She Doesn't Like the Blues
By Andrew Lawrence Crown
Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2006. All rights reserved.
“Thank you, Professor Robertson. Thank you for your time. What happens next is that this panel will interview the remainder of our ten candidates and we will get back to you if you are one of our top three choices and schedule an interview with the Dean of Social Sciences.”
I shook hands with the Department Chair and thanked the panel of seven tenured faculty in an effort to appear as positive as humanly possible even though I was certain I had failed to make the sufficient impression required for the position and understood I was fated to remain an adjunct for another year. As I gathered my CV, my briefcase, and my USB drive with the PowerPoint slides, my father’s voice invaded my troubled conscience delivering with his frustrated enthusiasm, with his irate fervor, his favorite sermon, the one I had heard on innumerable occasions in as many variations on the same theme as a man prone to endless repetition was capable of composing.
“Damn it Paul. I’ve told you once if I’ve told you a thousand times your credentials and your honors are irrelevant. Listen to me because I’m your father and I’ve hired more young people starting out like yourself than I can remember. It’s the whole person, the total man who’s important. You’ve got to start building relationships. Get out there and meet people, make connections, network, have a drink with the Department Chair. That’s the academic version of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors. Who you know is more important than what you know. Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa won’t get you the job you want. Why won’t you listen to your old man Paul? Don’t you believe I have anything to teach you anymore? I taught you how to walk, and talk, and how to throw a baseball. Now listen for once and take someone’s advice because I’m trying to help you. A slap on the back and lunch with the Dean will do more for you than your 4.0. Connections, relationships, networking, an attitude change, show them your guts and your gusto. The total man. The whole person.”
I had to hurry out of the classroom where I was interviewed because I was afraid I might say something aloud and give away my secret to the panel of tenured faculty. Ever since I was an adolescent I had been unable to reign in these intense imaginations that followed me like the moon follows you over your shoulder as you walk through the dark on a lonesome night. People like me, people with my condition are never really alone. There is always a chorus of companions, friends and enemies real and imagined singing to us their distracting verse as we struggle to cope with the real facts of our existence.
“Alright already Dad,” I muttered to myself as I exited the classroom, quietly enough so that none of the panel could guess something about me was amiss. I felt I had to say something, anything to shut him off because now was not an appropriate time to indulge in reminisces. Over the years I had grown accustomed to the necessity to shut him off wherever he might get started on one of his ranting lectures. In the car that he drove too fast for someone with Coke-bottle glasses, walking through the square at Lincoln when he tried to convince me that dinner at a gentrified bistro held more worth than my hours of study of irrelevant books, standing in the playground at Irving Park and the Lake and watching my boy Joseph attempt to eat wood chips, when he hollered at me over the phone and tried to convince me to be more like him, and anywhere and everywhere this endlessly repeated lecture was forced upon me against my will.
You had to say something to shut him up or he would never stop, in this life or the imagined one.
“I’ve already heard it already, a hundred million times before Dad. Would you just stop for once? You’ll never make a dent.” But I had already given up. To struggle against this was pointless. What one has to do is to resign oneself to the presence of others, even when they are uninvited.
“I’m an old man Paul. I know what it takes to make it in this world. You’re not making it, son. What’s your PhD going to buy you? Who paid your health insurance last year? Your retired father Paul, that’s who. It’s disgraceful. I’m on a fixed income and I can’t support you when you’re 32 years old. Son, you’ve got to stop waiting for a miracle. You’ve got to make your own luck. I don’t want to say I told you so, but I have to say I told you so. You should have taken my advice and studied something practical, accounting, law, business, you can teach high school full-time, anything is better than these adjunct posts. Why do you allow them to use you like this? You teach seven classes a week and spend three hours a day commuting from one second-rate college to the next but still your old man, retired and on a fixed income I have to remind you again, has to pay your medical bills and help you with your alimony. And it’s a travesty the way you let your wife give up on you. You should call her and get back together and forget about all of this nonsense between the two of you. She supported you for seven years at the U of C and you let it all go to hell because your paranoia tells you she’s cheating on you. She never cheated on you. You cheated her and your son when you couldn’t make the mortgage as an adjunct. Call her up and meet her in the park. She should be standing here with you instead of me watching your son play in the sand and the wood chips. There is still a way to make it up to her. Apologize. Apologize. Apologize. Listen to me when I’m talking to you. I said Apologize. Apologize to the mother of your son and my daughter-in-law. She was a spectacular find. You’ll never do better than her. If you can’t see that like the rest of us can then you need to spend more time in counseling. Go see your doctor and tell him your troubles. I can’t help someone like you. You’re a brick wall to my advice. I’m just an old man.”
A thousand discourses like this were embedded into my mind, etched into the moving matter of my consciousness like the engraving on my son’s wristband that said “Please. Careful. I’m allergic to nuts. In case of emergency call 911.” I had grown used to them and had developed a manner of coping by resentfully laughing in the face of their sharp critique of essentially who I was as a person, against the total man and whole person I was, an academic type for whom social events and drinks in the company of go getters like my father were unendurably uncomfortable. I thought that my father and the rest of those businessmen were ridiculous people, while I, with my eleven years of higher education and my 27K salary knew how a man ought to live in order to more closely and honestly approach the oughts and shoulds of human existence. But I was sore in my stubborn indignation and unwillingness to give in and wear the suit because I knew the critique was as serious as the words on Joseph’s wristband, with as much import and relevance for the well being and happiness of my son and my family.
Joseph’s mother, my wife Suji (I continued to call her my wife because I refused to accept the finality she hoped to achieve through those documents which claimed we were legally divorced) had left me and moved to Skokie to live with her sister and her sister’s husband who drove a Lexus to his law office downtown. Though my father thought I could easily patch things up with my spectacular find, I was convinced that a thousand apologies would never bring her back. At least that had not worked when I tried it over the phone. What she said she wanted from me now, what she told me she and my son needed, was a husband and a father to her child who could be depended upon. She wanted reliability and a provider who could give her some of the comfort she had missed growing up in a poor family in Pusan, South Korea.
Back in the present, slapping my cheek with one hand to lift me out of this rumination as I somehow managed to carry myself and my briefcase full of my credentials –CV, degrees, impressive letters of reference from distinguished historians and political scientists at the U of C – out of the room down the hall and down the stairs as I heard one of the panel of seven tenured social science faculty remark to his colleague,
“He’s good, very good, but lets see what else we’ve got on our list for today’s interviews.”
That was when I saw her. She was walking up as I walked down the spiraled white carrera marble staircase in Mandolin Hall with its oaken guard rails rising through crystal chandeliers suspended from twisted iron wires, her high-heeled shoes popping against the old bleeding marble like fire-crackers sounding louder and clearer, more like huge drops of water landing inside the echo chamber of some hidden waterfall-laden valley. She approached me and I stopped midway to watch her climb the flight of stairs below where I stood. She was Leah Cohen, a former classmate from the U of C, a former girlfriend, formerly and presently beautiful, sharp, and elegantly refined.
“Hello Paul,” she said as we both stopped midway on the stairs and carefully examined one another’s interview suits. Mine was the standard gray recommended to me by the enthusiastic salesperson at the Men’s Warehouse whose last words to me as I left the store with the suit were, “With this suit, Paul, the job is already yours.” Leah’s suit was more cutting edge, black like her briefcase, businesslike and academic, but also revealing the curves and arcs of her shapely figure.
“I had no idea we were competitors for this position. Where did you hear about the opening, in the Chronicle?”
“Lebowitz e-mailed the ad from the Chronicle back in February. I missed the ad myself and wouldn’t had known about the opening without Leobowitz’s tip.”
Yes, I had missed the ad even though the position was ideal for me, like I missed being able to talk to Leah in this manner because she was ideal for me. Although our voices echoed off the marble steps and high ceilings of the stairwell, we both felt a kind of privacy and were thankful no one was watching or listening. It was just the two of us in our interview suits looking like the next power couple ready to take over the world together. I thought of the Clintons, the Perons, Thatcher at tea with Reagan, and I forgot for a moment to consider the minor detail of my miserable interview and the fact that only one of us could be offered the job, and what was obvious to both of us, and must had been obvious to even Lebowitz (our advisor in grad school who had prepped both of us for the interview without bothering to inform either of us that we were competing for the position). The unmistakable truth was that we all knew that she was bound to be hired before me for almost any academic job. I am a specialist in classical political theory and the American Revolution, while Leah wrote her award-winning dissertation on the 70s women’s movement, a much sexier and marketable focus in today’s liberal-dominated academic climate. As a Jacob Javits scholar she was an ideal candidate for a political science opening, while my grants from the conservative Institute for Humane Studies made me politically suspect with some of the more liberal members of every interview panel I had faced.
She was also beautiful, exactly my height, slender around the waist, but built like a runway model in the right places, black hair like an Egyptians and an olive complexion year round which did not require visits either to the beach or the tanning parlor.
“You look great in that suit,” I could not help saying even though I knew from long experience that she was not the type of person who needed to hear compliments. First in her class at Whitney Young, first in her department at Brandeis, and then back home to Chicago and the U of C for graduate school on a full ride, finishing her award-winning dissertation a full year before most of the rest of us in her class had received approval for our research proposals and received our dissertation funding. Of course I had earned high honors as well, but somehow she always left more of an impression than I did because maybe it was like my father had said to me in a tormented harangue after Leah and I broke up, her total person was more spectacular than mine. The brain of an Einstein, the dark brown eyes of a foreign princess, the toned and sculptured dark body of an Olympian and the confidence of fifteen fantastically successful Ivy League over-achievers, I was no match for her, never had been, and I knew it.
“I’m not your competition,” I honestly admitted. “ I gave my job talk on the conflict between civil rights and civil liberties as exemplified by the case of hate speech on college campuses. One of the female faculty members on the interview panel purposely misunderstood my position on anti-misogyny articles in the campus speech code and accused me of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and then she conflated Zionism with fascism and I lost it for a second after she had the nerve to insinuate that my haircut, my close crew cut had some political significance when you know that all I’m trying to do is hide my bald spot. She had the nerve to ask me how I felt about Nazis when you know I’ve given up cheeseburgers and lobster and I take my boy to services at the temple in Evanston as often as I can.”
“Did you make the mistake of discussing your Zionism again at an interview?” Leah asked without hiding her disappointment. “Remember what Lebowitz told us in his office on the day his rear window was smashed after he published the op-ed in the New York Times about the war. In the current political climate we’ve got to refrain from advertising our affiliation and wearing our ideology on our sleeves. We don’t have to give the lefties an excuse to blacklist us even before the interview is over.”
“I should have kept my mouth shut when the lefty asked me about the Middle East. How is a moderate like me, a white male who doesn’t think all Republicans take their orders directly from the antichrist, ever going to get hired?”
“Patience,” Leah said as she walked up the stairs and firmly placed a hand on my shoulder as she passed by. She drew her mouth and dark brown lips close to my ear to finish the thought quietly and gracefully. “Patience could have saved our love. You always wanted me to make my mind up so quickly about everything. You were always ready to order my lunch at the Medici before I had the chance to look at the menu for five minutes. Our proposal came much too soon when I was deep into my research and focused on my qualifying exams. You know that was the wrong time to ask me to make such a life determining decision. Patience and fortitude and you’ll get what you want one day. I know you will like I know some day you will have tenure and be sitting on panel like the one that just screwed you.”
A deep long sigh to acknowledge the veracity of her point was all I could muster as she was walking up the staircase and away from me again. I gathered my wits and spoke because I could not and would not leave it at that.
“You left me and now Suji is living in Skokie with her sister and refuses to come home or even talk to me on the phone. You’ll get this job and I’ll still be an adjunct again next year.”
“There will be other interviews Paul,” she said as she continued to walk up and away from me.
“Not this year,” I complained a little louder because she was further away now. “It’s already May and I’ll have to wait another six months before the next round of job openings are even advertised.”
“The baby boomers are packing up and heading to Arizona. There will be other jobs. Keep your chin up and stop calling Suji on the phone. Drive up to Skokie and knock on her door with a bouquet of roses. That’s all she wants from you, she wants you to demonstrate your interest. She wants to see the evidence, the proof of your love. Discussing your feeling endlessly like a mental patient is a sign of your neurosis and self-absorption Paul, not your commitment. A demonstration was all I wanted, it was what all of your women ever wanted Paul.”
“What did I do wrong Leah? Why did you leave me for that backstabber Huntington? I still want to vomit when I remember his affected old Virginian accent. Was it his boat and his money that sealed my fate?”
“Huntington showed me Lake Michigan, showed my the beauty of this vast inland sea five blocks away from me my entire life and you made me drink water at the Medici and sent the waiter back to the kitchen with my coke.”
“I was thinking about calories and your figure. I wanted to keep you as my goddess.”
“You weren’t thinking about calories.”
“Huntington’s old man left him with millions. All I had was my grant from the Institute. I could barely make rent.”
She turned around at the top of the stairs and frowned at me nonetheless, a bitter frown which revealed a hint of guilt along with its aggravation.
“I’ve got to go or I’ll be late for the interview.”
The marble resounded with her angry steps but I stood still and mesmerized by her shapely brown legs anyway. At the top of the stairs she turned and shot me a look of gratitude as if I had already hired her and granted her tenure.
“Thanks for the tip about the bra burner. I’m going to dodge all questions about the Middle East.
“That will do it Leah,” I cheered her on with confidence. “Good luck. The job is yours.”
I drove home with the radio off unable to stomach the distracting complexity of National Public Radio and the political events of the day due to my disappointment concerning my performance during the interview. It would be enough if I made it home without an accident so I just focused on driving safely and tried not to let the features of Leah, which were now seared into my imagination due to our chance meeting, compete with the taillights in front of me and the headlights behind me as I made my way back to Albany Park where my apartment was located about a mile from the more fashionable and upscale Lincoln Square. The real estate agent, a pushy relentless and sassy sister of one of my colleagues from an adjunct post, had promised Suji and I that the condo was a fine investment since the gentrification in Lincoln Square was bound to spill westward into Albany Park. I could see by the changes I had witnessed, the new condos going up every few weeks and the renovations on my block, that she was right in spite of her overly-assertive nature, but that did not help me when I walked to the corner fruit and vegetable market and was met with angry menacing looks from the young toughs guarding the street corners, their territory and turf, from the oncoming rush of the white gentrifying yuppies like myself spilling west from the Square one property at a time, literally invading this predominantly Hispanic territory which once had been Greek, and before that Jewish, and before that Polish, and which was changing today just as many neighborhoods are changed by the flux and transformation of the never static urban scene.
As soon as I opened the door to my apartment I saw the red light of my answering machine blinking on and off like the beacon on a jet plane. I had a feeling it was my father who left the message, calling me up to inquire about the interview. Because I did not want to disappoint him with the bad news I did not hit the play button. Instead I set up my laptop on the dining room table next to my cold half-eaten breakfast I had neglected to clean up this morning (a soggy bowl of corn flakes, the flakes now bloated from the absorbed milk like dead fish lying on a sunny beach) after I left it unfinished because I was too nervous to eat with the interview scheduled for the afternoon, and I typed seven thank you letters, one for each member of the interview panel in full understanding of the complete futility of this exercise in politeness that I was now all too familiar with after years of trying unsuccessfully to escape my status as a highway-bound adjunct traveling from school to school like some itinerant teacher from days gone by, without the benefits or the salary required to pay for this dining room and the oak table Suji and I had picked out together when we moved our stuff in a true spirit of optimism. The optimism was gone now, and so was Suji but I wrote on hoping for a miracle as I went on hoping Suji would someday answer my phone calls, and I wrote outstandingly composed and expertly crafted, I dare say publishable, thank you letters, and I took extra pains to say something to stroke the towering ego of the skeptical lefty who had sunk my hopes of landing the job with her intentional misunderstanding of my position on the Middle East. I wrote something meaningful and unique for each member of the panel, but especially for her I waxed on at length about the complexity of the crisis and the requirement for delicacy in our theoretical notions underlying our proposed solutions lest we make the tragic situation over there worse with the ignorance and the miscomprehension of the outsider, and I was certain when I was finished that none of the members of the panel and especially not the skeptical feminist could accuse me of lacking consideration, inattention to detail or a proclivity towards the use of form letters after interviews. I spent well over ninety minutes on the letters, and when I finished I saw the answering machine light still flashing on and off and I remembered all of the airplanes that had taken me across oceans and continents to find my Suji while a hope arose within me that the message could be from my wife in Skokie and not from my father. As I hurriedly walked to the machine I experienced what I can only call a premonition. It had to be my wife calling me from Skokie, pleading for me to ask her to return home and bring my son with her, and I almost tripped over a wet towel from this morning’s shower that I had carelessly let fall to the floor, pressed the play button and heard my father’s voice.
“Paul. This is your father. I want to hear how the interview went. Give me a call sometime tonight before 9:30. Your mother and I are turning in early because we are driving up to South Haven early tomorrow morning.”
I looked at the clock on the wall across from the Korean Shilla Dynasty woodcarving replica. It was past 9:45 so I decided not to call. The old man could wait until after the weekend to hear of my recent failure, so why spoil his weekend at the beach with my bad news. I erased his message sensing my disappointment that it had not been my wife who had called and then I actually picked up the receiver and started to dial her sister’s number but I soon stopped myself again before I finished when I considered that she would only hang up on me again. How to apologize and convince her that I could provide for my family was the thing I was unable to do even though I’m known as imaginative among my small circle of friends and colleagues. No one could fault me for lack of effort. It was not as though I had not tried and was not now trying to provide. Hadn’t I mailed out over 50 CVs and given seven job talks this year? I was still trying even after repeated failures year after year to catch the golden goose; an appropriate full-time post as a professor of political science at a reputable university which would enable me to pay for my mortgage, my insurance, and my son’s allergy medication. Then and only then I knew I would be able to convince my wife to come back home with my son to join me once again and recompose our family.
Only a few hours earlier on the staircase in Mandolin Hall, my thoughts had been consumed by Leah and I had lamented aloud our break-up a full five years after the fact. But now alone in my apartment with the towel and the laundry on the floor, a sink full of dishes, and the half-eaten breakfast on the dining room table I was certain I needed Suji back and had to forget about Leah.
I sat down on the couch, turned on WFMT classical music and tried to relax and rid myself of the agitation by allowing the music to drift and flow through me, the sounds like the scent of fine food being cooked somewhere close by and surrounding me with comfort each time I inhaled. I decided to let myself fall asleep and closed my eyes and almost immediately I began to drift and float like the imagined scent and the music through a series of memories featuring my wife and my son. I saw in my mind the day we arrived at O’Hare airport with my parents there to meet us in the terminal. My father shook my hand and introduced himself to his new daughter-in-law for the first time and my mother kissed Suji on the cheek and told her five times in a row that she was the most beautiful angel she had ever seen. My father said with confidence as we walked through the terminal to the exit that if I could teach for two years at a university in Korea, meet and marry this beautiful wife, then certainly I would be able to make things work out here in the states. No problem.
I remembered the day Suji and I moved into our condo in Albany Park and painted the walls green and blue and then sat out on the back deck in our paint splattered jeans and t-shirts to drink lemonade while the sun set orange and red through the humid city haze.
There was the visit to Lincoln Park Zoo, the time our son leapt out of his stroller with his tiny Cubs cap in his hands and ran up to the glass of the seal tank and threw his hat at one gray seal just to see what would happen next. Then we watched him bang on the glass with his tiny fists and cry as the hat sank slowly down to the bottom of the tank, its descent interrupted monetarily once or twice when the offended seal playfully tossed it upwards with his black nose, and then down to the bottom of the tank went the hat to rest among half-eaten fish and seal turds.
Finally I remembered the day she left. I walked in tired and hoping for some kind words after my long commute to and from three different schools in one day and there she was dragging to the door her suitcase in one hand and my son in the other, tears in her eyes, but determination on her face like she was complying with some internal drive and the demand of necessity as she attempted to make her escape.
“I’m going to my sister’s,” she informed me before she shut the door on the way out. “Don’t ask me to come back to you until you can keep the promises you made to me in Korea when you convinced me to marry you. You told me I would never have to want for money again and that you would rescue me from my parent’s poverty, take care of me like a dutiful husband, and give me my American dream. Do you know what I think about all of your promises? I think you are a liar. Read the mail I opened on the dining room table, especially read the letter from the bank about the mortgage payments being late again. Paul, I am warn you, I’m not coming back until you can show me how you are going to take care of us, your son and I, like a father and a husband who knows his duty to his wife and child. The only other way I’ll come back is if you take me home to Korea and work at the Korean university again. We were so happy in my country, and there you were a real professor with our apartment paid for by the university, but here in America, in this dangerous city Chicago with all of the gangsters hanging out on the street, life is a trial every day and we have to struggle just to keep our heads above water. Why do you make my son swim in deep water? Why can’t we afford our house and our car and our groceries? I won’t live like this any more. Don’t think you can make me get used to it because you believe I am some low class impoverished deprived girl from Korea. I won’t live like that again, not in this dream-come-true-country America. You have to give me my American dream. You promised it to me, I remember when you swore you would give it to me. You told me this country is the promised land but you can’t keep any of your promises to us, me and my son.”
The music from the stereo stopped abruptly as the radio announcer slowly and deliberately in that classical station monotone cadence delivered his voice rendition of a commercial. “Escape to Michigan. Romantic dinner by the lake, followed by theater and drama, exquisite boutiques and antiques, and it’s all just a short drive away.” But the old man was in Michigan and would not want to see me at the cottage without my wife and son. I sensed a sudden urge to call Suji again, and I actually picked up the telephone receiver and started to dial, but I stopped myself again realizing she would only hang up, if not immediately upon hearing my voice, then certainly after I told her the bad news about the interview. So instead of attempting to address the biggest problem in my life at the time, my broken home and the reason why I was alone again, I half-heartedly cleaned up the mess in the dining room, threw some dirty clothes and the towel from the morning shower in the wash, tossed the morning’s dishes in the sink, and prepared to turn in for the night.
At eleven-thirty when I was lying awake staring into the darkness of my lonely room and feeling the absence of my wife beside me in our bed, I was awoken by a rattling of keys against the door followed by the sound of keys making their way through the lock on the doorknob and deadbolt. Fearing that somehow some intruder, perhaps one of the tough kids from the corner, had managed to obtain a duplicate set of my keys by paying off some envious neighbor from the condo who despised me for my basic good-natured decency and my overloaded bookshelves (they thought I was a success because I was a professor and knew nothing about my contemptible adjunct salary), I shouted into the darkness, “I’ll have you know I’m armed with a loaded gun asshole, so get the hell out of my apartment or you’re toast.” I stumbled loudly through the furniture in my shorts and t-shirt in a failed attempt to make my way silently into the kitchen to find the largest and most dangerous utensil I could get my hand on because the truth was I of course had no gun loaded or empty, and I reached into a drawer and took hold of something and ran into the living room wielding a spatula in the most threatening posture I could retrieve from my clouded memory of the countless Hong Kong action movies I had watched with my wife.
“Cool it Jackie Chan,” Suji said dispassionately as she flipped the lights on.
“What on earth,” I shouted almost hyperventilating from the excitement both of seeing her back home and imagining her to be the assassin from the street.
“I’ve come back home,” she announced coolly, “On the condition that you do not torment me by dwelling on the fact that I left. Our son is still at my sister’s. If you will have us back we will bring him home tomorrow.”
I watched her quickly walk past me without even looking at my face and I could see down the hallway into the bedroom where she quickly searched the closet for her pajamas, closed the door to put them on in privacy, and then opened the door once more and marched back out to talk to me again still flabbergasted in the dining room yet with the spatula in my hand.
She kissed me on the cheek.
“Good night. You are my husband. I am sorry. I won’t leave you again.”
She hurried back to the bedroom, shut off the light and climbed under the covers completely so that all I could see was the outline of the shape of her body under the blankets.
Stunned and bowled over, I went to turn off the lights and lock the front door again when I was met with another shocking surprise. There in the doorway was Leah still wearing the interview suit and smiling widely at me.
“What are you doing here?” I somehow managed to say without chewing my tongue off. “Did you come here with Suji?”
And then I figured it out.
“Did you bring her home to me? How did you do it?”
“I drove to her sister’s house after the interview. There Suji and I had a long talk, woman to woman, one lover of Paul Robertson to another. Suji’s sister helped me out and before too long we were able to convince her to give you another chance.”
“Forget about how you did it. Why did you do it Leah?” I asked.
“I felt terrible leaving you in the stairwell and going to the interview. I thought you deserved the job as much as I did. By the way, they are going to offer the position to me, I just know it. The department chair told me the interview with the Dean would just be a formality and I’m going to take the job even though I know you deserve it as much as I do because you know as well as I do that the job market for us PhDs is just that competitive. Nonetheless I could not help myself from thinking throughout the interview that I also know and appreciate that you are no Huntington, so I wanted to help.”
“Thank you,” was all I could say. I wanted to find out more about how she had convinced my wife to come back to me but she stopped me before I could ask the first of fifteen questions and reminded me that it was late and that someone was waiting for me under all of those covers.
Before she departed she left me with another tip.
“There’s an opening for a social science teacher at a magnet school near the Zoo. It’s not college, but it will pay your mortgage and you’ll be able to pay for Joseph’s doctor.”
“I’ll look into it,” I promised. “High School? I don’t know Leah. I’m not sure how I would relate to the kids.”
“You are a kid,” Leah said as she made her way out into the street. I asked her if she wanted to me to walk her to her car, but she said she was parked right outside the door.
“Remember when we were just kids, you and I starting out? Do me a favor and don’t forget about our good times, those days and months and years of our early twenties when we explored and discovered and grappled with the baffling drives that drew us together magnetically before our immaturity tore us apart. How I needed you back then, how I wanted to be next to you each moment, each second of the day. I know you can’t let go of the bad times, you can’t stop thinking about Huntington and his stupid boat even though you know I never wanted anything more than some patience instead of a patient, but try, for my sake, to remember the fun we had, remember how we helped each other, remember me as your bulwark and your supporter, your chief ally. And don’t forget to make some fun for Suji and Joseph. I’m still looking for your replacement Paul and I don’t know if I’ll ever find someone quite like you again…the men who court me now, and do they court me, they lack something of your concern and your empathy. If you can help me or tell me how I can find another man like you I’d be in your debt once again, but now, this is not my crisis or my moment of importance. I am here, I came here where it is so hard for me to come and then leave, for you and your family, so forget about my troubles and do go make some happiness for your Suji and Joseph. They deserve it Paul. I deserve it too. We all deserve it.”
“Near the Zoo?” I asked.
“Lincoln Park,” she affirmed as she closed the door. “I have it on good recognizance that they are looking for someone just like you.”
After I locked the door I made a mental note to myself to call the school in Lincoln Park in the morning. After the call I thought I would take a drive with my wife to Skokie to pick up our son, and before I joined her in bed I thought carefully about what important things we would talk about in the car and what important things we would leave to talk about for another, more certain time.