For those of you who have followed all the way through, thanks. I hope you found it rewarding. If you've missed anything or need to start from the beginning, click here and follow the links at the end of each chapter.
Before wrapping up, I'd be negligent if I didn't credit Roger K. Miller, a fellow writer and Binghamton, New York native, author of a terrific hometown memoir, The Chenango Kid. Serializing a novel, as writers did in periodicals in centuries past, was Roger's idea. I stole it and am grateful for his inspiration and not pointing out my egregious theft.
One last reminder: You can find all my competed books on my Amazon Author Page. The Witch Next Door with will joining the list in late September, after some fixing up, filling up literary potholes and polishing.
Thanks again to all of you whom I have been lucky to have as readers on this blog.
My last conversation with Val happened almost fifteen years after the Saturday night when we met in a darkened corner at a dance in the gymnasium at the Binghamton Boys Club. Other than obligatory family connections that turn cold without breaking, no one else stayed in my life that long, but now we approached a terminus.
I called her only every few months now, checking in, confirming our mutual outsider status, but I never drove or hopped on a bus to cover the short distance needed to see her. No enough switches clicked into the on position, our synergies intermittent.
I quit trying to persuade her to come to Buffalo, even for a weekend. It was the one thing we never did, step outside everything else without an easy exit in sight. She balked.
“If I do, you’ll never let me leave,” she challenged me.
The claim was so unexpected, I didn’t know how to answer. She still drove the old van she asked me to help her check out on the morning I went back to Maggie. It symbolized my self-demolition. But I recovered. I did finally leave Maggie, and I was on my own. I was alone.
Was it a challenge? Should I have grabbed the chance, called her out and demanded?
No, I could hear her laugh, inspired by one more of my inflatable absolutes. Whatever I might have said to change her mind, I didn’t, and that’s history, now and forever.
A year or so after my last invitation, I called on a Saturday evening when I had a half-hour or so to kill and found her home. My call felt less welcome than any had in a long time.
Val was restless, stalled while cruising out of her twenties. She told me about some guy she’d met, a guy from Ithaca, and how tempted she was to follow that trail north to a new town and, maybe, another start.
My door, always unlocked then, opened and Jodi walked in. We had plans to go see a movie. I raised my index finger to let her know I’d be just a minute.
The conversation with Val had already gone on too long. Being dismissed should be brief and to the point. It was past time to admit that tramps on the move from the Sixties had no business trying to finagle their way into the Eighties. We were out of date.
Jodi waited on the couch in my living room while Val and I wrapped up.
From that day forward, I imagined that Val followed her impulse and settled in Ithaca, a college town where she fed her freethinking intellect and raised children. I wondered if we’d bump into each other again someday. If so, what would we say, if anything? We had nothing left, which I understood later on meant that fate was done with us. We were not going to mess up one more chorus in song.
Unprotected, yes, but how long must it take to learn that there are no haunted houses or witches waiting to burn you alive in their ovens? How long before the stain of the witch evaporates and you can’t see it anymore? How long to know it was about the love, never the fear?
When my mother died, I was in Vienna with Jodi, visiting a friend. On that very evening, we went to the old Opera House for a concert. Mom was a million miles from my thoughts when the three of us walked across the cold plaza, wisps of snow blowing by the lampposts. No transcendental message reached me, no extrasensory perception chilling my heart.
I found out she was gone when I heard a progression of messages on our answering machine when we flew back to New York. No one in my family knew Jodi and I were in Europe. The messages went from somber to frantic to confused.
“Must’ve thought I was ignoring them,” I told Jodi.
“I’m sorry,” Jodi said.
“Well, you know, I feel a little sad, but to be honest, the main thing I feel is relieved I didn’t get stuck flying out there for the funeral.”
Such, then, was the state of healing. If you can’t fix it or it’s just too late, cut it loose. I’d won that. Enough time passed to make it stick. If I couldn’t love her, I had no business resenting or mourning her.
As for the other shards, currents took most of them out of reach. Once in a while, an exceptional event brings us back in range, but what we sculpted of ourselves left little capacity for reconnection. To have ten siblings, two stepdads and a stepmom and about as much to do with any of them as I have with the manager of the local grocery is probably the worst result you could imagine, if you were me, eighteen years old, hitchhiking your way home to Binghamton, sun setting at a slow intersection, south of Utica.
Maybe, that was what I needed protection from all along, not the witches, not the harridans of imagination, but worst of all, the incurable curse of indifference.
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page.