Lovers, Mothers, and Fools

I have great faith in fools—self-confidence my friends will call it.
        …attributed to Edgar Allen Poe on goodreads.com

She has to go to the hairdresser the morning after they hosted the church cookout, so he says he will begin the clean up.

She looks at him, sharp-eyed.

“Don’t try to do too much,” she warns.

He waves a hand. Not to worry.

And when she has pulled their big, powder-blue Buick out of the driveway and driven off, he contemplates. It’s mostly just picking up–they’d had about 35 people here, all told,–families, couples, singletons, kids, agesters,–one time or another, last night. They had eaten and laughed, walked to the beach, dealt out cards. They had gathered around a robust fire, and some of the choir members had led them in soft summer singing.

He is proud that, in their late 80’s, they still have the gumption–have the VERVE–to host this yearly gathering.

They had stowed all the perishable items last night, throwing out what couldn’t be saved, with help from a few people who’d stayed. Then they’d waved off the helpers and said they’d deal with the rest in the morning. And he will surprise her by having things tidied up when she returns.

So he pulls out a strong trash bag and wanders between the tables, taking care of disposable plates, cups, napkins, pulling up and crumpling paper tablecloths. He carries the burnt-down candles to the kitchen sink, throws out the candle stubs, washes the glass holders and turns them upside down to dry.

He wipes down the tables, which he will tilt onto their sides and fold up a little later.

He stacks the candle holders, now dry, into the box she has neatly labelled for them, putting soft paper separators between them, and carries them up to the hall that boasts the attic hatch. He goes back down to hoist the step ladder down from its hook in the garage. He loops an arm into it, through the second rung area so it won’t drag, and he slowly hefts it up the stairway.

“You’re OLD,” he chides himself at the top of the stairs, chest heaving, stopping to rest. But he drags the ladder to the spot right below the hatch, picks up the candle box and sets up the ladder. He steps on the first rung, then the second. He lets go to push the hatch open.

She finds him on the hallway floor, and follows the ambulance to the hospital, where they determine he has had a minor heart attack.

That Sunday, she tells the story at social hour after service, and he sits next to her, head bent, eyebrows raised, glinting his eyes at the other men around their table. The women are horrified, but the men understand.

“I found him flat on his back on the floor,” she says. She reaches out a hand, its palsy accentuated today, to touch his bruised arm. “Old fool!”

They all laugh, and he hears the love and the relief in her words. He imagines what she thought, coming up those stairs. His throat gets a little tight.

“I’ve always been a fool for you, baby doll,” he says, leaning his forehead to hers. “But I promise: no more ladders.”

************************

Ree is at the concession stand when she hears urgent yelling. She sees Karen with her son BJ, his arms flailing, his face red and puckered. Kids are gathering to laugh.

BJ, Ree thinks, is too old for this kind of behavior, and Karen needs to accept the fact that he will never be able to mainstream. She sighs, and picks her son Davey out of the crowd. He is one of the kids laughing at BJ; Ree pushes through to grab his arm and divert him and his friends to what they gleefully call the Tilt-A-Hurl.

Davey is sturdy and mischievous, not the world’s greatest scholar maybe, but popular, a good athlete. Ree feels a surge of pride and a twinge of pity for Karen.

She’s foolish to think that boy will ever settle in with a normal class, Ree thinks sadly, herding Davey and company through the crowd. She turns her head back to see if Karen is okay.

BJ begins to wind down; Karen crouches in front of him, speaking slowly and soothingly.

——

The years pass–quickly, as they do when kids are growing. Karen’s family moves to a town thirty miles away, and Ree has no idea what has happened to BJ, post high school, until she meets Karen in the waiting room of a new hospital midway between their homes. They are both waiting to have mammograms taken; they laugh wryly, anticipating the procedure, and then Karen asks about Davey.

Ree sighs. He’s out of school, working off and on for a trucking company a friend owns, but he can’t seem to settle down. Likes his beer a little bit too much, she confides.

She does not confide that the girlfriend he has just broken up with will have Davey’s baby in June.

And BJ? she asks.

Karen’s face lights up.  He’s in his second year at a small Christian college that offers a special program in video game design, she says. He lives in a private dorm room during the week and comes home every weekend. His grades are good and his confidence continues to grow.

That’s wonderful, say Ree firmly, a little shocked, a little taken aback, but really, deeply happy for Karen and her son. And a soft-footed woman in brightly colored scrubs calls, “Ree?” from a doorway.

Ree puts her magazine back on the table, says a warm goodbye to Karen, and heads off to get the mammogram over with. She smiles at the brightly togged woman and follows her down a gleaming, antiseptic hall. She remembers that class trip to the amusement park; she remembers thinking Karen was foolish.

She thinks of Davey, so unrooted and unsettled. Let me have the foolish perseverance Karen has, she prays, as her guide smilingly hands her that silly paper cape.

******************

He leaves the auditorium, thoughtful, his hand on his wife’s elbow. She is crying softly; she has a gift of weeping in a lovely, non-threatening way. Her eyes, when she raises her head to meet his, are sheened with tears .

They have been to a talk; they have listened to a famous author speak about his son’s journey through addiction. The boy had started, very young, with marijuana and ‘graduated’ to methamphetamine, and finally–this is crazy to him; how can this even be so?–he settled into heroin abuse, heroin being easily accessible and cheaper than meth.

Much, he thinks, like Lily, their beautiful granddaughter, now 20 and lost to her drug cravings for four long years.

Lily has lied and stolen; she has had a baby boy, Kenton, who is being raised by her parents–his daughter Rachel and her husband Jake. Lily has been in jail more than once.

Lily has betrayed Rachel and Jake one too many times; she has hurt her younger brothers, Kyle and Boolie, to the point where they turn their heads at the sight of her, push back their chairs and leave the room when her name is mentioned. Rachel and Jake have finally, with advice and guidance from the professional counselors they’ve worked with for yea, these many years, told Rachel that she is not welcome as long as she is using.

So sometimes she comes to his house, to their house, and they make sure she takes a bath, eats a warm, nourishing breakfast. They make sure she knows that they all–the family who can’t see her anymore, the grandparents whose house she visits in desperation,—they love her, deeply and desperately,–as deeply and desperately as they hate what her illness has done to her. They take her shopping; they send her off with food and clothes. They drive her, sometimes, to whatever flat, in whatever town, Lily currently inhabits.

They do not give her money. They do not leave her alone so she can steal.

In his mind, a scene plays and replays: Lily at twelve, on stage in a tutu, lithe and poised at that moment before adulthood seeps in to change the child. She is intent and exultant, her body firm in its knowledge of the dance. She leaps and whirls. The music surges and she pirouettes to take her bow.

Lily’s head lifts, in his memory, and he sees her, fully revealed in the bright, creative. flash of her big brown eyes; there is so much THERE, he remembers thinking, of this girl child who loves her music and her dance, who devours books, who rises righteously to the defense of any weaker child being bullied.

Come back, he whispers–through his gestures, in his hugs, every time she turns to them in desperation. Come back to us, pretty girl.

People will call you a fool, the speaker had just told them; they’ll say you’re foolish to think that this time, this treatment, will be, finally, the ticket out of addiction. He confides that the program that eventually helped his son was a last-ditch effort. After this, the father had vowed, if he screws this one up–he’s on his own. Friends and family had advised him long ago–give up. Stop investing. Remember your other kids.

You don’t stop loving them, they’d counseled, but you’re a fool to open yourself up to disappoint again and again.

But–one more time, he thought: once more. I want my boy back.

And now the boy had been clean (mostly) for all of seven years.

They had heard it too: don’t let her fool you! It’s foolish to hope. But they have come to understand that it’s a disease that grips their lovely Lily. She can’t be cured; they know that. But she can control it, in the right time, in the right hands, with the right support.

He cannot–they cannot–close the door. If that makes me a fool, he thinks,–well. I’ll own that title.

His wife pulls a kleenex from her purse, dabs gently, squeezes his arms. He points his keys at the big sedan, beeps the doors open. He holds her door; he starts the ignition. They head off into the night.

***************

The Fool, keen.com tells me, is the wild card of Tarot. It depicts a young man dressed in harlequin, standing at the base of a mountain. He is, this beautiful young person, unfettered and seemingly oblivious, the subject of the most controversial card in the deck.

“…its possibilities,” I read of the Fool, “all start in nothingness and reach into infinity.”

From nothing into infinity! I do not understand.

But I hope that, in the right time, the right cards uncovered, I will not hesitate to be a fool.

*********************

Happy April Fool’s Day, my friends!
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