Later, she told him he had a large capacity for devotion, something he’d never considered. Truman and Sharon had met in Early American Poetry and become fast friends. He was falling in love with her—her long, black hair and peasant skirts—if that were possible being gay himself.
“Will this guy ever stop with how misunderstood the Puritans were? We get it already,” Sharon whispered during Dr. Stibitz’s lecture.
“He does really know how to beat a dead horse,” Truman said. Sharon laughed quietly.
As soon as they were in the hall, Sharon exhaled her frustration.
“He just doesn’t get Phillis Wheatley. Pisses me off.”
“You want to go to the Alvin Ailey performance at Shryock Thursday night?” He knew she would love dance.
Truman felt like he was on a real date when he picked Sharon up. How did she view their first foray? She looked beautiful in her long, green wool coat. During the performance he fell further for her as he observed her lips moving almost imperceptibly. Sitting around the fountain afterwards, she continued to mesmerize, her hands mysterious, displaying new gestures never made before.
“I’m writing a novel,” Sharon said. He knew she’d be writing a novel. He already saw himself in her apartment listening to her read, falling more deeply into his emotion, helpless, not wanting to be rescued.
Eating at McDonalds on Saturdays was a big splurge, and part of the ritual was to sit before its front windows and judge passersby. They flitted in and out of shops. The end of their day involved the DQ. Truman felt sad as he watched her lick ice cream. Something is contained in each moment, he thought, that will not show itself for years.
Sharon moved to New York and was on her second husband. One rainy afternoon Truman sat in his kitchen talking to her.
“People are fucked up,” she said, “The odds are they’re nuts.”
He laughed. “I get it. I thought Prozac was supposed to make everyone happy. What the hell happened?”
“How’s Anton?” he asked. Truman had visited her out East during the past several years.
“He’s okay but gets on my nerves. Maybe sex should be enough. Anton loves to go to this swingers club. Sunday night I was sitting with him and another guy, and I felt someone sucking on my toes under the table. It was this guy’s wife who had the hots for me.”
Truman laughed and asked how she felt about going to these places with her husband. “They’re okay, I guess, but I don’t know why I need to bring a husband.”
Truman wondered how she hooked up with these men, but who was he to judge? He’d started out with damaged people in his life and had never stopped choosing them. For Truman, the bar life and random hookups were the norm. After her marriage ended, they became entangled more than ever, which mostly meant he was a fixed point in the maelstrom of Sharon’s emotional life.
He listened and then he listened. They’d always been judgmental of others’ relationships, seeing them as shallow compared to the “deep” involvements people such as themselves had, but he wondered if Sharon could give emotionally. He once yearned for reciprocity, but had convinced himself her inability sprung from insurmountable damage. She had been right from the beginning: what he was left with was his devotion to her.
And what about himself? When a novel came out with the title I Cannot Get You Close Enough, he thought: this is how I feel about Sharon. What’s being human and what’s being codependent? Things accumulated like silt. Both of them had dark pasts. Truman had tremors in his hands. He’d spent some time in a psychiatric unit.
One evening listening to Joni Mitchell stoned, he told her how they’d locked the door after him and before long he realized they were the same caged bird. Truman had had no idea what went on in his mind. If it was going to be said by him, someone would have to pull it out of him somehow. The community room had frightened him and he avoided it when he could. Those in it had nothing to do with him, he said. They were genderless and misshapen. He couldn’t lift his feet enough so he shuffled in his slipper socks.
He didn’t tell her how suicidal he’d been. How he’d dug to recover himself like a shattered bowl, like he’d dug for China with a kitchen spoon as a child. He couldn’t understand wishing on a single star when the heavens bulged with staggering constellations. Truman didn’t tell her how, at his lowest, he ended up at the shoreline. Twenty-eight years pulled him to the water as if they’d prepared him for this. Lake Michigan—a sleeping beauty. Waves crested in moonlight, resplendent Chinese lanterns, as he imagined merging with them to become dear son and fond brother, a symbol drained of meaning, a broken artifact to be washed ashore.
Sharon bought a second place, a house in Vermont. Truman often phoned her there to say how happy he was for her. He imagined a solitary life in rural Vermont must be so comforting, drinking maple lattes and doing creative things. He visited her. Being September, the leaves were just beginning to turn. Saturday was a gorgeous, sunny autumn day. She drove him to several outdoor stands that looked exactly the same, like an autumn market in Vermont should, including endless displays of maple syrup. As usual, many assumed they were a couple as they held and touched pumpkins and gourds oddly shaped like creatures of myth.
“You know the pumpkin is a berry,” Truman said.
But Sharon was only partly listening as she felt the solid stems, caressed a pumpkin’s roundness to see if it belonged in her hands. They fingered figures of witches, black cats scattered on tables, offerings to the god of orange and rust and yellow, the dying leaves, as if all life were flotsam and driftwood washed ashore on the hills of New England on what felt like the last day of their lives.