By the time I’d finished reading John Cheever’s short story “Goodbye, My Brother,” to Mary, we were both in tears, and, for a time at least, thrown back upon ourselves as beautiful writing will do to you.
We’d been thinking of the day — a day free of care, a day of no obligations, a day largely free of traffic, which every summer becomes worse — when, all of a sudden, we were impelled to reflect upon life, not just on its joys, which, of course, we try to do as often as we can, but also on its sorrows, not to mention its horrors.
As is her fashion — she is a much more discerning reader than I — Mary laid it all out, everything Cheever, who has captured my interest lately, A.R. Gurney having led me to him, had been writing about. She knew the reasons why her tears had welled up. Why, she wondered, had mine.
All I could say in reply was, “It was beautiful writing . . . he really hit it.” He had hit the ball out of the park, and the ball — I’m quoting here from Dylan Thomas, thanks to Robert Lipsyte’s memoirs, which I reviewed last summer — had yet to touch the ground.
“Cheever said in another story that merely to touch one’s longtime lover is transformative,” I said during our reverie. Mary liked that thought. Then, with a laugh, asked if I couldn’t trim my toenails.
And in that way, through banter, we began to lighten our spirits, and soon — though I was to think throughout that day and night and the day following how exactly I would describe life — we were on our way. It works every time.
If I didn’t have her to talk to, I don’t know what I would do. We’re joined, not so much at the hip — though that is true enough — but at our synapses. People in our family marvel at how much we have to talk about.
Perhaps in doing so we’re fending off grief (which Cheever’s narrator in “Bullet Park” had once thought of as a foreign principality) for as long as we can.
But you’re wondering, no doubt, what words I picked to best describe life. Well, at least in my case, there’s joy and sorrow . . . and possibility.