There was a high bridge in the empty church, and I had foolishly climbed to the top row of seats, and now my vertigo was making me so dizzy I was afraid to move. The steps looked very steep, and worn at the edges, making it so easy to fall all the way down with one misstep. I couldn't raise my head more than a few inches from the floor, I was so frightened. There were many steps and several landings before the floor would become even again.
John was standing on the stairs beside me, unaware of my fear, chatting pleasantly, but I couldn't understand what he was saying
Nothing mattered to me but defeating my terror and getting down the steps. I lay on my back and inched my way down a step at a time The next landing had an open door with a wide view of sky and highway and openness, and I began to shake with the thought of going near it, where I might fall to my death. "Close the door," I said but he didn't hear me.
Inching along with my elbows on the brick, I made it past, and the rush of pride I felt at getting past the open door gave me more courage, and I began to move more quickly, still afraid, still on my back, down the last few steps.
When I stood up again, we were in a bazaar, with exotic goods everywhere, brass jars, oriental rugs, straw baskets, mountains of fruit, rooms of dark furniture, colorful clothing. The arches of the building front which held the bazaar were high, stuccoed smoothly in a dull yellow green, and the olive drab woodwork contrasted richly with the bright colors of the bazaar.
A limousine was waiting for someone, and John stepped in and sat down. "Come on," he said.
"That isn't for us," I told him, but then the door shut and the car pulled away, leaving me astonished on the sidewalk under the portico. That's all right, I thought, we were going home just a few blocks away. I bet I could get there before he did.
I took off my sandals and began to run, my bare feet grabbing good traction like each foot owned the earth and then sprang from it. I remembered the feeling of being able to run forever as when I was a breastless eleven. I turned left and ran across a cool tile floor, slipping just a little as I had to make a right turn. I kicked off my sandals again and began to run, once again my bare feet holding the turns, the running coming smoothly. Another right turn, then a left, and I stopped by the front of an old orthodox church to talk to a man from Russia. He wanted his son to go back to Russia with him to see the old country, but the boy was afraid because nothing would be as easy as here in the states. "Oh, no," I said to the young man. "I met some Russians when I was in college, and they were very cosmopolitan, like they were from New York. And I don't think they were from Moscow."
But I had to run, and run I did, until the streets narrowed to only a car-width, and the houses were painted bright red, though they looked darker in the dimming light. Once again I kicked off my sandals and reached into my insides to pull up the power I needed to run fast. My forward progress slowed as my legs tried to go into a slow-motion run. No! I control my dreams! I can run, I thought, and I could feel the power rush through me again, and I ran as fast as I ever had, arms pumping, knees high, breathing deeply, sweating lightly with the evening air cooling my skin until I was flying along the little alley, and saw the lit door ahead, our little row house, glowing with welcome. The way I was flying, would I even be able to stop?
On Thursday morning, our parish priest said a special Mass for the victims of the terrorist attack. Mary invited me to attend with her. I declined; becoming John's lover had meant cutting myself off from Communion. That didn't mean that I couldn't attend Mass, by any means, but my refusal of Communion would trouble Mary, and I was unwilling to cause her to question me. She was 'old-fashioned'; I was 'old-fashioned;' only seducing her son was not. My desire for him had superceded virtually all other concerns; now what I had left was the desire that I had chosen, and a lover who drew comfort from my hand holding his, and I guessed I would have to look around to see what else there was, because nothing was springing to mind.
The attack on the Twin Towers was like an attack on John personally, and he was damned mad about it. He was like a hive-full of bees whacked with a stick all by himself. He did not talk on the phone with New Yorkers back East, he shouted, demanding answers. From the way he held the cell phone an inch or two away from his ear while he paced, his fellow officers and friends did, too. For them, it wasn't just an attack, a crime, it was an attempted murder of a city they felt was alive and an entity in itself. While he loudly asked about people, streets, and precincts, he was standing at readiness, his pale eyes looking east, all business. He wore a t-shirt and blue jeans, but mentally, he was already back in uniform, prepared to spring into action at any second.
When I was a pimply fourteen-year-old in Penn's Vale, one of my girlfriends had shown me the closet that contained the bow and arrows of her father, bragging that he always successfully hunted the rich game lands of our mountain area, and that he only hunted with bow because he felt that rifles gave the hunter an unfair advantage. The hunting arrows that resided in the leather quiver had immaculate feathers, and the tips were frightening. Their four-sided blades were sharper than any knife in my mother's kitchen; from their conception in their inventor's mind, they were meant to penetrate and stay and kill.
John, stirred to duty, reminded me of one of those arrows. His whole purpose was to uphold the law and to rescue the afflicted. Gone was the image of the neighbor's grumpy son, gone the vacationing chum, gone the ardent beau. I watched him, and admired him, and wondered what in the hell I was doing with him. This man was married, married to his job.
For some screwy hours and a couple days since John and I had first kissed, I'd struggled again with my decisions of the past not to pursue a final end to my ties to Adam. Now the fog of desire had parted, revealing my childish map of love from kiss to consummation to be just that: a silly track in crayons on scrap paper, bearing very little relation to real life. He would be drawn to his life in New York, and I to mine ... here, and in Port Laughton, where I really should be at this time. Certainly, Jesse and Bodie and Andersol were there with the kids, but where was Aunt Sully, who had been there for at least part of every holiday and every special occasion since those children were born? I left John pacing in Mary's kitchen and went outside. On the patio in back of her house I sat on the cement beside the splashing little fountain in the shade and thought about the past week, the past few years. A long-distance romance with a man about whose life I actually knew very little. Visiting him would take six to eight hours by plane to New York, about the same time as I used to spend on a bus to San Diego. Once or twice a year. 'Just friends' that turned into torrid sex. God, is this not an eerie repetition of how I started out with Adam?
"You all right? You look like you seen a ghost," John said as he came out the back door. "Hey, what's wrong? I'm spending too much time on the phone, sorry about that. Wait a minute, I don't like this look you're giving me." He stood stock still, his voice rising. "You're ditching me, aren't you? You're gonna ditch me."
"Ditch isn't the word I'd use, John." I rubbed the back of my neck, where tension was starting to make my head ache again. Too many headaches in the last few days. "I'm not ditching you." I stood up, feeling old and worn.
"Then what is the word? Dump me? Trash me? You gonna return me for a refund? Here I am, thinking we're a -- an item together and you look like you're already fifty miles down the turnpike! Jesus Christ, Sully, what'd I do?"
"Nothing. I just got to thinking. About how much I enjoyed going to church with you and Mary, all of us receiving Communion together. Now we can't.
"Communion was the one thing I've always been able to rely on for a lifeline. Through all the bullshit of growing up and all the misery with Adam, and all the time since then, I could go to Mass and receive Communion and be right in touch with God. And now, some random goddamned terrorist has me running scared, and I don't have that one comfort I need the most, because I couldn't do what we all hope and pray and lecture and warn the kids about, keep my pants on. You had the same teaching I did, we both knew and know better. But here we are."
His face looked like a storm was brewing in it. But I'd heard all the arguments over and over all my life, and could answer them before he had to say them. "It's not about whether or not God thinks we're good together, or whether God likes us. I was the one who decided that I could put God on hold for a while, that I didn't need God's rules poking around in my life. I keep thinking about those poor people in the Towers -- how many of them put God on hold? What if I had been one of them? John, I can't face the prospect of meeting God face to face and saying, 'Well, dude, going to bed with John was more important than trying to keep in good with the Creator of the Universe.' I can't handle it."
John walked to the fence, stared at it a moment, and turned. "I don't seem to recall your sister having this problem with Bodie. What's the big deal with us?"
"The big deal is me, damn it. I'm not Jesse. I don't even know what she believes or doesn't believe. There's nothing the same about us, she was looking at Bodie as a mate even before she laid hands on him, he didn't live on the other side of the country from her, and she was a widow, not ... " I sighed, feeling torn from the inside out. Not Adam Berman's wife. I just could not go through that whole explanation one more time; I was tired of trying to make people understand what being faithful to my word, my family, my God, myself was all about.
"So a couple hours ago we were lovers, and now it's -- " he looked at his watch " -- eleven thirty and maybe we can shake hands sometimes because you want to go to church with a bunch of old ladies? What the fuck kind of sense does any of that make?" Wonderful. That was nice and loud for the neighborhood to speculate upon, loud enough to kick my temper into high gear.
"The fuck?" I said quietly, "The fuck? Okay, I'll put it in terms that you can understand. Let's see, let me translate. 'Fuck this shit, man, I'm not gonna be your twice a year California boff.'"
I strode angrily through the house, and jerked open Mary's front door, intending to slam it off its hinges as I left. He yells out of fear, not out of anger, Mary had told me last Friday. Fear had settled into his life with the destruction of the World Trade Center, and now I'd told him he's back to being Nobody in my life. No wonder he was snarling. I stood in the doorway, looking at the beautiful and promising day before me, feeling regret for the choice I was making. I didn't want to break up with John. My flashpoint anger was fading; he was not the kind of boyfriend you walk out on because you get mad. Not the kind of lover you abandon just because you can't have sex. He'd cared about me for five chaste years, giving me all the space in the world, every benefit of the doubt.
A hand appeared above mine on the edge of the door. "Sorry again," he whispered. "Don't leave."
"I'm not the one who's leaving," I said, remembering my dream. "You're leaving me, as soon as you can arrange it. Why? Think about it. You're leaving me behind, and my bed, and my company, passing up the rest of your time off, and leaving, because what you are -- a New York City police officer -- is bigger than staying out here and making love and being comfortable, isn't it? I guess I take my little life that seriously, too. What I am is bigger than that, just like you. You can't deny me what you know you have to choose for yourself."
I took my hand from the door and he closed it. He put his hands on my upper arms gently, and leaned his forehead against the back of my neck. "Okay, I see what you're getting at." When I didn't push away from him, he continued, "but about that word 'boff', don't say that any more, that's not nice. I like the sound of 'Sweetheart' better." I started to weep, and he wrapped both arms around me and held me tightly. "We'll make this right, Sully, I promise."
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