Five Years Ago Today

Hello and Happy New Year everybody.  I know I have been awol. from my blog.  I have been on holiday and it seemed that my muse decided to stay at home.  But I am back and I promise soon to update you on the socks and the person that wears them but first I had to do this…

Five Years Ago Today

When Caroline and I were new together we took a plane to Rhodes.  From there we boarded an open-top ferry and sailed into a golden sunset as it was setting on the Aegean Sea.  Hours later, out of the pitch blackness of the open water the dazzlingly bright lights of the horseshoe harbour of Symi appeared as we rounded the island.  As we came closer we heard the sound of gunfire and then watched as, what looked like, 18th century Turkish soldiers fired muskets into a mob of undefended villagers.  But for cameras, the scaffolding donned with movie lights and the sight of a bikini-topped stagehand running around with a smoke machine – I would have had to come to the conclusion that our ferry trip had passed through a rip in time.

What a wonderful island Symi was.  The town was just that horseshoe harbour.  To reach any other part of the island one must go by sea and every morning there was a choice of a handful of boats going to as many beaches.  For little money a local fisherman would ferry us to a beach, leave us there then return to grill the fresh fish he had just caught for lunch.  It was paradise.

Back on the island the small film crew would work around us.  The film was called Pascali’s Island.  Their only security was the occasional camera assistant asking us to possibly move to another table.  Caroline and I spend a lovely breakfast watching Helen Mirren shooting a scene only 15 feet away.  We sipped our coffee as she walked calmly from a house opposite and then burst into tears.  She did it flawlessly – over and over again.  Giving me another lesson it the fact that acting is a lot harder then it looks.

And then there was the food.  There was only one real restaurant run by Stavros.  We fell in love with the place.  By our second meal we were treated like old friends – by the end of the week we felt like part of the family.  If for the rest of my life I could only eat Stavros’s kleftivco washed down with pine-sap infused retsina wine – I don’t think I would complain.

It was our first big holiday together, and although it was years before we would marry, we had made a commitment to each other – we were in love – it was a honeymoon.  It was damn near perfect.


About three months after Caroline died I took a gig on a cruise ship.  I was looking forward to it.  I needed to get away.  I needed to look at walls that weren’t painted by her.  I needed to scrape butter from a butter dish that was made in a kiln other than Caroline’s.  I needed to see tables and chairs that didn’t look empty because she wasn’t sitting in them.  I needed to go somewhere were not everything reminded me of what I had lost.

At first I ignored the innocuous print on the wall of the cruise ship cabin that was to be my home for the next ten days but as I unpacked my bag on the bed I was forced to look at it.  It was a watercolour of a typical Greek island taverna but the more I looked at it the more achingly familiar it became.  The only thing missing from it was Stavros outside with his arms outstretched ready to take Caroline’s head in his hands so as to kiss her on both cheeks.  I shook my head and told myself I was being silly but then I saw what was written in the corner of the print.  Along with the date the artist had written – “Symi.”  What were the flipping chances?


I now know that there is nowhere one can escape the pain of memories.  The mistake was looking for a “where” when the answer is – “when.”  Clichés are clichés for a reason and – Time heals all wounds – is high on the all time best cliché list for a reason.  Caroline died five years ago today.  The eye welling, throat tightening memories that used to commonly hit hard and fast are now so few and far between, that when they come, I no longer try to push them away – I hold on to them.  It seems wrong to say that I enjoy the experiences but that’s as close a word as I can get.

Yesterday I was in Bonaire.  It was here that I taught Caroline, who was always a bit afraid of the water, how to use a mask and a snorkel.  When she first saw the florescent fish darting in and out of the coral, she turned into a five year old and popped up screaming, “THE FISHYS!” without even taking the snorkel out of her mouth.

As I dropped my face into the warm Caribbean water today, that memory hit me hard.  I stopped swimming and I stood in the water holding on to it, as I looked out to sea.  It felt good to remember.  Even though the beach was crowded it was a private moment.  In a dive mask no one can see you crying.



7 Responses to “Five Years Ago Today”

  1. nadene Says:

    I have said it before John, you are a remarkable man – and Caroline sounds like a remarkable woman. I truly wish I could have met her.



  2. osirisoflight Says:

    Caroline sounds like she was one of the most amazing women ever.

  3. Sara Says:

    O sweet, sweet Johnny!

  4. Heather J. Says:

    Thank you for sharing this very personal story. I’m pretty new to your blog, so I had to go back and read your post from last year to understand the whole story. I do know what you mean about almost enjoying the pain when it comes now. For me, it is a reminder of how truly special that person was to me.

  5. tim Says:

    I wept when I read this at all of our loss and it was just as you said I held on to it

  6. Kate Says:

    Tim has said it for me.

  7. Tom HIlberts Says:

    Dear John,
    Although I have not seen you for 35 years, you are still one of my oldest friends. Over the years I had heard, from time to time, that you were quite the sensation on English television. Recently, Pete sent me your blog about our adventures with Muhammed Ali, which I enjoyed and only vaguely remembered, sorry to say. ( Please excuse my spelling. Thank you for having an area on your website to combat this type of injustice.)

    What I do remember is that you were funny, maybe even a class clown. I told my wife, Betsey that one year a Nun moved your desk out to the hallway because you were talking in class. I knew she would appreciate that, because when she was in grade school the same thing happened to her. When the teacher came out to check on Betsey she was talking with the janitor.
    They never did fix her problem, talking.

    John, do you remember the year we were in trouble for something, I don’t know what, but we had to write some kind of I’m sorry…. sentence 1,0000 times.? We all spent two weeks doing this and when we handed these stacks of paper punishment in to Sister Marie Navard or Sister Mary Urban you provided a few pages of scribble on the top and bolttom and a whole lot of filler in the middle. I could not believe it. You had guts and you got away with it.


    John, I read “four years ago” and then “five years ago” and was so moved. I am so sorry for your loss. Reading what you wrote about Caroline reminded me of what love is. I don’t know how you were able to put it into words, but you did it beautifully. I hope you and Finbar are well. You sound very good and strong in you blog entries

    I hope that our paths cross soon.


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