Three Carnations

(This is the ongoing love story which has lasted decades…)

It was nearly midnight, in Alexandra Park under a black and brilliant, starlit sky, Karen and I walked home from a play. We stopped to behold the beauty above us, then ended up looking at one another as well. She looked more deeply at me, looked surprised and said, “Your face fell off.”  

I laughed. “My what?”  

“Your face just fell off. I think I got a glimpse at who you will become. And I like what I saw.” 

There was no turning back from this moment. She stood looking at me, a hand on my cheek, under those stars and I looked into those deep, green eyes and loved her. We kissed, then walked together, hands clasped, back to her place. She put on the kettle in the silent kitchen, and we sat up talking, drinking tea. Sharing stories of our lives, the hours flew and before we knew it, it was 4 am. I left then to walk home. A couple nights later, I stayed until 3 am. I wrote in my journal, “I cannot keep this up much longer!”  

On November 24th, Karen and I took the train and went to Ashdown Woods, the location of the Winnie the Pooh stories, which we both loved. We walked around the “100 acre wood,” played pooh sticks on Pooh Sticks Bridge. Met a woman who lives in the house at Pooh Corner. We walked miles, stopping for a couple of hours for a lunch of bread, cheese, wine and apples. As we walked back toward the village and train, somewhere near the North Pole, no doubt, we got lost. It got dark. We eventually were walking along a path, the woods on one side and houses with lights in the windows, on the other behind walled-in gardens and gates. Karen kept suggesting we ask for directions. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to.  It took three hours to make our way to the village, where we bought fish ‘n chips and cups of hot chocolate at a roadside stand. We arrived at the train at 10:30 pm, catching the last train back to London.  

Once onboard, alone in the lit train car, the adventure and anger behind us, and the joy of the day inside us, we could laugh and even waltzed together in the aisle as the train rumbled along toward London.   

Karen wrote me the next day:  

“I’ve learned a great deal about myself from you; my journal is full of reactions to you and thoughts for you. I found something in there, I’d like to share with you.

One thing about being lost and stumbling about in the dark…one person might be upset with the other for leading both into a dark, unknown forest; the natural reaction to this is to pull away and try to continue on one’s own, independent of the other. But to grow one must reach for the other’s hand and then, walk through the unknown together. 

Friday was a good day of peace and calm and a good day to learn about each other. I rather enjoyed myself. God has already played a big part in bringing us together; it is His work that made circumstances be like they are. I’d like to keep Him a vital, living part of our relationship. He can help us more times than we’ll ever know and hopefully we can serve Him through our friendship. That happiness welling up within a person becomes almost unbearable sometimes, doesn’t it? Not that we want to chase it away but it needs special control. I’m glad to have you causing a smile in my heart.”  

That phrase, causing a smile in my heart, was true for me as well. After this adventure, we read aloud to one another from Winnie the Pooh. After having been there, this was extra wonderful. 

Classes finished November 30th Karen and I went to see The Sound of Music and celebrated with friends, who had decided they liked me after all. We went to the sing-a-long Messiah. And on December 9th, I had to move from my homestay so moved into Karen’s for the last days. Mrs. Curtis, as the sweetest last gesture of friendship, drove us and my stuff over to Karen’s homestay, where I was welcomed. We planned to travel to France together for a day before she joined up with two friends to travel and I went to see a college friend who lived south of Paris.  

Our grand, romantic adventure quickly went south when on the bus to the Hover terminal I realized I had not brought my passport. For three months, we hadn’t needed one to travel in England, Scotland and Wales. I remembered getting it out of its hiding place at the homestay and thinking “This would be safer left here.”  

On the bus, we schemed together. “Perhaps we can say we are engaged to be married, and they will let us go.” “Maybe you can vouch for me,” I told her. As you must know, “vouching” doesn’t work with customs agents! When we got there, they said if they let me go, I would be sent back immediately from the French boarder. We sat there, two kids, crying our eyes out, feeling bereft. I wrote, “It was the worst day of my life.”  

The two women in charge of the terminal passengers felt so sorry for us and kept trying to do things to cheer us up, coming over, bringing us Kleenex, keeping an eye on us. Karen and I promised to meet up by the Arc de Triomphe if I made it to Paris the next day. I bought Karen three carnations, pink, white, and a pink, white and red one to send with her and watched her board. I stood, wept, and watched as she waved goodbye, feeling like I would never see her again. Our friends behind the counter gave me a free pass for the bus back to London, and a pass for the following day.  

“I’m furious except that I’m in love with Karen and she with me,” I wrote. “We have had so many good and fun times but it’s just not right that we should get split up. My passport is all I didn’t take! I’m so stupid. But why, why, why? I don’t want to cry always but am bound to. I keep hoping that this will be the last time ever I do anything like this.”  

Of course, I have done many, many stupid things since then, things which were even MORE stupid, and have had days which have felt much worse. But life is like that, we imagine “this is the worst,” and often categorize things at that degree which are of little consequence. 

My homestay dad, Kris, came to meet me at the bus terminal in London and gave me a ride home. He was super understanding, sorry it had happened, and told me it would take a few years, but sooner or later I would be able to laugh at it. He talked and talked as we drove. He got me to talk which eased my pain. He fed me bread and cheese when we got home and tea, and then made my bed. I slept restlessly, clinging to the small, stuffed bear Karen had given me as a gift.  

(to be continued)

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