My husband, James, and I had known each other in a polite and distant way for years before we became close friends. Our youngest daughters had been in kindergarten together. When they were in first grade, my daughter, Rebecca, joined Girl Scouts. Her troop leader was his wife at that time.
Over the years, there were polite exchanges during Halloween parades or other public events that our children happened to be attending together. But those exchanges were always kept rather shallow and surface-like, out of respect, because we were both married and aware that any impropriety on our parts would be wrong.
Years later, after struggling with my now-ex-husband’s prolonged depression following the death of his mother, I finally made the decision to separate from him and begin divorce proceedings. Coincidentally, James, after asking for a divorce more than three years before, had finally been granted his freedom.
We happened to meet one day at Fort Hunter’s Fall Festival. I was volunteering with my daughters at the children’s games. James had stopped with his daughter, Kate, who joined us to help run the tin punch. James went off to explore the stands.
When he returned, he was carrying a book. The book was actually a photo book, of which he was the author and photographer. When he discovered that I hadn’t seen a copy yet, he offered it to me, to take home and peruse at my leisure.
The book was full of photographs of our immediate area. Looking at the dust jacket, and reading his biography on the flyleaf, and thinking about the man himself, I was hesitant to actually sit down and go through the pages. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt that doing so was going to somehow change everything. Looking into that book, aptly titled, “A Window to my World”, would be akin to looking into the man himself. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to cross that line.
His book sat on my end table for several weeks before I finally had a quiet afternoon in which to relax and enjoy myself. I sat down, gathered my courage, and took a deep breath. Turning the first page, I was stunned at the beauty unfolding before me. This man had roamed the countryside that I have always called home, and taken such lovely photos. And in the middle of the book, in a section dedicated to farmscapes, there was a photo of my family’s farm, in the glow of an early summer morning. The title of the photo itself was “Home”. I felt like I had been pole-axed. Of all of the people and places, for him to choose my grandpa’s house and call it home, just floored me. I knew at the very least that I had to own a copy of this book.
I emailed him right away, to find out how much it would cost. I actually ordered three copies, so that I could give one to my father and one to his sister as Christmas gifts. My Aunt Sarah had inherited the farm from my grandpa when he died.
The emails started out with discussions about prices for books, and prints of the picture, “Home”. That led to discussions of the house itself, and how I was connected to it. He told me that he had titled it “Home” because out of all of the area farms, if he could choose one to live in, that would be the one he’d choose.
Those exchanges led to stories about my grandpa on the farm, and other stories about my childhood. He returned with stories of his own, and a link to a Blog Spot where he’s written quite a few in short story form under a nom de plume. Reading his Johnny Miller stories, I was charmed and captivated by the little boy he once was.
This new intimacy opened a path to other frank discussions about more current events, where we found a deep and instant connection. He saw in me qualities that others had largely overlooked for most of my adult life. I found an acceptance of my character, flaws and all, which was true and refreshing. I could relax with him in ways I never could before. And it was mutual. We could say anything, talk about anything, and we did. We were more real together than we had ever been.
The email exchanges over several months were wonderful, and we were able to get to know each other at a deeper level than either of us had expected. Eventually, emails led to phone calls. The telephone added a new dimension; now there was a voice with emotion and inflection. There was a warm, caring friend waiting just a phone call away.
One day he suggested we meet in person, for lunch. We agreed on a local park, and met one chilly February day, to take a walk though Wildwood. I found our rapport to be just as easy and natural face to face as it was over the phone or the internet. We were having a grand time, chattering away as we made our way around the lake.
Suddenly, the wind blew in a snow squall. We pulled up our hoods and looked around for some kind of shelter. The snow was blowing horizontally, and the world had gone dark and white. He took my hand and tugged me towards a large tree where we could shelter against the trunk. We stood there and looked out at the whiteness swirling around us, holding hands while we contemplated our predicament. Abruptly, he pulled me into his chest, to shelter me in his arms. It was like coming home after a long and arduous journey. I listened to the roar of the wind, and felt its coldness lash around me. His jacket felt cool to my cheek, and smelt of wet leaves and wintery sunshine. His arms a strong enclosure, I leaned against his chest and relaxed. I had found a safe haven, and I knew my life would never be the same.
When the storm had passed, the snow was gone, leaving only a light frosting on the tree trunks. The sun emerged from her nap in the clouds, and we continued our walk hand in hand.
When we returned to our cars, we went our separate ways. But in the weeks to come, our friendship evolved into something profound, rich, and wonderful. And when he told me he loved me, and I returned the phrase, he admitted that his life, too, had altered shatteringly, one chilly February day when he held me through a snow storm.