My Version of Casablanca – Part One

Shamefully, I have never seen the movie Casablanca. It’s in a holding pattern in my life right now, as my partner has always imagined he would watch it with the woman he would marry/spend the rest of his life with (the latter statement is probably more accurate, as he is not the marrying kind). When we first knew our relationship was serious, he told me he wanted me to be the one he watched it with. It has been in our DVR queue untold times. But then I had the affair with the boy the summer he left me alone with my demons, and it was deleted for years. We could not even speak of it with one another. Over the Thanksgiving holiday this year, he brought it back up – wanting to watch it with me again, so I assume some of my transgressions have been forgiven.

But I have my own Casablanca story of sorts. I know the version I have in my head, this brief liaison in my life, is unlike the movie. Yet, it was a beautiful romance – an unrequited one where the two lovers left one another on an airport tarmac.

At the last moment, Rick makes Ilsa board the plane to Lisbon with her husband, telling her that she would regret it if she stayed—”Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

And thus, my own version begins.

My husband had died. I could only call a few people to tell them, asking my father to do the rest. I could not handle others’ grief as I was weighed down by my own. Besides my sister and my parents, the only other people I contacted were his two best friends: the “best man” from our wedding and his partner-in-crime who had traveled the world with him and relied on their friendship the way I had relied on the love from the man I had lost. They were heartbreaking calls, but to my surprise his friend who had just, hours before, returned from a trip to China said he would be on the next flight to come to the memorial, if that is what we called it. My husband had never wanted a funeral or any type of ceremony but his parents insisted on calling hours, and I complied with that, as long as the casket we rented before his cremation was closed. For this post, and any other’s he is in, I’ll call this friend Joshua, though that is not his real name. He needed to protect people in his life and what happened between us is not something they need to know about.

“It’s hard to let go anything we love. We live in a world which teaches us to clutch. But when we clutch we’re left with a fistful of ashes.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

I think we all were clutching in those early days. It was as if a part of our world had been devoured by a black hole and nothing made sense anymore. I had a wooden box of ashes and I was clutching onto anything I could during that time. Joshua came for the memorial and we drank beer and smoked joints on the back porch of our, now my, house late into the night to keep the insomnia and nightmares at bay. We talked of my late husband until we were hoarse and the regrets we both had, the opportunities missed while he was alive, and the darkness left behind now that he was gone.

I saw Joshua briefly that summer when I was visiting my sister and he and his family were on the East Coast, a few hours from us. He came to visit for an overnight and we spent the long day drinking margaritas and trying to laugh and live, although we all were still in shock, dealing with the weight of our loss. As night fell and my sister and her husband went to bed, Joshua and I walked down to the beach, laid on the sand and stared at the stars, talking about life – then and now. Eventually he turned toward me and we kissed. I hadn’t been touched since my husband had died, and every fiber of my being wanted more. I wanted to be held, I wanted to be adored, I wanted to be loved. I wanted to know that I mattered. Because I no longer believed I did.

I didn’t see him again until the planned trip to Thailand he and I were to undertake in the fall. I was taking my husband’s ashes to a monastery in the northern part of the country, a place he had loved and spent time learning from the monks about being in the moment, breathing, letting go. A Thai friend arranged everything, and Joshua said he would take me on a two week adventure of all the places my husband had loved in a country that was still mysterious to me. I met him briefly in the Tokyo airport, after the 17 hour flight from Detroit. We had separate airlines and flights to Bangkok, but to simply see him, to know this was happening, was enough to get me through. I am a well-heeled traveler, but I was grateful to know he would be waiting for me in the insanity of the main Thai airport at midnight.

From the moment I landed to the time I left, everything was magical. The country was amazing and I understood, in a heartbeat, why my husband had loved it so much. It was chaos, especially in Bangkok, but there was a pattern to the chaos and the people I would meet on my journey were some of the most loving and gracious beings I have ever had the pleasure to share company with.

Our first night we barely slept. He took me into the depths of the night market in the capital city and we dined on delicacies that I had never tasted, let alone seen. We wandered the streets for hours, looking in stalls, feeling the tension building between us, but never speaking of it. When we returned to our hotel as the night was waning and the early light of morning was emerging, we finally touched, kissed and held each other as we fitfully slept for an hour or two. When we rose, we had a train to catch to take us north, where the adventure would truly begin. The sexual desire continued to grow. It was as if every hair on my body, every nerve ending was just waiting in anticipation. Somehow, I did not feel guilty by these longings…I was being selfish, yes. I see that. Joshua was married with children, he had a life far away from mine, and yet here we were – two lost souls looking for some sort of comfort in the biggest loss of our lives.

The train was magical – I have always loved train travel, probably from my early years of living in Europe. We had a sleeper car and a butler, and the scenery was as if I were in the most beautiful, enchanted land I had ever come across. As the night closed in and the butler made up our beds, we found ourselves sitting side by side on a bunk, our bodies moving in cadence with the train and slowly his hand took mind, our lips found one another’s and our bodies finally, finally, found the release they were looking for. It was beautiful. It was heaven. I felt for the first time in months I could breathe. Wrapped in his strong arms, I felt safe once more, safer than I had felt since that horrid day in April.

to be continued…

© Sorrow & Kindness

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