Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Canada (01/29/09)
TITLE: Where Her Love Had Gone
By Anita van der Elst
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Now she stood near the border crossing buildings, on the long grassy area just outside of the reach of the lights illuminating the Peace Arch. Even without their glow she was able to picture the 67-foot monument clearly in her mind. She’d been coming here every year on this day for forty-five years. It was her anniversary—their anniversary—only he never came to join her.
This was the spot of their first date, she was sixteen, he seventeen. Together they’d read the words chiseled into the sides of the Peace Arch. Facing south was the phrase “Children of a Common Mother”, on the north “Brethren Dwelling Together in Unity”. In the middle beneath “May These Gates Never Be Closed” and “1814 Open One Hundred Years”, they shared their first kiss.
Just a year later she watched him drive north across the border with a promise that he’d be back when the war was over to marry her. It was 1964 and a disturbance in a small Asian country was making the news. She fully supported his decision to run away to Canada to avoid the draft. While her brother and many of her friends enlisted or responded to their draft calling by signing up, he had maintained his determination to not take up arms. Why should he give his life for a cause he did not believe in? In Canada he was safe. She was glad when her brother and most of her friends returned from Vietnam, physically unscathed, but she could see the toll it had taken on their psyches.
It had taken a toll on her as well. The first years after he’d gone were especially tough. Family and friends were not hesitant to express their views, considering him a coward, dismissing her as a fool for loving him. Post cards came from him, few and far between, the postal cancellation stamp on each bearing witness to his journey. From the Yukon brief descriptions of the Mackenzie Mountain wilderness, from Newfoundland terse comments referring to the wild Atlantic Ocean. She treasured them and the memory of the phone call he’d managed to make on her birthday one year.
But eventually the cards stopped. She ached for those small bits of him and sleep often eluded her. Why did he not come? Her faith faltered. Still she kept her yearly vigil, in late spring, gazing northward through the Peace Arch portal. She’d never married, immersing herself in her night shift position at an elderly nursing care facility. Her days were spent puttering in her garden or capturing nature with her camera, often thinking of those picture post cards safely anchored in her scrapbook.
When President Carter extended amnesty to all draft dodgers in 1977, she’d looked for his immediate return. She looked in vain. But she never stopped her annual trip to the small town of Blaine where the Peace Arch straddled the border between Washington and British Columbia. Occasionally she’d driven on through the crossing into British Columbia, cruising through Surrey, hoping to feel closer to him.
Mostly though it was the Peace Arch that gave her comfort. It had stood since 1921, erected to commemorate treaties entered into by Canada and the United States. The promise of an endless open border between the two countries revived her hope that someday she would be reunited with him.
She smoothed her graying, once brown hair back with one hand and shivered slightly as an evening mist rose around her. She turned back towards her car in the parking lot, then taking one more long look over her shoulder into that vast region where her love had gone, she whispered, “I’ll always wait for you.”
And far away to the northeast on a Manitoba prairie, a thin-lipped moon smiled crookedly down on an unmarked grave, the long concealing prairie grasses whispering in the wind.
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