The Course of True Love
by Annette Wells White
The course of true love never did run smooth.
-- William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
Below. Deep within the earth was a secret refuge from fears and a haven for dreams. It was wondrous, magical, and safe --a place where the mysteries of life could be seen, understood, believed --where everything, even the most inconceivable, fell within the realm of possibility. For many who called Below "home", their own survival was evidence enough that the concept of family transcended kinship and included all of humanity: for Below was home to the dispossessed, the broken-hearted, those who had lost all hope. In such a world, where one's dreams could become reality and wishes were more than a child's fantasy, none who lived there were inclined to dismiss, out of hand, the existence of anything.
This world was Vincent's home. It was where he had played as a child and grown into an adult, where he had found love with Catherine and lost it, where he raised his son alone and continued his destiny until one day he was reunited with his love. To the small community of several hundred tunnel dwellers, there was no greater proof that life still held miracles and possibilities than the story of Vincent and Catherine.
The following chronicles the true story of what occurred one cold New York night atop a barren rooftop where Catherine Chandler was said to have died in the arms of her beloved Vincent, and their story so tragically ended. She didn't die. Their love didn't end. Yet, the fiction perpetrated about her death was allowed to stand in the world Above, and it has long protected Catherine and Vincent: their identities, their privacy, their family and community, and the life they ultimately built together in the world Below.
CHAPTER ONE -- THE LOSS
She wanted to get better, to come back to you. She fought with all the strength she had in her. But sometimes bad things can happen in life, and all our courage and all our love can't change them. And then all we can do is cry for those we've lost and remember them always in our hearts....and go on.
Ellie will get better, she promised.
Ellie loved you very much, Eric. But we can't always keep our promises, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we love. . . .
-- Ashes, Ashes (Written by Crays & Dotrice)
The sounds of the pipes flowed through the well-worn passages of the tunnels and mixed with the rhythmic pulsation of the subway above. Even in the dead of night the music of the two intertwined throughout and brought solace to those at rest within the chambers. Where light survived the darkness, shadows danced upon the walls from the flickering candles and lanterns that stood guard throughout the winding labyrinth. Their luminance gave singular witness to the passing of a solitary figure traversing the arteries of the world Below. Vincent walked alone.
Unlike others who were drawn to the tunnels in search of something that couldn't be found above, Vincent walked the familiar recesses Below seeking refuge from his heart. Though time had distanced him from the tragedy that plagued his soul, there were nights when the searing pain of his loss overwhelmed him. It happened more frequently now, and the longing for her permeated his very being with a profound sense of sadness. Without hope he walked, knowing that neither the world Above nor Below held that for which he searched in the quiet hours of the night. It was a pain he shared with no one. Only at this time, when his world slept in the safety of his vigilance, did he allow the facade to slip and the loneliness to wash over him. He still loved her. He still missed her. He couldn't let go.
How ironic, he thought bitterly. In death he couldn't let her go; but how many times in life had he encouraged her to go back?....back to the world Above which had assaulted her the night he first found her....back to the world Above which had finally succeeded in destroying her. She had trusted him to protect her, and he had failed. No matter what the circumstances, it was his heart that told him: he had failed her.
For that, Vincent knew he would never truly forgive himself. On nights, such as these, when his heart was heaviest and his spirit crushed beneath the weight of his shame, he wandered through the isolated pockets of deserted caves scattered beyond the Great Waterfall. During the day he closed off this part of his existence and refused himself access to the secret place of unrest within his soul. It was easier during the day, for the needs of his world and its people kept him busy......building, rebuilding, expanding.
And then there was Jacob. Vincent knew that even as he had searched, and found, and saved his son from Gabriel, the son had searched, and found, and saved his father's heart from dying. In that first year when he had lost all faith and teetered precariously on the brink of self destruction, Jacob's need to be loved and cared for had sliced through the darkness. Denied his mother's touch, the child demanded his father's love; and so, wrenching himself back from his despair, Vincent had given himself wholly to his son. Within the safety of that absolute love and devotion, Jacob had grown strong in body and in his bond to his father; and despite the currents of unrest surrounding the father, the son had, thus far, remained oblivious to his grief. Vincent understood that within the infancy of Jacob's world, he simply trusted his father to be there, regardless --just as she had trusted him. Yet, not even Jacob's love could erase the yearning within Vincent for the comfort of her love. He longed for her touch...to hear her voice. A thousand memories of her crashed inside his mind, and he still burned with a love that ignored the reality of her death. He had finally come to accept that nothing would ever completely replace the longing he felt for the love that had been Catherine.
Now, away from the company of others --the concerned scrutiny of Father, the hopeful, sheltering friendship of Diana, and the innocent, compelling eyes of his son --Vincent discarded the weight of leadership and courage, resignation and forbearance. In the pitch blackness of the subterranean cavities, he let the shield drop. Closing his eyes, he paused in his journey and tried to shake the cold feeling from his soul, which he knew did not come from the dampness of the rock and earth surrounding him. The broad shoulders were bent, and his proud head bowed in fatigue as the man that he was opened himself to his pain. He was such a fool to have ever believed he could work through his loss of her. Nothing had prepared him for the depth of this loneliness.....the emptiness. He had survived her, but he did not live without her. He hadn't lived for more than a year.
The pain was such that now he actually feared the familiar pull in the night, calling him to rest, for just inside of sleep were the memories of her. Tonight was such a night when he knew the dreams would come to him, unwelcome in their cruel tie to his past reality. He tried to find solace in the knowledge that he was not alone in missing her. Those who had known her had grieved, too. But none suffered her loss as did the lone figure whose silhouette blended into the darkness. No other had been bonded to her soul. He, alone, knew the personal hell of having his heart ripped from his being while he held her in his arms and helplessly watched her life slip away.
Nearing the passage which would start him on his journey home, he stopped. As he leaned against the wall, he searched inward. Instead of the warmth and joy of her love, all he sensed was the jagged emptiness where once her presence had emanated so brightly. The memories hurt, and he felt powerless to stop his mind from replaying the events which now forever separated him from the one woman who had captured not only his heart, but his soul. With sudden rage and pain he slammed his hand hard against the wall of earthen rock. A low growl rumbled dangerously from the depths of his frustration, but there was nothing he could do.....not then, and not now. The source of his sadness shook him, and he slid to his knees as raw grief, now revisited, consumed him.
Hours later, he walked wearily into his chamber and paused by the bed. Soon his world would awaken to another day, and somehow he would once again find the strength to hold the reins of his tightly wound emotions in check. "Catherine," he whispered brokenly into the darkness, "I miss you."
Tears streamed unashamed down his face as his body rocked with the force of his agony. Locked in grief and overwhelmed by sorrow, Vincent slowly sank to the bed. From deep within the folds of his great cloak came an anguished cry, so pitiful that it seemed even the heavens paused at the depth of his sorrow. Oblivious to all but the pain, Vincent gave himself over to despair. For a long while, heart-wrenching sounds punctuated the darkness, and in the end, it was sheer exhaustion that brought the illusion of peace as somewhere between the eternity of his soul and the misery in his heart, he finally sank into the depths of sleep....and waiting dreams.
Far from the New York City skyline and even farther from the underground world that cradled Vincent in his misery, a young woman with no past and seemingly no future, felt the first stirring of awareness roll over her. For over a year now hers had been a private existence of hidden pain and personal grief where she let nothing out and no one in. The trauma that had plummeted her into a near-catatonic state was her singular companion in the only truly safe place she had left: the place within herself. It didn't matter to her that she was alone, for locked within her tortured past she had lost everything that meant anything to her: her love, her child, her life. The loss had been too great; the price for her commitment and courage, too high. In the end, there had been limits to even what she had been able to endure. The strength within that had sustained her through her crushing ordeal of captivity, torture, and mental cruelty had finally ebbed from her like the evening tide.
Now, months of isolation and impersonal care had taken their toll on the withdrawn woman, and yet there was something about her tonight that defied her usual zombie-like demeanor. Perhaps it was that instead of sleeping, she sat deathly still in the darkness of the sparsely furnished room and stared through the room's single bay window. Silver beams from the moon bathed her slender frame from head to toe; but instead of the vacant stare that had characterized her through many months of care, she now struggled to sit up in her bed with an air of quiet intensity. In the ethereal glow that engulfed her, moss green eyes reflected her inner turmoil and terror; and her body radiated a new tension, a new awareness.
No one was present to notice the woman as she struggled to assimilate her present surroundings against the paralyzing void in which she'd been submerged. It was all too large for her to grasp in those first hours before dawn, and her fear was transposed into tremors that shook her fragile body. She had no power to halt what was happening, and yet inside she rejected this awakening from the numb world of her mind. Shivering more violently against the insistent call to rejoin the world, she clung desperately to the nameless void that had been a haven to her wounded heart. While there were many things she still couldn't comprehend, she knew that she had lost something so precious that life, itself, had no meaning. She was lost to herself, and in the terror of shadowed memories, the emptiness in her heart was more than she could bear. A single cry was borne in the depths of her soul where her heart still remembered what her physical body had chosen to forget --that the world was a cruel and dangerous place to exist. The pain, anger, and fear that had lain dormant for so many months, took shape and gained momentum as feelings coalesced into a force so strong that they erupted within her and spun out of control in a primal scream of NO! that echoed only in her mind. Still the force of her fear permeated the room, shattering the peace of the night and leaving behind an eerie silence devoid of even the smallest sounds of nocturnal life. Unsteadily, the woman tried to stand, but her strength was now gone and she silently slumped to the floor. Her face glistened with the trail of tears that silently escaped and lost their way amidst the tangled mass of her hair. Tired of struggling, she closed her eyes to block out a world that no longer held the hope of love or life. For her ravaged soul the miracles had died, and to escape the burgeoning reality that now threatened her, she welcomed the encroaching fatigue of her mind and even the dreams that she knew would find her in that inky blackness. Disjointed dreams of a shattered life were more comforting than the harsh reality she had glimpsed through her bay window. And so she leaned without resistance into the waiting oblivion and a darkness from which she never wanted to arise.
She was safe once more.
Continued in Chapter 2