On 15 May I wrote a post about searching for an old boyfriend, which caused a few of my awesome fellow WMB moms to don their detective hats. They helped me find two possible addresses for the man I was looking for. After much soul-searching, I eventually decided to send a letter to each address. Just over two weeks ago, I printed the letters, added a copy of my blog post (as well as a copy of the last poem he’d sent me) to each envelope and invested 25 rand in postage fees. I was told that the letters would take approximately 14 days to reach America.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really expect a reply. Imagine my surprise when exactly 2 weeks after mailing my letters, I found an email in my inbox from “my” Campbell T Fisher Jr (aka Toby)!
Here is an excerpt from his first email, which I am sharing with his permission:
“Through ups and downs I have always moved forward without regrets. Except for two things:
1. Oh how I regret leaving you in Cape Town in the first place. I knew even then that I should have stayed. It took decades before I forgave my parents for forcing me to make that choice, but in the end it was my choice to make and I take the responsibility for it.
2. I allowed every-day life to distract me from what was the most important event in my young life. This is the most troubling thing for me because not only did I lose you because of it, but my carelessness also caused you such distress.
I am not seeking your forgiveness as I have never been able to forgive myself for losing contact with you, but I would like you to know that I have never forgotten you. I think of you often and what might have been.
There are obviously many more words that can be said, but where to start?
If you want to continue communicating with me, I would like that very much. However, if not, I understand completely.”
Obviously I replied that I wanted to know everything about his life since we were last in touch with each other …. roughly three decades ago! I also reassured him that there was absolutely nothing to forgive. He was so young he didn’t really have the option of staying behind when his parents left Cape Town. In fact, if I remember correctly, he was only 17 or 18 years old at the time. The only thing I really needed him to explain to me was why he’d stopped writing to me.
Yesterday I got the answer. What follows is an excerpt from his second email:
“Due to a bureaucratic problem with my records from Cape Town High, the university scholarship fell through, and the funds from my parents to help with the school costs turned out to be a bust as well. I had to use all of the money I had saved to help pay tuition.
I had a blow-up with my Mother, and was kicked out of the apartment where we were staying. My brother Jim and I left together and moved to Tampa to be closer to school, and we both had to take full time jobs to make the bills on top of our full time school loads.
Eventually I dropped out of university and wound up working dead end minimum-wage jobs like crazy just to pay the bills.
I was still not speaking to my mother, so when your last letter arrived at my old address I did not know that it was there. It was not for several months until I came home for the holidays that I found out about it. I read your frantic pleas for contact, and in a panic called your phone number, only to get a message that the number was not in service. I checked the number again and again, but I still got the same response. I contacted the operator and asked them to locate the number for the Sandri-Boriani family, or anything like it, and was told that there was no listing.
Over the next two months I wrote two letters to you, one was returned with a return-to-sender note, the other one I don’t know what happened to. In your last letters and tape you were concerned about your parent’s relationship and I did not know if they had broken up and moved, or what. The only news we were receiving from South Africa here was bad, riots and bombings and such.
I was heartbroken. I knew that I had failed you by not keeping in touch, and now I couldn’t find you. Either you moved away, possibly back to Italy, or you no longer wanted anything to do with me (I did not want to even think about you or your family getting hurt).”
Unfortunately, by the time Toby tried to get in touch with me, my parents were going through a very acrimonious divorce. We had moved, and our new number was unlisted. It never occurred to me to send just one more letter giving my new address because, by that time, I’d given up hope. In fact (for many years) I actually assumed he was dead, as I couldn’t imagine anything other than death would keep him from me.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m extremely grateful that another great man came into my life. I was married in 1991, and my son was born is 1993, followed by my daughter in 1996. Meanwhile Toby had joined the army, did a tour of duty in Germany and, in 1992, got married himself. Unfortunately, his marriage ended in divorce after 11 years, and he never fathered any children. In his words: “I have no children. It never felt right. Guess I was afraid that I would not make a good father, and yes I have a psychological fear of failure.”
My amazingly supportive husband is aware that I was looking for Toby, that I found him, and that we’re now emailing each other. I love that we have such a strong and healthy relationship that he’s not threatened by this at all. I guess the fact that Toby lives on a different continent also helps!
So what is Toby doing now? After leaving the army he went back to school and earned a degree in Information Systems. For the past 20 years he has built a career in IT. Oddly enough both my husband and son also work in the IT field. Toby now shares his home with two dogs XO (military slang for Executive Officer) and Simon. The above photo is of the three of them.
What happens now? In Toby’s words:
“I am still pursuing my dream of sailing. I have a 38 foot steel sailboat and I am in the process of fitting it out for a trip to Antarctica in my retirement. It is the only continent I have not set foot on and it calls to me. I spend my free time with my dogs, scuba diving, and amateur photography.”
Meanwhile I keep living my life, finally happy to have my “mystery” solved. It was nothing as dramatic as all the scenarios my teenage mind dreamt up, just Fate decreeing that our paths should diverge for a while!
How far would you go to reconnect with someone from your past?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog from Mamma Simona of Cape Town, who shares her home with a husband, a 20 year old son, a 17 year old daughter, a mom-in-law, two cats and two dogs! Photo credit to Campbell T Fisher Jr.