Rose and Justice — Installment Thirteen

This is Installment Thirteen of the novel Rose and Justice. It includes Chapters IV.iii, IV.iv, and IV.v. It is 6,887 words long. As installments are posted, links for each will be added under the tab labeled “The Novel” at the top of this page. Enjoy!

IV.iii

            Justice turned into a man without knowing a metamorphosis was taking place.  During the four years he spent in college, he managed to save over $11,000.  He would have had more, but he bought a used pickup truck his junior year.  It stayed parked at school, and he continued to ride home with Mark to keep his father from finding out.

Each summer he had worked with Hannah and Marsh.  Hannah was easy.  Mostly they read together or he would share some new idea he had heard in a class.  Marsh was softening over time.  Justice had realized early on that success came when he made Marsh the center of attention.  He focused on what Marsh could accomplish, not what Justice was learning at school.

Talking Jared into letting Marsh and Hannah go to school was not even necessary.  Every summer home Justice had made substantial repairs and additions to the compound’s electrical system and Jared was actually looking forward to what skills Marsh and Hannah might bring home.   The real coup was getting Jared to accept Justice returning for graduate school.  Once he was convinced that Marsh and Hannah would benefit from having Justice around to show them the ropes, he gave his approval.  Justice received a graduate assistantship that would pay for his school, plus award him a small stipend for assisting with freshman courses.  His masters would be in biology, a field his father learned to accept when it became clear that Marsh was not medically inclined.

As it turned out, Marsh was inclined toward the humanities.  He became a history major, with no resistance from Jared, oddly enough.  Justice had begun to think his father was starting to get a bit soft, though Jared would probably have punched his son right in the teeth if he knew that’s what he thought.  By the time Marsh and Hannah had gone to school, they had even been allowed unaccompanied forays into town on a fairly regular basis.   They were, in many ways, much better prepared for college than Justice had been.

Hannah honed in on the music department and made it her second home.  She made friends easily, even with the limited practice she had been given in those kinds of social graces.  Her professors instantly fell in love with her and became like second parents looking out for her best interests.   Justice was not surprised, though still proud, to find out from her professors that she was musically gifted.   By the end of her sophomore year, she was accompanying the concert choir on piano and had given both a cello and flute recital.  It seemed she could truly play any instrument she picked up.

Justice had stuck to her like a bad toupee the first few weeks on campus.  He wanted to make certain she could find her way around, felt comfortable negotiating her dorm, and was happy with her roommate.  Eventually Hannah asked him, nicely, to please go away.  She was fine and she didn’t need his help every moment.  She would call him when she did.   The disabled student services office on campus had been extremely helpful in acclimating her to the college environment.  Students worked as paid readers to help her through her non-Braille textbooks and sometimes sat with her in class to take the notes she directed them to jot down.  Her roommate, like most people who were around Hannah for any period of time, was absolutely enchanted with her.

“I am fully capable of handling this on my own.  Why don’t you check on Marsh?  Poor guy.  I’m sure he could use your help.”

So, Justice accepted his fate and went to find Marsh.  From then on, whenever Justice saw Hannah on campus, she always had an immense smile and was surrounded by friends.

Marsh wasn’t quite so flexible.  A month into the term he was ready to pack it in and head home.  He didn’t have an instant ocean of friends like Hannah and found no great joy in his classes.   Marsh had been the most immersed in compound life and, though Justice had tried to prepare him, this was a huge shift for him to make.  He had spent his entire young life following the rhythm of nature, rising with the sun, doing physical work most of the day, spending little waking time inside a building.  He had been plunged into a world that followed a factory schedule, where he had to actually wear a watch and respond to a roll call.  Marsh was not disrespectful to his professors, but he sat in the back and glared sullenly out the window, wondering what earthly good all this was doing him.

Justice spent a great deal of time and energy convincing him to stay.  After the years of slowly changing Marsh’s perspective over summer and holiday breaks, Justice decided it was time for hardball.  He knew he was taking a big chance, but decided it was time to level with his brother.

“I don’t fit here, Justice.  I just want to go back home.”

“Go home to what, Marsh?  Home to life in a prison?  Home to dad telling you everything to think?   Home to being second banana in Jared Malone’s 40-acre kingdom by the sea?”

Marsh’s rose to his feet in a fighting stance, but he just stared at Justice like he was seeing an apparition.  “You . . . I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Why?  Are you so unused to the truth?”

“You . . . you just don’t say those things about dad.  You’re talking about our father and our home, for god’s sake.”

“Yes, I am.  I am talking about our fucked up cocoon upbringing and our angry, hateful, bitter father.  The man whose idea of fatherhood was to make his sons so afraid of him that they didn’t dare step out of line.  You may want to keep living in that shit, Marsh, but let me tell something – I am never going back there.   I am a free man, free to have my own thoughts and ideas, and free to seek out other people and other opinions.   I can’t ever give that up.”

“Free to sit in a goddamn chair all day and listen to a bunch of hot-air professors?   You may call that freedom, Justice, but give me a fence to build any day of the week over that crap.”

“Freedom is relative, I guess.  All I know is that I would rather spend the rest of my life in a biology lab than to spend one more day under the rule of King Jared.”

“Dad is not that bad, and I don’t think you should talk about him that way.  I’d hate to have to kick your ass.”

Justice rose to his feet as well, if for no other reason than to let Marsh know he was not about to back down.  “Dad is ten times worse.  Have you ever had an opinion of your own, Marsh?  Everything we ever said or did or thought was dictated by our father.   For god’s sake, Marsh, even mom is scared of him.”

“But, that’s our home.”

“It’s not my home.  It hasn’t been my home in a long time, and I’m not ever going back there.”

“When did you decide all this?”  Marsh was stunned, and for the first time Justice knew his four-year façade had been truly successful.

“The first time I ever stepped on this campus.”

“But, . . . that was four years ago.  Why are you just saying this now?”

“Think about it.”

Marsh did think about it, but logic didn’t come as easy to him as it did to Justice.  “You wanted to make certain dad let you keep coming back.”

“Yes.”  Justice paused to make certain Marsh would hear what he had to say next.  “And I wanted to make certain that dad let you and Hannah come at all.”

Marsh blinked hard and tried to understand it all.  A sudden realization began to form in his head.  “You could have stayed away from the start.  If it was just for you, you could have just left and not come back.  But all those summers.  You came back every summer to help on the compound – to help me and Hannah.  You came back . . .for me?”

“I do love you, Marsh.  We may not have been very close brothers growing up, but I have always loved you.  I wanted to get you out of there.”

“You . . . you fought for me.”

“I guess I did.  We just fight in different ways, I suppose.

Marsh backed up slowly and sat on the edge of the bed.  He thought about all this for a minute, and then spoke softly.  “Then I guess I’ll stay.”  Somewhere inside him a dam broke.  Something that had been held back for what seemed like forever came rushing over him, and it felt like gratitude.  He knew that no one had ever done such an unselfish thing for him before, had sacrificed in such a way for him.   He didn’t cry.  Instead, he smiled, a huge old ear-to-ear bona fide grin.

Some conversions are slow, happening over years of time, wearing down our resistance like the Colorado carving out the Grand Canyon.  Marsh’s came like a miracle.  He was the blind man suddenly able to see, the lame one who could now walk.   He saw in an instant how afraid he had been, from his birth, so it seemed.  He saw the shell he had been raised to be, a Malone on the outside, but nothing inside.  He saw how empty he had felt and how desperately he wanted that emptiness filled.   Without fanfare his fear rushed out of him like a waterfall disappearing over a cliff.  In its place, he felt a tidal wave of gratitude and emotion for his brother.  The paradox of his life had shifted.  The hole in his heart had been healed by one unselfish act of pure love.

Marsh would remain an interesting mix of ideas throughout his life.  He would maintain a strange sort of attachment to his father and his home, even though he, oddly enough, would be the one Malone son who would never again live on the compound.  But, he would be forever changed at a core level after that one conversation with Justice.

His sophomore year, Marsh tried out for the football team as a walk-on, at Justice’s suggestion, and won the back-up tight end position.   He was the poster-boy for the “Ignorance is Bliss” theory of life, having no idea why he shouldn’t be able to instantly do what other young men had been practicing since their fathers saw them throw a baby rattle clear across a room.  He made up for his lack of training in the fundamentals by being a monster blocker on some plays and a sure-handed receiver who seemed to evaporate out of tackles on others.  The coaches told him to be aware of tacklers when he carried the ball.  Instead, he seemed completely unaware of them, blowing by them as if they were standing still, still running after a sure-handed defensive lineman was left far behind him unsure of what had just happened.  By his junior year he had secured a first-string spot.

He still showed his raising every now and then.  There was a huge brawl at a practice when the running back accused Marsh of not blocking the right guy.  Marsh shot back with “I know what I’m doing, you fucking nigger.”  Whether Marsh ever changed his feeling about that word isn’t known, but no one ever heard him say it again.  Twelve football players stacked on top of him and a one-game suspension from his coach sufficiently convinced him.   By his senior year, the incident was behind him and he had earned the respect of most of his teammates and coaches, enough to make him co-captain of the Bulldogs that year.

Marsh was probably most responsible for making their family seem almost normal.  Jared had not been back in Athens since he had taken Justice to school that first time, but he came to two football games in Marsh’s sophomore year, all but one in his junior year, and bought season tickets for his son’s senior year.   Jared almost started to seem like every other proud father, wearing his red and white Bulldogs sweatshirt to the home games.  It was during a game in Marsh’s third year that Jared asked the question Justice had been fearing.

“When do you finish up your degree?”  They were sitting together on about the forty yard-line, home side.  The half-time show was just beginning, and Georgia led 7-3 over South Carolina.   Justice’s mother had left as soon as the second quarter ended to go to the bathroom and buy a Coke at the concession stand.  She did that at every game, perhaps secretly enjoying the freedom of walking through the stadium concourse, among so many people, all alone.

Justice hesitated.  “I, actually I . . . finished up last spring.”

Jared didn’t move.  He just sat watching the band.  To any casual observer, it looked like any father and son talking second-half strategy.  Finally he spoke.  “For some reason, I thought that might be the case.  You’re not coming home, are you?”

Justice sucked in a deep breath.  “No, dad, I’m not.”

“Why?”  It was a simple word, but loaded with both accusation and anger.

“There are other things I want to do with my life.  I’m thinking about teaching.  Well, to be more specific, I am teaching.  At a high school here in town.”

Jared thought about this for a few minutes.  Justice was about to wonder if that would be the end of their conversation when his father spoke again.  “So you must have a house here.  And a car.  If I had to guess, I’d say you’d been plannin’ this for a long time.”

Justice looked around at the packed stadium.  With demand for seats so high, the university had redesigned the venue, taking two inches away from already small seats to squeeze in a few thousand more.  A man in a bulldog mask who had screamed like a banshee throughout the first two quarters was jammed against Justice’s left side.  Even with the rush to the concession stands at halftime, he still felt like he could hardly take a deep breath without nudging the masked man beside him.  “Dad, do you really think this is the place to talk about this?”

Jared looked deliberately at his son and spoke in that eerie way he had of lowering his voice to a gravelly half-whisper when he was most serious.  “This is the perfect place, boy.  If there weren’t 60,000 people around us, I might just be kicking the shit out of you right now.”

Justice looked into his father’s eyes and held his gaze.  That alone was an act of defiance, but his words backed up his look.  “With all due respect, sir, I’m bigger than you now.   And I’m big enough to know what I want for my life.  And what I want for my life has nothing to do with going back to that rock you live under.  So, do what you need to do.  Try to take me on in the parking lot after the game, if you think you can.  But, I’m still going to do what I need to do.”

They stared at each other for several more seconds.  Jared’s arsenal contained no response for the kind of declaration his son had just delivered.  He was not about to draw attention to himself.  His paranoia wouldn’t allow it.  If he started a fight with his son and was arrested, the government would have his fingerprints and god knows what all.    So the conversation simply ended and was never started again.

And that was how Justice’s true freedom began.  He no longer had to pretend and seemed to breathe more deeply from that day on.   He stayed in Athens and watched Hannah and Marsh graduate from college.  Marsh surprised everyone by being even more emphatic about not going home than Justice had been.  He had found the only thing that he truly loved – football.  Marsh had found a field of battle for himself and he would fight anyone who suggested he let it go.  He had already talked to the coaches.  He had another year of eligibility and decided to get his masters in physical education and keep playing for the Bulldogs.

Hannah surprised Justice even more than Marsh had when she announced that she was going home.   Her mother had been diagnosed with cancer, and Hannah wanted to be there to care for her.   Justice felt sad.  He thought it was such a waste that a talent like hers would be buried in the compound.  Hannah, however, felt quite differently about it.

“Justice, it’s going to be fine.  You gave me the greatest gift of all when you helped me come to school.  What I got here, no one can ever take away from me.  All I ever really need is my music, and my dad said if I came home,” she paused and smiled, “he would buy that piano for me, no matter what uncle Jared says.”

Hannah’s parents came to get her on a Thursday.  The next Monday, a UPS truck pulled up outside the compound gates.  The driver nervously honked his horn, not sure he wanted anyone to answer the call at this crazy place everyone on the island had different theories about.  Jared and Aaron met him at the gate.   The driver pulled six boxes off the back of the truck.  They were for Hannah.

The two men put the boxes in the back of Jared’s truck and hauled them back to Aaron’s house.  Hannah was sitting on the front porch humming a melody that had come to her on the trip home and that wouldn’t seem to leave her head.  Aaron called her over to the back of the pickup and pulled out his pocketknife to open the boxes.  Since Justice had learned of Hannah’s plan to return home two weeks before, he had scoured every used music and electronics store in Athens.  The result was better than every Christmas Hannah had ever known.   A flute, a violin, a clarinet, a trumpet, a French horn, a saxophone, a small sound system and a four-track recorder.  In the largest box, a cello.  In the box with the recorder was an envelope with “Uncle Aaron, please read to Hannah” printed in Justice’s bold print on the outside.  Aaron tore it open and read, haltingly, but in a clear voice.

“Hannah — No matter where you are, music will be there with you.  Will you make me a tape so I’ll always have music with me too?  Love, Justice.”   Aaron put the note back in the envelope and tried the hide the tears building up in his eyes.  His daughter was happier than he had ever seen her.  As much as Jared talked about family, he had no idea of what it meant.  This was family.  What Justice had done, what Aaron was going to do at Manley’s music store before the sun, by god, went down today, that was family.  Jared’s warped vision of family pride and honor and heritage was nothing more than a stubborn refusal to live the life and feel the love available all around every day.   Aaron had thought more and more, ever since Hannah had gone to school and done so well, about taking his family away from the compound for good.  But he had never held a job.  He had no idea how to support his family on the outside.  Jared had made all of them completely dependent on him.   But, today, in this moment, as he watched his daughter pick up one instrument and then the other and cuddle them like newborns, he determined that his family would create a new legacy regardless of where they lived.   He turned around to say as much to Jared only to discover that Jared was gone, had simply walked away at some point in Hannah’s joy.  Of course he’s gone, thought Aaron.   He might have had to feel if he was still around.

Within three months, Aaron had built an addition to their house – Hannah’s Music Room, as it was officially dubbed.  Over the years, some of the most beautiful music in the world would be composed in that room.  The first tape Justice received had only one song – a cello and piano duet with the same melody Hannah hummed on the front porch the day her instruments came, a melody of freedom and love that she had entitled “The Song of Justice.”

It was a melody that traveled farther than either of them knew, to an entirely different frequency, in fact.

IV.iv

The Light Council had finished their meeting when Father had a thought about how things were going on earth.  Since he did not conceal the thought, the others read it instantly.  This extrasensory conversation was held and completed within about three earth-seconds.

Prophet:          They’re still not together.  I wonder if it will take another lifetime.

Teacher:          The Light has tried twice now to bring them into alignment with their souls’ purpose.  One would think that, as powerful as their energy is for one another, they would have followed that guidance on their first meeting.

Mother:           He was only 14 when they first met.

Teacher:          And?  As old as they were when they first loved.

Mother:           You haven’t been to earth in awhile.  Things have changed.  If a 19-year-old woman made love with a 14-year-old boy they would bring her up on charges these days.

Teacher:          Those Sanhedrin make me think mortal thoughts.  They’ve always missed the point.

Father:            The real problem here is the tragedy of their birth.  The problem of the 20th century is race, as DuBois tried to tell them over 100 earth-years ago.  Even the work I did when I was last there doesn’t reach as far as the dark recesses of a racist mind.

Enlightened One:  The hurried way in which they both returned has created quite a karmic event.

Teacher:          Grace trumps karma.

Mahatma:       Karma is strong, but it can be altered through grace.  Whether karma or grace acts in a human life, the result of both is justice.  And both karma and grace are directed by the Light.

Mother:           I understand Malcolm is now the official of some game several hundreds of earth-miles away.  How can he fulfill his mission from so great a distance?”

Father:            Coach.  He’s the coach of a football team.  Have you forgotten football, Mother?

Mother:           I didn’t pay it much attention when I was there.

Enlightened One:   Often one can do a job just as well by not interfering.

Teacher:          Yes.  He did enough of that while he was here.  Perhaps his purpose in this is not so much to create the desired outcome, but to stay out of the way of the natural progression of events.

Mahatma:       I understand that Juliet is married and has a child.   They might have to come back after all.  I have never seen a case quite like this, with so many obstacles.  It would almost seem impossible.

Prophet:          You know the impossible is a human creation, that it exists nowhere except in the mind of mortal man.

Mahatma:       Of that I am aware.  But, these are indeed great hurdles they must leap.

Mother:           This is true.  But they are fortunate to live in a modern time, and in a place where relationships can end for healthy purposes and children can defy parents for the sake of their personal journey and there will be no stoning or imprisonment.  Their obstacles are large, but larger ones have been conquered.

Teacher:          They will stumble if they run fast.  All will come into the will of the Light in due time.

Prophet:         The biggest problem I see is this “east” business.  They don’t even live in the same town any longer.  I have never seen a planned rendezvous handled so ineptly.   One would think humans had organized it.

Mahatma:       No, the biggest problem lies, once again, in the fight their families are waging.

Father:            But their families do not even know each other.

Mahatma:       That does not mean they cannot still be fighting, warring with each other on another plane while they live apart from each other on the human plane.

Mother:           But, as they get older their families will not have as much control.  Perhaps it is better that they wait until full maturity in this earth-life since they had such struggles when they first loved.  The beings on the earth-plane are getting better at following their own paths instead of listening to the direction of others.

Mahatma:       Yes.  As they mature, the war their families fight will have less impact on their own decisions.  It is better this way.   But, delaying their true reunion might cause them to miss the chance in this lifetime altogether.

Father:            Well, we can’t solve any of this from here.  It’s up to them and the choices they make.

Teacher:          Maybe not.

Father:            Don’t hide what you’re thinking.

Teacher:          Well, there is Hal.  And he’s practically Light Council material.  He, or I suppose I should refer to him in his present feminine, she is still closest to the Eternal Here, even there, than any of them.  We could reach her.

Mother:           Do we dare?  Will she even listen in her incarnated form?

Teacher:          The message may not be acceptable to her conscious mind, but we know the conscious experience is only the tip of their little icebergs.

Mahatma:       We do it all the time.

Teacher:          Yes, but they rarely realize it.   It is indeed so powerful, so simply and clearly powerful, that they dismiss it as a product of their “overactive imaginations.”

Enlightened One:  Most human imaginations are under-active, if you ask me.

Mother:           I say we do it.  And since it is Hal, we make it as clear as we dare.   After all, if he is to be in the Light Council when he returns, he must have shown the ability to hear from the light on all planes of existence.

Prophet:          Then, Mother, I think you should take the necessary steps.

IV.v

            Rose learned of Rodney’s affair when Cade was seven.  She wasn’t hurt by the news.  In fact, finding that love letter in his jacket pocket gave her two simultaneous emotions.  The first was the pleasant surprise that Rodney actually had the courage and the passion to do something so bold.  The second was relief.  Their marriage had been neither bad nor good.  It had just been nothing.  They cared for each other, but didn’t even love enough to be hurt by each other.  They had lived together in what was not much more than an acquaintanceship for ten years, and neither had ever felt the compulsion to make it any more than that.

Rose usually didn’t go into Rodney’s jacket pockets, but that particular morning was a series of flukes.  It was a Saturday in early spring and Rodney had left early to attend a lecture at Fisk, which Rose cared nothing about.  Rodney had forgotten to wear the jacket that usually seemed like his second skin.  Then a boy from Cade’s second grade class had called to ask if he wanted to go to the zoo.  Cade pleaded with his mother more than was necessary and Cody Bingham’s mother had picked him up twenty minutes later.   Rose was experiencing the rare joy of being alone at home and was all set to spend a few hours reading when she remembered that they were out of milk and peanut butter.   As much as she hated to infringe on her personal free time, she knew it would be easier to go to the grocery store by herself and have it done.  Then she remembered that Rodney had taken her car so he could wash it on the way home, one of the kind things he was known to do on occasion.  She would have to take his car, but couldn’t find his keys on the dresser, the counter, or any of the other usual key deposit areas in the house.  As a last resort, she thought to look in his jacket pockets.  No keys, but there was the letter.

Some woman named Gloria, apparently a colleague of his, and seemingly madly in love with him.  Rose poured herself another cup of coffee and sat down at the table to read the letter again.  She felt guilty.  This was private and personal, and she thought that perhaps she should just put it away.  She felt more concern over invading his privacy than she did for the impact this news would have on her marriage.   She felt no pain.  She felt not one stab of anger.  She simply contemplated her options, then decided to do the most loving thing she had ever done for Rodney.

That night, after Cade was in bed, Rose went into the den where Rodney was working on a conference paper.   “Rodney?”

“Um?”  He didn’t bother to look up.

“I need to talk to you.”

“I’m really in the middle of something here.  Can it wait?”

“No, it can’t.  Rodney, look at me.  It’s important.”

Rodney reluctantly laid down his pen and pushed his chair back from the desk.  “Okay.  You have my attention.  What is it?”

“I want a divorce.”

“What?”  Rodney was stunned.   Regardless of how little he was invested in the marriage, it seemed some sort of law that he should be upset about this declaration.  Rejection is painful in any form.

“I want a divorce.  I just . . . think it’s time.  I mean, what do we really share, Rodney?”

“Ten years of marriage, for one.  And a son, for another.  I can’t believe you just want to walk away from that.”

“I do.  And I think you do, too.   If we’re both completely honest, I think we would agree that there’s not really much to walk away from.”

“Do you not love me anymore?”

“Rodney, I think we both love each other as much as we ever have.  I just don’t want to be married anymore.”

“Is there someone else?”

Rose had to stifle her laugh.  She almost blurted out, “Yes, and her name is Gloria, isn’t it?”  But she didn’t.  She was determined not to tell him she had seen the letter.  It wasn’t the cause of her request, only the impetus she had needed for a long time, and she didn’t want to make that the issue.  She just wanted to let him go, and let herself go.  “No, there is no one else.  I just want to move on, Rodney.  Honestly, isn’t that what you want too?”

Rodney hesitated, looked to the floor, then answered softly, “I suppose so.  What about Cade?”

Rose felt her hackles rise.  For the first time in the conversation she felt an ungentle emotion.  Her tone was more of a dare than question.  “What about Cade.”

Rodney raised a single hand in acknowledgement of her stance.  “No, you’re right.  He should be with you.”  Rodney gave a short, bitter laugh.  “I wonder if he’ll even notice I’m gone.”

“You don’t have to go.  You can stay here.  Have the house.”

“Where are you going?”

“Home.  To St. Simons.   I’ll finish out the semester here.”

“What about your career?”

“Oh, Rodney.  Didn’t you ever get that my career didn’t mean nearly as much to me as it did to you?  I don’t need a tenured position at some fancy University.  I’m a teacher.  That’s all I ever needed to be.  There’s a community college in Brunswick, and I’m sure I can get on there.  I just want to go home.  I miss the ocean, and I miss my family.  I want Cade to grow up knowing both of them.”

Rodney nodded, then turned back to the desk.  “Okay, then.”

It was one of the longer conversations they had ever had about their marriage.  Rose had not asked him too, but Rodney slept on the couch that night.  They moved delicately around each other for the next couple of months, but that wasn’t much different than it had always been.

Rose had to wait three weeks after her semester ended for Cade to get out of school.  She had explained it to him as gently as possible.  He was more upset than either of them had predicted.   Regardless of his emotional absence during Cade’s early years, Rodney was still his father and Cade felt the only real pain the divorce brought.  Rose knew she might have to give more consideration to visitation, extended visits in the summer, than she had once thought.  She felt for her son, but knew he would adjust.

Mother and child arrived on St. Simons by the middle of June.  Phillip was confused about whether he should be sad about the demise of the marriage or pleased as punch about his daughter and his grandson coming home.  He settled on the latter after Rose explained to him that this wasn’t an occasion for weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Coastal Georgia Community College was pleased to have a distinguished professor from an elite university seek out employment with them.  She was hired immediately, at a considerable reduction from her previous salary, and would begin teaching in the fall.

Rodney had insisted that she take their savings when she left.  She hadn’t asked for it, but it seemed fair since the house they had eventually bought after renting it for two years had a bit of equity that Rodney would keep.  She had also told him that child support was not necessary, she was perfectly prepared to pay for whatever Cade would need.  So, giving her the $35,000 in mutual funds they had acquired throughout their marriage was probably the better deal all around for Rodney.   Rose used the money to put a down payment on a home as close to the ocean as she could afford.  It was just a little two-bedroom cottage a few minutes north from her parents, but Rose was within walking distance to East Beach.  By the time Thanksgiving came, life with Rodney seemed like a blur of a memory from the distant past.

Even Cade rarely mentioned him anymore.   He talked to his father on the phone about once a month, but the conversations were short and awkward for both of them.  Cade seemed to connect with his grandfather in a way he never had with his father.   Phillip’s experience raising three boys, and the extra wisdom we are blessed with in exchange for the ability to get out of bed with no aches or pains, made him a vitally important influence on Cade’s life.  Sometimes Rose had to actually tell him that no, they couldn’t go marsh-fishing on Saturday, she would like at least one Saturday with her son, thank you very much.  Of course, Cade would mope around the house like his favorite puppy had died until Rose promised that she would let him go the next week.

Most weekends, the fishing trip actually worked out nicely for Rose.  Since they left to fish so early in the morning, Cade would spend the night with his grandparents.  That left the Saturday pre-dawn to Rose and her walk to the Atlantic.  It became her ritual, almost her weekly church service.  Even when the weather turned cold and gale-force winds would blow, Rose would bundle up and go to the shore.  Only a hurricane could keep Rose from her ocean and the rising sun in the eastern sky.

After she had been back in Brunswick for about a year, Rose’s father decided that he needed to start playing matchmaker.  He held the common belief that she must be unfulfilled in some way without a romantic interest in her life.  Rose didn’t agree.  She still sometimes thought about the love she read of in her books, but was beginning to believe that it must only be a sort of passionate fiction, the love songs on the radio merely echoing a common and unfulfilled wish of humanity.  Rose certainly didn’t want a man just for the sake of having a man.  She had that with Rodney, and knew as well as anybody that solitude was the better option.

But her father was persistent.  She began dating a man her father introduced her to, more to appease him than out of any personal desire.   His name was Calvin Jones, and he was the son of one of Phillip’s old band mates from the Jekyll Island resort days.   Calvin was as boisterous as Rodney had been comatose.  Being around him was emotionally exhausting.  Rose forced herself to go out with him for three months.  When he dumped her rather unceremoniously, Phillip was livid, but Rose was grateful.

She held her father off for another year, then gave into one more of his set-up attempts.  Geoffrey Richardson was a friend of Peter’s, though no one could figure out why.  Geoffrey’s family had money and all of the Richardson’s truly believed in their own superiority.   They lived across the causeway on Sea Island where home prices were measured in the millions rather than the hundreds of thousands.  For the six months they dated, Rose was at least treated to some very fine meals and evenings in Atlanta for symphony concerts and operas.  Those alone kept her around the arrogance and braggadocio of Geoff for half a year.  Rose dumped this one, though it took her awhile.  Geoffrey had decided that she would be the perfect trophy wife, beautiful and intelligent.  It took Rose almost a month to convince him that he needed to keep looking.

By her third year in Brunswick, Phillip seemed to have lost his interest in finding a match for his daughter.  Her consistent insistence that she was perfectly contented and needed no other men in her life than her son, her brothers, and her father finally wore down Phillip’s motivation.   Her only sadness was in missing Paris, but they still talked at least twice a week and their friendship seemed capable of withstanding the distance between them.

Her future seemed more like a map than a mystery, the journey clearly marked, the destination apparent.  She would live out her days in her home near the sea, watch her son grow, retire from Coastal Georgia Community College with an adequate income, and eventually bury her parents.  She saw the path before her and was willing to accept both the joy and the sorrow that it held.  The thought of one day living out her golden years without her mother and father, perhaps with Cade off seeking his own future somewhere other than here, brought her sadness and peace together.   She would miss her father and mother with a deep ache softened at the edges by having known their love for so long.   If her son was not around, she would at least know that he was following his own path, the very path she was preparing him to face on his own.  But the potential of years spent alone did not frighten her.  She found joy in the prospect of a simple life.

With or without the ones she loved around her, she would always have her ocean.   Regardless of the situation of her life, her refuge was the sea, standing at the water’s edge to watch the stars disappear like candles burning out each morning as the new dawn tiptoed into day.  Watching and waiting, always waiting, for whatever was coming for her that she had felt approaching since she was a child, perhaps only imminent death.

She wasn’t frightened of death.  It seemed merely a long lost friend that would eventually find her again one day.  She didn’t reach toward it, didn’t wish it to hurry, but didn’t fear it either.

She felt different from anyone she had ever known, as if no one else had her experience of this life.  It didn’t seem as if those around her had the same thoughts as she; her colleagues moving through their days with wrinkled brows and deep concern over paperwork and protocol that she found to be so incredibly unimportant.  She wondered if anyone else had thoughts about death at just 37 years of age that weren’t driven by depression, about life’s purpose and how it seemed so clearly to be something more akin to her walks on the shore rather than the daily chore of work for the sake of money, about love and the need for it to be pure and passionate and undeniable, like the movies and the songs and the books.   Having found no one who felt quite like she did, she was satisfied to live within her own mind, and to do so throughout this lifetime if it should come to that.   She felt no need.  She felt whole.  She felt the ache and, having known it so long, it seemed as big a part of what made her whole as anything else.

© Deborah E. Moore — 2011

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