Saturday, December 4, 2010

Pink Hats, Part VI: Pealing Back the Layers

Driving around downtown Portland late at night was one of his best kept secrets. With his marriage spiraling closer to the dumpster and sleep impossible on the old couch in his study, he got up night after night, and drove. The Old Port at 3 AM seemed like the only place silence wasn't a mask for hostility and he came to appreciate its company.

He was pulled over once, by a Portland black and white, on suspicion of alcohol. His driving wasn't erratic, just slow. After he convinced the cop, a recently divorced South Boston transplant with an Irish accent as thick as Guiness on tap, that he hadn't been drinking, they talked until the cop's thermos was drained. Two years, driving in the dark, kept him sane.

He couldn't help thinking about those nights as he and Jessie walked down Commercial St. after a lunch of burgers and fries at the Old Port Tavern. This one had been his idea and he picked her up at her apartment. At the moment, they were casually drifting, allowing the steady, post-tourist season current of local shoppers to carry them past the windows of Fetch and The Black Dog. Jessie had a Black Lab named Sam, after Samuel Adams of the Sons of Liberty, and The Black Dog consistently claimed a significant portion of her gift budget at Christmas and on birthdays.

"I adore the shops on Fore Street, don't you? Come on," she said, taking his hand. They stopped in front of Joseph's clothiers where she pointed out a stylish British jacket and tie. "It's understated, kind of like you."

"Thanks, but sometimes 'understated' isn't so good. What I mean is, I didn't tell you the whole truth at dinner the other night, about the twins. I wasn't lying, it did catch me off guard, but there's more to it than that."

"Okay," she said, giving the O an extra beat or two. She wrapped both arms around his, allowing his thoughts to lead them both wherever.

"I went into pediatrics because I loved kids and never had any of my own. No surprise there, right? Call it transference, I knew exactly what I was doing, there wasn't an unconscious thing about it. It was the best decision I ever made and I've never looked back. I also thought it would be enough. I was getting older -- don't blow me off here, I see that frown. You get to a point where it's easy to tell yourself you've made your bed and you're just about convinced you can sleep peacefully in it when along comes something to mess up the works."

"Are you saying you're happy with your life as it is? And I'm not blowing you off, I just think you may be listening too much to your birth certificate. They lie, you know, and yours could be very good at it."

"Point well taken, " he said, nodding in assent. "I don't really know what I'm saying, Jess. I know I'm having a hard time thinking about the twins being in the hands of social services, and this has definitely caught me very much off guard. I've been up to see them nearly every day lately -- even when we haven't run into each other, you probably knew, the folks in the NICU are pretty tight -- one thing leads to another, a nurse hands me one or both and I end up in the rocker, telling them the same stories I heard as a kid. They aren't mine, I'm not responsible for them being here in the first place, and yet somehow, I feel like I am. What in the absolute hell is going on with me?"

"Is that rhetorical or do you want an answer?"

"I'll take whatever you've got."

She waited a second or two and said, "This may sound strange, but I'm going somewhere with it. Did you know I like Country music? Well, I do sometimes, and one of my favorites goes, 'You can't stop love, once it starts flowing through, you know you can't stop love, you can't stop love.' I'm not saying this is the case because I don't know either, but is it even remotely possible you're beginning to love these little girls? Could that also be scaring you to death? And, just for the record, it would scare me too, but it looks like fear alone isn't enough to make you hit the brakes and run the other way."

"No, not generally, it isn't. I can be slow to step on the gas, but once I'm moving I usually get where I'm going. I just don't know where that is right now. I guess that's why the name tag got to me. All of this has likely been brewing a while and I was too busy to pay attention."

She smiled up at him and said, "You told me the day after we met -- remember? Of course you do -- people are like onions, they have lots of layers. Looks like we've pealed back another one of yours."

"You like what we're finding?"

"I do," she said.

(Creative Commons image of the entrance to The Black Dog by Thunderchild7 via Flickr; You Can't Stop Love, words and music by Schuyler, Knobloch, and Overstreet, copyright 1986)

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