Michael sent me a letter saying he would arrange for anything we needed, the bad news finding its way onto the grid somehow then spreading without resistance. Something I always wanted to do, have? Convalescence in Europe? A faraway isle? Not-yet-legal treatments? Money could talk. No questions. No strings. His kind words mattered; I only thought of him now as the boy I first knew, the boy at my art exhibition—it was a passed life. He had matured over the past few years into an interestingly complex man, recently marrying a charming woman, an up-and-coming performance artist. I watched her once on cable TV.
Unfortunately Ross found out about his offer. I had the high-school girl, Amanda, the babysitter, go out and fax Michael a reply, thanking him but refusing—there was little he could do—without telling my husband, but Michael not liking my answer called him at HRI. The Nagles contacted Ross as well, saying they were planning on returning to the States at the end of the spring semester next year. We had to be out of their house by Memorial Day. They were expecting to be commended for giving this advance notice and were insulted by the strained, sullen response. Time to put a down payment on a house, boy, and stop hemorrhaging taxes. Be grateful for the push. Their house . . . their ocean view . . .
The humiliation Ross labored under because he couldn’t give me everything he felt I needed, because he didn’t have the money to make me as comfortable as possible was crushing him. He didn’t understand, or didn’t want to understand, I wasn’t going to be made comfortable any longer. He didn’t understand I was fighting this battle alone. He couldn’t save his mother, he couldn’t save his friends, and he couldn’t save me. It made him question his every judgment. Was he just too immature to make the practical choices in life, to quietly give up his dreams, he continually asked himself. His life was in those dreams. Did he need to sell his soul so as not to feel like real men all around him had to step in and rescue those he loved? Men with power. The power of the possession of money earned in any manner, the power of not feeling too much.
“I’ll get the money; we’ll do something. Whatever you want,” he said resentfully, as if whatever that request might be, it would be the last thing he wanted to do, the thing he had to steel himself to do, but do it he would, bound by some ancient code of honor, some ancient contract, his soul all the while rebelling and absent, out cavorting with the angels of long standing. He was standing at the desk in the living room, shuffling the mail, most of it bills. I was propped up amidst my clutter on the couch as usual. He never looked me in the eyes anymore.
He was so cold. How could he not understand I was angry at the withdrawal of his emotions from the present battle, his stubborn communion with someone who no longer existed, mad at just about everything but his lack of funds? Ross, how can you hurt me like this? I deserve far better than this. I couldn’t touch him any longer and I was getting too tired, too far away to try. “If you ask your sister, you’d better just ask for money to pay the insurance,” I sneered at him, knowing just where to place the knife. He turned around at this nasty thrust, his worst suspicions confirmed, the last illusions shattered. I hated myself for what I just said. We never thought we’d turn on each other. “I’ve been operating under the premise that we’re a team,” I said plaintively, by way of explanation, further accusation, pathetically twisting my ringless fingers, too thin now for any jewelry, including my wedding band, kept in a box on the dresser.
“Yeah, we’re a great team—just about ready to rule the world,” he said throwing down the mail and leaving the room. Terror darkened my vision, grabbed at me until I admitted I’d lost him. That was it then. What a fool I was at times to thrill at the thought I was getting better, to smile at the warming surge of forgotten feeling, to hear birdsong across the frozen field. Those waiting angels were nowhere to be found tonight, those shards of memories impossible to conjure. It was time to cut him loose, time to set my boat on the outgoing tide.