Saturday, May 23, 2009
In the Beginning, there was Confusion, Personal Misdirection, and a General Lack of Preparedness
I turned and headed into the Heath, my feet following a thin dirt trail until the path exploded into a field of knee high Queen Ann's Lace and long lush green grasses, blowing softly in the breeze. It nearly took my breath away. But my fear of the unknown was palpable. Where did the path lead? And if I got this lost attempting to follow simple directions, how on earth would I find my way back through an 800-acre park? Some of the trails of the Heath, I imagined, followed horse paths from hundreds of years ago, when anyone traveling to London did so on horseback. So they would, eventually, lead out and through -- but through to where? I only knew that one, small section of town nearest to Becky and Tony's house. Finding their street again from some far fangeled direction would prove nearly impossible. And yet, how could I not explore, now that I was here?
Breathing in the sweet smell, I found my way to a wooden bench under the shade of some tall trees, right at the edge of the field. Above me the leaves were dappled with sunlight, and I realized, in that moment, that it was 1:15 in the afternoon and I was finally in England. From my perch on the bench I could still see the path that led to the road, but I could at least sit here for a bit and write in my journal, without feeling like a complete and utter chicken. I dug out my pen and the small notebook my friend Laura had so artfully made for me, and began to write. I hadn't been writing more than a few minutes when I heard a snuffling sound coming up the path toward me, and turned to find a floppy eared black and white speckled spaniel bounding toward me.
"Hi Puppy!" I crooned, massaging his velvety face in my hands. This dog belonged on calendars, it was so cute. I smiled at the woman following him.
"I love your dog," I murmured, as he jumped onto the bench next to me and proceeded to crawl into my lap.
"Oh, Harry, no!" The woman laughed.
"It's okay, I don't mind." I reassured her. She looked to be in her late 40's with dark brown hair and surprisingly warm brown eyes. "Could I ask you," I ventured, "How to get to the street in Hampstead, the one with all the shops?"
She looked at me, surprised. "Oh, you're American!"
"Yes," I said, slightly embarrassed.
"How wonderful!" She exclaimed, setting me immediately at ease. As we began to talk, she not only gave me directions, she told me about all the many points of interest that were within walking distance, including a stunning view over all of London that could be seen from just across the road. "Actually," she said, glancing at her cell phone, "I've got a few minutes. Would you like me to take you over there and show you?"
"Uh, yes! That would be incredible, thank you!" It was bound to be a little awkward, but I knew I was lucking out big time. As we made our way to the traffic circle, she turned to me. "I'm Alison, by the way." she said, giving me a wave.
"I'm Signe." We went through my usual spelling... no, it's actually S-I-G-N-E. Mmmhmmmm. It's Scandanavian.... yes, like Sidney but with a "g."
And before I knew it, my new friend Alison, and her adorable puppy Harry, had invited me to come along for their daily walk through the Heath. I followed her along the path, wondering at my good fortune, as we made our way down a shady pathway that led deep into a forest. Not only was this a bizarre turn of events (I can't tell you the last time I accompanied a total stranger on what promised to be at least an hour long walk while living in New York City.) but Alison was fascinating. Five years earlier, she'd had a call to life when all her pets died in the course of one week, and on the last day of the week, her husband of 17 years came home and announced that he was leaving her -- he'd been having an affair. The next day she found out she had a life-threatening tumor that needed to be removed by a surgery that required her to be cut open from just below her breasts all the way down to her uterus. She'd not only survived all of those things, but she has vowed from that day on to live her life to the fullest.
"I spent 17 years married to a man that on my wedding day, I had second thoughts about. And look what happened. His behavior completely changed, after we were married, he became so dictatorial and controlling, and for 17 years I stayed in that marriage for the sake of my children. Never again!" She said, with a triumphant finger raised. "Now I live for myself, and my kids. I do what I want, when I want to." She smiled. "So what brings you to England, Signe with a 'g'?" She asked.
I don't know what it was about Alison, but I found myself spilling my very guts out to her. I told her about my father passing away three years ago, about how hard it was to not know the hows or the whys, about how much I missed him. About meeting Eric, getting engaged, leaving New York together, and about the book. I told her about my desire to find out the truth behind the existence of faeries. "Because," I told her, "I wasn't raised with any religion. And I find it really hard to believe in God. I mean, no one else in my family ever has. So in a roundabout way, if I can discover what else there is out there, if I can discover whether or not there really might be some invisible, magical world where creatures like faeries really do exist, maybe it will somehow make losing my father.... " I trailed off, not really knowing how to finish. I had been so fabulous, so far, at convincing everyone -- my literary agent, the editor who acquired the book, that there was a strong connection between losing my father and the desire to want to find something magical. But now that I was here, now that I was actually here, saying it, I suddenly didn't have a clue what one thing meant to the other.
She looked at me for a long moment, with a slightly amused look, as if we were playing a game of chess, and she. the chess master, was about to sweep in with one simple move, that would change the course of the game forever. When she finally spoke, it was rather softly.
"Well really," She said simply, "It's entirely about trust. You're searching and trying to teach yourself how to trust again. That's where the real magic lies. And to find it, you've got to trust again. "