Suzy Snapper
Monday, January 29, 2007
Opening A Door
It has been a bit of an interesting week. Something I thought long buried has stirred in my memory graveyard.

It's funny how something relatively insignificant can have such an impact on your very core. This will be a long post, so bear with me.

A little history lesson in my life for those who haven't been in my world all that long. I did have a soulmate once. Someone I truly felt was my better half.

I started out my teenage years with a boyfriend whom I thought would be my husband. However, after 10 years together, we realized that wasn't meant to be. It had been a decade of doing what we thought was expected. Everyone just coupled up, got married and that was it, right? When we broke up, I was devastated. I had grown up in a pseudo-Catholic household where good girls got married and lived the rest of their lives in domestic bliss. I didn't go to college because I truly believed I was just biding my time until I became a stay-at-home mom. So when I hit 25, and the boy left my life, I was understandably confused, scared and one very mixed up little girl. Looking back now, I see this as likely the very best thing that could have ever happened to me but at the time, I could only see my life in ruins. Even though I knew we'd never been happy as a couple and clearly were not compatible, I simply couldn't imagine ever being with anyone else.

Two years later, a friend of mine convinced me to join her and another friend through a backpacking trip in Western Europe. Travel was something I'd read about in books but to actually do it? Little milquetoast me? But Andi was an insistent, brassy Aussie who would take no excuses and for that, I will always be grateful to her.

I arrived in England with my friend L in September 1997. As we waited for that bus to load up on the first morning of the 21-day escorted tour, we were held up by a late passenger. Through the foggy, misty English autumn morning, a dishelved young man came running through the park quite obviously in a panic. His red shoulder-length hair and sour demeanor made everyone wonder what sort of person had just joined us. He shuffled onto the bus, found a seat by himself and made it quite known he did not want to be bothered.

'Dark horse' he was referred to by the rest of the group. 'Stay away from that one', they whispered. Oddly, I was just intrigued.

In the interest of brevity, as there is much to this story, I can tell you the moment we fell in love. Q was sitting on a brick wall in Monaco and I was mesmerized. His South African accent, his wild flaming hair, his way of conversation that would always get us into spirited discussions on just about everything. There was more, but we'll just leave that to my memory. ;-)

At the time, it seemed perfect yet impossible as we excitedly fell deeply in love. We made plans for our future and it seemed the most obvious solution for him to move to Canada. His family was in South Africa but it was a dangerous place and the economy not good. He'd often dreamed of moving but couldn't decide where his life would be.

I returned to Canada, and he followed a few weeks later. Moving comfortably into my little one-bedroom apartment, I'd never been happier. My family was understandably hesitant as it seemed so improbable.

We planned to marry. While he started his paperwork to emigrate on his own, we decided the wedding would happen as soon as it was sorted. The only thing left was for him to go back home to collect his things and for me to join him to meet his family.

It was a blissful time for both of us. We were both in awe of the chances of finding each other, and life just seemed perfect.

The following May, I made the trip of a lifetime. I flew to Capetown to meet him - 16000 miles away from home. For a girl who wouldn't even drive to downtown Vancouver on her own, it was an incredible leap of faith but one that I never even blinked at. As I flew into Capetown to the sun rising over Table Mountain, I felt as if I was fulfilling a dream.

We spent a wonderful week in the city, sightseeing and relaxing before heading inland to his family's home.

That is when the story takes a turn. Unfortunately, I was not what his mother was expecting. She was a strong, opinionated woman who was the family matriarch. I was not Catholic, I was not South African and I was simply not good enough for her son.

I tried to befriend her. I respected her courage and strength that came from raising her 5 children on her own. Not easy to do in any case, but in South Africa - a tragic, fractured country - much more difficult. I told myself in time she would see that I would be a good partner for her son. But I felt very alone. Q adored his mother, and was oblivious to her cruel comments and nasty jibes. I have never felt so far away from home.

We planned for his return to Canada the following September. We bought a ring in Johannesburg that I wear to this day. As my time grew short, I began to get increasingly nervous about our future. Although he swore to me that he would come 'home' to Canada, I knew his mother had other ideas.

On my last day in South Africa, we went for a walk on a local beach near his hometown - the three of us. As he playfully threw rocks into the ocean, his mother came over to me as if to chat. She stood close to me and while smiling broadly, said very coldly 'Don't make me fight for my son. I will win'. I was shocked. I couldn't bear to tell him - somehow I felt that I couldn't. But I was completely speechless and even his coaxing of 'what's wrong?' couldn't make me tell him.

As we arrived the next day at the airport for my flight home, I knew in my heart that it was the last time I would ever see him. My heart was so heavy and I felt and was physically ill. He promised me over and over again that he would be back with me soon. That my fears were unfounded. And while I couldn't tell him at the time what his mother had said, I did tell him I felt she didn't care for me. He vehemently denied it, and I knew I could never tell him the rest of the story.

I flew home, and we continued to talk every day. This is long before VOIP or Skype or any of the cheap voicecall methods and my phonebills were incredible. As September came and went, he still believed he would be coming soon. His mother, in the meantime, made every effort to change his mind. She would set him up on dinner dates or send friend's daughters to bring him food while he was working. If I called his house and she answered, she would often just put the phone down on the counter and walk away. Not calling him, but leaving me hanging...not knowing if she was getting him but not sure if I should hang up in case she would.

In February '99, the world imploded. He finally admitted he couldn't leave. He couldn't leave his family. I knew it was coming...but had hoped that it wouldn't. But how could I argue when I couldn't leave my own?

I called him once again the following December and he was so cold. So angry. Bitter and hating, he had taken to a dark depression and I felt I had to move on.

And I did. I met others. I tried to love again, but never felt that beautiful 'complete'-ness. He has always been a part of my heart. I have never been able to take off the ring we bought together, although I did have it made into a pinky ring. I still read the South African news regularly and seemed to gravitate to friends who were from the country. Many of my stories have some sort of 'When I went to South Africa' edge to them. Often, I'd google him but as his name was the same as a famous rugby player, it was impossible to find anything. I tried to find him in the phonebooks when they came online but never could.

Last year, I found his sister's wedding page quite by accident. I saw the family pictures of the wedding. The 5 siblings, the grandmother but oddly the Mother was not in any of them. Had she passed away? There was no contact information on the page and no way of knowing.

Then last Wednesday, I get an email out of the blue. He had been searching too and had found me through one of the reunion/classmates type websites. 'Are you well?', he wrote. 'I've never stopped thinking of you. Please write me back. Love, Q'

Could this be real? I was overjoyed. I must have read that email a hundred times. Those 4 letters at the end...they said so much. What do I write? What do I say? Where do I start?

So I started writing, but I am never short and packing nine years into a few sentences is hard. I tried to be brief...highlighting a few events, giving him my photography website and a few other details.

That night, I watched the clock. Realizing that I was still doing what I did back then. Mentally calculating the timezones. Oh, it's 8pm, 6am there. Well, his alarm must just be going off for him to go to work.

I had felt such a surge of joy that I couldn't contain my excitement. I told my brother, my family and my friends I'd heard from him. My niece squealed 'Do you think you'll really see him again?" I chided her for thinking too far ahead, but secretly, I hoped that I could recapture that feeling of true love. That feeling I'd never really been able to experience since.

It's now been 5 days and not a peep. I try to tell myself not to be disappointed, but I simply can't help it. I have gone over my email to him many times, and I have analyzed every sentence - every hint, every nuance. Did I come across too strongly? Did I say the wrong thing? What did I do?

I sit here tonight and have decided to share it. I don't think it wise to send another email -or maybe I should. I just don't know, but the thought of that door closing shut again guts me. I got my hopes up again - and my logic tells me that's poor judgement but my heart tells me otherwise.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer trapped in a corporate buyer's body. Steel shopping by day, and freeflowing prose by night. One day I hope to have the nights become my days, but am intimidated by the sheer amount of people who share my dream. So I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.
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