We’ll always be together, you and I. It’s our destiny. We were together even before we met…
Leonora at age 21, accompanied her parents on a four week tour of Asia .
For the last stop of the tour, they were booked into the new, ultramodern Hong Kong Ambassador Hotel and Leonora awoke early on the first morning and dressed quickly, not wanting to miss a minute of the day. She hurried downstairs but something stopped her in her tracks in the middle of a vast, pillared lobby. “What am I doing here?” she wondered.
Businessmen in fashionable narrow-lapelled suits and tourists laden with cameras rushed towards the revolving doors and the tour buses beyond but Leonora felt as if the world were going through its paces in slow motion. Self-consciously she headed towards a pillar not far from the lifts, drawn there by a mysterious sense of anticipation.
Suddenly the doors of a lift opened and two men, smartly attired and carrying expensive looking briefcases, emerged. The sight of the taller one stunned Leonora and she literally reeled backwards as if she were going to faint, relieved to feel the support of the column behind her. The man looked in her direction, then caught sight of her and their eyes locked momentarily. Leonora felt the sudden rush of blood to her face and suddenly lost her nerve. She abruptly looked away, confused by the intensity of the reaction evoked by this stranger. She could not shake the feeling that there was something significant in this meeting. When she looked up again she saw that he was still looking at her with dancing wide grey eyes. He appeared to be enjoying the situation immensely and was not in the least embarrassed or nervous - or so it appeared. He approached her confidently, smiling broadly with a hand extended, “Mark Wheeler.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. My name is Mark…Mark Wheeler.”
She shook his proffered hand, the blush adding a rose tint to her fair skin.
“Leonora Saccani,” she finally managed to utter, still taken aback by the powerful impact this stranger had upon her. Somehow she felt as though they were destined to meet and sensed she would come to know him intimately. This older man – she came to discover he was 14 years older than she – with the bright smile and the lively eyes seemed to be as drawn to Leonora as she was to him. After a brief moment of silence he asked her to have coffee with him that afternoon.
A ruddy drop of manly blood, The surging sea outweighs; The world uncertain comes and goes, The lover rooted stays.
Secretly hoping that the coffee date would become a dinner date, Leonora enlisted the help of her enthusiastic mother and they set off to go shopping for an outfit suitable for the occasion. She chose a simple body-hugging cream satin dress that emphasized her svelte frame and set her smooth skin off to perfection.
Mark rose as soon as he saw her and smiled appreciatively.
“You look like you would prefer a cocktail.”
“Why did you invite me for coffee then?” she grinned.
“The way you were dressed this morning I wasn’t sure you were old enough to drink.” He responded with a laugh.
“And now?” she responded coquettishly.
“It doesn’t matter…you are undoubtedly a strikingly beautiful woman.”
He seemed so self-assured and at ease that he left her feeling limp with insecurity but after a time conversation became easier for her and she found herself eagerly leaning forward across the table and expounding upon her own opinions in response to his erudite observations about a seemingly endless variety of subjects ranging from the arts and philosophy to the simple pleasures in life.
After dinner they walked for hours up and down narrow alleys, chattering excitedly about all the things they discovered they had in common – among them a love of literature. Now and then he recited long passages of poetry from memory in his rich resonant voice. He was particularly captivated by the rhythm of an Eastern chant: “…one hundred thousand years or so.”
With the easy spontaneity and ebullience of young children, they began to chant the words together, marching to the rhythm…their footsteps making tap tapping sounds on the pavement ”one hundred thousand years or so…,” laughing gaily as they did so.
A sudden sharp gust of wind tugged at the wrap that had been draped across Leonora’s shoulders and Mark’s arm instinctively moved down around her back to stop the wrap from flying off - a serendipitous moment because as she turned, she was taken into his embrace. He kissed her with soft, tender lips and as she responded, more intensely. At that moment both of them knew without doubt that they had caught a glimpse of a love without boundaries, a love that would never end.
And all my days are trances, And all my nightly dreams, Are where thy gray eye glances, And where thy footstep gleams, In what ethereal dances, by what eternal streams.
They spent every available moment after that together but Leonora became painfully aware that she would soon have to leave and her heart lurched every time she thought about the dreaded moment, the moment when she would have to say goodbye to Mark. She had been so certain of a future together but she was suddenly wracked with doubt. They lived so very far apart. Did he feel the same way about her as she did about him? She was almost certain he did but she could not help feeling insecure. They had only just met but she was already so deeply in love she didn't want to think of how life would be without him.
On one of the last evenings they spent together he looked intently into her animated brown eyes with hazel glints of tiger’s eye and whispered “If things were different…and if this should stand the test of time, would you be willing to throw in your lot with mine…for oh, let's say one hundred thousand years or so?”
Leonora didn’t hesitate “Oh yes, definitely yes!!!” and she squealed with unrestrained joy.
The next day they shopped excitedly for wedding bands and had them engraved inside “100 000 years or so…” - their excitement unsullied by any thoughts of the impending separation.
The next day as they said their goodbyes at the Kai Tak airport, Leonora clung to Mark. She wept unashamedly as he wrapped his arms tightly around her, with tears spilling from his own eyes and he promised to work hard, reorganize his schedule and visit her in a few weeks.
Absence extinguishes small passions and increases great ones, as the wind will blow out a candle, and blow in a fire.
He arrived as promised only three weeks after their tearful parting in Hong Kong. Leonora waited expectantly at the airport with a knot of anticipation in her tummy as the plane carrying her beloved taxied down the runway. Her dark hair was tied back in a ponytail and her face, almost devoid of make up, looked youthfully radiant but she could not hide the anxiety she felt and she shifted impatiently from foot to foot. While she waited with growing excitement, she chided herself for wearing old jeans and a t-shirt, thinking she should have dressed for the occasion but this thought evaporated at once when she finally spotted him. She watched his tall frame maneuvering through the throng of passengers, his tanned face serious, creased with a frown of intense concentration as he searched the faces in the crowd of waiting people until her frantic waving finally caught his eye and a wide smile of relief and happiness broke out on his face. The wait for him to move through customs seemed interminable and Leonora began to tremble uncontrollably. She was sure her legs would buckle at any moment. Finally she saw him stride purposefully towards her and in minutes they were once again locked in an embrace.
After their wedding Mark and Leonora were inseparable and spent virtually every moment they could together. Barely a year into their marriage, Leonora fell pregnant and Mark behaved as if he were the first man to have ever fathered a child. His pride could not have been greater and he treated Leonora as if she were as fragile as fine bone china. She would laughingly chide him about his sometimes overbearing protectiveness, assuring him that she was quite capable of carrying out ordinary household duties. Nevertheless, he insisted on molly-coddling her and would rise early every morning before work to prepare breakfast for her, which he would serve with tea on a tray to her in bed. Every day on his return from work, he would present her with a single long stemmed rose and tenderly hold her swollen body close to him, sometimes rubbing her belly and talking to their unborn child about the exciting things they would do together as a family.
Mark had made arrangements to be at home in time for the birth and had taken leave in preparation. Leonora, in spite of her heaviness and growing tiredness, had suddenly launched into a cleaning frenzy. Mark was concerned and tried to assist but was shooed away impatiently, almost ferociously. He handled this with easy equanimity. Besides, his job at this stage was to race off to a store on a whim every time Leonora announced a peculiar and irresistible craving and he was ready for any eventuality.
He was standing at a checkout counter when the pager at his belt bleeped and in his shock he almost dropped the ½ pound of cashew nuts and bag of raisins he was holding. He knew instinctively that the baby was on the way and he leapt into his car and raced home with lights flashing, in his haste hitting a pavement and almost taking out a street sign on a perilous and nerve-wracking drive home.
"Congratulations, you have a daughter!” the Doctor announced as Mark proudly gazed down at his exhausted wife, smoothing strands of damp hair from her face and thinking to himself that she had never looked more beautiful. The squalling infant was placed upon her breasts and Mark in spite of his queasiness cut the cord and then finally released himself to grateful tears. They held each other and their new daughter for hours afterwards gazing at her perfect features in wonderment – this was the tangible product of their union and they both felt completed. They were a family! Their daughter was named Alison after Mark’s mother who sadly had died shortly after their joyous wedding. She had been an impish sprite of a woman with a sharp sense of humour and a lively insouciant manner. Leonora had taken to her immediately and had called her Ali Mom. She was almost as devastated as Mark at her sudden death but they took some comfort in knowing that Mother Alison would have been thrilled at the great honour bestowed upon her. Little Ali, in keeping with her namesake, grew up to be a lively and spirited child. Her dark hair she had inherited from her mother, the wayward curls from her father but the vivid blue eyes were a mystery because they were not in evidence on either side of the family.
“Sure you didn’t have a secret lover?” Mark teased as they proudly watched 8-year-old Ali perform for a ballet production put on by the ballet school she attended. Leonora poked him in the ribs and reminded him of the cleft in his chin, the same dent that decorated their child’s willful determined little chin. “Not unless my secret lover also had a cleft and those strange toes my poor child has inherited from you!”
“Poor child eh?” Mark exclaimed with a grin. “She’s a beauty my girl… Just like her mother!” Leonora planted a kiss on his nose and smiled a charmed smile at her insufferably proud husband. She adored him as much as he adored her and the love between them had not dimmed at all. Nor did it dim in the years that followed, but grew stronger with every passing memorable moment.
They were unable to have other children and so lavished attention and love upon their only child, who in spite of all the attention grew up to become a beautiful, bright, loving and sensitive young woman. No parents could have been prouder than they and both took time to attend every recital, ballet performance and award ceremony, finally attending her graduation from high school, with happy tears flowing down their faces. Ali was accepted into law school, to the complete surprise of both parents. They had expected her to pursue a career in the arts, given her artistic temperament. She determinedly insisted that this was what she wanted to do and Mark and Leonora knew better than to convince her otherwise. Like her late grandmother, Ali was as stubborn as she was tenacious. Her mind was made up! To law school she went and after a rocky start, convinced her skeptics that she was indeed cut out for a career as a criminal lawyer. She poured over her books with intent concentration and Mark who had some experience in business law did his best to assist wherever he could. His mind was as sharp as it ever was and Leonora could only smile as she listened to the two of them argue their respective points. Mark invariably leaned back in his recliner with a wry grin when Ali got the better of him “You are your mother’s daughter indeed!” he would finally state with resignation. Ali knew that this meant she had the upper hand. Mark remained completely devoted to his lovely wife but her sometimes sharp tongue kept him firmly in his place. His easy-going nature a perfect foil for her intense emotionally charged one – no doubt in part attributable to her Italian blood.
I add my breath to your breath that our days may be long on the Earth. That the days of our people may be long, that we shall be as one person, that we may finish our road together.
Theirs was a rare and loving union and although they had a few ups and downs over the years they were blissfully happy.
“What’s your secret?” a friend asked on their 25th wedding anniversary. They had no real answer except that they had been given a rare gift. The gift of true love! Their passion had never cooled and that is what made them special to others as well as to each other. Leonora at 47 retained a youthful glow and her exotic beauty had not faded. Mark had in all that time eyes for no other woman. He, though now gray-haired and starting to show his age, still had the same mischievous twinkle in his clear eyes and a smile that lit up his face. A smile that became all the brighter when he glanced over at his adored wife, which he did often, especially when she was carried away in animated and excited conversation. He loved her vivacity and was not threatened that people were always so drawn to his effervescent, beautiful wife.
Days after their wedding anniversary, Mark, who was rarely ill, complained that his chest hurt.
“You have a spot on your lung, Mark,” Dr. Fuller said gently but directly. “It looks like pneumonia but there is a chance it could be a tumor.” The colour drained from Mark’s face. He would not allow himself to even think of the possibility of cancer but this was a reality he was soon to face. Two weeks later after an exhaustive battery of tests, Mark, holding tightly onto Leonora’s hand faced a specialist who finally delivered the devastating news, “It is cancer. It is evident throughout the chest cavity, in the lymphatic fluid.”
“What does this mean?” asked Leonora with a quivering voice, her trembling hands betraying her fear. Dr. Simon looked at her gravely but not without sympathy, “He has a few months at best. I am sorry!”
In spite of the radiation and the chemotherapy, the medication and the prayers and good wishes of all their friends, the cancer spread out of Mark’s lungs up into his brain and even down into his hips. Leonora stubbornly refused to give up and struggled desperately to find a miracle cure or a Doctor who would save her ailing husband. There were times when Leonora wrote in her journal the things that she could not say to Mark. 'Cancer is so cruel because it has stolen time from us. It’s even made me wish that you would die because seeing you in such agony is more than I can bear.' Even while enduring almost unbearable pain, Mark still expressed his love for Leonora in a way that made her feel cherished, appreciated, and fulfilled in spite of their traumatic and heartbreaking circumstances.
“I don’t want to see you alone when I'm gone.”
“Then don't go. Stay with me.”
Mark looked at Leanora thoughtfully, his face softened by love and tenderness, "I'll send you someone. Someone who will love you as much as I do and ever will."
"I don't want someone else. You're all I've ever wanted and will ever want. Oh Mark, please don't leave me. If you go I will surely die. I can't live without you."
"Yes you will little one and I'll be looking out for you. Don't give up on life when I'm gone. If I could, I'd stay with for a hundred thousand years or more."
"You promised you would."
"I promised I'd be with you for a hundred thousand years or more and that is a promise I will keep. Even when I'm not able to be with you physically, I will be with you in spirit."
She wrapped her arms around his gaunt frame and held him tightly as though afraid to let go. She squeezed a little too hard because Mark winced with pain and she reluctantly released him and watched concernedly as his eyes misted over with drug-induced fatigue. She felt so helpless and all she could do was stroke his forehead gently until he finally fell into a laboured sleep.
Mark decided that the time had come to go to the hospital - a move the couple had resisted. They had wanted to spend as much time together as they possibly could in the home they had built up together and decorated with love and memories. During his six days in the hospital, Leonora never left his side. She slept next to his bed in a reclining chair and during her waking hours, held his hand and whispered loving words to him, constantly telling him how much she loved and adored him and what a perfect husband and father he was. One afternoon at one of her lowest moments, she finally broke down behind the screen in front of the bathroom as their daughter, choked up with emotion, made a faltering effort to say goodbye to her adored father. She heard Ali’s strangled voice telling Mark how much she would miss him. It was all too much and Leonora sobbed “Why? Why?” and then sank slowly and silently to the cold hard floor. Shortly after this, their minister arrived and took one look at Leonora’s pale, drawn face and pulled her aside. He looked intently into her bruised eyes and with a comforting hand resting upon her arm said kindly, “Mark has been completely devoted to you. Don’t you think he might be waiting for your permission to leave?”
With burning tears trailing down her cheeks and an aching heart Leonora took Mark’s large hand in her own and stood by the bed for a long, long time. He was sedated and silent. Eventually after taking a deep shaky breath she began to speak, “I’m here, my darling. I love you more than anything in the world, I always have... from that very first moment... and I always will, but I do not want you to hold on for me any longer. I know it is time to say goodbye. It’s okay for you to leave. Thank you for all the love and joy we’ve shared. Thank you for our beautiful daughter. You’ve always been our shining mirror, showing us the best of ourselves. I will never forget our love and we’ll be together in our hearts for one hundred thousand years or so.”
That night, as Leonora eased her aching and tired body into the nearby chair, her journal clasped tightly between her hands, she felt instinctively that something was different. Mark’s laboured breathing had stopped.
“Mark?” She jumped up, dropped the journal to the floor in her haste, and swiftly moved to his side, the beating of her heart pounding painfully in her temples, her breath caught in her throat.
“Oh sweetheart, have you gone so quickly?” She touched her cheek to his, kissed him and clung to him until the warmth left his body, her tears streaking his face.
Thou art gone from my gaze like a beautiful dream, And I seek thee in vain by the meadow and stream.
After the funeral, Leonora seemed to lose the will to live and there were many times when she felt that she simply could not go on. Only the knowledge that her daughter still needed her kept her from acting on those sometimes desperate thoughts of ending her own life. The funeral and memorial service passed in a blur and she barely reacted to the condolences and good wishes of friends and family. Her appetite disappeared and she became increasingly pale and thin. In spite of her protestations, her mother insisted on moving in with her and taking over the household chores. Bella, Leonora’s elderly mother, a maternal Italian woman became a stalwart through this painful time and quietly went about keeping things in order while Leonora in the clutches of agony, continued to grieve the loss of her soul mate. She felt Mark’s comforting presence often in the excruciatingly painful days and weeks that followed his death. It was almost as if death had not severed the strong deep bond between them. She wrote many letters to him in her journal, pouring out her pain in every word. How I miss you Mark. How will my life continue without you? I am so grateful you are not suffering anymore but I am still so filled with longing and I don’t know how to ease the pain. I miss you so much my love! At her lowest points, Leonora seemed to tangibly feel Mark’s presence and she spoke to him as though he were still there. Friends and family became concerned that she was in a state of denial over his death but she insisted that this could not be so saying “How can I be in a state of denial if the grief I feel is so real, so powerful, on occasion more than I can stand?”
Beyond this vale of tears, There is a life above, Unmeasured by the flight of years; And all that life is love..
Leonora struggled to adjust to a life without the man who had not only been her husband and soul mate but also her best friend. The home they shared and their treasured possessions all became painful reminders of the many joyful moments they had shared and she finally sold up and moved into a smaller two-bedroomed apartment with a spectacular view of the ocean. Decorating the apartment helped a little to ease the unrelenting and all-pervasive grief a little and she threw herself into this task with determined gusto. She would still find herself speaking to Mark but the dreadful sense of loss and emptiness was slowly easing. She was now able to recall memories without feeling as though her heart had been ripped out and her pillow that had been soaked with tears every night, remained dry for increasingly longer periods. There were times when the pain would return with a vengeance but these were less frequent and she started to feel the faint stirrings of hope. The future became less of a frightening prospect and she tentatively ventured out more with friends. Finally she found a job in a busy marketing firm and this gave her the incentive she needed to face the world again.
Eighteen months later, Leonora finally seemed more balanced after the tumultuous emotions that had rocked her in the early stages of her bereavement. She hosted a work meeting one morning and knowing how people can feel awkward around someone bereaved she tried to put them at ease.
“I’m actually enjoying my solitude so much now, the first man who looks at me with the idea of a romantic relationship may just become the victim of an axe murder!” she joked.
After the meeting a playful voice behind her asked, “I like to take risks. Dare I ask if you will go out with me?”
She spun around and looked into the bright blue eyes of a stranger and then raised her arms and waved them as though she were wielding an axe. He ducked down playfully and laughed a deep throaty laugh.
Life and death, a twisted vine sharing a single root. A water bright green stretching to top a twisted yellow only to wither itself as another green unfolds overhead. One leaf atop another yet under the next; a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls all in the act of becoming.
Weeks later, on a bright incandescent Saturday afternoon, Leonora went to a picnic she had been invited to by colleagues from work. Before she left she suddenly got an irresistible urge to buy a squirt gun. Laughing at her own silliness, she went into a toy store and bought one. How long it had been since she had done anything so impulsive and frivolous? Too long!
At the picnic held in a beautiful park with immaculate rolling green lawns and huge shady trees, she squirted a number of people mischievously when they weren’t looking but their reactions were not quite as playful as she had expected. As if on cue, she saw Paul, the widower who, right after her recent axe murder threat, had jokingly asked her to go out with him. She ducked behind a tree and as he walked past squirted him too, but his reaction was quite different to that of the others.
“Oh….really?” he said when he spotted Leonora.
Galvanized into action by his mock-vengeful look she sprinted away. Paul gave chase and they streaked shrieking and laughing past all the picnickers before he caught up with her. Then he grasped her and wrestled the gun from her hands and squirted her right back in the face! She gasped as the jet of water hit her in the eye and dribbled down her face, streaking mascara upon her cheek. Suddenly concerned about the damage he had done her make up Paul said, “Aw, I’m sorry beautiful. Here, come with me.”
Each new friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
He led her to a nearby water fountain where she washed her face and he set about refilling the squirt gun. Handing it back to her he asked cheekily “I know a romantic relationship with you is out of the question because I value my life but will you at least have dinner with me as a friend?”
Leonora smilingly declined the invitation but in the weeks following, Paul seemed to pop up unexpectedly all over the place and they soon became closer. After a time and a few casual dates Paul invited Leonora to his home for dinner. He barbecued fish on the patio; served it with baked potato but forgot about rolls he had been warming in the oven. Leonora laughed at his efforts to remove the charred rolls from the oven, while hopping about yelping as they burnt his fingers. He finally deposited the blackened remains in the bin and looked sheepishly at Leonora and suggested they take a walk on the beach around the Island.
They quietly walked together enjoying the redolence of the ocean breeze and the sounds and sights of a perfectly clear star-filled night. A silver moon softly illuminated their features and glittered on the ripples of the ocean. Paul reached out and clasped Leonora’s hand. Their fingers interlocked and it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world. His large, masculine hand was strangely reminiscent of Mark’s and she took quiet comfort in this, drifting in a reverie of her own thoughts and memories. Paul strolled comfortably at her side without saying a word smiling down at her, lost so deeply in thought. It was as if he knew instinctively what she needed.
I have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams.
The following weekend, they were walking towards a Bistro where they were going to have lunch when Paul suddenly tossed a few coins onto the pavement. “Why did you do that?” Leonora asked bewildered. He could not have had any idea of Mark’s habit of dropping coins to send luck to others. Physically Mark and Paul were different but so many of Paul’s personality traits were strangely familiar and he reminded Leonora so much of Mark. She became more and more drawn to him and they spent every moment they could together during the following week and on the weekend Paul took her flying in his plane, with the promise of a surprise for her. Finally they circled and landed in a tiny airport in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada range. He had reserved rooms at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel.
That night Leonora took a long time getting ready for dinner. She put on a white organza blouse and a fashionably chic black skirt from Paris, piled her hair up and secured it with pins. After a last critical look in a mirror, to check her appearance, she picked up her handbag to go downstairs to meet Paul at the hotel restaurant. As she was waiting at the lift, she allowed her thoughts to drift to the time, so many years ago, when she had met Mark. More than two years had passed since his death and although she could now think about him without aching inside, her love for him had not diminished. With a sudden jolt of realization she remembered his words to her days before his death and she wondered if Paul was the man Mark had sent to her side. Initially the attraction for Paul had been based on his similarity to Mark but she had come to see his own unique characteristics and value these, seeing him as an individual to be admired and loved in his own right. Most of all she enjoyed his playfulness and his ability to make her laugh. He was always full of surprises and although he teased her mercilessly at times with a boyish impishness, he was also charming and romantic as well as being caring and sensitive. The impossible had happened. She had fallen in love again. Her eyes sparkled as she finally emerged from the lift to be met by Paul, looking dashing and handsome, his thick usually unruly hair combed and his beard neatly trimmed. His blue eyes seemed dark and fathomless that night and he was uncharacteristically pensive as he steered her gently with a protective hand at her elbow to their table in a secluded part of the restaurant.
At dinner Paul reached for her hand “Leonora, what I love about our relationship is…” He faltered. The waiter arrived, with the first course. He began again, picking up where he left off. What followed through three more courses was like a carefully rehearsed speech. He told her earnestly with heartfelt sincerity, in spite of his obvious nervousness, how much he loved her and how he believed they had been brought together. He continued to tell her how much their relationship meant to him and how happy she had made him. When the desserts arrived he took both of her hands in his and looked into her eyes with tears glistening in his own “So…will you marry me...I mean, please will you marry me?” Leonora, who had remained silent throughout his ‘speech’, was flooded with the absolute rightness of what was happening, just as 27 years earlier she had known marrying Mark was the right thing to do.
Mark, I know you can hear me. Thank you for sending Paul to me. I know that he is what you would have chosen for me. I love him so much but I will never stop loving you…for one hundred thousand years or so …
“I would love to marry you!” she whispered with tears now spilling from her own luminous love-filled eyes and a smile playing upon her lips.
In her mind’s eye she could clearly see Mark’s gray eyes and beloved face smiling his approval and she silently and gratefully offered up a prayer of thanks…
Soft and drowsy hours are creeping, Hill and dale in slumber sleeping. Love alone his watch is keeping All through the night.