Some days in October are so warm that they make you want to dig out the bathing suit again and bask in the sun. Unfortunately, the ground is too cold already, so on Saturday, I settled for shorts and sat on my porch with my legs in the late afternoon warmth. I'd put up my Halloween decorations, mowed the yard, brushed the dog. Time to rest. Eyes shut. I could smell Autumn, the rich moist earth and the new grass, I could hear the new season, the sound of geese flying over, heading south. Oh! I could hear Gabe snarling and roaring like a pack of demons. He was straining at his collar, on his long tie-out, threatening a young man on my front walk. I hauled him back and stuffed him in the front door, slammed it shut, and looked at the boy. Familiar-looking boy. From church? Supermarket? "Hi, can I help you?" I said to him.
"Are you Solange Bergman?" he asked me, standing about fifteen feet away as though he thought the dog might come out again.
"Sully Ambris, sorry." Good, wrong number, some dumb door-to-door sales pitch, I could go back to basking.
"But -- were you married to a man named Adam Bergman once?"
"Berman. Yeah, a long time ago." What the hell was this, anyway?
The young man took a deep breath, pressed his lips together in an all too familiar way. No. Tell me this isn't happening. I groped for my chair and sat down hard, rattling it.
"I'm his son, and I'm just trying to find him. To meet him." He wiped his palms on the sides of his jeans nervously.
"His son? When did he have a son? How old are you?" This was too weird; I couldn't think. "When were you born? Who are you, anyway?"
"Oh, sorry! I'm Adam Bergman, Jr. I'll be twenty-three soon. Uhh, I was born in 1979." He had brightened, looking a little more hopeful that I would be able to help him.
Help him? I needed a crutch! Adam Bergman, Junior? Adam had a three-year-old son somewhere when we got married, and he never told me? That sleazy bastard! That meant he had a year-old baby son when I met him! "Where are you from, Adam?"
"Austin,Texas. My father left after he divorced my mom, and I never saw him until once when I was seven. He stopped to see how mom was doing. Mom called his trucking company and asked them about him, but they wouldn't tell her anything."
Too much information. He had a marriage prior to ours, and never told me? He was in Texas while he was on the road, seeing an ex-wife and son and never told me?
"When the Nine-Eleven thing happened, I wanted to find out if he was alive, and where he lived, see if he remembered me. So Mom and I looked him up on the internet, you know, those document sites? But we couldn't find anything. Mom remembered his mother's married name, so we looked her up and found her." I should have told the kid to stop talking, but I still felt punched in the stomach.
"She doesn't know where he is. She didn't even know about Mom and me, either. She told us that he'd changed his name, and he'd married you, but then you got a divorce. She thought we could look for you, your maiden name, and here I am. I didn't know whether to call you Bergman or Berman or -- well, I wasn't sure how to pronounce your name."
He'd changed his name? "Sit down for minute, kid." I scraped another chair across the cement porch for him, feeling that somehow, he needed comfort for a few minutes. I myself was feeling so confused I needed a padded room for a few minutes. "Look, I'm sorry," I started. "This is all rather shocking news to me. I don't know where Adam is. I saw him last in 1990, and never again. I thought he was going to get married again, but I never heard the girl's name, or where he was going after he moved." I scanned the boy's face, looking for Adam, finding crumbs of him in browline and lips. He had Adam's big hands, although he was a much slighter build. Oh, Adam. I shook my head sadly. "Why do you want to find him, after he was gone for so long?"
"Mom always loved him, still does, she says. I remember when he visited, how happy she was. So I figure he has to be a hell of a guy. I just wanted to maybe get to know him."
That poor woman, I thought. This poor kid. Poor me. Am I going to be the one who tells him his father is a lying, cheating, run-away son of a bitch? No. He wouldn't believe me anyway. "Sorry, Adam Bergman, Junior. You look like your dad, but I can't help you. I have no clues at all. He was always pretty private, even when we were married. I didn't even know he'd changed his name."
"Okay, thanks anyway. Here's my address; if you ever hear anything, could you please let me know?"
"Sure thing. Bye."
I went inside and let Gabe sniff me to make sure that I had come to no harm. No injuries to the body, anyway. Quite a blow to the ol' psyche. I headed for the kitchen, instinctively looking for something stable and familiar. Would a hot cup of tea with sugar help? I rubbed my forehead, trying to grasp this news. And stopped dead in my tracks in the doorway. Leaned against the doorjamb, stunned again.
Catholics aren't supposed to marry divorced persons unless they've gone through the annulment process. Adam belonged to no religion, and so would never have bothered to annul this other marriage. And what's more, the dirty bastard had lied on our paperwork, not admitting to a previous marriage or a divorce. That meant that technically, I had never been validly married.
All this time. All this soul-searching. The years of clinging faithfully to a ceremony that wasn't ever more than a bunch of lies in the face of the Church. I'd been taught that marriage was a holy pledge by two people before the eyes of God, witnessed by the priest and congregation. But there God must have been at my wedding, covering up His eyes with His hand, shaking his head at me marrying Adam, that stinking creep, who wasn't an eligible bachelor after all.
I had been so pompously faithful all those years. Marriage is forever! Marriage is 'til death do us part! The last walls of my edifice began tumbling down, stones and bricks clattering away, leaving me exposed and stupid before the world. Boy, what a ride I'd been taken for. I cast about in my mind, trying to recall if I had ever asked him outright, "Have you ever been married before?" No wonder he'd insisted on having the house and the cars in my name. It hadn't been so that I would have good credit, or fewer complications if he was in an accident on the road, as he'd said. He was avoiding being tracked for alimony, for child support, the no-good, rotten, lousy ... That would be why he changed his name, now wouldn't it? I remembered him saying that his last name, Berman, was Swedish, but his mother had said it had been changed. He didn't say that he was the one who had changed it! That lying piece of shit! Why didn't I notice that? Why didn't I pin him to a wall and make sure he was honest with me? Well, duhh, because I wanted to jump his bones. Because I didn't want to find out that someone that gorgeous was a loser. I wanted to believe what he said, believe he was wonderful, believe ... in some pathetic, sexually misguided day-dream.
Well, hell, how much of a background check was I supposed to do on everyone I met? I started to laugh, loudly, at my incredible gullibility and my vanity. And maybe at the humor of God, who produced this evidence not in my grief at the ending of my marriage, but after the fact, after I had finally gotten past my hard-headedness, after I had finally admitted that marrying Adam wasn't all I had pretended it was.
Gabe barked to be let out, sure that my laughter meant something fun was in store. I walked through the kitchen, and out the back door. The sky seemed huge, larger than it had ever been, the breeze swirling around me, making me wish that I could lift my arms and catch the wind under wings and fly far away from my humiliation. Once Jesse and Andersol heard this, I would never live it down. I could imagine them greeting me, Hi, Sully, want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge for John for Christmas? Whoa, Sul, who would you rather have for a dinner partner, Bigfoot or the Easter Bunny?
Except that really, I didn't need any shame for my trust. Maybe I'd made a stupid mistake, and been deceived, but I'd tried to do what I thought was right, made a pledge, and had done my best to see it through. Had I wasted my life? Did I have any regrets that I should have done things differently? What would my life have been like if I hadn't met Adam?
Probably I'd have met someone else, got married, had a couple kids of my own, and would have been wrapped up in my own business -- and so would not have had the opportunity, the leisure, or the interest in becoming close friends with my sister's first husband, Charles, or being able to devote myself to the kids while their mother was away. I wouldn't have met Bodie and Andersol, and so neither would have Jesse -- what a war zone the estate would have been without Bodie to keep Jesse happy and at peace with the kids' grandmother! For that matter, if I hadn't been driven to find life and love at the estate, I wouldn't have had the chance to become friends with Claire myself. Thinking of Claire, I laughed again. She wouldn't tease me, she'd probably order champagne.
Mary was going to be ecstatic, after she finished being outraged. But I owed her acquaintance to that stinking Adam as well -- she was another one I met and loved after he abandoned our farce of a marriage. And John. What would John say about this revelation, as if I didn't know?
I found that I was staring at the eastern horizon. Some skinny, chewed-up cop on the other coast might be home from work by now.
Returning to the kitchen, I put water on for tea while I punched buttons on the phone. When the answering machine came on at the other end, I said, "Maybe. Maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe."
There was a click, and John's voice said, "'Maybe what?"
I don't know where I'm going with all this. The sun is warm, my garden is lush with roses and arborvitae, bougainvilleas slathered with color. There's a limitless horizon ahead of me, full of strange symbols and events, and I have no idea where the path will lead. Will I marry John? Maybe. Maybe he and I are both too set in our ways to merge paths. Could he leave New York? I don't know. Could I leave my home and family here in California? Not likely, not yet. And what kind of an attitude would that be to try to bring into a marriage? I guess we'll find out whether or not we can build a new future, a new house of each other.
My life seems to have been punctuated painfully, chapters delineated by blows -- falling in love with Mr. Delusion, by divorce, deaths, disasters, all dreadful strikes to form a framework of milestones. But then there are the clouds of love that have filled my life with endless beautiful sunsets, and rivers of laughter, and the wonder of watching children grow from infants to people. Growing things, living things, everything as new each day as when it was first created. Each person a mysterious chest full of priceless treasures to delight in, to lift up. Perhaps the blows in life come from outside; but it seems to me that the goodness bubbles up from our hearts and souls, when we can savor each day, each smile, each kiss, and we can let it pour out and leap and spread strong wings in the sky.
Will I fall? This is my dream, and I am a person who can fly.