Note: This piece was originally called “The Persistence of Memory.” While I love that title (and the reference to the always memorable Salvador Dali) I do believe that this title is a better fit. Judge for yourselves.
Dear reader, a few years ago, a friend issued a challenge:
“You’ve often said that you can remember every detail of how you and your fiancée met. Why don’t you write it down? Challenge yourself and describe as many details as you can remember.”
I admit at the time to thinking it would be an interesting challenge, but still, I hesitated. I’m not sure why, perhaps I feared that sharing such a precious memory from so many years before would somehow make it less real. Utter poppycock I grant you, but such is the way the mind works when locked in the throes of grief. We hold on to the barest threads of what we once had, not matter how frayed or tenuous.
What follows is my recollection of one single fateful night – a night in which I can say, without exaggeration, changed the entire course of my life.
The night She stole my heart.
I originally met Raven Foster through a mutual friend, Dana, when I was living in Toronto. Dana was having a party at her place, and invited me over. She said she wanted me to meet an old friend of hers who was visiting from Boston. “You’re going to love her!” Dana enthused on the phone.
If she only knew…
The party was fun, despite my mild anxiety at being in a room full of people I didn’t know. Dana was a gracious host, making the rounds as I chatted with one of the few people I recognized. I had been there for about two hours and had still not met this mysterious “friend.” To be honest, I had largely put it out of my mind, assuming Dana would introduce us at some point.
About an hour after I arrived, my host sidled up and gave me her characteristic grin, looking less like the cat who ate the canary and more like the cat about to go for your jugular. Dana was indeed as mad as a brush, but in the best possible way. She asked how I was doing, checked to make sure I still had a drink… vodka and orange, still half full, yes I know there’s plenty there to drink thank you, and yes I promise I’ll try the cheese board…
It was during this benevolent interrogation that I saw… Her.
Dear reader, I realize that this may sound corny, but I swear to you I am simply relaying the facts as they happened.
Chatting with a young man across the room was a woman. I say “woman,” but such a banausic term hardly does her justice. She was easily over six feet tall judging by the man she was talking to. She was also muscular, evidenced by the dragon tattoo superimposed over the muscles of her arm and shoulder. This incredible human wore a white t-shirt and jeans, and her hair was long, straight and black, with purple streaks that shimmered when they caught the light. As I said, she was remarkable.
But then she turned.
The face that had been obscured by her hair and being in profile now presented itself. Whoever this woman was, she had now shifted in my mind from remarkable to absolutely stunning. I was completely and totally transfixed by her eyes – so incredibly warm and inviting. Even from several metres away, I was struck by the intensity of their colour. Her eyes were such a deep shade of green I assumed they had to be coloured contact lenses. The warmth wasn’t limited to her eyes however.
I realize this must sound cloyingly trite or even cliché, dear reader, but please believe when I say, this was the most beautiful woman I had ever encountered in my life. Perhaps it was the reality of the situation. Aside from makeup, there was no Photoshop to hide behind, no camera trickery. This woman was simply, undeniably, unarguably… stunning. Her face was open and bright, with a tiny smile playing at her lips. After gazing around the room for a moment, she returned to her conversation and that beautiful face disappeared once again into profile.
By this time my initial shock had faded enough that I became aware of my own heartbeat. Yes, I could actually feel it pounding in my chest, as it’s doing now, even as I relive that evening. I also noted that my hands were shaking every so slightly and I felt a little lightheaded.
Swallowing down a small degree of panic – this would the worst time to get sick and pass out – I turned to ask Dana who the woman was… but she was gone, presumably to play host after I had drifted into my little dreamworld. When I looked back to where the woman was standing, she was gone as well. I suddenly felt a stab of disappointment greater than any I had ever experienced up to that point. Obviously she was still here somewhere. Did she see me staring like an idiot and moved out of sight? My overactive imagination began weaving stories of a horrified woman hiding in the darkest corners of the room from the weirdo who had been staring at her so blatantly. My heart felt like it weighed a million pounds. I suddenly felt the deepest desire to go home and never bother anyone with my horrible presence ever again.
Anxiety is a cruel mistress.
My escape plans were subverted however by the arrival of Mike, another friend of mine. He had seen me standing alone and drifted over to see how I was. I tried to maintain a conversation but my heart simply wasn’t in it. I couldn’t stop thinking about that mystery woman. Who was she? Did she live here in Toronto? Was she a friend of Dana’s or a friend of a friend? Addled as I was, at no point did I put two and two together and realize the truth.
So engrossed was I in these questions and trying to maintain at least the pretence of a conversation with Mike (Mike, if you’re reading this my friend, I am truly sorry for that – I… had a lot on my mind) that I failed to hear Dana speaking to me until she tapped me on the shoulder. I turned, and nearly jumped halfway to the ceiling.
There, standing next to Dana, was the mystery woman. Standing before me I realized she had to be at least 6’2.” I could faintly detect her perfume, Beyond Paradise by Estée Lauder, and it suited her perfectly. I just stood there, staring into those eyes like a deer in headlights, absolutely stunned into silence. She was absolutely beautiful. It sounds insane, but my every instinct told me that this woman’s personality was as beautiful as she was.
Seemingly unaware of my pounding heart and terrified expression, Dana grinned and said “Mack, this is my friend from Boston, Raven Foster. Raven, this is Mackenzie Clench.”
Raven. Her name floated around in my head for a while until I suddenly snapped out of my reverie and realized that it was my turn to speak. “H-hi there Raven,” I managed to say. “Please, forgive me for staring. You’re… absolutely beautiful.” The moment the words were out of my mouth, I wanted a meteorite to strike the spot where I was standing. Not a large one, baseball sized, large enough to put me out of my misery.
Note: It’s amazing that even now, fourteen years later, my eyes are welling up with tears of joy and yes, of sadness at the memory. I only wish my meagre skills as a wordsmith could do justice to Raven, her beauty and her soul. Sadly, it’s a task far beyond my abilities, and I suspect, far beyond the language.
Dana grinned even wider (if that was possible) and Raven… Raven did something I will never forget. She blushed every so slightly and smiled – a warm and open smile that reached her eyes and seemed to light up even the darkest corners of the room. “Thank you,” she said quietly, no doubt shocked that this hideous creature standing before her had the temerity to compliment her in public.
At that moment, I decided that I would do everything and anything possible to make her smile like that again. Such a thing was a gift to anyone who gazed on it.
There was an awkward silence for a moment or two, and then I decided to break it. “I’m sorry. Here I am being awkward and weird instead of being… I don’t know… human?”
Raven smiled again, my heart nearly stopped that time. “It’s alright,” she said. “You seem totally human to me.” The she gave me a look, one that I couldn’t immediately identify. I would later learn the significance of that look, and it’s one that will forever remain locked away in my memory. I beg your forgiveness dear reader, but some memories are too intimate and precious to share.
For her part, Dana gazed at us both curiously, as if she were watching something beautiful and special bloom before her. As it turned out, she was right.
Suddenly I blurted out a question that was in the back of my mind and, quite frankly, should have stayed there. “So tell me, you uh… obviously work out a lot. How strong are you?”
Again, my call went out to the universe for a stray meteorite, and again I was ignored. I began to apologize for the incredibly gauche question when I suddenly felt her two hands reach under my arms. The gesture, not to mention the power of her grip was alarming, but not nearly alarming as the sensation of being power-lifted off the floor and into the air. I was held up there for a moment or two, just long enough to feel my hair grazing against the ceiling, when I found myself standing on solid ground again, still in momentary shock.
This goddess of a woman (I make no apology for that word, she absolutely was a goddess, in every way that matters) looked at me for a moment, smiled coyly and then left for the washroom, leaving me staring after her, ignoring the looks of shocked amusement from everyone in the room.
Dana suddenly spoke then, though she seemed surprised as well. Her grin never faltered. “Well, what do you think of her?” she asked.
I looked Dana in the eye, and spoke more calmly than I thought possible under the circumstances. Inside, I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry. Both responses were out of joy. “I think… I’m in love.”
Her grin suddenly disappeared and she stared at me in real shock. “You’re serious aren’t you?” My look must have answered her question because her grin returned, bigger than before. “I’m so happy for you!”
I smiled back, but my mind was a whirlwind. I was truly in love. I knew it to be genuine, not some pipe dream infatuation born out of watching too many movies. However, my heart suddenly sank as I pondered big questions: How did she feel about me? Why would such a beautiful and amazing woman want to be with a fool like me?
Note: I’m still seeking an answer to that question. If anyone has one, I’m listening.
As it turned out, for reasons that mystify me, she had also fallen in love that night. It was the beginning of the most magical three years of my life, a time that I would not trade for anything, aside from possibly the opportunity to have three more.
When Raven died in 2006, I thought the dream had ended, the fantasy gone. We had so many plans for the following year: She was going to test for her third degree black belt in Judo. We were going to get married and move to British Columbia to start a new life. I was finally going to write the book I had been putting off for so long. We even talked about starting a family.
Of course, fate apparently had other ideas. Her time on this earth was all too brief, her time with me even shorter. However, love doesn’t end at death. Death lacks the power to sever the bond we had.
When we said forever, we meant it.
In the meantime, I have these memories, these snippets of history that buoy my spirits, even as I write these words, and the tears well up in my eyes. No matter what happens, I’ll always have the memory of that magical night when a fumbling, lonely old fool met a crazy beautiful amazon, and we both fell madly in love.
The night when I learned magic was real, and that I could hold it in my arms.
In memory still bright.