The Internet – a Portal to Other Lands.
A personal journey
I was newly married for the second time, having endured fourteen lonesome years after my divorce. My first marriage had lasted six years. I woke early, with the sun rising and casting shadows on the wall. The sun’s rays gently highlighted the slats of the venetian blinds and the leaves of the big ficus tree outside the window and projected their shadows onto the opposite wall of our bedroom. The shadows of the leaves danced gently on the wall, moved by the breezes outside the window. I lay there quietly, feeling the warmth of my beloved husband lying asleep beside me. I reveled in the sweetness of the moment. I had not imagined that marriage could taste as sweet as it did and I offered up a silent prayer of gratitude that finally, I had got to experience that precious partnership.
The large ficus outside the window was useful in many ways. It afforded much needed shade to our apartment and shielded the fierce rays of the South Texas sun. It also offered its branches to the many birds that sought to rest in the shade, well camouflaged. As the tree provided a safe harbor, the birds sang their thanks in the morning and congregated there in the evening too, much to the delight and appreciation of my ears. I felt as though I had friends nearby, having arrived alone, in this great country, to marry the man who had wooed me and won me.
Our romance spanned the Atlantic
The wooing took place over the period of a year, nine thousand miles apart. At a time when I experienced much personal loss and my beloved son had gone to live with his father at the age of sixteen, the result of a total misunderstanding, my life had become starkly empty. It was also at that time that I experienced burnout in my job and took a hard-earned sabbatical. Upon my return, I discovered that I had been displaced. After eight years of challenging work that went largely unacknowledged, that experience helped me to make my final decision to move on.
I met the man destined to become my American husband, by chance, in a chat room called 40-up-intellichat. During that time I would wake in the middle of the night, experiencing intense anxiety and feelings of loneliness, back home in South Africa. The Americans were up and about (being eight hours behind us) and were busy exchanging political ideas, talking about their kids, education and things in general. I became part of the conversation and it brought normalcy back to my mind. I was grateful. I became one of the regulars in the chat room. Over time, I got to know and appreciate the personalities there.
A meeting of the minds
One day, the chat room was empty except for me and one other woman who called herself “Cherries.” We began playing with our nick-names. BlindBob had silently entered the room and witnessed the exchange. He suddenly got a flash of insight into my psyche and my humor, and from that day, he would come online to find me. After that, we arranged times to meet and exchanged conversation about everything that touched our lives. At first, he asked me to describe myself. I told him that I had dark hair and dark eyes and that my skin had a Mediterranean complexion with rose highlights. I was of medium height and still slender. He loved my description and told me that I was his dream girl. Some time later, he swaggeringly stated that after he gave me a Texas hug, I would never be the same. I pondered that and challenged him by asking: “What’s so special about a Texas hug?” He chuckled and with his deep voice and in his very masculine way replied: “When the buckle of my belt presses up against your belly, you will know.” I must admit, his words had a most desirable effect and I felt my resistance melt away. Our relationship took flight.
He would invite me aboard his imaginary ship, the Sea Wench, and we would sail away into fantasy land, with no physical restrictions to bother us at all. I felt safe. Being nine thousand miles away, I was open – there was no need to defend myself. If there was anything that bothered me, I could switch my computer off and go back to bed. I always stayed. It was enchanting and our time online took on a life of its own. We got to know each other really well, our thoughts, our moods our humor and our lives. We shared and shared. He became larger than life and filled an extremely large void in mine. As our communication progressed, we exchanged some phone calls and photos and discovered how much we actually had in common. I discovered that his favorite opera was “Carmen” and so was mine! He loved my voice, my accent and my laugh which he would describe as the gurgling of a brook followed by a tinkling of silver bells. I was exotic to him. He was exciting to me.
Carmina Burana ~ O Fortuna
Music - the great equalizer
One day, he asked me whether I knew the name of a work of choral music which was dramatic and rousing and which involved monks and a medieval theme. He had tried to explain the same to employees in music aisles at various stores, but to no avail. They would look at him, he said, with their eyes rolling, or with a completely blank and uncomprehending stare! He had shopped in vain, not knowing what to look for. Then he mentioned something about “Tuna.” Like a spaceship that finally descends and docks, the answer popped right into my thoughts… “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff! I started typing frenetically and told him that I knew exactly what music he was searching for and that I did, in fact, have two CD’s of that very music. He got very excited. I hopped up out of my chair, retrieved a CD and began typing the description for him. I could feel his joy leap through the computer screen as FINALLY he had found the music he had enjoyed so passionately. He went out the next day to buy himself the CD!
Our conversation then turned to movies. In educating him about South Africa, I described the exquisitely beautiful Jacaranda trees that bloom around October/November in Pretoria and Johannesburg. I told him that these were big trees with gnarled branches and a huge canopy that spread wide, and in spring, would be covered with blueish-purple blossoms. These trees were planted along each side of many avenues in the suburbs. When they grew, they arched overhead and sometimes met sky-high in the middle, creating an archway of trees. When the trees blossomed, you would see a purple canopy that stretched the whole length of the avenue. When the blossoms dropped, it created a purple carpet which popped when stepped upon and which treated one's eyes to the ultimate Painter's creation! My description elicited a response from Jesse about a film called, "What Dreams May Come," starring Robin Williams. It was a sad and poignant film. In the film, there was a painting of such a tree which became an important symbol in the movie - the place where two soul mates met and planned to grow old together. I saw the film and little did I know how sad, ultimately, our relationship would be when it ended so prematurely!
What Dreams May Come
Finally - Meeting for Real
After a year of talking online, we began to discuss meeting one another. The plan took shape and two months later, I found myself on a plane on my first trip overseas. We agreed to meet in Atlanta. He came to the airport to get me. As I emerged from customs, there he stood, all 6’4” of him, feet planted firmly apart with his hands on his hips. He sported sunglasses and I wanted to see the expression in his blue eyes. We were both nervous. Suddenly I got really shy and dipped my head, which won his heart over completely. It was a done deal. As I cleared the last part of customs, he approached me and I hugged him close. He had removed his glasses which made my knees weak and he had to literally hold me up. I discovered that, indeed, there was something truly special about a Texan hug. Then, by talking train to the terminal, we picked up my luggage and he whisked me away to spend two weeks getting to know one another in real life and showed me some of Atlanta. I had gone treasure hunting in Johannesburg before I left, and in an old antique shop, I finally found the perfect gift. It was a glass rendering of a sailing ship, Columbus’ Nina, in a glass bottle. My man was incredibly touched when I presented it to him. Just a few days later, he asked me to marry him. He had considered asking me over the internet, but wanted me to be physically present and he waited. I did not hesitate in my reply.
My tall Texan
I returned home to South Africa, spent a few months wrapping up my affairs, got back on a plane and met my fiancee again in Houston. He was gallant and kind and had bought me an outfit for summer, as I had travelled from midwinter in the southern hemisphere. We had been trying to compare sizes between the two countries over the phone. He had bought a lilac summer top with shoe string straps and a skirt to match, and sandals in the perfect shade. Everything was wrapped in lilac tissue paper and placed in a box secured with matching lilac ribbon. I had stepped into the ladies’ cubicle and tried to figure out how to balance the box, remove my clothes, hang them on the single hook behind the door, and change into the outfit, without touching any other surface. Each time I leaned forward, the toilet would flush (something I was unfamiliar with). I would lurch away from the flushing and try to maintain my balance… I must have been a sight to see lurching backwards and forwards trying not to touch anything. The sandals were too small – I felt like Cinderella’s ugly stepsister trying to squeeze my foot into it … and the skirt was too small also. The only thing that fitted was the shoestring strap top. I wore that, but had to return the other items to the box.
When I finally emerged from the restroom, my man gallantly tried to hide the disappointment which flashed briefly on his face. He picked up my suitcases and strode out of the airport to go to his truck. I stepped out into the air and walked into a veritable wall of heat. My knees buckled and I tried to suck in oxygen. I couldn’t move. He realized that I had stopped and came back to help. I had not experienced heat like that before. It was August and I suddenly realized how different the climate was to Johannesburg. The heat was searing and humid. We got to his truck and I discovered with some alarm that the air-conditioner was not working. Sweat was beading on my forehead and before long, ran down my face, arms and chest. I had never felt such intense heat. I begged for some cold drinks. As soon as he found a gas station, he went in and brought back big bottles of freezing cold coke. I held them to my body to cool down and took long drafts to cool my body from the inside. I peeled off the warm clothes that still clung to me until I could feel the air swirl around me from the open windows and afford some relief (I was decent, I promise!) My husband drove along, giving me long appreciative looks as he drove. It felt so good!
Welcome to Texas
As we drove back to Corpus Christi, we passed acres of cotton fields which had recently been harvested. My man stopped his truck so I could see the cotton firsthand. I stepped outside and found some bolls which had cotton still clinging to the protective woody capsules. I pinched some off and tucked it into my purse. There it remained for a decade. I had read “Gone With the Wind” a number of times and viewed the exquisite and sweeping movie at least a half dozen times too, and with images from the movie flashing through my mind, I realized that I was now in the deep south of America, in proud, independent Texas.
When we arrived at our apartment, I stopped and remarked about a tree, then asked him if he knew what kind of tree it was. He shook his head, so with a grin, I told him it was an elephant tree. He walked around the tree, taking in every detail and memorizing it, trying to figure out why it had that name. I nonchalantly replied…. because it has a trunk! He laughed, fully appreciating my sense of humor and enjoying the twinkle in my eye.
We were married a month later, in a gazebo at a friend’s townhouse complex. It was romantic and beautiful. Now I lay in bed and my thoughts swirled around the beautiful courtship and whirlwind romance that had brought me so far from home into my husband’s comforting arms. He awoke quietly and pulled me to him in a loving embrace. I never knew marriage could feel so sweet, and serenaded by beautiful birdsong, I knew decisively that I had found my other half.
A year or so later, the tree was cut back severely. Gone were the leafy branches and the meeting place for love birds. Gone was the cooling shade and lively bird chatter – the lovely herald of the morning. I missed that tree and was deeply saddened, but over time, new growth sprang up and that tree is even lovelier today – once more a friend to birds, squirrels and humans. Time, however, has unequivocally taken my loved one from me. A month before our sixth anniversary and the same month in which I attended my swearing-in ceremony welcoming me as a new American citizen, my husband suffered a fatal heart attack in the early hours of the morning, while we slept. Shockingly and unexpectedly, he was cut down in his prime, much like that tree. The only growth since that life-changing event has been my emergence as a widow who has learned to stand alone once more and find her strength again, attracting birds and creatures by offering them food and shelter and which come and go, keeping me company as the sun rises and sets each day - rather like the ficus tree.