Sunday, May 23, 2010

Brian 2

So met Brian and Mac. Two hours later they were still sitting together talking as if they'd known each other much longer. By the time they decided to go and get dinner at a nearby restaurant they were fast friends. Kindred spirits. In an ancient book there is a story of two men whose spirits were Knitted together. Knots tied so securely that they wouldn't, couldn't come undone. Brothers bound with something stronger than blood.

Over the following months, between the shared meals, walks and coffees, Brian had taken more frequent trips back to his parents home in Florida to care for his aged and sick father. Eventually Brian stayed on for weeks until his Dad passed away. During this time Mac's and Brian's communicaes were limited to text messages, voice messages and short phone calls when Brian was out of the house. The occasional email to one another expressed their desire to be nearer to each other and to be able to talk while looking at the others face. A longing developed, an affirmation that they suited each other and that they enjoyed being in the company of the other.

His father's death was hard on Brian. He had worked diligently to be the best carer possible, bringing comfort and strength to what can only be described as an agonizing journey toward death for his dad. Brian expressed to Mac that he simply wanted to return the love and care his father had given him as a child.

Mac was almost surprised when Brian asked him to go to the beach house at Inlet Beach with him right after his father's funeral. Mac had initially declined not knowing what such an invitation actually meant but he agreed to think about it overnight. Brian's gentle and persuasive words worked. And the next day Mac was taking the eight something hour drive toward the Gulf of Mexico. Brian's voice was clearly happy as Mac called to say he was on the way and he'd be there that afternoon.

Their embrace upon Mac's arrival was sweet. Mac had forgotten what good hugs Brian gave and he hoped that Brian thought the same. "Mmm, good hug," said Brian, and went for another one.

Their days at the beach were filled with good times. The comfort that two men can enjoy in simply remaining quiet in each others company is a rare thing. They shared that comfort. But don't begin to imagine that's all they did.

They spent butt numbing hours riding bikes at an easy, cruising speed around the neighborhoods adjoining one another in the maze of expensive and delightful homes along the beachfront. Brian led the way pointing out one style after another, highlighting architectural features on various homes, pointing out the discrepancies in building code adhesion and so on. Whenever they came to a corner where there was the danger of a pedestrian stepping out in front of them Brian whistled cheerfully as a warning that worked most of the time. One particular incident gave rise to the ongoing joke about looking for nine year old girls for Brian to run over with his bike.

That short vacation for Mac was one of the most liberating times he'd ever experienced. Brian had Mac floating in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time ever and took pictures of him laying on the sand as the waves pushed sand up his swimming costume. Brian was the first person that Mac was able to confide in about so much. Jill, fatherhood, his concern about Clay not wanting to talk to him, new singleness, a future. Brian listened.

Brian took pictures of Mac to send back to Clay and Harrison. He wanted to make sure there was plenty of contact between the father and his sons. In hindsight it was perhaps a deep reflection of Brian's desire to hear from his father. Never the less, the time at the beach was too short really and Mac drove back to life in Atlanta while Brian stayed on for a few more days. They were the last days that Brian spent at his beloved father's beach house with the white walls and the seats on the roof and among the mature gnarly trees.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Brian 1

The wind blew cold across the silent graves. It wasn't meant to be this way. Somewhere in heaven, or hell, there was laughter.  A sick joke.

Mac stared at the little box that contained all there was left of his best friend's body. Such a big man reduced to so little. And cardboard. If it had been up to him he would have made sure that Brian's ashes were in something more fitting of a creative vibrant man. Brass, pottery, carved wood. Goodness, were the brothers so detached and insensitive that they were unable to even notice the exquisite taste with which Brian had decorated his life? And now they put him in a little cardboard box not unlike the ones you get when you buy a cheap mug from a one dollar gift store.

The green velvet cloth under the box flapped in the wind. Mac so much wanted to open the box and throw the ashes upward to be caught in the airflow but he knew that Brian would have wanted to be put in the earth next to his sweet mother. Someone else must have decided the box was too cheap to look at and they rearranged everything on the pedestal so that the cloth was now completely covering the box and the top half of the columnar pedestal - one of those cheap looking ones funeral homes seem to specialize in.

This was so wrong on so many levels. Brian and Mac had planned to spend the weekend - a long weekend - in the mountains. They both looked forward to getting away from Atlanta and back to the sanity and serenity the cabin offered. No such serenity now as Mac's mind swirled around the thoughts that now plagued him. How much he missed his friend.

"Damn," thought Mac, "should have worn another layer. Is it always this cold in Tallahassee?" The chill wind went straight for the bones.

Barely ten months prior to the funeral, Mac sat in a crowded Starbucks in Midtown. It was one of those drives he forced himself on after Jill had left. He knew he had to get out of the house or he'd rot so sitting in unknown coffee houses was the solution. At least it wasn't a bar. Caffeine didn't kill the loneliness any more than alcohol would have but at least it gave him a bit of a buzz and he could drive himself home.

The coffee shop was full. Mac found himself at a small table with two chairs alone and there he was sipping his cappuccino. He noticed a tall man walk in wearing a blue shirt. "Nice color," Mac had thought at the time, "matches his eyes." The stranger bought a cup of green tea served obscurely in a disposable cup and turned around to look for somewhere to sit. There was but one empty chair in the place. He moved toward Mac and asked if he minded if he occupied the chair.

So met Brian and Mac. Two hours later they were still sitting together talking as if they'd known each other much longer. By the time they decided to go and get dinner at a nearby restaurant they were fast friends, kindred spirits. In an ancient book there is a story of two men whose spirits were knitted together. Knots tied so securely that they would not, could not, come undone. Brothers bound with something stronger than blood.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Do You Love Me Enough? 3

She sat on the love seat, he on the sofa at right angles to her. This was good, Mac thought, no direct face to face contact. Conversation began again about her arrangements for going back to Australia, how it fitted in with what was “best for them all”, and how the boys really did need them back 'home.' Screaming out inside, but this is home, Mac remained calm on the exterior, like a white washed wall against a thunderous sky. Then it came. The question.

"Do you love me enough to come back to Australia when it's time?" Her voice seemed to come from somewhere else. Mac wondered for a moment about Jill’s question.

His first thought was that it came from her insecurity, from that place in her that never seemed to get enough of the love that she craved. It hadn’t mattered that Mac diligently said he loved her at least three times every day. He never left the house without kissing her goodbye, never came home without kissing her again, always said goodnight with a kiss, and each occasion was accompanied by the words, “I love you”. It didn’t matter that they held hands just about every time they went walking together or sat with arms around and draped on each other when they sat in church or watched a movie or shared a sofa at the home of friends. No, she always looked for more affirmation than all that and so she had asked often before whether he loved her or not. But this time was different. The question was marked with an addend, an appendix, a suffix of sorts.

Next his thoughts went toward her tendency to want to control a conversation and thereby the situation. It could have been her way of collecting evidence to be used later. If he answered yes then she could later recall “But you said…” He’d lost many arguments before with that kind of trap. Mac didn’t want to fall into her snare again but at the same time he knew he needed to be truthful.

Mac decided in an instant that it didn’t matter what Jill’s motivation was although he suspected he knew the question’s point of origin. He heard himself answer.

"Of course I do."

Despite himself and all that was in him he actually meant it. He did love her enough to go anywhere for her. He had been willing to go along with the plan to go back despite how he felt. But it was more than that. Although their intimacies had grown less and their love making gone stale he knew that he did love her deeply. Somewhere in his gut he knew it but he didn't feel it. What was that the preachers had said countless times - love is an act of the will and not an emotion? He could love Jill that way, he had for years. Simply an act of the will: a set of activities sequenced in such a way to give the appearance of love in the desperate hope she'd fall for it. Mac was beginning to think that the nature of her question was a hint that she realized that he was merely acting in love instead of feeling it. Besides, he was going to stick to the plan.

"Yes, I love you and the boys enough to go back to Australia." As if reiterating it would make it more believable. It didn’t work on himself so he doubted it worked on her.

She stared at him. Jill was trying to decipher her husband. He had become very difficult to read lately. Actually ever since his diagnosis and subsequent deliverance from depression three years ago he was somehow changed and she hadn't known this man. Firmer, assertive to all, except her in bed, and yet more guarded. She had wondered if he had something to hide but she had concluded that he was merely allowing himself to be less vulnerable.

"But that's an unfair question." Mac’s voice was calm. She stared. She hadn't counted on this. Her reckoning was that he'd leave it at his answer to her question and not ask anything back. That's how it had been for years. She'd ask. He'd answer. End of conversation as long as she had made her point. But this was unexpected.

"Do you love me enough to stay?" Mac's skin prickled much like those who have been struck by lightning say they felt right before it happened. The smell of ozone could almost be detected in the atmosphere of the living room.

"No, I don't."

She hadn't even stopped to think about it.

Experts tell us that it takes years to build up impenetrable walls within us. Family of origin issues, bullying at school, lowered self esteem during pimple ridden teen years, betrayal by friends, terrible bosses with unrealistic expectations. Bad experience after bad experience, brick by brick the walls are raised. That instant Mac knew that all the theories were wrong. Massive structures of steel and concrete came out of nowhere - he wasn't sure if they'd been lowered from above like theatrical flats that instantly change the scenery on the stage or if they had sprung up from the dark earth below. Thump. There they were. Mac found himself in a thick walled fortress and he knew he'd never let her in again.

He looked across the room at her and noticed her mouth was moving as if to speak. He heard nothing but had the vague sense that she was trying to work her way out of the hole she had just dug with her tongue. That was okay. It's not as if she would ever say sorry. That had never been her style and Mac doubted she'd begin a new habit now.

Jill got up and moved into the kitchen. Mac's coffee sitting on the end table at his left hand had gone cold.