Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.At other times, it is allowing another to take yours.
She nodded and reached out to take my hand again. I turned to look at her fully, I didnt want to say it, but I felt I should. I'd never had a chance to say it to my sisters, to my mother and I'd always regretted it. "Just in case", I said, leaning down. For once the Laz remained respectful. It didn't want her. I wanted her. Knitting my fingers into her curls, I kissed her forehead. I limited myself to one word this time. "Goodbye.
The other day as I was stepping out of Star Grocery on Claremont Avenue with some pork ribs under my arm, the Berkeley sky cloudless, a smell of jasmine in the air, a car driving by with its window rolled down, trailing a sweet ache of the Allman Brothers' "Melissa," it struck me that in order to have reached only the midpoint of my life I will need to live to be 92. That's pretty old. If you live to be ninety-two, you've done well for yourself. I'd like to be optimistic, and I try to take care of my health, but none of my grandparents even made it past 76, three killed by cancer, one by Parkinson's disease. If I live no longer than any of them did, I have at most thirty years left, which puts me around sixty percent of the way through my time.I am comfortable with the idea of mortality, or at least I always have been, up until now. I never felt the need to believe in heaven or an afterlife. It has been decades since I stopped believing-a belief that was never more than fitful and self-serving to begin with-in the possibility of reincarnation of the soul. I'm not totally certain where I stand on the whole "soul" question. Though I certainly feel as if I possess one, I'm inclined to disbelieve in its existence. I can live with that contradiction, as with the knowledge that my time is finite, and growing shorter by the day. It's just that lately, for the first time, that shortening has become perceptible. I can feel each tiny skyward lurch of the balloon as another bag of sand goes over the side of my basket.
As the sun began to rise, the man reached out to the woman, and they clasped hands. He cradled her, and languidly they lifted themselves up to their feet, their bodies brushing, their eyes lost in each other's. Sensuously, deliberately, they danced, moving as though they were one, their body language smooth as their limbs carefully unfolded. They twirled and rocked, intertwined and separated, nearly leaning onto one another but barely touching, their movements sometimes tender, sometimes almost violent...Moments passed while the dancers held tight to each other, as though their bodies were melting together. The expression on their features as they lifted their faces to the sky was one of unimaginable joy.
And sometimes I get carried away, that's all. If you weren't so...judgemental all the time-""Am I? I don't think I am . I try not to be. I just don't..." She stopped herself speaking, shook her head. "I know you've been through a lot, in the last few years, and I've tried to understand that, really I have, with your mum and all, but...""Go on," he said."I just don't think you're the person I used to know. You're not my friend anymore. That's all."He could think of nothing to say to this, so they stood in silence, until Emma put her hand out, took two fingers of his hand, squeezed them in her palm."Maybe...maybe this is it, then," she said. "Maybe it's just over.""Over? What's over?""Us. You and me. Friendship. There are things I needed to talk to you about, Dex. About Ian and me. If you're my friend I should be able to talk to you but I can't, and if I can't talk to you, well, what is the point of you? Of us?""'What's the point?'""You said yourself, people change, no use getting sentimental about it. Move on, find someone else.""Yeah, but I didn't mean us...""Why not?""Because we're....us. We're Dex and Em. Aren't we?"Emma shrugged. "Maybe we've grown out of each other."He said nothing for a moment, then spoke. "So, do you think I've grown out of you, or you've grown out of me?"She wiped her nose with the back of her hand. "I think you think I'm....dreary. I think you think I cramp your style. I think you've lost interest in me.""Em I do not think you're dreary.""And neither do I! Neither do I! I think I'm fucking marvellous if you only knew it, and I think you used to think so too! But if you don't or if you're going to just take it for granted, then that's fine. I'm just not prepared to be treated like this anymore.""Treated like what?"She sighed, and it was a moment before she spoke."Like you always want to be somewhere else, with someone else."He would have denied this, but the Cigarette Girl was waiting in the restaurant at that very moment, the number of his mobile phone tucked into her garter. Later he would wonder if there was something else he might have said to save the situation, a joke perhaps. But nothing occurred to him and Emma let go of his hand.
MarginaliaSometimes the notes are ferocious,skirmishes against the authorraging along the borders of every pagein tiny black script.If I could just get my hands on you,Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,they seem to say,I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -that kind of thing.I remember once looking up from my reading,my thumb as a bookmark,trying to imagine what the person must look likewho wrote "Don't be a ninny"alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.Students are more modestneeding to leave only their splayed footprintsalong the shore of the page.One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.Another notes the presence of "Irony"fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,Hands cupped around their mouths.Absolutely," they shoutto Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation pointsrain down along the sidelines.And if you have managed to graduate from collegewithout ever having written "Man vs. Nature"in a margin, perhaps nowis the time to take one step forward.We have all seized the white perimeter as our ownand reached for a pen if only to showwe did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;we pressed a thought into the wayside,planted an impression along the verge.Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoriajotted along the borders of the Gospelsbrief asides about the pains of copying,a bird singing near their window,or the sunlight that illuminated their page-anonymous men catching a ride into the futureon a vessel more lasting than themselves.And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,they say, until you have read himenwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.Yet the one I think of most often,the one that dangles from me like a locket,was written in the copy of Catcher in the RyeI borrowed from the local libraryone slow, hot summer.I was just beginning high school then,reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,and I cannot tell youhow vastly my loneliness was deepened,how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,when I found on one pageA few greasy looking smearsand next to them, written in soft pencil-by a beautiful girl, I could tell,whom I would never meet-Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.
When sleep came, I would dream bad dreams. Not the baby and the big man with a cigarette-lighter dream. Another dream. The castle dream. A little girl of about six who looks -like me, but isn’t me, is happy as she steps out of the car with her daddy. They enter the castle and go down the steps to the dungeon where people move like shadows in the glow of burning candles. There are carpets and funny pictures on the walls. Some of the people wear hoods and robes. Sometimes they chant in droning voices that make the little girl afraid. There are other children, some of them without any clothes on. There is an altar like the altar in nearby St Mildred’s Church. The children take turns lying on that altar so the people, mostly men, but a few women, can kiss and lick their private parts. The daddy holds the hand of the little girl tightly. She looks up at him and he smiles. The little girl likes going out with her daddy. I did want to tell Dr Purvis these dreams but I didn’t want her to think I was crazy, and so kept them to myself. The psychiatrist was wiser than I appreciated at the time; sixteen-year-olds imagine they are cleverer than they really are. Dr Purvis knew I had suffered psychological damage as a child, that’s why she kept making a fresh appointment week after week. But I was unable to give her the tools and clues to find out exactly what had happened.