life between the pages

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books.
In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”
Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

venus in retrograde

funny little thing happened on the way to virginia.

some background: years ago, i married my best friend. it didn't last. we had 2 lovely girls together. he doesn't acknowledge them or speak to any of us. it's for the best, believe me. after all the lies and the hurt and unbelievable unfairness, it's been relegated to the "scope for a novel" file and bedded down.

dollars spent on therapy are sometimes very well spent. because of him, i developed a shell thick enough to have survived some pretty horrible things, even afterward. in retrospect, i could almost say i'm grateful for the lesson. almost.

never let it be said that the gods do not possess a divine sense of humor.

said ex and i have not spoken much in the impending decades... i wish i could say exactly why, but it just boils down to awkwardness, broken dreams, maybe a little too much honesty, but i don't regret it. the quiet has been peaceful, even blissful at times. it is hard to be married to someone who knows you better than god himself.

but getting back to the funny thing on the way to virginia.

karma is a wonderful thing: you never know when you will have to rely on help from those whom you've screwed.

my oldest daughter and i --the one he fathered and i gave up for adoption when i was much too young to be a mother and he has to this day never acknowledged, even tho' she is a full sister to our other daughter who was born while we were married --and is a dead ringer for him --were driving up the interstate as it began to rain. the clouds had been gathering for some time but thankfully traffic was unusually light. as we neared an overpass i noticed a truck, with a flat-bed trailer, on the side of the road. it was somewhat near a landmark truck stop but absolutely nothing else. the truck caught my eye for just a moment, and i started to look away when i noticed a tall, thin, blond-headed male walking up the steep hill away from the truck toward the overpass. as we passed he raised his cell phone to his ear.

"that's p******," i said to my daughter, who turned to look.

she sniffed. "no way," she answered, shaking her head in her sensible way. "that's impossible. you can't see who that is from this distance."

i shrugged. it was several thousand feet, to be sure. and it was raining. "no, i can't. but it's him."

we hadn't seen him in several years, except i had glimpsed him momentarily at his mother's funeral several months back, which we'd attended with my daughter, who was particularly close to her grandmother and was pretty broken up about it.

but i knew it was him. you see, i have known that person since the sixth grade. and we were close, at one time. we --well, suffice it to say i was certain.

i said, "i'm going back. it's him."

r****** said, "well, ok, like, you could do like in the messin' with sasquatch commercial, you know, make him run a little bit. that would be amusing." we laughed.

"yes, it would," i agreed. and we laughed again. but i knew that i wouldn't do that. no, the opposite would be far more adventurous.

it was a ways to the next exit, so i had to drive a bit before i could turn around. but about 10 minutes later we pulled off the exit near the truck stop. i knew he'd be headed for that. but would he let us help him? would he even acknowledge us? i had to know. it was raining harder now. r. still wasn't convinced it would be him, she was going on the fact that he lives four states away now and what were the chances, really, that he and i would be on the same road at the same time in the rain and his truck would break down at almost the exact minute i'd be passing by? it was highly unlikely. i agreed with her. still, i knew it was him.

we pulled to the top of the exit, which turns out on an old, unimproved gravel road down to the truck stop. he was walking down that road, having gone up the hill, over the overpass, and turned right. walking. hurriedly. phone to ear. he turned to look as we pulled up, just across the road. i blinked my lights at him and he raised his hand politely, nodding and pointing down the road to the truck stop, motioning me on and indicating he was fine. i waved and rolled down my window.

"don't you want a ride?" i laughed at him.

he said, "i'll call you back," and clicked the phone shut. grinned. i pulled across the road and opened the door. before i could change my mind i just went on old times, the times that should be preserved. the good memories. before it got ugly.

i said, "you need some help, don't you? we are nice people, you should let us help you."

part of the problem always was his ridiculously suspicious nature. once i had known how to break through that. like i was nineteen again i held out my arms and said, "no one is watching. no one will know. only her," i gestured over my shoulder at our daughter, the one he wouldn't acknowledge, although i know that at one time he'd drawn a broken heart with her birth date and time in the middle of it. i held that image in my mind and hugged him, quickly, before he could back away.

he needed it. and so did i. it is more blessed to give than to receive. it is.

one thing i had learned over the years is to grab things and then let them go, quick, before they can bite you. to do the right thing before you think about it too much and chicken out. he was alone, and god only knew how many years it had been since he'd been hugged by someone he could trust. he lives in a walled-off fortress among situations of his own making. his mother had died convulsing in his arms, not too long ago. his shell is thick --but he knows me. and deep down, he knows i only want the best for him --when i remember the little boy i knew in sixth grade, and the awesome young man he grew into. i loved that young man. i always will.... even though he left him behind and became someone else, long ago. as did i.

i turned to him and said, "i finished my book. the one i started in alabama."

he looked confused. "book?"

"you don't remember. i was writing a book --several books --and i began in alabama. in enterprise, when we were there."

"oh. well, that's great. congratulations."

"one of them is about fred."

"fred? that book needs to be written. i always said that."

"yes. me, too. you do remember."

he was grinning from ear to ear, shaking his head. remembering the good times.

"but you know," i continued. "most of what i know about fred is hearsay. i wasn't there for most of it. it was before my time."

"well, you know what happened."

"only because someone told me. i do remember hanging outside a window, upside down and not knowing if it was you or fred holding me by my ankles." he laughed, nodding at the memory.

i looked at him. "it was fred, wasn't it?"

he nodded again, still laughing. "you made him stop," i finished. "you saved me. i could have broken my head."

"yes," he said, barely audibly, still grinning down at me. he is so tall.

we laughed and chatted and i introduced him to r******. he leaned into the car, hand extended in a friendly, courteous manner. "hi, I'm p******," he said. she smiled and shook her head in wonder, thinking, "i know who you are, you a******. and you know who i am, too." but she smiled, and played along as courteously as he.

i don't know why he kept up the charade but at least we could laugh at it. we gave him a ride down to the truck stop and stayed with him while he figured out what to do. at one point he even considered going up to the ville with us, since we were all headed that way. but later he decided he needed to stay with his truck, since he was on a "tight schedule," and he didn't know how long it would take to fix the truck. he was always on a tight schedule. indeed, i don't think he knows how to live any other way.

he's a curious combination of laid-back and uptight, sensible and full of shit, observant and blind. he didn't seem to have changed much, if at all. but it didn't creep me out - i knew exactly what to expect. somehow that can be comforting, when you know there are no surprises.

r & i laughed all the way up the road after we left him, after taking him back to his truck to get a few things, and then back to the truck stop to wait for the towing vehicle. he laughed too, a bit. he was incomparably polite, even affable.

i looked at him from the rear-view mirror. "you know, we are nice. you should talk to us."

"i can see that," he replied, nodding and smiling. i pulled into the parking space. we were back at the truck stop, and it was time for him to get out and go about his business. i shook my head. the present was back, palpable, in the car with us. camaraderie was fading back into the dimness, and i struggled to make it real, to catch at the threads of time that were dwindling away, breathless, like smoke escaping thru the open window.

"here. write down my phone number. you can contact me anytime," he shuffled through the calendar he carried, wrote the number down carefully, bending his head to the task. i saw him again in math class, diligently writing numbers on a page. he looked up. smiled, and shut the book. opened the door, and was gone.

i know that the past rises up before us whenever we are there to re-create it. it is still as tangible as it was every hour that we lived it.

but i also know, just as certainly, that i'll never hear from him. that as soon as we were gone one of two things happened: either he forgot us completely, or his paranoia kicked in and he worried all night long about repercussions from talking to me, which in his mind could range anywhere from the wrong people (who? i wonder) finding out he actually accepted my help (like he had any choice? he was in the middle of nowhere without transportation and it was raining!) to my running my mouth to godknowswhat. and that, my friends, is not my problem.

it's his.

the nice thing about divorce is, their problems are no longer your problems. their craziness is no longer your craziness. their issues are not your issues.

but you can still give them a hand up when they need it --and then move on.

that day our daughter got to meet her biological father for the first time, and that has to be some closure for both of them. only the three of us know just what that meant, and i'm not going to share that here. the point is, as i said: karma is a really cool thing. you never know just when you'll get the chance to kill the one person with kindness who was unforgiveably bad to you once --and that it will make you giddy with joy, and laughter. and for just one minute, time stops, rolls back, and people are alive again all around who have been dead for years.

that's a pretty cool occurrence, all in all. i'd recommend it to anyone.

(for r*'s version & p-o-v, check out her blog here. )

2 comments:

Favorite Apron said...

what a strange twist of fate. i'm glad your daughter is old enough now to experience this moment in a way that a young child would not.

susannaheanes said...

oh, yes. exactly.