Regrettable. That’s the operative word. When you lose the one you love, no matter how happy you made her when she was alive, no matter how loving and caring you were when you could touch her, in retrospect, it wasn’t enough. That’s not just a feeling or a figment of grief. It’s a fact. The fact is no matter how good you were to her, you know you could have been better. You also know the person you spent 2/3 of your life with knew you could have been better but forgave you anyway.
Those are the disempowering thoughts that haunt your mind on a bad day. On a good day you remember that in your heart of hearts, you know you did the best you could, and in fact, few women have ever been loved the way you loved her. Everyone who knows the two of you, even casually, bears witness to that fact. The two of you were shining stars and examples of what a relationship between a man and a woman should look like.
Be that as it may, thirty-three years into the relationship, cancer made its ugly intrusion into our lives and 16 years after that, she was gone. The question that remains for me is what should I do with myself now that she’s gone? She was my muse, my inspiration. Without her in my life everything is meaningless. I feel like the walking dead, just going through the motions of everything I do with only the thought, “I’ll be glad when I finish this”, crossing my mind right from the time I begin whatever I happen to be doing.
My name is Arthur Adams. I’m a 73 year-old semiretired dentist. I lost my wife after three years of courtship and 46 years of marriage two years ago. I’ve been retired from fulltime clinical dentistry for about nine years. I’ve always been amused at how the public views the dental profession. Ninety percent of the time, when you see dentists in movies and on television, they are almost always objects of comic relief. The way they depict things like anesthesia, sedation and pain control in a dental office for example is so far removed from reality that it should be a crime. Nitrous oxide sedation is depicted as some kind of toy with its effects ranging from a comical delirium to all out general anesthesia. According to the Hollywood depiction it affords the dentist the ability to do everything from talking to his stockbroker while ignoring his patient to molesting her assistant while her patient is sound asleep. Besides the fact that it is impossible to achieve that depth of sedation or general anesthesia with nitrous oxide only, the reality is a patient carried to that depth of sedation would be on the razor’s edge between sedation and death. In reality, the dentist and at least two auxiliaries would be required to monitor and safely treat the patient. The joke would be fine if so much of the American public were not so stupid. I can’t tell you how my times people actually came to my office expecting that fanciful level of simplicity to manage their anxiety. So many people in America believe almost everything they see in the media, no matter how ridiculous it is, even when it’s meant to be a joke.
The really good dentists out there structure their practices so that their patients are much more knowledgeable. Their patients regard them with the same reverence and expectations they would have for a top-flight neurosurgeon or medical specialists of all variety. I spent 30 years engaging in implant dentistry and sedation dentistry where the fees were high enough and patient accountability for compliance was strong enough so the practice rarely had to suffer for very long the fools deluded by TV and movie influenced expectations for their care.
I’m telling you this so you can have some appreciation for the rigor of dental practice, and the fact that a person has to be as mentally agile as a champion chess master and as physically strong and resilient as a professional athlete to practice dentistry on its cutting edge for three or four decades. By the time a gave it up I had two back surgeries and a shoulder surgery and my memory and reflexes were much slower than they were even five years before I sold my practice. Now, I practice one day a week in the office of a friend of mine doing mostly dental hygiene checks and minor restorative dentistry. Once in a while I’ll do a sedation case requiring no more than and hour of treatment, but other than that, I’m just one of the “girls” in the office.
I’m not suicidal but I find myself wondering what it is about life that makes me cling to it with such dogged determination now that I find myself completely alone in the big house I bought for Arabella after our kids went off to college and professional school. I wonder the empty halls and pass the empty bedrooms like the ghost of a happier time, with only my thoughts and memories to keep me company. I workout, diet and exercise with the intensity of people 30 years my junior even though the thought of more life fills me with anticipation of more misery. It’s a bland existence that can best be described as comfortable. I don’t have to worry about money or crime or lack of the ability to acquire pretty much any material possession I want. I’ve managed to grab the brass ring I’ve been reaching for my whole life, that was supposed to give me ultimate happiness. But without Arabella, all of that is completely without meaning or significance; like the background props in a theater production. After the first act, you scarcely notice them.
I suppose you could say my life is a perfect example of the animal instinct for survival. All animals, all living creatures for that matter, seek equilibrium. We seek the optimum temperature, the optimum state of nourishment and freedom from pain and discomfort. Beyond that there is no meaning to life other than the meaning we give it. I suppose that’s why the perspective that life gives me now is that of detachment. I don’t feel like I’m living my life, but more like I’m watching myself live my life. The prevailing feeling I’m left with is sadness – just a remorseful loneliness brought on by the degree to which I miss my lost love, Arabella.
The only time I feel really alive is when I dream at night. Alone in the California king size bed Arabella and I spent our nights in together, I sleep better than I have at any time in my life. My dreams are vivid and varied in their subject matter. Sometimes they are disturbing, usually involving some type of frustration like not being able to find my keys or an address I’m looking for. Sometimes dramatic, like when I’m competing in some kind of sporting event or engaged in some kind of confrontation or fight I’m having with a foe. And sometimes, they are quite erotic, involving everything from women I just passed on the street, to women I know, to my beloved Arabella.
The dreams usually come during the four to five hours of deep, uninterrupted sleep that comes to me immediately after going to bed. When I awake after that deep sleep, which usually lasts four to five hours, I go to the bathroom and go back to bed. I’m able to fall asleep again after that but then the dreams are not as vivid and are more or less replays of the dreams I woke up from. In fact, I’m never sure if I’m awake and am only recapping to myself what I just dreamed or if I’m asleep dreaming some edited version of the dream I just dreamed. In the overall scheme of things, there’s nothing strange or unusual about my sleep patterns. However, never would I have imagined in a million years the strange occurrence I’m about to tell you about.
Not long ago, I had what was for me an almost perfect day. Its start was pretty typical of the days I live nowadays. I live the same day almost every day. Normally, I wake up around 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning. I have my morning constitutional followed by a breakfast consisting of one banana, ten vitamin pills and three blood pressure related pills taken with water and a handful of dry sugarless salt free shredded wheat squares. Then 45 minutes of stretching exercises for preventive maintenance of my back, neck and shoulders. Then I head to the gym for 45 minutes of weightlifting followed by an hour of spin aerobics. That’s when things began to change on that day.
When it comes to exercise I have one rule since my back surgery. Of the three primary activities I do for exercise – swimming, weight lifting with aerobics and golf – the rule is, if I do one, I can’t do either of the other two on the same day. However, on that day, after my workout, which was followed by ten minutes in the steam room and a cool shower, I felt invigorated. It happened to be a cloudless, windless, unseasonably warm day in early spring and I could almost hear the golf course calling, begging me to come out and play. I went home, gathered my gear and headed out to my favorite nearby golf course. My intention was to just go to the driving range and hit a few balls. But I was striking my shots so crisply I couldn’t resist finding out if I could translate my precision on the range into a low score on the course. I decided to play nine holes. Normally I’m a plus 15 handicap, but I played those nine holes in a one under par 35 strokes. I had never posted a score in the 70s in my life, so I had to play nine more holes to see if could do it on that day. My score after 18 holes was 78! The lowest score I ever posted before that day was 82.
The real payoff that day was my physical condition, after the most strenuous workout I had in over ten years. My back and my shoulders felt fine and there was not even a hint of pain in the usual spots on my back, neck and left shoulder. I ate my usual staple of rice, beans and collard greens for dinner, with an orange and an apple for desert. Afterwards, I sat down in front of the television to relax. I was feeling like the worlds greatest winner until I remembered I had no one there to share my enthusiasm with.
If Arabella were alive I would be talking to her about it. Telling in detail about each crucial putt I made to keep the round alive and every fantastic iron shot I landed inches from the pin. She would have listened like she cared, even though she had no earthly idea of the significance of anything I was telling her. But the mere act of telling her made it real for me. It was also tantamount to reminding her how worthy I was of her love and that she married a hero in the classic sense of the word, able to perform feats above and beyond the average man’s capability. Her not being there reminded me of how empty and meaningless my life had become. It was about then I began to nod in front of the television. It was only seven o’clock in the evening but suddenly I had become exhausted beyond measure. I could barely keep my eyes open and wondered if I even had the strength to brush my teeth and put my pajamas on.
Somehow, I managed to properly prepare for bed, and even though I usually never go to bed before 9 PM, it was about 7:30 PM when I crawled under the covers. The thought crossed my mind that I may have been having a medical problem since the fatigue I was experiencing just didn’t seem natural to me. It was about that time that I dozed off to sleep.
Suddenly I was no longer sleeping and dreaming, or at least in my state of consciousness, it didn’t feel like I was dreaming. This was real. I found myself back in 1977 driving down Highway 86 towards Prospect Hill, where I worked out of a trailer converted to a dental office when I first moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 1977. The year 1977 was the year I moved the North Carolina from New York City. It was the most confusing and beleaguered time of my life when I was torn between leaving all my extended family in New York and living in North Carolina close to my wife’s family, in country I always thought was the most beautiful in the United States.
I was driving what seemed like a brand new fire engine red version on the car I always wanted since my college years, an Austin-Heely convertible with black leather interior and white wall tires with spoke wheel rims and a pearl white steering wheel. I could feel the warm summer air stroking the top of my head as I cruised down the road at 60 mph feeling the ground vibrating under my seat of the low suspension vehicle. I drove right past Highway 54 towards Roxboro where my dental trailer was located. I could see the trailer and the brick medical building next to it a half mile before reaching 54. The complex owned by the Orange-Chatham Comprehensive Health Service I worked for way back then was deserted, like a ghost town in the old west. I drove right past it not wanting to break the spell of pure enjoyment I was feeling. I was on the open road with not another soul on the highway as if it were made solely for my enjoyment. I had never driven past 54 on 86 so whatever I found down the road past there would have the makings of a new adventure.
I drove past rustic wooded areas and quaint farmhouses surrounded by acres and acres of freshly planted farmland for what seemed like about 15 minutes. Then the roads seemed to narrow until it ceased to be two lanes of traffic going in opposite directions but narrowed into a single lane of traffic with only enough width accommodate one vehicle. After a few miles, the pavement turned to dirt. In 1977 there were many service roads in North Carolina that had not been fully paved. Usually after a mile or two, the pavement would resume. However, after another two miles, all I saw was miles of dirt road ahead. It was time I asked directions as to where I was. Just as I had that thought I came upon a dirt road on my right intersecting with what I thought was 86, but somehow I was not sure I was still on 86. I thought in the state of euphoria I was driving in, I somehow veered off 86 and got onto some unnamed road. There wasn’t a sign of civilization in sight, so I turned onto the dirt road on my right.
The sky had turned overcast and I wondered to myself if I should stop and put the top up. There were only dense woods on both sides of the road so I decided to go down the road a mile or so and if I didn’t see any signs of civilization, I would backtrack and find my way back to 86. The pine trees on either side of the road seemed excessively tall for North Carolina and between their shadows and a more densely overcast sky; it felt like I was driving in a huge tunnel and it was dark enough that I needed to turn the headlights on. After traveling about a mile, I came to what seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel formed by the shadow of the trees and the overcast sky.
I traveled for about another 100 yards before emerging out of the tunnel of darkness and into the bright sunshine of the beautiful day I had begun my ride in. There was a quaint little farmhouse near the road on my left. I could see a woman sitting on the porch of the wood framed house with wooden shingles on the roof and a little girl playing in the front yard of the house. I slowly coasted to the gravel driveway on the right side of the house. By then my beautiful red sports car was covered in dust from the dirt road. I eased off the clutch in first gear as I eased up the gravel driveway with the gravel made popping noises under the weight of my tires.
As I opened the door and stood up next to my sports car I could clearly see the woman. She was exquisitely beautiful. She was a light-skinned black woman with thick, raven black hair that was almost Asian in its texture. In fact, I couldn’t be sure if the woman was black or Native American, as there were many Lumby and Cherokee Indians living in the Prospect Hill area.
“Excuse me mam”, I began. “I think I may be lost. I thought I was traveling west on Highway 86 but I seemed to have somehow gotten off of it. Can you tell me where I am and direct me to back onto Highway 86?”
“Where are you headed?” the woman asked.
“Nowhere in particular”, I replied as I walked up the steps to the porch where she was sitting in her rocking chair. She stood up as I approached her. “I was just out for a drive and seemed to lose my way”.
“I see”, said the woman. Her voice was soft and feminine and matched her beauty perfectly. She was wearing a long cotton granny kind of dress that hung to slightly below her knees, but I could see enough of her curves underneath her dress along with the most beautiful legs supported on the most perfect feet I’d ever seen to know that her body more than complimented her beautiful face. I could tell by her speech and mannerisms that she was clearly of African American decent, though many of her features were more Caucasian than African, like her hair and her nose.
“Well if you’re not going anywhere in particular, why does it matter what road you’re on?” she continued. “You’ll eventually come to something familiar which will direct you home when you’re ready, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
For a second I felt like Alice in Wonderland when she met the Cheshire cat. “I don’t like to go too far without knowing where I am”, I replied. “In case there is an emergency and I have to get home fast. Besides, there are dangers out here that someone like me always has to be mindful of.”
“Oh, you’re a practical man. I guess you get a lot done in your life. Too bad your reluctance to throw caution to the wind causes you to miss so much of it.”
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by “miss so much of it”. Was she talking about the life I had already missed or what I would miss in the future?
“My name is Arthur Adams, what’s yours?” I inquired with an air of skepticism, not wanting to get too deep in discussion until I found out more of whom I was talking to.
“It’s Kathrin, spelled with a K, or maybe with a C”.
“Well which is it, K or C?”
“Which do you prefer?”
I couldn’t tell if she was just screwing with me or if she was a little bit off in the head. However, I wasn’t about to risk aggravating a woman as beautiful as her by telling her what I was thinking, tactfully or otherwise. At that same time, I had the sense that I was talking to the wisest person on Earth.
“I don’t know. ‘K’ I guess.”
“Then K it is. My name is Kathrin spelled with a K”.
Was she trying to evade telling me her real name? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t matter. Either way she was just a mysterious stranger. Her cryptic responses were enough to warn me to keep my guard up for who knows what.
About that time the little girl playing in the front yard ran up onto the porch. “High Mister”, she said taking my hand. She looked up at me with the most beautiful light brown eyes I had ever seen. She had sandy reddish brown hair fashioned in two pigtails in the back and one pigtail on the top that hung to one side. Her peach colored skin was baby smooth and she was the picture of innocence.
“What’s your name”, I inquired as I squatted down to her 4 year old eye level.
“My name is Lolly”, she replied. “I’m playing butterfly house. I make a house made of flowers and the butterflies come to live in it. I have two butterflies living in it so far. Would you like to play with me?”
Don’t ask me why, but for some reason I had a powerful urge to play with that child. I looked at Kathrin who nodded her permission and off we went. We played butterfly house and what seemed like 100 other made up games. As we played I experienced a joy that I hadn’t experienced since I was four years old and everything in life was brand new and exciting. The joy in her eyes and on her face gave me a kind of pleasure I had never experienced before. Like a child, I wanted the play to go on forever.
The sun was beginning to set low over the back of the house when Kathrin called us. The setting sun created the illusion of a golden aura around the house. “Lolly, time to get cleaned up for supper. Come on in the house”, Kathrin called out. Lolly and I looked at each other with “ah shucks” expressions on our faces, but Lolly obediently stopped what she was doing, took me by the hand and headed for the house, skipping in front of me.
“Can my friend eat with us?” Lolly asked as we came through the front door.
“Will you be eating with us Mr. Arthur Adams?”
“Just Arthur”, I replied, “and yes, I would love to have dinner with you.”
Kathrin smiled a wry smile, as she sat the silverware around the three plates she had already put out. We dinned on a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and string beans, and had a delicious apple pie for desert. We enjoyed ice-cold lemonade throughout the meal.
Dinner conversation was pleasant, consisting mostly of Lolly telling Kathrin all of the things we discovered and the games we played that afternoon. I found it curious that I was as interested and engaged in the conversation as Lolly, adding to and sometimes embellishing what she was saying. I had found the encounter every bit as enjoyable as Lolly. Kathrin just smiled and nodded, pretending to be interested in what we were saying.
It was dark by the time we finished eating and talking. “Time to get ready for bed Lollypop”, said Kathrin as she began picking up the plates and placing them in the sink. Lolly obediently rose and headed for the bathroom to wash her face and hands and brush her teeth.
“Can I help you with the dishes?” I inquired of Kathrin.
“No thank you”, she replied, adding “you better put the top up on your car it you’re going to stay the night. It often rains at night around here”.
I was startled by her very matter of fact offer for me to stay the night at first but almost in the same instant I became aware that for some reason, being in the company of those two people was so satisfying that I never wanted to leave. I felt like I wanted to stay with them forever. Without a word, I went out to my Austin Heely, rolled up the windows and secured the top and walked back into the house.
The house was a simple structure. You entered the house into one big 20 by 10 foot room. On the left side of the room as you entered, there was a very modest, austere kitchen consisting of a sink seated within a counter with cabinets underneath and on either side of the sink and cabinets above the counter on either side of the small window facing the sink. On the wall adjacent to the sink and cabinets and facing the entrance to the house was an old fashion stove with an oven under four electric ranges and an old refrigerator next to the stove. The modest wooden kitchen table with seating for four that we just had dinner on was in the middle of that side of the room. On the right side of the room was a sofa under a small window facing the kitchen window and a wooden coffee table in front of the sofa. There were two chairs, one each on the other two walls on that side of the room. The wall containing the door to the house faced the small bathroom, just large enough for a sink, tub and a toilet. There were doors on either side of the bathroom that were the entry into two small 10 x 10 foot bedrooms. There were two large windows on either side of the entrance door to the house. You entered the house from the porch that ran the full length of the house. Four, evenly spaced four x four-inch wooden beams connected by wooden railings three feet above the porch floor supported the roof extension that sheltered the porch. 1 x 1 inch wooden struts supported the railings, each about 2 inches apart. Everything was perfectly symmetrical.
By the time I secured the top on my car, climbed the three steps to the porch and entered the house, Lolly was already in bed and Kathrin was sitting on the sofa. “Lolly wanted to say good night to you”, said Kathrin, pointing to the door on the right of the bathroom as I walked into the room. Without saying a word, I walked into the room on the right. Lolly lay tucked neatly under the covers pulled up to her chin. It was an old fashion bed with legs that held it a foot above the floor and a wooden headboard. The bed was situated lengthwise under a large window on the wall opposite the door.
“I really enjoyed our time together today”, I said smiling as I sat down on the bed next to Lolly.
“I had fun today. We can have more fun tomorrow”, she said, her eyes shining with excitement. “Tomorrow we can play my favorite – Princess Wonder and her friend Lion”.
“Boy! That does sounds like fun. I can hardly wait. We should sleep fast so tomorrow will come quicker”, I said, provoking a giggle from Lolly. I kissed her on her forehead and wished her good night.
“Good night Dr. Adams. I love you.”
“Good night”, I said again, so moved by her unsolicited expression of affection that the fact I never told her I was a doctor never crossed my mind. “I love you too”, I said as I turned off the little lamp on the little table next to her bed and almost tip toed out of the room.
Kathrin was smiling her approval as I entered the living area of the house. “Come and sit next to me”, she said patting the couch where she wanted me to sit. I sat down next to her. The ceiling lights on the left and right side of the room provided 200 watts of soft light that afforded me the ability to see the full measure of Kathrin’s beauty. I wondered to myself if she quite possibly might be the most beautiful woman on Earth. Her face, skin and hair were flawless and the unflattering clothing she was wearing couldn’t hide the equally flawless female form of her body.
“So tell me”, she said as she poured two glasses of lemonade from the icy pitcher on the tray sitting on the coffee table, “Why have you come here?”
“I told you, I was just out driving, got lost and coincidently found you.”
“Oh come now”, she said. “You and I both know that there is no such thing as coincidence. You are here because it is your destiny to be here. The question is why are you here, which is simply another way of asking if you are present to your destiny or are you just sleep walking your way through life.”
I took a sip of the ice-cold lemonade she had just handed me. I had enjoyed it through dinner but now it was somehow sweeter and tastier, almost euphoric. I sabered it as I thought about her question.
“I honestly thought I was just taking a car ride”, I finally responded. “I certainly didn’t set out with the intention of anything so profound as finding my destiny.”
“Really”, she said, eyebrows rising a bit. “What do you think your destiny is?”
“I don’t know if I could call it destiny, but my goal in life is to become a great man and make a fortune for myself and solve much of humanity’s problems in the process”.
“Interesting”, she said. “And what is your plan for accomplishing this great feat?”
“I don’t know. I guess I’ll begin by becoming the most successful dentist in North Carolina then invest the profits into inventions and businesses I know are necessary for a cleaner environment and a healthier population.”
“I don’t mean to be critical, but you seem to have your priorities out of alignment. You’re confusing destiny with things like commitment and passion and desire. All those things are relevant and factor into your destiny, but they are not synonymous with destiny.”
I thought about what she said for a minute. I realized that she was talking about things I knew nothing about and the semantics were dizzying. I decided to do what young people are usually loath to do, admit I didn’t know what she was talking about.
“I’m sure you’re right”, I finally responded. “I’ve spent half my life trying to understand biochemistry, anatomy and mathematics. I’ve never really had the time to think of the things you’re talking about. If I’m to understand them the way you apparently do, I’m afraid you’ll have to teach me.”
She smiled and then she laughed. “You know a lot more than you think you do”, she said. “In fact everyone does. It’s just that most of us don’t pay attention to what we already know. They dismiss it as fantasy or daydreaming.”
“Okay. Then tell me, how do I find destiny?” I said in all earnestness and sincerity.
She smiled and her expression changed from playfulness to serious. “The thing you have to understand about destiny is that it is not what will happen in your life, but what is meant to happen. It can only be accessed by the feelings you get. Those feelings tell you that whatever happened was meant to happen. When you are in alignment with your destiny, just know it. It’s a feeling you can’t explain but you know it, as does everyone witnessing what you happen to be doing. Think of the things you’ve done in your life when you absolutely knew that all of creation had conspired to put you in that exact place and moment in space and time. I would bet you’ve had that thought about being here at times today.”
Immediately when she said that I had the most powerful urge to kiss her. I had never wanted to kiss a women so bad in my entire life. There was a pause and as though she had read my mind, she stood up and said, “You can sleep in my room tonight. I’ll sleep with Lolly. I left a towel and washcloth at the foot of the bed. We can continue our talk tomorrow. You’ve had a long day keeping up with Lolly for three or four hours. I know you must be tired.”
Suddenly I realized as I stood up with her that I was extremely tired and looked forward to a good night’s sleep. This was not the way I’d hoped the night would end, but never the less, I continued to enjoy this warm contented feeling that I was in the most wonderful magical place on Earth. I had absolutely no thoughts about any human beings other than the ones in my presence.
Kathrin’s bedroom was the mirror image of Lolly’s except with a larger bed. As she said, she had left a towel and a washcloth at the foot of the bed with a brand new Oral-B toothbrush still in its plastic case on top of the washcloth. I waited to hear for Kathrin to be finished in the bathroom before going myself. I showered, brushed my teeth and went back to the bedroom. I wore nothing but my pants and underwear to the bathroom. I carefully checked that no one else was in the main room when I finished, and tiptoed back to Kathrin’s room with my pants draped over my arm wearing only my underwear.
The sheets were cool and clean as I slid under the covers consisting of only the sheets and comforter. The pillow was large and fluffy. I lay on my side and faced the window so I could gaze upon what was a beautiful, star filled sky on a full moon night. I smiled in utter contentment as I dozed off to sleep.
It must have been about 3 AM when I was awoken by the door to the room opening. The full moon must have been low in the sky and seemed to be shinning directly through the large window facing Kathrin’s room in the main part of the house, filling it with moonlight. Standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the moonlight was Kathrin, completely nude from head to toe. At first I thought I was dreaming but as she came closer and the detail of the magnificence of her female anatomy came more and more into view, I could only pray I wasn’t dreaming. She eased under the covers and embraced me, and the kiss I felt compelled to deliver a few hours ago was delivered to me. Her mouth tasted like some exotic fruit I’d never tasted before and along with the cool velvety smooth flesh of her perfectly formed breasts and pubic area pressed firmly against the now burning flesh of my chest and genitals, I was filled with a desire that was almost maddening in its need to be satiated.
We made love like we had gone to another dimension where time no longer existed and there were only the sensations we elicited from one another. At times, it was as though she had become another person. She took on the faces and bodies of all of the women I had made love to in the past and others I had desperately wanted to make love to but was never able. It was bliss beyond measure – beyond description or explanation. After what may have been hours or only minutes, there was this orgasmic explosion that seemed to disintegrate both our bodies into millions of specs of colorful lights before we reintegrated into each other’s arms. I remember kissing her sweet lips before lapsing into a deep, comatose sleep.
The next morning I awoke alone to the smell of bacon and eggs cooking outside Kathrin’s room. The sliding closet door at the foot of the bed was open and I saw my pants and sport shirt neatly hung in the closet. I slipped my pants and undershirt on. Somehow my undershirt, socks and briefs had been washed and ironed and neatly placed on the chair next to the closet door near the foot of the bed. I opened the door to the kitchen side of the main room to find Lolly and Kathrin sitting on either side of the kitchen table facing each other with the rising sun filling the large window on the front of the house like a giant yellow ball.
“Good morning Dr. Adams”, Lolly said with the enthusiasm only a child who was truly glad to see you could conjure, her eyes lighting up and a big smile stretching her lips. “I have my Princess Wonder doll and lion all ready to play with today”, she continued without giving me a chance to respond to her greeting.
“Good morning Lolly. That’s great to hear”, I replied. “Good morning Kathrin. What time is it? I can see everyone has been busy this this morning while I somehow slept through all the action”.
“Good morning”, replied Kathrin. “It’s early”, she continued without answering my question with a specific time. I had already begun to sense that time as a guide or schedule to dictate activity didn’t exist in their household. “Sit down and join us for breakfast.”
I sat down to the tastiest eggs and bacon I think I ever had. The eggs were not too salty or laced with too much pepper and the bacon was not too greasy and was the perfect texture, not to soft but just crispy enough. The orange juice was perfectly sweet and I detected freshly squeezed.
As we ate, Lolly enthusiastically told me the story of Princess Wonder and her faithful companion Lion. Princess Wonder ruled the day in the kingdom of Good Things. She and Lion went through the land chasing bad things out and saving good things from bad things. She showed me what looked to be an antique brown Barbie doll and a little plastic lion that looked like it came from one of those frontier fort sets I used to get for Christmas when I was a kid. In Lolly’s fantasy, Princess Wonder and all the other creatures were giants and Lion was a big normal sized lion but was just small compared to Princess Wonder. It was a simple enough premise.
Kathrin just smiled as Lolly set the stage for our game, never interrupting her or conveying the slightest indication that Lolly’s fantasy wasn’t as important to their lives as everything else that went on. I was dying to talk to her about the previous night, but I quickly had come to realize that we would have plenty of time to talk when the time was right. Unlike ever before, I was beginning to trust in the natural order of things, and learning to focus on the thing I was engaged in, in the present moment, without regard for the future or the past.
After breakfast I got dressed and began my adventure with Lolly. I dutifully got down on all fours and held my little plastic lion so he could follow behind brown Barbie on the grass and into the edge of the woods as we encountered a variety of challenges and adventures. Almost immediately we came upon a bird that had fallen out of a nest made on one of the branches of the apple tree in the front yard. I fashioned a hammock out of twigs and grass and awkwardly climbed the tree with my plastic lion in one hand and the tiny featherless creature in the hammock in my other hand and gently placed it back in the nest with its two other siblings. I could see Kathrin shaking her head and laughing in the distance as she sat in her rocking chair sipping lemonade. The sight of a grown man climbing a tree using only arms and elbows to grab the branches must have been a comical sight. The robin observing all of this from a distance seemed appreciative and returned to the nest with a juicy moth, which the prodigal nestling quickly wolfed down.
Throughout the day Princess Wonder and Lion continued their quest with feats ranging from as simple as turning over a beetle that was unable to get to its feet after being flipped over, to engaging in complex conversations with squirrels, birds and rabbits about a variety of issues. The play was beyond enchanting for me. The pleasure I got from playing with Lolly was more satisfying than anything I had ever experienced in my life. It was not so much the activities that captivated me as the untethered joy in Lolly’s eyes as we glided from game to game. Her laughter was addictive and after each one I craved more.
We broke for a lunch of ham sandwiches and milk around midday and continued our play until the sun was setting. Just as the day before we had dinner, this time consisting of pork chops, rice and spinach and sweet lemonade to drink and chocolate cake for desert. After Lolly was tucked in bed, Kathrin and I talked for hours. Surprisingly we spoke very little of the previous night’s encounter. When I asked her about it she responded with a question, as I came to know as typical with her whenever I broached a serious subject.
“How did you feel about it?” she replied after my query. Not hesitating a second I responded.
“I felt it was the most magical, blissful, satisfying night of my life. I never wanted it to end”, I replied as I gazed into her eyes wanting to embrace and kiss her again. She met my gaze and smiled.
“You said that so much better than I could have said, and as you said it I realized that is exactly how I felt it. Experiences like that are the things that we never forget and the memory of it sustains us when life causes us to suffer”, she replied. “However, I think all our experiences can be as intense if we are fully present to the experience and not judging it. Instead, just be it. Just get lost in the moment and experience it as though at that point in time, nothing else in the universe exists. I think that’s why the experience was so enjoyable and intense for us.”
And that was all we spoke of the matter. We went on to talk about that day and how pleasurable it was and about life and how valuable it is and how every moment we’re alive is its own reward. We laughed when the subject was humorous and were somber when the subject was serious. After a few hours we went to bed. Just as the night before, I listened for Kathrin to finish using the bathroom before using it myself and then retired to Kathrin’s room for the night. Just as the night before, she came to me in the middle of the night and we made love. It was just as intense but somehow unique in its own right.
That is how each day with Kathrin and Lolly went. I can’t say how long I was there. It may have been a few days, a few weeks or a few months. What stands out as much as the joy of playing with Lolly was the profundity of the conversations I had with Katherine every night. I remember on one such occasion, we talked about the ego.
“People get confused about the ego”, she said. “Most people talk about it like it is a completely negative characteristic about us. But the ego is much more complex. The true ego is critical to our existence. It’s what makes us run away from danger and towards pleasure and comfort. The ego people most frequently talk about is the false ego that tells us we are special and superior to all other people on Earth. It prevents us from learning and seeing the truth because it is always so busy trying to convince everyone else that it already knows the answer to all questions. Whenever we empower this false ego we are living a lie. As bad as this false ego is for individuals, it is catastrophic in its collective form. It is the downfall of all cultures and civilizations. When dominant cultures begin to see the world only as they want it to be and not how it actually is, that is a sign of the beginning of the end for that culture or civilization.”
Once again, I can’t say how long it was (days, weeks or months) before I had my first thought of my family and how I missed them and how worried they must be about me. It was the first overcast day I experienced the entire time I was with them. We had just had lunch and for the first time, Lolly went into the front yard and begun play without me. I sat on the porch with Kathrin. She was looking straight ahead, not at me as she spoke.
“It looks like the time has come for you to move on”, she said, with the slightest hint of a smile curling the corner of her mouth. I shook my head yes as she turned to look at me. “That’s okay”, she continued. “As we have agreed many times in many ways since you’ve been here, there’s a time and place for everything and our time together has come to an end.”
“I promise I’ll come back to visit”, I said.
“Of course you will when the time is right”, she replied. “We love you so much and we’re so happy you came into our existence.”
The sky became dark and a strong wind came up. Lolly ran up onto the porch. “Is it going to storm mommy?” she said, almost hiding behind Kathrin’s skirt.
“Not for a while”, Kathrin reassured her, gently stroking the top of her head. “When it does rain it will only last for a little while before the sun comes out and once again we’ll have a bright and shinny day.” With that reassurance, Lolly smiled and looked at me and giggled slightly.
“It’s time for us to say good bye to Dr. Adams”, Katherine said as she looked into my eyes. Her look conveyed gratitude and a touch of nostalgia, but no remorse. Lolly walked over to me and took my hand.
“Will you come back to play with me?” she said, with those big beautiful eyes beaming at me. I stooped down to her level and hugged her.
“Of course I will. You just make sure you take care of Lion for me until I get back.” She giggled again as she shook her head yes.
I walked over to Kathrin and embraced her and gently kissed her lips.
“Just drive to the end of road you came in on and turn left and you’ll find your way back home”; she whispered, and kissed me again.
I got into my Austin Heely and waved at the two of them as I back down the driveway. I turned right at the end of the driveway before putting it into first gear and heading back into the woods I came in on. By the time I turned left on the dirt road it was pouring rain. I could barely see in front of me. I almost crawled along the dirt road at 25 miles per hour for about 15 minutes before I could feel the asphalt pavement of Hwy 86 under my tires. I came to the Orange Chatham health complex in about ten minutes later, just as the storm passed and the same bright sunshiny blue sky I drove in on those days, weeks or months ago was out again. The heavy rain had washed the dust off my Austin Heely making it look brand new again.
When I got home, Arabella and the kids were waiting for me. They rushed up to greet me with hugs and kisses, but not in a way I would have expected. It was as though I had just come back the same day I left. I didn’t say a word to Arabella about my experience that night as we went to bed, not being really sure of what I had experienced.
I went on to live my life just as I had actually experienced the next 30 years. By then, my kids had grown up, gone to college and graduate school and had families of their own, and I was serving on the State Board of Dental Examiners. I was in Chapel Hill one weekend helping to administer a licensure exam to UNC dental school students. I’d finished the exam early and decided to ride down 86 West on my way back to Greensboro to see if I had actually experienced Kathrin and Lolly or if they were just some out of body experience I’d had. It was a clear sunny day just as it was the day I met them. I passed 54 and what was now the ruins of the Orange Chatham Health Service and just as in those many years ago, the road narrowed before turning to dirt as the sky became overcast. Once again, I came to the dirt road on my right. I turned on it and headed through the grove of trees before coming into the bright sunlight. The little house on the left was still there!
As I pulled my white Lexus SUV into the driveway an old woman came through the front door. I got out of my car and walked up to the steps that led to the front porch. As I ascended the steps to the porch, I could see the familiarity of the old woman. Her straight hair was thin with streaks of gray, her light brown skin was wrinkled and weathered and her smile revealed missing teeth in the front a back of her mouth. But none of that could hide whom I was seeing. It was Kathrin. I always sensed Kathrin was at least 10 years older than me, but she had aged to the extent you would expect from a woman 30 years my senior.
Without saying a word we embraced and I hugged her as though holding on for dear life. She placed her weathered hands on either side of my face, caressing it so she could take in the full measure of who I had become.
“Let me look at you. I’m so blessed to see you again”, she said gazing into my eyes. She had become old and withered, but in a strange way, she was even more beautiful than I remembered her. I took her hands from my face and kissed them. Then I embraced her again and kissed her cheek before gently kissing her lips.
We sat down, she in her rocking chair, I in the seat next to it. She asked me about my life and I recounted my entire history since I had last seen her. I asked her about Lolly.
“Lolly’s been gone for a long time. She’s living her life. She sends a letter once in a while, but I haven’t seen her for a long time. I know she’s happy and that’s all that matters”.
We sat and talked for the entire afternoon. At one point, she retrieved a pitcher of the sweet lemonade she always seemed to have on hand. We talked about life and love for hours as we sipped lemonade until the sun was about to set.
“I’ll have to be going”, I said. “I told Arabella I’d be back before nine.”
“I know sweetheart”, she replied. “You have to live your life too, and I’m so glad and thankful you can. I’m proud of you.”
I kissed her again and headed back through the woods, back to 86 but then took a right on 54 towards Greensboro instead of continuing towards Chapel Hill. When I returned home, I kissed Arabella as though I had found a long lost treasure.
“Boy!” she said. “I can’t remember the last time you were this glad to see me”.
We laughed, but once again, I didn’t say a word about Kathrin or Lolly. That night, we went to bed happy and contented.
The next morning woke up to birds chirping but I immediately had the strange feeling something was wrong – something was different. I looked beside me and Arabella was gone, with her side of the bed not having been slept in. I sat up and looked around the room for a few minutes before realizing that the entire experience was just a dream. Everything from the first meeting of Lolly and Kathrin to the last meeting with Kathrin was just a dream! But it was so real. All the senses of my body were telling me that everything that happened had really happened. But it was just a dream. Arabella was dead and I was alone – completely alone and still grieving terribly for my lost love.
A couple of weeks latter, my daughter came to visit from her home in Maryland. There’s an interesting dynamic between sons and daughters. When your sons leave home and start their own families, they’re gone forever and become more a part of their in-laws family than yours. Daughters on the other hand are yours forever. Since Arabella’s passing, my daughter visits at least every couple of months. On that occasion, she came to help me clean out few closets. Arabella has been gone for two years and I still find it difficult to part with all her old clothes and other personal items that remind me of her.
As we cleaned out one of the closets, Nicolette found a box of old pictures that neither of us had ever seen. We stopped what we were doing and sat on the floor and began to look at the over 100 pictures together. They were mostly pictures of our family but many were black and white pictures of her family taken before we had met. We were about halfway through the box when Nicolette handed me a picture of Arabella when she was about four years old. I looked at the picture stunned, as if I had just seen a ghost. I began to tremble as the world began to spin around my head. I could feel my head ready to fall to the floor when I could faintly hear Nicolette’s concerned voice.
“Dad! Dad! Are you okay? Should I call 911?”
“No”, I said coming to my senses. “No, I’m okay. I was just shaken for a moment.”
“What happened?” she asked, her voice still full of concern.
What had sent me into shock was that the picture she handed me was undoubted, without question, a picture of Lolly! It was black and white and little bit hazy, but there was no doubt in my mind that the little girl in the picture, with two pigtails in the back and one pigtail on top hanging to one side was Lolly. Those big bright eyes and big smile were unmistakable. It was without question Lolly.
I told my daughter the entire story of my dream, just as I’ve told you. I recounted every moment from the time I left the golf course until I woke up the morning after. Nicolette listened in silence as I detailed the entire adventure. When I finished we both sat in silence a few minutes.
“What do you think it all means?” I said breaking the silence.
“I think it was mom’s way of communicating with you and letting you know that she still exists on some level and still loves you.”
I thought about that for a minute. “Possibly”, I said. “I know now that Lolly was your mother, but who was Kathrin? What does she represent in my life?”
Nicolette looked at me with incredulity. “Dad!” she began. “Kathrin fed you, nurtured your mind and body and provided you with everything you ever needed or wanted in life. Isn’t it obvious? Kathrin was God”.