Commonwealth of Souls - Forward
"I’m going to be fifty in a few weeks, and five months thereafter we will be ringing in the New Year—a new millennium. It’s been two thousand years since the death and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ—if you are inclined towards that belief.
"I think about The Holy Spirit and I wonder how from up in Heaven we are perceived upon this earth. Are we being watched to see just how far we can distance ourselves from righteousness? Are too many of us villains and bigots and despots? Are too many of us paying too little attention to the commandments? It’s not for us to say, for as Alfred, Lord Tennyson so aptly put it, “… Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred…” —well, we’re a lot more than six-hundred for Heaven to watch over.
"On the whole we haven’t been very nice to one another. There is haste and lust and greed in our nature that prevails above all else—or at least that’s the blight I see when I turn on the news every day. The bad stuff always monopolizes the airwaves so that we do not often see the good stuff. So we witness, every day of being here, something inherently wrong in our nature as human beings.
"Yet my heart softens when I think of the good things we do; when I witness the patience and the love and the generosity in those around me, when I am willing to open my eyes and see. When I stop to listen I can hear it in the music of our times. I can relate to the poetry that blends well with the catchy tunes and the back beats, that sometimes bop and sometimes rock and sometimes sway me into a blissful appreciation for life as I know it. When I listen to the music of times long ago it is there in the symphony. And as long as I can hear it in the beauty that surrounds me: the children playing, the babies crying, the song birds of morning and the crickets at night, then I know that God is seeing it all, and there is hope.
"We have (all of us) the potential to prosper—not in wealth, but in spirit. The spirit is an essential part of our soul, and each and every soul longs for happiness. Happiness is not always easy to realize and comes and goes in our lives based on circumstance. One cannot always be happy just as one is not always sad. Our feelings of happiness and our feelings of sadness are important to one another. It is human nature to experience both. If we were never sad then we would not discern and appreciate when we are happy, and happiness sticks around a lot longer when we are honest with ourselves and with others; when we learn how to forgive ourselves and to forgive others; and when we allow our spirits to connect with the world around us so we can become acquainted with the beauty of this planet and feel in our souls the true joy of being here."
Saturday, August 20, 2011
I woke to the sound of waves rushing furiously against the shore. What body of water was this? I knew I was on earth, but I had an eerie feeling that I had traveled far. There was something inevitable in this feeling, as though I was experiencing my past, and at the same time witnessing my future. And in the midst of this strange sensation a feeling of nothingness prevailed.
If I had a mind to I could have seen them; my family and friends. I could have seen the house where I lived and the place where I worked eight hours of the day. I did not have a mind to. I did not care to. There was something inside of me; a force holding steadfast at the very center of my being; a counterpoise of some sort confronting love with hate, compassion with ill-will, fear with might, doubt with confidence—anxiety with peace of mind. None of the burdens which plagued me during my every day existence had claim to me now, nor could I remember moments of happiness tossed here and there to cushion the maddening circumstances life sometimes has to offer. I felt nothing.
The water was calm now. In the distance I saw the figure of a man moving toward the shore. As the figure became clearer to me I noticed a long, green robe around his shoulders. At first I thought he was walking on the water, but then I could see a small boat. I got up and began walking towards the shore when the vision suddenly disappeared. Was I hallucinating? The boat was there. I was not mistaken about that. I walked back to where I had been sitting when I first saw the figure come into view, hoping that the distance would clear my uncertainty. As I turned to sit down the figure was visible again, but he was now standing on the shore. He began walking toward me slowly but surely, as though he had expected to meet me there. Standing before me now I could see the man was tall and lean, and what at first appeared to be a green robe was actually a vest of pale green, under which he wore a white satin tunic with long, flowing sleeves. He offered me his hand.
“I am Martin.” he said, introducing himself with a smile. My eyes were drawn to his emerald cufflinks.
“I am John.” I replied, shaking his hand.
“It has been some time since one of our kind before the extension has come to being here.”
“Your words are curious.” I responded. “What do you mean, ‘before the extension?’”
“You will know in time.” He smiled again and patted my shoulder. “Come with me.”
We walked back to the boat and he motioned for me to step inside.
The ride was a short one. As we drew nearer to the shore of our destination, Martin pointed to a small development of shacks and spoke of the people who lived there with him. “Beyond the arcade is my home. It is not much to look at in terms of architecture—especially if I compare it to my former situation, but it is a peaceful village and we are all happy there.”
“Your former situation?”
“Where I hung my hat, so to speak. I grew up in a large house with many servants. I have no remorse whatsoever in regard to its passing. I recall mostly my mother’s love. It was genuine, but not enough to keep me at home.”
I was beginning to wonder about this man; the profound manner in which he spoke. I could not guess what he meant when he said he had no remorse for its passing, referring to his home; and the fact that he recalled mostly his mother’s love, that it was genuine but not enough to keep him there.
“Your mother?” Martin asked abruptly, breaking my train of thought.
“My mother? What do you mean?”
“Tell me about her. Did you love her?”
“Yes.” I answered quickly. Although I felt it was necessary to clarify that my mother was still alive, since he phrased his question in the past tense. “I do.”
“Describe her to me.” He said.
My confusion must have been evident. As I looked at Martin I began searching my mind for the vision of my mother, and to my surprise I could not recall her face.
“Is something wrong?” Martin asked.
“I can’t remember. Why can’t I remember?”
Martin did not answer me. We were near the shore now. We disembarked and pulled the boat up on to the beach. I could see the shacks clearly now.
Martin motioned for us to proceed forward. “Come, let me introduce you to my friends.”
We began walking. I felt a queer sense of kinsman ship with Martin. I started to see him in a different light; thinking that perhaps I had known him before, in some other time and place.
As we entered the confines of the village, people began to emerge from their huts. I stopped momentarily as I watched them approach. Their mannerisms were strange; almost spiritual. We all came together in the middle of the village. They surrounded me. Then they were gone. Martin too.
I’ve had dreams before, but none so perfect; dreams that brought to mind people I had not seen in years, or people that I had met only the day before. As perplexing as this dream was, it was as vivid: the character of the man called Martin; our conversation as we crossed the water in the row boat; the feeling of fellowship in a society I was not as yet exposed to; and the most harrowing feeling of all, that memories of my mother faded to the point of disassociation. I looked at the clock on my night table. It was two minutes before six. The alarm would ring soon and I would have to get up for work. That thought did not appeal to me. It was Monday, the worst day of the week for me, and the hour from six to seven the most painful to live through. I turned around to look at my empty bed and before I knew it I was back under the covers, with no intention of getting up again. I took the phone off the hook to be sure.
I needed a reason to call my mother. I never called her just to say hello. What could I say to her that I had not already said last week when I called. It would not do for me to come right out and say I just needed to hear her voice. She would think that was odd. So I sat there for what seemed like hours trying to come up with something to ask her. You see, mom is always busy, and although she would never come right out and tell me she has no time to talk to me—which I would appreciate more for the honesty—she will have that hurried tone in her voice which conveys the message that I should just ‘spit it out’.
I wish my father were still alive. I was never afraid to approach him with anything. He had an open door and an open mind. As far as he was concerned if I had thought it, it was worth a discussion; if I had heard it on the streets it needed an explanation; and if I had done it and it was wrong, it needed an ear my voice could penetrate and a mind my short-sightedness could duel with. I had the benefit of my father’s wisdom—not for telling me what was wrong or right, but for allowing me, with his guidance, to draw my own conclusions. When my father died I was sixteen years old. Henceforth I was the son of my mother only. The son of a prominent business woman who never had time for her son. Did she ever wonder how I was doing? Did she ever worry about whether or not I was eating properly? Not once did she pry into my personal life the way all good mothers do.
The thought occurred to me that it would improve my relationship with her if I found a girlfriend. She may very well take an interest in that—if I should suddenly produce a possible spouse. I would be interested to witness her reaction. I thought I might try it very soon. I’d have to meet someone first. I sat a while longer at the kitchen table drinking my coffee. I liked the early morning silence and I could have stayed there for a while longer, but I had to get ready for work.
I worked all day without interruption and I was glad for the distraction. My boss did broach the subject of my absence the day before minus the customary call in. I apologized and was given a warning. When I look back over my ten years of employment I can see that I am shown some favoritism. Why is because I’m fast and accurate and always there—except for yesterday.
At five o’clock I left work and went straight to the Corner Bar. It’s a small bar and the beer on tap is cheap. The crowd isn’t bad; no bikers or degenerates; mostly blue collar workers, a few Vietnam war vets, and an even smaller number of WWII vets. Occasionally you would find a woman or two connected at the hip to a guy or two, but rarely a woman alone.
This place has always been a favorite. I can sit and contemplate for hours and no outside forces can bother me. Only my thoughts are permitted to accompany me into this haven of solitude, and if they get out of hand I will reproach them with a double shot of vodka. There are other bars and clubs I go to occasionally, but for a different reason. I was not looking for that type of companionship. It was a night for solitude. I sat at my usual stool near the juke box facing the door; making sure I was able to see every face coming in.
I like most of the guys who frequent the Corner Bar, especially Joey Pike. He’s a round sort of old man with a hearing aid. He’s almost totally bald, with just a bit of gray hair lining the top of each ear. He has a very refined English accent and is one of the few WWII vets I mentioned. He had met his wife during the war. They got married after the war and since she was from New York that’s were he wound up. Joey would talk on and on about his life and his feeling of pride at being an ally in WWII, fighting along-side Americans. I would listen as though my very next step in life would be taken by virtue of his wisdom alone. In every story Joey told there was a secret passage-way into the past, and if you listened intently you would find yourself living the past with him. You wouldn't even be aware that you had taken the trip until your journey was over.
Then Kenny wandered in. I use the word wander because Kenny is a wandering kind of guy. We just call him Professor. He’s about twenty-nine and has spent most of his life in school studying “this and that”, as he says. He says his goal in life is to learn as much as he can in the short amount of time he has left on the earth. I asked him once what he intended to do with all that knowledge. "Wouldn’t it be better” I said, “to specialize in one subject so you can master it?”.
Kenny was always vague with his replies that most often didn't even connect with the conversation at hand. This night he was mumbling something about not leaving the earth until he gets what he came for. "And what is that?" we all asked in unison. "An answer!" says he. "To what?" says we.
He sat gazing at his glass of seltzer and lime. He explained that at the moment of our birth we all ask a question. "Do you know what that question is?" says he. And I blurted out “Where am I?”, which prompted an uproar of laughter. "That's the question!" says he, "and your question wasn't answered because no one recognized it as a question."
Then he tells us that later on in life we all carry around another question subconsciously, that it will surface in each of us when we begin to feel a sense of awareness about life. "Perhaps when you feel closest to God." says he.
"So, what’s your question?” I asked mockingly.
“I have asked my question, but the answer hasn’t come to me yet, so I will not reveal it.”
Usually we dismiss any conversation with Kenny as having served very little purpose, yet in the days that followed I found that I couldn’t get this particular conversation out of my mind.
Leaving the bar was a major problem for me. I could only look forward to a three block walk to my apartment, whereby I would be thrust out of my blissful state of inebriation by the cold night. There was no activity on my street, with the exception of a small grubby looking dog scrounging in my landlord’s garbage. I wondered where he came from. Who owned him? Why was he out at three o’clock in the morning? That bothered me. If you’re going to have a dog, take care of it. I worked myself up into an aggravated state due to this little dog, and by the time I got up to my apartment I needed another beer, afterwhich I fell into a sound sleep.
I was with Martin again on the Island. We were standing in the middle of the beach and there were people all around me. Martin introduced me to his friends. First there was Suzanne. She was exceptionally tall for a woman, with very broad shoulders. She had a nice smile and I remember a sudden feeling of warmth just being near her. She looked like she could calm an angry sea with a wave of her hand. She said she was pleased to make my acquaintance and promised to have a long talk with me once I had settled in. Suzanne’s height and build had at first suggested a masculine image, but her soft facial features and pleasing voice expressed a gentle and womanly soul. I thought that it would be nice to talk with her for a while.
Next there was Lydia Rose. She was very young. Her dark, wavy hair fell nearly to her waist. She was not beautiful, but her deeply set, dark eyes drew me to her as if I were being drawn into a dark, mysterious cave; frightening but nevertheless enticing. She looked up at me without saying a word. I saw wisdom in her eyes, the likes of which you would expect to see only in the elderly. She touched my face softly with her fingertips as she stepped back to allow another introduction.
Christopher the boy was the way I had been at sixteen; tall and slender—almost wavering in the wind. I can remember all too well the anxiety of the age, when bullies pushed, challenged and, worse yet, ignored. I received his firm hand shake. His deep voice took me by surprise when he said hello. He had a lot on his mind and a lot he wanted to discuss with me, but Martin stepped in, explaining that his young friend was very sociable, and given the chance would not let me alone for a minute. Martin explained to the boy that I was probably tired and would welcome some sleep before dinner.
I was tired; not from physical exertion, but confusion. I was almost listless with it. There were more introductions to people that I can only vaguely remember right now, after which Martin showed me to my hut and I quickly fell into a sound, peaceful sleep.
A tear is a stormy sea.
The tide's ebb.
Still waters running deep.
A tear is an ocean of emotional resources.
There was an invitation in the mail. It was my Aunt Bridget’s birthday party. We’ve been celebrating Aunt Bridget’s birthday every four years for as long as I can remember. When I was little I wondered why they made such a big deal out of it. My mother’s reply was always the same: ‘Because Aunt Bridget was born on the twenty-ninth day of February.’ Then she would squeeze my face, give me a hug and gulp down the remainder of her highball. And I, not a bit wiser as a result of that answer, posed the same question to my father, to which he replied: ‘Because, my boy, they are all idiots.’ I was only nine, but I could feel the contempt my father had for my mother’s side of the family, and something told me that on their part the feeling was mutual.
So I found myself at a birthday party on a Wednesday evening. I did not want to be at this party, so it was easy for me to resent everything and everyone I came into contact with; especially my mother, whose casual remarks always made me feel guilty about the most trivial matters. I felt obligated to attend. I decided to make the best of it; besides, having a few drinks would ease the tension.
Aunt Bridget sat in her rocker by the fireplace the whole evening; her favorite afghan on her lap. She must be about eighty-eight. That would be twenty-two birthday parties. How complacent she looked sitting by the fireplace, watching everyone get drunk—a pleasure she never indulged in herself.
My mother’s sister and her husband were there. I was pleased to see my uncle. My aunt lost no time in making me feel uncomfortable; asking if there was anyone special in my life. My uncle intercepted the question and ran in another direction with it. He said that he supposed I would share that information if I had a mind to, and then brought to her attention their own son, Richard, and his love life, which I assumed from my aunt’s reaction was not going to be discussed with me standing there. So I excused myself and went to the john. I could hear them speaking from the bathroom. She told Paul that she thought there may be something wrong with me in a “sexual sense” if you know what I mean. I suppose she thinks I’m gay. I heard my uncle tell her that if I was it was my affair and none of her damn business. She just went on and on about how, even if I wasn’t a homosexual, I was most assuredly an introvert, and that it was all my father’s doing. I came out of the bathroom and saw my uncle’s angry face. She quickly added “God rest his soul.”
My cousin Richard and I grew up in the same neighborhood, and, although we were only cousins, we were more like brothers in the earlier years of our childhood. When we were a few years older—he was thirteen and I was ten—things began to change. He was not around that much for me. When you’re ten years old it’s pretty devastating to be left in a cloud of dust while your best friend prances off into the sunset with a group of kids who want nothing to do with you. I could never catch up to Richard after that.
Richard was kneeling beside Aunt Bridget chewing her ear off about something. I didn’t want to speak with him for some reason, so I tried to avoid him. Unfortunately he turned his head suddenly and caught me in my attempt to leave the room. “John. How are you? What have you been doing with yourself?”
“Same old stuff. What about you?” I replied.
“I’m doing OK. How’s work going?
“It‘s good. How’s your job going?”
“Pretty damn good. I received a great review that I did not expect until June. I may be in for a promotion. We’ll see.”
“Very good.” I replied, with my usual dead-pan expression.
There was no hiding my indifference. It’s not that his life is of no consequence to me, I just cannot feign any interest in his career. I never liked the business world to begin with, so to hear about it nauseates me. Richard may or may not have picked up on my attitude. It was difficult to tell. He winked one of his bloodshot eyes and waved a pointed finger at my face. “Maybe I’m imagining things, but I do think you could care less whether I’m dead or alive. Do you have a chip on your shoulder I should know about?”
“I thought you’d never notice it.” I responded, half jokingly, but with enough seriousness for him to pick up on. Richard’s smile disappeared. “I’ve always suspected it, but now I’m certain. You’re jealous of me.”
It was as though Richard could see into my soul. His eyes confronted mine with a vengeance, stealing away the very nerve that had influenced my behavior. My expression of complacency turned into a tormented smile. Suddenly we were kids again, rough-housing in the back yard of my parent’s home. I looked Richard straight in the eye, not really sure of what I wanted to say. After a moment I responded.
“I really looked up to you at one time. I don’t know if you remember this, but I would always follow along with you and your friends until it was obvious you didn’t want me hanging around. You never came right out and told me. It was evident. It really bothered me because at one time we were close. Then, suddenly, we didn’t see much of each other; only on occasions like this—and even then, alone in a house filled with adults, we had nothing to talk about.”
I had never known Richard to be very sensitive. Maybe I never really knew him at all, but he was visibly upset by what I said. “First of all” he replied, “if I have done anything in the past that offended you, I can truthfully say that it was not intentional. As far as giving you the cold shoulder when we were kids; did it ever occur to you that our age difference had something to do with that? Would you have tried to be friends with any other seventh-grader? I certainly would not have tolerated the constant surveillance of a fourth-grader if it hadn’t been you. And you say you looked up to me….” Richard stopped there for a second to drink his scotch, looking as though a battalion of memories were marching parallel to his thoughts. “If I had known that” he continued, “I might have told you that you were looking up to the wrong person.”
The two of us were silent for a few seconds until Richard broke that silence. “You know, John, I really think you have a problem. I don’t think it’s a chip at all. Maybe it’s some kind of complex. Whatever it is, it’s a shame, because you’d be one hell of a nice guy if you’d come up for air.”
Richard looked at me as if he were seeing me for the first time. I said nothing and let him go on. “You’re an intellectual snob, John...” he added, “...and that’s one thing I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time.
Do you know what it’s like to formulate aggression over a period of years? To spend countless nights drinking to its health, savoring each moment of ecstasy while your glass is filled to capacity by the bartender, then emptied by the loathsome creature hidden inside you? By the power of a few spoken words my cousin had succeeded in making my animosity toward him feel inappropriate and unjustified. I felt like hiding in a corner. What made me think I could say something like that to him and get away with it. I had been behaving like that for a long time. And I wondered why I didn’t have any close friends. Richard, on the other hand, had a truckload of really close friends; friends he had kept from high school. What was I going to say now. Richard was staring me down; waiting for a response. I must choose my words carefully, I thought, or I might lose a family member.
But did I really care? When have I ever cared? Maybe a long time ago when I was small. I cared so much that it sometimes hurt when nobody cared back. I did not come from a close-knit family. I knew I was loved, but it was not the kind of hands on love that I wanted or that I needed. When I was seventeen I had one close friend named Anthony. I loved going to his house because I felt at home there. His mother would always hug me as if I were one of her own. She was a nice woman, with silky black hair and large brown eyes; eyes that produced visions of homemade dinners, Christmas stockings and cozy nights. I really couldn’t see anything like that in my mother’s eyes. The love I knew she had for me must have stopped at her mouth. It poured out into words of praise when I had been good, and verbal judgment and retribution when the circumstances were otherwise. I was either good or I wasn’t. There was no in between.
I suppose I did care about Richard. Something deep inside of me always wanted to impress him. I can’t imagine that I’ve impressed him at all. What the hell was wrong with me. I’ve been burning bridges a lot lately. I suddenly caught myself looking at the floor. When I looked up again, Richard was gone.
Young love sighs with each new day
The fire brightly burns,
How slow the pages turn.
Old love remembers laughter in the rain
The withered embers yearn
And still the pages turn.
Yet in between love may decry
What it might have treasured;
Untended, the fire turns...
...while the pages quickly burn. There it was; the last line in the poem I have been trying to finish, and with that the clouds shifted, allowing the very last ray of evening sun to filter through the tiny hole in my window shade. It pierced my dimly lit bedroom, then disappeared as quickly as it came. How obliging the sun is. A cool breeze followed.
The ray of sun placed it’s light on the typewritten page as if to spotlight the end of this chapter in my life. The cool breeze represented the freshness of a new beginning. I feel a sense of peace now that I have completed my task. I enjoy writing poetry, although the mood does not hit me as often as I would like. In my early twenties I was writing a poem at least once or twice a week. At that point in time my passion for life was alive with the beauty of nature and the warmth of young love. As I became older I still appreciated the beauty that surrounded me, but I felt less of a need to record my feelings. I was still in love, too, but it was a more comfortable, secure love, with no frenzies; no jealousies. The roaring fire within had dwindled to a warm glow of burning embers, reminiscent of all those mornings after. Now even the burning embers are gone. I have the desire to express my feelings once again.
I am plagued with an unfamiliar melancholy that is being nourished by the unhappy circumstances of my life right now. I see no end in sight for this dreary feeling, so I will let it absorb my life. I might want to hold on to this comfortably numb feeling for as long as I can, being the martyr that I am. I manage to wander through my daily routine without so much as a whisper from my colleagues that there may be something wrong with me. I’ve been thinking about my childhood these past few days, and I feel an irresistible impulse to play the games I played as a child. I’ve been thinking about the boy across the street who would always throw water balloons at me, which brought to mind my first kiss—which also happened to come from the boy across the street. These memories bring to life a powerful longing for the past and for the way things were, and they remind me that I am getting old. Perhaps this is why I am unhappy.
When I was ten years old my aunt had given me a beautiful plaque for my birthday. It was inscribed with this poem by Nathanial Hawthorne: “Happiness is as a butterfly, which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” The words happiness and butterfly played a big part in this poem for me, since my first thought was to get a net and catch as many butterflies as I could. In my childish way I thought that the more butterflies I caught, the happier I would be. Now I know that catching a butterfly before it is ready to settle down would be denying it the essence of its flight, and the simple act of chasing it would alter its course, and it would fly faster and further away, until I wouldn’t be able to see it anymore.
It was just nine o’clock when the cab pulled up to my front door, and I was anything but sleepy. I felt a little anxious and decided to take a walk. It was a nice night. I wound up at a small pub only a few blocks from my place. Being Wednesday it was pretty quiet. There were two women playing pool—rather badly at that, so I put a quarter on the side rail near the corner pocket with a fair degree of certainty that I’d be winning the table shortly.
“How long have they been at it?” I asked the bartender.
“Oh, for a while now…not very good. They‘re just killing time. They‘re waiting for some friends to show up.”
“Oh, so we’re going to have a bevy of beauties to look at.”
“We can only hope.”
When their game was over I introduced myself as the next player. I decided to take them both on. I enjoy playing pool with women; there are no stakes and nothing to prove. The games are always void of tension, seriousness and snide remarks. We played two games and I won both times. After a while their friends showed up and they all began a game of darts. Kathryn, one of the women I was playing pool with, didn't like darts and opted to sit with me and have a drink.
“It was fun playing pool...although I'm not very good. You are great at it.” she said, smiling.
“I play a lot. What brings you out on a Wednesday?”
“My sister and I decided to get together with my cousin and her friends for the evening.”
“So, you don't like darts.”
“Oh, no! I hate darts. I’ll just watch them enjoy themselves and I’ll play some tunes on the juke box. I’ll play all my favorite songs until my quarters run out.”
We began talking about the music we enjoyed. The contemporary music Kathryn liked was not the same music that I listened to, or even cared for, but there was something in her manner when she was speaking about it. I was caught up in her enthusiasm, and as we talked further I discovered that we had quite a few things in common. We shared an appreciation for good literature. She spoke of Tolkein and Wodehouse; James Herriot and Arthur Conan Doyle. I talked about Hesse and Dostoyevski; Hunter S. Thompson and Hemmingway…authors Kathryn was aware of but had no abiding interest in. She was a very warm and friendly women. She listened intently when I was speaking and offered her own interpretations and thoughts, so that I knew she wasn’t only vaguely listening, but really interested in what I had to say. She was—or at least she seemed to be—interested in me, and wanted to know about my family; where I had gone to school, and in turn I was interested to know the very same things about her.
Time passed quickly. All the women who were playing darts were now saying their goodbyes and Kathryn's sister was anxious to leave. It was nearly midnight and each of us had to get up for work the next day. But I was having a good time for a change and didn't want the evening to end. Nevertheless it ended, and I had to be content with Kathryn's phone number and her assurance that she would love to have dinner with me. I thought about Kathryn all the next day and the day after. Then a week had gone by and I still hadn't called her. What was I waiting for?
I decided to go into Manhattan to see my mother. Her office recently moved to a new location and she has been spending a good portion of her days settling into her new surroundings. I can picture her now, arranging her furniture and mahogany bookcases, hanging her beloved paintings according to the sketch her interior designer had prepared for her—there is always an interior designer, and unpacking her leather bound books with the accustomed loving care—placing each one in its designated spot on the shelf. As at home, she arranges them in sections: first by the country, then by author, then by title.
When I arrived she was sitting behind her desk. It was early evening and she appeared to be staring at her sofa. There was a calm silence about her. Some have characterized my mother as being cold and uncompromising. I was once told by her partner that ‘your mom is quiet yet absolute in her dealings with her work associates, and a staunch, intimidating figure to her staff. Nevertheless, she is a fair woman of business who conducts herself in a professional manner at all times.’ I remembered every word of what he said because he always spoke so eloquently.
She was startled by my sudden appearance in the doorway.
“Mom, I’m sorry I scared you.” I said hastily, “I should have called.”
“I’m glad you’re here, John. You’re the first to see my new set-up.” She stood up and gave me a hug and a kiss. I felt a slight pounding of my heart as I remembered my dream. I felt close to crying. I did love this woman, but at times I couldn’t stand her. I composed myself.
“Is everything ok?” she sensed something and looked concerned.
“Oh, sure…all is well.” I changed the subject. “I had no idea you were so close to moving.” I looked around now to take in the layout of the office. “I like it a lot.”
I was genuinely pleased to see my mother in a good mood. My eyes caught sight of the sofa. It certainly was nice. If my mom taught me anything it was to appreciate the finer things in life, and we appeared to have the same taste in furniture.
“I had a feeling you would like this. Have a seat."
I sat down and she returned to her desk, which is where she seemed most comfortable, and where I was used to seeing her. On many occasions when I was small, I was thrust upon her during a business day; usually when the housekeeper was off and I was home from school. I was nearly thirteen years old before my mother felt at ease leaving me home alone, and even at that time she would try and coax me into spending the day with her by creating special tasks that only I could handle; telling me ‘you’re the only one I trust to do this, John.’ At first I was pleased that my mother thought so much of my capabilities, but then the realization that the work was boring surfaced and I refused to do any more time.
“What brings you into Manhattan?”
“There’s an old movie playing downtown that I want to see. It starts at eight forty-five, so I really can’t stay. Maybe you’d like to tag along.”
I knew she would not want to go. As a matter of fact she didn’t even ask me what film was playing. She never seemed to have any interest in movies. It was the opera she enjoyed—and ballet.
“No, thank you dear, I have to stay and finish up here. I want to be settled in completely so I can oversee the rest of the move tomorrow, but I would like to have dinner with you one night next week.”
“I think I can get in here next week. How’s Thursday, I’ll meet you here at seven.”
I dreaded having diner with my mother. We really didn‘t have a lot in common—not that it’s required by law to have things in common with your mother, but I wished that we had—other than our taste in furniture— a common thread; something to connect us on a permanent basis; something that would prompt the call to arms of ‘did you’ or “mom, guess what?” What would it take to peak her interest. What could I say that would generate a spark and take her away from this business world that she has encased herself in for all these years—even if only for a few minutes.
“Oh, by the way, I’ve met someone.” I blurted out.
I noticed an immediate change in her demeanor. I was right. All it took was the announcement of a possible love interest.
“When did this happen?” There was a definite spark there.
“I met her the other night.” I replied. “She was playing pool with her sister and I joined in. There is nothing much to tell, other than her name is Kathryn and I was very pleased to meet her. We seem to have a lot in common.”
“You met her in a bar?” she asked with unusual inquisitiveness.
“Yes, I did. Is there something wrong with that?” I was slightly irritated at the question.
“No, no, dear. I just thought that…never mind.”
I knew what my mother was going to say and I hated her reasoning on issues of social standing and refinement, that ‘nice girls can be met at church or in the library’. I always wondered about that Church part, since I had not once witnessed her going to Church, yet she would send me off every Sunday with a check for the basket.
“Mother, she’s a nice woman.” I emphasized. “Let us leave it at that.”
“I’m sure she is very nice. I’d like to meet her. You should bring her along to our dinner Thursday evening.”
“Mother, I just met the woman. I haven’t even asked her out on a date. It was just an exchange of phone numbers and a promise to give her a call one of these days.”
I certainly didn’t expect this kind of response. I was intending to contact Kathryn because quite frankly I hadn’t really stopped thinking about her since the other night. Maybe I'll give her a call tomorrow. We'll see.