Hands to heaven

Monday morning. Thanks to Sassy's post this morning, I have been thinking about my summer vacation romance with Nick, which will forever be linked in my mind to the song "Hands to Heaven" by Breathe.

It was the summer of 1988, just before my 21st birthday. (Yes, in fact, I am older than dirt! Be respectful of your elders and sit there quietly while I tell my story.) My grandma was quite ill, so my mom flew back to England to see what was what and get her taken care of. It was mid June when she left, just before finals at UCSD, so even if I'd wanted to go, I couldn't because I was in school. While I was studying for my last class, my mom called to tell me that things were "not good" and that I should plan to fly over as soon as my last classes were finished, which I, for the most part, did. I had this long distance romance going with a neanderthal that treated me like poop (recurring theme for me) and he threw an absolute fit when I told him that I'd be leaving for the summer, even going so far as to tell me that I couldn't go unless he went, too. Um, hello? No, I don't think so! I didn't break up with him, I just told him that I had to go and that I'd write every day. Whatever!

I landed in London to find my mother and her best childhood friend, Janice, waiting for me. I ran into their waiting arms and took a deep, untroubled breath knowing that I was safe and that the jerk I was dating was many thousand miles (and a large phone bill) away. I saw my grandmother the next day and was immediately shocked at the change in her. My Grandma was always a strong woman, a woman with a backbone of steel and a will to match. She was never much for hugging, kissing, and telling me that she loved me, but actions really do speak louder than words and I never for a minute doubted how important I was to her. I was her only grandchild and she relished the time we spent together. That summer was no different. I visited her every day for at least a few hours each time, being careful not to overtire her. Mom shared with me once I was there that it was cancer, throat and lung, and that there wouldn't be much time. Grandma and I talked a lot, mostly about when she was growing up and her adventures as a governess in London. It was so special and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I was given. Most people never get the chance to say everything that needs to be said when someone they are close to gets ill, but I did. There were no maudlin declarations of love or anything of that sort, Grandma would have been mortified, yet still it was made clear on both sides how important the other was and how much our time together meant.

I stayed with Janice and her family while I was in England that summer. Janice has two daughters, Helen (a few years older than me) and Rachael (a year younger), and they were both really great while I was there. The night after I arrived, they took me out with their mates to the pub for a night of chatting and fun. The first time I saw Nick, my heart flipped in my chest. He was adorable in a "rumpled old bear" sort of way. The best way that I can describe it is to mention Hugh Grant. Nick doesn't resemble Hugh in any way except the general air of stability, humbleness, and charm that I find so irresistable, especially in Englishmen. In any case, I was the girl of the evening, being the first American that most of the people at the pub had ever met. Every guy chatted with me, half of them bought me G&Ts (gin and tonics, for the uninitiated), the other half wished that they could. Now, my loyal readers know that I am the least likely person in the whole world to brag about having men falling all over me (because it doesn't happen), so when I tell you that it was a heady experience, you'll know that I'm not exaggerating. Through all of that, Nick sat by my side, smiled at me with his wry grin and blue eyes the color of an English summer sky, and I fell in love. I could tell that Rachael liked him, though, so I tried to put it out of my mind and just enjoy the adulation.

On the third night I was in England, Nick called. I answered the phone, being an adopted third daughter and the closest to the phone, expecting him to ask for Rachael or Helen, but, instead, he asked me if I would go out with him that evening. OH. MY. GOD. I felt hot and cold all at once. I ran up the stairs to Rachael's room, then realized that I had to talk to her about it before going out. To her credit, Rachael was totally supportive, seemed genuinely excited for me, and told me to go, which I did. We went to the movies, which was wonderful even though it was "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" with Steve Martin. I had to keep explaining Americanisms to him, like what a "Whopper" was (it's a fast food hamburger, for those not near a Burger King restaurant), but he held my hand and I thought my heart would burst. After the movie, he drove me over to the old, Victorian house he'd just bought that he was going to be restoring, and walked me around inside, talking of his plans for the future. I nearly couldn't breathe from the feeling inside me, so when he turned me around and kissed me, I was very glad that I had a kitchen counter behind me for support. We kissed for hours, until my curfew (yes, you read that right...I was, afterall, staying at home with my adopted family), at which point he walked me to the door and waited until I'd gotten in safely before setting off for home.

I had never had anyone be as old fashioned and attentive as Nick, and I lapped up the attention like a woman stranded in the desert for years without any Evian. Jerk at home? What jerk at home? We went on road trips around the countryside, including a trip to an airshow (Nick works for British Aerospace as an engineer and he's mad for planes) and one to Bath, a Roman town in the southwest of England. The trip to Bath was especially incredible because it's always been a special place for me and to have Nick experience it with me made it even more special. We held hands and walked along the ancient streets, listening to the bands playing in the parks alongside the river, and I knew that this was Happiness and this was how love was supposed to feel.

It was about this point that I came up with the wonderful idea of transferring from UCSD to Bristol University in England instead. I talked to my father, who, to his credit, didn't freak, scream, or forbid me outright. Mom didn't do any of those things, either, but she did say that I needed to go home, finish up the Fall quarter which was about to start by this time, and think about it.

About a week before I was to go, Nick got sent to the northern part of England for work, so we had to say good bye. We went out to the pub for a last night together and, at a certain point in the evening, "Hands to Heaven" came over the speakers in the pub. I listened to the words and knew that this song was meant for us.

"As I watch you move, across the moonlit room
There's so much tenderness in your loving
Tomorrow I must leave, the dawn knows no reprieve
God give me strength when I am leaving
So raise your hands to heaven and pray
That we'll be back together someday
Tonight, I need your sweet caress
Hold me in the darkness
Tonight, you calm my restlessness
You relieve my sadness

As we move to embrace, tears run down your face
I whisper words of love, so softly
I can't believe this pain, it's driving me insane
Without your touch, life will be lonely


Morning has come, another day
I must pack my bags and say goodbye, goodbye"

I held him so tightly when the time came for him to leave, tears streaming down my face, and I knew that my heart had, indeed broken. Yes, I'd had boyfriends before, some had lasted more than a year, but nothing had ever made me feel this way before.

Throughout the entire thing with Nick, I'd visited Grandma every day, although Nick never took me because he didn't like hospitals. It was Rachael that took me most days, after she'd finished working night shift as a nurse. She went with me and spent time with my Grandma, too, just for the experience of being able to talk to such a great lady and hear her amazing stories of her youth.

The day before I left, I went to visit her for the last time. I knew that I was going home, that she wouldn't live much longer and that I'd never see her again. I also knew, though, that she would absolutely hate any emotional displays or tears, so we sat and chatted for about an hour and then she told me that it was time for me to go. I felt in my heart that she needed me to go so that she wouldn't break down in front of me, so I stood up, gave her a hug, told her that I loved her, and said goodbye. I walked out of the manor house without looking back, my back straight, my eyes dry. It wasn't until Rachael's car had cleared the drive way that I collapsed completely. Rachael just put her hand on my shoulder and said, "that's it, you just have a bloody good cry!" I'll never forget that feeling, knowing that this incredibly important person was leaving my life and that I'd never see her again.

I sobbed nearly all of the way from Bristol to London on the bus. I sobbed as my plane taxied down the runway at Heathrow. My tears were for everything that I was leaving: Grandma, Nick, the friends I'd made, the way I felt about myself while I'd been there. The jerk was at LAX to meet me, with my father. I told him that I'd call and that I needed to go home and rest. I hadn't written the entire time and I'm sure he knew what I was up to, but I didn't feel like dealing with it and I had Daddy there to make sure that I didn't have to. "Hands to Heaven" was all over the radio in LA when I got home, and I ached every time I heard it. I was homesick at home.

I called Nick once a week for several weeks, each conversation a little shorter, a little more awkward. It was my mother, still in England, who eventually called to tell me that Rachael and Nick were dating. My heart break was complete and yet, I knew that they were meant to be together all along. I had been a blip on the timeline, like in one of those Sci-Fi movies when someone interrupts the time/space continuum. Nick and I should never have been and, once I left, Nature took its course. Two years later, Rachael and Nick were married, and they have two beautiful little girls. I visited them in 2000 when I took my mother to England and it was odd how unattractive to me Nick was. The funniest thing was how completely uncomfortable he was with me. Oh my gosh, he couldn't even look me in the eye. Now, I grant you, I'd gained a ton of weight since he'd last seen me, so it might have been remorse for the fact that he'd ever dated me, but I like to think he was squirming for the poopy way he'd treated me.

Looking back, 15 years later, I realize that the song epitomizes not just Nick and I, but that entire summer. The last summer of innocence, the time with my grandmother, the feeling of being not quite a woman but not a girl. It was my coming of age, although I didn't know it, and hearing that song still makes me smile for the joy that was mine.


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