She sat silently at the shore the night he fell to earth, a shooting star landing at her feet, his wings useless against the pull of her gravity. [It could be true.] Even though I am more closely related to this narrative, I know as little about the facts of this relationship as I do about her previous mythologies and reincarnations, bonfires and pyres, fabrications and truths.
At the onset of their relationship there is something in their eyes that propels this tale; hers adoring—a supplicant to a saint; his, watchful, unbelieving, guarded—exiled from heaven. I could not get her to tell me the story of their meeting and she would not speak of their parting, so I am left to speculate, embellish, and create their origins myth.
She had fled the barren landscape of her youth, enlisting in the army and living a freedom at last that she must have felt could not be true after the hardships of her past. How did they come to be together, he a decade younger than she, a youth freed from his loving, doting (smothering to him) parents and free-falling into her open arms. They must have felt it was their fate—did they believe what the stars were saying?
He was shipped to Germany just five years post-war, she followed, and they married—her third, his second, the first being to the army. Could she not see the reservation, the unhappiness in his eyes? What blinded her to the undercurrent of anger and sadness that bloomed in his green eyes, that seems so apparent now? (It’s true, I know the ending of this story and I am a foreshadowing, marked sharply in black & white behind the telling of this tale.)
His eyes are wary of the camera, a visceral wariness that indicates (to me) a fear of being discovered, uncovered, and revealed. It was not to be at first; there are photos of them where love does course between them and happiness predominates, but there are not many like that and the majority bear witness to the reality.
Look at the celebration here and you can see how detached and reticent he is. Even the joy expressed by my mother can’t overcome his watchful demeanor; his height a condescension, his dis-involvement a rebuke, his forthright gaze a condemnation.
It’s hard to know when the temperature of their relationship dropped. It may have started when the subject of children arose and although I hope she would have been honest with him about her inability to conceive I wonder if that little nugget was one she held close to her and did not share until much later.
But a child did appear and was brought into their home as their own. The apocryphal telling is that the child is his, the birth mother their 18 year-old German housemaid. Although that version of events has been vehemently denied by her, his mother and sister, there are still many inconsistencies that point to a possible revelation: the child grew to be exactly the same height and carriage as he, they both have green eyes, light brown/blond hair and share an overly large forehead and heavy brow. They were/are inclined to sport a moustache. At times, it is reported, the child is impossible to live with and is prone to fits of pique and dark moods.
Regardless, they opened their hearts and home to a child not theirs, imagining that they would raise him as their very own. They saved a young girl’s life and that of her out-of-wedlock child in strict, Catholic, post-war Germany.
There are indications of happiness upon their return to the United States. Young children, like dogs, are eager for attention and are completely forgiving of any inconsistencies in character/mood/habit. But there is also a darkness settling over Gilead; real life testimony bears this out. It is not just nightfall that brings the darkness—as in ‘night follows day’, but his character begins to ravel in the unrelenting requirements of adulthood, fatherhood, familial obligations.
And soon you can see that he is turning away, leaving, fading, spectral, already gone. She and he divorce. The decree is particularly strict in that there is to be no contact between the child and he; begging the question of physical and/or mental abuse, but there is no confirmation and no one left to defend or accuse.
She adds to her collection of in-laws another set. These most welcoming, warm, and loving; and builds a life for her and the child far away from him, deflecting the child’s questions with love and encouragement to the point where the child knows no difference and cares not a whit.
It is obvious to me now, and over the last few years, that i do care, and I hope and long for some blood connection, in spite of or because of this not-knowing.