I am not a smart man, particularly, but one day, at long last, I stumbled from the dark woods of my own, and my family's, and my country's past, holding in my hands these truths: that love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness; that mongrels make good dogs; that the evidence of God exists in the roundness of things. This much, at least, I've figured out. I know this much is true.
All the dead bolts, pulled shades and hidden knives in the world couldn't protect you from the truth.
People had always amazed him, he began. But they amazed him more since the sickness. For as long as the two of them had been together, he said, Gary’s mother had accepted him as her son’s lover, had given them her blessing. Then, at the funeral, she’d barely acknowledged him. Later, when she drove to the house to retrieve some personal things, she’d hunted through her son’s drawers with plastic bags twist-tied around her wrists. “…And yet,” he whispered, “The janitor at school--remember him? Mr. Feeney? --he’d openly disapproved of me for nineteen years. One of the nastiest people I knew. Then when the news about me got out, after I resigned, he started showing up at the front door every Sunday with a coffee milkshake. In his church clothes, with his wife waiting out in the car. People have sent me hate mail, condoms, Xeroxed prayers…” What made him most anxious, he told me, was not the big questions--the mercilessness of fate, the possibility of heaven. He was too exhausted, he said, to wrestle with those. But he’d become impatient with the way people wasted their lives, squandered their chances like paychecks. I sat on the bed, massaging his temples, pretending that just the right rubbing might draw out the disease. In the mirror I watched us both--Mr. Pucci, frail and wasted, a talking dead man. And myself with the surgical mask over my mouth, to protect him from me. “The irony,” he said, “… is that now that I’m this blind man, it’s clearer to me than it’s ever been before. What’s the line? ‘Was blind but now I see…’” He stopped and put his lips to the plastic straw. Juice went halfway up the shaft, then back down again. He motioned the drink away. “You accused me of being a saint a while back, pal, but you were wrong. Gary and I were no different. We fought…said terrible things to each other. Spent one whole weekend not speaking to each other because of a messed up phone message… That time we separated was my idea. I thought, well, I’m fifty years old and there might be someone else out there. People waste their happiness--That’s what makes me sad. Everyone’s so scared to be happy.” “I know what you mean,” I said. His eyes opened wider. For a second he seemed to see me. “No you don’t,” he said. “You mustn’t. He keeps wanting to give you his love, a gift out and out, and you dismiss it. Shrug it off because you’re afraid.” “I’m not afraid. It’s more like…” I watched myself in the mirror above the sink. The mask was suddenly a gag. I listened. “I’ll give you what I learned from all this,” he said. “Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.
Maybe that's what love is. Having someone who guides you through different experiences, coaxes you to try news things but still makes you feel safe.
So many bad things have happened to them that they can't trust the good things. They have to shove them away before someone can get it back.
I needed her to stop. Needed not to hear the pain in her voice--to see the way she was twisting the pocketbook strap. If she kept talking, she might break down and tell me everything.
Her shut-eyed smile transformed itself into something else: the smile of someone brave and knowing, someone whose pain had made her wise.
Is that what love is all about? Needing them to come back to you when they're away? To come home and keep you safe?
That time we separated was my idea. I thought, well, I'm fifty years old and there might be someone else out there. People waste their happiness - that's what makes me sad. Everyone's so scared to be happy.
If I could just write it down in a piece of paper, then maybe she could get a decent night's sleep, eat a little of her dinner. Maybe she could have a minute's worth of peace.
I remember the odd sensation of living in the middle of that experience and feeling, simultaneously, like it was something happening at telescopic distance. Like something I was looking at through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.
So maybe that’s what love means. Having the capacity to forgive the one who wronged you, no matter how deep the hurt was.
As my father talked, tears dripped down the side of his face like candle wax. The sight shocked me; until that moment, I had assumed men were as incapable of crying as they were of having babies.
[Writing about themselves] gives them wings, so that they can rise above the confounding maze of their lives and, from that perspective, begin to see the patterns and dead ends of their pasts, and a way out. That's the funny thing about mazes; what's baffling on the ground begins to make sense when you can begin to rise above it, the better to understand your history and fix yourself.
Too bad I didn't know you back then, I would have come and rescued you. Like he was Prince Charming or something. Which he is, in a way, because he rescued me from the simple, uncomplicated life I thought I liked until I realized how much I was missing. How lonely that life had been: going to work, going home, and watching TV, going places by myself on weekends.
We are like water, aren’t we? We can be fluid, flexible when we have to be. But strong and destructive, too.” And something else, I think to myself. Like water, we mostly follow the path of least resistance.
I didn't respond to him. Couldn't speak at all. Couldn't look at his self-mutilation--not even the clean, bandaged version of it. Instead, I looked at my own rough, stained house painter's hand. They seemed more like puppets than hands. I had no feelings in it either.
You can be two things if you're a woman, Dolores. Betty Crocker or a floozy. Just remember your place - even if it kills you.
I thought about how love was always the thing that did that - smashed into you, left you raw. The deeper you loved, the deeper it hurt.
That melting pot stuff was always more about what this country wanted to believe about itself than the way people really felt.
Getting a job scared her but she was determined not to shy away from risk. That’s what life’s all about. Climbing out onto the airplane wing and jumping off.
Jack Speight undid me, then I almost undid myself. But I've undone some of the bad, too, some of the damage. With help. With luck and love.