Our eyes met across a crowded room. As if drawn by some unknown force, we found ourselves gravitating toward each other. We stopped as we came face to face and a vision of loveliness stood before me. Her golden blond hair shone like the sunset amidst the far horizon. Her soft blue eyes captivated like the whispering sounds of the ocean waves. There was no need for words as we gazed into each other’s eyes.
She extended her arms to meet mine until our hands touched and clasped. Then, by the same unknown force that drew us together, it manifested itself into a tingling sensation throughout our bodies. Instantly, we both knew. The mystical connection we’ve been longing for unraveled before our very eyes. And we would be spending the rest of our lives together.
This event never actually took place. It would be more than an exaggeration to say if it did. For many people this could only be a fairy tale but the one I’m about to tell you is not a tale. It actually happened. So, the story goes…
We had a wonderful relationship that lasted for almost two years. It was the start of my junior year of university. Everyone who saw her was immediately captivated by her majestic beauty. She had a very alluring quality about her. It is true. It would seem that we would be together for a long time but there was an odd twist of events about this relationship. It was this twist that made the story worth telling.
It was a winter semester at MUN in St. John’s. MUN is short for Memorial University of Newfoundland, my alma-mater. After writing my last exams of the semester, I went home to my parents for Christmas break in Corner Brook. This is typically an eight hour drive on a good day but there was a severe snow storm during the drive home with my brothers. But we were all young and fearless.
The phone rang late one night and Mother handed it to me. As I said hello, I heard a charming feminine voice at the other end of the line. She introduced herself as Nicole. She went on to say that we had never met but she had seen me once at a dance club in St. John’s.
Nicole apparently got my phone number from a mutual friend. She wouldn’t reveal the name of the friend and said that she couldn’t talk for very long. She also said that she would call again but couldn’t say when. I sensed that she wanted to get to know me.
That was the extent of our first conversation. I also remember Nicole asking me if I didn’t mind having a complete stranger calling me in the middle of the night. What do you think I said? Heck, I was flattered!
As you can imagine, the night was spent wondering and pondering on some puzzling questions. Looking back now, it could have simply been a prank call but the thought never occurred to me at the time.
She called again as promised. This time I got the name of a mutual friend. There was some small talk and I learned that she had recently graduated from nursing school. She described herself as 5’ 4” with blond hair and blue eyes. I asked when we could see each other. I also asked for her phone number but she wouldn’t give this information. Not yet, but in due time, she pledged.
Oh, I should tell you that I am recollecting this story for the first time in about a dozen years. Some of the trivial details may have been skewed with time but I assure you that the finer and intimate details will be etched in my memory forever.
Classes resumed and I was back in St. John’s. I was eager to confirm Nicole’s story so I visited our mutual friend, Antoinette. It so happened by some amazing coincidence that they worked together as nurses in the same hospital.
You see, my friend Antoinette is of Filipino descent. Nicole, guessing that I might also be Filipino, made an inquiry about me. Nicole’s suspicion came to fruition when Antoinette showed her my picture. I could just imagine the surprise in their eyes when they confirmed the name with my face.
Throughout the winter and spring, Nicole and I developed a special fondness for each other. The times we spent together were through telephone conversations that sometimes lasted until the wee hours of the morning. I learned that she had been very sick and had recently undergone major surgery.
If memory serves me right, she had one of her ailing kidneys removed. In passing, she also mentioned having had bouts of pneumonia, asthma and bronchitis.
Nicole did not want to dwell on her sickness. Instead she preferred to have our conversations spent getting to know each other.
Her health was primarily the reason why she wouldn’t allow me to see her. At the same time, her parents were very strict about having visitors outside of close circles. Nicole said she wanted to look her best when we could finally meet so she was trying to get well by resting. She asked for my patience. Despite my anxiety, I obliged since I just wanted what was best for her, especially having her health back.
During this time, she had taken a leave of absence from work so she could recuperate. I suspect this was also the doctor’s orders.
Later in the spring, I hadn’t heard from her for over a week. This was unusual for on any given week she would call at least once or twice. Although I sensed something was wrong, I couldn’t call her as I still didn’t have her number.
I called Antoinette and learned that Nicole had been rushed to the emergency hospital in critical condition at one point but her condition later stabilized.
Aside from family members, Antoinette was the only one Nicole permitted to see her at the hospital. I wanted to visit Nicole so badly, but I knew she would not allow that to happen. She had her reasons and I respected her wishes despite my anguish.
I didn’t quite fully understand the medical complications but after two long weeks in the hospital, she was discharged and sent home to rest. It must have been weeks after being back from home when I heard from Nicole again. She was struggling to speak to me on the phone. I could feel the pain in her voice and for the very first time I realized how sickly she was and must have been for a long time. She apologized for not calling for so long but she didn’t have to, under the circumstances. I felt the goodness in her heart.
My visits to Antoinette’s place became a weekly occurrence. She would tell me any new happenings and I also learned a lot about Nicole and her family during my many visits.
She came from a very affluent family but that didn’t come as any surprise to me. I remember Nicole, during our many nights on the phone, telling me where she lived although the exact address was not mentioned. Every city has a known posh area code and St. John’s is no exception despite being a relatively small city. Nicole’s neighborhood was prime real estate.
Nicole had two siblings and, although I no longer remember their names, I can tell you that her older brother was a cop and her younger sister was still in high school at the time. Antoinette soon became friends with Nicole’s brother and sister and it would appear that Antoinette and the brother had become fond of each other, Antoinette, being attractive as well as approachable.
Before I realized, the brother and Antoinette had gone out on dates a few times and the sister had visited Antoinette at her home several times after school. But this is not a story about them, so I won’t bother going there.
Aside from being beautiful, witty and charming, Nicole was a gifted pianist. She never really had formal training but played music by ear. It was no wonder doctors in the hospital took a liking to her.
She had an ex-boyfriend who was already a surgeon while she was still in nursing school. She was currently being courted by another persistent doctor at the time that she saw me at the club. I believed they were together when she saw me that night.
After Nicole and I became close, she asked the persistent doctor to stop calling her and showering her with gifts. Apparently, aside from being persistent, the doctor’s arrogance became apparent as he made a comment to Nicole about my being only a student. Defending my honor, she told the good doctor off. To my best recollection, this is what Nicole said to him.
“He may only be a student, but he is smart, kind and good hearted. Something you will never be! And I care a lot for him.” The bewildered doctor had no idea that I had never seen Nicole in person.
By this time, Nicole’s brother and sister had also learned much about my family and me. We are your typical middle class family with both parents working for a living. My father was a teacher and my mother worked as a clerk with a government agency. I have an older sister who was already a nurse and two younger brothers attending the same school as I was.
Nicole’s face would glow whenever she talked about me to her siblings. I was apparently good therapy for her. I would get this information through Antoinette of course. Nicole’s siblings would share stories about her to Antoinette and she would in turn share them with me. Antoinette became Nicole’s confidante. Although I felt good about what was going on in Nicole’s head, I just desperately wanted to finally see her face.
Summer break was fast approaching and I would soon have to leave St. John’s. I had plans to spend all the summer months in Toronto. Still Nicole was not ready for us to meet and she mentioned that her entire family including herself would be vacationing in Europe. Although no promises were made, Nicole mentioned she would be healthy enough by summer’s end and we would finally meet when I came back for my final year of university.
Hope is patience’s ally; I took this hope with full embrace all summer long which made that summer inspirational.
While in Toronto, I was staying at my grandmother’s apartment and hanging out with my grandmother’s youngest son, my uncle. We are only one year apart so it was cool. One day I received a surprise phone call from Nicole. She was somewhere in Europe and just wanted to say hey.
She asked how I was doing but the more important question is how she was doing? She was in a cheery mood much like the first few times we spent on the phone earlier in the relationship. She explained that she had a checkup before they left Newfoundland and the prognosis was good. I was glad to hear her in good spirits.
I asked how she got my grandmothers’ number. I know for a fact that Antoinette didn’t know it. Nicole wouldn’t reveal her secret.
I sensed that she enjoyed surprising me and relished keeping me wondering. She even kidded how I could hide anywhere in the world and she would find me. It felt good to hear her laugh.
I would eventually learn how she got the phone number. She called my parents’ house and spoke to my mother. She introduced herself as a good friend and somehow charmed her way into getting my grandmother’s number. My mother thought that she was just a delight to talk to. I could see why she would say that as Nicole had an alluring and charming quality about her.
I also ended up in Chicago that summer. Nicole found a way to contact me there as well. This time I no longer wondered.
The rest of the summer was spent pondering about a healthy beautiful Nicole. I allowed my imagination to run wild about our life together. I envisioned us walking hand in hand, side by side making people turn heads as we exuded the picture of a perfect couple.
I envisioned the glow on her face; the twinkle in her eyes as she introduced me to her family and friends. I envisioned the admiration that would fill the air as friends and family alike witnessed the exquisite beauty that was Nicole.
I woke up after a long and full summer dream. The next thing I knew Toronto was but a distant memory and I was sitting in a familiar chair at Antoinette’s dining room table listening to the latest news about Nicole.
Nicole and her family were not in town upon my arrival in St John’s. The family was still out of the country. My last year of schooling had started and it must have been weeks until I finally heard from her again.
Nicole was still in good spirits judging from her voice. It would seem that she was feeling better throughout the summer months. The next couple of months, we saw our relationship develop to a more intimate level, as intimate as you can get over the telephone. Sometimes words filled with meaning and expressed with affection to each other are more powerful than the actual act itself. I recall sleepless nights with a vision of Nicole etched in my mind while slowly drifting into the silent abyss of my room.
One early evening, just home from school, I heard a knock on my apartment door. The knock surprised me as I normally did not get unannounced visitors. I opened the door with cautious optimism.
With the door now fully opened, I saw a guy in baseball cap standing holding a large square box wrapped in a bright red protective padding. ‘Pizza delivery!’ was the words that came out of the man’s mouth. ‘I didn’t order pizza,’ was my response. He handed me a receipt marked paid with Nicole’s name scribbled down. This routine continued several more times.
Being a student, I certainly did not complain. I told Nicole that she did not have to do that but she wanted to help me out in any way she could under the circumstances. She knew that I sometimes had to prepare my own meal when I got home from school.
Another event that stood out in my memory was an incident that happened during a Christmas party at her parents’ house that year. She was feeling well enough that evening that she was up and about mingling with guests. She apparently was able to sit at the piano and perform a number of Christmas tunes in front of the living room crowd as they gathered around her.
I received a call from her later that evening and let’s just say she was a little happier than normal. It immediately became apparent that she had consumed a few too many, unbeknownst to her parents. I immediately suggested that the drinking might not be a good idea considering her condition.
Nicole called again the next day to apologize for her poor judgment but I felt she had no regrets despite knowing the ill effects of alcohol on her liver. In my minds’ eye, I sensed the burning desire to have the zest back in her life once again.
By this time, her parents had found out about me and our relationship which she had attempted to keep hidden from them. They found out about her late night telephone escapades and they stressed the importance of her getting enough rest. As a result, they took away the telephone from her room. Everyone in the family, including her private nurse, was given strict instructions not to let her use the phone.
But that didn’t stop Nicole. She knew she could always count on her brother and sister. If memory serves me right, she was able to persuade her private nurse to put a phone in her room on one or two occasions.
Nicole’s phone calls became sporadic. I found out later that her condition had already been touch-and-go for quite some time. I never brought it up and she never gave any indication to me whenever we talked. I figured she would only call whenever she felt strong enough.
In March of that semester, Nicole’s parents’ house was undergoing major renovations and the entire family rented a hotel suite in the downtown area. This particular phone call from her was special. It was the moment that I had been anticipating for a long time. She was ready for us to finally meet face to face.
I’m trying my best to remember my reaction. It was a range of emotions – from elation to apprehension and nervousness.
The month of March also happened to be my birthday. I’m not sure if her decision for us to see each other was merely coincidental or planned. It didn’t matter. I received a birthday gift from her through Antoinette.
The plan was for us to meet in the lobby of the hotel where her family was temporarily residing. The moment was to happen on an early Sunday afternoon. I remember her saying that she would be easy enough to recognize, as she would be the only blonde in a wheelchair, trying to sound humorous.
In all honesty, I was somewhat taken aback when she told me that was how she got around. I tried to sound unfazed. But after all this time, it hadn’t occurred to me that she would be in a wheelchair.
The day finally came. I pulled into the parking lot of the hotel and proceeded towards the lobby entrance right on schedule. My heart started pounding. My eyes scanned the room in great anticipation. I noticed the hotel clerks at reception and checked out the sitting lounge directly opposite. I hadn’t prepared any words to say hoping the moment would inspire me.
I kept thinking that she must have been running a bit late so I sat myself down in the lounge in full view of the elevator doors. Some time passed. I waited but there was no Nicole to greet. I picked up a magazine pretending to read. More time passed.
Starting to get anxious, I got up to stretch my legs, walked towards the dining lounge, peeked inside, turned back around and smiled at the receptionist as I walked back to my seat.
Every passerby I noticed. I watched the elevator lights go down floor by floor until it came to a full stop at ground level. Each time the door opened there was no Nicole in sight. It appeared she would be a no show. It was time to go.
I got up and proceeded towards the lobby exit. As the automatic glass sliding doors started to open, I heard a faint sound as the elevator doors opened behind me.
I slowly turned my head around but an elderly woman emerged. Feeling dejected, I drove around town aimlessly. I couldn’t go straight home.
It was late at night when I finally got back to my apartment. The phone rang and I knew it was Nicole. She said she had been calling all evening. She asked if I was okay. I said I was fine. There was a moment of silence. Finally she spoke and said, “I was there you know. I was there the whole time.”
She continued to say that she saw me walk inside the lobby and look around. She saw me sit patiently in the lobby chair and stroll towards the dining lounge. She had witnessed my every move and described every piece of clothing I was wearing down to the color of my shoes.
She said how good it felt to see me again. She wanted so badly to run into my arms but she had to fight herself. She couldn’t gather the courage and strength to have our first embrace in her current condition, having lost a lot of weight and being in a wheelchair.
I replied that it didn’t matter to me. She thanked me but I knew it mattered to her. Once again she apologized. Although I was sad and disappointed, there was really no apology necessary.
It was exam week of the finals in May. I hadn’t heard from Nicole that week and for several weeks prior. The next thing I knew, I’d written my last exam and soon would be leaving my apartment and St. John’s for good.
Typical Nicole, she knew my schedule and I finally heard from her. Her voice had a serious tone. As usual she couldn’t talk for long but needed to say a few words to me. She explained that her condition had deteriorated. She needed to have another transplant. There was a high probability that she would not survive the operation.
Her voice shaking, she said these words to me, “In case I don’t make it, I hope you find the girl that deserves you. But I plan to live through this operation. When I get better, however long it takes, I will find you wherever you are. You know I will. And when I do, we will be together forever. That my darling is my promise to you.”
Sadly, these were the last words Nicole uttered to me. She died the summer of ’86.
… I should emphasize that I only suspected Nicole’s passing when I didn’t hear back from her. Many years have passed and life has moved on for me. She was a distant memory until the separation from my first wife. I thought perhaps the time was right for Nicole and I to finally reconnect again.
I called Antoinette and she confirmed that Nicole had died many years ago. She didn’t say when and I didn’t really ask either. I just assumed it was the summer of 1986 as the surprises from Nicole had abruptly stopped.
I wrote Nicole’s story about a dozen years after that summer but no longer remember the inspiration and surrounding circumstances of the time. But if I was to venture a guess, it would be the circumstances told in a story on chapter 22 ‘Doodling with Words’.