John LeMay had been merely a friend for about five years, because I just wasn't in the market for a romance. We'd gone hiking together, gone to the theater together, gone to church together -- almost always with his mother or my sister and friends as well as the kids. And now, our friendship was taking a turn for -- well, more than friendship. I didn't know how much more, and I wasn't eager to find out. It was all too much a surprise to me to learn that I wanted more than just a Howdy-Do Friendship.
I realized I had no idea how to react to a simple friendship that was evolving into something serious.
I desired my ex-husband, Adam, from the first moment I saw him. Our entire relationship was built on desire. I had sex with him when I could no longer resist the desire. He asked me to marry him and I accepted because I desired him above all other beings. Was that love? He'd been gone now for thirteen years, more than twice the number of years we'd been married, and all I could really say that we had in common was that we enjoyed having sex. Of course, having sex with Adam was an interest I had in common with far too many women. Maybe we should have formed a club.
Twenty years had passed since I tried to figure out the mechanics of holding hands, of sharing a kiss with a new boyfriend. Worries about whether I would find hugging a skinny man like John pleasant, about whether or not he was a good kisser, about how I could go about allowing him to hold my hand the first time kept me awake nights and gave me acid indigestion. We kept in touch with e-mails (yes, they had become every day expectations) and instant messaging (almost every evening) and while we kept in touch with our chaste communications I kept wondering if he looked good naked, and would then chastise myself for wondering, considering that there was no future in such speculation.
I believed in heaven and hell. Heaven, the joyful union with God; hell, the absence of the absolute love of creation that was God. I was middle-aged; if the "three score years and ten" estimate of human life was accurate, I was more than halfway there -- to wherever. My father, my mother, my brother-in-law were all already "there," wherever their "there" might be. I could not imagine them in hell, as they had all been believers who tried to do what was right, even though I could imagine God telling my mother to sit down and shut up and stop trying to take over control of how galaxies were formed or of which movies were going to become blockbusters.
I could imagine God saying to me, "Sully, you don't have to have sex with someone to have a lasting and satisfying relationship."
And then I would imagine replying, "Then what? We have great conversations instead?"
"Yes," says God. "Isn't that what you had with your brother-in-law (who says 'hi', by the way) and what you have with your sister and Bodie and Andersol and the children and Mary LeMay?"
"But -- but -- "
"But me no buts," says God. "It's all up to you. You decide."
Being Catholic, and believing that Jesus The Christ, the Son of God, the Sacrificial Lamb who healed the rift between God and Mankind, had founded our religion, I didn't feel like I could bicker with its tenets. I had married in communion with the Church. I had lived in communion with the Church. Com-union, that is, in union with the Church, and all that entailed, all its beliefs and mandates.
Certainly, I could have pooh-poohed all the Church teaching and done what I would (and for a while in my youth, I did,) but I was drawn to the Gospel of John, Chapter Six, and what Christ had to say: unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. From the Last Supper to the present day, bread and wine were offered to God to be returned -- changed -- as the Body and Blood of Christ. We believed that in the Eucharist, Jesus Christ was present, really, really there, body, blood, soul, divinity. Reception of this bread-made-Redeemer was like an intimate private audience with God, merging mere mortal and the origin and completion of the universe. Having come to harbor this belief in my heart, I didn't want to give it up. To receive the Eucharist was to enter into communion with God and the Church, to figuratively say, "I accept the New Covenant, sealed with your blood; I want to become one with the Body of Christ.
I could only receive Communion, the Eucharist, if I was not involved in serious sin. Christ also said, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
So as many times as I went round and round in my head about what the future might hold, it all boiled down to faithfulness once again. Would I be faithful to what I had vowed, prayed, lived, depended on, stated baldly in the face of the wayward world -- or would I be unfaithful?
"Here, Sully, John sent me some pictures of him and he said that this one is for you." Mary handed me a photo of John in uniform, his hat under one arm, grinning wickedly. "They were at a retirement party for one of the fellows at the precinct. Do you want to see the rest of them?"
Of course I did. Looking through the photographs, I was taken by one in which the police officers had lined up and saluted their retiring member. All of them had solemn faces, and John's face was emotionless, serious, dedicated to something greater than himself. "I really think this picture is cool," I said to Mary.
"Good," she said, "then you take it. He looks so much like his father in that one it hurts me to see it."
"Mary," I asked, "do you like the idea of John and me together for us or because it reminds you of you and Jack?"
"No, dear. Jack and I met and were married within ten days. You and John -- neither one of you know what to think about each other. That's all right, though. It's better to be cautious than end up -- " she put her hand over her mouth.
"Like me with Adam. I know. Poor old me. You know, Mary, if I had been like most of my young friends at that time, I would have jumped into bed with Adam, had a great time, found out after a while that he was a cheating scumball, had a good cry and ditched him. But no, I had to try to be the nice girl who idealistically believes that there is a better nature concealed behind the facade of the cheating scumball, and marry him, making him an honest man." I waved my arms as I spoke dramatically, making Mary giggle ruefully. More seriously, I added, "But if I hadn't married Adam, and he hadn't left, I would never have moved here and met you, and Bodie and Andersol; probably wouldn't have been as close to the kids and their father, while he lived. And I wouldn't have met John." I shrugged. "I lost a husband and gained some of the best people in the world."
"Oh, Sully," she said, patting my arm. "I just want you to be happy."
One evening, I had just signed off the computer. John and I had been conversing by an instant messenger program, and he had asked me if there was any place to go dancing near Riverton, or in Port Laughton, as he was about to fly out to California to vacation in two weeks. An unaccountable feeling of bubbles and laughter had launched from the general location of my heart. Dancing -- I hadn't been dancing for so many, many years. I'd promised to ask Bodie and Jesse and my coworkers and all and sundry where there might be a dancing venue. After we closed the chat program, I practiced dancing around the living room, to see if my leg muscles could stand the exercise. Gabe, observing this aberrant behavior, attacked me, and what might have been a waltz turned into a canine vs. human kung-fu encounter.
Still grinning over Gabe's frolics, I washed dog slobber off my arms and then went to bed, smiling. Mary, I am happy. Just no one believes that. And fell asleep.
John and I were flying high in the air, being flown across the Spring River to another area by our employer. We were wearing Victorian style clothing, John in a prim black suit with a high white collar and cravat, me in a brown and purple dress, the skirt in vertical stripes, tight waist, and antique white lace at my throat and wrists. We were far above the wide, muddy river, above the trees on either side of it, gray and twiggy, not yet far enough into the season to sprout tender green leaves. The ground in the countryside across the river was weedy and cluttered with tussocks of brown grass, looking broken after the thaws that had begun. Over the river, having left our own rocky bank, in a cloudy sky, I realized that we had no plane and began to sink through the air. Will I fall? I thought.
Another realization: this is a dream, you fool. In dreams, of course I could fly. "I am a person who can fly," I said aloud, and spread my arms wide in a singing joy. With a deep breath of the moist spring air, I flung my heart into Belief, and began to rise again.
We landed on the far side of the river with plenty of room to spare, not so much as a stumble or jar. We continued on foot on our journey, and stopped to have a drink in a crowded pub, with a wood floor and musty brown upholstery, and golden beer in frosty mugs.
Victorian clothes -- a symbol of my straight-laced lifestyle. But we could still fly; I believed we could still fly.
Was it the next day, or two days after that dream that Mary met me on the sidewalk when I came home from work, and followed me to my door, her eyes red as though she had been crying?
"May I come in, Sully? I need to talk to you," she said, her voice trembling.
I took her arm to steady her. "Mary, are you okay?"
"Sully, sit down with me here," she said, and we sat on the couch. I ordered Gabe to lie down. Mary took my hand and held it. "I'm sure he's going to be all right." Tears burst from her eyes, though she angrily wiped them away.
"What?" I cried. "What?"
"John's been shot."
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