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  • He visited me in my house one summer. I must admit, he was an unwelcome guest at first. For a while I thought he would never leave. Still, it was interesting what happened while he was there. When he would go out for a few minutes to buy cigarettes or visit someone else I would hear the wind rustle in the trees and think no sound so beautiful or I would see the sunlight stream through the window, filling the room with its golden magic, and I would think no sight so lovely. For those small moments I would forget Heartbreak was my house guest and would always feel surprise at his return.

    Of course, I felt obliged to be the gracious hostess and I indulged his every whim, staying up far past my bedtime to discuss hard painful things and accepting with no resistance at all his every criticism. His conversations invariably were oppressive and he dwelled so on negative things, especially where I was concerned. He seemed to understand my vulnerabilities better than I did myself. He was a demanding visitor, insisting I not eat for he was fasting nor laugh for it hurt his ears. He certainly made himself at home among my antiques and mementos and even broke a few through carelessness.

    And yet, he was a guest and I had no thought of asking him to move on before he was ready to leave. So he stayed for quite a while. He had such a commanding presence that I respected him immensely and it was hard to see or hear anyone or anything else when he was there. In softer moments he would hold me as I cried myself to sleep and I could have sworn he whispered hopeful things as I was drifting off. But when the dawn broke he shook me awake with a harshness I was not used to and the peace of the night before was hard to hold on to, like the remembrance of a dream.

    Some of my friends said I was crazy to let him stay so long and claimed he was taking advantage of my goodnatured hospitality. Yet there were reasons he was there and I was bent on understanding them, so he stayed on. Summer turned to fall and fall to winter and he was still stalking through my house like a great bad-tempered bear. It began to look as though he'd be there forever. One day, in frustration, I let him know by sulking in the corner that I needed some time to myself. Strangely, he wasn't hurt as I had expected. He just put on his coat and went out for a long walk. He returned in the evening, though, and I must say I was glad to have him back for I had begun to feel guilty about my bad manners. After that day he seemed to sense intuitively when I needed private time and he went away more and more frequently and for longer periods of time. Several times he went away for a couple of days and just when I began to think he may not be returning he would be back. It was always a relief to me, even though I never would have admitted that to myself at the time.

    As I became accustomed to Heartbreak's presence in my life I found when I was able to overlook his harsh demeanor I could see a certain wisdom in his eyes, a certain strength in his character which fascinated me. As hard as it was to have him around, there was a mystery about him which intrigued me and I meant to play sleuth. One day, as we drank unsweetened tea at my kitchen table, he surprised me by standing up and announcing solemnly that I had invited him into my life and that if I wished he would also leave and never return.

    This was an embarrassing turn of events! Before, I had always been able to complain bitterly about his being there, as if his visit were an imposition and I the victim of his aggressiveness. It was humiliating to have to be honest with him (and myself) and admit that I wanted him to stay, at least a little while longer, I said. Later, sometimes, aggravated by his abrasiveness I told myself I was only being nice to insist he stay and that I secretly still wished he would leave. But a deeper part of me now knew that was not true and it made me wonder, at times, just exactly what I was up to.

    As it happened, late winter brought an unexpectedly severe ice storm which kept us housebound for several days. My guest seemed unusually reflective, almost mellow, and one afternoon as I watched him stare into the fire we kept going to keep ourselves warm I felt an overwhelming wave of tenderness towards him. He jerked his head up sharply, the reflection of the fire dancing in his eyes, as if he knew what I had been thinking. I quickly averted my gaze and pretended to be busy with the tea, but my heart was pounding wildly and I felt as if something scary was about to happen. Instead, when I looked up again he was grinning ear to ear. How strange. How much stranger still that I myself began to grin and then to laugh. Soon we were both laughing and holding our sides, tears streaming down our faces. He tousled my hair playfully and I jabbed him in the ribs. What was this? Was I actually becoming friends with this impossible giant?

    The incongruity of this whole scene pulled me out of the silliness and I sat myself down on the braided rug, exhausted and confused. He sat quietly in the wing chair with his eyes closed and a smile on his face. As the mantle clock kept time with the drip of icicles melting and hitting the empty flower pot on the porch I realized, not with a little anxiety, that now was the time to confront him, to get the truth about why he was here. As I sat lost in thought, trying to figure out how to phrase my inquiry, he spoke.

    "What do you want to know?"

    Startled, my body jerked up uncontrollably and I hit my head against the bookcase behind me.

    "What?" I stammered, confused. I was dumbfounded. Perhaps he had psychic powers. I was in over my head but I plunged in anyway.

    "Well, now that you mention it..."

    He smiled and looked out the window at the icy landscape. I'd never noticed before how slowly, how thoughtfully his head moved. For all his bulk and strength there was a gentle lightness about the way he moved, a deliberate control in the way he talked that I hadn't discerned, having dwelled on his sharper edges.

    "Yes?" he asked softly.

    So at long last I blurted it all out-- for hours I ranted to him about the pain, the confusion, the anguish, the feelings of being unwanted and worthless. I cried and spoke of all the past hurt, all the present despair, all the fear for the future. I spared no agonizing detail. Finally, emotionally spent, I looked up. Thinking back on it, what a pitiful sight I must have been! I looked up at him and I asked the infinitesimally small question that wrapped it all up so succinctly.


    Heartbreak rose from his chair, crossed the room and leaned down low in front of me. He cupped my face gently in his large hands, kissed me lightly on both cheeks, then sat down across from me on the rug and took my hands.

    All night and well into the morning hours he whispered the most astonishing secrets to me.

    He whispered and whispered until all the ice had melted and the sun, the beautiful sun, had reclaimed her rightful territory from the shadows of a necessary winter.

    image credit: Serge Melki, flickr creative commons
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