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Tag Archives: romantic non-fiction

Battling the bureaucrats.

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The passage of true love never runs smoothly. Somebody clever said something like that once, I’m sure.

They weren’t kidding.

Money was always going to be a problem, especially since The Idiot hadn’t coughed up the requisite amount of cash for Her severance. So She set about selling Her life.

To make up the difference, Her plan was to sell Her huge, handmade wooden sleigh bed, bought only a year earlier for $4000, also the car would have to go, along with as many of their belongings as She could sell in a series of garage sales. I kept Her company during those long afternoons sorting through the accumulated memories and acquisitions of a lifetime, deciding which few possessions would be coming with them on the plane and which would need to go into storage until we could afford to send for them.

I chatted to Her on Skype video, occasionally making futile attempts to charm customers into spending more money, or present myself as the romantic English boyfriend, come to sweep this American beauty off Her feet. Playing the heartstrings for profit, so to speak.

And all this time we were doing research; scouring government and UKBA (UK Border Agency) websites, visa advice specialists, immigration consultants (including a nice lady called Nikki, who gave me lots of free advice and links to all the approved Home Office resources that we would need to make a successful application for a “fiancee” or Family Settlement visa) and generally making sure we did absolutely everything completely by the book.

We spent hour after hour surfing the net whilst chatting on Skype, both of us looking into the bewildering selection of rules, regulations and qualifying criteria required by the faceless bureaucrats who presume to decide whether people in love get to spend their lives together. It was like dealing with something out of a Kafka play, crossed with one of the ministries of misinformation from 1984.

To say they make it complicated is a massive understatement.

It did occur to me to lead you through the entire torturous process, an attempt to instill in you the same primal horror of labyrinthine officialdom that I now experience when faced with yet another form to fill in or even more documents to find, but apart from the sheer amount of typing it would involve, it would make very dull reading. Suffice to say I wouldn’t want to do it twice.

Basically the plan (as dictated by the serried ranks of the Home Office and UKBA) was this:

– I would send Her the documents to show my suitability as a “sponsor”, consisting of payslips, bank statements, evidence of suitable accommodation for the three of us, my passport and proof of booking a wedding date at a registry office.

– She would print off and fill in the reams of official forms from their website and gather the various passports, birth certificates, medical histories and divorce papers needed to satiate the monster’s appetite for documentation.

– Finally, one day only a month later, She would travel to Chicago and get an appointment at the British embassy. There, She would hand over the mountain of paperwork and have a short interview. After that, it was a matter of killing a few hours in the Windy City before returning to the embassy to collect their visas that same afternoon.

What could be simpler than that?

As it turned out, practically everything.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. At this point She is still out of a job, about to get evicted, trying to sell almost everything She owns and without medical insurance. Hardly the best time for Her fibromyalgia to suddenly flare up then. Not that there is a good time.

It was very frightening.

It began with Her complaining of a stiff neck, then within a few minutes She said that it hurt to even curl Her toes or turn Her head. Straight away I knew this wasn’t right, She never made a fuss about the pain She experienced on a daily basis, so if it could etch lines of agony into the face that I loved in such a short space of time it was obviously serious.

A friend arrived and rushed Her to a local walk-in clinic where She had to sit and endure the pain for more than two hours before being seen by doctors, who immediately put Her on a steroid drip and pumped Her full of painkillers, the steroids almost instantly starting to alleviate the symptoms and allowing Her to return home that evening.

It brought it home to us how much this was affecting us (fibro attacks are often exacerbated by stress and that’s probably what set this one off) and I’m very grateful it wasn’t more serious and that She recovered quickly.

But if we thought the stress was over then we needed to think again, the worst was yet to come.

 

All cried out.

true romanticIt was as if a huge chunk of my insides had been torn out.

Much of my lonely journey home from our glorious holiday was spent on a tearful phone call with my long-suffering sister, snivelling my self-pity and hands free, broken-hearted pain as I headed back down the motorway and She flew back across the Atlantic. When I arrived home to my shared house, my room seemed more empty and silent than usual, even though She had never been there. I unpacked in a daze, acutely conscious that She was out of contact, by now on the nine hour flight to Chicago, her last stopover before flying home to Michigan.

It wasn’t until that evening that I managed to snatch a few precious minutes with Her as She waited for Her plane to board and by then I felt as drained as She looked. It was wonderful to see Her again, just the sight of Her tired smile lifted my spirits in a way I’d never have thought possible only moments before. But even then I was getting the sinking feeling that this is all that’s left now, after the joy of the last all-too-brief few days in Her presence it already didn’t seem enough.

She called as soon as She arrived at the local airport to let me know She was home safely and then I sat in miserable limbo until well after midnight before She finally called again, exhausted but delighted to be reunited with Her daughter, to say…well, what was there to say but, “I love you. I miss you. Goodnight my darling.” and then the connection broke, along with one more piece of my heart. 

This was going to be a lot harder than I had ever imagined.

Returning to work the following morning was supposed to be a welcome distraction, at least during the day, from the ache of missing Her, but it was not to be.

The first song playing on the radio when I walked in? Supertramp’s Breakfast In America, its cheery refrain of “Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I’ve got” nearly proving too much for my frazzled emotions and I only narrowly avoided bursting into tears there and then.

And as if that wasn’t enough, barely two hours into the first day back, my wrist made a horrible little crunch noise and a bolt of pain shot up my arm. It immediately became obvious that I’d once again aggravated an ongoing tendon injury and I was subsequently signed off work by the doctor for a month with suspected carpal tunnel syndrome, pending tests and possibly surgery. 

The only upside of this was that I was now free to chat to Her for as long as She’d have me, which turned out to be for as many spare moments either of us had in any given day. I wasn’t the only one feeling the distance now, it seemed.

We fell into a daily rhythm for that whole time, starting with me joining Her as She had Her morning coffee in Michigan, sitting out on the patio, listening to the birds clearing their throats for the big opening number. We’d chat as the sun, high overhead here, slowly broke free of the darkness and made skeletal silhouettes of the tall trees in the wooded valley behind Her house and then I’d chat with Her daughter while the two of them waited for the school bus. I was already getting to know and become fond of this bright and charming little girl, with whom I was by now regularly having lively, funny and sometimes hysterically nonsensical conversations and who was apparently very keen on the idea of starting a new life in England.

Oh yes, I forgot to mention, what with all the crying, angst and heartbreak; we now knew without a single doubt that we could not live without each other and had set plans in motion for Her to move here at the earliest opportunity.

So that we could get married.

Summer of love.

true romantic It’s amazing how quickly you can get to know someone isn’t it?

I learned all I needed to know about Her in the first few seconds She spent in my arms. Knowing from the moment our eyes met, as She looked up at me after that long-anticipated, fierce embrace at the arrivals gate, that here in this anonymous airport lounge was where I had finally found the One that completed me.

We see people in situations like this all the time, emotional little family groups, seemingly oblivious to the ebb and flow of other travellers around them, welcoming or waving off friends and loved ones at railway stations, airports and bus terminals everywhere. We may smile, seeing their happiness at being reunited, or feel their sadness in taking leave of family, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer relief I felt as I picked up Her suitcase, took Her hand and, glancing down at her every few seconds to check she was actually real, walked on air back to the car.

In this dreamlike state, marvelling at how natural and right this all felt, I managed to make it to the car and get Her luggage in the boot before I had to take Her in my arms again, feeling any lingering traces of stress from the last few days drain out of me and finally allowing myself to believe that She was here and it had all come true.

Even so, the whole journey back to the holiday park found the pair of us continually reaching for the other’s hand or simply taking reassurance in the occasional smiling glance that after all this time we were together.

She had come home.

We arrived at the chalet in beautiful sunshine and carried the cases inside, after which I can only assume we spent an eternity staring into each other’s eyes in wonderment, holding one another close and feeling the electricity of those first kisses. But as time has clearly moved on since then, it can only have been minutes, or maybe hours, until we could relinquish the hold we had on each other so that I could make a coffee and She could take a shower. To say I was happy would not even begin to cover how I felt.

She came out of the bathroom in Her robe looking fresh and beautiful and walked straight back into my arms…

That evening after dinner we took a stroll around the park, sitting on a bench by the lake completely lost in a world of our own, before returning to the sanctuary of our chalet and, by the time She fell asleep in my arms in the early hours of the next morning, we hadn’t been more than ten feet apart since She walked off the plane twelve hours earlier.

That holiday will stay with me forever. The endless hours spent just talking, gazing, touching, being together, just that alone would have been enough for me. But there was also a trip to the historic city of Bath, visits to a pub in Clevedon called The Moon and Sixpence that we adopted as our own, walks along the pier and, best of all, the opportunity to introduce Her to an old friend who was on holiday nearby.

We met up with him and his girlfriend at their campsite on Salisbury plain and in no time at all She had enchanted them with the same easy smile, charm and grace which had captured my heart from far across the Atlantic and I loved every minute of it. Watching Her talk and laugh with my friends gave me a feeling I can barely even begin to describe, other than to say that if I’d been any happier I think I may have just exploded.

Not only was it apparent that She was as besotted with me as I was with Her, it soon became obvious that She loved England’s countryside, history and architecture too, taking dozens of photographs to post on Facebook for Her envious friends back home.

One of Her status updates read:

“Three things I’m sure of; 1) I love this man. 2) I’ve fallen deeply in love with this country. 3) I will never comprehend roundabouts.”

Well, two out of three will do me for now.

Every day was a new delight for that brief summer of love. Waking up next to the woman who I had fallen so deeply in love with from such a distance was a luxury that seemed quite literally too good to be true. Of course that would soon be exactly the case, and I wasn’t the only one who realised it.

Another of Her Facebook entries said simply;

“Starting to feel the stranglehold of time”

For the final two days there was occasionally a melancholy between us that would manifest itself in the shedding of a quiet tear, in the extra intensity of an embrace, or in my reluctance to release the tight hold on Her hand whilst walking around the lake. We were both painfully aware that our bubble of happiness was about to burst.

She had to check in for Her flight at five in the morning so all Her packing was done on the final night (I would return to pack my stuff before driving home) and I can honestly say that I awoke that day to two of the most heart-breaking hours of my life. I cried for the entire journey to the airport, clinging to Her desperately outside the entrance, looking down into those stunning blue eyes for what seemed like the last time. I watched Her disappear through security and walked numbly to the car, where I sat and sobbed like a baby until I was utterly drained of all the joy I’d felt only days before.

It seemed so incredibly unfair. I’d finally found someone who was perfect for me, who loved me as intensely and joyfully as I loved them and now, after having confirmed every instinct and experienced that overwhelming love in person, having Her wrenched out of my life so brutally was a pain that was almost physical. I felt empty.

As I left the holiday park a couple of hours later She rang from Brussels airport, where Her flight changed for the long-haul to Chicago, using up Her thirty minutes of free Wi-Fi allowance to speak to me. We were so emotional that I think we both cried for the entire call and I remember shouting with a desperation that surprised me; “Find someone to talk to on the plane and tell them there is a man here who loves you to the moon and back!”

Then the fragile connection broke and She disappeared out of my life once more.

The waiting game.

true romantic Once the countdown began, it was all I could think of.

Have you ever had a long wait for something you wanted so badly it hurt? Have you spent minutes, hours, days and weeks in anticipation of some event in your future that only became more distant the faster you chased it?

If so, then you know how I felt for the next few weeks.

That strange, bipolar rollercoaster of emotional turmoil took me on a ride like no other I’d ever experienced; one minute I was deliriously happy, almost exploding with delight at the thought of Her coming here to spend time with me, the next I was getting upset over something as innocuous as Her having to work on my day off, or the fact that She was going to see a concert with friends that I should be taking Her toor that perennial favourite, a failing internet signal, rendering the gigantic expanse of the Atlantic ocean an unbridgeable obstacle to our happiness.

The closer it came to Her arrival, the slower the time seemed to pass, until the best way to think about it was “if only the days we spend together take as long to pass as the days I have to wait before she arrives”,  because otherwise I would have gone completely mad.

Not that we didn’t have things to occupy our attention during the whole torturous process of course; we had to organise the flights, check out currency exchange rates, book time off work, sort out accommodation and places to visit, and also arrange for Her daughter to stay with friends, as she wouldn’t be coming on this trip. All the usual things you normally do when planning a holiday together in fact. But doing it all from several thousand miles apart, that was the challenge. Searching the internet for last minute deals is all very well if you’re going to book something there and then, but if you have to wait for the planet to revolve around the sun for another five hours before your partner even wakes up, snap decisions become slightly problematic.

Nevertheless we managed to reach agreement on a place to stay, a quiet holiday park just outside Clevedon in Somerset (She would fly into Bristol airport so it made sense to find somewhere that was close by) and She booked Her flight for the beginning of August. We would have ten full days together.

The day She left home for Her twenty four hour journey across the timezones was one of the most exciting of my life at that point. I followed Her entire day, from when She left the local airport to fly to Chicago, from where She would take an overnight flight that would land in Ireland as I got up the next day, the final leg taking Her to Bristol by air as I was traveling there by road.

I had enough time in hand to go to the holiday park first, filling up the fridge, unpacking, airing out the chalet and placing a bowl of flowers on the table (oh ok, it was a cut-down screenwash bottle from my car full of flowers, the chalet neglecting to provide a vase for the romantically inclined) before heading to the airport with a whole swarm of butterflies in my stomach.

Standing in the concourse with my eyes locked on the doors to the small arrivals gate, I still couldn’t help thinking this was all some kind of fantasy, that I’d wake up any minute and it would all fade from my mind, the events of the past few weeks having been condensed with dreamlike efficiency into those drowsy moments before awakening, only to dissipate in the cold light of day.

Then She walked through the doors.

The next minute She was in my arms.

I looked down into her stunning blue eyes.

I knew for absolute certainty at that precise moment.

This was coming home.  This was meant to be.

First flush.

image The second the words were out of my mouth I knew them to be true.

 

Every time I tasted that tiny/huge phrase on my tongue it was with a sense of wonder, as if each whispered “I love you”  murmured token of devotion, was uttered for the very first time. As if, by continually revisiting that revelatory moment, I could somehow rediscover the spark that had ignited the fires of emotion, previously smouldering unseen, beneath the surface of our relationship.

And that wasn’t the most extraordinary thing either. The most amazing thing, the most incredible, unbelievable and downright wonderful thing of all was that She felt exactly the same

Call it Fate, call it Destiny, call it whatever you like, but of the seven billion people on the planet, and of them, the millions upon millions of people who make transient, casual and fleeting friendships on social media every day, we had found each other. The Universe was indeed looking after us.

From that point on it was essential that I spoke to Her everyday without fail, otherwise I’d get twitchy and irritable, experiencing mild feelings of panic whenever the fragile electronic thread that connected us snapped, leaving me floundering in frantic limbo until Her voice came back to me across the ether. And soon even that wasn’t enough. Before long I had a continual urge to see Her too, Her soft, soothing tones no longer sufficient to still the need in me for Her company. Now, only the chance to gaze deep into her eyes would feed my addiction.

This was the time that we really began learning about each other. Chatting long into the night at weekends, when I could alleviate the inconvenience of living in a different timezone by staying up late and then sleeping in, so I could get up and have breakfast with Her and Her daughter, spend my day with Her and feel more connected to Her life.

The more I discovered about Her, the more I was in awe of Her strength of character and determination. The wish she had for Her daughter to have a better start in life than She’d had; the way She coped with the hardship that She so often casually shrugged (It was during these initial, cautious forays into each other’s lives that She told me She suffered from fibromyalgia, a condition that causes constant pain in the nerves. Yet despite this, She remains positive and upbeat, with a quiet dignity that never fails to astound me) and the serenity and calm She conferred on me, no matter how stressed or miserable I was about the vast distance that separated us, enchants me to this day.

Little did I know it, but She was feeling the distance just as keenly as I. This became apparent on the day She took Her turn to make my heart stop, when She casually said to me that She was thinking of coming over to see me, as She had been planning on having a vacation somewhere on Her own anyway.

I didn’t know what to say. I’d never had a woman do anything like that for me before (as I saw it then) and it stunned me. That She would travel all those thousands of miles to be with me, it was an overwhelming feeling that I was unused to and it made me even more certain of the rightness of the emotion She had awakened in me.

I think it’s safe to say, that was the beginning of the longest countdown, the most agonising wait, the worst, sweetest torture I think I’ve ever experienced. Not only would I have to put up with the slow passing of time until She arrived, but also at the back of my mind was the thought of how I’d feel when She eventually returned home. How would I cope with being separated once more from the woman I loved so deeply, after having finally met and then only being together for such a brief time?

The next couple of months were to be an increasingly exciting time, spending almost all my spare time chatting to Her on one virtual platform or another, learning more about each other every day, falling more and more deeply in love and generally feeling like a sixteen year old again.

Being in love with being in love.

 

Calling long distance.

true romanticIs there such a thing as love at first hearing?

Is it possible that, like the “eyes across a crowded room” scenario, just the sound of someone’s voice can ignite that spark of affection, that chain reaction which leads the incomplete heart to recognise its other half?

Because I cannot think of any other explanation for the inability to breathe properly, the idiot grin spreading across my face, or the sudden urge to tell this woman everything about myself.

That first day, the first time we spoke with the knowledge that this wasn’t just any conversation but the beginning of something more, I honestly never suspected that it would turn into anything more than a deeper friendship. After all, She was thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, it hardly seemed likely that we’d ever get to meet, let alone fall in love.

It’s so nice to be wrong occasionally.

Sitting at the side of that quiet country road, talking to Her about nothing very much, just revelling in being with Her, I felt a connection that almost shocked me, a feeling that we had known each other for far longer than the two and a half years of virtual friendship that our relationship amounted to at that point. It really did feel like we’d simply been briefly separated for some reason and She’d just got back in touch after spending time away.

Shaking myself free of my enchanted daze, I finally got around to driving home, all the while listening to Her tell me things about Her life that I wouldn’t expect to hear from any but the most intimate friends. She told me about a childhood that had left Her cautious and unsure about forming meaningful relationships, about the powerful love She had for Her children and about Her work in the residential care of adults with developmental problems. The more I listened, the more extraordinary I found this bright, funny and yet at the same time, serene and quietly spoken woman, and when I thanked Her for trusting me with so much of Her personal life story She only confirmed what I had known since She had picked up the phone…

…that there was a connection here that we could both feel, one which seemed to make the mere social conventions of conversational inhibition a pointless and trivial thing, something reserved for those poor folks who weren’t already sure that they needed this other person to know everything about them as soon as possible.

By the time I got home I was completely hooked.

One of the wonderful things about the internet is the amount of free communication it allows and we took full advantage of that over the next few days, talking for hours via Facebook’s free phone call service and, better still, on Skype video call, when I would find myself gazing into Her eyes for what seemed like ages, before realising I hadn’t said anything for minutes at a time. Although since She seemed just as happy with this habit of ours of silently mooning over each other, I didn’t feel in the least bit awkward or embarrassed at having suddenly become a hopelessly mushy romantic.

Whenever the little chat icon appeared on my phone I would feel my heart skip a beat and my breath quicken, whenever She commented on a post I would instantly check to see what She’d said, knowing I would agree with whatever She said.

And if my phone actually rang, well that was the pinnacle, the joy of joys, the drop-everything-stop-what-you’re-doing-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-two-hundred-pounds emergency situation.

Yes, I had it bad.

But it wasn’t until after a couple of weeks of this virtual flirting and cyber courting had made it clear to me that this wasn’t the “just for fun” situation that either of us had envisaged that I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

A friend from South Africa, another blogger who I had known for a couple of years online, was having to listen to me telling her how wonderful She was for probably the tenth time when she suddenly asked me;

“So, do you love Her?”

What sort of question is that?

How should I know? I’ve never even met the woman for goodness sake!

You can’t fall in love on the internet, that’s just a movie cliché. Isn’t it..?

 But I knew. I’d known for a while.

“You know what, I think I do”

 

I was blind (but now I see).

true romanticOh my, those eyes… How on Earth had I not noticed Her eyes?

Here I was, gazing into the most incredible, piercing, luminous ice blue eyes I’d ever seen, whilst the whole time my treacherous subconscious was trying to reconcile words like “wholesome”, “homely” and “maternal” (terms that, had I thought about it, I would have probably used to describe Her up to this point in our friendship) with a woman who I could clearly, suddenly see, with something akin to a revelation, should be described as “pretty”, “striking”, “stunning”, or just plain “beautiful”.

You know those optical illusions that you stare at for ages, trying to see the two faces, or the vase between the two candlesticks, until it miraculously resolves itself, leaving you unable to ever again see it the way it was before? Well, it was like that. One minute I was looking at a photo of someone I’d seen dozens of pictures of on Facebook over the last couple of years or so, when all of a sudden it was as though I could see a totally different person, someone who seemed to be lit from within by a light which bordered on intense.

I actually found myself scrolling back through Her photo albums, searching for a sign that I was mistaken, that this was some sort of aberration, a trick of the light, something that would explain this extraordinary vision. But no, as I studied the pictures on the small screen before me, it may as well have been the very first time. 

“Now I know for sure that I’ve seen this picture before, but….She’s gorgeous, how did I not see that..?”

Picture after picture, the same amazed, almost visceral reaction. Disbelief, mixed with a slightly nervous feeling of “something is happening here”.

Me – You have the most extraordinary eyes.

Her – Thank you, I’m glad you think so. I always wanted brown eyes, blue is so ordinary.

Me – Brown? Are you mad?! Your eyes are absolutely beautiful, I’ve never seen anything like them.

Her – I’ve always thought you have beautiful eyes.

There it was.

A definite trip in my heartbeat.

A certain sudden dryness to the mouth.

I realised I should probably start breathing again.

A sensation of…what? Excitement? Anticipation? Dare I say Attraction?

We continued to chat. I continued to experience this…thrill, that is the only word for it, that shivered through me each time that little message icon appeared, and then She said something that I’m sure I will never, ever forget;

“I’ve been crushing on you for a while.”

Wait,..what?

That can’t be right, she didn’t just say she fancied me, not just the very second I’ve realised how gorgeous she is?

Me – Really? I don’t know what to say, I’m flattered.

Her – I wouldn’t have said anything before, because you were with somebody else.

……Long Pause…..

Me – I don’t suppose (gulp)  that you fancy having an online boyfriend do you?  (then, hurriedly) You know, just for fun….

Her – That would be wonderful! And what would having an online boyfriend entail exactly..?

As simple as that.

The rest of the afternoon we spent chatting on messenger. I felt like a teenager again, like I was walking on air, having to repress an idiot grin that kept threatening to make the top of my head fall off and cause me to burst into spontaneous, delighted laughter, all at the same time. Then I had a flash of inspiration.

After all, we’d chatted on Skype already hadn’t we, back when we were just friends?

Quickly working out the time difference between us, I suggested we have an actual, real verbal conversation after I finished work for the day. She agreed straight away and suddenly, I had a date.

Five o’clock couldn’t come quickly enough after that. In fact I didn’t even bother to drive home, instead parking in a quiet lay-by on a side road and, with trembling fingers, (I kid you not, I felt like a fifteen year old schoolboy, about to knock on the door of a prom queen) I opened the Skype application on my phone, breathed deeply and tried to compose myself.

The metallic, tinny sound of the ringtone chimed half a dozen times and then;

“Hello”

I drew in another none-too-steady deep breath and took the first real step into an uncertain but deliciously exciting future;

“Hi there, it’s really good to finally hear your voice again…”