Jay Young Gerard
By Robert Haydon Jones
It seemed as if she had kept practically every scrap of contact from both their lives.
When he went into the elaborate writing desk and started to take the material out of the first drawer, he was startled to see the one and only photo of their wedding at the Justice of the Peace – and clipped underneath it, a color photo of him coming down the aisle in the cathedral fifteen years before with his first wife. He had thought both photos had been lost.
He looked happy enough in both. A bit dazed. But happy. You could tell it was the same man. But, of course, it wasn’t. And, of course, it wasn’t the same woman. But both brides did look determined to look happy. They had that in common. And the groom. The dazed groom.
For the life of him, he could not remember his last day with his first wife. She had asked him to leave. It had taken him more than twenty years to remember that part of it. In his standard narrative, it had always been — he left the wife. That really was how he remembered it. Twenty-one years out, he suddenly remembered she had demanded he leave because she had found another man.
In the next drawer, there was a sheaf of typewritten letters from his father to him from the time he went to prep school at twelve till he was expelled from college.
He read the letters carefully. They were superb letters. Witty. Literate. Fatherly. Tender. Loving.
Jimmy was surprised. He had no memory of receiving these letters. He remembered getting letters from his dad – but not these letters. He recalled getting letters from his father that his father’s secretary had typed. He had read them quickly. They were utterly routine. Surely, they were not these letters.
Yet, there they were. Kept by Jimmy and then kept by his mother and then kept by his first wife and then kept by his wife.
“And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.”
There on the sad height. That was exactly how Jimmy remembered his father. Stalked by sadness. How valiant he had been to survive his wretched beginnings!
Long ago, when Jimmy was still in his twenties, he had a delicious lunch with his father at an exquisite, expensive, sanitarium, years before 12 Steps were in play at such drying out places.
It was his father’s first extended visit to a facility to help him detoxify. He thanked Jimmy for booking him in. He told Jimmy that he was in no hurry to leave. He declared this destination was right up there with the Great Hotels of the World.
He certainly was qualified to make the pronouncement. He had stayed in all the Great Hotels. His big decision in September was whether to take the Da Vinci or The France. (Purportedly, it hinged on the current quality of their wine cellars.)
An Ivy cum laude at 19. Fluent in nine languages. A legendary success in publishing. A beautiful wife, six healthy children, and still stalked by sadness and despair.
Now, more than forty years after his death, Jimmy was suddenly enmeshed in his father’s sadness again. He had never really seen his father’s letters to him until now.
That was sad.
Certainly, alcohol was the traditional drug of choice for sadness. His father had never been able to live without it. Neither had Jimmy, until in middle age, after many ghastly failures, he learned he actually could live without alcohol and drugs, even though he was almost always sad.
As he sat there with the sheaf of his Dad’s letters before him, Jimmy realized that for all these years both before and after his dad’s death, both before and after Jimmy’s recovery from addiction, he had taken on the same struggle with sadness that had plagued his father.
“The eternal note of sadness….” Was it genetic?
Somehow, Jimmy didn’t think so. His father’s bookplate, etched by his artist father was the epitaph of Cyrano de Bergerac:
“A pretty wit, whose like we lack, a lover not like other men…. he flew high and fell back again…he was all things and all in vain.”
As a boy, Jimmy had stood with his father at his grandfather’s deathbed. In life, the old artist had cut a blazing trail from coast to coast. A prodigious drinker, he had followed a bender straight on out to another city and another woman and abandoned his family when Jimmy’s father was five. He returned ten years later to his wife and family to live out his days until well into his eighties.
Jimmy remembered his Grandfather saying that he was sorry he had not been a better father. And his Dad reassuring his grandfather that he had been fine. And his grandfather saying firmly that he had not been fine and that he was sorry.
Was this the sad that had stalked his father? Was this the sad Jimmy had inherited?
Jimmy felt a wave of compassion for his father. To be five and abandoned by your dad who went out for a beer and came back ten years later! Of course, it would be your fault.
Jimmy put the letters and the photos back in the writing desk.
He needed to get to a meeting.
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