Article: 261289 of talk.bizarre From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Kate McDonnell) Newsgroups: talk.bizarre Subject: love is as strange as death Date: Fri, 01 Dec 1995 01:23:39 -0700 Organization: les graphiques Grenade Lines: 143 Message-ID: <email@example.com> Status: O X-Status: Only recently I was reminded--if I needed reminding-- that love is scary. A woman I'd done work for and liked, but hadn't seen in a few years, phoned me. Since I'd last seen her she'd been widowed, which I hadn't heard about. We got together to talk about work. The talk turned personal, and she spoke about her husband. He'd died exactly two years before, just before Christmas, and the time of year was bringing it back to her. I'd never met the man--he was introspective, very shy, never wanted to meet any of his wife's friends or associates. Eliza said she'd come to like it that way. She said she felt that she and her husband had this wonderful private life at home and she'd come to value that -- she could come home from any social or business whirl and he'd be there waiting. He was an illustrator, worked at home and rarely went out. They'd never had any kids. Eliza's living in the same flat, surrounded by the same things. She says she feels her husband's still around. She's not crazy, just intensely calm and sad, and I saw that though she'd had a happy marriage, here she was. And I was reminded of the two incidents that showed me, in my teens, how very precarious love is. *** I was about fifteen, living at home and finishing high school. My friends Andrea and Sarah and I had a babysitting syndicate: we shared out a few families who were happy enough to have any of us show up for duties. The Murphys were the trickiest family we dealt with. Now it sounds to me like madness to put any 15-year-old in charge of three clever and unruly kids between 8 and 12. Indeed sometimes we doubled up to tackle them. Their parents had broken up and their father had a new girlfriend called Celine, one of his students from the university, and he went out a lot. We never knew much about Mrs. Murphy except that she was said to be very beautiful and highly strung. It was easy to believe: the father was hatchet-faced and uncommunicative, but his kids were a handsome and temperamental bunch. One time, Mr. Murphy wanted to take Celine away for a week, and he asked Andrea to move in and take care of the kids. I went there a few times that week to keep her company. It was comic in some ways at first: Mr. Murphy had left a freezer full of cheap cuts of meat and a few odds and ends in tins. Andrea's mom was arty and fed her family on healthy bohemian cuisine, so Andrea had no idea what to do with that kind of food. No money had been provided to buy anything else. I recall that, in desperation, she boiled some pork chops that week, and the kids ate them too. Soon dinner was the least of her worries. Halfway through the week a letter arrived to tell the kids their mother had died. It said she'd gone to a wooded park she'd known as a child, sat down under a tree and let herself die of exposure. I suppose now that there must've been some sort of overdose involved, but I never heard the details. Andrea had to deal with the kids' first days of shock. Mr. Murphy did not break his week's vacation. Not long after this I was over there minding the kids myself, and it was late. I wanted to look something up in the Bible, lined up with other reference books on the mantel of the bogus fireplace. Inside the cover I found a dedication to Mr. Murphy by his wife on the occasion of their marriage, with some quotation I've never identified about his being the strong tree on which her love was growing. All of that, and three kids, and now she was dead. The lady obviously had a thing for the wrong trees. *** Around the same time, Johnnie Desjardins died. Very unusually, my parents and sister were out of town, staying at some modest country hotel for my father's two-week vacation. My mother phoned and ordered me to the funeral to represent the family. I thought they should come back, but I assented. Annie Biggs has been my mom's big sister's best friend since they were tiny. She's as familiar to my mother as another sister. My mother tells how Annie was the mainstay of her own family, quitting school at 11 and working to support her mother and younger brothers after their father ran away. She also tells how Annie met and fell in love with Johnnie Desjardins despite the rancor of his mother, who fancied herself a witch. Madame Desjardins put a special curse on the children of the marriage. As in a fairy tale, the two daughters emerged with no obvious flaws, but one was blonde and pretty and vivacious, and one dark and plain and clumsy. Perhaps in that contrast a certain evil intention was borne out. I remember seeing Annie and Johnnie at Christmas at my aunt and uncle's house. Annie is a round, rosy little woman with a cordial manner. Johnnie was a spindly little man with big glasses and a lost expression-- now I wonder if it wasn't the puzzlement of a Quebecois who'd married an anglophone. He played folk songs on an accordion sometimes, and used to watch TV hockey with passion, flinging himself about in his chair in nearly mystical identification with the great stick-handling forwards of the day. Johnnie died suddenly of a heart attack. It was a summer funeral. Jeans or shorts would obviously not do. Eventually I scrounged up a skirt and blouse and went to the church, where I was told by my aunt that it was also expected I'd go with them up to the graveyard. We lived in a mortuary ourselves, my dad being an undertaker's sidekick--more or less--but I hadn't any more idea of this etiquette than any teenager. Annie was stoical throughout the service and everything was very dignified and orderly until the moment the coffin was lowered into the grave. Suddenly she yelped like a wounded animal and collapsed. It was not embarrassing. It was a sort of tribute. It was also a revelation to me: I saw instantly how profound the sundering is when one has been physically united to someone for years, and then must watch his body discarded, no matter how ritually, as refuse. *** And yet becoming a nun doesn't seem to be an option. -- firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.vir.com/~kate/home.html the guardians of hell, having bought you, will cook you there in jars.