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A. J. Garrotto
Libby O'Neill discovers the healing power of love under the most unlikely circumstances, with a most unlikely partner. A moving Valentine's Day story set among San Francisco's gracefully restored Victorian homes.
Libby O’Neill (28) contemplates the events that brought her and her husband thousands of miles from her beloved San Francisco to a tiny Caribbean island she now calls home. As she relates to her unborn child the story of how their family came to be, her thoughts are of art and the healing power of love.
Libby faced bankruptcy after being abandoned and robbed by her fiancé-business partner in Liberty Restorations. In desperation she hired a half-demented street person, known only as Painter, to help her complete a Victorian restoration that would save her from ruin. As work progressed, Libby discovered a surprising reserve of wisdom in her new assistant. The restoration of the grand nineteenth century house paralleled the transformation both Libby and Painter experienced, as individuals and, in time, with each other. Their relationship took a major turn when Libby learned that her hired hand was the renowned Caribbean artist Rafael Angélico, missing since he walked away from fame and wealth, which had spiraled into drugs, narcissism, and self-loathing.
Could the mutual healing they had just begun survive Painter's revealed identity? Or were they each too broken to put their lives together and become whole? Resolution arrived when Libby and Rafael acknowledged love and mutual need as the healing balm of their resurrection.
In the morning when I awake, I stretch my hands over my expanding belly, measuring the widening distance between my fingertips. I feel you move within me and I speak your name. Tobías. We'll call you Toby. How different your childhood will be than mine, lived in cramped quarters on heavily trafficked, windswept streets of one of the world’s great commercial and tourist centers.
I've stepped back generations in time into an unfamiliar culture to live among a people I long to understand and become part of. I perch here free as a seabird, gazing out from the uneven flagstone terrace of our new home. My eyes feast on the South Caribbean's turquoise expanse while, at my feet, the serene Santa Magdalena shoreline stretches left and right. My lips taste the salty breeze which invites me to open my silk robe and let the mild, humid air slip across my swollen abdomen like your father's gentle hands in the night. My senses fine tune to island sounds and tropical fragrances having no particular point of origin. The melodies and scents of happiness, I call them.
The waves await their turn to tumble shoreward with the rush of a première danseur leaping across a broad stage. Their sudsy fingers claw at the white-sand beach before returning to rest in deeper water before making another run at the shore.
With golden sunlight filtering through my closed eyelids, I marvel that healing and new life have replaced my vow of a year ago, never to trust another man as long as I possessed sound mental and emotional faculties. Healing. No other word describes our experience. I inhale . . . heal . . . caressing the silent sound and exhale . . . ing. My spirit breathes its gentle rhythm. The cadence anoints me with its sacred oil. You, Toby, are its fruit, its prize and celebration.
Your father's restoration during this time has been even more unlikely than my own. Scarred men and women--children too--pilgrimage to the world's designated holy places praying for renewal of body and soul. Our miracle happened in the City of St. Francis. Quite by chance, if one believes in coincidence. I don't, not any more.
On the turbulent SFO-to-Miami flight, I read Message In a Bottle. Garrett Blake's love letters to his deceased wife brought such sadness to my heart that I exhausted my supply of tissues and soaked your father's handkerchief. When the book ended, I napped, head resting on his shoulder. I dreamed of sea-tossed bottles and sealed-in treasures. I remember saying to someone in my dream, "We're all corked bottles, each with our deepest truths sealed inside."
We devoted our first days on the island to patching the frayed cloth of your father's relationship with your grandparents. Amid tears and laughter, the principals of that divided trinity have let go of old hurts and reknit bonds of love like fragments of shattered bone. I've fallen in love with these good people who welcomed their prodigal home without question, if not without the lingering pain of his leaving them. They have drawn me, a stranger and foreigner not-yet fluent in their language, to their bosoms with such open-hearted hospitality that I have vowed to model my parenting after their example.
A local real estate broker found us this furnished beachfront mansion that belonged to international recording star Eduardo Colón whose name is spoken with reverence on this island.
"The only item Señor Colón and his new bride took with them to Paris was the grand piano," the broker told us. Minus the massive instrument, the conservatory looks like a glassed-in ballroom. You'll love playing in it. Why the Colóns left everything is a mystery to me. Did some tragedy scar the tables, chairs, beds, and mirrors, sending the newlyweds in pursuit of fresh dreams far from home? If so, I identify with their need.
It will take me years to integrate the events that brought me to this place. I began this year in despair, facing bankruptcy. Can it now be true that every brick and nail and pane of glass in this villa estate belongs to us, paid for in cash? The deck I stand on? The spacious bedroom in which we sleep? The broad pool we swam in last evening and made love in the night before? If you've paid attention, you'll come into the world knowing all about the birds and bees. What a relief that will be to your father.
Okay, Toby. That was a certifiable kick.
I'm your bottle, aren't I? Impenetrable green, like a liter of rich red wine. You, the unreadable message. Are you running out of patience with the sealed safety of my womb? Are you ready to embark on the adventure we earthlings call Life? I want to know you, learn your deepest desires, discover what makes you happy and sad. How I'd love to fast-forward, to see how you'll fulfill your destiny.
I'm an impatient woman but I'd rather walk that unpredictable road with you, each day marking a single step along your life-path. I'll thrill with your every new discovery, rejoice in the measured unfolding of your inner spirit. Will the stories you tell your children come close to matching the ones we'll tell you on nights when tropical storms lash at the windows testing the endurance of our house? I can’t bear the thought of you suffering, of ever losing your way as we did.
Two mourning doves just landed on the fountain in the corner of the terrace. I wish you could see how the jacaranda trees have spread a soft lavender welcome mat for them. These loving creatures remind me of a TV show in the States about divine messengers with the mission to heal the wounded, restore sight to those blind in spirit. If there's one thing your mom knows about, Toby, it's angels. I have two of my own. Let me tell you the miracle story of how our little family came to be.