And I could leave my story there, living the dutiful life I had somehow earned in the long drawing out of my family’s history. It’s a proper ending, with the chastised and humbled southern boy finally growing into the tangled corridors of his long-shuttered manhood, while the beautiful Dr. Lowenstein, freed at last from the pinched serfdom of her marriage dances off into the smog bound New York sunset with the faceless lawyer who replaced me in her heart.
And indeed I left it that way for more than a year. But Sallie wasn’t happy and neither was I and neither were the children, who sensed the loss inside me and the continents that had sunk out of sight in storms they couldn’t imagine, leaving calm sea of a sorrowing father behind, distracted and half-present. I would wake to attention at the end of their anecdotes, dream through their plays and presentations, smile and nod as the deaf do, hoping for the happy accident of a correct response.
Sallie and I were roommates only, sharing a house and a array of chores, going about our business as business people do, cost conscious and punctual and polite. But I think both of us would have been glad to be laid off.
We could have continued that way for the rest of our lives, as a man in a cycle trance can ride beyond the limits of his endurance, the body a machine until something stops him or wakes him up. A wall, a stop-sign, the shout of a frightened pedestrian … or in my case a letter with a New York post mark.
As usual, I had gotten home before Sallie, and I had first look at the mail. I tore this letter open and read one sentence: “I miss you.” And the name at the bottom: Susan. So the lawyer hadn’t lasted, after all! Her life, surrounded by the clattering energy of the insomniac city, was as pale and lifeless as mine, moldering in the sleepy folds of Charleston.
We had been given another chance, as Savannah had, as even my father had, and I could either take it or spend my remaining days (and nights) wishing that I had. It was wrong to leave my wife and children; sometimes being bad takes courage and being good is the coward’s way. At least that was what I told myself, driving with the top down in the Volkswagen, across the bridge over the harbor for the last time, crying “Lowenstein, Lowenstein – I’m on my way!”