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Authors: Scott Spencer

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BOOK: Endless Love
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A few days after the first anniversary of my institutionalization, Rose and Arthur appeared for their Saturday visit. It was mid-September. The first touches of slate were in the sky and though Rockville’s soft golf-coursey lawn was green, its best life was gone. I still lived with a student’s attentiveness to seasons—the first cool day always made me think of the crisp promise of blank notebooks, good intentions, new teachers, reunions with friends—and the panic and despair I felt at not being set free cut deeper because it was September. The world was changing and I was not.

Rose and Arthur always seemed ill at ease and a little pathetic when they came to Rockville. They did not, of course, believe in psychiatric cures. It would have been more to their way of thinking to send neurotic teenagers into a state forest to do a little conservation work, or perhaps a year on an assembly line to ground short-circuited emotions. And the high-priced Rockville with its necessarily privileged clientele might have been invented to stimulate my parents’ scorn. They also felt the ego tenderness of most parents whose child sees a psychiatrist: they were sure I said awful things about them. They feared that I talked about their long time in the Communist Party (which I did) and that I portrayed them as cruel and uncaring (which I did not). They walked the halls of Rockville with unnaturally soft footsteps, as thief-like as my own when I used to return home at six in the morning from Jade’s. They wore dark clothing and spoke barely above a whisper if anyone else was remotely near. Dr. Clark avoided them, which frightened them in one way, but was also a relief. They’d read Clark’s book,
Adolescence and Agonia,
and it disturbed them. It was a chatty, aphoristic book, which enjoyed a mild success. There were no copies of it in Rockville but I subsequently read it and could scarcely recognize in it the stern, skeptical man who treated me—it was faintly anarchist in tone and put forward such suggestions as parents giving their children complete control over them one day a week. (“He writes books?” I said, one visit. “Well, it can’t be for the dough. He makes a fortune right here.” This was just the kind of cheap remark my parents needed to hear and Rose gave me a little squeeze on the arm and said, “That’s the spirit.”)

This time, however, Rose and Arthur were more uneasy than usual. I thought at first that they shared my desperation over a full year’s passing, but something in their muffled voices, stiff gestures, and coolish, guilty eyes made me suspect that their unhappiness was rooted in something more specific than despair. They looked absolutely miserable. And then I knew in an icy, uncaring instant that their unhappiness had nothing to do with me, that it was between the two of them, and that it was connected to the death of feelings between them. Once, when Rose showed up alone for a visit, she hinted briefly that the story of my father being in bed with the flu wasn’t entirely true, and the one time Arthur appeared without Rose he said quite explicitly that without her he and I might be able to speak more freely, more meaningfully. (We didn’t; he took me to the town, fed me, and then took me to a deserted back road he’d “discovered” and let me drive the car—I tried to scare him by speeding into the sunset but he just leaned back and smiled: it was so odd.) Love gives us a heightened consciousness through which to apprehend the world, but anger gives us a precise, detached perception of its own. I sat in the nautical-style desk chair in my little room and looked at Rose and Arthur seated on the edge of my single bed. Arthur plucked at the nubby spread and Rose poked about her purse for Sen-Sen, and I saw that my absence had robbed them of their last excuse to remain together.

“I’ve got an idea,” Arthur was saying. “Why don’t we go to that old farmhouse we pass on our way out here?” He was looking at Rose, but now he turned to me. “It’s been preserved, nothing changed since eighteen twenty-something. All the original furniture, everything. It might be interesting.”

“Sounds like it could be fun,” Rose said. She said it with a frown, as if to put us on notice: even if she enjoyed the antique farmhouse, her spirits would remain low.

“Why do we have to go anywhere?” I asked. “It’s always a drag. You two spend half the day driving down here and then as soon as you arrive we get in the car and drive some more.”

“We don’t have to go anywhere,” Arthur said. “It’s a beautiful day. We can walk around here.”

“I’d think you’d
want
to get out and see the world for a couple hours,” Rose said.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me. A guy who’s here has a pretty fair telescope back home and his parents are bringing it next week. There’s pretty good visibility here at night and as we all know I have a lot of time, especially at night. The nights are nice and long and we have supper at five thirty so that gives us even more time at night. You have no idea how much of it we have, time.”

“I hate when you get like this,” said Rose.

“Like what?”

She shook her head.

“Like what?” I repeated.

“You’re not the only one in the world who’s upset about this whole situation.”

“Drop it, you two,” said Arthur. Suddenly, his psychological politics seemed more clumsy and transparent than ever: how he loved to place himself between Rose and me, as if only he kept us from killing each other. It was true, he had stopped my mother and me from fighting countless times, yet he had never brought us closer and the distance he allowed us to maintain was as important as the truces. “I think we should get some fresh air. Before long, winter.” He pressed his lips together and swallowed; he hadn’t meant to suggest that another season lay in wait for me.

“Of course we couldn’t simply sit around,” I said. “We couldn’t talk. Tha’s what was so amazing to me about the…” I paused, letting my parents become anxious about the taboo that was about to be broken “…the Butterfields. To be with a family that actually talked to one another.”

“That’s a new one,” said Rose.

“It’s not a new one. You remember what you remember and I remember what really happened,” I said. “After all, I’ve had more of an occasion to talk about the past and remember it. Professional help, you know. The Butterfields were interested in each other and there was
nothing
you couldn’t say. You weren’t asked not to mention things and if you said something that maybe wasn’t so nice you weren’t told, ‘That’s not a nice thing to say.’ We always lost track of the time because I’d be talking or Ann would or one of the boys…or anyone else. Everyone talked and everyone listened and you had ideas and thoughts and feelings you never had anywhere else because there was nowhere else where anyone would care or would listen.”

“Oh, they cared so much about you,” said Rose.

“There’s no need to argue about this,” said Arthur.

“A bunch of fools in love with their feelings, is what they were,” said Rose, reddening, leaning forward. “And they didn’t give two cents about you.”

“When they let me stay with them I felt my life had been saved,” I said.

“Well maybe you did, but you were wrong.” Rose paused. “As you can see.”

“OK,” said Arthur. “That’s it.” He put up his hands.

“I’d rather be here than turn out to be what I would have if…”

Rose nodded. “If what?”

“If I hadn’t known them. If I’d been what
you
wanted me to be.”

“We’re putting on a wonderful show for the whole school,” said Arthur.

I slammed my open palms on the desk violently. I got up and knocked the chair over. I picked it up and thought I might throw it—at my parents, through the window, against the wall. My parents were silent. They looked at me with that mixture of embarrassment, disgust, and envy we feel when someone gives vent to their ugliest, most unreasonable feelings. I let the chair drop and walked toward my parents. I certainly wasn’t going to do them any great harm, though I did have a fleeting vision of taking them by the shoulders and shaking them.

“David,” said my father, with pointed neutrality.

Rose planted her small feet squarely on the floor and leaned back, like a drunk trying to sit erect and miscalculating the angle.

“I never asked you for anything,” I said.

“David,” said Arthur, letting his voice drift toward its natural warmth.

“I’ve been here more than a year and you haven’t done anything to help me.”

Quickly I turned away from them and walked back toward my desk and righted the chair.

“I think we should leave while the day’s still nice,” said Rose.

“Good. Go home. I want you to go home,” I said.

“Don’t pull this,” Rose said.

“We don’t want to go home,” said Arthur.

“Then visit with someone else. That way you won’t waste the long drive.”

Rose and Arthur exchanged glances and for an instant I thought they might discuss me in my presence. It had never been their way, of course. I’d almost never seen them disagree or reveal confusion. Running our tiny family on the principles of centralism, they shielded me from their uncertainties—captains of an imperiled ship staving off the panic of the passengers with buttered rolls and routine announcements.

“Well,” said Rose, with what was meant to be a sigh of finality, “are you through trying to make us miserable? As I’ve said, you’re not the only one in the world who’s upset.”

“I really don’t care,” I said. “With all my heart, I don’t care.”

“Your mother means that this whole mess is as tough on us as you,” said Arthur. He shook his head and lowered his eyes: it wasn’t what he’d meant to say, exactly.

“Do something for me,” I said.

“Our life is very sad these days,” said Rose.

“Do something for
me
,” I said.

“There’s no reason to discuss our personal lives at this time,” said Rose. “And I refuse to listen if you’re going to pretend you’re the only person in the world with troubles.”

“He knows that,” Arthur said.

“Do something for me,” I said once again. I thought of getting on the floor and chanting it, the way one of the orderlies had taught me to chant Coca-Cola Coca-Cola until my thoughts disappeared and my mind existed only as a pitchless hum. “Do something for me.”

“We want to,” said Arthur. “Surely you know that.”

“I want a new lawyer,” I said. “Who’s looking after my case? Who’s in charge of getting me out?”

“It’s in the hands of the court,” said Arthur. “There’s not much that can be done.”

“Who’s handling it?”

“Ted is,” said Rose. “You know that.”

“Bowen?” I said. “Bowen is a total fucking jerkoff asshole idiot. He’s been losing cases all his life—this is the kind of lawyer you get me? A Communist lawyer with as much influence as a stray dog?”

“You have no right to talk that way about Ted,” Rose said. “This is a man who’s been loyal to you. It’s time you learned who your real friends are.”

“I know,” I said. “Ted Bowen watched me grow up. Well, I don’t care. I don’t want him to have anything to do with me anymore. Don’t I have the right to fire him? I’m eighteen. If you’re too fucking loyal to tell him he’s through, then I’ll tell him.”

“You’re making a mistake,” said Arthur. “Ted’s a very capable attorney.”

“You
have
to say that,” I said.

“I don’t have to say that—or anything else.”

“Yes, you do. You have to say he’s good because he’s the same kind of lawyer you are.”

I glared at them both and waited for a reply. But they were silent. They didn’t sigh, or shrug, or even move their fingers. Their eyes fixed on a space three or four feet to the left of my face, like people you are shouting at in a dream.

Finally, Rose said, “Obnoxious.”

“Is it the money?” I said.

“You know it’s not,” said Arthur.

“Because if it is, I’ll get the money. Grandpa will give it to me. It’ll cost him less to pay a good lawyer than to keep me here. I want the best. I want someone smart and tough, someone with a little influence for God’s sake, someone who won’t get walked over and laughed at. I need string pulling and pressure and deals. Ted’s not the one.”

“He has an excellent record, David,” said Arthur.

“But he’s not doing anything for me.”

“You think you’re going to find some outsider and get the kind of dedication we get from Ted?” said Rose. “A man who was struggling for the rights of people before you were even born?”

“I don’t want to hear anything about it,” I said. I slapped at my shirt in that open-handed gesture of innocence and exasperation; a little coin of perspiration had formed in the hollow of my chest, trapped in its crater by the pounding of my heart and the hardness of my belly. “I want a new lawyer. I’d find one myself, but how can I? If you don’t do this for me…You have to do this for me. Tell Bowen he’s out. He has nothing to do with this anymore. The next time someone talks about my case it has to be a different kind of lawyer—not some little nobody with soup on his tie. I want the best. I want to get out of here. This is completely unfair. You better find me a new lawyer even if it’s someone you hate.”

3

They eventually got a new lawyer, and it
was
the kind of lawyer they truly disliked, with an office in the Wrigley Building and a picture of Mayor Daley on his wall, but even so it was practically another two years before the court gave me permission to return home.

4

They took me home in the middle of August on a day turned absurd by melodramatic weather. I sat in the back seat of their car with my tan valise on my knees, like a soldier on a crowded train. I’d been advised by my only friend in Rockville, a boy named Warren Hawkes, who had been in and out of three such places, that the best way to make the journey was to remain as lifeless as possible, and I held my mind tightly, as if in two cranial hands. Arthur drove and each time he glanced at me through the rear-view mirror he took his foot off the accelerator and the Ford slowed down. Rose said two things I remember: “This is the last time we’ll make this trip,” and, “I wonder if you’ve heard there’s been an upsurge in anti-Semitism lately.” We traveled a narrow back route, a short-cut to Chicago they’d discovered just recently; nearly ripened fields of corn thronged the sides of the road, pressing forward like spectators awaiting a parade. Above us, the thunder groaned away and first to the west and then to the north leapt platinum branches of lightning—in momentary silence and then with a great electrical crunch. The cornfields flashed, the air grew heavy, oppressive, almost purple, and before we were thirty minutes away from Rockville it was raining so hard the windshield looked as if it were being splashed with silver paint.

BOOK: Endless Love
2.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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