I wrote the poem below on 10 February 1996 about someone I once knew. I wouldn’t call myself much of a poet, and if the person who was meant for these words at that time ever read it, I’m not certain it would have compelled her to stay in Chicago instead of going home to Glasgow in Scotland.
“To hear your voice
But just one more time
Put in a box
The sweet singing song of your lips
While I hold my breath
I sit and I stand
With a sadness in my heart
Just to hear your voice again
One more time
While I wait
And I wait
How powerful the mind is, that it can shelve feelings so strong I held in my heart so very long ago, to a place so deep inside that they are forgotten, until an old journal with this entry was read again, this one opened tonight for the first time in years. I had a smile beaming inside my heart as I re-read these old words. Old feelings are wonderful to revisit every once in awhile, especially when they bring back sweet and wonderful memories. And while fate decided that we were not meant to be, the time we had I will always look upon fondly.
She was an art student studying at The Chicago Art Institute. She was from Ireland and to this day, one of the sweetest women I have ever known. She didn’t speak; instead, she sang. Her voice had such a magical quality that I always felt like I was walking on air whenever she spoke. She only stayed for a summer back in 1995. And I remember she said on a few occasions how amazed she was at the quantity of beer Americans could consume. Those are big words coming from an Irishwoman. We definitely had a few nights proving her correct.
About a year after I wrote the entry above, in January, I was involved in a three-car accident on the corner of Clybourn/Courtland/Racine in Chicago. Having the green, I pressed the accelerator heading southbound in Racine crossing the intersection, unaware the red had come upon the Beamer heading southeast on Clybourn too suddenly as he had slammed on his brakes skidding on the ice to try to stop, smashing into my car as I then careened into a Mercedes stopped on Courtland awaiting his turn at the light. All three cars disfigured beyond recognition, all three drivers left miraculously uninjured. For reasons to be written some other time, a few weeks later, I resigned from my job in search of myself, much of it the result of another of my nine lives spent, not the first or last time that would happen, so thankful that I had at least another one left.
Soon after I tried to find myself one morning when I awoke and decided to visit my cousin Noby, himself quite the adventurer, in Amsterdam. And that’s where this story really begins.
Before leaving, I left a voicemail to Glasgow that I was leaving for Amsterdam on the off chance I would hear her singing from across the pond, a clear sign that I should visit her, and she wanted me there. Halfway across the Atlantic, though I had not actually spoken with her, I decided that I would take a detour to Scotland before seeing my cousin, to tell her all the things I had meant to tell her when she was here in Chicago, but didn’t. He’s a romantic too, like me. I knew he’d understand my detour.
I arrived at Amsterdam at 5 AM, bought a phone card, went to the nearest pay phone and dialed Glasgow, hoping to catch her before University where she was teaching art that day. I left a few run-on sentences on her answering machine that I would be coming to Glasgow . I walked to the British Airways counter, excited in my new resolve, and purchased a ticket to London Heathrow. Once I landed, I called into Glasgow yet again, leaving another message, this one more excited than the last. I was closer. A few minutes thereafter, I found out I needed to take the bus from Heathrow to Stamford, a 90 minute journey, for the connecting flight. At Stamford, I purchased a ticket to Glasgow, my excitement growing ever fonder. I left another message on her answering machine, then made my way to the gate. By the time I landed in Glasgow, it was 5 PM. I hailed a taxi and within thirty minutes, I was rapping on the door to her flat. Without an answer, I asked a passerby the location of the nearest pub. Thirty minutes later, Lucy the bartender poured me a beer and let me use the phone to leave a message. It was only 6 PM. And I had the entire night ahead of me, and I was bubbling with excited anticipation of what it would hold, what I would tell her, of what we would do, and how we would be.
By 8 PM, I had recounted my story to Lucy, who was brimming with excitement, feeding into my own. I left another message. By 10 PM, I had grown concerned and for the first time since I had left the previous day in Chicago for Amsterdam gave credence internally to my momentary lapse of reason which was no longer momentary. Lucy, sensing my sentiment, introduced me to her friends – Scott, Derek and Charlie – with the story of why I was in Glasgow. Stories of romance bring strangers together all the time no matter where in the world. And soon, we became fast friends. They were professional skiers, visiting Colorado at least once a year. Scott was the oldest and their leader, Derrick & Charlie dating. When they asked me what I did for a living, I didn’t blink telling them I was a writer, and even shared that I was oft times compared to Hemingway, not necessarily for my writing style (which is exceedingly verbose compared to his terse prose) but more for our sense of adventure. By midnight, despair that I would not see her, and an even more unsettling reality of where would I stay the night, I was now doing shots of vodka with my new friends and our bartender. As the group was making plans for their next stop, they invited me to an all-night rave. Telling them my lack of accommodations that night, Derrick told me he was the concierge at The Victorian House in Central Glasgow, not far from where we were and not far from where we were going. He said they had the room on the too floor vacant and I could stay the night on the condition I party with them the rest of the night. Never one to turn down a party or accommodations, I happily accepted.
I was greeted with a wonderfully spacious room, most importantly with a hot shower, which I partook, and soon afterwards made my way to the club. A promise is a promise. I would find my three new friends quite easily. Charlie was especially sweet to me, as she knew, though I was having quite a bit of fun, my night did not turn out the way I had originally envisioned. Most women are much more in tune with what’s really going on than most men. She could empathize that 36 hrs after the fact I had decided to fly to Europe, I was in a land where I knew no one. Still, all three of them were extremely kind. I’ll never forget asking Scott as the night was winding down into the morning, “I cannot thank you enough, Scott. You and your friends. Derrick for setting me up with a place to sleep. Charlie for her overall kindness. I gotta ask you – why??!!?” I’ll never forget what he said to me, in this thick Scottish brogue, “Cecil, I want you to tell the world when your book hits the New York Times best seller list. I want you to tell the world the people of Glasgow are good people. We like to have fun. And we like to treat people the way we want to be treated.” And for a blink of an eye, I felt guilty that I told them I was a writer. In the next blink I thought I have a lofty goal- I need to get on the NY Times best seller list! I said goodbye to them soon afterwards, thanking them for everything. In turn, they wished me good luck in finding her. And with that, we parted ways as I made my walk back to The Victoria House.
When I finally came home to Chicago a month later, after further adventures in Glasgow and Edinburgh by myself then back in Amsterdam with my cousin, I was greeted by a message on my answering machine my roommate and lifelong buddy DaveRisner had saved, of Shauna sadly singing “Oh my, Cecil!! What have you done! I’ve been in New York exhibiting my work! I won’t see you!!!!!”
I never did see her again. We exchanged a few letters, but before long those were fewer and farther in between, my last correspondence a few years later,introducing her to my best friend Derek, who actually stayed with her and the man she ended up marrying on his trip to see his parents in Scotland and play golf with his dad at St. Andrews.
In the end, what was not important was whether or not we saw each other again, but rather she met the person she was supposed to meet, and I realized within myself that I was willing to do whatever it took to tell the person I loved that I loved her, even if I had to go halfway around the world to do it. I didn’t get the chance then, but was happy that I at least gave myself a chance. All these years later, I’m still searching for the person for which those words were truly meant.
I watched “Oz, the Great and Powerful” recently and really liked it (and really felt for the wicked witch of the west). And this exchange really touched with me.
Glinda: For the record, I knew you had it in you all along.
Glinda: No. Better than that. Goodness.
I like to think that I have it in me too.
Great is better than good, but goodness is better than greatness. Well put, Glinda.