Sunday: Goodbye to all that … (and more novel)

Sunday is the highest traffic day for HereWeAreGoing. This fact has all sorts of resonances for me, not the least being my childhood Sundays spent perusing the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post with my dear aunt, mentor, champion, Sissie, at the house in Libertytown. And, yes, Sissie and Libertytown were the inspirations for my novel — tada — LIBERTYTOWN. So, this morning, I try again for brevity because I want to spend at least a portion of this Sunday reading, so, let’s try this.

LEAVING AFTERMATH

My stay here at Aftermath ends this evening. I will return to my basement room at Sepia Fallows where I reign as Crazy Uncle. All sorts of wonderful is associated with being one’s family’s version of Mrs. Rochester in the attic with soupcons of Miss Havisham, Norma Desmond, Blanche DuBois, and, I guess, Cousin Itt. Still, I will miss my Judah, although he snores and takes up four-fifths of the king-sized bed. And, too, I will miss the sun and quiet. Here at Aftermath I am afforded lots and lots of silence, I almost never turn the television on, there is no buzzing, beeping, gunfire of video worlds, and, too, I’ve the blessing of reading and writing in the day room: three walls of windows and glass doors through which I see sky and horizon and trees and green and the occasional group of deer frolicking; I am grateful for so much light, so much quiet. Lovely. I’ll be back for nearly two weeks during the December holidays. Maybe then, some snow?

ARRIVING AT THE HOLIDAYS

Speaking of which, here comes the holiday season. Thanksgiving dinner will be held at Sepia Fallows. This will be the first Thanksgiving spent with my immediate, biological family in years. I usually house/pet-sit during Thanksgiving, but, I am not booked this year (although, if you’ve an offer, I’ll consider it) which seems an extremely odd thing to type about me: “NOT BOOKED”. I’ve a bag of ten books within two feet of me as I type. I am always — one way or another — booked. (That could turn into something, another short story idea, “Booked” — all its meanings to a crazy, basement dwelling, half-ashamed-of-him uncle on his way to prison for — STOOOOOP.) And so, since I’ll be home(ish) with family, I will do my thing and start prepping for feast cooking this week. I’m not a huge fan of the holidays, but, for some reason, I have a fondness for holiday themed tissue boxes and I am not ashamed to say I am already blowing my nose with tissues from a box foil-art-adorned with images of reindeer and snowflakes.

MY BIGGEST HITS

As I said, Sunday is the day when my blog gets the most hits. This week, I am happy (nay, THRILLED) to share that my biggest winners this week were the entries with excerpts from my unsold, un-agented novel.

Thank you for reading me. It means a great deal to be read.

SPEAKING OF THANKS (givings and takings away)

Chapter 12 of Libertytown has to do with a Thanksgiving dinner, and memories of other such dinners, and the disasters Parker has experienced during dinners he’s made, meals of good intent gone wrong. I sort of love Chapter 12 and trying to cut it is KILLING me. In the days I’ve been working on it — and been here at Aftermath — I’ve also been catching up on my magazine piles. One of the essays I read in Harper’s (one of my favorite magazines, one that Sissie always read) was by John Crowley called “Spare the Darlings [click here to read part of it — but you won’t be able to read the whole thing on-line unless you are a Harper’s subscriber, which, alas, I am not. I buy issues each month — sort of a thing, an excursion I take to get me out of the house — magazine purchasing. Sorry, I prefer reading off-line.] which was about all the essays he’d read of late about cutting one’s darlings when writing/re-writing and where that quote actually came from. He cites Pamela Erens New York Times essay, The Joys of Trimming [click here to read – you should be able to get the whole thing unless you are NOT a New York Times on-line subscriber and have already had your ten allotted monthly free-clicks] in which she attributes it to Faulkner. Which is wrong. ISH. It was Arthur Quiller-Couch. Q, he called himself. Long story but I own all of his available books — some gotten at quite an expense from overseas dealers — because I read about him in Helene Hanff’s Q’s Legacy. I read Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road every year during the holiday season. In fact, I usually buy a new copy every year. It’s a thing, it’s a Sissie thing, we loved Hanff together. So … point? I’m trying to cut Chapter 12 and I can’t. Would any of you like to help me? Funny story: last time I asked, no one jumped in. In fact, no one said a thing. In fact, I’m pretty sure none of the writer types I know are even reading the Libertytown excerpts. Which is all good. Anyway — here’s Chapter 12. It’s a long one.

LIBERTYTOWN CHAPTER 12 [an excerpt]
November 2004
this is what all ur f-ing mourning leads 2

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. The day before was Matthew’s birthday. He turned twenty.

Things happen.

Happened. Past tense. It’s over. But before that.

Carousel opened and closed. Mandreucci’s is selling out – I mean that in both senses – doing far better since Vincent’s death than it ever did when he was alive.I took over the directing chores and Vincent’s younger sister, Caterina, who’d spent her time and her parents money since her teen years in luckless pursuit of dressage championships on the horse circuit, took over the business end of the theatre, sacrificing her folly for Vincent‘s, for which, it was turning out, she had a natural gift.

Vincent never wanted to do anything but direct shows and make a family of the actors he adopted. His marketing plan was to sit back and wait for audiences to appear. The practical requirements of budgeting and publicity were anathema to him, irritations he eschewed, knowing as he did that his parents seemingly endless funding would keep him going. Caterina, who had taken the same lackadaisical approach to horsery as had Vincent to theatre, was determined in her takeover of Mandreucci’s to maintain the legacy she imagined her brother had left behind. Already she has doubled the number of season subscribers, started booking bus tours of senior citizens, and negotiated like a mob boss with the caterers who supplied the food. Actors have begun to make more money by virtue of added shows and fuller houses, which increases their tip pool, and are pleasantly surprised to be paid on time, an infrequent occurrence when the casual Vincent ran the show. Word has spread in the theatre community and the quality of actor who auditioned for the next show in the season – which Vincent had scheduled as Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along and which Caterina, intent on turning a profit, re-scheduled as Grease – was markedly improved, sending into a panic those regulars Vincent had used for years out of a sense of loyalty and the desire to surround himself with people who loved and were indebted to him.He had, not infrequently, compared himself to MGM, with his own galaxy of stars for whom he’d chosen shows. Vincent’s actors had rarely been bad, but they had not always the best person for the job, much as I was not the best person to direct Grease. Thus, I have bid Caterina farewell. She was upset only until I assured her that Matthew, who has taken on more and more of the technical work enabling her to fire some of the pricier crew members, would be staying.

He’s made a few friends at the theatre and in his college classes. With those and Fallon to occupy him, we see less of one another. Still, every night, whether he is away or just on the other side of my bedroom wall, he texts me when he is going to sleep; “night loveeeeeeee gotta sleeeeep now looooveee youuu” or some variation on that theme.

He has made me a texter. He prefers it to conversation. I think he enjoys that it limits my ability to drone on. Even when we are together – at home or at Embrace – we text. It has begun to annoy people. Well, it annoys Therie and Fallon, in much the way Bex and I with our secret language and looks once annoyed the other siblings.

After my misdirected porn reference text opened the door, Matthewbegan to share with me those things he considers personal, the stuff of his friendship. Obsessively sexual and no one but himself with whom to make love, his stories most often have to do with the porn sites he visits and the frequency with which he gets himself off. He slips into every conversation in which he can find the slightest opening (so to speak) a genital or jacking-off reference and it has been such a long time since I discussed sex, since I really thought in that way about sex, since anyone related to me as a sexual person, that I have become as bad and juvenile as is he. Our badinage is increasingly foul, almost competitively so, with Matthew digging for further details about my past, and me, denigrating his obsession with online porn and his misadventures with Fallon who has continued not to sleep with him.

Continued not to. That shouldn’t be possible. But it is the best description of what is going on, or rather, not going on.

Things happen. By not happening.

I started cooking Thanksgiving dinner last Sunday.

When I was sixteen I had read, highlighted and underlined THE WOMEN’S ROOM and my already unbridled feminism – in a world not yet filled with shouts of “WE’RE HERE! WE’RE QUEER! GET USED TO IT!” – became rabid. I cannot find that specific paperback copy which must be in a box somewhere and I didn’t want to devalue the hardback first edition I later bought which Matthew has shelved for me, but I am often reminded of what struck me most about it even then, even before I had become so actively the guardian angel in others’ lives, the moment of ‘a-ha” recognition when I said, “This is me.” Marilyn French wrote about it always coming down to the shit and the string beans; who did the cooking, the cleaning up, and the caretaking, and that was acid etched into my brain. I was born with the genetic make-up that impels one to insist on coming early to help people get ready for the party and stay late to help clean up, to notice and assuage the wounded, to listen rather than speak, to sacrifice rather than demand, to take the blame. Almost three decades after having discovered the shit and string beans theory, after having been “olly-olly-oxen free” home base for an ever revolving and expanding population of the battered, misunderstood, and misfit – a person gets exhausted and begins to wonder, “When is someone going to cook my string beans and clean up my shit?”

Not yet.

Thanksgiving, once upon a time, was the holiday on which all six of my mother’s children made the effort to be in one room at one time for her. Having early lost her parents and shed brothers, sisters, and husband along the way, my mother is prone toward sad predictions of a future when she or one or another of we siblings will be gone and the remaining family filled with regret we’d not spent more time together. So we’d arrive after the Macy’s Parade had ended at whose ever home had been chosen that year and spend all afternoon and evening together.

I’d spent years being either unattached or attached to those who could not or would not spend holidays with me openly and so, somehow, I’d become Thanksgiving assistant. I’d arrive a few days before the holiday at the home of whichever sister was hosting – it was never my brother – and begin preparations for the meal, a meal which required very specific dishes made in very specific ways dictated not by culinary excellence but family tradition. None of us even liked turkey, but we always had one and argued over the gizzard and the wishbone. There had to be two hams; a regular baked ham with a brown-sugar and honey crust – NO PINEAPPLE – and a country ham stuffed with kale, the preparation of which called for sawing away of bone, soaking in water for at least twenty-four hours to reduce salinity, great stockpots full of kale leaves and mustard seeds and expensive bottles of other spices I no longer recall boiled free of all nutritional value then drained and cooled to be shoved into slits cut in the ham which had then to be wrapped in cheesecloth and suspended from a broomstick in a huge pot and slow simmered again for at least twelve hours. The stuffed ham took up part of at least three days. Alongside these main dishes were served oysters prepared two ways; deep fried and in an oyster pie which consisted of layers of oysters, saltine crackers, great chunks of butter, and a soaking of half and half baked to a pudding-y consistency.

Side dishes were equally, ridiculously plentiful: sweet potatoes done two ways, simply in syrup and too in a beaten, marshmallow topped casserole, and corn, and corn bread, and beaten biscuits, cranberry sauce – again, two ways – a jellied log from a can and a homemade variety with tangerine sections and cinnamon sticks, carrots and onions which had to have been baked with the turkey, a bread, celery and sage stuffing which was baked in the bird, as well as a second version of said bread, celery and sage stuffing cooked outside the bird for those who suffered salmonella paranoia, and yet a third stuffing made with the addition of a deliciously greasy, savory country link pork sausage which had to be supplied only by a particular local butcher, Herschler’s, plus, of course, turkey gravy made from the roast pan drippings and for those who didn’t like turkey gravy there had to be a dark, beefy mushroom gravy as well.

While those sides were all required, mandated even, the trio of earth shattering, life altering, father, son and holy ghost religious importance were the mashed potatoes, string beans, and sauerkraut. The mashers had to be made with salted butter and heavy cream, melted, heated, slowly added, first mashing by hand then finishing off and fluffing using a mixer. The string beans had to be cooked for at least eight hours in a pan with the discarded country ham bone and part of the hock as well as gobs of bacon fat that had been saved for just this occasion. The sauerkraut likewise had to be slow-cooked with chunks of slab bacon, country ham, and halved onions. One was then required to put on one’s plate a mound of mashers, top that with a serving of string beans, then stack a pile of sauerkraut, finishing it all off with one’s preferred gravy.

These were not choices. These were “had to”. We all just did it. I don’t know how it started or why no one ever dared or thought to say no, but we didn’t.

When we had Thanksgiving together. Which we don’t. Anymore.

Well, I don’t.

{there is a LONG SECTION here of a family Thanksgiving during which Parker and his beloved Bex fall to pieces and blame one another — I have redacted it as it needs cutting even more than the rest of this chapter and it’s too sad for me to think about right now- after it, the following:}

Ironically, only my mother was horrified by what Bex had done. Or, not done. But Bex was her favorite and family was family and even to her, I was wrong for refusing to accept it.

Accept. I had been certain of Bex. So when she did what she did it wasn’t just unsettling, it was as if I had put on my well-worn LP of the OBC of FUNNY GIRL and suddenly Streisand had sung new lyrics. It was something beyond comprehension, something impossible, some dark magic that made me question the order of the world and my sanity. And for this, I could not forgive her. Which didn’t seem to bother her or anyone else in the family. Bex didn’t consider it a matter of forgiveness. She continued to insist she’d done nothing wrong, the others agreeing that it was I who was being difficult. Because I could not, would not spend time with Rebecca, I was no longer asked to family events, unless, ironically, Rebecca was hosting. She always sent me an invitation, a group invitation via e-mail that went to the rest of the family. She felt herself firmly planted on the high road, they all agreed.

I no longer had a family. By Christmas that year it was done. I had become, like my father, another missing man.

I railed at the unfairness of it all for hours with Therie. Many times. Until on the occasion of my next birthday, which seemed a milestone as it was my thirty-fifth, a milestone which none of my biological family bothered to acknowledge, a milestone I was spending still alone, a milestone during which I drank too much and began again my “poor me” litany, I lamented, “I’m sick of NEVER being the MOST important person to ANYONE.” Therie had become unimportant to plenty of people herself, and she’d had enough of my self-pity.

“Never trust people,” she said in her ‘tell you about yourself’ tone, “with that many emphatic stresses nor anyone who makes you more important to them than they are to themselves. So quit with the martyr shit.” She then drained her cabernet, eyebrow arched, refilling her glass and mine, handed me a tissue and expecting me to get on with my life.

I did.

I still had Sissie then, though she was already becoming someone else. Even before she was moved to Record Street, she refused to leave her apartment on Thanksgiving. It was the day she had traditionally made fruitcakes for the holidays all the years at Libertytown, a holiday on which she had been relieved not to have had to manage the cooking and cleaning up for multiple family branches, and though her brother Edward and his wife Marge always tried to get her to join them, she refused. I would spend the morning with her wherever she was, watching the Macy’s Day parade, pretending we might still, somehow, again, make it to Broadway to see a show in person rather than just a pre-recorded, lip-synched snippet, and then, guiltily, I would go on my way to wherever it was I was that year doing my own lip-synch, pretending I belonged, pretending the little parts of myself I was sharing constituted a whole life.

From that disastrous day that ended Bex and me, I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays with Therie. As is my wont, soon enough I ended up doing the cooking and the cleaning up. Therie had had too many children with too many fathers through the years and holidays had been hazardous. She had eschewed massive celebrations, attributing her distaste to over-commercialization and lack of Goddess-respect, when, in fact, it had more to do with too much money, too many visitation requirements, and finding that the best way to avoid disappointment and bankruptcy was to down-size the expectations and brouhaha. Her children, as children do, resented what they saw as her refusal to be normal, as if she’d denied them something, and over the years had disappeared slowly or, at the very least, chosen to teach her a lesson by ignoring her on those holidays she’d forced them to downsize during their youths. Thus, Therie had no one but Fallon about whom to worry and she required little attention, occupied as she was with Matthew and her secret art project. Therie was increasingly unable to think about anything but the work she herself was preparing for the Syncretism show, work that Fallon and Matthew continued to suggest evidenced an odd obsession with me, work that I worried would be seen as having inspired Fallon’s, a project I feared Therie would see as mocking her own. The show was now less than a month away which meant I would either be relieved or held, somehow, accountable for something – I was not sure what.

Matthew’s mother had taken off on her annual Thanksgiving motorcycle caravan with her latest Harley riding lover, about which Matthew had said, “She’s on some biker trip every year on my birthday. If she can pretend she doesn’t have a kid my age, she can pretend to herself she’s still like twenty-five.”

Which is how I ended up planning and cooking and cleaning up the shit and stringbeans of this Thanksgiving at Libertytown for Matthew, Fallon, and Therie. I had so been hoping it would go better than the last dinner I had made for the four of us, a dinner at which we never got to the stringbeans. It was all shit.

###

“I want to have a housewarming dinner,” Matthew said. “And we’ll invite Therie too so she can, I mean, like, get over that Fallon is here and we’re friends and stuff. Okay?”

I reluctantly agreed. Matthew planned it, to the extent that he got everyone to agree to a date and time. So it was that the first Saturday of November I found myself cooking for my own “housewarming.”

Matthew had left the house early that day to spend time either photographing with Fallon, being photographed by Fallon, or photographing Fallon, I was no longer ever sure which. He had taken to carrying around my camera, an expensive Nikon I rarely used and which I’d forced on him when he said he thought he might want to take a photography class now that he’d fooled around with Fallon’s camera. He snapped random pictures of things he thought were artsy or would please Fallon: piles of broken down boxes we’d unpacked, stacks of my books, extreme close-ups of the vines still weaving in and out of the stones of the house, vines still on the list of things to be done, and too, he captured the stains where there’d been moisture damage on the walls, and what turned out to be new and growing cracks and seams, all of which he relished pointing out to me.

“Parker, look, this line – like the vein-y looking thing in the wall in the living room, it’s growing and like, sticking out more. See?” He’d taken multiple pictures over a few weeks. It was expanding, becoming increasingly prominent, like the veins on the arms of someone working out.

“Walls shift, things shift Matthew. It’s an old house.” His artwork only reminded me that I had yet to have an architect look at the place. Architect? Inspector? Someone who could tell me when it might collapse, or, rather, positively, how much longer it might stand.

Besides the crumbling and decay of Libertytown, I suspect Matthew also hoped to capture Fallon in the way she was capturing him, photos of what I guessed were a private, personal nature, photos about which I did not wish to know. I tried to keep my distance from what qualified as ‘Matthew and Fallon’ since our discussions of same seemed always to end in anger.

Therie arrived first for the housewarming. With her camera.

“Everyone I know seems to be carrying around a Nikon nowadays,” I said as I embraced Therie and walked her in through the kitchen door. “It’s still weird to me, this door, this whole side of the house, which was virtually closed-off during my youth, is now where I do most of my living. I still find myself heading for the door of my youth into the summer kitchen on the corner of the left wing, which hasn’t been there since I moved back here. I mean, the first of the non-family owners tore that all down.”

Therie seemed confused. “What? Who else has cameras?” I remembered then that Matthew had sworn me to secrecy about Fallon’s project, and realized that at Healing when Therie was around, neither he nor Fallon carried their cameras.

“I’m babbling. Confused by all this cooking. I haven’t cooked in forever and it’s throwing me off.”

“That’s funny; Matthew never stops talking about all the things you cook for him every night.”

“Does he?” Where once Therie had been one of those few people in my life who seemed to be tuned into the same wavelength as was I, of late, it had begun to feel as if we were hearing the broadcasts of the universe in very different ways. She was watching me, measuring me in a way she had not before, and she was not – we were not – who we had been before. There was static in the connection.

“Yes. When he talks. When I see him. Which isn’t much, really, considering.”

“Considering what?”

“We work together, he lives with you, and he’s – well, doing something with Fallon who lives with me – you’d think I’d be talking to him all the time but, no. Not really. Almost as if he’s avoiding talking to me outside of his mandated sessions.”
“He doesn’t talk that much, actually. He’s that age. He’s making his life and, I think, he wants to make sure he’s making it. That the rest of us don’t interfere.”

“You sound like a father. Isn’t it funny? The two of us, you and me, and now Fallon who might as well be my daughter and Matthew who is practically your son and – we could end up in-laws, although, still, odder yet, you’re sort of a father figure to Fallon and I guess I’m sort of a mother to Matthew. We’re parents, Parker.”

“Absolutely not. Jesus. I’m no one’s father. Matthew and I are – well, it’s nothing like father and son.” I knew right away it had been too vigorous an objection, its interjection too reactive.

“I need a glass of wine.”

“I have a woodsy, muddy Cabernet and-“

“Anything – I drink wine from a box, Parker. This is not going to end well.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by ’this’ but I have a feeling I’m about to be offended.”

“Oh I think you know exactly what I mean by it. This thing you do where you run away from everything you ought to be thinking about, everything you ought to be doing and feeling and facing in your life by letting yourself be consumed by someone else’s life.”

“I’m not consumed by Matthew’s life.”

“He planned this – a housewarming for the two of you. Please. He talks about you all the time; what you like, what you’ve read, what you’ve given him to read, where you’ve been, where the two of you are going to go, all your life stories. He tells them like they’re his. He’s borrowing your life.”

“Fine. That’s fine. He can have it. I’m not using it.”

“But he’s going to get one of his own you know – and then he won’t want yours, and then he’ll be gone – and what will you have left?”

“Therie – come on – this is -”

“You’re disconnecting. You quit the dinner theatre –“

“You’re hilarious. First you insist I take over at the dinner theatre when I don’t want to and then you complained I was there too much and now I’ve left and suddenly –“

“Not just there – you’ve disconnected from your work. The paperwork is falling behind – I’ve seen the certified letters -”

“Yes, Therie. It’s true.” It was. I had fallen behind. In the year since the dying had begun I had fallen behind and disconnected. I was not willing to be where I was and didn’t quite know how to move on, so if I just didn’t open the envelopes, didn’t look at what was inside, maybe it wouldn’t count.

“You have to get your life back and he can’t give it to you. He’s nineteen years old and you are forty-three.”

“Thank you. I’m aware of my age, and he’ll be twenty this month and I am not sure what any of this has to do with anything at all. And we have had this conversation before Therie and I have told you -”

“Well, you’re lying. To me. Or yourself. Or maybe Matthew too. But – you’re lying.”

Matthew and Fallon came flying in just as Therie finished calling me a liar.

“Is it ready yet because I’ve been telling Fallon about your amazing macaroni and cheese you make for me, Parker.”

Matthew loped to me, throwing his arm around me like a child picking up a toy the other kids might want to play with. I’d not noticed how often he did this sort of thing, positioning himself as the expert on me, dropping tidbits about what we did, what we ate, what I liked, what I’d said, or narrating life with pieces of stories about me I’d shared, a sort of possessiveness that became clear to me only that night when I caught Therie ticking off with her eyes each instance of it. Neither he nor Fallon had the cameras they carried almost all the time. Another detail of the evening that caused a twinge in me.

“Where have you two been?” Therie asked, with residual “you’re a liar” tone in her voice.

“The park,” Fallon quickly said, interrupting whatever fumbling look of ‘What do we say’ that had come onto Matthew’s face, not un-noticed by Therie.

“Really? Doing what?”

“Swinging. Matthew loves to swing. And see-saw. He never got to as a child, you know. We both were denied normal childhoods and so now, sometimes, we do that whole re-parenting thing to make up for those shortcomings in our upbringings. I actually got the idea from one of those new-agey-self-helpy books you have twelve million of Therie. It‘s working wonders, isn‘t it Matthew?”

“I don’t know. I mean -”

“You mean,” Therie cut him off, “that Fallon is prevaricating again and doesn’t want to tell me where you were. Believe me Fallon, all these secrets you think you have going on can’t compare with the ones your mother kept. And I suppose as long as we’re throwing the blame around – two generations back – the inadequacy of my rearing of Magdalene must loom large in your current quest for decent mothering. I suppose it’s only natural – since she’s absent – for you to throw me under the locomotive of your teenage angst. Well, I did the best I could and I might add I’d already had six children BEFORE I took on raising you, darling, and I might further add that you will note that with the marked exception of your mother they all seem happy and well-adjusted and in touch with me without all these secrets and games and accusations, Fallon. All of which is beside the point – that point being – you were not at the park and not that it matters to me that you don’t want to tell me where you were – or what the two of you were doing – but what does matter to me is that all three of you have been throwing surreptitious glances at one another since you walked in and I am sick and tired of feeling like you’re all keeping secrets from each other – playing all sorts of games with all sorts of hidden agendas and deluding and manipulating one another and worse – keeping secrets from me – me, who used to know at least two of you better than anyone else in the world. Dammit.”

Shifts in the landscape can happen with a devastating sudden-ness. These earthquakes, these tsunamis, these tornadoes, these explosions of angry nature leave the landscapes of our lives gashed and flattened, gouged, torn, trampled, crushed and creviced, dangerous and unfamiliar after their abrupt and violent storming and laceration. But moments before these occur, sensing them, the world and its creatures often go eerily silent, as did everyone in the kitchen of Libertytown.

Therie, uncertain what she’d said or whether she’d meant to say it, stared us all down in defiance.

Matthew, his arm still around me, was clearly petrified, and I was both gratified that he had his arm around me in front of Fallon, and by the same measure, uncomfortable that his arm was around me in front of Therie, who’d made fairly clear what she thought my agenda was in Matthew’s direction.

Fallon, on the other hand, met Therie’s eyes with undisguised contempt, the sort of icy cold, victorious hatred that is seen only between divorcing spouses and teenagers and their parents.

“I was named after a soap opera bitch, – that’s ‘soap opera bitch’ no comma – I wasn’t calling you a bitch, grandmother dearest – to clarify-”

“Fallon-”

“Parker, this is my monologue now – so, do you mind? Like I was saying – I was named after a soap opera bitch by a mother who‘d been named after history‘s biggest whore. What did you think was going to happen?”

It would not have surprised me had Therie gone Joan Collins, slapping Fallon, which she well deserved. For a moment, it seemed she might. I felt Matthew tense further, but the moment passed. Therie turned and picked up the suitcase size quilted bag with which she’d entered the house, and walked out the door.

“Fallon, go after her.”

“I don’t think so. But …” and with that Fallon reached in her bag and pulled out a camera, crossed to the window by the door, and proceeded to take photo after photo.

“Matthew – what is she doing?”

“I am documenting my life, Parker. And I can speak for myself, don’t ask Matthew what I‘m doing. Some nineteen year olds have minds of their own. Some of us don‘t need forty year olds to tell us what we think and who we are or make us accept ourselves – or, rather, try to make us accept the self they‘d like us to be.”

Fallon threw the door open, but half way through, stopped, turned, snapped a picture of Matthew with his arm around me then looked at him as if to say, “Here is your choice, this moment.”

He followed her.

Sometimes, it’s a storm that changes the landscape in a terrifying, eviscerating burst, and sometimes the landscape is changed by a slow accretion of miniscule, imperceptible shifts and realignments, saggings and fading, and you wake one day and find yourself startled by the world, or the self in the mirror, someone you no longer recognize.

As Matthew and I had unpacked, he found a photo of me when I was nineteen and asked, “Is this you?” It was. I was shocked to realize that I had been almost beautiful. I clearly recalled the photo being taken, that time in my life, and I did not consider myself anything but repulsive. Now, I wonder, will I look back from the age of seventy on this forty-something me from today and find him – find me – attractive in a way I don’t now as I did not, back there?

Or, was I once actually beautiful and now, no longer am? And when did it happen? Was there a day some line was crossed?

And if I was beautiful then, if this isn’t just some trick of regret, how had I not known? And what do I not know now?

How do we recognize change? Since Matthew arrived we have all been transformed. Is it because of him? Has he changed me or was it buying Libertytown? Or the deaths of Tom, Vincent, and Sissie?

Does Matthew recognize that he is beautiful?

Is he beautiful?

Therie turns and goes. Fallon matches her dramatic exit. Matthew follows. All out that door that doesn’t belong there. The wrong door in the wrong kitchen in a house that is mine but not mine, that is not beautiful the way I remember it being, in which I, no longer beautiful in the way I only just discovered I once was, get further confused and dig deeper and deeper into a life where everything seemed filled with loss.

Again, one of those oxymoronic sentences: Filled with Loss.

What I have is Matthew. Therie. Fallon, too, I suppose, by default. We are all suspicious and unsure, it seems, of one another’s’ motives and intentions, all of us – to one degree or another – jealous and grasping, and as Matthew had followed Fallon out the door, I wanted him not to go.

And there it was. Suddenly clear, so much of who we were was about what I wanted him not to do and what we were not; don’t fail your pee tests, don’t choose Fallon over me, we‘re not lovers, we‘re not father and son, we‘re not really employer and employee, we‘re not roommates really, we‘re not – so many things. But what were we? I couldn’t want him nor could I want him to choose me – that would be all kinds of wrong. This could only land us in a limbo of a relationship in which neither of us could fully express who we were, in which we’d come to resent one another for the spaces we couldn’t fill.

Fallon wasn’t done strip-mining. I heard them outside.

“Oh, so you’re sure Parker will be okay without you holding him up?”

“Why are you pissed off at me? What did I do?”

“It’s that fucking hang-dog look on your face all the time. The whole ‘have sex with me Fallon” look-”

“Hey – that’s not fair -”

“Fair? Like my mother running off with the Hare Krishna’s and leaving me with the same crazy mother she couldn’t wait to get away from.”

“Fallon – my mother might as well have left me too. Parker’s more of a mother to me than she ever was.”

“And that, Matthew, is why I will not have sex with you or trust you. That, Matthew is what’s not fair –to lead me on when you already have a boyfriend.”

“What the fuck – me leading you on? I don’t have a boyfriend -”

“Whatever – significant other. Lover?”

“What?”

“You and Parker.”

“I’m not gay.”

“He’s in love with you. That’s why Therie is so crazy. God, don’t you get anything?”

“I’m not gay.”

“Point?”

“Just that I’m not -”

“So you know Parker’s in love with you?”

“I don’t want to talk about this. It’s making me feel — I mean -”

“Because it’s true.”

“I’m not listening.”

“And you know what else?”

“Old McDonald had a farm.”

“You’re in love with him too.”

“I’M NOT GAY!”

“You should be. So what if you two don’t fuck – the two of you are still a couple – you tell each other everything, you talk about each other constantly, you share all these little jokes and stories and private moments in your own little code and language and looks at each other and you’re goddam living together and decorating a house and you’re always touching each other and you’re rubbing his shoulders or your arm around him or playing with the hair on his arm or he has his hand on your leg or whatever – what the hell isn’t gay about that?”

“That’s stupid – we’re friends – we’re -”

“Friends? Yeah. Like Parker and Therie were friends -”

“They are.”

“No, they’re not. He’s Jim Jones and she’s waiting for him to ask her to drink the Kool-Aid. Christ – no better than my mother and the Hare’s – all you and Therie need are tambourines and an airport.”

“Hey – you ask about him all the time – you’re the cult, not me. You’re always, ‘Why doesn’t Parker like me? I’m going to be his best friend, watch me!’ shit.”

“I’m trying to understand the appeal, Matthew. Why the fuck does a lonely forty year old man who’s never done anything with his life but be sad and pretend to be wise hold such an attraction for you and Therie?”

“That’s mean.”

“He never leaves the house, Matthew, except to work. He doesn’t have a life outside of you. He’s a vampire.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Parker’s had a hard time lately – he’s had more life than most people. Leave him alone.”

“Why all this devotion?”

“Be quiet, Fallon – I mean it.”

“You think he doesn’t know he’s a waste of space? Why else would he be sucking the life out of you? He drained Therie dry and now you come along, all pretty and young and haven’t heard his goddamned stories and – boom – you’re working with him at Healing and the theatre and now living with him and reading the books he tells you to read – what the hell do you think he wants, Matthew?”

“Shut up.”

“The same thing you want from me, baby. He wants to project all his romantic notions about happily ever after and sex onto you and have you fill up all those empty spaces inside. You’re no more than another book he’s reading – only this book has a dick. You’re both pathetic.”

“Leave.”

“I am leaving.”

“I want my pictures back.”

“No. They’re mine. You took them for me and gave them to me.”

“If you use them – I swear – I’ll kill you.”

“Afraid what your boyfriend will do when he sees them? What he’ll think of you then? And you know what, I have an even better one you don’t even know about – you both deserve it.”

“Give them back.”

“Get fucked.”

“Get fucked yourself.”

“I will – I have Matthew – just not by you.”

November. Three weeks ago. After their fight, Matthew had still needed to drive Fallon home. Which he didn’t. Something happened in the car, on the way, having to do with her understandably not wanting to see Therie. Matthew – being young and desperate to prove her wrong about he and I – did that thing where we forgive what we ought not forgive when we think doing so will win us points in someone else’s heart and get us what we want. Somehow, Fallon’s attack on me, brought them together – when together means “not really a couple but someday maybe soon” or, so repeated Matthew, quoting Fallon, when later that night he came into my room, later that night after I had put away all the food I’d cooked which no one had eaten, put away all the lovely, mis-matched antique dishes off of which no one had dined, put away the silver I had stolen from the Algonquin and polished that day, later that night after I had cleaned up all the dinner I had made all alone which no one had touched, later that night when he came into my room and asked if it was alright that she spend the night, which she did.

{Here is where another long section goes during which Therie, post fight, is giving Parker a massage — the last she will ever give him — and during which they confront one another, passive aggressively, and Parker gets lost in reverie and memory looking at the rug beneath the table as he’s being massaged, remembering buying it together the day he and Therie opened the new place, and wondering how it has all come to such empty sorrow — it needs work and it’s too sad for me to edit right now}

Matthew turned twenty on Wednesday, November 24, 2004.

Two days ago.

Things happen.

I asked if he would rather I take him out or cook him dinner. He said he’d rather do neither. He wanted to spend the day and night with some of his new college friends and Fallon, hoping this would be the occasion on which she’d choose, at last, to give it up for him, about which she had hinted. He hoped I wasn’t upset.
“Why would I be upset? Go. Have fun. Have sex. Be happy.”

“She says she’s got something really special and really personal. Sounds like – you know. I mean, we’ve been talking about it.”

Fast forward. Middle of the night he comes banging on my bedroom door behind which I am at my computer, once again shame-filled because I am watching those videos of which I cannot get enough; YouTube clips of Streisand and Garland singing the HAPPY DAYS ARE HEARE AGAIN/GET HAPPY medley, which leads to comparing Judy and Barbra’s versions of DOWN WITH LOVE with Audra McDonald’s, which lead to an Audra love-fest culminating in weeping with a slight heave as she sings HAPPINESS IS JUST A THING CALLED JOE. He pounds and shouts, “Stop jacking off! I’m coming in!”

Before I could turn off and jump up from my computer, he was in my room, crossing to my desk chair, launched into a slurring sort of monologue I’d never heard from him before.

“I have a question … and it’s really complex and deep and I don’t know how to say it really and … what the fuck you really were jacking off with some weird song in the background? What? What’s on your screen – stop – don’t get out – shit. That’s not porn.”

We’d discussed porn, our favorite sites (his, RedTube and Amateur Sluts, and mine, Broke Straight Boys and Fuck Yeah – Web Boys) and while we did not share a gender preference, we did prefer our porn to consist of regular people with real bodies, not over-endowed, perfected porn bodies. I would not have minded had he caught me jacking off, but somehow, his finding me weeping while obsessively watching cabaret singers moaning torch songs embarrassed me.

“I like to watch legends sing sad weepy ballads while I think about all my past heartbreaks, Matthew. No big deal. A person can’t jack off all the time.”

“This makes me strangely happy and sad all at the same time, Parker.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I have to ask you something.”

“No, that’s not what I mean – are you high?”

He stopped. Moving. Breathing. A freeze. It was a moment in which we would be defined. He could tell me the truth, he could lie, and the decision would alter forever who we were together.

“It’s my birthday and I have a really deep question I need you to answer.”

“I know it’s your birthday – I left you a card this morning.”

“Yeah, you can’t keep giving me money, Parker.”

“I have a present too but – did you like the card?”

“Fuck. You shouldn’t get me a present too. It’s not more underwear, is it Parker? The card was – I don’t know – I mean – that’s part of my question and – I have this question for you and it’s – I mean – everything is so weird and complicated.”

“Matthew, are you high?”

“Can you answer my question first and then … I swear … I promise.”

“What is it?”

“I don’t know … I mean, I know … in my head, sort of … but how to … like … put it into words … that’s the question sort of too … like … obviously we know ourselves better than anyone else … I mean … our psyches are so huge and complex and we think and feel a million things that no one else can ever know … so like, since that’s true, right?”

“Well, I don’t suppose anyone can ever possibly know every fleeting thought and emotion we have, piece by piece, no. But there are people with whom we connect on a soul level … and without knowing every detail of us, they get us. They know us sort of beyond words.”

“But we’re alone. Really. Right? I mean, aren’t we? When it comes down to it, we’re always alone with ourselves. I mean, our bodies and our minds are like these prisons we’re in that we can’t really escape and even when we try our hardest to communicate with somebody it’s just like this … like an imitation of what we’re really feeling. They don’t really know what we’re feeling, or feel what we’re feeling, they just get like this picture we give of what we’re feeling. Like, we’re just – like I said – imitations of things we’re feeling. Because no one can be us. Not even us really. I mean, like, no one is me. No one knows everything I’ve ever felt and heard and been through and done and like … they never will so they can never really know me.”

In our time together, which seems like forever to me so much has his presence changed my life, our time together before which I can barely remember what my life was like, so much time do we share, so many of the daily details, in all those hours and conversations and silences, Matthew had never been a deep thinker. When I would wax philosophical he would listen, and sometimes, argue a point, but the conversations were mostly one-sided and often ended with his insistence that he did not like to think about things, that considering things the way I did made his head hurt. He wanted, he’d said repeatedly, to just live in the moment, let life happen. And so, although I suspected he was high, was, in fact, almost certain of it, I did not want to dismiss this exploration of reality. He was growing up, he was crossing into that place in adulthood where it becomes clear that no one else but you can answer the questions you have, that all the guidelines and philosophies and commandments of religions, societies, and the people you loved, cannot define for you your own truth.

“Okay, well Matthew, I guess you can look at it that way. Sure. But, I guess, if you’re asking me my cosmology about all this … I think, the best way to put it is, our bodies and our words and our thoughts are just projections of the energy of our souls. Everything we do or think or feel is our translation of the same universal sort of light from which we all come, so, I think, different people in our lives will get different parts of those signals we broadcast, loud and clear, because they’re tuned to the same wavelength, and other people will get other parts. So, people will see us differently and experience us differently according to which parts of the broadcast they’re tuned into? Does that make sense?”

“But that’s – see – that’s what I’m saying then – because no one ever gets all of you – and you’re always saying that omission is the same thing as lying – but you just said that people only get some parts of you – so there’s always like parts they can’t have or don’t see and – so no one ever knows the truth about you because no one ever knows the whole you so that‘s like omission so we‘re all constantly big lies walking around lying to one another.”

“You know it when you have a truthful connection with someone.”

“How do you know it? Describe it.”

“You. Me. We have one.”

“But what if you’re wrong? What if you think there’s a connection but there’s not. What if it’s a trick?”

“A trick? Matthew, if this is about Fallon –“

“It’s about us – I mean – it’s about everything – jesus – just –answer me.”

“I don’t know what the question is, baby. All I know about connections and love and anything is that we all get these ideas about what to expect and accept in our lives. We think truth and love and shit like that are supposed to come to us in a particular shape and size – and that’s not how it works – and when something comes along that doesn’t fit the stories we’ve been taught to tell ourselves – we get all fucked up. It’s not the truth that screws us up – it’s the ways knowing the truth scares us so much we have to tell ourselves lies about it.”

“So the truth is bad because it isn’t what people want. I’m smart. I’m never gonna get hurt because no one ever is going to get the whole truth of me and so that’s what I mean and that’s what I’m saying. See? We are always all alone because I am never going to fit the truth someone else wants me to be.”

“What is this about?”

I imagined his answer would have to do with how close we had become. I imagined he was confused about how connected he felt to me, how intense was our affection, how distracting and bewildering was this puzzling attachment between us that made us seem – in so many ways – like a couple. I imagined that he had discovered he had feelings for me that made him uneasy, and he wanted to know if I was feeling the same thing, and I worried whether I was, and should I tell him I thought I might?

“I thought I had a connection with Fallon but … I don’t think she really even cares who I am or what I’m thinking if it isn’t like … if it isn’t what she needs me to be, you know? Like, she has a story and she wants me to be her story, and if I’m not her story then she doesn’t want me.”

“We all have stories in our head we think other people share – and we’re usually wrong.” As had been I, in that moment. “We all have things we want people to be, lines we want them to say, roles we want them to play, ways in which we want them to fix our lives and make things work, make the ridiculous somehow make sense, babe. You want her to be things for you, too.”

“But … me and her – we don’t tell each other everything like you and me do – and like – why would I want to be with her so bad when I’m so much closer to you? And why does she want me around but doesn’t want to – like – be with me in the way I want to be with her? And – like – I think – maybe – it’s like – I’m sorry – I’m going to say something that I shouldn’t be saying and maybe I’m wrong to say it because it will probably upset you and if I am then I’m really sorry but I think you know it’s true even if you don’t want to say it’s true and it’s okay but -“

“Matthew what the fuck are you talking about?”

The sick feeling I’d always gotten as a child on the few occasions I’d been called out by an adult for discipline overtook me. I’d worked so hard in my youth to be perfect, to avoid being told I’d done something wrong, to stay inside every line so as not to displease or upset, and having tried so hard, when I did err, the force of the slightest correction – a word used incorrectly, a wrong answer on a test, any accusation of misbehavior – devastated me. If I was not perfect, neither God nor anyone else would let me stay.

“Oz, you know I love you and would do anything for you, right?”

And then came the thromp; that combination of throb and stomp, the stabbing cramp that reminds you that you are alive because whatever it is that is alive in you is being crushed. It’s that painful, sudden twisting and pinch, the sharp shock of absence of breath, the panic that comes with the certainty that what’s coming will hurt, will require more of you than you have left to give, will out-tax the available energy of your soul and eat into your core, destroying the muscle and bones of who you are until nothing remains to sustain you.

Thromp.

“You want to be with me in ways I don’t want to be with you – I mean I do want to – I mean I wish I wanted to – more than anything and I don’t want to hurt you I only want to make you happy but I mean – I don’t want that and – so – it’s there – and even so – I mean – I still want you around in my life – always – and I still like that you feel that way about me because I guess it makes me feel like wow if someone like that feels that way about me and so – see – if I feel like Fallon’s using me for something by keeping me around when she doesn’t want me but she likes the way I want her and so I hate her for that then – shit – I mean – then what am I using you for? And do you hate me sometimes like I hate her? Or, then like – I wonder, like – is it not me – or not just me? I mean – Parker, are you using me?”

I stopped. Moving. Breathing. A freeze. It was a moment in which we would be defined. I could tell him the truth, I could lie, and the decision would alter forever who we were together.

“Matthew, when I met you – when we met – I was not then, really, who I am. I was in mourning. I was closed down, pretty sure I had passed the happiest times of my life. I expected that I would be in a sort of love-less, joyless limbo until I died. And you, you were scared and caught in this trap of the end of your childhood without any sort of direction or belief. We were both damaged. Now, we’re both in recovery and our lives are changing, because that’s what lives do, and people evolve. And I think, the last few months, you’re in college, new friends, and moving in here, and when we put my bed together and we -”

“Yeah, right -”

“- right, and, you wonder what it is that’s connected us, and wonder if it will survive or what it will turn into, and things aren’t going the way you’d like with Fallon and when one relationship is shaken up, you tend to question others.”

“I don’t know what’s real. I wanted to tell Fallon everything when she asked me tonight but – it was like – the truth wouldn’t make sense to anyone but you and me and -”

“Wait – what did she ask you? What?”

“That day we put your bed together -”

“Right -”

“She saw us.”

“What?”

“She said she was busy that day and she was gonna call me if she could come over but I knew she wouldn’t. I was in my underwear – so – I mean, my phone was in my pocket so I didn’t see her text. She came in the house and she heard us and she wanted to get a picture of us for her project, like surprise without us posed so she snuck up and she thought she saw – she took a picture of us. And left. And didn’t tell me. I mean, later that night I saw her text saying she was coming over and I texted back and asked where she was and she said she never made it and then tonight she told me she got a picture of us and – but – you know, she doesn’t get it – I mean – she thinks she got it – but -”

“But?”

“She left while I was trying to explain. And I was pissed off because now she’s gonna use this as an excuse not to – cause she already has and so – I mean – it’s my birthday and she does this and – so – it’s my birthday Parker, come on – so I went out with some friends and -”

“And?”

“I couldn’t say anything – because they wouldn’t get it either. So – I couldn’t talk – because none of them were you and you’re the only one who gets it and goddammit Parker – I mean – fuck it. I don’t get it. I don’t get any of it. I don’t know what’s a lie about me or you or – Parker – I don’t want you to disappear from me but – I mean – where are we going to fit? And I mean – I don’t even know that but I know that – I’m afraid – as long as we don’t fit but you keep trying to make us fit that there’s not gonna be room for anyone else to fit – you know what I mean? Like in my life. Like Therie took up your life. And thinking about it and – it’s not like this with any of them. With other people I know. It’s – their lives are like – not complicated like you make everything because of – because of everything and all the thinking and the books and there’s nothing that makes sense and – where are you supposed to – what am I supposed to – like – for each other – be?”

“Matthew, I’ll be wherever you need me to be. Or not be.”

“I don’t know what that means though.”

“Matthew, let me tell you a dirty little secret I’ve learned about me – so you don’t make the same mistake. For some people, every embrace, every joining, every connection is filled up from the first moment with all this fear about what’s going to happen when it’s time to say goodbye, when they have to let go, or move on. They spend the whole time they should be enjoying love in this terror about its ending. I have always been like that, hearing the goodbye in every hello, until, eventually, the only way I knew how to avoid that misery was just never to let anyone in, never hold anyone. Don’t spend your life worrying about the goodbye, Matthew.”

“Makes sense, I guess – but, Fallon, tonight, I mean, all the time, the way she doesn’t really want me – I mean, she’s crazy and a liar and manipulator and I’m not like that so it’s not the same thing but – I just – I can’t.”
But it was clear he had to.

“Matthew, just say it. Whatever it is. Say it.”

“I don’t want to hurt you, Parker. But I don’t know who I’m going to be. I don’t know if I’m ever really going to care about whether the waistbands on Sunspel boxers are so comfortable that it’s worth all that fucking money to get them from England. I mean – every time I think how nice my underwear is – I mean – I don’t know if that’s me thinking that or you in my head and if I end up not caring about that and all the other shit you’ve put in my head – I mean – you made me who I am right now – I would not be this person without you and I love you and stuff like you’re my best friend and I don’t want to hurt you but I don’t know who I’m going to be when I’m not – when I – Parker, I don’t want to be another one of the heartbreaks you’re thinking about when you watch YouTube and cry, or another sad story you’re telling the next Matthew. I wanted to make you happy.”

“Is any of this your question, Matthew?”

“I don’t know. But, I’m so tired I’m – my head hurts and I can’t – it’s my birthday.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“No, I mean, you told me the nun story and on your birthday you give other people stuff who love you. I mean –“

“I know what you mean.”

The way in which he‘d talked, his new rhythm and candor, had answered it for me: his consciousness had been altered, that was clear, and in that altered state he‘d recognized all of a sudden the extent of the changes in the landscape of who he’d been, and seeing the transformation, could not explain how it had occurred. In the same way I had seen those pictures of me from my past he’d unpacked and been shocked by what I saw, and wondered how I’d missed it then, and gotten to now, he was un-nerved by what he‘d become and whether it had been a choice, or something I had done to wear away at him. I knew he was altered, but what I did not know, was whether I had an answer to his question, that one I’d heard him asking in the middle of all that babbling, the one that sounded like goodbye.

I should have canceled Thanksgiving dinner. I should have learned something from Sissie about making fruitcakes, making the best of being alone, but the turkey was brining, the country ham had been stuffed with kale, the pumpkin and apple pies and coconut cakes were made, hundreds of dollars and endless of my hours had already been spent on all of that and green beans, potatoes, sauerkraut, carrots, sweet potatoes, cranberries, Brussels sprouts, salad fixings, crudités, various cheeses and crackers, and four kinds of wine. The foreboding brought on by our talk, by Matthew’s clear violation, by all that might or could come out at the dinner that would be difficult to explain and for which I would, no doubt, be blamed by Matthew, Fallon, and most of all, Therie, should have been enough to make me pack it all up and drop it a food bank.

But how would I have explained it to Therie who was already unhappy with me? Where would Matthew go? Would he be satisfied to stay and eat alone with me? Hadn’t he just told me we didn’t fit?

When he got up Thanksgiving morning, he wandered into the kitchen where I was distracting myself from the incipient possible disasters by furiously moving things from this to that burner, crockpot, toaster oven, and counter, chopping and peeling and seasoning and stirring and basting and juggling the eleven separate dishes to be served, he was fully dressed rather than in his boxers, as he usually was.

“Why do you have a turkey and a ham and two kinds of pie and a cake for four people?”

“You’re supposed to have all these foods for Thanksgiving.”

“What if Fallon doesn’t even show up now? Or Therie? Who’s going to eat all this shit?”

“It’s not shit, Matthew. It’s a huge meal I’ve spent a lot of money and time on for people who supposedly mean something to me. THANKS-giving. I’m giving my thanks.”

“Okay. Okay. Jesus. Calm down. I have a headache.”

“So. Last night, was that about you being fucked up?”

“No.”

“If Therie finds out …God, I’m an idiot.”

“No one’s gonna find out anything that happened last night because neither one of us is ever gonna tell. I promise.”

“Matthew -”

“They probably won’t even test me again. They haven’t called me in for weeks. I’ve tested clean almost a year. They have real junkies to worry about. It’s stupid anyway and it‘s only one more week for fuck‘s sake.”

“Matthew -”

“Stop saying my name like that. Why the fuck do you have to make everything so complicated. It happened. Fuck it.”

Just then, Therie walked in.

“Fuck what? Or who? Is the parade on? I love a parade. Isn’t that a song? I know I’m early but I made myself a promise I would not worry about anything today. Today will be a holiday. Today I will not worry about the Syncretism show, or Healing, or clients or patients or my screwed up life and granddaughter – sorry Matthew -”

“It’s cool – she is screwed up -”

“Oooh, trouble in paradise? That’s a song too isn’t it?”

“I’m gonna go shower.” And with that, he left the room. Within seconds I had received his text, “NO ONE WILL FIND OUT” and I was pissed and panicked and desperately sad to realize I would be stuck in a lie of omission for the entire day, or, the rest of my life.

“Is that Matthew texting you about something? You two – never mind. I give up. On everyone. I haven’t seen Fallon for more than ten minutes for weeks. Seems like she’s always here. Or, somewhere with him. What‘s up with him? He seems -”

“I don’t keep track. Matthew needs his own life.”

“He’s not the only one.”

“Don’t start please.”

“Not starting. One question first -“

“Oh God -“

“Just one – you walked out on a client yesterday?”

###

I’d come into the lobby to greet a new client, and what I see first are his brown oxfords and tan socks, too much of which show because his khakis are two inches too short. He wears a yellow and white striped button down shirt, undone enough to reveal the white V-necked tee beneath, and the thick neck leading to his closely shaved head, in the middle of which sits a nose that might once have been roman but now was scarred by repeated breaks, atop which sat a pair of arresting eyes that seemed both brown and green.

Fallon says, “This is Jeremy Geary.” And he jumps toward me extending his hand in what I know will be a painful overly-firm grip he has been practicing since he was a child, a throwback, as if he‘s stepped out of a nineteen-fifties health class film meant to turn young boys into men.

“Afternoon, Sir. Never done this before. Little unsure but this pretty lady tells me you’re the best.” His voice is one of those that never make it completely out of the mouth. It resonates, choked somewhere between the top of his throat and soft palate as if he means to swallow it, unwilling to risk its effect on the world, strangling what he’s said back into himself. As he’s crushing my hand in his, I am trying to assemble some words of reassurance, and I notice his gun.

What would make a person wear a gun into a holistic healing establishment? Why not lock it in his car? Leave it at home? He’s not wearing a uniform, so, what’s the purpose of this gun? What story does he need it to tell? Where will he put it during the massage? Does he understand he needs to remove his clothes? Will he leave the pistol on the chair? On top or beneath them? He looks as if he will neatly fold rather than toss his garments. Will he put the gun back on after he’s nude, placing himself on my table with his weapon and his swallowed voice, only feeling safe with me if he’s armed? Or, am I wrong, will he be the kind who gets off on the possibility I’ll enjoy seeing him naked?

Which I realize, I won’t.

The only other man who wore a gun, Tom, rushes toward me, invades this space, sucks out all the air from a place where I am supposed to breathe deeply enough to heal myself and others and I am suddenly too exhausted to even contemplate touching this man. I cannot bring myself to explain what I do and comfort this Jeremy enough to find the parts of him requiring my release.

There was an episode in the original Star Trek series, The Empath, in which braniacs aliens were experimenting on a mute woman who could heal others by taking their pain and illness into herself. The aliens wanted to determine if her race was worth saving by seeing if she would sacrifice herself unto death for others. I think, some days, that’s what is happening to me. Every time I give someone relief, lift their shit for them, it comes into me, and the effort of processing it all is exhausting my spirit.

Kathryn Hays was the actress who played the empath, and was later on Sissie’s favorite story, on which I also got hooked, AS THE WORLD TURNS. She played Kim Hughes, and by the time we watched she was one of those matriarchal, salt of the earth characters. When she briefly faltered, toyed with an affair, Sissie was shaken, but I totally got it. Years of counseling others, being a supporting character of marginal importance in the exciting dramas of others can wear a person out, push them to the edge. A person can only take so much.

I have taken that much.

This Jeremy who looks to me with every passing second more and more like Tom is getting louder and louder without saying a word. He is filling the lobby with echoes of all the ridiculous secrets and mistakes of my past, a variation on a theme, a story I’m making up, have made up, an empty space I am filling in and calling Tom. Like every old woman I see is Sissie echoes, now every man with a gun, every man carrying something he’s afraid to put down, becomes Tom. Or, the Tom I made up.

I left. I claimed sudden illness and asked that he re-schedule. Which, he didn’t. Which, he won’t.

###

“It couldn’t be helped, Therie. I felt ill, didn‘t want to risk -”

She didn’t buy it. There had been too much of me being ill, being absent, avoiding conversation, avoiding her. But it was Thanksgiving. “Going to watch the parade now. Please tell me you’ve gotten satellite or cable or something?”

“Two rooms that way, Therie. Wide screen Matthew got it all hooked up.”

“Of course he did. Well, thank Goddess. It’s the only day of the year I regret that tiny little fifteen year old nine inch portable black and white T.V. I have.”

So I cooked on. Bullet dodged. One lie of omission so far. Would I spend the holiday giving thanks each time I successfully pulled off an act of deceit? Eventually I heard Matthew with Therie remarking on the parade. Good. He was acting normal. Now we’d just need to explain Fallon’s absence, which, given her difficult, flaky nature and the fact that Matthew had already voiced his disgust with her, should be easy enough.

Then, she arrived.

“When’s din-din Mrs. Cleaver?”

“Fallon. Well.”

“You look surprised. I guess Matthew told you about our silly little fight last night?” I didn’t answer. “You don’t need to tell me. I know he did. I know you two share everything. It’s so cute.”

“Fallon.”

“Yes? What?”

“Dinner is in about two hours.”

“Great. I hear them in there. I have something in my car. I never got to give Matthew his birthday present last night. I bet you did though.”

In fact, I hadn’t. Yesterday morning I’d left him the card and the hundred dollars and the hand-written missive about how much he meant to me, how his coming into my life had wakened me from a coma and reminded me of how life and love could be, but I’d saved his real gift for later that night. However, his stoned interrogation had thrown me off, and the gift sat, still hidden in a trunk under my four foot tall bed.

“Therie, Matthew – Fallon is here.”

When they came into the kitchen, where I’d been alone for an hour, where no one had bothered to ask if I could use a hand, they were laughing. Good sign. The two of them were arguing over whether it was the character balloons, the Broadway show snippets, or the Rockettes that truly defined the Macy’s Parade.

“The character balloons are iconic Matthew, there’s no question. Goddess, I miss Mighty Dog. Sponge Bob is a poor substitute.”

“No. No, Sponge Bob is like appealing to everyone. I mean, kids love him but the whole sort of snarky subtext gets adults too. But it doesn’t matter because you just proved my point.”

“What?”

“The balloons keep changing but the Rockettes stay the same. It’s always those Santa Porn outfits every year. Like, it appeals to the guys too. Picturing all those women who look alike and that high kicking – there’s just like something about women doing stuff together – it’s completely erotic.”

“Matthew – are you getting aroused over the Rockettes?” Therie could barely finish the question, she was laughing so hard.

“It’s a total guy thing – women together.”

“I’m a guy and it doesn’t do a thing for me, Matthew.” By the time I interjected, Fallon was back, with a rather large, elaborately wrapped box.

“You’re gay, Parker,” he snapped, “so – it’s not the same thing. If the Rockettes were men -”

“Precision dancing and high kicks – really don’t think that would get me off, Matthew. Have to disagree there.”

“You never know,” Fallon smirked, “what’s going to get someone off. It’s a mystery.”

This could not lead anywhere I wanted to go, the possibility of which always causes me to jump in with a particular tone of voice – this sort of tightly stretched, short of breath leaping, delivered with a forced smile, too fast, too high pitched, too unlike me, which always gives me away. Nonetheless, I try.

“Yes, a mystery – like Stonehenge, or the Pyramid of Giza, or how Marisa Tomei won that Oscar.”

“Or,” Fallon started, and then paused; I saw the tick, tick, ticking of a bomb timer, waiting to explode as she locked eyes with me, “what’s in this box for the birthday boy.”

“Oh Matthew, I missed your birthday – I’m so sorry!” Therie seemed genuinely distraught, which surprised me. “But, of course, you’re twenty now – and that means – my Goddess – you’re almost done testing!”

Thanksgiving. I wondered if this was how the Native Americans felt when first they shared their bounty with the settlers? Had they, having offered comfort and sustenance, felt this same pang of inchoate fear, and later, when betrayed, relieved of their land and slaughtered in gratitude, regretted that first approach and kindness? Fallon was venomously effusive in her encouragement.

“Open it Matthew. Go on. I made it specially for you.”

“You made his gift, Fallon?” Therie was truly curious now. I knew there was no way to stop whatever was happening, like those dreams in which the brakes of the car fail and I’m steering wildly, trying to avoid both the cliff edge and the pedestrian.

“Well, it’s a long story. You see – I know you’ll find this hard to believe – but you’re not the only artist in the family.”

“Really? Have you started – what – photography? That – of course – I’ve seen you two with your cameras and -”

“No, not just photography grandmamma. I’ve just so admired your work – I mean – it was that or kill myself, right? It’s all over the house – everywhere – piles and piles of half finished, never finished, endless pieces of collected junk all just waiting to be glued into a picture of Parker.”

“Fallon – Syncretism is about blending forms and beliefs, constructive interactions of – my work is about love and friendship and kinds of love melding and – Parker – you understand -”

“Oh I’m sure he does – Parker understands everything. That’s his thing. I know what Syncretism is grandmamma – turns out I’m in the show too.”

“What?”

“I wanted to surprise you.”

“Well, you have.”

“And when I saw your million pictures about Parker -”

“Parker, you’re not in every one – but this project is about friendship – all the forms it takes and…”

“You don’t have to explain it to me, Therie.” I wanted this all to end. If Fallon was going to explode the world in which we lived, I wanted it to happen. The fallout could be no worse than this silence, this holding of breath before the storm.

“No, Parker never needs anything explained. He just gets things. That’s what Matthew says too. We all love to listen to Parker. Parker always understands what I’m trying to say. That‘s why I‘m here all the time. To get some of that Parker wisdom you all love so much. To get it, you know? I wanted to get it. The way he makes those big questions make sense for everybody with all those words he pours at you? All those stories. But – I mean – the more I listened, the more I wondered if you actually even addressed the questions, Parker, or do you just distract us by telling stories? All those stories from your life – you have one for every occasion – except – I mean, as long as I’ve known you – it doesn‘t seem like you’ve ever actually done any living. So, I start wondering to myself – Is he making this shit up? Or borrowing from those ten million books he’s buried himself in? Tell the truth – isn’t at least half the shit you say made up or embroidered, right? You can tell us your dirty little secret, Parker. We‘re all friends here – right? I mean – at least friends. Who knows what all sorts of benefits have floated around and -”

“Fallon – am I supposed to open this?” Matthew was strangely disconnected. He would not look at me. He would not, I knew, come to my defense now with Fallon. He had something to prove, to both of us, and himself.

“Of course. It’s your fucking birthday. Well – actually – not with me – but – who knows what happened later, right?” Matthew began to tear into the paper, but Fallon stopped him. “Wait, did you even look at the paper? I made it myself. It’s all pictures I’ve taken of you.” He reddened immediately, a look of terror and fury, which led me to imagine all the sorts of pictures she’d talked him into. I was ashamed to immediately be overcome by a desire to see those photos, in which, from the distance I was, seemed to be of Matthew completely nude. He tore the paper and balled it into crumpled fistfuls, shoving them into his jean pockets and I was further shamed to hope he would, as usual, leave his jeans in a pile on the floor, pockets unchecked, and I would remove those crumpled balls of his image, flatten them out, and store them away. “Don’t be embarrassed Matthew, everyone here thinks you’re beautiful.” It was then it occurred to him that what was in the box might be worse than what had wrapped it and he turned to leave the room, but Fallon had anticipated this and intercepted him, grabbing the box and tearing off its lid, bringing forth a twenty-four by forty-eight photo of Matthew in his Sunspels, and I, fully clothed, side by side, in my just assembled bed, my hand at the waistband of his boxers, his face, buried in my neck.

Matthew. Slammed out the front door.

Fallon. Laughed, whipped her camera from her bag and snapped both myself and Therie, who stood side by side.

Therie. “Oh Parker.” And left.

I am sitting here all these hours later, still alone. Looking at this picture Fallon has made of me and Matthew, in my bed. I am finally in the present tense. In the moment. Wishing I were anywhere else.

I listen for Matthew. He hasn’t texted since his exit, and though I know I shouldn’t have, I texted him. He won’t respond.

All I hear is this house, this Libertytown, shifting, moving, after all these hundreds of years, still settling into itself. I always loved these sounds as a child. I had trouble sleeping even then, and Libertytown seemed to be speaking to me, comforting me, with its creaks and its whinings, its mutterings, moans and the conversation of its pieces and portions as they found new ways to connect and take shape. The house was alive, and awake, always, like me. Now, mine, my responsibility, the song of settling is, I fear, one of sinking instead. The cracks in the walls will just keep growing, from spiderweb design to gaps, paths of ever expanding gaping, crumbling decay, impossible to fill as the house continues its implosion. I called that engineer. After the housewarming disaster. After Matthew showed me his pictures.

Matthew has never gotten around to removing all the vines and growth that have wrapped around these rocks. I’ve not had estimates done about replacing windows, doors, the frames of which are all warping, and now there seems little point in doing so since the architecture and engineering firm I hired told me that the house is sinking in the middle and on one edge and that its foundation needs to be shored. There are structural integrity issues which need to be attended to or catastrophic failure will be the result. The house will collapse. I wonder if this will happen all at once, the accretion of small damages finally giving way to implosion? Or will the collapse continue as it has, a little at a time, giving me an opportunity to escape?

It is funny to me that Matthew is nearly naked in Fallon’s photo, and I, fully clothed, when I am the one who’s told so many stories, revealed so much, even if as Fallon suggested, some of it has been less than the truth. It is funny to me that Fallon has manipulated all of our realities with this lie of a photo, which now becomes a new truth, a secret little anomaly she thinks she’s exposed which changes, utterly, the entire pattern. It is funny to me that I have lived here for fourteen months and still, despite all the effort and time Matthew and I have spent, boxes remain which are taped shut, and I’ve not missed any of the things locked away inside them. It is funny that I still keep buying books, and yet, despite what I’ve told Matthew, I don’t read two or three a week; since Sissie died, I’ve read almost nothing at all. I just don’t seem to have the energy to invest in following and finishing a story. Any story. It is funny to me that I am worried he will forgive and continue to pursue Fallon. That I am angry because of a story I have started in my head, which I cannot follow to its finish. What is it about his stupid love and devotion to Fallon that infuriates me so – the way he is devoured by his aching for her to fill all the empty in him – that ridiculous teenage love, so all consuming, so over-powering and persuasive – hypnotic – drug-like in its insistence on coloring everything, filtering everything else in his life through the measure of how much of his life is consumed by not getting what he thinks he needs from her?

It is funny to me that after all the people I have lost; my father, Tom, Vincent, Sissie, I am now in a panic about losing Matthew.

And Therie. Or, do I want to lose her? Him? Everyone. So there is nothing and no one left to watch walk away, no reason to keep waving in case this departure is the last time I ever see them? No longer needing to worry what shape their telephone pole will take? Why am I angry at them both now and yet terrified, waiting for them to be angry in response? People who have listened to my stories.
That theatre camp summer comes back to me. That summer when I had fucked or fucked around with Bernard. Carrie. Stash. Charlotte. Abe. Paulette. Tighe. The other football players whose names I don’t recall (and perhaps never knew) and yet, what I remember most, who I remember most, Peter and that last night, the ice cream store when he asked, “How long were you going to wait for her to move, Parker?”
What have I been waiting for? Why have I not yet learned to move out of my way those people who block my exits, my entrances? Why am I still so terrified of putting someone out? Of taking my place?

Who I was then, with Peter Boynton, who cared more about me than all those others who sucked me or touched me or allowed me to suck or touch or terrify them, as well as who I was pretending to be, has faded, become less flesh, less solid, until I am a simulacrum of myself, all loss and need and abstract longings with little hope of expression or fruition, haunted by a dream of who I might have been, there, taunting me, slightly out of reach, mockingly whispering, “You’ve failed.” Failed because I never said, “GET OUT OF MY WAY! LET ME OUT! LET ME IN! I KNOW YOU SEE ME!”

Those who say to me now, “I love you, Parker.” speak to me of something ephemeral, a guarded, illusory, platonic affection meant to mark time and hold space until something more engorging, fleshier and fuller comes along, at which point I will be discarded having kept them warm until the lives and loves of which they dream orbit into their grasp.

I thought I would not so much mind filling these spaces were the filling sometimes rewarded by those others through reciprocal filling of my spaces, those parts of me in need of attention. How odd, I’ve become the maiden aunt, the respite coddler, borrowing affection, and in doing so am looked upon and remarked at, “Poor thing, never really a love of his own.” I want to scream from behind this effigy of self, this mythical me in which I feel trapped, caged, imprisoned, made to inhabit the skin of this creature they’ve made of me in their own tales, the moments they‘ve captured and kept, these pictures they‘ve made of me, these pictures of me they find and bring to me. Will I ever look back on these and consider myself beautiful? Or will I always see me as the beast I feel tonight?

Oh God, I thought I missed the clandestine tumblings and fumblings of that youth I was, that youth who roils with unspent lust and adventure, that youth that must be inside me still, arguing with me, nagging me, cajoling me to set him free again, to give him control, but there is such danger there, and too many more opportunities for loss.

All those dancers in that long ago dance of my youth; they reached for me, first. We answered needs in one another, whereas now, the questions of need I ask, well, I should not hope anymore, dare not hope anymore for anything more than a clandestine joining where another, unable to find that for which they truly long, has reached the place where their unspent lust is coincident with my loneliness, and without expectation of another day. The best I have hoped for since Tom is that for someone, I might be convenient release.

In the present tense. Thanksgiving.

But if I am to move forward, through the door, the door that has replaced the disappeared one to which I keep heading, there is some past I have left out. The skipped, the elided, the omissions, I must get out of the way.

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