My life changed when I met a woman. I suppose that’s a cliché you’ve heard before. Stick with me here, don’t get cynical.
The restaurant was crowded on that autumn day, and with no chair nearby, the young lady asked if she could sit across from me. I sat alone at a small table with one other chair, reading Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” waiting for my order. I had seen the play in an English class years ago. This was my first read.
I’m a bachelor, thirty-one years old, a solitary, but the lady sitting across seemed unique, what with long red hair and robin’s egg blue eyes.
She smiled and chirped a hello. She didn’t wish, I think, to disturb, but I was disturbed, pleasantly. We talked about the lovely spring day. Then she ordered her lunch. I’m not into food so don’t recall what she ordered.
We talked as she waited for her food. I’d gotten coffee and apple pie. I never buy much food when eating out. My finances don’t allow it. I go to restaurants to sit among people.
She was from Belfast, Ireland, I learned, newly arrived in the US, and worked at the nearby Bloomington Hospital as a nurse.
I explained that my bookstore was the last small bookshop in Bloomington. I had inherited it from my parents, along with a home and the store building close to railroad tracks near downtown. My parents had both died when their car got stuck on the railroad track and the Great Western train could not stop.
“I’m sorry to hear,” she said.
I was home from Knox College for the summer, helping out at the store when it happened. I never went back to college. I changed our Christian bookstore into a general, secular bookstore.
We talked of various things and then she said, noticing my book, how she also loved to read. On her time off she wrote poetry and read it in pubs and bookstores back in Northern Ireland.
“My grandfather’s from Dublin,” I said. “His Protestant family knew the Yeats family.”
“That’s amazing! I love Yeats,” she said. “He is our national poet. Some in the North disagree, though.”
Then it happened. The ceiling fan that spun above us plummeted down. I was hit by one of the rotating blades. The woman whose name I did not know yet was struck directly and knocked out. She did not move. I leaped up, got out my cell and called 911. I bent down to see if she was breathing.
Blood was running down my forehead but I knew it was a minor wound.
Both of us were put into an ambulance to the hospital. I got a few stitches and had an EKG done and was discharged.
Hedwig, as I learned later her name to be, remained knocked out, in a coma. I closed up the bookstore. At the hospital I told the nurse on duty we were engaged. The nurse let me sit with Hedwig all day to wait it out until she came around.
I was convinced the accident was my fault. If I had not been at that table she would have found a seat elsewhere. She sat by me because I was a book person and she hoped to make a like-minded friend.
On the third day I went to sit by her hospital bed, I discovered her parents had arrived late the previous night from Northern Ireland. Hedwig was gone. They had put her on a Medevac plane and had her flown back to Belfast. You know how it is. People believe their own country has better medical care. Northern Ireland is on the British socialized healthcare system. The Bloomington Hospital however was not authorized to give me the parent’s name or to share their address.
In a month I sold my business and flew to Ireland. I knew, because my grandfather had been an Irish citizen, I could get a passport for Southern Ireland, and since both countries were in the EU, I could do business in Northern Ireland. I rented a building and was able to stock and open a used bookstore on North Street in Belfast. Over the months I grew to like the city and the country.
Someday, I am convinced, Hedwig will walk into my store. I have been in Belfast two years. The store doesn’t make much money but I have an apartment above and live on little. I have funds from selling my business, its building, and the home. I’m sure Hedwig did not die. A ceiling fan’s not heavy enough to kill.
She might be paralyzed. That does not matter. I’ll find her. Recently I hired a detective. I myself have searched the web. I’ve gone through the telephone book and called everyone with her first name. I’ve read the obituaries in the Belfast Telegraph. Not once have I seen the name Hedwig attached to a young person. Hedwig isn’t an Irish name. Maybe her parents immigrated.
We are meant to be together. You see, I believe in cornball love, even in these dark times we live in. It’s the kind of love where you see and know. Love at first sight, it’s called, and it happens all the time, just like in “Romeo and Juliet.” Maybe it would be more accurate to call it cornball lust. I don’t care.
I’ve no desire for more whippings from brown-eyed Maggie, my dominatrix back in the States. She was sweet all right but I never loved her. In some sessions there’d be two of us crawling around on the floor. She’d leap from my back to the back of the other guy, yelling “yippee!” and swat our behinds with a paddle.
Okay, I’m not perfect but can become better. I’ll not let my self-disgust ruin my hopes for old-fashioned love, cornball love. There are only 345,000 people in Belfast.