Written By: Mel
I hadn’t been back here since the day I met him, though little has changed in almost two years. You can still see over the valley, still see the town of Dundas where I used to live before we married and moved to Ottawa. The signs telling hikers that this trail is maintained through the efforts of the Bruce Trail Conservancy Volunteers Association are still in place. Even the little hut where he’d taken me to warm up is still here.
The only thing missing is my Bill. According to the Canadian consulate in Yemen, he is missing and presumed dead. So here I stand where he found me nearly two years ago, thinking the same thoughts I did then. No, that isn’t really true. This time my thoughts are much darker, my heart completely broken, my soul devoid of life.
I think back over the last two years, years that have been filled with a joy I never thought possible. We fell in love so quickly, life seemed to so good, too good I suppose, now that it’s over. The love and the happiness, my new career, our beautiful home, good friends, everything I could have ever hoped for. Bill and I had it all and now it’s gone.
It was to be a short trip as far as excursions to the Middle East go. Bill was to attend a conference on human rights and equality, to help spread the word of acceptance and tolerance in a very intolerant part of the world. But it had all gone wrong when the airport in Sanaa, the capital of Yemen, was bombed by terrorists. The plane Bill was on had landed at the airport less than an hour before the bomb went off. We were told that only three of the passengers from his flight had survived. Though they had not yet identified a body, all the survivors were identified and Bill was not amongst them.
Ten days passed with no further findings; it was time to accept that he was gone, or so everyone kept saying. His family wanted to hold a memorial service but I had been fighting them on it. I didn’t want to concede that I’d lost him, because once I did, it meant I’d lost my reason for living.
Five more days went by before I succumbed to the pressure and allowed the memorial service to proceed. I sat numbly through it, listening to friends and family eulogize the man I loved. Their words were hollow and meaningless; I accepted their condolences, their hugs and offers of support and felt nothing. I listened to my boss tell me to take all the time I needed before returning to work. And when it was over and they were all gone, I sat in that empty house and waited for him to come home.
I prepared the food he liked; it sat untouched. I watered his plants, paid his credit card bills, and took his suits to the cleaners. But still he did not return to me.
Then yesterday I answered a phone call from Bill's dentist with a reminder for his appointment later in the week. That’s when it struck me; that was the moment I knew he was gone. I politely informed the receptionist that he would not be able to make the appointment as he was most unfortunately dead. The poor woman tried to offer her apologies but I just hung up the phone and fell to my knees and began to cry. I have no idea how long I sat on the floor crying but when I was finally spent; I put on my coat, got into the car and drove. Not even thinking of where I was headed until I was almost there. I made the six-hour trip back to Dundas, back to where we began, stopping only for gas and the use of a washroom. I parked in the small lot at the base of the trail and hiked up just as I had done two years earlier.
Only this time Bill would not be here to save me, he would not be here to give me a reason to live. He would not appear in his oversized green parka to tell me, that throwing myself off would cause them to mess up the old growth conifers below when they had to get in to scrape up my remains off the floor of the valley below. He wouldn’t be here to ask me what my mother would think of me standing here like this.
He wouldn’t take me to the small first-aid station and warm me up and then guide me back down the trail. He wouldn’t be here to get me some emergency funds and help me settle my mother’s estate; he wouldn’t even be here to settle his own estate. He wouldn’t come back around to visit once it was all settled in the pretence to see how I was doing, when in fact he was just interested in me. He wouldn’t be here to make me laugh or show me the beautiful things in life or tell me he found me to be one of them.
He wouldn’t be here to give me his love and his guiding hand, even his discipline that was so often meted out with that hand laying into my backside. He wouldn’t be here to tell me that I was strong and capable and smart and so much better than I would ever admit to myself. He wouldn’t be here to ask me how I dare devalue the one he loved so much. As he had done not so long ago when I cursed myself for messing up design I’d working on.
As I looked out over the valley, I began to realize that he didn’t have to be here to do those things because he had done them already. I began to feel the warmth of the mark he had left on my soul. I soon realized I could not taint his memory by allowing all he had taught me, all he had shown me, to be thrown over this precipice. Bill was here with me in my heart and he would guide me back down the trail and help me live because he believed in me and I knew I must do all I could to honour that belief and all it stood for.
The drive home was slow. I stopped to find a motel to rest for the night, knowing that it was what Bill would have expected of me. He’d warned me many times about the dangers of driving when I was too tired.
I arrived back at our home in Ottawa mid-afternoon, still grieving my loss but knowing that I could and would go on. I would do it for Bill. I would do it for me because he taught me that I was worth loving. I let myself in through the side door that led to the kitchen and tossed my keys onto the table as I walked passed.
The sound of movement from the living room startled me, but not nearly as much as the voice and then the face that appeared in the doorway.
“Thank God! I’ve been worried sick, how many times have I told you to take your cell phone with you?”
Bill pulled me into his arms and held me with brute strength, to keep me from toppling to the floor. The warmth of his body against mine, the smell of his cologne, the tenderness of his kiss was real; he was real. I began to sob incoherently against him. I couldn’t make proper sentences but kept on and on about his being dead and how and where had he been and why hadn’t he called?
It took ages for him to tell his tale as I kept stopping him to kiss him and reassure myself that he was real. He explained that he’d been caught at the perimeter of the blast and knocked unconscious. When he woke a day later, he found he was being held captive by part of the terrorist faction. They had taken fifteen people hostage and were hoping to use them to obtain the freedom of some of their own people whom they thought had been arrested by the government. The Yemen government had mistakenly believed that all the hostages were Yemen nationals and had therefore released no information to the U.N. about the hostage negotiations. The government didn’t want word getting out that the supposedly captured terrorists were in fact all dead; for fear that the hostages would be killed in reprisal.
Bill said that though it was terrifying, they actually were treated fairly decently. They were given food and a toilet of sorts to use, though they were held in a single windowless room with no ability to move beyond its walls. At least no one was hurt beyond what injuries they sustained in the blast, which fortunately were all fairly minor. It was Yemen government troupes that eventually found their location and secured their freedom.
Bill said that once they were brought back to the government headquarters and officials realized there were foreign nationals amongst them. they were given access to phones and allowed to call their own consulates. Bill was picked up by the Canadian consular officials and put on the first flight that they could secure back to Canada.
Apparently the consulate had been trying to reach me ever since they had received word that Bill was alive. From the timing of the messages on the machine, I figure it was less than an hour after I’d left home. Bill arrived home several hours before I did and had immediately begun trying to locate me. He said his family had wanted to come to the house and be with him but he put them off, wanting only to find me and ensure I was safe and well. He said he’d made call after call to everyone we knew to see if anyone had heard from me.
It was at this point he finally asked where I had been.
I looked him in the eye and answered him in the best way I knew how. “I was looking over the precipice, my love, and I found you there to guide me home.”