Edna Merle spent many years behind a fence under guard, her life run by rules and regulations. The only freedom she had was between her ears where her brain could go traipsing across the universe. Her soul was let go to explore the heavens. They can only lockup your body in prison.
I, too, spent many years in prison, but it was a prison of my own making with no bars or guards, no rules and regulations. I even took away my freedom to think or to let my spirit run free among the clouds of the universe. I shoved my soul into a dark, dank cell where there was no sound, no contact with anyone else. It was an ugly place where I could only experience pain and loneliness. I locked up everything but my body in this place with invisible bars. And I was a wretched warden.
The easy thing to do is to blame my ridiculous divorce after 17 years of mostly good marriage. The last five years of the marriage, however, was when I began to construct my very own prison walls. Brick by miserable brick I build my gloomy penitentiary where I would lie down at night to stare at nothing. It was because I was desperately unhappy, except for one shining facet of my life: my daughter.
She was, and remains to this day, the one thing I can proudly point to as the great accomplishment of my life. She is a loving, gentle and fun-seeking soul who thinks the best of everyone. She is kind and gentle without being a goody-goody, bland, plastic person. Growing up, I was the stay-at-home Dad who took her to school, drove her to gymnastics and piano lessons and horse riding lessons and girl scouts, and all that stuff that young girls do as they mature. Her Mom had long ago told me, “I love being a Mother but I’ve got to have my career.” So I ran my business from home while making my main business the growth of my daughter. Naturally, the more she grew the less she needed me, or so it seemed.
After I spent time at a major corporation doing crap I didn’t want to do and having to – this may sound really stupid – wear a suit and tie every day, I was relieved to be let go when they started to dismantle my department. Yet I had started to build my prison not long before, when my wife of the time said she had never been happier. I saw then that it wasn’t me but the weight of my paycheck that was her way to nirvana.
When she told me this I slumped down in my easy chair as if I had been sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole. I remember sitting there in the dark long after she had gone to bed and having visions of being in a moldy cell, my ankle chained to a great slab of stone. Throughout the night I tried to get up without success. So I sat in the dark, without friends, without God.
Over the next years I would find myself chained to that cell wall, unable to move or to think. It seemed the chain was sucking the life out of me. I know I could have gotten up at any moment, dusted myself off and walked out of my murky cell into the sunlight. On the other hand, I was immobilized, frozen to the spot. If you could look into my brain it would have been equally gloomy. The soul that had at one time soared into space had its wings clipped.
Only for a moment, when my wife asked for a divorce, did I suddenly feel unchained. It was a brief slash of light before the inevitable gloom of that most depressing process took over and possessed me. I cried for my daughter, who had told me a year before it happened that she thought her Mom and I would get a divorce. She could feel our unhappiness. She remained foremost in my mind as we sailed to separation.
Afterwards, when my daughter was with me, I felt the warmth of her little heart and the freshness of her soul. I was convinced that it was me she needed to make it in this world. As soon as she was out of sight I knew what a folly I was living under. I needed her to be my daughter more than she needed me to be her Father.
At least I forged a new, longer chain that allowed me to move about my empty house. I tried to look out its many windows. I saw nothing. I ate in silence without even the flickering images of TV to keep me company. I tried to meet new friends, and by this I mean women, on the internet. It was easy to meet them and easy to let them go; Virtual friends is the most apt description I can give them. For the most part, they lied about themselves or at least made themselves seem so normal. I never met a normal one. I only met one that I wanted to spend more than a few minutes with, and even she turned out to only want some guy to take her out to dinner.
However, it was on the internet that I was found by Edna Merle. It was on Facebook that she asked to be my friend. I had barely paid any attention to that social network since my daughter had signed me up a few years ago. And I barely paid attention to it even after Edna Merle wrote to me a couple times. In my haze all I could tell her was that I was in a bad place. If I had the courage to tell her about my invisible bars she might have understood but, knowing her now, she would have probably told me what a fool I was. She would have told me to get out and live. I could hear the liveliness in her voice even before we spoke on the phone. There was something there that, finally, I started to connect with in a good way. Here was this woman who had spent her youth in a prison, yet she sounded so alive and happy. She did not seem to have a trace of bitterness in her.
We met two times before I knew I loved her. We had dinner with her Mother and went swimming at her friend’s house. We talked about everything except my invisible bars. I could not tell her about them or the chain I was dragging around.
Then, on one of the worse days of my life, when I had to sell the house I had lived in for 17 years, the home my daughter asked me to keep after the divorce, the place I had sweated over and cared for over many years, I was administered a shock to the system that ripped open my invisible bars. I had signed over the house and come home to lie on the couch, now without any place to go or to call home. It was around 9:30 or so that the phone rang. I numbly answered it and, to my great surprise, there was Edna Merle. We talked for a few minutes until I told her that this was a bad day for me. “Oh,” she said, “I’ve been worried about you all day.”
Her words went straight to my heart and, to my amazement; I could feel the blood pumping again. I sat up and could see trees outside my window, trees that were not there a few minutes before. The chain was broken. The bars were gone. It wasn’t what she said but just the fact that someone cared, someone I cared about. I could feel her heart in mine.
The next day I rushed to meet her at her house and, before I could say anything, I was kissing her and feeling her heart. She had released me from the prison of my own making. My sentence was commuted by love.