He lives out by the nuclear power plant, in and un-insulated beach house on Franklin St. He spends his days installing cabinets into the wealthy kitchens of the Boston suburbs. It is cold in the house, but there is a fireplace, and we bought some wood. He feeds the dog raw eggs and grape tomatoes. There is barely anything in his refrigerator.
He believes in words like “king,” “survival,” and “understanding”. He says “you don’t get it,” and that he wishes he could explain it better but he can’t. The problem, he says repeatedly, is mine. He just is who he is and that simply does not change, it is permanent. This stubborn tendency is illustrative of his disposition. He is the constant, the immovable, the rock. If you ask him, he will tell you that he is one of the most flexible people on this side of the planet. Perhaps in some ways he is, but none of those ways matter to me. The beach we walk on is desiccated and cold, and lovely. The new mansions standing guard along the shore stare blankly past us to the grey water.
Chips of sea ice make a road along the beach not unlike that of the yellow brick variety. It is a road that leads to the place where hope sleeps. It leads to a place where young women (and men) trade their futures in for a wisp of promise. It is endless, and yet it ends with your vision at the horizon. It transcends matter, and possibly time. It may be the clearing at the end of the path. I take a photograph of some of the chips. I take a photograph of him. Him, with his dirty clothes, covered in paint and sawdust. Him, with his killer smile and his poisoned scowl. Him, with the thousand-yard-stare that would make any observer question his sanity, as I do, every day.
I take a photo of the dune. The wind blows. The ocean crashes white. They have done this the same way since they became. Different patterns perhaps, but made by the same motions. I have to do everything different every time around. All humans do. We are the impermanent. The caffeine addicts and the wood workers, the metal grinders and the gem owners, the teachers, both false and true; the waitress. The writer, the reader, and all of the politicians. The collectors. The house builders. The bankers, the tourists, and the townies as well. Those below sea level. Anyone ever infected by anything ever, including emotions. Everyone who has ever been or will be born.
The dehydrated shell asphalt road is traced with salt. He says he is hoping I will come to understand, and that is why he is waiting around. I would very much like to scream at him, and he would like to shout at me, but we do not scream nor do we shout. I have been asking myself why I am making these decisions since I was driving across the frozen salt marsh on my way into town. I wish I could show you a photograph of it here on this page because it was perfect. Zigzagged with crusty canals sloughed with jagged ice, thickly frosted with a hard freeze-melt-freeze coating of snow. Huge stones like beached whales stranded out there.
I concede that maybe I’m not ready to understand. What I don’t tell him is that I think it is he who might never “understand.” I realize now that my compassion for him can be put to no good use. For him, learning is valuable, as it is to me; but to him learning is not about humbling yourself before the experience and increasing skill by way of analyzing & acknowledging mistakes. No, it is a point of Mastery, a conquering. He already knows everything about life, it everyone else who is completely ugly and incorrect.
So, he hadn’t realized it was a nuclear power plant until I told him. When I mentioned it wouldn’t matter, even if he was in Boston— depending on the wind— that everyone would die anyway, he replied: “Of course I’m not upset and I couldn’t care less, but seeing as how I could and would become king of the post-apocalyptic hoards, maybe it would be better if I lived a little further away.” Peering through the slats of the wall-sized blinds. The summer windows rattle in their dry panes. I don’t tell him that the plant has been shut down for years.
You might be surprised at just how many 21st century men fancy themselves zombie-slaying, disease-immune, sniper-shooting leader of men. This bores me. His sullenness bores me and his arrogance bores me. The empty stares bore the shit out of me. I decide to leave. Just before I go, he comes around the kitchen counter and starts putting his hands all over me, trying to kiss me and breathe me in one last time, trying to have his manufactured moment of superficial sorrow (he knows I’m never coming back). He touches my throat. It occurs to me now how dangerous he really is. He sits at the kitchen table, where he never sits, so that he may stare and intimidate me (into staying?); posed with his fists in front of his face and his elbows on the table. I do not look him in the eyes again. I realize I am frightened.
I am in my car and about to drive away when he comes outside. Without thinking, I reach up and manually lock my car door. He comes around, and I roll down my window. He left the leash in my car, he just wants it, and he goes back inside without saying anything else. I am amazed at how the same man can be at one moment a terrifying brick and the very next moment be like a child, not in a petulant way— but innocent, frightened too, and in need of mercy.
Thinking on it though, it shouldn’t be surprising; all of us encompass the monster and the child inside of ourselves. Everyone is capable of anything; it is the trillion contingencies of life, combined with the linear nature of time in our experience and sheer chance/circumstance/probability, which shape our lives and carve our perceptions. I suppose all we can do is try to starve the monster and feed the child.
© B. LeMontagne 2014