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Friday, July 29, 2005

A love affair

During my first year as depute headteacher in a big primary school in Scotland, I noticed a girl in the infants department. There were three hundred or more children in that department of the school, so “noticing” might be a strange word to use, but I can think of no better word. I “noticed” this girl. She was five years old. Dark hair, quite ordinary-looking, yet something about her drew my attention. Let’s call her F.

During the next three years, I invariably noticed F whenever she was in sight, no matter how many other children were around her. She was growing, like all the other children, but there was nothing exceptional about her appearance.

Then when she was eight or nine years old, she found herself in my class, the class of children I taught all day, every day. I was very excited and interested to have her there. Her presence only, just her being there, lifted my spirits, made the burden of teaching lighter and brought me content. If I took the class for a walk into the countryside, she sometimes held my hand – a great delight for me. But plenty of other children’s’ hands were there that I held from time to time, nine year old children often like to hold their teacher’s hand.

F was very serene. We played a game to teach multiplication tables. It was somewhat competitive and needed a steady nerve. F was not a particularly bright pupil, but she often won that game simply because she never panicked. I found that a very attractive trait.

F’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses. I tried to get to know them, to understand whether F’s upbringing in this faith had had an obviously beneficial effect; but I could make nothing of the Witnesses’ dogma, seemed like nonsense to me.

It happened that a couple, call them B and J, who were friends of ours lived next door to F’s parents and were friendly to them. B found out somehow that I was very interested in F, and when I left that school at the end of the year, and then a year later left teaching altogether and moved away, B and J sometimes visited us where we were living in another part of the country. B took it upon herself to keep me updated as to F’s progress in school and in life generally. We visited B and J in Scotland once, and of course, I popped over to see F and her parents. F was about fifteen years old by that time – how attractive I found her! Just the same slim, quiet, serene girl, but with the bloom of puberty upon her.

Later, during one of B and J’s visits to us, while we were having lunch on the grass on a summer afternoon, B told me quietly that F’s parents had separated. F and her mother had gone to live on the south coast of England. B gave me her address, and told me where she worked - an insurance agency I think it was. It so happened that one summer my work took me to that part of the country, and I got in touch with F to tell her I was there. I had already written to tell her about how I had felt about her when she was in my class – that I had thought her about the most wonderful person in the world (I think those were the exact words I used, and that was true). I sneaked down to the town where she worked early one morning and stood outside the office on the other side of the road, to tell the truth I wasn’t sure if I would recognise her after all these years. But there she was, fully grown but much the same, putting out the milk bottles on the step of the office front door. She didn’t see me, and I went back to work happy.

I arranged to visit her and her mother, and took them out in my car for a ride around the countryside. We stopped, got out and looked at the white figure of a man carved into the hillside hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago. F was quiet and didn’t have much conversation, but while we were alone for a moment she did tell me that on receiving my letter telling her how I felt about her when she was a little girl, she went upstairs to her room, took out from her drawer the bamboo flute I had helped her make and taught her to play more than ten years ago, sat on her bed and wept.

Back at home, my wife (now my ex-wife) and I discussed the possibility of asking F to come and stay with us for a few days, and as my wife was agreeable (she had met F once or twice years before) I wrote and invited her. F made the long bus journey to our house at the other end of the country. She came with me while I worked, and we took a trip into the Lake District and climbed up a well-known mountain. It was a great pleasure for me. I took her to visit my friend David the potter, a clever, articulate man and fellow of a Cambridge University college, who generously said to her, "Any friend of Malcolm's is a friend of mine."

The evening before she left, we stood outside our front door in the dark and held each other. That was the closest we got to each other. Somehow, the conditions just hadn’t seemed right for more intimate contact. I felt some scruples because she was still a keen Jehovah’s Witness, and I felt that if we had sex together it might make her feel very awkward in the company of her fellow Witnesses, so I had never pressed her. After she left, I sent her a picture of the mountain we had climbed, but I never heard back from her. Later, B told me that she had married a fellow JW. I still have the geode of amethyst she gave me, on the windowsill in front of me.

I now regret not having pushed for sex with her, which I am certain she would have consented to; and I wonder if I was mistaken in attributing to her that degree of innocence. I may have felt, unconsciously, that she and I were not really suited for a life partnership. But I have never forgotten her and often wonder how she is faring in her life. I shall never see her again.

If you, readers, want to tell me whether you think this was a missed opportunity or an escape from disaster, I shall be glad to read your opinions, and I shall take them lightly.

P.S. I have to confess to acute disappointment and tears while remembering this story in order to write it here. Perhaps the greatest disappointment of my life next to the deaths of my children, that circumstances, or my own hesitation, prevented me from consummating this love. It is not surprising I have some heart problems, since I have so often not followed the dictates of my heart.

14 comments:

  1. Your wife was alright with you having F over, even though you had told her how you felt about F? Also.. how old were you and how old was F when you last met? That's a pretty interesting story, that really got me involved! It would make a cool movie.

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  2. Lucky Me, I think my wife decided to take the risk. She probably thought I'd never be happy if F wasn't invited. I'm not sure that my wife knew all about how I felt, though she was well aware of my continuing interest in F. When we last met, I was probably about 57, F about 21. But you haven't answered my question at the end!

    Are you aiming to be a movie producer, Lucky?

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  3. There are many shades and hues between "missed opportunity" and "escape from disaster". My feeling after reading your account twice is that your relationship with F (for want of a better term) was/is a meeting of souls who knew each other in a previous incarnation. You are free to disagree, of course! :-)

    I've recently read much in your blog that inspires me, provokes me to thought and moves me, Malcolm. Thank you.

    orchidea

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  4. Malcolm, I believe it is possible that the connection you experienced with your "F" may be similar to what Tom and I have recognized and acknowledged in our relationship. Some of us are, I believe attached to one another beyond the boundaries of this lifetime. We come and go from lifetime to lifetime, and meet one another again and again in meaningful relationships that reoccur for us. Your sense of pain in denying the connection to your "F" may be a very real reaction to having turned away from a loved one who "belongs" to you "forever." If that is, in fact, true, the good news is that it is not possible to lose each other forever...

    hugs, sue

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  5. sue, you say " the good news is that it is not possible to lose each other forever..."
    I'm interested to know how you have been convinced of this. Despite my comment on your "cutting" post, I am aware that we meet again in other lives, and, what's more, with attachments apparently still in place. (I will put up another post on this soon.) Where and when those other lives take place is a mystery - perhaps they are taking place "now"? Time is also a mystery ...but let's not get into that. How are you convinced, sue?

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  6. orchidea, your compliments mean a lot to me, it makes writing so much easier if people say they find what one writes useful.

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  7. I can't say if it was a missed opportunity, because I don't really know HOW happy you are with your wife! If you are with the same wife... then maybe no you did the right thing..it wasn't a missed opportunity. But if the wife you were referring to was your ex, then... I believe it was a missed opportunity. Any man in his right mind would want to have sex with a 21 year old! And she sounded pretty from what you mentioned about her! Then again.. who knows.... maybe you saved yourself a lot of heartache. Would she have spent her life with you? Or just been a one night deal? Was she actually willing to sleep with you? YOu could have spent the rest of your life wanting her even more if you had slept with her.

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  8. I think, and this is only my opinion, that it was wisdom not having sex with F.... And to say that, I'm thinking about the age she was when she first met you... around my daughter or your son's age... somewhere in between... and the role you had for her... A teacher, a person we look at with respect... well, at a so young age... ;-) I think that going further and changing the status of your relationship could have completly destroy that respect and the trust between you... and I can be completly wrong... At 16, I was taking art classes and one of the teacher asked me to be model for him... I refused and he continued to ask me, even calling at my parents place to offer to go out with him for a drink... It was obvious that he wasn't looking only for a model... and I was quite shocked by that... I couldn't look at him the same way after... but, that was me at 16... ;-)
    Sure, you can feel regrets, but at the end, I think you could have make your life more difficult and broke some memories of you that F. is probably keeping inside her... thinking of you as a nice man who cared a lot about her, a teacher that gave her his knowledge and his friendship... I think it is more precious than sex... ;-)

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  9. BTW... Lucky me... I just watch your blog profil and realized you're female and 21...;-) but, I really don't believe that 'Any man in his right mind would want to have sex with a 21 year old!' It's all depends what you are looking for in life...;-)

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  10. Lucky, it may be that you, at age 21, think that any man in his right mind would want to have sex with you; but I think that is too sweeping a statement. There are plenty of 21-year-olds here in this town that I don't want to have sex with. Sex is a very transient thing, there has to be more than just physical attraction for it to be worth the possibility of screwing up one's family life, or the life of one's inamorata. It certainly was not clear to me at the time what I should do, so I did nothing.

    Remember, F had only her mother living with her, no father; probably she felt the lack of men in her life, hence her outpouring of emotion on receiving my letter. I don't think she knew exactly what she was looking for when she came to stay with me, I think she was waiting for me to guide her, guide her thoughts and feelings in some direction she didn't know.

    Rather than having sex with her at that point, what I would really have liked was to spend a long time with her, let her get over the age gap between us and feel able to talk freely, tell me her dreams and her history and learn about mine. In those circumstances, at my house with my wife there, that would have been difficult for both of us.

    It's easy to imagine now, almost twenty years later, what could have happened. But I am not good at making decisions under pressure, I have to have much time to let them surface.

    searabbit, to have sex with F would probably have destroyed my marriage, but in the end I did destroy it in another way, without lasting regrets, though difficult at the time. My regrets over F have as much to do with possibly not fulfilling her needs as anything else. I feel that I let her down, disappointed her, someone I cared for greatly. Some possiblility for good was left unrealised.

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  11. Malcolm,

    that is a beautiful story. What was, was. I believe all things unravel as they should. I have encountered people in this life that I recognized immediately, and even years later think about them even though from the outside, it wouldn't appear as though the relationship should have such an affect.

    I am very moved by your yearning. I understand it.

    Sex can be very powerful. But as you have experienced, the mind is even more so. You are still holding her close in your memory, and perhaps she thinks of you too.

    We all change over time as our experiences mold us. The decisions you made twenty some odd years ago are probably not the same decisions you would make now. Be at peace knowing that the two of you interacted exactly as it was intended, and you have those memories to cherish.

    As far as ruining her innocence, only she could answer that for you. When I was 21 I dated a man in his 50's (yes it included sex). Nothing that happened in that relationship changed me for good or bad. It just was. And this is the first time I've thought of him in years.

    However, I do think often about the few connections I have had over the years such as the one you described. Where I was just drawn to that person. No sex. No commitments. Just the universe letting us check in on one another.

    BTW, Rose and Claude are lovely. Hold them tight.

    Hugs,
    ~jewels

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  12. jewels, glad you like the photo of Rose and Claude. It shows them quite well.

    There's a philosphical objection to the idea of things always happening "as they should". If you say that things always happen as they should, that must be meaningless, because the word "should" implies the possibility of some other course of events - in fact that events sometimes take a course they "shouldn't". OK?

    So I cannot agree with you that things always happen as they should.

    My point about F's 'innocence' was that later on thinking it over, I realised that someone who was in fact very attractive might well have had previous sexual experiences. Another one might not have been exceptional. So my scruples over her standing with fellow Witnesses might have been pointless. I still don't know, as I have never heard more of F.

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  13. I believe that everything happens for a reason even if we can not see them or fathom them. Even the worst tragidies in my life have taught me one thing or another.

    Missed opportunity or escape from disaster? Who am I to judge this? Who am I to say that you should have pushed harder? Who am I to say that you should have let her go when she left your class?

    These are not things for me to choose or judge upon, but perhaps, just perhaps, you would have had sex with her and it would have destroyed her sense of self worth, maybe she would have thought that all she ever was to you all these years was a young piece of ass.

    Or, maybe had you had sex with her, you would have married her and never met your current wife, and not fathered your wonderful son.

    Do not let this eat at you Malc, looking back on the past is good when you need to remember a lesson or smile at a memory, but to linger on it is to invite sorrow into your heart.

    Just my opinion.

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  14. Malcolm, my convincement of lives before and beyond this is based on what feels to me to be sensible data from physics -- energy and matter are conserved throughout the universe, from evolutionary theory -- organisms develop, change, and move toward increasing complexity over time (and from my personal theological belief that prayer is evolutionary/creative in nature), and from my personal spiritual journeying which has found its most sympathetic vibrations with those teachings that understand human relationships to be important parts of the creative / spiritual experience and not merely incidental (and perhaps detrimental) side issues.

    It is my view that the relationships we build are the most intricate, most valuable, most essentially human things we create in our lifetimes. They are far more complex and far more delicate and more far reaching than any other artifact we manufacture. To believe that these most essentially human constructs last for only the few decades of our short lives is simply inconceivable to me. I suppose I am more inclined to reincarnational views than I am to the Christian "kingdom of heaven" view of life and relationships. I don't have proof, of course. Only a sense of what makes "sense" to me in light of my experience and my studies and my jouney.

    I wish I could give you more, but that's it.

    If you want to hunt down a good reference on reincarnation, I like Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery. It is an anthology of opinion and thought and right now I can't think who the author/editor is. I'll try and hunt that down.

    sue

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