That revelation in the heading came to me suddenly after a year of madness. That is the calm voice of reason — not to say it could be replaced in the wink of a tearful eye with the jackdaw of unreason.
The cry of the jackdaw has been filling this empty house ever since the death of my wife just before the Christmas before last. I have staggered insanely and stumbled drunkenly throughout the house we shared ranting and raving fevered laments for my lost wife — I want you back! I can’t go on without you! And so on and so forth.
If only you were still in the nursing home, I would cry out, then I could visit you — because you’d still be alive!
But, in lucid moments I had to admit that would be grossly and painfully unfair to her — hooked up to machines, no independence, no dignity. She was in four nursing homes in the last three years of her illness — necessary rehab after several hospitalizations.
The nursing homes ranged from hellish to life-saving. When I brought her home from he last one — the best, one that put her back onto the road to recovery — we both looked foreword to Christmas and the new year and several more years together in our house in the New York countryside.
But then, just as she was getting better — Fate (God? What?) struck her down with a fatal blow — a brain hemorrhage from which she never recovered.
And so began the mad ranting and tearful raving in the house on County Rode 9. For more than a year, insanity raged throughout the house — damn good thing the nearest neighbor is not within shouting distance.
And then — just yesterday in fact, came the epiphany. In the middle of one of my tearful insane rants, a Buddha-type voice suddenly came into my head:
Let her go, man, don’t torment her with your selfish entreaties, let her soul rest, let her be at peace, let both of you be at peace She’s never coming back, man. Cherish the memories of the years you were together, the places you visited, from Montreal to Copenhagen to Prague to Sydney, that’s all you have, man, those precious memories, treasure them, and honor her memory with courage and calm.
Damn, that little Buddha in my head was a long-winded little fellah, but very cool stuff. I knew he was right — stop the desperate and pointless rants because they are upsetting and unsettling my wife in her place of rest — wherever it may be.
But, goddammit, the hardest thing in my life was losing her — the second hardest is letting her go.
I have reached the What do I do now?stage in my life.
Well, not me exactly, but a guy named Billy Boy, a creation of Renata de Dios, whose name, curiously enough, translates as Born again of God.
Billy Boy—I’ll just call him Bill—watches a lot of movies on TV. The other night he re-watched The Candidate with Robert Redford.
Bill is not comparing himself to Robert Redford of course, but that question he asks at the end of the movie — What do we do now? — is, in a different context, Bill’s question, and that empty hotel room in the last shot is the equivalent of his once-upon-a-time living room, now known as the dead room, and it is the equivalent of his wife’s empty armchair,
and it is the equivalent of his empty house, and to stretch it to a melodramatic point, the equivalent of his life now, without his wife, who for thirty-four years was his life.
Renata de Dios tells Billy he’s at a Crossroads, and to take the road that leads to God, but his irreligious mind doesn’t even know where to start looking, and so he continues to drink and tells her in a late-night phone call, What has been lost is now found, but now found is lost.
To which Renata replies, Plato-like, I’m not sure I understand your meaning, Socrates.
There’s nothing to understand, of course, because the utterance is sheer 80-proof nonsense.
Last night Bill re-watched the movie The Verdict, and was particularly interested when Paul Newman gave his wonderful summation and spoke these words,
In my religion we say, act as if you have faith and faith will be given to you.
Okay, Bill will buy a ticket to that, but how exactly do you act as if you have faith? — pray, read C.S. Lewis and other spiritual literature, go to church, keep an open mind? He’s been doing all those things — and yet still nothing. He’s willing to try anything — suspension of belief, drugs, insanity, enlist the aid of the Silver Surfer — anything that will bring him closer to his wife.
Police sirens were blaring. Everyone living on County Road 9 could hear them, everyone except Billy Boy. He was drunk on 80 proof booze, hosting another private Pity Party in honor of his deceased wife.
Three police cruisers pulled up in front of Billy Boy’s house. Two cops got out of the first cruiser and walked up to the front door.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
The cops could hear Billy Boy yelling.
“I won’t let you go. I thought you said your God is merciful. If this is the work of someone merciful then —” Billy Boy stopped when he heard the pounding on the door.
“Police,” one cop said. “Open the door.”
Billy Boy stayed quiet. Bella, his cat and faithful companion, jumped up on the mantel over the fireplace as if she knew there’d be some kind of showdown.
“If you don’t open the door, we’ll break it down.”
Billy Boy yelled back, “What do you want?”
“We have a warrant for your arrest. My name is Sergeant Jones. You need to open the door — now!”
“Arrest me for what?” Billy Boy wanted to know.
Sgt. Jones answered, “For kidnapping.”
“Kidnapping!” scoffed Billy Boy. “What — kidnapping a cat?”
“We’re arresting you for kidnapping the soul of your wife. We know you have her soul in your possession. You need to release it.”
Billy Boy thought how absurd to be charged with kidnapping his wife’s soul. Susan and he were bonded as one, in the eyes of God, heart to heart, soul to soul, forever. Nothing could separate them. Not the law, not even her death.
Billy Boy yelled out to Sgt. Jones, “If you want to take her soul from me, you’ll have to take it from my dead body.”
He ran to his bedroom, opened the drawer of his nightstand and took out a pistol. He walked back into the living room and sat calmly in an armchair.
He looked up at Bella sitting on the mantel. “Don’t worry, Bella, you’ll be okay without me. You’re a survivor with nine lives. When the door opens, make a run for it.”
There were another three knocks at the door.
Billy Boy placed the barrel of the gun to his head and his finger on the trigger. In another second it would be over. This Pity Party was going to end with a bang.
Without warning, the police threw a flash bang through the front window. When he heard the loud bang and saw the flash of light, Billy Boy assumed he had pulled the trigger and this was the end. But it wasn’t. His heart was pounding harder than ever before.
The door flung open and in stormed Sgt. Jones and his partner. Bella jumped off the mantel and ran out the door, just like Billy Boy had told her to.
“Just shoot me,” Billy Boy said to Sgt. Jones. “I can’t go on if you take Susan’s soul away from me. That’s the only part of her I have left.”
“Slowly hand me the gun, Billy Boy,” Sgt. Jones told him. Defeated and hopeless, Billy Boy did as he was told.
“Now stand up and place your hands behind your back,” Sgt. Jones said as he slapped on the handcuffs. “You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you.”
This Pity Party was indeed over but not according to Billy Boy’s plan.
Sgt. Jones led Billy Boy to the cruiser and helped him slide into the back seat. The two cops got in the front and drove off.
Billy Boy nodded off in the back seat, too drunk to think about what was happening here.
The police cruiser arrived at its destination and Sgt. Jones and his partner got out. Billy Boy opened his eyes and looked around. All he could see in the darkness was a big lit sign that read Crossroads County Courthouse. Hmmm, Billy Boy thought, we’re at the Crossroads…
The police officers led Billy Boy into the courthouse and into a large room with hundreds of seats, most of which were taken. Sgt. Jones told him to have a seat until someone came for him. There were people from all walks of life and all different nationalities sitting around him. Billy Boy wondered what connection he had with these people.
He had been sitting there for about an hour when a woman entered the room. She was wearing a flowing robe, similar to one worn by a judge. There was a certain peaceful presence about her, and Billy Boy had a feeling he knew her — maybe from his past — but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
The woman did not speak but Billy Boy and the others knew exactly what she wanted them to do. They all stood up in unison and followed her into the next room.
Once inside, everyone took a seat. The floor was beautiful white marble. In the front there was an alter with a bench. Beside the alter was a chair. The walls were covered with pictures of saints and angels and a sign that read Lives Change Here. Trust God. Billy Boy was starting to see what was happening here… starting to slowly see the light.
You could hear a pin drop in the room and then a voice came over the PA system.
“Welcome to Crossroads County Courthouse. Each of you has been charged with kidnapping a soul and will be given the opportunity to plead your case. Take as long as you need. Call any witnesses you choose. In this room time is on your side. When you are finished, the Judge will consider all the facts before rendering judgment.”
And then the voice intoned: “All rise — Judge Jesus presiding.”
Judge Jesus took the bench on the alter and asked that everyone be seated. The next thing everyone heard was the bang of His gavel.
Billy Boy closed his eyes and started thinking about what he would say, what witnesses he would call. This would be his biggest story yet — and it would have to be his best. This was a new beginning to Billy Boy’s end.