Sunsets

 Amber Carter saw the piece of paper sticking out from her windshield wiper before she reached the car.  A ticket? No reason for one. She picked up her step out of curiosity, reached the car, and retrieved the note from her wiper’s grip.

 She smiled. The second one this week. It read:

 “A man will pay any price to win one  so beautiful. Therein lies my dilemma. How do I win a love which is priceless?”

 It was signed simply, “C”.

 Amber smiled in spite of herself. The “C” obviously stood for “corny”, but it was nice. Who could it be? Christian? Or perhaps Cyrano?

 Actually it was neither Christian nor Cyrano, but me, Carl. Amber was playing the beautiful Roxanne in the play “Cyrano de Bergerac”, and I had gotten neither the part of Christian nor Cyrano, but the evil Comte de Guiche. I the evil one, was plying my dear “Roxanne” with letters of courtship.

 She had smiled. At each letter, she had smiled.  Amber/Roxanne, the beautiful, gentle, blonde whose smile and laughter had won my heart at first sight. She had smiled.

 Community theater. I had discovered it not long after my brief as possible stay with the Marines during the Vietnam era. I loved the focus of the play, the energy, but most of all, I was in love with the deep sense of community, the way we all worked together to make each show the very best it could be.

 I was a veteran, playing many roles in Shakespeare, including my favorite role of “Macduff” in the play “Macbeth”.  I had played to leading ladies, even sang to them in musicals, but Amber/Roxanne, from the moment she read her lines, I knew no other could be Roxanne. I was in love with this gentle, quiet beauty.

 I vowed to woo her and win her. I vowed to ask her out. I vowed to inspire her with my wit and charm, and I ended up writing her letters and leaving them on her windshield. Now, as I hid like some pervert behind a shrub on the college campus where we rehearsed, I saw Amber smile again.

 I think they were all in love with her, every man in that play, watching her run through her lines as effortlessly as if she were the beautiful and ravishing Roxanne. I stared stupidly from backstage.

 Me, the marine, the veteran, one who had been in bars over Asia and even Australia, I stood and stared like some inexperienced schoolkid at the beautiful Roxanne.

 Last performance. Most likely I would never see her again. There’s always a sadness at the last performance. People who share more intensely than in anything they ever shared before, simply walk away to their own lives, in their own individual worlds and wait for that next opportunity when fantasy can become reality again, when we can live and breathe in a world of dreams.

 One more performance, and the beautiful Roxanne would become Amber again. I had to get to know her.

 I called her before that last performance.

“Amber?”

“Yes?”

“It’s de Guiche”.

“Oh, Carl!”

 When she spoke, her voice smiled.

 “I called because I had to tell you something.”

“What?”

“The letters, the ones you found on your windshield”.

“Yes?”

“I wrote them”.

“Oh!”

 At least there was no hint of disappointment. “Amber, I was wondering”.

“Yes?”

 “I wanted to ask you for a date”.

 Silence. “Amber?”

“Carl, you know I was married before?”

“I was told”.

 “It wasn’t good.”

 “Well” I laughed, hoping to trivialize the moment, “I wasn’t going to ask you to marry me the first date.”

 “I know.  I just want you to know I’m still recovering from a previous marriage”.

 “That’s fine. We’re not children. I would just like to get to know you a little better”.

 “I haven’t dated in a while”.

“We can just meet and talk. A nice, public place.”

 “Carl, I’ve heard stories about you”.

“Really?”

 “You’re a marine. I know marines are not generally in the mood to get married”.

 “Most marines aren’t.  But I figure we’re both old enough to make that decision once we get to know each other.”

 “How about coffee?”

 “That’s fine”.

“Just one cup of coffee, no more”.

“Just one cup”.

 She named the restaurant, I met her there, for just one cup. But I planned to make it good to the last drop.

 One cup stretched to the restaurant’s closing for the night, and when we were informed of its closing, she invited me to her house, and we continued to talk, right into the early morning hours.

 I was in love. From that first day, we were inseparable.  We shared in ways that I always imagined a man and woman would share. She was my friend, she made me laugh, she made me happy in a child-like way I could never have anticipated. It wasn’t enough for her to simply see the world around her. She had to touch it, experience, feel it as fully as possible. I, the marine, merely basked in the glow of her joy. I was more than happy. I was, after a time of military deprivation in the name of God and country, whole and complete again.

 Simple things. Things I never noticed. Things that happened all my life, but I never had time to see, she saw and took time to appreciate, like sunsets.  It became a kind of game.

“Look, Carl! the sunset! Isn’t it beautiful?”

“It’s a sunset. We have them every day”. She would laugh, hold my arm, and kiss me so softly on the cheek. “I’ll win you over” she would say.

 She already had. I could never imagine being happier.

 But as time went on, it changed. There were times when she would be sad, withdrawn, and sometimes there would be rage for no apparent reason. In time her behavior shifted from the happy woman I had grown to love, to a person whose extreme rage and withdrawal  created a barrier I could not breach. As a marine, I simply knocked the wall down. There was an obstacle, overcome.  Improvise. Carry out the mission.

 I had asked her to marry me, she had said yes. For me, that was commitment, all the commitment I needed. I vowed to stay and fight through this, because I cared for her. In times, little by little, I heard stories of abuse, sexual abuse. Times when she was a little girl. During those times, she became a little girl, clinging to me, holding me for reassurance, then hating herself later because she had been so dependent.

 There were stories, a stepfather who had been charismatic, wealthy, the savior of her mother and two brothers. But the price for this salvation would be paid by Amber. Her stepfather was a pedophile. He was respected. he was liked by the community. he was the kind of man that everybody said would give you the shirt off his back.  But he had married Amber’s mother for only one reason, and that was Amber.

 In time, Amber would have her revenge, of sorts. her stepfather died, and she no longer had to keep the awful secret that he and she shared. There was no longer the threat to her younger brothers, nor the threat to her mother’s life if she told.

 Amber was free, as a teen-ager, to begin re-building her life and seeking a career, which she did quite successfully. She received her degree in psychology, and trained as a counselor to help young girls like herself. She had made it a goal in life to help others, but it came at the price of never admitting the emotional damage done to her.

 The kindness, the sweetness, the wonderful joy and love she brought to others, was a facade.  She couldn’t control nor overcome the pain, grief, and rage that she had endured as a child.

 I had chosen to love her. For good or bad, I had chosen to love her, but time wore away my resolve, and I felt a terrible need to escape for my own sanity. I had just come home from a war, a time when people like me were called babykillers, and now I had to find the strength and courage to love this woman at the expense of my own emotional needs.  I could not succeed. I wasn’t strong enough. I simply was not Superman.

 There were times when she still made me feel  wonderfully happy, happy in an innocent and child-like way, bit now they were far outnumbered by the times when i had to deal with the rage which she simply could not control. In her desire to fix the world, she simply couldn’t take the time to fix herself.  I, the marine, the Vietnam veteran with my own emotional scars, how could I reach beyond that to find a way to heal her?

 I felt horribly trapped, walled into an emotional prison from which I couldn’t escape, yet there was no escape. When I finally told her I couldn’t take it any more, she cried, she begged, she threw herself at my feet. “Why do they always leave me? Please don’t go! I’ll change!”

  She would wipe her face and make herself smile. “See? I can change! I can be nice!”

 On those nights I would hold her until she cried herself to sleep, whispering in her ear, telling her it would be all right. Kissing her cheek, rubbing her hair. Daddy was here to stay.

 For all the joy I had felt, for all the love I had felt for her, I felt horribly trapped. I learned that her first husband had left her because he simply couldn’t take it any more. he had loved her too, but he had finally left her.

 Everyone loved Amber, because everyone felt that terrible need to be loved which reached out to every soul. She had been a great actor because that need and emptiness had grabbed us so powerfully. I had loved her because I had that same need, that same injury to my soul after the marines, but I simply could not stay any more. I was dying. A surely as any feeling I ever had in my life, I knew that emotionally I was dying, because I simply wasn’t strong enough.

 Amber worked as a counselor. She travelled a lot, and in her travels, she had to stay overnight. I never questioned those overnight stays, because I believed that Amber was always faithful to me, no matter what.

 When I cam home from work one afternoon, I found a note on my pillow:

 “I have to be in Asheville tonight. Come up. I need to see you”.

 I showered quickly and drove th the motel, but found no parking place nearby, so I parked back in the shadows and waited for Amber. Finally I saw her, but she was with a man. he had his arms around her, and he stopped to unlock the door at her room. My heart sank as they entered together, and I saw him kiss her at the door. I felt a strange combination of both deep pain and relief. It was over, and I knew it was over.  I was free of the pain, but I wondered if ever another person could make me feel they way she had made me feel.

 Maybe we expect too much of life. Maybe that’s just the way life is, and all we can do is enjoy those times that come our way.

 I knocked on her door, and the man answered it.

“Is Amber here?”

 She appeared instantly, but she read in my face the disappointment and hurt I felt.

 “Carl, it’s not what you think!”

 “You’re my fiancée, and you’re in a motel room with another man. I saw you kiss him. What am I supposed to think?”

 She cried. She broke down and she cried. I saw that heartbreaking child again, and I wanted to forgive her, but it just wasn’t there.

“Please!” she sobbed.  She fell to my feet and held them, and she sobbed. “I’ll do better!  I’ll be good!”

 I looked at the man who had kissed her, still standing there frozen at the spectacle before him.

 “Take her” I said, “Take her. I’ve got to go”.

 “No! Don’t go!” She held my feet.She begged.  I looked again at the man standing transfixed at the door. “Please, take her. Please…”

 He moved as if watching a movie, and he finally got control. She stood sobbing on his shoulder.

 In time, I forgot her.  I forgot the pain she had caused. I had arranged to pick up my things so I would not have to see her again. Among those things was a little security box in which I had kept personal records. She knew the combination, and she had kept things there as well. When I picked up my things, the box sat on top of all my clothes, but I simply packed it away and forgot about it until three years later.

 I was about to sell my truck, and I had kept the title in that little box.  I opened it and found a note. It was from Amber.

 “Carl, I knew I was making you miserable. I wanted more than you could give. I never wanted to hurt you, and I always wanted you to be with me,but I knew you couldn’t take it any more.

 “The man you saw at the motel was a friend. I explained to him what I needed, and he simply acted out a part. I told him I wanted to get rid of a stalker, and he never knew any different until you saw him.

 “Carl, you made me realize that I can be loved, but I need to deal with my own problems. I’m gong to seek counseling ad I hope in  time you can forgive me. Amber”.

 I saw a note just below that. It said “P.S. please call!”

 In those three years, I had put it all behind me.  I never knew she had left the letter, and I had heard that she had gotten married recently. Maybe I had given her something of value.  Maybe I had made a difference.

 I just realized, it’s evening outside. There’s a beautiful sunset.

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