Monday, 4 May 2020

Chapter 21


 March 31st


 He spent the week adjusting to cooking as well as working with his clients over Skype and the phone. In a week, he had learned that almost everyone was struggling with something during the lockdown. The single people were lonely and wanted company. The married people were on each other’s last nerve as familiarity began to breed contempt. Everyone seemed to be eating and drinking too much.


As he was wrapping up his Skype calls for the day, he noticed a new friend request from what appeared to be an overseas number. Realizing it was likely Akari, he hesitated for a moment before accepting. He clicked on accept and read her message.



“Doctor! I have made it home alive after four days sleeping in airports and a couple of different countries. I thought of you every second of the day, and our wonderful night laughing and talking and drinking wine. (And making love! Wow. So many times!) I know this isn’t perfect, but can we please keep talking?”



He wanted to think everything through for a minute before replying. He had missed her so much, but had also taken the time during the first week apart to move though the various stages of grief. Now that he was feeling some kind of acceptance, he was cautious of ripping the Band-Aid off the emotional wound again.



“Hello! So glad you made it home in one piece. I’ve been reading all the horror stories of people getting trapped around the world. I was worried about you. I miss you so much and have felt so many different things this week. I don’t want you to feel bad, but I’m still a little hurt by the way you left. It’s still wonderful to talk to you, don’t get me wrong. I’m just a little hesitant.”


“Yes,” she replied. “I know. I know. I’m hurt and mad and frustrated with myself as well. We can keep going over the reasons or we can play the cards we have been dealt. I can’t imagine a world without you in it right now. I certainly wouldn’t want to live in it. Remember the little story you told me? “The long walk to forever.” How they just kept walking, “One foot in front of the other--through leaves, over bridges.” I propose we just keep walking. Yes, that has to be electronically right now. Skype. Text. Carrier Pigeon. Whatever. But please, please, PLEASE just keep walking with me.”



He felt a sharp pang in his heart as he read her words.



Another poetic memory.


“Ok. I’ll keep walking with you. I never wanted to stop anyway. Life sure as hell intervened a little though, didn’t it? Full disclosure, I’ve been sleeping in the living room in front of the fire every night remembering the most amazing night of my life. So if talking to you is all I have right now, I’ll take it.”



“Ok doctor. But MAYBE, there is still something we can do besides just talk. Do you know Japan is only three hours behind New Zealand? Skype me tonight at midnight. My parents will be asleep and I want to show you something.”



He looked down at his Fitbit again.



Yep, his heart was pounding again.



He spent the rest of the day taking a long walk around Lake Wakatipu, as he tried to maintain some kind of exercise routine. The summer was turning to fall in Queenstown, and the gorgeous flowers in the botanical gardens were now wrapped for the upcoming winter.








He walked all the way around the lake and got a notification from his watch that he had reached his 10,000 steps for the day. Small victories.


He found a park bench and spent some time listening to music as he rested. He had heard that John Prine had contracted the coronavirus, and had downloaded a number of his songs onto his phone. Once upon a time he had been a young man in America on the open road blasting the music of John Prine. They were magical time in his life.


He cued up the song, “Bruised Orange” and listened.


“You can gaze out the window get mad and get madder,
Throw your hands in the air, say, What does it matter?
But it don't do no good to get angry,
So help me I know
For a heart stained in anger grows weak and grows bitter.
You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there
Wrapped up in a trap of your very own
Chain of sorrow”


He decided he wouldn’t get angry and he wouldn’t get bitter.



But he WOULD look forward to his Skype call later.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Chapter 22


It was ten minutes to midnight and he found himself wondering what the hell he should wear to a Skype date. He had been using Skype almost constantly the last week, and he had been on plenty of dates. But the two things together? No clue. He didn’t really own anything seductive. And what if her parents were around or something?


Learning how to dress for Skype encounters. One more virus curveball.



He decided on a Black sweater and jeans, and logged on to his computer. He saw the light go on and saw her camera activate on the other end. She was wearing a long overcoat, and he realized he might have overthought the whole “what to wear” thing.



“So good to see you doctor,” she said. “It is so funny being back home. I had so many people I wanted to say hello to, and can’t see any of them. It’s just me and my mom and my dad, and I’m back in the room I grew up in as a little girl.”



“Life folding on itself,” he said.



“What does that mean?” she asked.


“It’s just something I read in this book by Roger Ebert. He went back to Paris as an old man to this café he went to the first time he was ever in Paris. All these memories came flooding back to him, as he reconciled his current time and place with all of the memories he had of Paris as a young man. He called in life folding in on itself. I always remembered that.”



“Life folding in on itself,” she said. “I like that. But that’s not exactly it for me. My father is quite sick, and my mother and I take turns going in and feeding him and taking care of him. A lot of the good memories I have of Japan are gone. Like the old song says, I left my heart in San Francisco. Except I left MY heart on the top of a Gondola in Queenstown.”



“Yea, well you also left a pair of your underwear. I found it under my couch cushion.”


“Well you can go ahead and keep those,” she said as she giggled. “But seriously I’m missing everything in New Zealand right now, and am in Japan to help my family. But thank you for making me laugh, and if you don’t mind I would love it if we can continue to talk about things that are fun. Can we do that? We both know the world is very hard right now, but we can still laugh, right?”



“Of, course,” he said. “And we can talk about whatever you want. I took a long walk today and listened to some music and decided I wasn’t going to be angry anymore. One of my favorite singers named John Prine was diagnosed with the virus today, and it upset me, so I listened to some of his songs. And yet strangely, it made me feel better. I’m going to play the cards we’ve been handed as you suggested.”



“Ok. That’s good. I’m glad you are coping,” she said.



“I DID listen to one more song though. Sukiyaki! The Japanese version. And as it started to rain while I was walking I remembered the Japanese translation “I hold my head up high.” So I held my head up high while I walked today, even though I was holding back a few tears. You see how much Japanese culture I’m learning?”



“Very impressive doctor,” she said. “It’s funny but the more time I spend in Japan the more I miss Western culture. I made a cheeseburger at home today and I thought my mother was going to faint. I feel like I'm stuck in between two different worlds right now, but luckily I have some funny movies to keep me company.”


“Funny movies, ha?” he said. “I watched Casablanca. I guess I wanted to think about star-crossed lovers today. Humphrey Bogart says, “The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” I guess that’s sort of true. I saw one of my patients living on the street today. Your father is sick. It puts things in perspective a little bit doesn’t it?”



“I suppose it does,” she said. “But I sort of have the opposite take on things. Everything that has happened has reminded me of just how big of a world two people can create between them. With everything falling apart around us, the thought of you has been the one thing that makes my life feel real.”



“Well Lao Tzu said, “Being loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” I guess that’s true. I’ve certainly felt more alive since the day I met you. But I must admit I’m missing your touch. Your kiss. Your face. It’s hard to replace all of that.”



“Well, yes, I suppose that’s true” she said, as she unwrapped her long coat to reveal some very thin black lingerie she was wearing underneath.”



“But that doesn’t mean we can’t figure out the next best thing.”

Friday, 1 May 2020

Chapter 23


They fell asleep with the cameras still on, and he woke up and saw her sleeping. He wondered how many relationships around the world were playing out over the internet. Love in the age of coronavirus.


After saying their goodbyes, he decided to ride up to Bob’s Cove for his daily walk. It was a rigorous hike with a spectacular view at the top, and he wanted to put himself to the test.


While walking he noticed a strange phenomenon, where people practically leaped out of the way when they got anywhere near each other on the trail. The instructions from the government were to stay two meters away from each other during the period of social distancing, and people seemed to be taking this to the extreme.


As the uphill climb continued, he found himself once again running out of breath. He tried to picture a harried young woman in yoga pants pushing past him, and sped up a little laughing at the memory.



He reached the top and looked down and saw how far he had come, thinking as he did about his life in middle age. There were a lot of years in his climb, full of heartbreak, loss, learning, and transition. He hoped this next chapter would be about love and redemption.






He activated the music on his phone and heard an old Kentucky bluegrass song and listened.


‘High on the mountain, wind blowing free,
Thinking about the days that used to be.
High on the mountain, standing all alone,
Wondering where the years of my life have flown’



It was a sad song, but he felt energized listening to it anyway. Sadness gives depth to life, and knowing loss had given him a new appreciation of love and hope.



But he had no idea that things were about to change.




Arriving home, he saw he had a message from Akari. It read,



Geoff,
My father died last night. I am busy trying to make arrangements with my mother right now, as the usual options for a funeral are not available. This is difficult and my mother is not doing well. They were together for nearly 40 years, and were almost never apart.


He died last night when we were talking. So right around the time I was taking off my clothes, my father was gasping for air and taking his last breath. I can’t stop thinking about this, and am feeling overwhelmed with guilt. I’m mad at myself. Mad at you. Mat at the world. I should have been a better daughter.


I think it’s best if we don’t contact each other for a while. I need time to grieve. Time to think about what I have done. And time to help my mother. I’m sorry to say it so bluntly. I do miss you so very much, but that is not a luxury I have at the moment. I hope you understand.

Akari


It was very hard to read, and he felt a tremendous wave of sadness wash over him. Had he taken her from her father when he needed her the most? He felt a stabbing sensation of guilt in his chest and went to pour a glass of whiskey for himself.



Things had taken a turn.

Chapter 24



He spent his first heartbroken weekend learning to chop wood, build fires, and make repairs around the home. He was growing a beard. With all but the most basic services shut down in Queenstown, he was also now working from home. The feelings of isolation were intense.


His first clients of the day were in the midst of a marital breakdown as a result of all of the forced togetherness during the lockdown. It was a common problem he had been dealing with frequently since the country had shut down. It was an odd contrast to his own lost love.


He fired up his laptop and opened up Skype. He saw his clients Todd and Linda sitting apart with their arms folded, and realized it was going to be a long day. He had to try and save another couple’s relationship, when right now he couldn’t even save his own.

“So guys,” he began. “Last week we talked about being vulnerable and assertive. About asking for what a person needs as opposed to making assumptions and expecting someone to read your mind. How did things go this week?"


“Well the first couple of days were fine,” Linda said. “But then HE went back to his old ways playing on his phone and ignoring me.”


Geoff knew it was a bad sign when people started saying “he” and “she” instead of using real names.



“Well remember what we talked about last week,” Geoff said, trying to hide his irritation. “Being vulnerable is being brave enough to say how someone’s behavior is making you feel. For instance you might have said something like, “when you use your phone instead of talking to me, I feel hurt that we don’t talk anymore.”


Todd let out a long sigh and folded his arms even tighter.



“Todd, it seems like you have something to say,” Geoff interjected. “Remember we talked about passive-aggressive communication? If you have something to say, say it. But remember what we talked about regarding body-language and tone. Your body says a lot. It’s saying a lot right now.”


“I’m just not sure I see the point of this,” Todd said. “We keep rehashing the same things and nothing really changes. She’s never going to change. So I ask you doctor, what is the point exactly?”



Geoff thought about the question. Resistance in martial therapy was very common, and he had observed this scene play out hundreds of times over the years. Normally he would slow things down and use his experience to get the session back on track. But today was not most days.




“Look guys, I’ve got to be honest with you. I’m sick of this. Sick of being locked down and sick of doing this from my living room, and sick of people arguing. I’m not supposed to do this, but I’m going to share something with you from my life. I moved to New Zealand after my marriage fell apart to start over. And it was a sad few months after my divorce, I assure you. I sat there as a lonely guy in a lonely apartment wondering why I didn’t fight harder, try harder, appreciate what I had when I had it.



I never thought I would find love again. That I was too old. Too hurt. Too broken. I promised myself that if I ever did get another chance, I would never take love for granted again. To appreciate how extraordinary it is that in this planet of 7 Billion people, one person would accept me and love me despite my past. Despite my baggage. Despite my hurts. 



And then, against some long odds, I found love again. Felt those butterflies again. Got to feel things I never thought I would feel again. And then some germs. A stupid fucking virus, took that all away from me right when we were getting to the good part.



So Todd, to answer your question. Once upon a time, you two found each other. Traveled all over the world together. Fell in love. Had two beautiful children. And now that it’s getting a little hard, you want to throw all that away because of your pride and your egos and your goddamn phones! Grow up and appreciate what you have. Life is hard sometimes. People get tired of each other sometimes. But what you both have failed to realize that in this lockdown world where people are losing jobs, feeling crippling loneliness, and not getting to say good bye to loved ones, you still have so much to be grateful for. I can tell you as someone who has been there what’s on the other side. Regret. Sadness. Bitterness.



You still have the power to choose. Choose love. Choose gratitude. Choose each other. So do it or don’t. But I’m not going to work harder at this than you are anymore. It’s your choice.”



Virtual mic drop.

Chapter 25



In addition to the marital issues, Geoff was also hearing how people were drinking too much during the lockdown. He was guilty of this himself, and finding temporary comfort in the escape of mindless drinking. The psychologist Alfred Adler said we had three major tasks in life consisting of love, friendship, and work. He suggested that people drifted towards addictive behavior when there were things missing in these three areas. He could see how this was true for him as well.


The last of the late summer sunshine was also dying, and the night were getting colder and darker. He thought of the line from Game of Thrones, “Winter is coming.” He hoped he wasn’t also entering another dark season in his own life.



He was determined to keep up with his walking, and set out after his last client of the day to Mt. Chrichton close to his home. Although his lifestyle habits were in decline, he was getting fitter as a result off all of these hikes. He wondered what he would look like when the lockdown finally ended. It really could go either way.



As he walked, he turned a corner and saw a stunning view of rolling hills across the horizon, and felt himself begin to cry. It was the beauty of the scene, but also the feelings of grief and loss hitting him. He hadn’t let himself feel the loss of Akari, as he still held out hope that she might come back to him someday.





As he immersed himself in the scene, the song “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks came on, and he thought about the music and how Stevie was only 21 when she wrote this beautiful prose. He listened-



‘Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?’



He thought about this as it related to his situation. Moving to New Zealand had represented a change of seasons in his own life. He had left his home and his country in an effort to see if he could leave the past behind. He found himself thinking of a quote from Stephen King, and stopped to look it up on his phone.


“So do we pass the ghosts that haunt us later in our lives; they sit undramatically by the roadside like poor beggars, and we see them only from the corners of our eyes, if we see them at all. The idea that they have been waiting there for us rarely crosses our minds. Yet they do wait, and when we have passed, they gather up their bundles of memory and fall in behind, treading in our footsteps and catching up, little by little.”



For a few wonderful moments getting to know Akari, he had forgotten about his past and felt like a kid again, falling in love for the first time. But now all of the past hurts were coming back to him, and he was struggling with old demons again. Maybe he was unworthy. Unlovable. He recognized these thoughts as long forgotten feelings from childhood, and remembered how hard he had worked to put them to rest. The ghosts were catching up to him. Little by little.



He sat and looked at the mountains again as the tears continued to fall. His logical mind told him he hadn’t done anything wrong with Akari, and only tried to love and support her through a difficult time. The circumstances of her father’s death were awful, but it wasn’t his fault or Akari’s fault either. It was the virus. This fucking virus.


He turned his attention back to the music and listened again.



‘Well, I've been afraid of changin'
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm gettin' older, too’



He smiled through his tears as he pulled himself to his feet. Time makes you bolder. He liked that. Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. Nietzsche said that.



And now he knew what he had to do.

Chapter 26


He thought of the words he had told Todd. Fight for her. Fight for your relationship.


And now he would do the same.


He wrote,


Dearest Akari,

I know you asked for some time, and I know you are hurting and grieving. I didn’t get a chance to tell you how sorry I was to hear about your father. Although you might not be feeling like it right now, you are a good daughter who helped her mother and father fight something which has killed tens of thousands of people around the world. You are just one woman. One very extraordinary woman.


In thinking about you and your story, I remembered this quote from a long time ago.


“Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them - a mother's approval, a father's nod - are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.”


I send you this because of the amazing woman you are and the amazing woman you will continue to be. I know you’re feeling guilty right now, but I hope you consider what you’ve learned from your father in a larger context. You’re a single woman who works all over the world building a business and making contacts. That takes a tremendous amount of courage, and I’m sure your father was deeply proud of you. But more importantly, you have a lot of life left to live. More time to celebrate his memory by being the smart, ambitious, courageous woman who builds a life for herself she can be proud of. That’s the best way to honor his legacy.



And I hope you will leave room for love in your life. It’s been my experience that having a partner to encourage and support you in your decisions is often a major force behind why people succeed and fail. I know from my recent experience with you that I feel larger than life when I’m in your presence. That having a woman like you on my side makes me feel like I can conquer the world. I want to do that for you as well.


I hope you aren’t punishing yourself right now, but I’m guessing you are. I know you said you wanted time, and I understand how lost and confused you must be feeling. But time is the one thing we can’t get back, and I would be lying if I didn’t say I wanted more of it with you. Meeting you has been like winning some incredible lottery. The world can be cold and impersonal and cruel sometimes. To think that I would find such warmth, kindness, and passion wandering up a mountain on a random Sunday almost seems too hard to believe. And yet it happened. It was real. The wonderful times we had together have become a part of my personal history now. I promise you I’ll remember this time and these moments for the rest of my life.


So I’ll wait to hear from you. Hope to hear from you. If that’s the only time I got to have with you, I will be eternally grateful. But I really, really hope not. I needed to write this because I’m willing to fight for you. Willing to fight for us.

Love,

Joe


He felt a tremendous sense of relief sending the letter. He could look himself in the mirror and know that he tried. Would keep trying. 


Stevie Nicks was right. Time really did make you bolder.


He abstained from alcohol that night, as he planned to do a very long walk in the morning and wanted to be fresh and rested. It was Easter Sunday, and he decided to test his body in the spirit of the holiday. Although he wasn’t religious, he was raised Catholic, and always associated Easter with rebirth and renewal. He wanted to start watching his health a little closer.


He fell asleep without the aid of alcohol for the first time in a while. Writing the letter had given him some peace, and he trusted that one day he and Akari would find their way back together one day. As long as it might take.



But he had hope again.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Chapter 27



The Ben Lomond hike began right outside his home, and was a six to eight-hour hike for a fit person. For a fit person. Although he had been doing a lot of walking, he had also been drinking more than usual and not eating particularly well. He knew from his phone sessions with people that these were common problems during this period of prolonged isolation.



He began his hike following the river, and felt energized from a good night’s sleep. This hike was almost straight uphill for a good portion of the way, and he knew this was soon be a much bigger test. He thought of the countless Easter masses he had sat through as a child. If he could make it through that in his first communion suit, he could make it through a difficult hike.




He had made a point of walking on Easter for a reason. As a student of both the bible growing up and the Hero’s Journey in mythology, he liked the idea that a person had to put themselves to a rigorous physical test sometimes. He referred to this as “leveling up” to his younger clients. Testing yourself in more difficult circumstances so one could continue to grow.




As he walked, he thought about the life he had left behind in Chicago. Like many people in his forties, he had lost touch with friends in the hustle and bustle of life. He played golf occasionally, went out for beers to watch the Bears, and when they weren’t fighting (not often) went out with his wife for dinner.



In this new chapter of his life, he found he was taking to hiking again. He also wanted to make some new friends, and wondered if he should join a hiking group once the world returned to normal. He knew he had invested a great deal in things with Akari, and it occurred to him that it was dangerous to have all of your eggs invested in one basket. It was something he often told his clients



As he continued to ascend, he began breathing heavily and stopped and checked his watch. 140 beats a minute. High. One of the biggest components of balance in life began with attention to physical health. He had already lost a few friends from his youth to various heart issues, cancers, and accidents. None of us lived forever.


He also thought about another element of the Hero’s Journey. The call to adventure. According to the mythology, a hero will receive an opportunity, or a call, and then must chose to act on or refuse this call. He originally thought his move to Queenstown was the call, but now he wasn’t so sure. Despite the change in accents and a much better health care system, his work life was about the same.




Now he thought his real challenge might be reinventing himself. Like many people after a divorce, he felt lost as to who he was outside of being in a couple. Although he wanted to find love again, he also wanted to improve and learn from his past mistakes. As the Buddhists proposed, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”














Finding a rock to rest on, he reached into his bag and grabbed an energy bar and some water. His shirt was already drenched with sweat, and he looked down and saw how far he had climbed. Two young Asian girls approached, and walked quickly past him with a simple nod. He laughed at the memory as he thought back to Akari whistling by him.










Knowing it was a very long hike, he got moving again. He turned on his music and heard “Tangled up in Blue” come on. It was an appropriate song all things considered. A song about a ramblin’ man lamenting a lost love. He cranked up the volume.



‘So now I'm goin' back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They're an illusion to me now’




He fixated on the line, “I’ve got to get to her somehow.” He was at a point in his life where he was ready to take some big risks and make some big moves. But how? The world was closed for business.




He looked down as he was thinking and saw a stunning view of the mountains, lakes, and rolling hills below. A feeling came over him. A very powerful feeling of ease and comfort. The sun washed over his body, and he looked at the huge distance he had covered, and the mountain he had just climbed. And he knew. There was only THIS moment and THIS time. These were the cards he was handed to play right now.



It was a powerful moment, and he thought of how Maslow had described “peak experiences” in his life. Moments of clarity. Transcendence. C.S. Lewis called them “tantalizing glimpses.” Little moments in life when the universe gave you almost total clarity. They didn’t last forever, but nothing did.





He found a rock and sat and took in the world below him.










He had made it.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Chapter 28

He knew that it would probably take Akari some time to digest his email, and he was willing to be patient in the meantime. He felt good that he was able to clearly express his deepest thoughts and feelings. At least he had tried.


On his day off, he decided to go and check in on Anne at the Hostel. He knew that she at least had shelter and food for a while, but still, he was concerned. He was breaking yet another rule going to see her, but right now he didn’t care. The normal rules of planet earth didn’t make a whole lot of sense right now.


He rang the buzzer and a young woman in shorts and a Tee-shirt let him in. There were beer and wine bottles strewn all over the lounge, and he could see the backpackers were still having a good time. He couldn’t say that he blamed them. One of Anne’s roommates informed him she was reading down by the lake, and he thanked her and went on his way. 



The walk around the lake was only a couple of miles, and he knew it well from all of his daily excursions. He chose the path towards the Rydges hotel, as it was quieter and had a lot of nice benches and places to read. He guessed that she would be there.


He walked for a while towards the one-mile car park on the outskirts of town, when he saw her sitting on a rock at the base of the lake. She had her headphones on and was reading a paperback, and he wondered for a moment if he should even interrupt her. 



“Anne?” he asked, as he made as much noise as he could so she could hear him.



“DOCTOR GEOFF,” she said loudly, as she ran over to hug him. 



“Wow!,” he said. “You’re a brave woman, I don’t think we’re supposed to even be within a few meters of each other, let alone hugging. But I don’t care. You look happy and that makes me happy. How are you?”


“I am actually doin’ great,” she said. “Thanks to you I was able to take a few days and figure things out. I’ve gotten me a job at the supermarket and can pay my bills again. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for me. You saved my life.”


“Well I don’t know about that,” he replied. “I just helped to get you back on your feat. You remember we talked about resilience? Well seeing you smile again reminds me what the word means. In this whole fucked up, virus-infested world, you have given me more hope than anyone that things might actually be okay again.”

“Well geeze doctor, maybe I should be chargin’ you for therapy,” she said with a laugh. “All I know is that we’re going to survive this. Me.  You. This town. All of us. Well almost all of us anyway. Keep doin’ what you do. Keep giving people hope. You’re quite good at it.”

“Thank you so much,” he replied. “Honestly I’m not standing here right now as your doctor but just another human being who is suffering through this virus like everyone else. I’ve been sad and I’ve been lonely and I’ve had some hard times. Hearing you say that gives ME hope that I’m in the right place and doing the right job, no matter what the cards we’ve been handed. So thank you. Seriously, thank you.”


“Well you’re welcome doctor. Geoff. Now you’ve made me feel good knowin’ I could influence a doctor like you. Actually, you’ve done nothin’ but cheer me up since I’ve known you. I never much believed in psychology before. But I do believe in you. I see what you do now. You breathe life into people.”



He felt himself welling up again as he considered her words. God he was becoming a crybaby these days! He was reminded again of the three tasks in life. Love, friendship, and work. He felt like he just took some major strides in the friendship and work categories.



Now he just had to figure out the love task again. 

Monday, 27 April 2020

Chapter 29


Waking up, he felt a chill in the air and went out to the deck to see why it was so cold. Looking across the lake, he could see the first snowfall on the mountains in the distance. A hazy shade of winter.







He had also come to Queenstown to ski, and right now the season was in peril. The town was usually flooded with Asian and European tourists coming to ski, enjoy the views, and sample the local food and drink. Right now it was a ghost down. All the same, he was choosing to be optimistic and buying ski gear online for a fraction of the price. He wanted to believe normal life would return one day.




He found himself missing Akari and was trying to resist the urge to check his computer searching for messages. He was feeling something psychologists called “attachment panic,” where a person misses someone so much, they feel intense anxiety. He knew this was not healthy, and told himself he needed to give her time and pivot toward some other goals.




He walked out onto his deck and took in the landscape. It was an incredible site, and as he looked inside at the roaring fireplace and the beautiful home he was living in, he reminded himself to be grateful.



He cranked up the Bluetooth speaker, grabbed his jacket, and moved a chair out on to the deck. He heard the Talking Heads come on, and an old favorite, “Once in a Lifetime” began to play. He cranked up the volume as he looked out over the horizon and considered his life.


“And you may find yourself
In another part of the world”



Check on that one.




And then.


“And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!



Letting the days go by”



He laughed at how the song seem to mimic his own thoughts. Sometimes he wondered if there was some great cosmic DJ out there, mixing up the soundtrack of his life. His whole life he had paid attention to music that was playing during significant moments. He did find there was an amazing synchronicity.



He took a walk around the lake as the afternoon wore on. He had already seen shades of summer, fall, and winter in the short couple of months he had been in town. He had been through enough Chicago winters to be prepared, and the crisp, cold, air invigorated him.


He had noticed himself avoiding eye contact on his daily walks, and vowed to change this pattern. He didn’t want to be a part of the fear and avoidance that seem to be seeping into life during the virus, and he made a point of saying hello and smiling to everyone he passed. He was a firm believer that each person was a case study of one in the world, and always had a choice as to bringing happiness or misery to others along the way.








For the first time in a while, he didn’t bring any beer on his lakeside walk, and this was something he wanted to continue with. It was easy to rationalize and excuse bad eating and drinking during periods of global isolation, but he knew that things like this had a way of quickly becoming a habit. Perhaps being loved again, however briefly, made him want to be a better man.

















He decided to go an extra couple of miles around the lake, and peaked in the window of a great craft beer place he loved called Altitude Brewing. They had just gotten permission to begin delivering beer around the area again, and he saw them diligently working on their potions. Again, a little sign of hope.



He finished the last bit of the climb up to his house, and got the fire going again. As a city boy and an urbanite, he was learning some basic skills such as starting a fire without dousing it with a lighter fluid and a dozen newspapers. He settled into the living room and opened his computer to check his emails. And there it was.








A note from Akari.



Deep breath.



Courage man.

Chapter 30


Geoff,

It has been a strange and busy week trying to make arrangements, help my mother, and grieve for my father. I am sad, frustrated, busy and yet still bored, and really want to get back to my life. Much of my business with the wine is on hold right now, and I feel like my life is in a big holding pattern right now.


But the one thing I AM sure about, is who I have been thinking about when I need comfort. You. Always you. I wondered for a while if it was because you were fresh in my mind because of our recent history. But I know that’s not it. It’s something more intuitive than that. Deep from my heart.


As I told you before, I’ve never really known love before. Now I think I have. That crazy feeling of wanting, needing, and obsessing is nice, but I don’t think that’s what love is. I think love is comfort. Trust. Knowing there is someone out there you can be completely vulnerable with. And now, I think, I have found that for the first time.


But life has played a cruel trick on us. We are thousands of miles apart, and some invisible virus has shut down the world. I don’t know how long it’s going to be. I don’t think anyone does. So what do we do?


You’re an eligible bachelor and I can imagine you will meet plenty of women once New Zealand gets back to life, which I understand might be a little faster than the rest of the world. I can’t ask you to wait for me. I just can’t. It wouldn’t be fair. I can only hope that you feel the same powerful feelings I do, and follow where your intuition takes you.

Love,

Akari


He read and reread her letter a couple of times, and felt a sense of hope returning. He knew it must have been very difficult for her to write, and how much courage it must have taken to find these words. He was proud of her and happy that she had chosen him.

But she was right, the world was not exactly cooperating right now, and they would have to figure out how to do this with serious limitations of time and space and virusues. But essentially, he felt the same way she did. Who really knew what came next for the world? But he did know he wanted to fight for her and fight for them.

He turned on the Bluetooth and heard the song, “I Will Wait” by Mumford and Sons. Once again the universal DJ was sending him some comfort.

‘I will wait,
I will wait for you’


He sang along as he looked out into the mountains. Waiting was part of love too. Maybe, in some ways, one of the most interesting parts. Although they were physically separated, he knew they could take this time to get to know each other and work on the parts of intimacy that had nothing to do with sex. In this day and age of Tinder hookups and disposable people, it might actually be a blessing in disguise.


But he still missed her.


He looked into the mirror and saw what several weeks of isolation had done to his face. A scruffy, unkempt, half-beard. Perhaps a couple of pounds of weight added to his frame from all the boredom eating and drinking. He had an idea.



He dug through his pantry and found an old pair of clippers. There were still hints of the blond hair he had sported as a kid, but now his locks were mostly brown and long. He took one last look, and then turned on the clippers and carved the first streak down the middle of his head. He laughed as he thought back to being 15 and on the wrestling team in High School. It was the last time he had shaved his head.


There was no turning back now though.


Five minutes later, he had given himself his first buzz cut in 30 years. He felt liberated.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Chapter 31

Although he was tempted to write her back and reassure her, he wanted to take some time and consider everything she had said. The truth was, there was no end in sight to this virus, and it might be months or even years before they could see each other.


He never thought it might be him that was having second thoughts about this relationship, as their time together had been so natural and comfortable. But did he really want to spend years more of his life in a long-distance relationship? He was getting older, and wanted to search his feelings before writing anything back that was misleading.



He began a long hike around the lake. As the days wore on, he felt less and less included towards alcohol, and more and more exercise and fitness. There had been a difficult learning curve at the beginning of the lockdown, but now he was embracing feeling physically healthy again. Perhaps the time in isolation had been a bit of a gift in this respect.



He was getting used to saying hello to people on his daily walks, and noticed a number of attractive women running and walking along the footpath. Although Queenstown would have a difficult time returning to life following the massive loss of tourist dollars, there were still people living here he could potentially meet and get to know.



It had been announced that New Zealand would be returning to “level three” lockdown in a week’s time, which meant more food takeaways available, and looser restrictions on where people could travel. He found that he was now walking 20,000 steps on his daily walks as opposed to his former goal of ten. He was looking forward in doing more walks and hikes around the area when he could travel a little further.


Geoff sat on one of the benches facing the lake and thought about everything that was going on in is mind. Was he running away from intimacy? Love? Something irreplaceable? He knew the odds didn’t favor it. He had always thought the concept of soul mates was a silly one, and how people could likely have a good relationship with any number of people as long as there was healthy communication and similar levels of emotional intelligence. That’s what the research suggested anyway.


And yet, his intuition was telling him something else. That maybe he had connected with someone in a way that would never come again. He laughed as he thought about an old movie called “A Bronx Tale” where the wise old mafioso explained to his protégé that you only get three great loves in your life (he had all his before age 16). Geoff supposed he had really been in love once, maybe twice in his life. What if this was his least great love?




The fall colors were intensifying more each day, and he thought about how he was in the autumn of his own life. In another time and place, long before he became a psychologist, he was an English major and a writer. He found himself thinking of a sonnet by Shakespeare he had enjoyed during that time.



‘That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang’



The author is the sonnet is contemplating getting older and possibly losing his virility. The passage of time. The ravages of age. It was happening to Geoff as well, and he promised himself he would keep up with the exercise no matter what happened.



And then he considered the conclusion of the poem.




‘This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well, which thou must leave ere long.’

He smiled as he remembered discovering poetry for the first time with the help of a wonderful teacher. He was 19, and all of these thoughts about aging and dying and death seemed interesting, but also perhaps a little out of his understanding at the time.





But now he thought he understood. The man in the poem is talking loving something because it’s disappearing. HE is disappearing. Dying. All of us were. As a more modern poet Bob Dylan said it, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”




He used to think of the poem as somewhat morbid, but now he thought he understood. Love something now, while it's here. Love someone now, while they are here. There isn’t an unlimited amount of time. For any of us. He had been lucky enough to find love again in his life, and his job now was to appreciate it, for however long it lasted.



He began the journey home and flipped on some music. He was feeling more confident in how he wanted to proceed, and turned around and looked at the golden yellow and orange foliage one last time. There was a lot of beauty in autumn. In nature, and in people.



He started the long climb back. 

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Chapter 32

He began his letter that evening after lighting a fire. He remembered their night making love in front of the fireplace, which gave him even more incentive to write something meaningful. He knew she must be very anxious about hearing back from him after pouring her heart out like that. He owed her a proper response.


Akari,

Thank you for your beautiful letter. I really appreciate your kind and thoughtful words, especially with everything you’ve been through the last few weeks. I feel so lucky that you were able to share your heart with me like that. I must admit, I’ve never received a letter like that before!


I thought a lot about what you wrote, and how you didn’t expect me to wait for you, and how I should trust my feelings. For a moment I contemplated the logistics of all of this. When will flights ever come in and out of New Zealand again? When will the world get back to normal? How long are we realistically going to have to wait to see each other again? Can I do this? Can WE do this? Is it realistic?



I was out walking today and noticed the seasons were changing. I looked at all of the beautiful fall colors and thought about getting older and the passage of time, and in the end, you. How you would make whatever time I have left so much more powerful and meaningful. You slow down time for me. Make me appreciate each moment. Make me look forward to learning from you. Talking to you. I guess in a roundabout way what I’m saying is, I chose you.



I’ve been doing a lot of reading over the past couple of weeks. It’s been great to get back to this. Anyway, I read this book called “The Bridge Across Forever” which kept coming back to this theme, “have you ever found yourself missing someone you’ve never met?” It’s a feeling I’ve had for a long time. Until I met you that is.


I’ve never really believed in the concept of soulmates before. I’ve always just thought that love was more about work, revision, and shared values, than it was about relying on feeling some magical spark with someone.



But I do know what I felt with you, and how I’ve never felt that with anyone before. That is not to say there won’t be conflict, and disagreements, and work and revision in our lives together. Of course there will. I just feel like we can choose to work through these things because it will always be worth it. Because maybe this feeling really does just come along once in a lifetime. I’m willing to make that bet with you.



So where do we go from here? I think for now, just like this. Writing letters, video chats, and sharing our lives in whatever way we can think of. Like that couple in the book I shared with you, we keep walking. “One foot in front of the other, through leaves, over bridges.”



I look forward to the journey. So many relationships these days start with physical intimacy, ride that dopamine wave during the honeymoon period, and then fizzle out once they realize they don’t even really know each other. We can take this time to really and truly get to know each other’s thoughts, dreams, and feelings. Embrace Courtship. Romance. Perhaps like couple’s used to do it during the war.


My grandfather was in the war. Two years away from home. He told me that there were days where all he had to keep him going was a picture of my grandmother. He would take it out and look at her face and promise himself he would do anything to make it back to her.



And there will be days I do that as well.



But we will get though this together. It will make finally seeing each other so much sweeter.

Love, Geoff




It felt nice to write a love letter again. It’s how a lot of history’s great figures left their mark.




But he didn't care about history right now.




He just wanted her back..


Saturday, 11 April 2020

Prologue


Geoff Young was 45 when his life fell apart. That was the year his wife divorced him, his cat died, and the weight of his student loans began to crush the air out of his lungs.


So he did what any sensible 40-something in the throes of a midlife crisis would do.


He sold his house, packed his bags, and moved to Queenstown, New Zealand, the adventure capital of the world. He found a job as a psychologist, and, after finally cutting through all the red tape of immigration, selling his possessions, and getting the proper medical clearances, he departed on a plane to live in paradise.



21 days later, the world fell apart again.




Only this time, it was a virus.

Chapter 1


Queenstown was a place that thrived on vitality. People came from all over the world to live and work and visit this place, and when Geoff pulled into town, he knew why. Surrounded by mountains and a sprawling, beautiful, crystal blue lake, it was noted by a number of pilots to be the most beautiful approach in the world.  



His first day in town, he unpacked as little as he could to get by, and walked into the square. It was still late summer in the city, and he could see a very busy scene on the lake filled with boaters, swimmers, beaches and bars. He was sure he was going to like it here.


As he passed a little hostel called Deco on his way into town, he noticed a group of 20-somethings kicking a ball around and drinking and laughing. Knowing he was too old, but feeling in his heart he was still 21, he went over and introduced himself. Someone handed him a beer. An hour later a huge group of them were at a bar, where Geoff had generously offered to pick up the tab.





It was quite a start to his new life in his new town.


Waking up the next morning with a bit of a hangover, he was determined to do something physical to offset the damage. With this in mind, he decided to climb to the top of the Skyline gondola which overlooked the entire town and valley. It was about an hour's walk for a reasonably fit person, so he gave himself an hour and a half. It was basically a straight climb to the top, and he wanted to make hiking a part of his new routine. He had seen far too many men go off the deep end following a divorce, and he was determined to balance his good times with at least some attention to his physical health.


And so his first walk began. Little did he know how much that little walk would change his life. 

Chapter 2

15 minutes in, his heart began to pound. He had been on a bit of a hedonistic streak following his divorce, and now understood the consequences a bit more. The sum of our lives comes down to a series of choices, and he needed to start paying a little better attention to his.



Rounding the first large staircase, he stopped to catch his breath. He saw on his new Fitbit (its first usage) that his heart rate was over 140 beats a minute, and he knew that was getting very high. He looked across and saw a sprawling view of Lake Wakatipu, and understood the views would be even more spectacular as he continued to climb.



As he enjoyed the view and caught his breath, he was suddenly startled by an attractive Japanese woman who had seemingly come out of nowhere.



“Excuse me!” she said. “You’re blocking the stairs.”



He was not blocking the stairs.



“Um. Sure,” he said. Moving a few inches to the right. “Happy to. You seem to be in quite a hurry. Me? I’m enjoying the view a little along the way.”



“Sorry,” she said. “I got a little spooked seeing a man out here on his own. I’m determined to get in better shape this year,” she said as she held up her wrist to show off her Fitbit.


“I’ve got one of those too!” Geoff said, as he smiled and held up his wrist. “I bet it’s the same distance to the top for both of us.”



She laughed gently at his joke, but pushed ahead.



As he watched this pretty mystery woman recede into the distance, he looked down and checked his Fitbit again. 145 now!


Meeting her had sped up his heart even more. 

Chapter 3

He continued his walk to the top with a new sense of urgency. He wanted to see the pretty Japanese woman again, and his ego was a little bruised knowing she was walking so much faster than him. He continued his upward trek, checking his watch periodically to make sure his heart wasn’t going to explode. Even still, now he was a man on a mission.



As he rounded the final turn, he saw he was covered in sweat. Trip Advisor had “advised” it was an easy walk that even a beginner with a moderate level of fitness could complete. He would make sure to leave his own review later so no other middle-age dudes would have a heart attack on the way up. It was a splendid view and he felt he had truly accomplished something when he looked down.





He was even more delighted when he saw there was a lounge at the top of the gondola. But he knew that it really must be his day when he looked and saw his friend from the trail sitting by herself drinking a glass of wine at the bar. He dried himself up as much as he could, and took a deep breath.



Courage cowboy. Courage.


“I see you made it,” he said with a smile. 


“I did!” She said as she returned his smile. AND I’m now at 8,000 steps! I felt like that deserved a glass of wine. I’ll surely be over 10,000 before I’m halfway down.”



“Somehow I’m only at 6,000,” he said as he checked his watch. Bigger and MUCH slower steps. And I didn’t even know they had beer and wine up here, or I would have walked a hell of a lot faster.”


He debated asking to join her, but instead followed one of his own rules from childhood with his brothers. If there was three spots at a movie theater or a urinal, you leave the middle one open.


“Well anyway I’m Geoff,” he said. “Brand new in town here and still catching my breath. I’m a psychologist and just moved from Chicago. I thought I would check out the adventure capital of the world, and this is my first adventure. Trip Advisor tells me that old ladies and children can comfortably do this walk. It didn’t mention anything about middle-aged men. I guess I should have read the fine print. That was hard.”


“I’m Akari she said,” as she extended her hand across the open seat. “I sell wine here in town and split my time between here, Australia and Japan. I’ve been here a few months now and have been on a few adventures but not many.”


As a psychologist, he found himself checking her body language carefully. Although her smile was real, her feet remained pointed away from him, which he knew was an important detail.



The feet never lied. She was a little guarded. Or perhaps not interested. He needed to proceed carefully.


“Well listen, I didn’t mean to interrupt if you wanted to enjoy your wine in peace. I’m just so fucking happy to have made it to the top. It was touch and go there for a while. I kept thinking of how fast you were walking and it made me walk a little faster, so I sort of have you to thank. So thank you,” he said as he laughed.


“Do you wanna know a secret,” she said as she returned the smil
e. 


“Always,” he said


“I got here two minutes before you did. I just wanted to beat you up the mountain.”


And with that they both laughed and continued to drink their wine.

Chapter 21

  March 31 st   He spent the week adjusting to cooking as well as working with his clients over Skype and the phone. In a week, he h...