who violated the prescribed marriage boundary."

I was amazed at her; flabbergasted! I knew instinctively that she was right. She was telling me in a different context what my experience that evening had in essence been all about. Nobody would have convinced me of this earlier. I would have laughed had anyone suggested that she would say the kind of things she said. I felt closer to her that night than I ever felt towards anyone before. She had laid out my own soul before me and defined for me what I felt, which until this moment had lacked a clear definition.

The next time the waiter came by, I quickly requested another coffee to make those wonderful moments last for us as long as we could make them last. The waiter suggested a fine liquor when he came back, which we sipped ever so slowly to savor the mood we were in. Something was in progress here, something gentle, and something that had no name because it was still too new, even though Jennie had courageously dared to define it.

We left the restaurant totally satisfied. We went to town, strolling hand in hand through the old parts of Lahina, along dimly lit streets, amidst crowds of people. We passed the windows of the town's brightly-lit shops. The absorbing intimacy of the evening had made the pain of the world appear so far away, so unreal, so like a dream. There were many glum faces in the crowd, but those no longer mattered to us. What mattered, was, that we smiled, that we felt intimately at one with each other.

We stopped at every display window, I am sure of that, and often went inside the stores to examine the wares. Everything that a tourist would want was on sale, from seashells to exquisite diamond jewelry. Browsing created the feeling that the world was in the midst of the deepest peace. I relished this feeling. Maybe others did, too. Maybe that's why things appeared so strikingly normal and people had wisely determined to keep it that way.

Still, as time wore on, the glad feeling faded. The weight of what we would soon have to face exacted its toll. The cruel reality became stronger than our new inner peace, even though that peace was founded on a more solid reality. As if it were in response to a deeply drawn urge to acknowledge this more solid reality, with which to hold back our fear, we put our arms around each other and avoided even the slightest syllable about the awesome task that lay before us.

As time passed, we walked slower, and slower, and went into every shop. We even tried on various items of clothing that we saw, though we had no intention to purchase any.

At the center of town we stopped and purchased an ice-cream cone each, in a brightly colored and brightly-lit store. We had a double scoop of Pina Colada, and another scoop of Swiss Orange Chocolate, both of which tasted wonderful, and on top of that a scoop of the finest vanilla. The giant cone in itself was enough to make the evening last for as long as it possibly could. We took the cones outside to the park and ate them under the legendary Banyan tree that covered the entire Town Square. The tree had long been a famous landmark. For decades people had loved and dreamed beneath its branches. My dream that night was for a safer world, and that our paths would never part. Actually, I felt these were related, though I couldn't see how.

Long after our ice creams were gone, Jennie said quietly that she was now ready to face the world. But those were just words, bravely spoken. I was certain that Jennie was no more ready than I was.

Still, while being careful not to hurry, we turned back towards the car. We stopped at every window again, browsed through every store, tried on hats, scarves, and bracelets, and checked out the trinkets and toys that were offered for sale.

"Let me buy you a present to remember this day by," I said to her in a small, narrow shop in a side alley. The walls of the shop were covered with everything that was interesting and valuable, from rare seashells to fine wooden boxes, carved figures, items of brass, silver, and gold. In long glass cases behind the counters, a wide variety of jewelry was displayed, polished pink coral - an ideal present for her, I thought.

She smiled when I asked her, but urged me not to buy anything. "Not now," she entreated. "Wait until the last day."

Reluctantly, I agreed.

But what if this is our last day? I wondered. What then? Who can be certain that we may live through to the end of tomorrow? Was her denial of my present a rejection of some gnawing fears?

Evidently, neither of us was ready to face the world, I was sure of that. But if so, why were we going back? The answer was simple. We had no choice. The human need was too great to be ignored. The rescue work had to be carried out. There existed no other option. Not to go, to suppress the compassion I felt for those in need would have been a betrayal of everything I believed in, even a betrayal of myself. That, I could allow no longer. I had stepped too far away from this grave to step back into it. We simply did not have a choice. Our love to one another was intertwined with that sense of unity that embraced all.

It was quiet in the car as we drove back to the airport. There were shadows on the road, shadows of trees projected by the moonlight. We spoke only of trivial things now, of make-believe ideas that seemed supportive in some way.

As we turned away from the shore, Jennie noticed that the mountains were still wrapped in the same covering of clouds that we had seen when we came. "I suppose they will still be like that tomorrow when we come back," she said.

I agreed, but I couldn't shed the feeling that we would not make it back to see them.

At Kahuluie airport we had almost an hour until the next shuttle arrived at one o clock. We had just missed the midnight shuttle and I was glad that we did. This also must have been the first time in my life that I was glad for having to wait at an airport. With great joy I also realized that I no longer wished that shuttle would never come.

The wait didn't delay us. It gave us plenty of time, though, for one last stroll and a cup of coffee in peace. The air was moist and aromatic. We walked arm in arm in the dim moonlight and held each other close. The thought that this may indeed be our last day on the island, in not forever, grew stronger. The feeling emerged that this might indeed be our last day. The feeling grew to such force that I nearly protested out loud; NO; no; no; that can't be! - There will be a tomorrow - and it will be as beautiful as we care to make it! I didn't voice those words.

We strolled back to the terminal more quickly now. I would have loved to run. I was happy in the night. As soon as we came near the terminal, I excused myself and sneaked away into the souvenir shop. Luckily the shop was still open. The storekeeper said it was because of the shuttle flights, which kept coming in all night.

I bought Jennie the most delicate, red coral necklace the shop had, and two cups of coffees as a decoy, and a package of chewing gum. I kept the necklace well hidden until we were on the plane and back in the air.

As we where alone in the plane, I brought the necklace out and placed it in her hand. Tears formed in her eyes as she asked if this was the souvenir that should not be bought until the last day.

"Yes!" I nodded and laid the necklace on her neck. "This may be our last day on the island, or maybe our last day altogether. It certainly has been our last day of exile from each other," I added. "It is fit, therefore, Jennie, that a souvenir be bought to remember those moments by, to celebrate the way in which the conventional has ended, the celebrate the last day of the Old World and the joy of seeing it disappear from the horizon."

I grinned at her as I closed the clasp and moved back to see how it would compliment her wonderful charm. It did full justice to it. "May this gift adorn my lovely female friend who brings out the female in me," I whispered to her.

She smiled back at me.

Maybe an emergency shuttle isn't the most likely place to celebrate the beginning of something that may never fully be. The plane was filthy. There was a sour stench in the air. There were no snacks or drinks served. But for me, this filthy plane was fit enough to celebrate our 'continuous' beginning. The physical surroundings no longer seemed to matter. Not even hope seemed to matter. The moment itself, just being alive, was enough.

Jennie looked down at the necklace that blended well with the black velvet of her dress.

"Tomorrow, perhaps," I said to her, softly, "I may need to buy you another present like this for another reason, and maybe another again, the day after, and at all the days after that."

Her smile faded. She turned to me and whispered as it were a state secret; "Do you think there is the slightest possibility that I could have been infected by the man at the airport? The man at the airport said that he had the AIDS virus. It didn't matter, then."

I shook my head. "Hack no! It takes more than a single kiss, no matter how intimate, to become infected." I almost laughed. "And even if you were infected; so what?" I said. I began stroking her hair as we faced one another. Thinking in terms of years suddenly was like thinking in terms of eternity. "I wish we had the kind of a future where all of this matters," I repeated. "What matters is, what happens here, today, now! And even if it should happen, against all odds, that you have become infected and the world should hold together for many more decades and centuries, a cure for AIDS may not be far off when this happens, so don't worry my love."

"That's what I thought, too," she said, and began to smile again. Soon her smile turned into a gentle grin. The dark mood that had gripped us and had receded several times during the past hours, now appeared to have been turned away for good. It was replaced with a hope that actually didn't seem important anymore compared to the excitement of just being alive at the moment, and to be with each other the way we were.

There were tears in her eyes when we kissed. It had been a significant day in every respect. Everything fitted together. When the wheels touch the runway, I remarked that this was probably the finest day we could possibly have had.

She nodded and smiled, touched her necklace, and then added that it must seem totally ridiculous for anyone to make a statement like this in a time of the deepest crisis that ever occurred in the history of humanity. "But I know it is true!" she added and grinned.

I kissed her in response. "This has been our day," I said, "and it still is. May it never end."

She closed her eyes, embraced me, and agreed that it was so, with a kiss.

(from the novel, Brighter than the Sun, Chapter 5)

 


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 Rolf Witzsche, author of books and novels on Christian Science, politics, science, and, love, and economics

Rolf Witzsche

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