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April 24, 2014
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Survivor


Sometimes you have to go back to go forward. Forty-five years is a long way back though. When I was a young teenager there was a lanky English lad who was new to our high school. Somehow I nabbed him for my boyfriend. He had rosy cheeks and dark hair and an easy laugh. He also had a ripe body odor—unaccustomed as he was to the use of American deodorants. He liked science-fiction and the BeeGees and Phil Ochs. He took me to see “Hair” on Broadway. We didn’t talk about ourselves much, but then, what was there to know? We had hardly begun to live. Or so I thought.

Before a year was up, he ran away from home. I received a handwritten letter in the mail. He would not contact me again. There was no tearful break-up, no good-bye kiss. He remained an unasked and unanswered question in my life—one of those things that gnaw when thought about, but mostly sit under the surface.

A few years ago, a man who shared his last name showed up on a Facebook page devoted to “Greenwich Village Kids of the ’60s.” Was he the younger brother I remembered peeking through the keyhole at us? Yes, he was. My old beau lived in the north of England now and had changed his name. His brother agreed to let him know I had enquired.

Thus began a sporadic correspondence. He shared some of the circumstances of his early life that had led him to leave home so many years ago. My mind was eased knowing he was alive. I never expected to see him again.

Recently, the younger brother died suddenly of a heart attack. Plans were made to travel to the funeral here in the States. After, he would visit New York City and ring me up.

As the time drew nearer, my anticipation grew. Having lost my own brothers (also too young), I knew the impact a sibling’s death could have on the survivor. What I didn’t know was the impact the presence of a lost love would have on me. Death suddenly paled when I saw him. With my loved and loving husband standing nearby, we embraced and began a conversation that had ended too abruptly so many years ago.

Over the next few days I learned more details of the torturous home life he had fled as a teenager, and the hard road he had paved for himself as a survivor. Once deemed an “innumerate” (the mathematical equivalent of illiterate) by educators as a child, he achieved an engineering degree in his 40s. A victim of heinous parental abuse and atrocious psychiatric care, he managed to build a happy home life with his artist wife and her son.

We marveled together at the challenges our two lives had presented. While sometimes seemingly doomed by obstacles out of our control we had each managed to rise up and forge our own invention of a life, a family, a home. Others we knew had not fared as well. Even some who had the benefits of stable families and easy “A’s,” had crashed and burned at the altar of drugs.

In a little book of poems he wrote and left as a memento, one line seemed to sum it up. [“I realise...because I clung to thee, Love, I survived.”—F.M.K.K. Starborn] The “Love” invoked in his poem is not a person but a principle, a guiding force in his life that had somehow not been squelched by hideous circumstance.