Chapter no 19

A Little Life

ON THE SECOND anniversary of your death, we went to Rome. This was something of a coincidence, and also not: he knew and we knew he’d have to be out of the city, far away from New York State. And maybe the Irvines felt the same way, because that was when they had scheduled the ceremony—at the very end of August, when all of

Europe had migrated elsewhere, and yet we were flying toward it, that continent bereft of all its chattering flocks, all its native fauna.

It was at the American Academy, where Sophie and Malcolm had both once had residencies, and where the Irvines had endowed a scholarship for a young architect. They had helped select the first recipient, a very tall and sweetly nervous young woman from London who built mostly temporary structures, complex-looking buildings of earth and sod and paper that were meant to disintegrate slowly over time, and there was the announcement of the fellowship, which came with additional prize money, and a reception, at which Flora spoke. Along with us, and Sophie and Malcolm’s Bellcast partners, there were Richard and JB, both of whom had also had residencies in Rome, and after the ceremony we went to a little restaurant nearby they had both liked when they had lived there, and where Richard showed us which part of the building’s walls were Etruscan and which were Roman. But although it was a nice meal, comfortable and convivial, it was also a quiet one, and at one point I remember looking up and realizing that none of us were eating and all of us were staring—at the ceiling, at our plates, at one another—and thinking something separate and yet, I knew, something the same as well.

The next afternoon Julia napped and we took a walk. We were

staying across the river, near the Spanish Steps, but we had the car take us back over the bridge to Trastevere and walked through streets that were so close and dark that they might have been hallways, until finally we came to a square, tiny and precise and adorned with nothing but sunlight, where we sat on a stone bench. An elderly man, with a white beard and wearing a linen suit, sat down on the other end, and he nodded at us and we nodded at him.

For a long time we were silent together, sitting in the heat, and then he suddenly said that he remembered this square, that he had been

here with you once, and that there was a famous gelato place just two streets away.

“Should I go?” he asked me, and smiled.

“I think you know the answer,” I said, and he got up. “I’ll be back,” he said. “Stracciatella,” I told him, and he nodded. “I know,” he said.

We watched him leave, the man and I, and then the man smiled at me and I smiled back. He wasn’t so elderly after all, I saw: probably just a few years older than I. And yet I was never able (and am still not) to think of myself as old. I talked as if I knew I was; I bemoaned my age. But it was only for comedy, or to make other people feel young.

“Lui è tuo figlio?” the man asked, and I nodded. I was always surprised and pleased when we were recognized for who we were to each other, for we looked nothing alike, he and I: and yet I thought—I hoped—there must have been something about the way we were together that was more compelling evidence of our relation than mere physical resemblance.

“Ah,” the man said, looking at him again before he turned the corner and disappeared from sight. “Molto bello.”

,” I said, and was suddenly sad.

He looked sly, then, and asked, or rather stated, “Tua moglie deve essere molto bella, no?” and then grinned to show me he meant it in fun, that it was a compliment, that if I was a plain man, I was also a lucky one, to have such a beautiful wife who had given me such a handsome son, and so I couldn’t be offended. I grinned back at him. “She is,” I said, and he smiled, unsurprised.

The man had already left by the time he returned—nodding at me as he went, leaning on his cane—with a cone for me and a container of lemon granita for Julia. I wished he had bought something for himself, too, but he hadn’t. “We should go,” he said, and we did, and that night he went to bed early, and the following day—the day you died—we didn’t see him at all: he left us a message with the front desk saying he had gone for a walk, and that he would see us tomorrow, and that he was sorry, and all day long we walked too, and although I thought there was a chance we might see him—Rome is not such a large city, after all—we didn’t, and that night as we undressed for bed, I was aware that I had been looking for him on every street, in every crowd.

The next morning there he was at breakfast, reading the paper, pale but smiling at us, and we didn’t ask him what he’d done the day

before and he didn’t volunteer it. That day we just walked around the city, the three of us an unwieldy little pack—too wide for the sidewalks, we strolled in single file, each of us taking the position of the leader in turn—but just to familiar places, well-trafficked places, places that would have no secret memories, that held no intimacies. Near Via Condotti Julia looked into the tiny window of a tiny jewelry store, and we went inside, the three of us filling the space, and each held the earrings she had admired in the window. They were exquisite: solid gold, dense and heavy and shaped like birds, with small round rubies for eyes and little gold branches in their beaks, and he bought them for her, and she was embarrassed and delighted— Julia had never worn much jewelry—but he looked happy to be able to, and I was happy that he was happy, and that she was happy, too. That night we met JB and Richard for a final dinner, and the next morning we left to go north, to Florence, and he to go home.

“I’ll see you in five days,” I told him, and he nodded.

“Have a good time,” he said. “Have a wonderful time. I’ll see you soon.”

He waved as we were driven away in the car; we turned in our seats to wave back at him. I remember hoping my wave was somehow telegraphing what I couldn’t say: Don’t you dare. The night before, as he and Julia were talking to JB, I asked Richard if he would feel comfortable sending me updates while we were away, and Richard said he would. He had gained almost all the weight Andy wanted, but he’d had two setbacks—one in May, one in July—and so we were all still watching him.

It sometimes felt as if we were living our relationship in reverse, and instead of worrying for him less, I worried for him more; with each year I became more aware of his fragility, less convinced of my competence. When Jacob was a baby, I would find myself feeling more assured with each month he lived, as if the longer he stayed in this world, the more deeply he would become anchored to it, as if by being alive, he was staking claim to life itself. It was a preposterous notion, of course, and it was proven wrong in the most horrible way. But I couldn’t stop thinking this: that life tethered life. And yet at some point in his life—after Caleb, if I had to date it—I had the sense that he was in a hot-air balloon, one that was staked to the earth with a long twisted rope, but each year the balloon strained and strained against its cords, tugging itself away, trying to drift into the skies. And down below, there was a knot of us trying to pull the balloon back to

the ground, back to safety. And so I was always frightened for him, and I was always frightened of him, as well.

Can you have a real relationship with someone you are frightened of? Of course you can. But he still scared me, because he was the powerful one and I was not: if he killed himself, if he took himself away from me, I knew I would survive, but I knew as well that survival would be a chore; I knew that forever after I would be hunting for explanations, sifting through the past to examine my mistakes. And of course I knew how badly I would miss him, because although there had been trial runs for his eventual departure, I had never been able to get any better at dealing with them, and I was never able to get used to them.

But then we came home, and everything was the same: Mr. Ahmed met us at the airport and drove us back to the apartment, and waiting for us with the doorman were bags of food so we wouldn’t have to go to the grocery store. The next day was a Thursday and he came over and we had dinner, and he asked what we had seen and done and we told him. That night we were washing the dishes, and as he was handing me a bowl to put in the dishwasher, it slipped through his fingers and broke against the floor. “Goddammit,” he shouted. “I’m so sorry, Harold. I’m so stupid, I’m so clumsy,” and although we told him it wasn’t a problem, that it was fine, he only grew more and more upset, so upset that his hands started to shake, that his nose started to bleed. “Jude,” I told him, “it’s okay. It happens,” but he shook his head. “No,” he said, “it’s me. I mess up everything. Everything I touch I ruin.” Julia and I had looked at each other over his head as he was picking up the pieces, unsure what to say or do: the reaction was so out of proportion to what had happened. But there had been a few incidents in the preceding months, ever since he had thrown that plate across the room, that made me realize, for the first time in my life with him, how truly angry he was, how hard he must work every day at controlling it.

After that first incident with the plate there had been another, a few

weeks later. This was up at Lantern House, where he hadn’t been in months. It was morning, just after breakfast, and Julia and I were leaving to go to the store, and I went to find him to ask what he wanted. He was in his bedroom, and the door was slightly ajar, and when I saw what he was doing, I for some reason didn’t call his name, didn’t walk away, but stood just outside the frame, silent and watching. He had one prosthesis on and was putting on the other—I

had never seen him without them—and I watched as he sank his left leg into the socket, drawing the elastic sleeve up around his knee and thigh, and then pushed his pants leg down over it. As you know, these prostheses had feet with paneling that resembled the shape of a toe box and a heel, and I watched as he pulled on his socks, and then his shoes. And then he took a breath and stood, and I watched as he took a step, and then another. But even I could tell something was wrong— they were still too big; he was still too thin—and before I could call out, he had lost his balance and pitched forward onto the bed, where he lay still for a moment.

And then he reached down and tore off both legs, one and then the other, and for a second—they were still wearing their socks and shoes

—it appeared as if they were his real legs, and he had just yanked away a piece of himself, and I half expected to see an arcing splash of blood. But instead he picked one up and slammed it against the bed, again and again and again, grunting with the effort, and then he threw it to the ground and sat on the edge of the mattress, his face in his hands, his elbows on his thighs, rocking himself and not making a sound. “Please,” I heard him say, “please.” But he didn’t say anything else, and I, to my shame, crept away and went to our bedroom, where I sat in a posture that mimicked his own, and waited as well for something I didn’t know.

In those months I thought often of what I was trying to do, of how hard it is to keep alive someone who doesn’t want to stay alive. First you try logic (You have so much to live for), and then you try guilt (You owe me), and then you try anger, and threats, and pleading (I’m old; don’t do this to an old man). But then, once they agree, it is necessary that you, the cajoler, move into the realm of self-deception, because you can see that it is costing them, you can see how much they don’t want to be here, you can see that the mere act of existing is depleting for them, and then you have to tell yourself every day: I am doing the right thing. To let him do what he wants to do is abhorrent to the laws of nature, to the laws of love. You pounce upon the happy moments, you hold them up as proof—See? This is why it’s worth living. This is why I’ve been making him try—even though that one moment cannot compensate for all the other moments, the majority of moments. You think, as I had thought with Jacob, what is a child for? Is he to give me comfort? Is he for me to give comfort to? And if a child can no longer be comforted, is it my job to give him permission to leave? And then you think again: But that is abominable. I can’t.

So I tried, of course. I tried and tried. But every month I could feel him receding. It wasn’t so much a physical disappearance: by November, he was back at his weight, the low side of it anyway, and looked better than he had perhaps ever. But he was quieter, much quieter, and he had always been quiet anyway. But now he spoke very little, and when we were together, I would sometimes see him looking at something I couldn’t see, and then he would twitch his head, very slightly, like a horse does its ears, and come back to himself.

Once I saw him for our Thursday dinner and he had bruises on his face and neck, just on one side, as if he was standing near a building in the late afternoon and the sun had cast a shadow against him. The bruises were a dark rusty brown, like dried blood, and I had gasped. “What happened?” I asked. “I fell,” he said, shortly. “Don’t worry,” he said, although of course I did. And when I saw him with bruises again, I tried to hold him. “Tell me,” I said, and he worked himself free. “There’s nothing to tell,” he said. I still don’t know what had happened: Had he done something to himself? Had he let someone do something to him? I didn’t know which was worse. I didn’t know what to do.

He missed you. I missed you, too. We all did. I think you should know that, that I didn’t just miss you because you made him better: I missed you for you. I missed watching the pleasure you took in doing the things you enjoyed, whether it was eating or running after a tennis ball or flinging yourself into the pool. I missed talking with you, missed watching you move through a room, missed watching you fall to the lawn under a passel of Laurence’s grandchildren, pretending that you couldn’t get up from under their weight. (That same day, Laurence’s youngest grandchild, the one who had a crush on you, had made you a bracelet of knotted-together dandelion flowers, and you had thanked her and worn it all day, and every time she had spotted it on your wrist, she had run over and buried her face in her father’s back: I missed that, too.) But mostly, I missed watching you two together; I missed watching you watch him, and him watch you; I missed how thoughtful you were with each other, missed how thoughtlessly, sincerely affectionate you were with him; missed watching you listen to each other, the way you both did so intently. That painting JB did—Willem Listening to Jude Tell a Story—was so true, the expression so right: I knew what was happening in the painting even before I read its title.

And I don’t want you to think that there weren’t happy moments as

well, happy days, after you left. They were fewer, of course. They were harder to find, harder to make. But they existed. After we came home from Italy, I began teaching a seminar at Columbia, one open to both law school students and graduate students from the general population. The course was called “The Philosophy of Law, the Law of Philosophy,” and I co-taught it with an old friend of mine, and in it we discussed the fairness of law, the moral underpinnings of the legal system and how they sometimes contradicted our national sense of morality: Drayman 241, after all these years! In the afternoon, I saw friends. Julia took a life-drawing class. We volunteered at a nonprofit that helped professionals (doctors, lawyers, teachers) from other countries (Sudan, Afghanistan, Nepal) find new jobs in their fields, even if these jobs bore only a tangential resemblance to what they had done before: nurses became medical assistants; judges became clerks. A few of them I helped apply to law school, and when I saw them, we would talk about what they were learning, how different this law was from the law they had known.

“I think we should work on a project together,” I told him that fall

(he was still doing pro bono work with the artist nonprofit, which— when I went to volunteer there myself—was actually more moving than I had thought it would be: I had thought it would just be a bunch of untalented hacks trying to make creative lives for themselves when it was clear they never would, and although that was in fact what it was, I found myself admiring them, much as he did—their perseverance, their dumb, hardy faith. These were people no one and nothing could ever dissuade from life, from claiming it as theirs).

“Like what?” he asked.

“You could teach me to cook,” I told him, as he gave me that look he had, in which he was almost smiling but not quite, amused but not ready to show it. “I’m serious. Really cook. Six or seven dishes I could have in my arsenal.”

And so he did. Saturday afternoons, after he’d finished work or visiting with Lucien and the Irvines, we’d drive to Garrison, either alone or with Richard and India or JB or one of the Henry Youngs and their wives, and on Sunday we’d cook something. My main problem, it emerged, was a lack of patience, my inability to accept tedium. I’d wander away to look for something to read and forget that I was leaving the risotto to glue itself into a sticky glop, or I’d forget to turn the carrots in their puddle of olive oil and come back to find them seared to the bottom of the pan. (So much of cooking, it seemed, was

petting and bathing and monitoring and flipping and turning and soothing: demands I associated with human infancy.) My other problem, I was told, was my insistence on innovating, which is apparently a guarantee of failure in baking. “It’s chemistry, Harold, not philosophy,” he kept saying, with that same half smile. “You can’t cheat the specified amounts and hope it’s going to come out the way it should.”

“Maybe it’ll come out better,” I said, mostly to entertain him—I was always happy to play the fool if I thought it might give him some pleasure—and now he smiled, really smiled. “It won’t,” he said.

But finally, I actually did learn how to make some things: I learned how to roast a chicken and poach an egg and broil halibut. I learned how to make carrot cake, and a bread with lots of different nuts that I had liked to buy at the bakery he used to work at in Cambridge: his version was uncanny, and for weeks I made loaf after loaf. “Excellent, Harold,” he said one day, after tasting a slice. “See? Now you’ll be able to cook for yourself when you’re a hundred.”

“What do you mean, cook for myself?” I asked him. “You’ll have to cook for me,” and he smiled back at me, a sad, strange smile, and didn’t say anything, and I quickly changed the subject before he said something that I would have to pretend he didn’t. I was always trying to allude to the future, to make plans for years away, so that he’d commit to them and I could make him honor his commitment. But he was careful: he never promised.

“We should take a music class, you and I,” I told him, not really knowing what I meant by that.

He smiled, a little. “Maybe,” he said. “Sure. We’ll discuss it.” But that was the most he’d allow.

After our cooking lesson, we walked. When we were at the house upstate, we walked the path Malcolm had made: past the spot in the woods where I had once had to leave him propped against a tree, jolting with pain, past the first bench, past the second, past the third. At the second bench we’d always sit and rest. He didn’t need to rest, not like he used to, and we walked so slowly that I didn’t need to, either. But we always made a ceremonial stop, because it was from here that you had the clearest view of the back of the house, do you remember? Malcolm had cut away some of the trees here so that from the bench, you were facing the house straight on, and if you were on the back deck of the house, you were facing the bench straight on. “It’s such a beautiful house,” I said, as I always did, and as I always

did, I hoped he was hearing me say that I was proud of him: for the house he built, and for the life he had built within it.

Once, a month or so after we all returned home from Italy, we were sitting on this bench, and he said to me, “Do you think he was happy with me?” He was so quiet I thought I had imagined it, but then he looked at me and I saw I hadn’t.

“Of course he was,” I told him. “I know he was.”

He shook his head. “There were so many things I didn’t do,” he said at last.

I didn’t know what he meant by this, but it didn’t change my mind. “Whatever it was, I know it didn’t matter,” I told him. “I know he was happy with you. He told me.” He looked at me, then. “I know it,” I repeated. “I know it.” (You had never said this to me, not explicitly, but I know you will forgive me; I know you will. I know you would have wanted me to say this.)

Another time, he said, “Dr. Loehmann thinks I should tell you things.”

“What things?” I asked, careful not to look at him.

“Things about what I am,” he said, and then paused. “Who I am,” he corrected himself.

“Well,” I said, finally, “I’d like that. I’d like to know more about you.”

Then he smiled. “That sounds strange, doesn’t it?” he asked. “ ‘More about you.’ We’ve known each other so long now.”

I always had the sense, during these exchanges, that although there might not be a single correct answer, there was in fact a single incorrect one, after which he would never say anything again, and I was forever trying to calculate what that answer might be so I would never say it.

“That’s true,” I said. “But I always want to know more, where you’re concerned.”

He looked at me quickly, and then back at the house. “Well,” he said. “Maybe I’ll try. Maybe I’ll write something down.”

“I’d love that,” I said. “Whenever you’re ready.” “It might take me a while,” he said.

“That’s fine,” I said. “You’ll take as long as you need.” A long time was a good thing, I thought: it meant years, years of him trying to figure out what he wanted to say, and although they would be difficult, torturous years, at least he would be alive. That was what I thought: that I would rather have him suffering and alive—than dead.

But in the end, it didn’t take him much time at all. It was February, about a year after our intervention. If he could keep his weight on through May, we’d stop monitoring him, and he’d be able to stop seeing Dr. Loehmann if he wanted, although both Andy and I thought he should keep going. But it would no longer be our decision. That Sunday, we had stayed in the city, and after a cooking lesson at Greene Street (an asparagus-and-artichoke terrine) we went out for our walk.

It was a chilly day, but windless, and we walked south on Greene until it changed into Church, and then down and down, through TriBeCa, through Wall Street, and almost to the very tip of the island, where we stood and watched the river, its splashing gray water. And then we turned and walked north, back up the same street: Trinity to Church, Church to Greene. He had been quiet all day, still and silent, and I prattled on about a middle-aged man I had met at the career placement center, a refugee from Tibet a year or so older than he, a doctor, who was applying to American medical schools.

“That’s admirable,” he said. “It’s difficult to start over.”

“It is,” I said. “But you’ve started over too, Jude. You’re admirable, too.” He glanced at me, then looked away. “I mean it,” I said. I was reminded of a day a year or so after he had been discharged from the hospital after his suicide attempt, and he was staying with us in Truro. We had taken a walk then as well. “I want you to tell me three things you think you do better than anyone else,” I had told him as we sat on the sand, and he made a weary puffing noise, filling his cheeks with air and blowing it out through his mouth.

“Not now, Harold,” he had said.

“Come on,” I said. “Three things. Three things you do better than anyone, and then I’ll stop bothering you.” But he thought and thought and still couldn’t think of anything, and hearing his silence, something in me began to panic. “Three things you do well, then,” I revised. “Three things you like about yourself.” By this time I was almost begging. “Anything,” I told him. “Anything.”

“I’m tall,” he finally said. “Tallish, anyway.”

“Tall is good,” I said, although I had been hoping for something different, something more qualitative. But I would accept it as an answer, I decided: it had taken him so long to come up with even that. “Two more.” But he couldn’t think of anything else. I could see he was getting frustrated and embarrassed, and finally I let the subject drop.

Now, as we moved through TriBeCa, he mentioned, very casually, that he had been asked to be the firm’s chairman.

“My god,” I said, “that’s amazing, Jude. My god. Congratulations.”

He nodded, once. “But I’m not going to accept,” he said, and I was thunderstruck. After all he had given fucking Rosen Pritchard—all those hours, all those years—he wasn’t going to take it? He looked at me. “I’d have thought you’d be happy,” he said, and I shook my head.

“No,” I told him. “I know how much—how much satisfaction you get from your job. I don’t want you to think that I don’t approve of you, that I’m not proud of you.” He didn’t say anything. “Why aren’t you going to take it?” I asked him. “You’d be great at it. You were born for it.”

And then he winced—I wasn’t sure why—and looked away. “No,” he said. “I don’t think I would be. It was a controversial decision anyway, as I understand it. Besides,” he began, and then stopped. Somehow we had stopped walking as well, as if speech and movement were oppositional activities, and we stood there in the cold for a while. “Besides,” he continued, “I thought I’d leave the firm in a year or so.” He looked at me, as if to see how I was reacting, and then looked up, at the sky. “I thought maybe I’d travel,” he said, but his voice was hollow and joyless, as if he were being conscripted into a faraway life he didn’t much want. “I could go away,” he said, almost to himself. “There are places I should see.”

I didn’t know what to say. I stared and stared at him. “I could come with you,” I whispered, and he came back to himself and looked at me.

“Yes,” he said, and he sounded so declarative I felt comforted. “Yes, you could come with me. Or you two could come meet me in certain places.”

We started moving again. “Not that I want to unduly delay your second act as a world traveler,” I said, “but I do think you should reconsider Rosen Pritchard’s offer. Maybe do it for a few years, and then jet off to the Balearics or Mozambique or wherever it is you want to go.” I knew that if he accepted the chairmanship offer, then he wouldn’t kill himself; he was too responsible to leave with unfinished business. “Okay?” I prompted him.

He smiled, then, his old, bright, beautiful smile. “Okay, Harold,” he said. “I promise I’ll reconsider.”

Then we were just a few blocks from home, and I realized we were coming upon Lispenard Street. “Oh god,” I said, seeking to capitalize

on his good mood, to keep us both aloft. “Here we are at the site of all my nightmares: The Worst Apartment in the World,” and he laughed, and we veered right off of Church and walked half a block down Lispenard Street until we were standing in front of your old building. For a while I ranted on and on about the place, about how horrible it was, exaggerating and embroidering for effect, to hear him laugh and protest. “I was always afraid a fire was going to go ripping through that place and you’d both end up dead,” I said. “I had dreams of getting phoned by the emergency technicians that they’d found you both gnawed to death by a swarm of rats.”

“It wasn’t that bad, Harold,” he smiled. “I have very fond memories of this place, actually.” And then the mood turned again, and we both stood there staring at the building and thinking of you, and him, and all the years between this moment and the one in which I had met him, so young, so terribly young, and at that time just another student, terrifically smart and intellectually nimble, but nothing more, not the person I could have ever imagined him becoming for me.

And then he said—he was trying to make me feel better, too; we were each performing for the other—“Did I ever tell you about the time we jumped off the roof to the fire escape outside our bedroom?”

“What?” I asked, genuinely appalled. “No, you never did. I think I would have remembered that.”

But although I could never have imagined the person he would become for me, I knew how he would leave me: despite all my hopes, and pleas, and insinuations, and threats, and magical thoughts, I knew. And five months later—June twelfth, a day with no significant anniversaries associated with it, a nothing day—he did. My phone rang, and although it wasn’t a sinister time of night, and although nothing had happened that I would later see as foreshadowing, I knew, I knew. And on the other end was JB, and he was breathing oddly, in rapid bursts, and even before he spoke, I knew. He was fifty-three, fifty-three for not even two months. He had injected an artery with air, and had given himself a stroke, and although Andy had told me his death would have been quick, and painless, I later looked it up online and found he had lied to me: it would have meant sticking himself at least twice, with a needle whose gauge was as thick as a hummingbird’s beak; it would have been agonizing.

When I went to his apartment, finally, it was so neat, with his office

boxed up and the refrigerator emptied and everything—his will, letters—tiered on the dining-room table, like place cards at a

wedding. Richard, JB, Andy, all of your and his old friends: they were all around, constantly, all of us moving about and around one another, shocked but not shocked, surprised only that we were so surprised, devastated and beaten and mostly, helpless. Had we missed something? Could we have done something different? After his service

—which was crowded, with his friends and your friends and their parents and families, with his law school classmates, with his clients, with the staff and patrons of the arts nonprofit, with the board of the food kitchen, with a huge population of Rosen Pritchard employees, past and present, including Meredith, who came with an almost completely discombobulated Lucien (who lives, cruelly, to this day, although in a nursing home in Connecticut), with our friends, with people I wouldn’t have expected: Kit and Emil and Philippa and Robin

—Andy came to me, crying, and confessed that he thought things had started really going wrong for him after he’d told him he was leaving his practice, and that it was his fault. I hadn’t even known Andy was leaving—he had never mentioned it to me—but I comforted him, and told him it wasn’t his fault, not at all, that he had always been good to him, that I had always trusted him.

“At least Willem isn’t here,” we said to one another. “At least Willem isn’t here to see this.”

Though, of course—if you were here, wouldn’t he still be as well?

But if I cannot say that I didn’t know how he would die, I can say that there was much I didn’t know, not at all, not after all. I didn’t know that Andy would be dead three years later of a heart attack, or Richard two years after that of brain cancer. You all died so young: you, Malcolm, him. Elijah, of a stroke, when he was sixty; Citizen, when he was sixty as well, of pneumonia. In the end there was, and is, only JB, to whom he left the house in Garrison, and whom we see often—there, or in the city, or in Cambridge. JB has a serious boyfriend now, a very good man named Tomasz, a specialist in Japanese medieval art at Sotheby’s, whom we like very much; I know both you and he would have as well. And although I feel bad for myself, for us—of course—I feel most bad most often for JB, deprived of you all, left to live the beginnings of old age by himself, with new friends, certainly, but without most of his friends who had known him since he was a child. At least I have known him since he was twenty-two; off and on, perhaps, but neither of us count the off years.

And now JB is sixty-one and I am eighty-four, and he has been dead

for six years and you have been dead for nine. JB’s most recent show

was called “Jude, Alone,” and was of fifteen paintings of just him, depicting imagined moments from the years after you died, from those nearly three years he managed to hang on without you. I have tried, but I cannot look at them: I try, and try, but I cannot.

And there were still more things I didn’t know. He was right: we had only moved to New York for him, and after we had settled his estate—Richard was his executor, though I helped him—we went home to Cambridge, to be near the people who had known us for so long. I’d had enough of cleaning and sorting—we had, along with Richard and JB and Andy, gone through all of his personal papers (there weren’t many), and clothes (a heartbreak itself, watching his suits get narrower and narrower) and your clothes; we had looked through your files at Lantern House together, which took many days because we kept stopping to cry or exclaim or pass around a picture none of us had seen before—but when we were back home, back in Cambridge, the very movement of organizing had become reflexive, and I sat down one Saturday to clean out the bookcases, an ambitious project that I soon lost interest in, when I found, tucked between two books, two envelopes, our names in his handwriting. I opened my envelope, my heart thrumming, and saw my name—Dear Harold—and read his note from decades ago, from the day of his adoption, and cried, sobbed, really, and then I slipped the disc into the computer and heard his voice, and although I would have cried anyway for its beauty, I cried more because it was his. And then Julia came home and found me and read her note and we cried all over again.

And it wasn’t until a few weeks after that that I was able to open

the letter he had left us on his table. I hadn’t been able to bear it earlier; I wasn’t sure I would be able to bear it now. But I did. It was eight pages long, and typed, and it was a confession: of Brother Luke, and Dr. Traylor, and what had happened to him. It took us several days to read, because although it was brief, it was also endless, and we had to keep putting the pages down and walking away from them, and then bracing each other—Ready?—and sitting down and reading some more.

“I’m sorry,” he wrote. “Please forgive me. I never meant to deceive you.”

I still don’t know what to say about that letter, I still cannot think of it. All those answers I had wanted about who and why he was, and now those answers only torment. That he died so alone is more than I can think of; that he died thinking that he owed us an apology is

worse; that he died still stubbornly believing everything he was taught about himself—after you, after me, after all of us who loved him— makes me think that my life has been a failure after all, that I have failed at the one thing that counted. It is then that I talk to you the most, that I go downstairs late at night and stand before Willem Listening to Jude Tell a Story, which now hangs above our dining-room table: “Willem,” I ask you, “do you feel like I do? Do you think he was happy with me?” Because he deserved happiness. We aren’t guaranteed it, none of us are, but he deserved it. But you only smile, not at me but just past me, and you never have an answer. It is also then that I wish I believed in some sort of life after life, that in another universe, maybe on a small red planet where we have not legs but tails, where we paddle through the atmosphere like seals, where the air itself is sustenance, composed of trillions of molecules of protein and sugar and all one has to do is open one’s mouth and inhale in order to remain alive and healthy, maybe you two are there together, floating through the climate. Or maybe he is closer still: maybe he is that gray cat that has begun to sit outside our neighbor’s house, purring when I reach out my hand to it; maybe he is that new puppy I see tugging at the end of my other neighbor’s leash; maybe he is that toddler I saw running through the square a few months ago, shrieking with joy, his parents huffing after him; maybe he is that flower that suddenly bloomed on the rhododendron bush I thought had died long ago; maybe he is that cloud, that wave, that rain, that mist. It isn’t only that he died, or how he died; it is what he died believing. And so I try to be kind to everything I see, and in everything I see, I see him.

But back then, back on Lispenard Street, I didn’t know so much of

this. Then, we were only standing and looking up at that red-brick building, and I was pretending that I never had to fear for him, and he was letting me pretend this: that all the dangerous things he could have done, all the ways he could have broken my heart, were in the past, the stuff of stories, that the time that lay behind us was scary, but the time that lay ahead of us was not.

“You jumped off the roof?” I repeated. “Why on earth would you have done such a thing?”

“It’s a good story,” he said. He even grinned at me. “I’ll tell you.” “Please,” I said.

And then he did.

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