“People had always amazed him, he began. But they amazed him more since the sickness. For as long as the two of them had been together, he said, Gary’s mother had accepted him as her son’s lover, had given them her blessing. Then, at the funeral, she’d barely acknowledged him. Later, when she drove to the house to retrieve some personal things, she’d hunted through her son’s drawers with plastic bags twist-tied around her wrists.
“…And yet,” he whispered, “The janitor at school--remember him? Mr. Feeney? --he’d openly disapproved of me for nineteen years. One of the nastiest people I knew. Then when the news about me got out, after I resigned, he started showing up at the front door every Sunday with a coffee milkshake. In his church clothes, with his wife waiting out in the car. People have sent me hate mail, condoms, Xeroxed prayers…”
What made him most anxious, he told me, was not the big questions--the mercilessness of fate, the possibility of heaven. He was too exhausted, he said, to wrestle with those. But he’d become impatient with the way people wasted their lives, squandered their chances like paychecks.
I sat on the bed, massaging his temples, pretending that just the right rubbing might draw out the disease. In the mirror I watched us both--Mr. Pucci, frail and wasted, a talking dead man. And myself with the surgical mask over my mouth, to protect him from me.
“The irony,” he said, “… is that now that I’m this blind man, it’s clearer to me than it’s ever been before. What’s the line? ‘Was blind but now I see…’” He stopped and put his lips to the plastic straw. Juice went halfway up the shaft, then back down again. He motioned the drink away. “You accused me of being a saint a while back, pal, but you were wrong. Gary and I were no different. We fought…said terrible things to each other. Spent one whole weekend not speaking to each other because of a messed up phone message… That time we separated was my idea. I thought, well, I’m fifty years old and there might be someone else out there. People waste their happiness--That’s what makes me sad. Everyone’s so scared to be happy.”
“I know what you mean,” I said.
His eyes opened wider. For a second he seemed to see me. “No you don’t,” he said. “You mustn’t. He keeps wanting to give you his love, a gift out and out, and you dismiss it. Shrug it off because you’re afraid.”
“I’m not afraid. It’s more like…” I watched myself in the mirror above the sink. The mask was suddenly a gag. I listened.
“I’ll give you what I learned from all this,” he said. “Accept what people offer. Drink their milkshakes. Take their love.”
She's Come Undone