Davy’s notion of love was a lofty ideal, the seeds planted by two songs he first heard as a youngster: “Some Enchanted Evening” and “All the Way.”
Tramping through the retired abortionist’s forest, Davy sang, improvising.
“When you love that someone, ya gots ta love that someone, ALL the way! Through the crazy teen years, and all the magazine years, what th’ HEY! Yeah, I gotta love ya, love ya ‘til the end! Yeah, I gotta love ya, you’re the one to send! Around the bend! Never an end! Like a cornucopia, a handsome petunia, day and night, with all my might, ALL th’ way!”
The smell of the moldering pines, the ground beneath his feet spongy with moss and rotting pine needles and cones, added a spring to his step. Without an iota of scientific evidence, he believed that the Adirondack air had healing benefits; that if you inhaled of it deeply and often, it’d prevent, even cure, the meanest cancers. It intoxicated him, this atmosphere, tossing gasoline on the fire of his longing for romance and eternal love.
Love’s the drug and Davy its addict, no less so than a scurvy street junkie hooked on the rusty spike.
“How many genuinely devoted long-term couples do you know? Couples who, after 20 or 30 years, still delight in each other’s company? I can count the ones I know on one hand, a finger or two to spare. Most soldier through the bog of their relationship, having made a lousy, tacit bargain with the old ennui, in the name of some semblance of security: money, property, children. Or something. Biding time until death, or a discovered affair, does them part. Cliché or classic? It’s emotional entropy papered over with smiles for the camera,” Davy quietly ranted to Anne as they walked back to their two Jags, terriers running ahead. “Most of these so-called happy couples are phonies. And I hate goddamn phonies.”
Maintaining his prejudicial states of mind in mid-New York State gave Davy plenty to do. He was lost in provincial backwaters, a ghost in a population devoid of—even hostile to—grace and wit, charm and style. The demographic tipped heavily to the aged, but that wasn’t the problem. The few young people mired in this muck were every bit as stupid as their elders, if not more stupid. They were stupid enough to seem deformed and monstrous.
The women! Bovine cretins, thin lips contorted in inchoate anger. Their hair was clipped, sexless. They even showed up in public, to the post office or the supermarket, in their pajamas, bathrobes and slippers, just rolling out of their vehicles into the agora, good to go.
Davy’s heart sank when he saw the crossword books for sale at the local Rite Aid. EZ 2 Do!, their covers proclaimed. (Dumb is a selling point!)
A year ago Davy spotted someone who seemed like she could be friend material, who looked like she had a brain. In a beret and a skirt, she was browsing seed packets at a hardware store in Boonville. Maybe an artist? Someone who, at least, reads? But when he lobbed a softball of friendliness in her direction, she threw her hands up like a ninny, reacting as if he were some sort of deranged maniac. Well, fuck her! Hard and running! Who needs her!
When Davy was seven, in second grade at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, he stood in the outfield of the school’s baseball field, shock of black hair falling across his brow, in a trance, gaze fixed on the middle distance. A softball whizzed past his head. The other kids laughed and jeered, but still he stared until they surrounded him, quieting when his trance remained unbroken. Sister Bonaventure ran over to see what was the matter. He snapped out of it and told her, with great precision, of the vision he’d just beheld of The Blessed Virgin, golden and shiny, eyes of diamond, sharp and clear, light blazing out of them. Mary stood in an ornate golden wagon pulled by a golden-fleeced lamb, rolling along golden clouds while blaring pipe organ music filled the heavens.
Sister Bonaventure grabbed his wrist in a panic, tears in her eyes, and dragged him at a run to Mother Superior. His wrist hurt from her clutch. In Mother Superior’s office, Davy raised his right hand from the elbow and pointed up with two fingers, signifying the dual natures of Christ. He recounted his vision with such vividness that the nuns were convinced of his potential sainthood. They fast-tracked him to the seminary.
Which Davy, of course, detested. Nothing but male company, doughy-faced eunuchs in long robes. He despised everything about them with an intensity that burned like a hot coal in his heart. He hated the incessant praying, and that inane response to any news, however horrid: “It’s God’s will.”
The communal kitchen was always a mess. Of course it was. Just look at these slobs! What sort of mothers did they have, growing up to be such pigs, leaving breadcrumbs and jam and grease in their wake?
Some say that man was created in God’s image. If God looked like these lamebrains, Davy wanted nothing to do with Him. And what was that insipid crap about “God is love”? Tell that to the cattle cars of people hauled off to death camps, to those caught in the crossfire of wars they didn’t start, to poor creatures destined for slaughterhouses after a life of sadistic confinement, to those clinging to hopeless hopes by their fingernails! So much love! He was choking on the love!
One evening, as the seminarians sat around watching an episode of Ironside, a farting contest erupted. Nauseated, Davy fled the laughing imbeciles in the TV room, hightailed it back to his cinderblock cell, empty but for a cot, a simple work desk, a Bible and a handful of Jesuit publications. He almost vomited. What am I doing here? And what is it with a group of young men who would, of their own volition, swear off women, take a straightedge razor and slice off their nuts, like some sort of contemporary castrati? For what, exactly? To what end, to what purpose? The Protestant priests get to enjoy a roll in the hay with their wives! Are they going to Hell? If so, why bother with all this ecumenical jazz? And some of these fellows seem entirely too chummy, too touchy, with each other! Davy saw them, in pairs, sneaking off for a hike in the woods. There was more to this than fresh air and stretching the legs!
And what about that inseparable two down the hall, the ones so enamored with Star Wars that they were always staging enactments of Han Solo and Darth Vader sword fights, using sawed off broomsticks as weapons? Calling Dr Freud! Having happily forsworn vaginas, here they are, acting out phallic desires! Just a nice innocent little sword fight up and down the stairwell!
The disgust and hatred built up inside him like a pressure cooker until he cracked, suffered a nervous breakdown, his first. He left the religious life and never looked back. After recuperating back home, at the boarding house, he concentrated on a new path, physics, and enrolled at MIT.
There he met Darlene, a green-eyed honey-blonde dream with an insouciant gaze. It was springtime and they went on a few dates before summer vacation sent her home to Mummy and Daddy in Oregon and a summer job at The University of Oregon where Daddy taught.
“See you in September,” he laughed to her, hugging her close, as if for dear life, on the Logan International tarmac, a gentle rain falling, before she boarded Pan Am flight 39. “I’m going to miss you so much! I already do,” she replied, raising his hug ante with a long kiss.
Davy was smitten with all things Darlene. There was a bounce in his step. People noticed it, commented on it, even strangers. He smiled to himself, he whistled as he walked. All that summer, he wrote her often, told her in copious and entertaining detail all his doings—from cleaning lab equipment to strolls around town that weren’t so very lonely as long as he had her to moon about. He wrote her passionate pages about visiting The Museum of Fine Arts, going to the room where they kept the Cèzanne, his epiphany there. And he relished her letters, read them many times over despite misspellings and grammatical errors.
She was his little movie star, his best friend. He loved her to the fullness of his width and breadth and height. Even coasts apart, he felt their hearts beat as one.
So there was a reason why I’d endured the seminary, it was all a part of the plan that led me to MIT, to Darlene. Everything has a purpose! One slogs through those bad times and missteps, the times that test one’s mettle, to be rewarded, eventually. There’s a point to it all!
Imagine how stunned he was at the end of August to get that final letter from Darlene: she’d met someone, Harold, and they’d married, whirlwind! She hoped he’d understand, and went on to say she’d quit MIT and enrolled at The University, where Harold was a tenured English Lit professor, a colleague of Daddy’s. Her parents just adored Harold! Oh, and she was dropping science for an English major.
What? She excelled in physics and chem! Was this Harold some sort of slithering snake of a Svengali, leading her down a primrose path of career futility, keeping her enslaved to him, useless to the world, some discarded mutt adopted from the pound? She couldn’t write to save her life! She had a future in science! NASA!
Darlene enclosed of photo of her with her new hubby. Harold was in his 40s, wide of middle, narrow of shoulder, bald of head and had a face like porridge. He wore plaid shorts with black knee socks, running shoes and leaned on a walking stick. His beard was mottled in gray, like one of those stinking old priests from the seminary, a weakling who probably couldn’t do 10 pushups! And there was his smug grin, as if he were mocking Davy from three thousand miles away. “I won the prize, punk! You got bupkis! Pull your pud once for me, pal!”
This was insane! It couldn’t be happening! It must be a joke! But there it all was, in Darlene’s script, complete with her insipid linguistic errors!
Stumbling out of the cool, dark post office into the blistering, blinding sun, Davy worked his way to a park bench and plunked down, shaking. He felt as if he were roughed up by a gang of crazed hoodlums. He lay across the bench, too weak to sit up, and covered his eyes, his tears, with his sleeve. He didn’t realize it then, but he’d just stepped into his second nervous breakdown as the hoods took turns stabbing his heart with switchblades, laughing like jackals.
And so his life spooled out, until the breakup of his 19-year marriage to Lizzy found him in this latest breakdown, relocated in the middle of nowhere, on full disability in a rusty old trailer. In his bedroom, an iMac was his window. (He had no friends, but he kept a close eye on the world behind its screen.) The other room he turned into a closet, storage for his J Press suits, shirts, ties, trousers and shoes: remains from a bountiful time. When he ventured forth it was in the XK120, which waited for him in the garage like a faithful friend. Mister Look So Good in a sport coat if not a jacket and tie, if not a tailored suit, always let the grubs know they were grubs and he was royalty. But reality was cold. Even that lovely Jag was a frigid, nasty bitch in the Adirondack winter.
Once upon a time, Davy was a bright star in the up-and-coming young physicist firmament, someone to place a bet on. Today, if he’s remembered at all, it’s in the whatever-happened-to department. His web presence is nil.
Two Jags traveled up Route 28, north of Eagle Bay. When Anne turned left, Davy followed. From there, a series of rights and lefts, taking them further and further up a mountain, brought them to a driveway, one you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it. Several yards in, a wrought-iron fence opened magically, then closed after them. They rolled another quarter-mile along a carpet of crunchy bluestone before coming to the mansion, Davy guessing it to be circa 1810. Anne pulled to one side, Davy to her right. Both got out.
“This is it. What do you think?”
“Wow...” The dogs yipped and yapped, jumping, as they went in the front door.
Anne led Davy down a labyrinth of early 19-century hallways and up some creaky, twisty dark stairs until they entered a big room with large paisley pillows, red and green, strewn about. She pressed a button on the hi-fi and Lennie Tristano plinged a piano, accompanied by a mentholated bass and low-burner drums.
“You’re into Tristano?”
“He was a family friend. I took piano lessons from him for 10 years.”
“Holy cow! I love Tristano! This is like some sort of dream.”
As the sun set, Anne lit a squat beeswax candle. They sat cross-legged in the middle of the room on pillows, before a 13th-century Persian hookah. Anne pressed a wad of black tar in the bowl, lighting it with a long wooden match, puffing, then inhaling, then handing the mouthpiece to him. They passed it back and forth several times, the drug wending its way into their blood. Davy’s illicit experience prior to this moment was very limited, just a little pot smoking back in Cambridge. And there was his beloved gin. But now he’d entered an entirely new realm as all the pain, even pains he’d never acknowledged, evaporated, whisked away to some other universe. He was enveloped by golden clouds of ineffable joy and satisfaction. This was it! This was the stuff! He rose (it seemed to take a week to get to his feet) and he walked over to the antique mirror on the wall, its reflective surface corroded with age, and stared into his own eyes, amazed to see just how goddamn handsome he was. He’d never noticed that! I’m some sort of deity! I’m beautiful! Everything is beautiful! He gazed more deeply as his pupils shrank into pinpoints, nice delicate pinpoints. So wonderful... He didn’t even need a shave! How odd! Usually he shaves three times a day: once upon rising (after drinking coffee and listening to the classical station), again around noon, and finally once more before lights out. He just feels better that way, clean-shaven. It even helps him to sleep better. And here it was, well past noon, and he didn’t need to shave!
At home, the trailer, Davy stocked his fridge with bottles of Beefeater. Early in the afternoon, he’d move one to the freezer, where he also kept a dozen martini glasses. At five, he’d take the bottle out, pour gin into a frozen glass and, using an eyedropper, add three drops of Cinzano, then one green olive: a martini, nothing straying from the traditional, no room for these morons and their “martini” bars, retards swilling candy-flavored vodka from “birdbath” glasses. Vulgarians!
He’d savor the gin, the nice clean gin, clear as a mountain spring. Juniper berries even tasted like soap, so unlike those filthy brown liquors. He always started a new drink with a fresh frozen glass, riding the cold silver bullet express straight to an exhilarating and lachrymose oblivion, listening to Herbie Nichols or Bill Evans or Tristano, sometimes weeping, releasing waves of glorious endorphins.
If he downed the drinks fast enough on an empty stomach, Darlene could appear to him, an apparition, surrounded in a full-body halo, floating about a foot above the floor, her hands at her sides, palms outward, her feet bare, a Tuesday Weld smile, silent as a forgotten tomb.
“Darlene!” he’d shout from his delirium, “DARLENE!”
He’d stumble to her, his vision, try to hug her, grasp her, but like the man said, you can’t put your arms around a memory, so he’d fall to the floor, muttering, “I’ll save you! I’ll retrieve you from the clutches of that Harold! To Hades with your bloody parents! I’m sorry, dearest, but they don’t have your best interests at heart. I know it hurts for you to hear that, but say it I must... For your sake! For our sake, dear, dear Darlene!”
Rolling onto his back, he’d look up to her from an abyss of loneliness, from a spot as desolate as a lost stretch of Antarctica, and regale her with stories, of everything of significance that’d happened since the August of her fateful letter. “It’s so good to see you again! I always knew you’d come back to me! And, darling, look at you, just look at you! You haven’t aged a day! You’re still so lovely, lovely in every way! Darlene! Sit down! Sit down with me and have a martini! I make the perfect martini! Oh, the times we’ll have again, my dearest, the times we’ll have! They’ll write books, great books, about our times!”
DARLENE! COME BACK! DON’T GO AWAY!
In the morning after, dull and gray and brutal as only an Adirondack hangover can be, Davy would pull himself up, still clothed, shards of last night littering the floor, fading...
Davy loved gin, or so he thought. But opium proved something else altogether. There were no edges, just softness and glow, this profound glow that comes from someplace deep within, so much better than alcohol! There’s no comparison! Now he felt complete, all the pieces of the jigsaw tumbling neatly into place! How could Anne claim that there was no point to life? This was the point! All of a sudden, he was living in some enchanted evening. He managed to tear himself away from his gorgeous reflection and went back to Anne, waiting, smiling, on the pillows.
Falling down, down, down... he landed on pearly paisley waves of Christmas colors. The couple looked at each other, laughing. Lying there, side by side, their hands touched, then fingers intertwined and they drifted into slumberland as one, into dreams at the ocean’s floor, Technicolor dreams, dreams intensely real in their very unreality.