I looked at my watch and burst into tears.
Twenty years of marriage, a son and American citizenship had never quite convinced me that I had the kind of roots most people take for granted. We were a "family" the way a bouquet of flowers perseveres for a given time, adequately fed and watered but because it has no roots, it is only an illusion of a beautiful thing. Every extra day was a miracle, and as far as beautiful things go, it stood apart because of how we met, where we met and how in the universal scheme of things, nothing about us was ordinary enough to last.
I met Don while hitchhiking from Singapore back to England in the days when hitchhiking around the world was a common occurrence and there was nothing unusual about being picked up by a red London bus while traveling 15,000 miles from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to London's Victoria Station.
In Bombay (now Mumbai) my fellow travelers and I were joined by an American bus run by Penn Tours. This bus had plastic seats and air-conditioning. The two buses eventually traveled together for protection through the wilds of Pakistan and Afghanistan (the drivers were armed). The Americans pushed and towed our red bus every time we broke down until we reached Turkey, where the English bus collapsed completely and the Americans went on without us.
There were several young men on the American bus. One of them was named Don. He was reading Aldous Huxley's Eyeless in Gaza. I was reading Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. Don and I took long walks together in the desert, talked for hours in the roadside way stations called caravanserais and around nomad camp fires. We lay on sand dunes and watched the sky tumbling past, and in one oasis, after a bad sandstorm, we climbed to the top of a partly submerged old fort to see the setting sun covering the entire horizon. When the Americans left us at the foot of Mount Ararat, Don went with them. I never expected to see him again. And as we had not exchanged surnames or addresses it was highly unlikely I would. Unfortunately, I had fallen in love with him.
Months later, I was walking down London's Bayswater Road when I heard my name. I looked up and there was my old landlady, waving to me from across the street. She rushed over to tell me why she had called me so urgently. She had received a postcard for me from America that morning. Not knowing where I lived, she had chucked it into the bin. "But here you are! I couldn't believe my eyes!" We hurried back to Pembridge Square and retrieved a picture postcard from Philadelphia. It was from Don, giving his full name and address. He had obtained mine from the Australian bus driver.
I went to America and we got married. Don was a copywriter at TV Guide and an artist. We were both writers. Everday life never touched down during our first years. The birth of our son only added to the energy, psychology and physiology of our relationship. Our apartment smelled of paint and was filled with music. We lay on the king-sized bed with our son between us, discussing books such as existential psychologist Rollo May's Love and Will and the writings of Dag Hammarskjold. We discovered C.S. Lewis, and linked the love of God and God himself to our most basic motivations.
It was amid those discussions that I began to notice a difference in our thinking. While I was striving toward the light Don appeared to be warding off darkness, a darkness that seemed to be hovering beyond the conscious perimeters of our discussions. At first it seemed like just another viewpoint but as we got to know each other more intimately, I found Don's mood swings so far outside the logic he expressed intellectually, that he became another person. I did not discover the reason for his mood swings until his first suicide attempt or that I was living with a split person, one side brilliantly and profoundly expressive and the other just as profoundly and brilliantly morose. What we had shared in India had lifted him but only for a time. Periods of ecstasy were followed by horrendous attempts to kill himself. He wrote his best poetry while planning to take his life. I learned to read the signs, the downstairs light on at 3 in the morning, the loud Bruckner, Mahler, Wagner, often so loud the neighbors called the police. I tried not to be out of the house too long but the hardest part was having to admit that my "Indian Prince," my great love of deserts and Persian sunsets truly was a jinn, born of sand and wind.
Coming home from the hospital once, I asked him: "Isn't it enough that you have a wife, a son and that you are loved?"
"Yes," he said. "But not when the depression is on me. Then there is nothing, and everything is not enough."
Twenty years passed and here I was, running around the mall, checking my watch, in a constant panic. Our idyll had become a nightmare. One morning, I stayed out too long; I was sideswiped by a car on U.S. 19. That's all it took.
Sometime after the funeral I found myself in the mall again when suddenly a familiar panic set in. I checked my watch, then burst into tears. There was no one waiting for me at home. No one to hurry home to. I felt like I had fallen off the edge of the earth but there was no one to catch me.
Elin Toona Gottschalk is a writer living in Palm Harbor.