Never Meaning to Send
Nights in white satin, never reaching the end,
The doorman turned to see her standing there. Where had she come from? She had suddenly appeared there in the foyer as mysteriously as she had disappeared ten days before.
Surprised, he responded, “Miss Chandler? Is that you?”
“Yes, Roger, it’s me. I seem to have lost my purse and my keys. I was hoping you could let me into my apartment…”
He wasn’t sure. It sounded like her, but her voice quavered and she had a scarf or something covering her head and partially obscuring her face.
She perceived his doubt as he moved closer to assure himself that it was her, so she slowly removed the scarf.
He couldn’t hide his look of horror when he initially saw her face clearly.
She winced visibly at his reaction.
“Sure thing, Miss Chandler. Wait here while I go get your keys,” he stammered as he turned and quickly headed for the manager’s office.
As she waited she covered her head again and thought, You might as well get used to it, Cathy. This is how it’s going to be.
In the office Roger picked up the phone and called the police.
“New York Police Department. This is the operator. How may I help you?”
“I’m calling about Catherine Chandler. You know the missing socialite?”
“I’ll transfer you to the missing persons tip line, Sir.”
“No Mam! Don’t do that! This isn’t about a tip. She’s here. Miss Chandler is standing right here in the lobby of her apartment building and she’s hurt. She’s hurt bad.”
Returning to the foyer, Roger found Catherine pacing nervously.
Catherine turned with a start.
“Miss Chandler, are you all right? Where have you been? Do you know the police have been looking for you? They are on the way.”
Catherine began shaking uncontrollably.
“Would you like to come into the office and sit down, Miss Chandler?” Roger put his arm around her and guided her into the office. He felt a little shaky himself. “A lot of people have been real worried about you. I’m sure glad you’re all right. We were all worried that you were … well … you know.”
Catherine either didn’t hear his question or she chose to ignore it. “May I use this phone, Roger? I need to call my father.”
“Sure thing, Miss Chandler.” Roger picked up the phone and dialed 9 for an outside line and then handed it to Catherine. He could see her hands shaking as she dialed the phone.
Her voice was shaking too, as she spoke. “Daddy? It’s me Cathy…” She began to cry.
Roger quietly left her there while he went back to the foyer to wait for the police.
It was two days later before she finally made it all the way up to her apartment.
Charles Chandler accompanied Catherine home from the hospital. As they entered he turned to her and asked, “Are you sure you want to stay here alone, Cathy? I would feel so much better if you would stay with me until this is all over.”
“I’m sure, Daddy,” she replied indulgently. “I’m thirty years old,” she reminded him. “I’m not a little girl anymore. I can’t come running home every time life is hard. I think it’s about time I learn to deal with my life like an adult, don’t you?”
Charles looked at his daughter wistfully. “Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?”
She gave him a one sided grin. “I love you, Dad.” Kissing him on the cheek, she said, “I promise I will call you if I need anything.”
He hugged her so tight that she could barely breathe. “The ribs, Dad, watch the ribs.”
“Oh, Honey, I’m so sorry. I am just so happy that you are back. … I don’t know what I would have done if anything had …” He stopped midsentence to try and get a handle on his emotions. Then he tweaked her chin. “I’ll stop by tomorrow morning on my way to the office. How does that sound?”
She smiled at his fatherly need to hover over his only child. “All right, Dad, I’m sure I’ll be here.”
“Should I bring cannoli or bagels?”
She laughed a little and hugged him again. “Why don’t you bring both, Daddy?”
“Sure thing, Honey.” It was good to hear her laugh. Somehow it assured him that she was going to be all right.
After he left, Catherine stood at the door and looked around her apartment as if she was seeing it for the first time. She took off her coat and began making her way slowly around the room. She ran her hand along the back of the couch. She took several books from the book shelf and ran her hand over the name on the flyleaf. For a long time she stood in front of the curio cabinet and stared at each paper weight in her extensive collection. She wondered why they had once seemed so important to her, and why they looked so strange to her now.
Walking into the bedroom, she repeated the process. She opened the closet and touched her clothes. Standing in front of her bureau she opened her jewelry box and then smelled her perfumes. Inside the dresser she found some of her favorite lingerie. Picking up one of her nightgowns, she buried her face in the soft, white satin, breathing in the scent of the potpourri sachet she kept there. Heading to the bathroom, she thought, A long hot bath sounds like a good idea.
She felt better after soaking away some of the tension … some of the horror of what had happened to her. Afterward, out of habit she sat down at her vanity to comb out her hair. As she picked up a hairbrush she looked up to see the face of a disfigured woman in the mirror looking back at her. She gasped as it all came rushing back. There had been a mirror in her hospital room, but she had avoided it as much as possible. She closed her eyes to shut out the image. As she did so she could hear a soft voice whisper, “You have the strength, Catherine. You do.” She forced herself to look back at her face, to face herself.
After a few minutes she began to explore the contents of the drawers. She opened one of them and discovered a box of elegant stationery that had been a gift from her friend Jenny. There had been something else too. She stuck her hand into the back of the drawer and felt around. Yes, it was there, a small rectangular box with a faded label that said, “The Conway Stewart Pen, London.” It had been a gift from her father when she graduated from Law School in 1982.
Catherine opened the box and remembered the day her father had given it to her.
Cathy excitedly unwrapped the small oblong box. It was just the right size to hold the beautiful diamond tennis bracelet she had been eyeing at the jewelers.
When she opened the box, she was confused. An old fountain pen? she wondered, but she didn’t say it. She knew that if her father was giving it to her, it must be something meaningful. “Thank you, Daddy,” she said instead.
Charles Chandler laughed. “You look a little bemused, Cathy. Let me tell you about this pen, and why it’s important.”
“When I was in college my roommate gave me this pen for Christmas one year. He had received one like it from his father the day he left England to attend Columbia Medical School. Apparently it was a tradition in his family that every child receive such a gift. It signified their ‘coming of age.’ He explained that it was meant to be used to sign significant documents and to mark and record important milestones in my life.”
“I thought Peter was your roommate in college, Dad.”
Charles Chandler nodded. “Yes, he was one of my roommates. Peter had a good friend named Jacob. They were both med students. The three of us shared an apartment. He was a great guy, so passionate about medicine, happy go lucky, always laughing. I’m not sure what ever became of him. I guess we just lost track of each other after we all graduated from college.”
Catherine nodded, only mildly interested.
“When your mother and I got married,” he continued. “… I used this pen to sign our marriage certificate. I used it to write love letters to your mother. I used it when you were born to sign your birth certificate.” His eyes became a little misty. “Your mother used it to write one last love letter to you and me before she passed away…”
Stopping for a moment to clear his throat, he continued, “Anyway, Cathy, I want you to have it now … to mark your coming of age. Now you can use it to record the significant milestones in your own life.”
She kissed her father on the cheek. “Thank you, Daddy. I love it … and I love you.”
The pen had been sitting in this vanity drawer ever since. Catherine had never used it, but she didn’t have the heart to part with it because it meant a lot to her father, and he meant a lot to her.
Now seemed like as good a time as any to use it. After all, what had happened in the last two weeks certainly qualified as ‘significant.’ She felt around the back of the drawer for the box of unused ink cartridges hoping they hadn’t all dried up.
Not knowing what she would write, she began …
Anyway, I need to be alone. I need to think about everything that’s happened to me. And I need to make sure I keep my promise to you.
It’s hard not telling my father where I’ve been. I can see how worried he is, but I can’t take the chance.
I’ve spent the last forty-eight hours in the hospital being poked and prodded and x-rayed by doctors … questioned by the police … and hounded by journalists and photographers.
My father tried to keep it from me, but a horrible picture of my slashed face was on the front page of this morning’s paper.
I told the police I don’t remember much about what happened to me or where I was for those ten days. I’m not sure if they believed me or not.
You don’t need to worry, Vincent, I intend to keep my promise. Your secret is safe with me. I would never betray your trust. I owe you at least that much … and so much more that I’m not sure I can ever repay.
Was it only two days ago that you brought me home? It feels like it was much longer. It’s so strange, that word … ‘Home.’ It doesn’t feel like my home. It’s true that this is my apartment, and I do live here, but something’s different, something doesn’t fit.
I feel as if I am trespassing in someone else’s domain, touching someone else’s things, insinuating myself into someone else’s life. It feels like it doesn’t belong to me anymore … or rather … I feel that somehow … I no longer belong to it.
Something has happened to me, Vincent, something I can’t explain. Two weeks ago my biggest worry was if I had a dress to wear to Tom’s party and whether or not I should buy a new pair of shoes to match. The Catherine Chandler who walked out of the door twelve days ago to go to that party isn’t here anymore. She just seems like someone I used to know a long time ago, someone I’m not even sure I want to know now. I find myself wondering if she ever really existed in the first place … or was she just an illusion?
Will the real Catherine Chandler please stand up…?
What can I say to you, Vincent? I’m not sure there are adequate words to express to you how grateful I am for all you have done for me. Not just for saving my life, but for making me feel so safe throughout my ordeal. You surrounded me with your presence and comforted me with your gentle voice. You kept the fear at bay so that I could heal. Now that you’re not with me I can feel it pressing in on me.
I have never felt as alone as I did in those moments after you left me standing there. I was so afraid to come back here. I was afraid that I couldn’t do it. If I close my eyes I can see your face, I can hear your voice telling me that I can do this, that I have the strength. I’m still not sure that I do. But what choice do I have?
I have never felt someone else’s faith in me the way I feel yours… not even my father’s. It’s almost as if you are here with me in spirit somehow. I can hear you whispering the words to me. They give me strength.
I’m going to have a consultation with the plastic surgeon tomorrow. My father has managed to find the best one in the state. It usually takes months to get an appointment. I wonder how much it cost Daddy to have the doctor clear his schedule for me?
He wants his princess to be as good as new again, and money is no object. I wonder why I have such mixed feelings about that?
For some reason instead of feeling his love for me, it makes me feel as if I’m damaged goods that must be repaired and made showroom new at any cost. It’s amazing what money can buy in this world. A new dress … a new face … and all will be well again.
And yet I wonder … I say “wonder” because I lack the courage to ask him … if Daddy would still love me the same as ever if I can’t be fixed? Can he love me if my face is permanently marred? Or will I always see the pain and disappointment in his eyes when he looks at my face and can only see these horrible scars?
As I write, I am sitting at my vanity looking in the mirror and wondering if I could even love myself … Will I ever be able to look in a mirror again without cringing at the woman looking back at me?
Vincent, you said that what I have endured will make me stronger. Do you really believe that’s true? I don’t feel very strong.
I have always been aware of my beauty and have learned to use it for many things. That and my father’s money. They are both currencies that have opened many doors for me.
As I sit here and look at myself in the mirror, I keep wondering … Is this really all that I am? Is this really all that I’m worth? Is my beauty where my true value lies? And if it is, then what am I worth now … now that it’s gone?
You didn’t care about that, did you, Vincent? You treated me as if I was the most valuable person you knew … and yet you didn’t know me. You would have treated me the same, no matter what I looked like … no matter how much money I had. I’m sure of that. I don’t know anyone, at least not in my world, who would have done that … not even me.
I cringe to even admit that. I’ve never been ashamed of it before now. For the first time in my life I am suddenly, painfully aware of how shallow and selfish I am.
How strange that having my eyes bandaged for ten days has made me see more clearly than ever before that there are things … important things … valuable things that I sorely lack … qualities that no amount of money or beauty can acquire for me. It makes me want to be better than I am.
You make me want to be better than I am.
I’m sorry that we weren’t able to finish reading the last chapter of Great Expectations, Vincent…And yet, in a way I suppose I’m not sorry. It gives me hope that perhaps someday our paths may cross again and we will be able to finish reading the book together.
I hope that somehow you can feel how grateful I am for all that you and Father and Mary did for me.
I don’t know why I wrote this letter. I have no way of getting to you. I’m not sure I would send it to you if I could.
Even if I never see you again, Vincent, I will always remember you. You have changed me. You have taught me a definition of beauty that I never understood before. You have opened my eyes to a way of seeing, a way of being, that I never knew before.
I have had what I thought were significant relationships in my life, with men I once considered to be important and successful. Somehow they all seem small and insignificant now when I compare them to you.
I will treasure the memory of your gentleness, your kindness, and your generosity. I will try to live up to your faith in me, Vincent.
I will try to be strong … for you.
Be Well, Vincent.
Catherine sat there for a while, staring at the letter. When she was sure the ink was dry, she folded it carefully and placed it in an envelope. She wrote his name on it and put it back in the box of stationery. She put the cap on the fountain pen and deposited everything back into the vanity drawer where it had come from.
Though she went to bed, she didn’t sleep for long. For ten days, every time she had gone to sleep she had dreamt of her attackers. Vincent had been there by her side each time, without fail, to comfort her, to reassure her. “You’re safe, Catherine, you’re safe now. No one will hurt you. You’re safe here.” There was something in his voice that made her believe it. Though she couldn’t see him, she could tell that he was large and imposing and yet his voice told her that he was gentle and kind. She knew from the beginning that he only wanted to protect her and that she could trust him.
For the last two nights she had awakened from her nightmares alone. There was no soothing voice to chase away the demons. No one to make her feel safe.
Catherine got up and opened the French doors that led to her balcony. Leaning against the balcony wall, she breathed in the night air that smelled of spring. She looked out over the city, a view she had seen many times before. Even the balcony felt different somehow, like something was missing, but she didn’t know what. As she looked out over the city skyline she wondered aloud, “Where are you, Vincent? I know you’re out there … I know you’re thinking of me.” And for a moment she thought she could hear his voice saying, “You’re safe, Catherine. Rest now.”
She went inside and was finally able to go to sleep.
Cold hearted orb that rules the night
Voices from above them broke the spell that had temporarily paralyzed Vincent and he took the opportunity to flee from Catherine’s embrace.
He didn’t go far. As soon as he felt he was safely out of her sight, Vincent stopped and leaned against the brick tunnel wall for support. He could feel her momentary desolation when she realized he was gone. He heard her call out his name like a frightened child in the dark, and then he felt her resolve as she turned to face whatever lay ahead of her. He heard her last few footsteps on the cement floor as she reached the ladder that led back to her world … and back to her life.
Though he knew she was gone, he lingered there in the shadows for a long time, wanting to be near if she really needed him. He had no idea what he would do if she did. Vincent knew he could not expose himself to the world above. But still … he stayed …he waited. He felt her trepidation … and then her weakness and trembling … and then her happiness and relief… as if someone had come, someone she loved, someone she trusted. She was safe now. Still … he waited until eventually he felt her moving farther away, as if she were going somewhere … Yes … he thought, she is probably going to the hospital or possibly the police station.
“Be well, Catherine,” he whispered as he turned and began making his way home.
Vincent stood at the entrance of his chamber and looked around. Although it was still cluttered with all of his treasures he was overcome by a feeling of emptiness. After standing the in the candlelight for a few minutes he took off his cloak, sat down at his desk and began writing in his journal.
My chamber feels so empty without you in it, so desolate. What am I to do now? It’s as if for ten days there was a piece of the sun here, banishing all of the shadows and brightening the colors of everything. Now the sun has gone, the shadows have returned, and all of the colors have quickly faded in your absence.
When I found you unconscious and bleeding in the park my only thought was to get help as fast as possible … to save you if I could. I had no idea at the time that it was you who would save me, Catherine.
For the last ten days you have filled my life with a sweetness I have never known. You have breathed life into a part of me that I thought had died. You have given me hope. Now I must return to the reality of the solitude and emptiness that lies unending before me.
When we reached your threshold I was overcome with the realization that it was over, that I would never see you again and I faltered. I was overcome with sadness …and then you reached out and touched me … embraced me. How is it, Catherine, that you do not fear me? I understood it when your eyes were bandaged and you couldn’t see me … but after your initial shock at seeing me … and what I am … you still trusted me enough to come that close … to try to comfort me.
I will never forget what you have given me. You have been a beautiful light in the midst of my darkness.
Be well, Catherine.
Father entered Vincent’s chamber to find him sitting quietly at his desk. “Vincent? May I come in?”
“Yes, Father. Of course you may come in.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Father wasn’t sure how to begin. Finally he asked, “She’s safely home then?”
Vincent nodded. “Yes, she is safely home… or most likely in a hospital by now.”
“It took you longer than I expected. I was worried.”
Vincent answered slowly. “She has promised to keep our secret, Father. I don’t believe she would betray us. Nevertheless, I … took her by the most circuitous route … to make it harder for her to ever find her way back.” He couldn’t admit that he had taken her that way because he was trying to postpone the inevitable moment when he had to let her go, when he had to say goodbye. Come to think of it … he hadn’t actually said goodbye…
Father nodded. “Yes … that was a good idea, Vincent. Although I see no reason that someone like her would ever want to return.”
Vincent turned and gave Father an inquisitive look. “What do you mean, Father? ‘Someone like her’?”
“Well I … I only meant that she is a socialite. She is from a wealthy, affluent family, Vincent. She is used to a certain … (ahem) … lifestyle. There is nothing here that someone like her would ever consider worth returning for…” His voice trailed off. He was suddenly, and inexplicably, uncomfortable.
“How do you know this?” Vincent pressed.
Father placed two recent newspapers on Vincent’s writing table. “A helper brought these down.”
Vincent looked at them. The first headline read, ‘Gunther’s Girlfriend Missing/Eastside Deb Vanishes.’ And the second headline read, ’Popular New York Socialite Still Missing/Police Stumped’, the article continued, ‘Although the missing person’s hotline has been flooded with tips about the whereabouts of Catherine Chandler, so far none of them have yielded any results….’
There was a photograph in the second paper of Catherine arm in arm with a charming and successful looking gentleman. She was radiant in a beautiful designer gown and glittering jewels, smiling as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Her beauty, even in a fuzzy black and white newspaper photograph, took Vincent’s breath away.
“So … I was right,” he whispered.
“About what, Vincent?”
“With her face slashed and bleeding I could still see that she was beautiful,” he continued. “She is even more beautiful that I imagined… She looks very happy in this photograph.”
“Yes, well …” Father began carefully. “That is her world … a world where beauty and money and power rule. She could never understand … the way we live here, Vincent … this might as well be another planet.”
“Yes,” Vincent sighed deeply and nodded. “It might as well be another planet. And yet I feel that … perhaps Catherine might be able to understand, Father. She has a good heart.”
Father was skeptical. Shaking his head, he said, “No, Vincent. Trust me, I was once a part of that world. Don’t be fooled by her beauty. It is only superficial. Her values are very different from ours. You have served your purpose. Among the glitter and the glamour of her world she will soon forget you.”
“You are mistaken, Father. I have not been fooled. Her beauty is deeper than you think. Even with her face covered in bandages, it radiated from her. Catherine’s beauty comes from within.”
Father had been concerned about Vincent’s involvement from the beginning. Now he knew his concerns had been well founded. “Vincent, I believe that you may have become too attached to this woman. It’s what I feared from the first moment you brought her here. I hope you are not thinking of reaching out to her. It would be a terrible mistake. She will only hurt you.”
“I am not a child, Father. Please do not speak to me as if I am. I know that Catherine belongs to that world… Above. But you cannot expect me to just forget what has happened here in the last ten days. She has affected me. She has touched me … deeply. I have watched her. She was in great pain … and fear, especially in the beginning ... and she bore it with quiet dignity and strength, without complaint. She … trusted me. She trusted me completely, even after … what happened to her, even after she saw … what I am. No, Father … Catherine is not superficial.”
Father could see that it was pointless to argue with Vincent regarding the woman, so he dropped the subject. Putting his hand on Vincent’s shoulder, he said, “Well, in any case, she has recovered and she has returned to her world. Maybe now things will get back to normal around here. Sleep well, Son.”
“Thank you, Father.”
For two days, Vincent seemed distant, distracted and pensive, speaking only when spoken to. Father feared that he was brooding … feeling sorry for himself or dreaming dreams that, for someone like Vincent, were dangerous.
The truth was that Vincent was being bombarded by Catherine’s emotions as they ebbed and flowed like ocean waves, crashing constantly against him. Fear then relief, sadness then joy, confusion and stubborn resolve were all churning together within her … within him… at the same time. He could feel how exhausted she was, and then he could feel her terror when the dreams would come and she would wake alone in the dark. He could feel that she was trying to be strong.
This was a new experience for him. He was feeling things he had never felt before. He didn’t understand what was happening to him. This connection to Catherine was exhilarating and intoxicating. He had reveled in it while Catherine had been recovering below. He had assumed that it was only temporary and would disappear after she went back Above. Instead, if anything, it was stronger now than it had been before. It was unlike anything he had ever known. At the same time he was a little bit frightened by it.
Vincent closed the book he was reading and sighed. Maybe a walk will clear my head. Deep in thought he wandered the tunnels aimlessly until he felt her begin to dream again … he felt her fear.
He stopped when he realized that he could feel her close. Looking around he was surprised to see that he was standing at the threshold under her apartment building, as if some unseen tether had pulled him there, gently guiding his footsteps. He could feel her breathing deeply … searching for strength. He could feel how tired she was … he could feel that she was afraid to sleep … she feared her nightmares.
Looking up he whispered, “You’re safe, Catherine. Rest now.” He waited there in the tunnel beneath her building until he felt her fear subside and she finally drifted back to sleep.
Returning to his chamber, Vincent discovered Father and Mary waiting for him. They all stood looking at each other.
It was Vincent who finally broke the silence. “Is something wrong, Father? Do you need me for something?”
“Yes, Vincent.” Father spoke haltingly. “We need to speak with you.”
Mary nodded and began wringing her hands.
Vincent gestured with his hand to indicate that they were welcome to sit down. Then sat on the edge of his bed leaving the only two chairs in the room available for them.
To end the uncomfortable silence Vincent spoke again. “What is it?”
The tension was too much for her. Mary stood back up and began. “We are both very worried about you, Vincent.”
Vincent stood and walked over to embrace the small woman. She had been a mother figure in his life, though she wasn’t old enough to actually be his mother. “I’m sorry I have worried you, Mary. I am all right, but I need to speak with Father about something. Do you mind?”
“Of course not, Vincent. That’s fine. That’s fine. If you’re sure. You’re sure you are all right?”
Vincent nodded and whispered, “I’m sure, Mary. I promise.”
After she left, Vincent turned to Father.
“What is it, Vincent? What can I do?” Father inquired.
Vincent sat at his writing table and rested his head in both of his hands. “Something is happening to me, Father. Something I’ve never experienced before. Something … I don’t understand.”
Looking concerned, Father asked, “Can you tell me about it, Vincent?”
Vincent breathed deeply and then stood again and began pacing the floor. “I can feel her. I can feel Catherine’s … emotions.”
Father wasn’t sure he understood. “It’s understandable, after all you did care for her for ten days. It’s natural that you might become attuned to her the way you are to all of us.”
Vincent shook his head. “No, Father. It isn’t like that. I am in tune to the rhythm of life and the people down here, the people I care for. This isn’t the same.”
“You have always been sensitive, Vincent, even somewhat empathic. You are always the first to know if one of the children is getting ill or if something is wrong with them. You have always sensed danger more quickly than the others. It’s a gift you have always had. It’s only natural that you have developed some concern for this woman.”
Shaking his head, Vincent said, “No, this is different. She is overwhelmed at times by all that has happened to her. I can feel it … it’s like waves crashing over me so fast that sometimes I can’t catch my breath. I am feeling what she is feeling … as if they are my feelings.
“Tonight I went for a walk in the tunnels. I needed to clear my head … to think. At some point I suddenly felt her fear. She had a nightmare. When I looked around, I realized that I was at the threshold under her apartment building … as if something had led me, had guided me there, without me realizing it. We are connected somehow. I have never experienced anything like this before. I noticed it … felt it …while she was here, Below, but I assumed that it would disappear once she was gone.”
Father looked stunned. “Do you think that she is aware of this, Vincent?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”
“Vincent.” Father looked at him searchingly. “Are you in love with this woman?”
It was Vincent’s turn to be stunned. “I don’t think that is possible, Father. After all … I have only known her for a short time. I …”
“Believe me, Vincent,” Father interrupted. “It is possible to fall in love in a much shorter time than that. Is it possible that you have … fallen in love with her?” He urgently asked again.
Vincent was silent. There was not one word to describe the myriad of feelings he had in regard to Catherine. The word ‘love’ had not even occurred to him. Could it be? he wondered.
Father nodded and sighed heavily. “I feared this from the beginning.” Now it was Father who was pacing up and down. Turning to Vincent he begged, “Vincent, you must forget her… You must do all in your power to purge this woman from your heart… from your mind! Giving in to these feelings … letting yourself dream of things that can never be … it will only bring you pain … we both know the end of this path, Vincent.”
“I don’t know if I can … I don’t know if I want to. She has awakened a dream in me, Father. A dream so sweet that I don’t know if I can forget it.”
“Vincent … I beg you … we have been through this before. We both know what such dreams can do to you.”
“This is different. When I was young … I believed that such dreams could come true for me. The pain … what happened … was largely from the realization that for me they never would. I know now that I am destined to be alone. I know that I could never really have a relationship with Catherine or anyone else … I accepted that reality long ago. But can I not even have a dream, Father?” He sighed deeply before going on. “I don’t know how much longer I can go on without any dreams … even if they are impossible.
“Before Catherine came here … I felt the darkness closing in on me … as if I was slowly being buried alive… She brought me a little bit of light, Father. She brought me a little bit of hope. It feels as if she has thrown me a lifeline. I’m not sure that I can let it go.”
Father’s heart went out to his son. He knew the pain of losing a dream and finding himself alone and adrift in a sea of regret and bitterness. He knew this pain, knew it all too well, and he knew the price that Vincent would pay if he felt it too. In desperation he gave Vincent one last bit of advice.
“I implore you, Vincent. Write about this experience in your journal. Write about her … but then you must accept that she is gone and turn the page. You must forget about her … as she will most assuredly forget about you. If you don’t, it will bring you nothing but unhappiness.”
“I don’t believe it will be that simple, Father,” Vincent said quietly. “I feel as if somehow she has become … a part of me.”
Father sighed again and raked his fingers through his hair. He had hoped that Vincent could be spared the suffering that must surely come to him if he should ever fall in love. Father had a sinking feeling that they would all come to rue the day that this woman had come into their lives. He put his hand on Vincent’s shoulder and said, “I’m here if you need me, Vincent. I don’t know what else I can do. I beg you, Son, take my advice and do all in your power to forget her.”
As Father turned to leave, he fervently hoped that as time went by that these feelings that Vincent was having would fade.
After Father left, Vincent looked at the pen lying next to his journal. It had been a gift from Father many years before, along with a lovely leather bound journal. Father had written on the flyleaf a poem by Edgar Alan Poe …
are the eraser dust I blow off my page.
Vincent thought that it was Father’s way of encouraging him to accept the reality and limitations of his existence. That for him, dreams were not to be.
It was a tunnel tradition for Father to give all of the children a similar fountain pen and journal. It was a rite of passage, so to speak. It had come to symbolize their transition from childhood to adulthood. It marked the end of their formal education in the tunnels. Father always made a speech about how this pen was meant to be used to record the significant events and milestones in their lives.
The pen had come in a small oblong box with bright blue lettering on the top that said, The Conway Stewart Pen, London. The poor little box had long since crumbled to dust, but Vincent still treasured the pen.
As he held the pen in his hand he recalled when Father had given it to him…
“I don’t understand, Father, it isn’t my birthday.”
Father’s eyes looked moist as he said, “In a way it is, Vincent. We thought we had lost you and now you are well again.”
“But Father, these pens … these journals … you give them to us when we finish our education so that we can record the significant milestones in our lives.” Vincent was quiet for a moment and then he said, “There won’t be any of those for me. I won’t ever be anything … but what I am.”
Father put his hand lovingly under Vincent’s chin and turned his face to him. “Vincent, don’t you know … that every day you live is a ‘significant milestone’? You need this gift more than any of the others.”
“Because, Vincent … the very fact that you exist is a miracle. Each day for you is a milestone. Cherish your life, Vincent. Record it … so that one day … others may know that you lived.”
Vincent sat at his writing table and picked up the pen. Yes, Catherine, I will write about you, he thought, but I will never forget you. I doubt if I could, even if I wanted to.
Long ago I accepted that it was my fate to live always alone in the dark. I had no idea how dark it was until you came into my life … into my home … into my chamber and shined your light. For ten days you were forced to live in darkness while I selfishly basked in the light that is you. Are you aware of how brightly you shine? I would gladly and gratefully live the rest of my life in these tunnels if I had you to light these halls. How could I ever miss the sunlight if you were by my side? But these musings are only idle dreams. Dreams that can never be. I know that. You belong to the sunlight, Catherine. You could never survive long without it. I would never ask it of you.
How can I even express what you have done for me? What you have given me?
You have given me a dream, Catherine.
I know I will probably never see you again. I don’t see any reason why I would. You belong to that world … the world Above. You belong to a world where you can walk in the sunlight, a world where you are loved and admired, a world that I could never be a part of. And I belong to this world, a world of shadows, where I am consigned to forever walk alone, concealed in darkness.
But when I think of you, Catherine, I feel as if our path together is somehow unfinished … like the last chapter of Great Expectations. The book is still sitting there waiting on the table beside the bed where I read to you. I can’t bring myself to finish it without you.
Father has cautioned me about the dangers of dreaming of a life that can never be for me. He has advised me to do all in my power to forget you, to forget this dream. I understand his concerns, but how can I help it … when the dream is so sweet? Am I not even allowed that small pleasure? What value is there in living if I cannot even dream? Does it matter that the dream can never come true? … Especially if it gives me a reason to live another otherwise dreary day alone?
Father recalls to my mind these lines by William Blake,
"Father, O Father, what do we here,
Should I just forget you, Catherine? Can I … forget you? It feels as if there is a hole in me where you used to be. An empty place that only you can fill. I think perhaps it has always been there. I just didn’t realize it until you came, and now that you are gone I feel as if my soul has been ripped in two.
All I ask is that if I must always live without the sun, if I must forever live without love, that I at least be allowed to dream of those things. Does Father think that I don’t understand that these are dreams that can never be? Of course I understand that. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still need the dream … I need it as much as I need the air that I breathe. I need it to light my way in the dark.
Edgar Allan Poe once wrote:
“Dreams are eraser dust and now I use a pen.”
Perhaps Mr. Poe could give up on his dreams … let them blow away… but I can’t.
I cannot allow you to become ‘eraser dust,’ Catherine. You may be a dream, but I am writing about you with a pen. I will not let your memory blow away or merely fade into the emptiness, the darkness that is my life. As long as I can dream of you, my days will be a little less dark and gray … even if it is a dream that can never be.
Thank you, Catherine, for giving me a dream to light my way.
Be well, Catherine. Be happy,
"But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
 “Late Lament” by Graeme Edge, Moody Blues
 “The Land of Dreams” by William Blake
 William Butler Yeats “The Wind Among the Reeds” 36. Aedh wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
Illustrations supplied by the author