exploring self-realization, sacred personhood, and full humanity
The Perfect Mate
Della and Gordon
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Editor’s note: It’s been some time now since Della, well into her 90s, passed away. The following was written several years ago.
Della, on her wedding day, 1942
It's snowing, and I'm driving into Toronto. I'm here on a visit, making my way across the top of this city on the 401 expressway. The traffic has grown worse in recent years, with near-perpetual "rush hour" dynamics.
Part of me is Torontonian now, as I lived here for six years. Once there were local jokes about this city being everyone's second-choice place to live; that, we might like to live in this or that exotic place, but that Toronto, overall, was a pretty good place. It used to be.
Uncontrolled immigration policies have now transformed this formerly well-ordered city, "the city that works," into something, certain sectors, that begins to remind one of a third-world country. Much of it is now dirty and disheveled, nothing of the jewel of earlier days. I finally understood, only recently, that such destruction of local English culture was maliciously designed by the French politician Pierre Trudeau and his gang, their efforts to dilute the impact of the English majority in Canada.
I cannot enter Toronto without many memories accosting me. I worked so hard here as a young stockbroker, in the glass Concilium Towers. And I did very well; but that's another story.
I’ll be visiting with an old friend of the family, a nearly-90 year-old widow, who is expecting me.
Della and I have a rapport, and we enjoy talking together. Her one-room apartment is filled with mementos of her life. I notice on her coffee table an odd combination of religious materials and cheap romantic novels -- love has different meanings, as we know.
I’ve brought to her printed copies of some pages of Word Gems. She is fascinated by my efforts, and we begin to speak of her life and the subject of romantic love.
She begins to tell me things, she says, she’s never told anyone; indeed, until recently, not even herself, as she’s finally realized some things, long buried in her heart, hidden from her own view.
She’d been a simple farm girl, quite unsophisticated. There’s a certain “openness” gracing her wedding photo. During the WWII years she worked as a waitress at the downtown-Toronto Granite Club, a frequent haunt of peripatetic military officers.
Della laughs now as she remembers an incident. An officer asks her if she will be his consort; that he will supply an apartment for her, all living expenses, nice clothes and jewelry, if only he might enjoy her, like a good streak at the Granite Club, whenever his appetite gnaws at him.
She finds all this very humorous now as she senses her young-girl reaction to the salacious offer of long ago. She says that she was so naive in the ways of the world that she couldn't understand what he was saying - surely it's not that! So he had to rephrase his punch-line three times before she got it. She chuckles as she remembers turning down his generous offer.
I am now studying Della's wedding photos; and I mention to her some things that I see, clues about her character, and about how she was feeling that day. She says that nobody had ever noticed these things before.
Della explains that she met Gordon at the Granite Club. And again she laughs heartily as she recounts a comedy of errors of their coming together. The cook at the club was a terrible practical joker. One day, he sidled up to Della and, in a spirit of mock confidentiality, whispers in her ear, "You see Gord sitting over there? Well, he told me he really likes you, but he's too scared to talk to you. You should just go over there and talk to him."
What Della didn't know was that this rogue had played the same trick on Gordon, had said that Della was dying to meet him!
So, Gordon, thinking that something was happening, approaches Della; and Della, thinking that Gordon is already enamored, decides to work with this, given the "history" of his affection for her.
And so they marry! And the cook is now invited to the wedding! And all laugh at this and believe it to be the grandest joke.
Della and I take a break at this point. It's 7 PM now, and we can see, from her high-rise apartment window, a respectable snow-storm howling out there. I ask her if she'd like to walk across the street to get some fish-and-chips. She laughs at this and says it's been a very long time since she's had a date. She enjoys herself enormously in this little outing and will remind me of it for some years to come.
She continues talking during our little adventure. But as we near her apartment, her mood changes as she becomes quite pensive.
She explains that the romantic novels on the coffee-table have helped her connect with her true feelings. And that, only recently, she began to understand, in her heart of hearts, that she never loved Gordon -- not even a little! All of those years with him, the children, the family events, and everything that goes with it, for almost 50 years - she never loved him... at all. This is news to her.
And now this unsophisticated farm girl, with good nature, explains that her young teen-self had not possessed any sense of what love might mean; that she’d married the first good man who spoke to her! Why? I asked. She believed that she needed the support of a man for her life.
And now, with full-range vision, she sees, quite clearly, that he never really loved her, either! Yes, he was good to her, he provided for his family and was a good man, but they'd never shared any heart-connection. There was no marriage of spirits, the only marriage that counts; not an atom.
It's getting late now. I'm very tired after a day of travelling and visiting. I decide to sleep on the floor of this one-room flat. Della is lying in her bed, but still chatting in the dark. It’s hard for her to fall asleep as the insights will not stop blasting her.
And how strange, she thinks, that I, a distant friend, more of an acquaintance, should be pressed into service to be the one to hear the testimony of her life! She desperately wants me, wants someone, to know what happened to her!
Now picture this surreal situation. It’s 1942 and Gord’s going off to war. There’s a good chance he might not return, that they’ll never see each other again. But, instead of long and lingering, passionate and teary, last good-byes and kisses, their parting is perfunctory and civil, about as emotionally-moving as that of leaving one's office chums at the end of a business day.
Della now sees herself in 1942 on a balcony. Gordon is below, in full GI garb, with large duffel bag. And he is walking down the drive, and they wave to each other. He’s going off to war, and he gets a mere wave from his wife! They act as if he's to be gone for only 10 minutes, going around the corner to buy a jug of milk! They have not offered each other “proper” good-byes - and each is ok with this.
It never really entered her mind, says Della, to go downstairs to kiss him one last time... nor did he ask her to!
In the aftermath of the War, Della offers her sense of things. She is virtually certain that Gord had sexual liaisons while stationed in Italy. She knew this, a woman's intuition, because of things he hinted at, of things he wouldn't say; yet, she now judges such events dispassionately, as if speaking of someone else's husband... it has no impact on her heart.
Though these two possessed a church-sanctioned wedding document, it is more than evident that there had never been a marriage of spirits.
Some months later, I had occasion to speak with Della on the phone. Her mind wanders at times, and she forgets what she's said. She's been in the hospital three times recently and is not feeling well. She never feels well anymore. And she doesn't much want to be here at all. I encourage her to know that another world is soon coming for her, and she will feel good again.
She understands this... and her tone lifts at the reminder.
Della informs me that she continues to read her romantic novels; continues to think about life and love.
She marvels at how the world has changed since she was young; how girls today are so much more “grown up” and sophisticated. She has recently seen the movie David Copperfield and thinks out loud about Dickens’ term “child-wife,” how even children can sometimes form, or realize, a permanent bond of romantic love.
She wants to tell me more about Gordon. While stationed in Europe he wrote to Della about his daily life: the pressures, the constant danger, the mud and wet clothes, the loneliness. He tells her that near a battlefield there is a farmhouse. He offers the farm-family some Army rations. Della says that he could have been court-marshaled for this.
There is a girl in the farmhouse. She washes Gordon's clothes for him; bakes him a pie. Gordon actually tells Della that he has fallen in love with this girl. Della knows that they've had physical relations.
Della explains all of this dispassionately. She says she has forgiven Gordon; that she knows that he was under tremendous stress, severe loneliness.
Gordon comes home after the War. Della states quite frankly that she almost wishes he'd stayed over there. Gordon is not the same, would never be the same again. They had never been close, but now there is an additional layer of separation... he still loves that girl over there in the farmhouse!
I ask this 90 year-old lady if she could give some advice to young people about love.
She thinks about this for a moment. Della says that in her 90 years she has known only two couples, as she perceives it, who were truly in love ... only two! She now tells me a story about one of these couples, a most unusual account.
Again, the scene is World War II; a husband is far from home; and, once again, he is tormented with the threat of death on every side; and, in his loneliness, he loves a girl.
The girl becomes pregnant, has a baby. He is killed in battle.
After the War, the European girl contacts the man's widow in Canada! The Canadian woman sponsors this mother and child to come to Canada, and they live nearby each other, and help each other!
And I say to Della - "Are you telling me that this widow so loved her husband that she wanted to bring his baby - the baby of another woman - to Canada? in order to have at least something of him in her life?"
“Yes, that's it!" Della says.
Della now hints that she wants to tell me something, but her lingering sense of Victorian propriety hinders her. "C'mon, Della, tell me," is all the permission she needs, and now she launches into a story from the distant past.
It is 1931. Della is 12. Her big sister Mabel, age 22, is going to a neighborhood dance and wants to take Della along. Their Dad thinks not, but finally relents when Mabel says, "Oh, it's just the neighbors getting together." Della says she's wearing a crepe navy blue dress that's too large, too long for her. At the dance, an older teen, possibly age 18, wants to dance with young Della. They dance a few times, but Della does not like him and refuses to dance again. Della now begins to laugh at her age-12 naiveté. She becomes very animated in speech as she recounts her ingénue-self walking home with Mabel, explaining to her older sister about her dance-partner: "How do you like that guy! What kind of a guy comes to a dance with a big monkey wrench in his pocket!!"
After laughing heartily about this old memory, Della says that she’s learned that true love, if it does not exist, cannot be manufactured; and very few are lucky enough to find it in this life.
Kahlil Gibran: "It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations."
And I'm thinking about all that Della’s said. All this is part of her answer to my question regarding advice to others about love. Her answer is not a simple statement. In narrative form, it's more of a warning, a sobering reminder, that love in this world is often a messy, unsatisfying, and dangerous business; often, a game with few winners; at best, simply minimizing losses; and, in the end, learning to do the honorable thing.
These are not Hollywood answers, nor the kind of answers from a Sunday sermon on marriage, and not the answers starry-eyed young couples might hope for.
We have been on the phone for over an hour. This good-hearted soul reminds me once again how much she enjoyed having those fish-and-chips with me during the snow-storm. She says something nice, that she feels a bond with me, ever since that late-night talk when I slept on her floor and she chatted in the dark. It's a true sign of friendship.
Kairissi. Della's story was funny about the guy at the dance with a "big monkey wrench in his pocket.”
Elenchus. Between consenting adults, I find the collapsible, snap-on, socket-wrenches far more discreet.
K. (laughing) Ok, buddy, you got me on that one.
E. (small smile)
K. Dear… every life is interesting; every life has its great lessons. Della's life instructs us all.
E. The author told me something not included in Della’s story. While Gord was away for the War, Della moved in with a girl-cousin. The two of them began to spend some evenings playing with an Ouija Board.
K. Afterlife researchers, such as attorney Victor Zammit, inform us that Ouija Boards can be dangerous because they attract low-level, lying, mischievous spirits.
E. That judgment proved to be true for them. Here’s what happened. Della said that as they played the game and asked questions, a spirit-entity sort of took control and told them that it didn’t like them playing this game and that they should stop. The girls, however, were amused by this warning and continued to play. As I recall, after a night or two more of this game, with additional warnings, suddenly, an unseen force picked up the board and widgets, sent them flying across the room, and smashed it all against the wall! Della said she and her cousin ran upstairs as fast as they could, and that was the end of their Ouija playing.
K. Wow! – that would get your attention.
E. So, tell me – what really stands out in Della’s story for you?
K. I think… it would have to be… how, at near-90, she suddenly wakes up to see that she never loved Gord and that he never loved her.
E. Why do you think it took to near-90? - certainly, on some level, she knew this, even on her wedding day.
K. Della was dependent on him in the beginning; frankly, she wasn’t enough of a real person yet back then. She was from a very old school that said women needed men just to live their lives. And I think she was trying too hard to be a “good little girl,” to follow all the rules, and not lose him.
E. She wouldn’t admit to the problem even when they didn’t kiss good-bye when he went off to war.
K. That’s how frightened she was.
E. She’d closed herself off from her own deeper whispering testimony about what was real. She was too frightened to go anywhere near the truth. It would take almost 70 years for her to “stand in the open sunny air.”
K. And this is what passes for romance and marriage in our world. People, even in miserable marriages, boast about how many years they’ve been together; especially, the big markers like 25 or 50. How tragic and how delusional.
E. Della, at the end, was not proud of her “perfect attendance, gold star” marriage award. It would be like inmates in a prison celebrating, “I’ve been in for 25 years, so let’s cut the cake.”
K. I think we should see Della as prophecy. She’s the future of all John-and-Mary couples. Eventually, the eyes do open, and then the blasts of insight bombard. And now you see everything. This will yet occur for every John or Mary... And Ellus, just a final word - about Della's cheap romance novels. Is it not sad that, at the end of 90 years, all you have of love is a trashy "bodice ripper"?