Northern Norway
Barbara Hepworth

I’m not sure if I believe in the idea of soul-mates—I find the concept limiting. To me, it implies that everyone who loses their true love would never have the chance of finding another. Losing a love, through death, divorce, or otherwise, is already tragic enough. I don’t know if I have never called Vernon my soul mate, but he was my life mate. From the start, I think we were connected on an unusual level. And over time, that continued to play out. It was often complicated, but somehow, our love pulled through. Ten months since his death, it’s still complicated.

Even finding him was a miracle. I remember realizing that’s what being in love is: a miracle. It’s like that for everyone who finds that connection, because you suddenly understand how rare it is. Someone that is as fascinated by you as you are by them? That’s pretty special. At least it was for me. I was 34 years old, had never been married. He was 39, and was going through a divorce.

We liked to say that we met each other when we weren’t looking.  We met online, but not on a dating site. It was all very friendly and chatty. I liked his mysterious photo and the fact that he was from England. He liked the artwork I was presenting and we found ourselves with tons in common. (I think it was important for me that he liked my artwork so much…that’s probably how he got in the gate.) Our conversations got longer…they moved from email and instant messenger to the telephone. We had to think about the 8 hour time difference, so usually I would stay up late to catch him in the early morning of the next day or we’d connect in my early morning, his afternoon.

It was probably the worst time to meet him in the sense that he was going through a divorce—he later admitted he was in a daze for a couple of years after the breakup. He had a child through that relationship, which added complications. That, and the small problem of his living 5,500 miles away. The distance didn’t actually bother me. I’d grown up traveling internationally, and the fact that he was English was attractive: he was different, he saw the world differently, he had a charming accent and sense of style.

But Vernon, though he’d lived in a few different European countries, had never once been to America. I think he was less hopeful about the relationship than I was—and for good reason: there was the distance, the divorce, the daze.  After a month or so of talking, he suddenly disappeared for awhile. Sadly for me, I’d already gotten attached.

That short time had seemed so special. I remember one of the first times that we talked over the phone (it must have been the middle of the night for him)—he’d taken the phone outside, looked up at the bright English summer sky and talked about how it felt to him that we were actually very close to one another, maybe visiting face to face on some different dimension, meeting up in the middle, looking down on the ocean and the continents below. I was very sad to think that had meant nothing, that it was so fleeting.

A couple weeks later, he popped online again to tell me that he’d met someone. She certainly had me beat for proximity. I was jealous and disappointed, though I had to admit he’d never promised me a thing, and at least he’d had the respect to come back and tell me. At that time, I was painting murals and doing decorative finishes in residential homes. One day, while high up on a tall leaning ladder, the ladder slid back, taking me down with it.Somehow I only managed to hurt my knee, drawing a massive bump that lasted for a few days. Despite being shaken up, I knew I’d gotten lucky with a minor injury. I thought about Vernon and my recently broken heart and applied my newfound gratitude: “Soft hearts are protected hearts….they won’t get as damaged when they fall. But hard hearts are brittle, and when they fall, they may smash to a million pieces.” I decided I wouldn’t punish myself for having loved a little too rashly.

But then…

A month or so later, he popped up online again to tell me the girlfriend was gone. I kept my heart at a distance even though I still liked him. I told myself it was clearly just going to be a removed friendship now, if that. He called me one morning: “So I talked to my mother about you. She thinks I should meet you. If I don’t, she thinks I’ll regret it.”

“What? Really? When?”

“Sometime.”

“Well you should do it soon.”

He laughed, “OK.”

The next week, I was en route to Italy with my girlfriend, a trip we’d been planning for months. She’d ordered the tickets so I hadn’t realized we would be stopping through Heathrow. I called him from the airport: “I’m in London!” There was no time to meet then, but he promised to come out on my journey home. All through Tuscany, I was dreamy about him, popping into internet cafes and telephone booths. This was really happening! But our outgoing flight was delayed for three hours. My 3 hour date with Vernon at the airport was rapidly shrinking. When the plane finally landed, the staff tried to divert us over to our connecting flight, which would be leaving within the hour. I was so disappointed, but my girlfriend grabbed me by the arm, saying: “No way, you’ve been talking about this guy the whole trip. Lets go see if he’s here”…and proceeded to pull me toward the exit.

There was only one person waiting at the gate: Vernon, of course. For once I was at a loss for words, and my friend did most of the talking while we walked across the airport. We had less than fifteen minutes. “I’ll hold the plane!” she announced, waving back through the airport scanner. Vernon and I looked awkwardly at each other. I asked him if he wanted to visit me at Christmas, now that we had officially met. He said yes and we kissed goodbye at the gate. We both knew how strangely romantic this meeting was.  Not far into the twelve-hour flight home, I decided long distance relationships were too expensive in time, money, and emotions…if we were to make it work, we’d have to start by figuring out how to eventually be in the same place.

So that’s the story of how we met. We did first meet online, but we always preferred to say we first met at the airport. Both are true. Either way, it was our kind of miracle. Twelve hours later, I arrived home to a text that he had been wandering around the airport for another hour, dazed and confused…and happy.

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Selfie (before selfie was a word) as a reverse photo from mini digital camera (before smart phones!) in Venice, Italy on our honeymoon, September 2006)

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Northern Norway
Barbara Hepworth