Norma Archibald has lived in Austin, Texas most of her life, but recently moved to Buda with her husband Dave about a year ago. She loves the country atmosphere, small town life, and friendly people here. Norma started creating poetry at a young age, began writing songs in her teenage years, and continued with a variety of literary pursuits throughout her life. Writing is like breathing, she often says, and it feels natural to let the thoughts flow from her pen onto paper, allowing her to relive life’s profound moments.
Norma is currently a member of the Writer’s League of Texas, and the South Austin Writer’s Meet-up group where she enjoys interacting with other writers and sharing stories. She is currently writing her memoirs, short stories, and poetry. Norma welcomes those who are curious to visit her blog, www.simplysurrenderall.com, where she shares intimately about the deeper journeys within us.
The Love Letter by Norma Archibald
Nora was losing hope that her life would ever have the fairy tale ending she silently dreamed for. She stood near her small, round kitchen table, setting down her chipped, stoneware coffee cup, with the word “Serenity” painted in white on the side. Looking into the shade of the trees that adorned the yard outside her simple apartment, she wondered what went wrong. Her light brown hair fell in soft waves beside her hazel eyes, as she wandered across the years past, musing on what should have been. She felt the comfort in the moment as sipped her hazelnut flavored coffee, and remembered when she was in her 20’s, hearing the freedom songs of Janice Joplin and Bob Dylan, and how she would sing “The Times They Are A’Changing” with her nonconformist friends.
She wasn't feeling free now, though, as she approached her thirties. It was supposed to have been the revolutionary times, of free love, free sex, and rock and roll. There was plenty of that, she thought,back then, but all it really became was lack of commitment, fatherless children,and no direction in life. For some it was worse. She had read recently about the poverty and disease, and even death that hit the Haight Ashbury crowd. “Are you coming to San Francisco? Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” McKenzie sang . She had worn plenty of colorful flowers, many hand-made beaded necklaces, and fairy rings, and so much jewelry, she was nick-named “Jewel” for a while. She had worn the counter-culture uniform- long batiked skirts, floppy leather hats, John Lennon glasses, and Nora also rode a little motorcycle to the university, with her acoustic box guitar strapped securely across her back.
She walked across the cold linoleum to the tiny kitchen sink to wash her Serenity cup. Nora had the local folksong station on, listening to artists playing mellow guitar tunes, the kind she liked to play. Dreadfully shy, her nylon stringed guitar was the way she connected with others. It allowed her a way to be a part of things. Putting her clean cup in the drainer, she remembered when she would visit the local cafe, Mis Amigos, close to the university where all the self-proclaimed philosophers would hang out and talk. Her political women friends invited her to come along with them, mentoring her into their way of thinking, and she would eagerly listen to the sophisticated, intellectual talk about things she then had little understanding of. Conversation centered around the anti-war rally’s, Malcolm X, and the SDS. Everyone seemed to have a cause to live for, and passionately argued their point of view, as they sat and shifted around on the hard wooden benches connected to the picnic-style tables where warm brown rice with soy sauce was served by sultry waitresses.The quiet but continual chatter and exchange of ideas floated above the low raftered ceiling under the slanted tin roof. It was a comfortable feeling to belong, and seemed so exciting to be part of “the movement.”.
The silent young men with long straight black hair, holding cameras and carrying canvas bags that draped over their thin shoulders, documenting what was later lost in history, and other young men with soft berets and muslin shirts over drawstring beige pants and rope sandals, passionately presented the evidence of their current ideas of the people’s government.Women in long, patterned skirts with Middle Eastern designs , wearing amber amulets, and dangling gold earrings, smelling of Patchouli oil or Tangerine, were noncommittal to the conversations, but supportive by their knowing presence.
Nora fixed her breakfast of yogurt, almonds, and coconut, and sat back down, glad to be safe and sober. It took her a long time to get over the habits she had developed during that time of “Freedom.” When she realized the people she thought would save her ending up discarding her like used kleenex , immersed in their own selfish interests, she found herself pouring vodka in short glasses mixed with orange juice in the lonely evenings,or escaping her emotional pain of being left behind with the sweet inhales of Mexican marijuana. She would find herself back at Mis Amigos, on the really bad days, alone,for the sole purpose of getting rid of the disturbing disillusionment inside. She would order a cold pitcher of foaming beer, and drink cloudy glass after glass until disappointing endings no longer inhabited her consciousness. Nora didn’t know what the eccentric crowd who had seen her there so many other times thought of her now, and she didn’t care. She was empty and alone, and finally stumbled home, where desperation welcomed her into its lifeless arms, as empty as the pitcher of beer she had finished -empty of any real meaning to her life. She no longer believed in anything or anyone, not even herself. She remained alone, even in the midst of the myriad culture of young politicos who surrounded her. She felt life was running by like a cold stream of water, carrying her swiftly past each year, moving her closer and closer to a sure demise. Why does life have to be so long? she had morbidly mused, and more than once, tried to make the final sacrifice, before she finally came to believe there was something worth living for. She didn’t really want to live, but she didn’t really know how to die. She even screwed that up, a few times,she thought. Wow. I can’t even die right, she thought dryly.
Nora sat on the old brown couch in her modest living room, as better memories flooded into her mind, of when she finally gave up, and found her way to a 12 step group of good people who led her into a different path. They saved me from myself, she mused. A strange mix of people, but they held together around one purpose, didn’t let politics or anything else divide them, and found a different way live.
She was searching. Nothing changes, if nothing changes, Nora, her friends had told her. It was hard to make changes, and she knew she didn’t lack the faith to do so, but the courage. Seeing how much happiness others had, in her small spiritual circle of new beginnings, made her want to try a little harder.
Something’s got to change, Nora thought, as she finished her breakfast and cleaned up again. She wanted to find out what. She knew there was more to be had in this life. She wanted to find a greater depth, and meaning than what she had experienced so far, She wanted to stop sitting home alone, night after endless night, full of self-pity. She knew that was a mental trap.
Suddenly she thought of a place her friends told her of, that she had been curious about- a coffeehouse on sixth street, called the Old Boston House, that she knew held an open mike every Wednesday, and anyone could go sign up to play. I’m going to do it, she decided.
She had been a little excited at this prospect of a new adventure, and a little scared, but as she walked into the Old Boston House, looking at the long wooden bar with high back stools, fat, friendly women tending to customers purchasing chilled craft beer, and two lone men on a small square stage, singing the blues, she relaxed. It was a nice atmosphere, with low lighting, but not really dark. An amiable crowd was enjoying original acoustic music, and there was lots of places to sit near the wooden barrels and old chairs around giant spool tables.
A French Beatnik looking guy was the MC for the open mike. He would help people sign up,and was a very soulful folksinger, but, she thought, somehow, a very troubled young man. The two men singing on stage had caught Nora’s attention.She watched , interested at the one who was playing a mean slide blues guitar, and later came to know his name, Barry, but the one in charge was the other guy, Paul. He had dark, thick long hair, and a full beard, startling blue eyes, and a deep blues voice. They had an energy about them that was magnetic, and would sing songs Paul had written, in a gospel blues style. Paul was the main singer, and Barry would harmonize, play lead on the guitar, and Paul would alternate the slide guitar rhythms with a blues harmonic lick. It was a good combo, and they brought the house down, with enthusiastic applause.
Nora went up on stage eventually. Gingerly sitting on the low wooden stool, she adjusted a swing arm mike, and with no unnecessary words, just began singing, and finger picking her old guitar, held with a hand woven strap. Her enchanting songs were about angels and cowboys, fire and heaven, despair and hope. She was met with a nice applause, smiled a thank you, then, curious about the pair of gospel blues singers, walked over and shyly introduced herself to Barry and Paul.
Barry was friendly, and funny, his broad face full of welcome. Paul was handsome, quieter, but stared straight ahead. Nora felt somewhat insulted at what she interpreted as being snobbish, until she saw him reach out and feel around the table for his glass of water. He’s blind, she realized, and was quickly grateful she hadn’t said anything rude.
They invited her to sit with them, and she did, thinking, I hope these aren't drinking companions. She didn’t think they were. They were far more interested in the conversation than what was in the glasses in front of them. What was talked about that evening, she wasn't sure, but it was a pleasant time, listening to other musicians, and getting to know each other. At one point, Nora shivered, rubbing her arms, and remarked,”It’s so chilly in here!” Immediately, Paul took off his faded denim jacket, and gently wrapped it around her shoulders. She was surprised at such a chivalrous gesture, like a knight in shining blue jeans, and touched that someone who you would think needed help, would be the first to help another.
They turned their attention to the stage again as the French beatnik took his turn at the mike, and sang such beautiful, mellow songs, yet somehow always sad, Nora felt, and searching, but she loved the sound of the his classical guitar, his unaided solo voice, and the thoughtful silence between songs.
It was a good night, a night of promise and hope, and she knew she would be back.
Nora and Paul slowly began a friendship. Nora had a larger motorcycle now , a blue and white Suzuki, and Paul would ride on the back, playing his harmonica as they journeyed the country roads, the sun going down as they stopped on a little patch of green grass on the wayside. Nora parked the bike, told Paul to wait while she retrieved a soft quilt from the saddle bag, guided Paul over to a safe location, where he helped her spread the quilt. They would lay down and watch the stars come out, as dusk came upon them. Paul said he loved to hear the crickets sing, and wondered how they made such magical music. They talked about everything, and the beginnings of a romance was in the Texas night air.
Nora dropped Paul off at the trailer he lived in with his friend Barry, who had been his friend since high school, reluctantly said her goodbyes, and then rode home. Inside her comfortable apartment again, she sat down on her earthy brown couch and began to write in her journal about this amazing man.He’s blind, but he sees so much more than others can, she wrote. Closing her book, she found herself in a small whirlpool of fear. The “what if’s “began to creep up on her again. What if he turns out to be a bad drinker?? she thought to herself. How hard would it be to get rid of a drunk, blind man! She shuddered at the thought and resolved then and there,(though she had thought this before anyway), never to let a man move in and live with her again. She remembered the last one. A tall jolly guy, wonderful to be with, when things were going great. But once he lost his job, and money was tight, he got depressed, moped around, and finally, packed his bags and left. He didn’t know how to talk about things. She saw him years later, still jolly, playing in a band. He seemed ok. But why did it have to go that way, before?? Nora, opened her journal again, and wrote a prayer, asking for help.
Then she remembered the letter.
It had been six months before, when she had been at a breaking point. Where was her happy fairy tale ending?? What am I doing wrong, she asked herself, and the universe at large. She thought, I’m going to put it out there-I’m just going to ask for what I want. Determined, she sat at her small kitchen table,with fresh crisp stationary engraved with delicate blue roses, and wrote a letter. The letter. “I want a man”….hmmm. I better be more specific than that, she thought.”I want a man who loves music,” she wrote. She had been with people before who had little interest in something that provided her with so much happiness, and decided this was important. “I want a man who can carry his own weight.” Not like the stream of bums that had eaten her out of house and home…..on her meager salary of $800.00 a month at the nearby daycare.”I want a man who loves God.” She needed someone she could count on, lean on, and someone who had depth, wisdom, and strength. Does such a person exist?? She didn’t know, but she thought, “Well,It doesn’t hurt to ask!!” She sealed the envelope, addressed it,simply ”God” in bold print and put it in the drawer under the little kitchen table.
She felt something change, that day. She suddenly felt no urge to go looking, or seeking for a new beau. There were plenty of them around, but Nora thought, Yea, the odds are good, but the goods are odd. So, she thought, I”’m just going to stop shopping. After all, her best efforts hadn’t produced much good result. She was sick and tired of being sick and tired, of relationship after failed relationship. So, she just stopped looking for a boyfriend. She looked instead for the greater good in her life, focused on her own spiritual growth, she no longer wore the kind of alluring clothes that flashed “ I’m available!”” Nora thought, “I’ve got on my big girl panties, now!!” She was clothed in self respect and dignity, and it showed. She was still asked out by guys here and there, but Nora was clear. When a good looking guy asked her out for dinner, she said,”You know, I’m happy to eat with you, and maybe we can be friends, but if you ask me out for dinner, well,dinner is all you're going to get -NO DESSERT. “That narrowed the playing field pretty quickly.
Now Nora was on the emotional rollercoaster again. It had been a long time since she had been out with a man. Fears crowded her head, as she sat alone on the porch of her back yard with her journal after a beautiful afternoon with Paul, recounting the nice moments she had just had, and how she wanted more. How much she admired this blind man who had such vision. “He’s so attractive, too!” she thought, with his deep voice, his beautiful blue eyes that seem to look my way when I speak to him, his strong arms around me, his deep kiss. He seemed to be everything she desired, and more. It wasn’t just how he looked on the outside, how it felt being with him, but that he was strong, inside. She watched how he was with others, how he encouraged them, prayed with them, showed a deep compassion for their troubles, and had real answers to the things troubling them. It was uncanny how he managed to do so much for others, and to ask so little for himself. Paul always paid for their dinners together and made Nora take gas money when she picked him up to go anywhere. How could she have found such an incredible guy?
The letter! she thought!! It’s just like what I wrote. Nora sat straight up on her porch step and looked inside toward her kitchen table. Can it be?? Surely that .. that couldn’t have really worked!! She ran inside, over to the kitchen drawer, jerked it open nearly spilling its contents, and searched around looking for the envelope marked GOD amidst, vitamin C packets, woven potholders,and random pencils. In the back of the drawer, she felt it-there it was!! She carefully opened the wrinkled envelope, and read her letter. “Dear God”, it said. “I have tried so hard to make something happen in my life ,and I’m done! I surrender! If there’s a man that’s meant to be in my life, you're going to have to land him in my lap. I’m not going to look for a husband any more . I’m going to look for you instead. But If it’s not meant to be,God, then, I pray you will give me the strength to live my life in peace, anyway. But just in case….”and there was her list. A man of God, a man who loved music, a man who could be responsible. I didn’t write down that he should be able to see… she thought, but I guess.. that didn’t seem to matter. Most of the men she had dated in her life could see and things hadn’t really worked out. She was the one who had been blind, blinded by her own fears of being alone, willing to settle for less, or to compromise herself, to live in denial, until she had to finally admit to herself the result of her poor choices.
She put the letter back in the drawer. It’s real, she thought. This is it. He’s my knight, come to rescue me!
Perhaps…Nora walked to her bedroom, thoughtfully sat down on her blue bedspread ,sat beneath the large, rectangular window through which she could see the faraway stars, shining through thin, linen curtains. Nora looked at the stack of used novels on her wooden bed stand, novels in which dreams came true. She opened Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, where Jo becomes a writer, a teacher, and marries not the man they thought she would- Laurie, a sophisticated wealthy neighbor-but the German professor she met later, who encouraged Jo to write.
Nora closed the classic novel, laid down and pulled the old bedspread over her shoulders, settling down to sleep again. He’s not what I expected, she dreamily thought ,but…then again, the unexpected was…rather nice!
Nora returned to Old Boston House, took her place at the mike, every Wednesday night. Paul was there, too, and sang in his deep blues voice, beautifully written gospel songs. “I want to tell you about a man with power, there was peace in everything he said. Some say he lived, some say he died , some say he rose from the dead. …..:” Paul would step down after a strong message through his music, and Nora noticed that he and Barry would often go talk to others standing by the bar, and quietly pray with them. She watched tears streak down the faces of men grasping hands with Paul, tears he couldn’t see, but she knew he felt. He would encourage them with soft words, full of a deeper wisdom, and sometimes hand them a card with his phone number on it. Nora was moved at his compassion for others, and wanted to get to know this quiet man better.
On the weekends, Nora and Paul would ride her motorcycle through the Texas hill country, enjoying the moonlight and the soft hot summer breezes, and Sundays they would go to Westwoods park and sit by the creek near the Little Mermaid statue.Paul said he loved the jazzy songs in the Disney musical, how they made the story come alive for him. Nora, thought, there was a happy ending for that little mermaid, maybe there’s a happy ending for me, too. They walked passed the statue, Paul carrying Nora’s guitar, some BBQ sandwiches, and Nora their soft quilt to sit on. The tame squirrels were used to getting handouts so they would toss them a few potato chips, which were snatched up quickly. Paul and Nora would lay down, after their picnic, and talk. They watched young people in the park walking by with textbooks, playing tennis or basketball, or walking over the bridge that went across the rippling creek. They talked about everything-children, old friends, his brothers, Nora’s sisters, music they liked , and God. It was just the beginning, but promising.
“Paul,” she asked once, after finishing my BBQ sandwich.
“What is it, Nora,” he replied, seemingly staring at the clouds.
I was wondering, Paul…”
“Well, am I just another soul for you to save, or did you like me a little bit?” She was embarrassed to be so forthright, but, she decided, she had to know. Nora had come to a point that she wasn’t willing to emotionally invest herself any further without knowing for sure,,, if there was a chance in hell at this good man.
Paul laughed.”Yes, Nora, I have feelings for you, but I think we should use some wisdom, and take our time.” She relaxed, then, happy with this news.
Two years later, when they got married, it was in that very park, the wooden bridge across the creek decorated with large silk bows, friends and family gathered to celebrate with them, and everyone with a gift, though not all of them wrapped. One friend, an incredibly brilliant musician, brought his bagpipes and played a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.” Another brought his keyboard for the wedding march. A girlfriend, talented with photography, brought her camera, took pictures. and presented the wedding couple with a memorable album a couple of weeks later. Several people they hadn't invited showed up and asked if they could stay. Nora’s father said a prayer, as took their vows, then they knelt on white pillows and kissed the silver cup.Nora cried silently, through the ceremony. Things didn’t happen exactly the way the fairytales say, she thought, yet my noble knight showed up all the same. Her dreams had merged with reality.
After the festivities were over, they got on the Nora’s motorcycle again, after many lovely goodbyes and kisses, Paul played his harmonica as everyone threw rice and laughed at the departing honeymoon couple.
That was the beginning. Nora and Paul embarked on a spiritual journey together that lasted many years, as their precious friendship grew and grew. He was everything Nora thought he was, and more. He was the kind but strong father Nora needed for their young son,he was the lover of her dreams, and they had the romance of a lifetime. Nora always kept the letter she had written in a wooden carved box in her bedroom. But what Nora didn’t know, was there would be dragons that lie ahead and how much she would need him beyond this moment , or what he would end up giving her later, that would prove to be would more precious than gold.