** This is going on much longer than I expected. But, I'm just having so much fun here! Thanks to everyone who is reading! **
The first month of my new life was an adjustment, to say the least. A good one, though. Pleasant, even. George and I were given a small home in the village where the new school was located. Happy people provided us with good, simple food and were eager for our company. Little children peeked out at us from behind door frames and their mothers' skirts, giggling and ducking when we smiled or waved. The residents of the village seemed especially amused by me. In fact, I believe the native word for "ghost" was occasionally -- though fondly -- used to describe me. Let's face it. Even for an American, I am rather pale. But -- I am also quick and athletic -- and the local youngsters were happy to have me join in their games, often playfully arguing about which team would get to have "the ghost" as a member. The male residents of the village would point at my biceps and grin, giving me the universally understood "thumbs up" sign, and flexing their own arms in a sign of masculine solidarity. Occasionally, a bolder girl would squeeze my shoulder and smile becomingly, although any "hanky-panky" was clearly off limits. And I wanted it that way. I realized that sex had become less and less of a pleasure for me over the years. A physical release, yes. But a growing emotional burden, too. So, George's admonition to "keep it zipped" was actually quite welcome, believe it or not.
George and I were also quite busy, during the first several weeks of our stay, getting the school ready for its opening. The structure was intact when we arrived, but painting was required. The local people wanted bright colors -- red trim and yellow walls for the outside. For the inside, blues and greens reminiscent of the ocean were chosen. The ocean which none of these people had actually ever seen, but which was alive in their imaginations. George's non-profit provided tables and chairs, a chalkboard (including chalk), a modicum of books, writing tablets and pencils.
The most difficult challenge? The students in our little one-room schoolhouse would range from 7 to 13 years of age. There would be twenty of them. None of them had ever been to a formal school before. So, we had to carefully plan out how to arrange the school day to accommodate the needs of all these different children who were entrusting their futures to us. Maybe it sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to say that they were "entrusting their futures to us." But, in a way, that's what they were doing -- academically, anyhow. If they were to have any chance of having an advanced education -- of going to secondary school, or even university -- they were relying on George and me to give them the necessary foundation. As a person who had always taken my own education a little bit for granted, this thought did weigh upon me. George, though, with his outgoing ways, quick sense of humor, and positive attitude, proved a good counterweight to my more melancholy tendencies. "Sherman," he would say, smiling good-naturedly, "you think you're making this about them. But, you're not. You're making it about you. You always do. Your ego is talking here. Your ego is riding on our success or failure. If these kids are actually what's important to you, things will snap into perspective. You'll realize not everything is up to you. Not everything is under your control. You do the work. You do the best you can. The results are not up to you. And if we get good results, that's not about you, either. So, King Ben, climb down off that high-and-mighty little throne of yours and help me set up these tables." Hell, maybe this little speech of George's is what Sammy was trying to tell me all along. Maybe it was just a little easier to hear in this environment -- this environment with smiling, laughing kids who just wanted me to play games with them. This environment where I didn't need handcuffs and a gun to survive. Fuck that Sammy. I'm not quite ready to forgive him yet, as willing as he was to throw me under the bus to comfort his own messed up conscience.
Sometimes I think about Sammy. I think about his little guy, Nate. I did love Nate. I was his Uncle Ben. I loved Sammy, too. He was my friend. I would have done anything for him. Hell, I did do everything for him. For us. For our partnership, our careers, our future. And somehow, everything just got out of control. I wonder if Sammy hates me. Some nights I wake up -- hot in my bed, in this land far from everything I've ever known -- and I think about these things. And I can't breathe. And then I look at the beautiful woman, full with my babe, lying next to me and I put everything from my old life out of my mind. I imagine my past as a dark cloud just blowing by me, a cloud which disintegrates into nothingness as it passes. And then I can breathe again. And I reach for this woman, for her softness, for her warmth -- and she smiles at me in the darkness, the darkness that is gently lit by the moon and the stars, and she takes me into herself. Loving me. Making me realize that nobody has ever loved me before. Not really. Making me realize that I have never loved anyone before. Not really. Not even Elena. As I said, I did love Elena. But it was a selfish, taking kind of a love. Not like the love I have for this woman who lies next to me now, who will lie next to me every night for the rest of our lives.
You may be wondering how I met this incredible woman who became mine. When did I first see her, speak with her, know that I loved her? How did we come to be together? How did she come to be my wife?
To be continued...