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Simon Sobo Writing

A collection of opinion pieces and chapters from his novels

1968 Changed Everything: A Novel

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Chapter 21

Ira and Evelyn’s Marriage

 

 While Jeremy had assumed that buying CC the wonderful ring and sharing the room over Niagara Falls earned him serious lovemaking, CC is not there at all.  She wants to talk. That’s it.  Nothing else. Talk. If he must he must, but not happily.

Jeremy lights a joint.

After a few drags, CC’s mind is sufficiently loosened.

“I want to talk about my parents’ marriage.”

“Again?”

“I can’t help it.  I keep thinking about them.”

“Really?”

“You don’t want to?”

After a hesitation that speaks louder than words he tries to reassure her.          “I do.”

Truth is, right now he doesn’t want to hear anything more about their relationship. But that doesn’t matter. Anything she might ask of him he would do.

She knows it and is reluctant to continue.

He says in a kind voice, “Say what you have to say,” hoping she will take that as an apology.

Still she hesitates.

“No really. Go ahead.”

“I keep trying to think nice thoughts about them.  I’ve exaggerated the way I’ve described them to you. Things aren’t that bad.  Still it’s bugging me.”

“What’s bugging you?

I don’t know if they love each other. My mother’s pretty difficult. She’s just—”

“Stick to whether they love each other.  Not whose fault it is.” There is a bit of scorn in his voice.

“It isn’t just me. A lot of the girls in the dorm talk about the same thing,  trying to make sense of what’s going on with their parents.  Whether they love each other but especially who’s to blame.”

She goes to the kitchen. He watches her from the living room. She opens a cabinet. Bumble Bee tuna fish, some canned string beans, corn, asparagus. Nothing appeals to her. She closes the cabinet and moves on to another, where she finds the glasses. She turns on the cold water, sticks her finger under the stream, waiting for it to get colder.  Satisfied, she fills up her glass and takes a sip, then another sip, then she gulps down the entire glass.  All the while, her thoughts play like an endless loop in her mind.

“Shrinks are making a good living off of all of this,” he tells her.

“I know.”

She wants something very cold. She finds an ice tray and frees up cubes of ice, puts two in her glass and returns to the bedroom with her ice water.

“Everyone’s trying to get their therapist to side with them.”

“I thought there isn’t supposed to be any guilt in therapy.”

“No guilt for the patient.  There’s plenty of blame for everyone else. Plenty!”

“So, people pay someone on be on their side?  Pile the guilt on someone else?”

Jeremy’s sarcasm about therapy doesn’t interest her.

“It’s never been like this before.  My mother has always said things that sting my father.  Now she’s using a dagger.  He’s no angel either.”

With that, CC anxiety, which wasn’t there when she started speaking leaps out of its hole and is quickly working her over. Assuming that her parents love each other has been the cement holding the family together.   The possibility of them breaking up is inconceivable. It isn’t just their relationship.  She wonders if they’d still be a family?

“We’ve always felt connected. Whether we understand each other or not, we’ve had that. If they got divorced I’m not sure Jay or Mark would seem like family, like we are part of each other.”

“I’m sure that wouldn’t change. You’re born with that connection.”

“I don’t know. Somehow being a family has given us that. I can’t imagine not having it with each other. You and your dad–his four divorces meant nothing.  Right?

“Pretty much.”

“It frightens me.”

She doesn’t often experience actual fear. Yes, she can be a nervous chatterbox, full of doubts. She pulls at her cuticles, and her stupid stomach can get very tricky from anything upsetting. All are manifestations of fear.  That’s what her therapist calls it.  But actual fear is something else.  She doesn’t ordinarily know what that’s like. It doesn’t happen to her.  It’s not totally foreign. During the Creature from the Black Lagoon, she was terrified.  But otherwise feeling as fearful as she is now is new.  She’s read about anxiety, being afraid and you don’t know why. But reading about it is very different than experiencing it.  The fear taking hold of her is unusual. It isn’t lessening talking with Jeremy.  Usually, what’s good about him, the pot, the shamelessness which they can talk about whatever, gives her a grip. But at this moment her fear is being reinforced by their conversation.

“I know he loves her,” CC tells him.  “And she loves him. That makes two.”  She often adds up conclusions like that, as if arithmetic will solve the puzzle.  If she can come up with three or four more good things about their relationship, logic might win her over to that point of view.

It shouldn’t, but saying they love each other out loud also helps. It isn’t only pronouncing her conclusion in words.  She knows it’s real without saying it. She’s been in their presence and shared it when it was there. Copacabana, Copacabana– when she needs it, that vision usually flashes in her brain, to rescue her.  Not this time. The anxiety remains.

“Am I lying to myself? Maybe they don’t love each other.”  Putting the worst possibility in words sometimes helps to encapsulate it. But she is saying it without conviction.   It doesn’t calm her.

Over the years therapy’s been beneficial. Speaking her thoughts out loud allows her to evaluate them more clearly– step back, see them with new eyes.  When she gets going, she keeps going, much further than where her mind might have brought her if she weren’t speaking about it out loud.  Smoking a joint with Jeremy acts similarly. But she’s still uncomfortable.

Perhaps she’s been affected by Jeremy’s initial resistance to this conversation.  Exposing her difficulties is embarrassing her. He seemingly is so tied to her, but is he? He is still a stranger.

Actually, despite his initial tone of voice, Jeremy is no longer reluctant to listen to her.  His curiosity is aroused. He wants to hear more, the dirt and the rest. The longevity of her parents’ relationship amazes him.  It’s so different from his father’s marriages. His only problem remains CC sifting through the blame.

Jeremy’s father fell in love again and again, each time as intensely as  the first time. His ecstasy was real, but it never lasted beyond a few months.  Before Jeremy married Carol, that’s how Jeremy had been with his girlfriends–exactly like his father. In love then not in love. It’s different with CC.  When he fell in love before, it had always been with a woman with whom, from the very beginning, he had reservations.  He didn’t like something about her nose, or her hair, or her voice, or her manner. Some attitudes she had. He saw something wrong from the outset. He’d overlook these shortcomings and convince himself he was in love. But he knew all along.  For a while, he’d feel in love but then it would die. He knew all along about his qualms.

He had no reservations about CC–none at all.  He didn’t have to fool himself.  Her beauty stunned him. In an instant he was gone. He still is.

If anything, that’s part of the problem. Despite Dave’s easy cynicism about romance and true love,he never mentioned his real doubts.  She’s a level or two, maybe three levels, above where Jeremy’s looks ordinarily would have gotten him. He isn’t bad looking but he doesn’t compare to CC. Jeremy still doesn’t fully believe that luck has finally come his way, that CC loves him like he loves her. He’s hopeful.   But perhaps he never will grasp that she’s his. She’s so much better looking than he is. Their matchup defies the ordinary rules of attraction.

Still, while he would do anything to hold her, talk about anything she wants to talk about, he doesn’t want to be drawn into the thicket of moral questions that preoccupy her.  Not about her family. There are much more important things happening. Addressing what’s evil in America is far more relevant than the rights and wrongs, the gossip and bullshit going on between two people in Great Neck. He isn’t tiring of his initial fascination with her family, particularly Nanny.  It’s not so much anything she has said in particular. It’s the look CC’s gets whenever Nanny is brought up.  He’s mentioned to Dave how much CC is taken with her wisdom. Dave compared it to Polonius.  How Polonius gave all this great advice, wisdom that is still quoted today.

“‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”

“‘Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice.’

“‘To thine own self be true.’

“Shakespeare stands on a pedestal with timeless advice. Why does it come out of the mouth of Polonius, a foolish old man?”  Dave asked Jeremy whether he thought her grandmother is a fool.

“Just something about her bugs me.”

“Wisdom is always after the fact,” Dave answered. “It’s old people talk. It’s a lot easier to be wise when you’re not immersed in what’s going on. Shoulda, woulda, coulda, dressed up as an immortal statement for the ages.”

Jeremy’s memories of his grandmother are very different.  She was always a foreign presence. He still remembers the smell of his grandmother’s gefilte fish, the unappetizing gel surrounding each piece–her glop. As soon as he entered his grandmother’s apartment the smell of rotting onions invaded his perceptions..  Later, he hated the smell of urine when his father took him to his grandmother’s nursing home. He went once willingly.  The second time, he went because it seemed important to his father.  But never after that.  Even in the lobby, as you entered the nursing home there was a urine smell, like an institutional bathroom that hadn’t been cleaned enough.  Urine, which ordinarily has little smell, disgusted him. Until CC’s Nanny that was his reaction to old people

“Do your parents go to bed at the same time?” he asks CC.

“They used to. Why?”

“Wanting to end the day at the same time–that togetherness, trying to be one it’s–”

Jeremy doesn’t silence the thought that’s pops into his head.

“Like coming together.”

He instantly feels foolish.  It’s the usual Jeremy shtick, proud of his courage to do and say the unsayable, followed by his awareness that it hasn’t gone over too well.

“You’re weird,” she says, not really meaning it. She’s not turned off by the incessant naughty boy Jeremy delights in being.  It is so much like Mark.  She doesn’t like Mark’s effect on her father, the way he tweaks him.  She hates it, but there is this hidden piece of her that envies his courage.  She wishes she had some of it. Although what she dislikes about Jeremy is often that part of him, what she likes about Jeremy is the same thing.

“They used to go to bed together. Every night.”

“When you were little?”

“At least I assumed they did.  When I was young, I was usually asleep when they went to bed, although sometimes I was up until I heard them in their room.  I’d listen to them brushing their teeth, gargling. My bedtime was eight-thirty, except on Wednesdays.  We were allowed to stay up to watch Father Knows Best. Even Mark. Watching that show made us all happy.”

Jeremy softly pinches CC’s cheek like a grandfather greeting the young ones with sloppy gushy affection. Jeremy coos, “You were such an all-American family.”

“Along with a hundred million other people. It just had that effect. Didn’t you watch it?”

He’s relieved to answer honestly.  “I did.  Either at my mother’s apartment or my father’s. I had a regular childhood.”

The challenge met, Jeremy persists.

“So, they went up to bed together?”

“They used to. No longer. My last few years in high school, they went to the bedroom at separate times, when they finished whatever they were doing. My mother liked to stay up pretty late. He had to go to work the next morning.”

“What would she do?”

“God only knows. Probably going through her clothes, trying things on.”

“Speaking to her secret lover?”

“Not everyone is like you, Jeremy.”

“You mean like us?”

“You have this crazy idea. My parents and their friends, people at the club, aren’t having affairs. Believe me, the gossip would have surfaced. They were either working or with their families.”

“I bet that’s not true. Your parents probably hid it from you. Every one of the men?  Those men had secretaries.  My mother told me. She was once a secretary.  She fell in love with her boss. He reminded her of her father and she was crazy about her father.”

So, she slept with her boss? CC asks, a bit alarmed.

“No.  But she said it could have happened. It just never happened.”

“Your mother told you that when you were a kid?”

“No.  Later on. My father told me she told him that.  She could understand those things, that’s how she tolerated him. Or maybe it gave him an excuse.”

“I saw a picture of your mother. I would have liked to meet her.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

She offers him an acknowledgment.  “Maybe a few of the men at the club lose control. But not many.”

His skeptical look elicits further argument.

“I’ll say it again.  If people were fooling around, I would have heard something. I mean, every once in a while, there was a giant scandal, but it was  rare. You have this idea of this rich people’s club like it’s an Italian movie.  People constantly flirting, getting each other into bed.  La Dolce Vita. That’s not the scene.  They’re into eating, losing control that way. At least the men…And looking beautiful, that’s what’s expected of the women. My mother is an ornament for my father. It’s not to seduce anyone. Like all of the women there.”

“She’s an ornament?”

“Well, it’s not just for my father. She loves being the queen at the club.”

“So, no one is having affairs?”

“Look.  I’m not saying people at the club are so holy.  It’s just the rules.   The rules, not their goodness. People don’t want to risk public humiliation. That’s what goes along with being caught having an affair.”

“Those rules are going to change. All of them.” Jeremy says confidently “Every last one.  Pick the most forbidden behavior you can think of.”

“Murder?”

“Well okay.”

She smiles. “A guy dressing like a girl? Kissing another guy in public.”

“Who knows? Why not. I don’t care what it is. We’re going to throw away all that bullshit forbidden stuff. Guys with guys.  Sure thing.  What is going to happen is people will go for what they want.  You only have one life to live.  Being free to choose whatever you want should be the rule. Yes, like in the movies, like beautiful Hollywood people, anything they want they can have. We need to honor our dreams.”

Her voice becomes accusatory. “That’s what you want, isn’t it, everyone living wild Hollywood lives?”

He’s struck by the comparison. A Hollywood perspective never occurred to him. Anything but. Except for Jane Fonda, Hollywood people are the last people he admires.”

She continues: “It wouldn’t work.  People lose their figures when they turn thirty or forty. Once they get comfortable in their life.”

“Maybe that’ll change.  Maybe people will stay in shape. Lately, there have been a lot of movies about middle-aged women taking off. They’re going to have to stay trim.”

“You mean have a lean and hungry look? Maybe.” she answers, dismissing it as a possibility.  She’s still processing what he was saying about going to bed together.

“For years, my mother stayed up late downstairs, watching movies.  I could hear those movies.

“Romantic movies?”

“Mostly.  It sure wasn’t westerns or war movies.

There’s a pause.  Jeremy grabs the opportunity. Once again Jeremy flips into his teaching voice. “The real test of a relationship is who is getting more destroyed.”

“Meaning what?” she asks sharply. She’s not in the mood for one of his lectures.

Undaunted, he continues.  “The battle of the sexes didn’t begin with that Gloria Steinem, or Betty Friedan. It’s always beencenter stage. Every romance. Man versus woman.”

“Versus?  I thought it’s getting together.”

“Yeah getting together with someone that can destroy you.” He thinks a little more. “It’s all that matters. The danger is there from the beginning.

Why do you think high school guys are so afraid to ask a girl out.

“You mean you?”

“Not just me.”

“Like you with Marlene Schneider?”

“Okay, if it makes you feel better– me.”

His voice becomes conciliatory. “It sounds cute when you get older.  Very cute—teenagers in love. The one thing it isn’t is cute. I remember it clearly. It wasn’t cute at all.  I was terrified.”

“Were you? Truth no bullshit”

She doesn’t need to hear him say it. “I’m lucky.” CC tells him. “Girls don’t have to make the first move, but I’ve been hurt.  I was crazy about this guy, Jeff Saperstein. Tenth grade.  We got very involved.  He had me rub his penis through his pants.  I’d never touched a penis, but I would have done anything for him.”

“That’s as far as you went?”

“That’s not the point.  He told all his friends about it and they got all over me, teased me like crazy.  He had a new girlfriend a week later.  Point is, it threw me for a long time.  I kept remembering how hurt I was.”

Jeremy gets up and looks through his records.  He puts on the Everly Brothers.  He sings along with them.

                          Love hurts, love scars, love wounds and mars

                          Any heart not tough nor strong enough

                          To take a lot of pain, take a lot of pain . . .

 

He watches CC’s reaction as the song continues.

                          Some fools rave of happiness, blissfulness, togetherness

                          Some fools fool themselves I guess

                          But they’re not fooling me

 

I know it isn’t true, know it isn’t true

                          Love is just a lie, made to make you blue

                          Love hurts, oh, love hurts . . .

         

He lifts the arm of the record player. “Exactly. My fear with Marlene Schneider was realistic. It’s the way things are. Sure, I was mister suave when I was told a girl liked me.  But that was with them. If I didn’t know a girl’s feelings?  Forget it.

Sometimes the whole thing dribbles down to nothing.  That’s painless. But people get hurt. Hurt badly. What happened to you, being dropped for someone else.

He smiles “Hitler couldn’t invent a worse torture.”

“Only you could come up with that comparison.”

“It’s true. That’s why they make so many movies about lovers breaking up, quarreling, together again. Movie after movie. The pain is that real h. It never gets old. It grabs your heart, your guts, every part of you.  Like Hitler movies.”

“Come on!”

“It’s true. There’s a million of them. The pain is that real.  Everyone’s been there. It’s never boring..” Hitler was this small little nothing guy, He’ll be remembered forever. Just as there will always be love stories.

“That’s just a little bit over the top. Love and Hitler?”

“Fine, it isn’t true. The worst pain someone might feel in their whole life  has nothing to do with love. Other things are more important.

“It’s such a negative way of thinking about it?

“Look I know people joke about it. The battle of the sexes. Oh yeah, the battle of the sexes.  Ha-ha. But what happens is powerful.  Real damage, devastating damage slams you. For some people it’s enough to give up on love, to play it safe for the rest of their lives.”

“Sometimes people win.”

“Yes. Like me”

She laughs at him. “Right.  Mr. Superman.”

CC thinks over her parents’ marriage in Jeremy’s context.  She’s doesn’t think her mother is convinced that her romance is over, not completely, nor does her father, but the idea that there are winners and losers is sinking in. In high school, that was clear to everyone. Winners and losers. Someone was always in need of comforting. While someone else strutted around the cafeteria. No one doubted the suffering was real except grown-ups, who thought the whole thing was puppy love. You grow out of it, bla bla bla.

But in a marriage?  Winners and losers? The whole point of marriage is to do away with the high school bullshit, the uncertainty, the drama, the catastrophe when you’re rejected. With the spin Jeremy is outlining, CC is looking at her parents’ marriage with fresh eyes. Neither of them is having an affair.  She has no suspicions of that, but it is almost worse than that.

“On that basis, my mom’s winning.  She still looks like a million bucks. She’s full of energy.  She comes and goes everywhere.  She seems to be having a good time.  A great time!”

“And your father?”

“He’s doing all right.”

But her face says otherwise, and she soon acknowledges the truth.

“His zip is gone.”  She thinks further. “He always has what he thinks is a serious expression. He told me that’s how mature people are supposed to look. Only he doesn’t just look serious.  He looks morose. He’s dragging himself around.”

“He used to sometimes be a kibitzer. That person is gone. Totally! I haven’t seen it in years. He’s mostly sad. He almost never smiles. He takes naps on the weekend.  Falls asleep during TV programs. When they go to the theater, my mother tells me the same thing.  Once they were in the first row and he started snoring. The actor looked at them. She jabbed him pretty hard.  She wasn’t laughing when she told me about it.”

CC continues to think about it.  “You can see it when he walks.  His shoulders are no longer straight and proud.  There were times he’d strut, well not strut, but clearly was doing just fine.

No longer. He’s only fifty-eight.  He could be seventy-five. He’s put on fifteen or twenty pounds” She hesitates. “You think my mom is doing that to him?”

“What do you think? It sounds typical. There’s a reason men die younger than women. The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. And you said your father has a heart problem.”

“It isn’t her. He loves to eat.”

“Your mother makes it for him.”

“II don’t know. But I’ll say it like this.  There are no leftovers. He cleans his plate and hers.”

“He’s fat?”

“No.  But he’s got a paunch. It’s not that bad, but it was never there before”

Jeremy says nothing.

“Sometimes I think my parents have gone beyond the battle of the sexes…  It’s War! . . . If they sometimes love each other is besides the point”

“Do they?”

When my mother looks smashing, you can see it in my father’s eyes.  And hers. They are wildly in love. Both of them. Still.”

“Surprise.  Beauty trumps everything else. That’s where love comes from.”

“Your version of love, Jeremy.  Your version.  There are other ways to love.”

“Look I know–what I have with Carol.  That’s love. Some people think that is the only real thing.  They’re not wrong.”

“You understand that.”

“Yes, but it’s what I felt for my mother. There should be a different word for that and what I have with you.  It’s something different.  When I look at you, your beauty goes straight from my eyes to my heart.”

He puts his hand on his penis and smiles  “To my cock. It’s electric. There is nothing more certain than what I feel when I look at you. Everything else disappears.  You’re saying that’s what happens to your parents?”

“Well. Not quite…But yes. When they go out.”

Jeremy’s voice becomes professorial. “Doesn’t surprise me. It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. ‘The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.’”

“Who said that?” she asks.

“Oscar Wilde…” His lecturing voice continues. “Love’s there when it’s there.  It’s not when it’s not. It isn’t complicated. A moral yardstick is irrelevant. I know you want to bring that into the picture, but it’s a lot simpler than that.”

“Well, love’s there.” She hesitates for effect. “When they are going out. It’s there. True love, as you’re defining it . . . But it only happens when they’re going out,” she adds.

“There’s nothing in their day-to-day life.  She’s a different person. So is he. She can be mean, bitchy.”

“What does your father do with that?”

“He hates it.” CC smiles ironically.  “My mother tells him it’s a compliment. She can act that way because she loves him.  He’s the only person with whom she can totally be herself.”

“Is that what’s been going on with us?”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve learned all about your nasty side.”

“You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

“So that means you don’t love me enough?”

“I’m getting there.”

“So, when you are dishing it out I should thank your mother.” He says this lightheartedly, but in truth, she’s well on her way, and subliminally he knows it.  She’s been putting him down often enough for him to no longer ignore it.

“It’s just such a contrast,” CC continues. In public, she’ll grab his head, plant a lot of kisses, like the love she has for him is bursting out of her.  It’s cute.  Convincing. My dad pretends that she is just being silly, but he loves that.  I mean, the prettiest woman in the room is showing all this love for him. And my mother means it. It’s so strange.  She means it.”

“So what’s the problem?”

“Nothing. Well . . . When others aren’t around. It’s hard to know what to think.  Is it all an act?”

“Is it?” he asks.

“I don’t think so. But it’s confusing. Do they have to be onstage for it to take place? Something’s not right about how they are the rest of the time.”

“Like what?” Jeremy asks.

“A thousand things.”

“Give me a for instance.”

“Small things, but they add up.”

“Like what?” he repeats impatiently. “Give me a for instance.”

“I gave you an example before. Those fights when she puts his things away. He puts his pruner exactly where he wants it, so he can find it easily.  She moves it to where she thinks it belongs. That’s important to her.”

Jeremy smiles. “That’s diddly shit.  Every relationship has that. I mean, if you live together.”

“But it happens again and again. “‘Honey . . .’ ‘Dear . . .’ They used to talk like that, with a saccharine tone, but no longer. Now it’s just plain scolding. They throw it at each other. It escalates very quickly, feeds on itself. It’s about diddly shit, but when they get going, they spit venom in every syllable. Especially my mom.

CC speaks sharply, imitating first her father, then her mother.

“‘I put it there for a reason.’

‘Where I told you not to put it.’

‘Where I can find it.’”

Her imitation strikes Jeremy as funny, and he chuckles.

“It’s not funny.”

He wipes the smile off his face and salutes her like a private with a drill sergeant. She ignores his theatrics.

Her voice is calm. “Sometimes I think my parents hate each other.”

“Hate?”

“Hate! I can hear it in their voices.”

“That’s part of love.”

She shakes her head. “Bullshit.  I’m talking about hate!  There’s a wellspring of hatred between my parents, years of hate, decades of hate.  And it keeps growing and growing. Every year a little bit more. It doesn’t matter what the issue is.  One day it’s going to pop.”

“Aren’t you being a little dramatic?”

Unswayed, she continues. “Sometimes I hear on the news that a woman has killed her husband. Or vice versa.  The neighbors are shocked.  Everyone thought they were a happy couple.” CC’s tone is low-key but firm. “I understand that. Hate builds up. The murderer snapped—for just that second.   Something like that. If my dad had a gun . . . Or mom . . . No, I don’t think they could do it.  But—”

“You know the opposite of love isn’t hate.  It’s indifference.”

“That is such therapist bullshit. My therapist told me that four times. Four times!   Each time he forgot he’d told me that before.  Four times! The same brilliant insight.  What book did you get that from?”

Jeremy laughs. “My therapist. You know,” he adds “the more you tell me, the more it sounds like—did you read Games People Play?”

“Except it’s not a game.  She is not playing with him.  My mother’s hurt. Really hurt.  And so is my father.  Yeah, everyone quibbles.” CC takes a breath, then her voice stabs at him, “But not with their vehemence!”

“Who’s in charge. It’s about that. Every close relationship. Not just between people in love,” Jeremy offers.

Wrong!” she tells him. “It’s not that important in friendships. I mean it’s there and can get out of hand, but no one gets that hurt.”

“Right, which is my point. There’s got to be love for them to be able to hurt each other.”

“It gets pretty nasty.  When my father takes her on, she sees that as proof that he doesn’t love her, which gets her even more upset. One time, when he was holding his ground, she cursed him for his cold eyes. It wasn’t an act.  Heartbroken, she was crying as she looked at him.”

She stops for a moment, considers that, then continues.

“He didn’t care.”

“Your mother told you that?”

“I was there. It’s true. His eyes were cold, but I thought he was doing what he needed to do.”

“They’ve always fought in front of you?”

“Not when we were kids. After Mark left for school . . . No, after he started attacking my father, their fights escalated.”

“So it’s all Mark’s fault?”

“Probably is. Freud said a woman’s son becomes her sword against her husband.”

“Boy, speaking of the blame game.”

“But it’s true. Mark’s brought a lot of this on. . . . What really bothers me is that too many times I don’t think they are talking to each other.  They are trying to score points with me.  Get me to side with them.”

“How often is that?”

“Lately, a lot.”

“I guess that explains it.”

“Explains what?”

“The reason you need to talk about this.”

“Maybe.  I can’t stand when my parents do that. It puts me right in the middle.  What’s worse, I take sides. As much as I tell myself to stay out of it, I  can’t help it. Just what they want me to do.”

“So then why do you do it?”

“How can I not do it?  People say I should be a lawyer because I can make a good argument, but I’m being trained to be a judge. Lawyers can argue for either side. Depends on who hires them.  They just have to do it well.  That is not what is going on here. I want to decide who is really right.  And who’s wrong.  That matters a lot to me.”

“I can see that.  Seriously, though, is it that important?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know.” She stops for a moment to think further about the answer to his question. “If I can decide, I won’t have to think about it so much.”

“Maybe you don’t have to think about it at all. Just decide!”

She laughs. “Between my mother and father? If only.”

She’s quiet again, thinking some more.

“If it were only their fights. But it isn’t. What goes on every day—he’s no angel. It’s not like he brings flowers and chocolates for her on a whim, because he is thinking about her. He doesn’t forget Valentine’s Day or her birthday. I’ll say that for him. But caring about her, thinking about what’s happening with her. He isn’t that interested in how her day has gone. Occasionally he asks, but it’s pro forma. And when she’s upset. If she starts going over and over a story, he stops listening. My mother told me. When they are in bed, he falls asleep in the middle of one of her sentences. Okay, she’s repeats herself. Like me.  Like you. But if she does that it’s because what she is saying matters to her. A lot.–She sees his falling asleep as proof he really doesn’t care.”

CC thinks it over some more.

“He’s stopped hugging her, which he used to do. Years ago, he used to just go over to her and give her a hug—sometimes several times in a day. That’s gone. And there is practically nothing like that from her. Never was. Well, when other people are around, but otherwise . . .”

CC stops again to refuel.

“She gets irritated by him very easily. She’s always correcting him.  Weekends, she’s out of the house a lot with her girlfriends, having lunch or shopping. That’s because she doesn’t want to hang out with him. Most of the time she would rather be with someone else. I hear her on the phone, joking with her friends, relaxed, talking nice and easy, laughing. I never hear her laugh with my father.  They always sound serious.”

“That means she doesn’t love him?”

“What else can it mean?”

“She’s no better. She never thinks to buy what he likes at the supermarket. Well, maybe for his birthday. But otherwise what he likes doesn’t mean anything to her. He likes ginger snaps. She never remembers to buy them. So, he has to make a separate trip for them. Other things, too. This kind of bacon that he likes—no, loves—Canadian bacon. A lot of things. Funny. I remember what he likes. I get his stuff if I’m at Waldbaum’s. He really appreciates it. How come she doesn’t?”

As she continues, she weighs what she is saying, trying to get a hold of it.

“It goes beyond not being thoughtful, not remembering what he likes. It’s more complicated—because she remembers that stuff for me, and Jay.  And Mark! Especially Mark. I think it’s her way of telling my father that she won’t be his servant. I’ve heard her say something like that when he asked about the bacon, like he is a slave master.”

“Is he?”

“No more than anyone else in a relationship. That’s big in the magazines now. Men as overseers, oppressors. It’s the opposite with my parents. She expects him to be her servant, to be thoughtful about what she wants one hundred percent of the time.”

He concurs. “That’s what most women want.  It’s my way or the highway. Guys joke—happy wife, happy life.”

“So why does everyone say that’s what men are like? Women are the dictators, not men.”

Jeremy adds, “That’s the bullshit in the magazines.  Have you noticed how many magazines now have women editors?”

CC counters, “But I think it’s true. Men do control most marriages.”

“I’m talking about Jewish marriages.  I’m sure you’ve heard the put-downs of JAPs?”

That stops her.

“Okay. It’s true. The students up here are amazed by how different Jewish girls are, especially the ones from Long Island. Well, my mother is what happens when they get married. My grandparents, Herman and Mimi, raised my mother to be a princess. I don’t think they realized the consequences. Like nothing else mattered other than what my mother wanted. My father reaped the reward, his very own princess. He’s expected to be her servant.”

“It’s the opposite with Jewish men.” He tells her.  We make the best husbands.” Jeremy has heard that said many times. He believes it.

“Whoever told you that, I guarantee they weren’t talking about you.”

Jeremy absorbs her put-down without much reaction. He’s getting used to it.

“I don’t get it, CC says. “To me it’s simple. My mother has the time. He’s got to work fifty, sixty hours a week. Sometimes seventy. Why shouldn’t she remember his ginger snaps at Waldbaum’s? Anyway, that says it all.”

“I’m lucky with Carol.  She enjoys taking care of me. When she shops for me, it makes her day. I don’t have to ask for anything.  She knows what I like— sometimes before I do. She feels great giving to me. It excites her. . . . It thrills her. Seeing my enthusiasm when she brings home the groceries—when I help her bring the bags in, I am dying to see what’s in them.  When I get to take things out of the bag—she says I’m like a kid on Christmas morning attacking the presents. When I’ve gotten exactly what I wanted—the look on my face gives her a big smile.”  Half to himself, he murmurs, “Although she slaps my hand if I stick my finger in the chicken salad.

“Even if I am not enthusiastic, Carol knows she’s getting something I need or that I’m going to want. She gives me a lot of thought. So, she’s usually right. She really knows me. Without thinking about it. Without effort–she loves doing all of that.”

“She sounds amazing.”

“She loves loving. It’s what she’s about

“She’s that way with everyone?

He thinks for a moment Well…Not really. Mainly,  Alyosha and me.”

By speaking about Carol with such fondness, he has broken an unwritten rule they have unconsciously imposed on themselves. But it doesn’t jar him out of his connection to CC. Nor does it register with CC for more than a moment, merely helps her make her point.

“Well, my mother is nothing like Carol. The opposite. When my father comes home from work, I can see if he’s had a bad day. I mean, sometimes my heart aches for him. To start with, he’s not crazy about being a lawyer. He’s like me. He likes to debate, but he doesn’t have that edge, the pleasure his colleagues take when they’ve trounced their adversary. They’re at it constantly.  Not just their adversaries. They do it to each other. In the office. Every chance they get. My father’s not like that. Basically, he’s gentle. It upsets him when he loses his temper.

“The reason he goes on being a lawyer is my mother . . . and us. He’s our servant. Sometimes the office politics really tear him up. They’re barracudas. I mean an office full of lawyers?

“He’ll defend himself if he has to, but being surrounded by it! And then there are the times when they gang up on one of their esteemed colleagues. Really go at it. Certain mornings I can see how reluctant he is to go in. Like he might face the firing squad.”

“Capitalism,” Jeremy announces definitively, like he has solved not only CC’s father’s problems but the mystery of human suffering, now and forever.

She shakes her head, barks sarcastically, “Capitalism? For you, everything reduces to politics. Capitalism? You really believe that, don’t you?  Political change is going to end human suffering.”

“It certainly would help.  You don’t think you can change things?”

“I don’t know,” she says at first in an almost whining voice. But then she snarls, “He’s surrounded by lawyers. . . . Capitalism?  You are a one-trick pony.  For a smart person, you are so stupid. Really stupid. You don’t know what it’s like to be among lawyers, do you? They can’t stop themselves. Some people squash beetles. They save it for people. At least that’s what my father tells me.”

“And your father is not like that?”

“He isn’t. He’s usually on the receiving end.”  She hesitates, then adds, “I’ll say this. My father’s never missed a day of work. I’m sure there were days when he did face the firing squad.  And they fired off a round. . . . He gets over it. He hangs in there, no matter what.”

“That means a lot.”

“Being able to withstand it. When people pop off. This ugly side comes out. Some people think, oh, that’s their true feelings when it comes out like that, and it is. But a five-second burst means nothing. It’s like a fart. So what.  Yeah, there is bad stuff inside of everyone—smelly rot. It passes. What’s important is how you take it, how you are day after day.  How you hold up . . .”

Jeremy doesn’t make an attempt to add his two cents. He’s even a bit proud of her fart metaphor.  She’s coming along. Learning from him–how to be gross.  She’s on a roll and he’s enjoying it. More than that, he likes her admiration of her father, her respect for him. It’s so simple when respect is there. Listening to the way she talks about him makes Jeremy realize that essentially he doesn’t respect anyone. He’d like to, but as soon as he finds a flaw in someone he might respect, his respect disappears.  He envies CC’s comfort in possessing it.

“When my father’s upset, it’s obvious. When I don’t know what’s bothering him, I ask.  And, the last few years, he talks to me about it.

“My mother notices nothing!  Actually, it’s worse when she does. When he’s insecure, she hates him for showing it. She makes a whole production out of it. Just so he knows that she’s noticed. And what she’s thinking is pretty obvious. Like how did she ever get stuck with a person like him?”

“All of that goes on in front of you?”

“I think they view me as old enough to take it.” She smiles ironically.  “Proof they love me.  No secrets.”

“Look what I missed,” Jeremy interjects. “I got none of that kind of love after my parents split up. Compared to your parents, they seem like angels.”

“What’s pathetic is, they can’t help it. They’re not happy being that way.  It makes them miserable. But they can’t control it. Since Mark stirred things up, it’s a hundred times worse. Maybe it never would have gotten started if Mark hadn’t been Mark. I mean, before he started his attacks, no one ever got  emotional in my family. Once he got going, all this animosity appeared. My father would get pissed at Mark and she’d go ape shit that he did. Like he should be above losing it with Mark. Like he stops being a father if he descends to Mark’s level. She loves magazine advice.”

“Your family is really fucked-up.”

She ignores him.

“It bothers me that my father has to put on an act for my mother. Be this very steady cheerful ‘father.’ Not that it does any good. She sees right through it. She complains that his moods are difficult to live with. Meanwhile, the moods she’s complaining about are not really observable to anyone else.  She totally dismisses the ‘No sweat’ attitude he’s trying so hard to convey.”

“Your mother is something. They both are.”

Seemingly, they have a quiet moment of agreement, but for CC, there is no closure. She’s still wound up. “If my father describes an incident with someone at work, she’s invariably on the other person’s side. He must have done this to set the other guy off. He must have done that. Or: ‘Why did you let him get away with saying that?’”

“So he never gets it right?”

“No, he does. Most of the time. I’m exaggerating. If he didn’t get it right, he’d be out on disability from my mother’s attacks. But when it happens, when he’s stumbling, whether he caused it or not, she has no mercy. . . . Imagine Alexander the Great returning home after he’s lost a battle. Yes, he will have to face intrigue at court—perhaps a coup. But what he really fears is facing his wife.”

CC imitates a Jewish woman in the Bronx calling her husband to task:  “‘Alex-an-der.’.. CC’s voice is determined. “My mom’s winning the war. She wins every disagreement.”

After a minute, she says, “Boy, has it changed. When my mother carried on about him, my father used to wink at me. Happy wife, happy life. He’d let her win. My mom knew and I knew and everyone knew.  He was the man.

“For a lot of guys, it’s easier to make believe we’re giving in.”

“But now—no more winks. When she wins, she wins. More to the point,  he loses. Her attacks are landing. Wiping him out.”

“What are they fighting about?”

“Doesn’t matter. Any disagreement. She’s the boss. That doesn’t always have to be bad. Jay gives in one hundred percent of the time, ever since he was two. It doesn’t bother him at all. To him, it isn’t capitulating.  Getting on board is where he wants to be. Dora is right out there with what she wants. Beating her would be a hollow victory. She wins, he wins. Whatever floats her boat floats his boat.”

“You think that’s a good way to be?”

“Don’t know. He seems happy.”

“Except your father’s not like him.”

“Unfortunately. He’s the opposite. He’s competitive. I guess that’s why he takes what’s going on in his office so hard. Jay sails through at work. I think he actually enjoys the politics. He’s fascinated by what’s going on. Who’s down. Who’s up. He plays the game, and it’s half fun.

“Not my father. Winning is everything to him. Everything he does. When he golfs, he feels terrific when he wins and down if he loses. Jay couldn’t care less—as long as he’s played well. When Jay beats him, I’ve heard him trying to convince my father to look at things his way.  Especially after my father has played well. Jay tries to cheer him up. He means it. Jay can see how he is suffering unnecessarily. My father has to change his attitude.”

“So, sometimes Jay is your father’s father.”

“Sometimes. My father has reached that point in his life. We all sense it. He could use some advice. That’s what you think of. That’s not how it was before. I turned to him.” She hesitates a moment. “Sometimes he can’t find a word?”

“He’s fifty-eight?”

“Fifty-eight.  He jokes that he’s got early Alzheimer’s.”

“Does he?”

“No. Except I don’t think he’s joking. He’s developed this gallows humor about being old Like there is no turning back. He’s getting old. It’s downhill after this. He’s done. The writing is on the wall.”

“He’s done?”

“He said he’s going to retire in two years. Then they’ll travel. . . . I wish he could have Jay’s attitude. But he’s not into that. Changing himself.  My mom sees something wrong in herself and she’s out to become a new person.  She assumes she can do that.”

“Can she?”

“Truthfully, she rarely changes, but it doesn’t matter. Just talking the talk. That’s ninety percent of changing, making yourself feel better.”

“That doesn’t work for him?”

“Not really. He prides himself on his honesty. He might agree in theory. Like it’s better to see things the way Jay sees them. But that’s it. When my father loses he’s down. Period. Even if he jokes, they are sad jokes.  When he is smiling, he still looks depressed. I can see the look on his face when he sees my mother’s latest self-help book. He says nothing, but to him it’s nonsense.”

“And Mark?”

“Are you kidding?  Well, there is no way he would play golf. But he’s exactly like my father. He has to win at everything. Only he sees himself as winning, most of the time. Well, not winning—yeah, winning. Like the stuff at Berkeley, the revolution. He’s totally sold. Like you. Berkeley’s going to change the world. He’s on the winning side.”

She watches Jeremy as she describes Mark’s attitude. “He’s convinced that most people are going to be won over—think like he thinks. They’ll realize how the government sucks. They’ll smoke marijuana, reject the crap at the supermarket, ban preservatives, not get taken in by their parents’ rules. . . . All your stuff. Be sexually liberated. He’s leading the charge.”

“So he doesn’t need self-help books?”

“No. It’s Zen, yoga– anything as long as it isn’t American or Western.” She laughs, “The big thing is, he bounces right back when something doesn’t work out. He basically knows he’s going to prevail.”

“With girls also? That would be nice to have.”

“What are you talking about, Mr. Love Machine? You didn’t waste any time going after me. Do you come down hard when you lose at love?”

He doesn’t answer. She apparently didn’t hear what he said about love.

“Don’t worry. Right now, you’re way ahead. Two women in your stable.”

He quickly changes the subject. “So Mark has to win?”

Again CC smiles. “Not just win. Kill you if he can. The Mets have to win.  I remember this one time Gil Hodges, after he became the Mets manager, made a stupid move. It cost them a game. Mark was furious. My father got on him about that. Gil Hodges is practically a saint from his days as a Dodger. Way back—my father prayed for him during his slump. Mark would never do that.”

“Prayed? What slump?”

“You don’t know about his slump? I thought you were once a Dodgers fan.”

“I don’t know about a slump.”

“It’s famous. My father loves to tell that story. He’s told it to me a hundred times. Even when I was a little girl. How no one booed.”

“No one booed?”

“1952. Dodger fans cheered Hodges every time he got up.  That was while he suffered through one of the most famous slumps in baseball history. That’s what my father called it. He told me everyone calls it ‘The Slump.’ You should see how proud he is of the people from Brooklyn.”

Jeremy is listening closely.

“After going hitless in the last four regular-season games in1952, during the 1952 World Series against the Yankees, Hodges went hitless in all seven games, finishing the Series zero for twenty-one at the plate. The Dodgers needed him. The Series was close. Brooklyn lost in seven games. Hodges could have been the difference.

“When his slump continued into the following spring, fans reacted with letters and good-luck gifts, you name it. A Brooklyn priest, Father Herbert Redmond of St. Frances Catholic Church, told his parishioners, ‘Go home and say a prayer for Gil.’

“Hodges began hitting again soon afterward, and rarely struggled again in a World Series.”

Jeremy is amazed. “You know that story, even the name of the priest?”

“My father prayed for Gil.  He told me about it, several times.  It was like a miracle had occurred. Ever see Miracle on 34th Street? One of my father’s favorite movies. I’m sure he was convinced that his prayers, or one of the millions of Dodger fans’ prayers, reached God’s ears. I remember, back then, he encouraged me to believe in God. The point is, winning is important enough to my father that he addresses God about it. What’s the point of baseball if you don’t take winning seriously?”

“So your father is like Mark?”

“His passion about winning—that’s the same.”

“What do they do if the Mets are having a lousy season?”

“Mark can be pretty grouchy. So can my father.”

“All the time?”

“Fortunately, during really bad seasons they can shut it off. They hardly mention the Mets at all. They stop watching the games. Both of them never mentioned the Dodgers again after they left Brooklyn.

“The big thing now for Mark is changing America. Yes, saving Vietnamese children. Helping black people. But the key thing is his certainty that he’s part of a giant cultural wave in history that will transform America.” She points at him. “Isn’t that what you believe?”

Jeremy says nothing, but she is right.  He’s told her before.  He’s confident that history is with him and Mark and Berkeley. He’s sure of it. Nothing can stop them.

“No matter what happens, Mark knows he will wind up in the winner’s circle.”

“And your father?”

“I told you. Gallows humor. It’s particularly bad now.  Taking on my mother and Mark. That’s a lethal combination. Plus, I heard they are talking about early retirement at the office.”

“So what’s bad about that?”

“He’s thinking of retiring, but being pushed out . . .That would be terrible.  Ending his career with defeat. He doesn’t really know if it’s going to happen, but he’s not too thrilled.”

“I feel bad for him.”

“Do you?”

“Yes.”

Jeremy gets up, goes to the fridge.  Pours some Tab. Returns to the bedroom with it

“Did you see A Star Is Born?” Jeremy asks

“Yes.”

“Your parents sound like them.”

You think it’s that bad? “

“It doesn’t sound great.”

That thought takes over. Their discussions have usually remained at a safe distance, but this one is closer to home.

“After I saw Judy Garland make chopped liver out of James Mason I decided I wouldn’t ever go there, be aggressive like that

CC eyes water a bit.

“James Mason…My father puts up a brave front.” She tries to hold on to that but isn’t successful.

“Since menopause?” he asks.

“I didn’t think of that.” She mulls it over. “I thought it was Mark or this feminist thing she has been picking up on.

He laughs. “She’s a feminist?”

“Card-carrying.”

“Seriously?”

“She’d never wear the uniform, but she’ been a soldier in that war long before Gloria Steinem appeared. For years. All of her friends are giving their husbands a hard time. It’s definitely been catching on.

“Really?

“I don’t know.  Maybe not.  it’s just as likely hormones.”

CC is again at the window. For someone obsessed with beauty, Jeremy’s home is lacking in nice things to look at.  She’s grown fond of their Japanese maple.

“I like that tree.

“The cut-leaf maple? Carol insisted we buy it. I like it too.”

“Do you garden a lot?” she asks him.

“Not really. We haven’t planted that much. When we do, Carol points and I dig.”

“That’s what my mom and dad do. Or used to.”

The maple’s skeleton is striking against the snow.   As she looks at it she speaks as if summarizing.

“Does my father love my mother? I’m sure he believes one marriage is all you get. So he’d better love her. That’s probably how Jay would see it.  If he thought about it at all. My father . . . There’s a good chance he loves my mom.” After further thought, she says, “I know he loves her. It’s not his love . . . or her love. It’s their hatred.”

She wipes a tear.

She sees a tissue box. She takes one. The tears don’t stop. “My father’s disappointed. . . . Not just in her. In all of us.”

“In you?”

“Maybe, no, not me. I think I’m his favorite person, but certainly Mark.  My mom? It’s like the promise she gave to him when they got married has been revoked. She used to always talk about how great love and marriage is. She hasn’t given that speech in years. I think my father has become her nemesis.”

Hearing herself actually say it upsets CC more.  She hadn’t seen it as clearly.  Real tears begin. Jeremy puts his arms around her. She’s momentarily comforted by his gesture, but only momentarily.

“Our doctor told him that some time in the past he had a heart attack. He’s such a trooper he probably ignored the pain.  It scares me. I can’t imagine not having him.”

She smiles sadly. “When my father was on top of his game, he was something.”

“Your mother’s that tough on him?”

“I don’t think it’s her. It really is Mark. He’s slammed everything my father holds dear. My father thinks America is the greatest place on Earth. He’s lucky to have been born here, and grown up here. The whole thing . . . It’s at the core of who he is. His pride in America.  Losing that is like losing an arm. Mark’s taken away half his arm and is going for the rest of it. Can’t be fun that my mom is always on Mark’s side. Especially since she’s become so openly competitive with my father. She wasn’t always like that. Not with him.”

“When . . .” she begins, but can’t continue. CC is now crying.

“You know what? I think you should call your father.”

“Now?  It’s nine-thirty. He could be asleep.”

“Call him.”

“It’ll show up on your telephone bill

“Don’t worry. I’ll get it before Carol sees it. Call him.”

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