I have been convicted of having a hard heart. It’s not a heart of stone towards everything in life, just, and very specifically, toward intimacy, toward romantic love.
So using prayer as my pickax, and feeling like a condemned prisoner, I begin my work at breaking apart what appears to be a mountain of rock before me.
Such a small organ.
Such a great deal of never-ending, stiff-necked resistance.
I recognized this rabid avoidance of intimacy with my choice of husband: a man who was closed off emotionally. I knew I had chosen him because of this quality. I just didn’t know why.
And I have learned that I carry within me an emotional fury that can erupt (even if silently) when even the thought of romantic love passes through my consciousness.
So using prayer as my pickax, and feeling like a condemned prisoner, I begin to work at breaking apart what appears to be a mountain of rock before me.
Such a great deal of rock.
My brother, Geoffrey, was born fifteen months before me. We were in so many, too many, ways very much alike. So much alike that we were referred to as the twins. We bonded early and fiercely. We were rarely apart.
There were some differences, of course.
I learned to ride a bicycle in forty-five minutes. He took all day, and part of the night.
But as we aged, our differences became piercingly apparent. He was very good looking. And he was vain. His clothes were meticulous, always. His hair continuously groomed.
On the other hand, our grandmother would sneak into my room and remove my “good” clothing, those sweaters with holes in them, those sneakers with flapping soles. They were my good clothing because they were comfortable and practical in mucking about in the woods with my dog.
And as we grew, Geoffrey needed attention. Mostly, it felt, from me. He always needed to talk, to share his feelings. To know mine.
More and more I wanted to be left alone to sit in a field or underneath a tree and listen to God. More and more I didn’t want to talk. I wanted to listen. And to have all the time in the world to think it all over and see if I could understand any of it.
But every time I turned around, Geoffrey was there.
You are my best friend, he would say. I need to talk to you.
And, invariably, he wanted to talk about the people who angered or disgusted him. Our grandmother. Poking around. Setting severe standards. Sipping tea.
And our cousin. She was stupid, he said. She was, in truth, not that intelligent and certainly not academically inclined. She was ugly. She was, in truth, a bit of an ugly duckling searching for some grace. She wasn’t cool. Well, no, she wasn’t.
I adored her.
But Geoffrey wanted me to agree with him.
Eventually, I came to feel that he was too demanding of me. And that his presence in my life felt like I was being overshadowed by the huge tree that he was.
Overbearing would be a good way to describe him.
Then, one day, I happened to walk into a room. Geoffrey and our grandmother were in the kitchen. I happened to stop to do something in a place where they couldn’t see me. But I could hear them.
You’re my best friend, Geoffrey was crooning to her. I need you. You’re the only person I can talk to.
And don’t you just hate. . . .
And the name that filled in his blank that day was mine.
I’m not sure what I felt in that moment.
Relief, perhaps. Disinterest.
Perhaps even amazement.
But I do remember that the next time Geoffrey pulled his “give-me-attention” act on me, I got to turn the tables on him and quote the words that I had overheard.
Then, for the next few days, I felt free.
Now that I am older I can recognize the echo of those feelings from reading about some women saints who, as children, fiercely repelled emotional bonding from their parents, their intended fiancés, their husbands, and, even, at times, their own children. What they wanted was to be left alone to be with God.
It makes sense that that is how I felt then.
It seems natural.
We were at this time building an extension onto the house. A large great-room. The roof for this new room was partially built.
For the three days after our confrontation, Geoffrey sat out on that roof-in-the-making. He no longer swooned through the house, full of his looks, his ambitions, his words. I don’t even think he came in to eat.
I didn’t care. I liked the quiet.
Now, looking back, I can see that my “rejection” of Geoffrey had affected him deeply. He was clearly depressed.
I didn’t notice then. Or care. I liked the room to move that I was feeling around me.
In the middle of the night of the third day the telephone rang.
Our eldest brother, Clay, and Geoffrey had gone out to a party.
Clay was known for his fast driving. A bad combination: speed and being a teenager. Even worse was that Clay was speeding on those twisty, tree-lined roads in very rural Maine.
There’s been an accident, the voice on the phone said.
Clay is dead.
My grandmother had answered the telephone.
She roused my mother. She roused me.
I was fourteen years old.
Yet I was given the responsibility of accompanying my mother into town, to the hospital.
And it was in the darkness of that night that my relationship with my mother ended.
Thank God it wasn’t Geoffrey, she whispered.
A door closed inside me. Softly. Gently. But firmly.
How could any mother say something like that?
The hospital in Damariscotta, Maine, was very, very small.
As we entered, I approached a nurse and asked her where Geoffrey was.
She pointed to a door.
I went in the door.
And there was Geoffrey. He was stretched out, uncovered, on a metal table. His face was black from where his head had hit the dashboard. His body was stiff. His fingers curled slightly. He looked at nothing.
The next thing I remember was the voice of our gentle priest coaxing me out of the closet into which I had crawled.
It took a while, but he succeeded.
At the funeral, our plain-Jane cousin took me aside. Through her tears she confided in me that Geoffrey had told her how she was his best friend. That he couldn’t talk to anyone like he could talk with her.
I held her as she cried.
As time went by, I became increasingly aware of how much I liked that Geoffrey was no longer around.
And the guilt from that emotion became the bricks that became the outermost wall of the fortress I was building around my heart.
First there was my need to differentiate from Geoffrey.
Then there was the betrayal, an incident that, had he lived, would have been blended into forgiveness and tolerance by seeing it ultimately trip him up, and perhaps even something he learned from.
Perhaps he would have grown up to be a salesman. Wooing his customers. And I could have spent my life shaking my head gently and rolling my eyes at the stories of his exploits.
Instead, his betrayal became frozen, like an insect forever in motion yet in absolute stillness inside a piece of amber.
His words. My words.
My guilt. A guilt that has become an island on which I stand. That has become my base, my pedestal. The other, unknown, half of me.
The unspeakable words.
But my sureness came out of this incident: sureness that I did not ever again want to be intimately bonded with anyone. That I didn’t want to be betrayed again.
That I didn’t want to be the cause of someone else’s destruction.
The source of all sorts of sure-footed assumptions that aren’t true in the outside world, but become the resounding reality of one’s life.
So, the rock has been broken open.
Now there’s just all that ocean of healing to swim.