The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 5


December 22, 1980


Norman towered over everybody else at the Halifax airport. He looked like a Chagall painting of a tall, skinny, Jewish angel with curly black hair escaping out from under a black Russian fur hat. He had managed the Bean Sprout before I hired Amin, and even though he ran his own natural food store now, we'd never stopped loving each other. As soon I got to his apartment I headed for the phone.

“I'm here.”

“I'm not ready for you to come yet,” she said, in that brittle voice.

“Well, when?”

“Later.”

I hung up. The battle had begun.

“Want a bagel?” Norman asked, holding one up. I was too full of longing for my children to eat. After an hour I walked over without calling first.

“Daddy! Daddy's here!” Wren yelled as he opened the door.

“Invite him in,” Carol said distantly from the kitchen. Wren bounced from me to Carol and back to me again as I walked down the hall toward her. She was doing the dishes.

“Where's Caleb?”

“He's at a friend's house for an overnight,” she said quietly to the sink. “And Ariel has daycare tomorrow.”

“Why?” I whispered. I was stung so deeply I couldn’t talk. I cleared my throat. “Why?” I asked out loud.

“Later,” she quietly told the dishes, which loudly clattered.

“This is my Daddy,” Wren confided to his friend. “I don't remember much about him, except he's fun.” My chest caved in with a wheeze—Ariel cried out as he woke up. I ran to get him. He giggled and patted my face all over. He'd changed so much. He was doing his growing away from me.

“Supper's ready!” Carol called. I took a bite. Poisoned. I pretended to eat, hoping she wouldn't notice. That was easy. She never looked at me once.

After supper I leaned against the counter and watched her back as she did the dishes. I repeated the question a few times to myself to make sure I could say it out loud but without screaming. “Why did you send Caleb on an overnight on the day I came to visit?”

“Later,” she said softly to the sink. I raced upstairs to put the boys to bed. In the middle of brushing teeth her heavy feet came pounding up the stairs. She stopped halfway and called up, “I just felt it was right to keep the boys' routines as usual until you got here, and then we'd see.”

I got Wren and his friend to bed, but Ariel refused to lie down anywhere except on my chest. I fell asleep under his soft weight. Half an hour later I woke up, put him down in his crib, then walked slowly down the stairs. Getting angry at Carol seemed unnecessary, rude, and destructive, but I had to say something or wolves would tear me apart in my dreams. I looked in the living room. She was sitting with her back to me at the other end of the adjoining dining room. The sewing machine hum-hummed away. I walked through the living room and then the length of the dining room until I stood directly in front of her. Her head was bent to her task. The machine hummed away like a horsefly. She didn’t look up.

“Why didn't you tell me when I asked?”

“I didn't think it was the right time,” she murmured to the sewing machine. I glared at the top of her head. She worked for another few minutes, then clicked off the little light, abruptly stood and walked into the kitchen, sat down on the far side of the table, and lifted her cold, flat, eyes to mine and said, “We'll talk until 9:30.”

I looked at the clock. It was 9:20.

I sat down, braced for a fight. “We have to tell the kids. Now.”

“I told a child guidance counselor about our situation and she said, 'It doesn't sound like you've really made up your minds.' I said, 'Oh yes, we have,' and she replied, 'Then why is he coming home for Christmas? Divorce means he walks in the front door, you walk out the back.’” A cold wind blew through me. “So. I don't want you to depend on me for anything. A lot of boundaries were crossed at Thanksgiving and I don't want that to happen again.”

“Let's not have any more meals together,” I said weakly, trying to catch up.

“It doesn't matter all that much what we tell the children. It's how we act. We shouldn't even be together around them.” She looked at the clock. I followed her glance. It was 9:30. I walked out without a word, abandoning my children to the wasteland of divorce.

…I try to run but I’m wearing a hospital gown, I can hardly move my legs. The teenage boys are right behind me! “Mommy!” I scream. I sat up like an explosion, covered in sweat. Divorce meant loss of Mommy. I was too shaky to phone Carol. I went back to bed…Huge arms wrap around my throat from behind. I woke up with each of my arms violently trying to throw off the other. I called Carol anyway. We were strictly courteous as we made arrangements.

I opened the door and Caleb leaped into my arms with the tired hunger of a boy who’d been waiting all day for Daddy. I hugged him desperately. I was already past my limit of tolerance for divorce. “I'm sorry I'm still here,” Carol called from the kitchen. ”I'll be gone in a minute.” The phone rang. “Yes!...I am!...No! This phone call is holding me up!” She slammed down the receiver. I'd only heard her talk in that irritated, “old wife” tone of voice to me. I had the feeling I was going to regret the question, but I asked it anyway. “Where are you going?”

“Lunch with Amin,” she said, and ran out the door.

I didn’t want an “old wife” anyway, but soon I was so upset to be babysitting for her and her lover I could barely keep myself together enough to get the boys to “Popeye.” He holds his baby in his arms and sings a lovely little song, “I'm Not Man Enough to Be a Mother.” Tears ran down my cheeks. I could no longer be the close-hug and deep-care Daddy I loved so much to be. For at least the next two years, I had to be a zoo-Daddy, who doesn't know what to do with his children besides take them to the zoo. I was careful to hide my tears. Caleb and Wren knew that grown men cried, but neither they nor I knew what fathers could do that mothers could not. The theater dumped us out into the dirty, snowy street. It was already dark. The bus was crowded and stuffy. We walked from the bus stop in silence. Carol opened the door and warmth and light and Christmas carols poured out. My children tumbled happily in. I walked away blinded. I had lost my next of kin.

On Christmas Eve day, I was halfway up the last icy hill to Carol's house when I remembered she'd asked me to pick up some groceries at the Bean Sprout. Amin had her list. No wonder I'd forgotten. I turned back to go to the store, feeling like the “old husband” who wastes his life on errands for the wife¬. I stopped. No more reruns. I turned around to go back up the hill. I stopped. I’d told her I'd get the groceries. I had to keep my word. I turned back to go to the Bean Sprout. No! No more reruns! I turned around. No! I always used to forget the groceries, and she would always be furious. That was the rerun. I went down the hill to the Bean Sprout, leaving a spun circle of dirty snow turning to ice on the sidewalk behind me. I walked down the dingy hallway to the office to see the man I could not deal with even in my dreams.

“Hi,” he said.

“Carol says you have her grocery list.”

“Oh. It's here somewhere.” He rummaged in his pockets, shifted through the messy pile of papers on top of the desk, then shrugged helplessly. “I can’t find it.” I went out front and got some stuff anyway. He passed me on his way out. “Merry Christmas,” he said. He shook my hand. His eyes flickered over my shoulder to see if his employees were watching. They were.

I toiled back up the icy hill with her groceries, then stopped at the toy store to buy some stocking stuffers. The owner asked about my family. Her face grew pale and slack with shock when I told her I'd sold my half of the store and Carol and I were getting divorced. I left feeling like a thief, though I didn’t know what I’d stolen from her.

Cranky boys bounced all over the house, complaining and hungry. Carol dashed out on an errand, leaving me to cook supper. I was sharp and irritable, just the way I so badly didn't want to be on my boys' last married Christmas. Caleb was pale with hunger. So was l, but I couldn't eat. I'd just finished serving them hamburgers when the phone rang. It was Amin.

“She's not here right now.”

“I'll call later. Merry Christmas.” He hung up and Carol walked in the door.

“Amin just—” Caleb vomited his hamburger all over the floor in one great retch— “called for you.” I hung up the phone and got the paper towels. Wren ran round and round the table, yelling at top volume while I wiped up Caleb’s vomit. “Wren!” I screamed. “Stop running around! And eat your meat!”

I started a fire in the fireplace for the Christmas Eve ritual. Thick smoke poured into the room. I jiggled the flue, then ran to open both front and back doors. Bitterly cold air rushed in. I looked around for dry wood. There wasn't any. “Mommyyy!” Wren screamed. I raced upstairs. He was sitting panicked on a plugged toilet with swirling water rising up under him. I lifted him off and wiped him, shut the lid, hoped it wouldn't overflow, and carried him downstairs. Caleb was in a faint on the couch. Carol was holding Ariel because he screamed whenever she put him down. We were all weeping from the smoke. I shut the doors anyway. It was bitterly cold out.

Carol passed out the chocolate. It made my teeth hurt. I brought out her cookies. Poisoned. I resolved to eat no more of her food, then had five more. I wished I were as comatose as Caleb. He had a legitimate reason not to eat. I lit a candle and put it on the coffee table, then lit the incense and placed it on the mantelpiece. I turned around to see Ariel putting a piece of cotton in the candle flame. It flared with an audible “Puff!” He shrieked with terror. I leaped across the room, snatched the flaming ball of cotton out of his little hand and threw it in the fireplace. The incense cackled maliciously on the mantelpiece.

Carol directed the boys to put the plaster figurines in the cardboard crêche as she read the story of the birth of Christ. Wren picked up the baby Jesus. Ariel lunged for it. Wren punched him, hard. Ariel screamed. Carol grabbed them and gave Ariel the baby Jesus. I felt cheated. I tried to read The Night Before Christmas with the right spirit. Wren interrupted every single line until I was on the verge of murder. I raised my voice to a shout and hurried to finish. I slammed the book shut and put them all to bed as kindly as I could.

“No matter how much you hate me,” Carol said when I came downstairs, “don't ever let it get in the way of your love for the children. It will always be very important to me that you see them as much as possible.” Tears spurted down my cheeks. “Did I say something wrong?” Fountains gushed out my eyes. I couldn't speak. “Research has shown,” she said, her eyes maniacally bright, “that the chemical composition of tears from onions is completely different than tears from pain.”

My tears dried right up. I opened my mouth to announce I wanted sole custody of all three boys—Caleb let out a blood-curdling shriek. Carol and I bolted upstairs. He'd exploded in vomit. There was even some on the walls. He was weak and terrified. I read him a book while Carol wiped the walls, the bed, and the floor, then took the rug, sheets, pillowcase, and blanket downstairs to the washing machine. “I left them on top of the machine because it's full of wet laundry,” she said when she came back upstairs. “I couldn't take the wet laundry out because the dryer's broken. It broke the day you arrived.” Caleb was asleep in my arms. She made up his bed. “It's real good you're here for this. I don't know if I could've done it alone.” My chest nearly burst with the desire to hug her. I slipped Caleb into bed, then followed her closely downstairs. I opened my mouth to tell her I loved her—“I need you to pay me your half of the rent. How soon do you think you could send me some money?”

I raced down the basement steps to go through the boxes I'd left behind. I threw out a lot of stuff and left her the rest. Maybe she could use my tools. I couldn’t. I went back upstairs and put on my coat. She shoved a magazine in my hands, open to an article called The Children of Divorce. “It's the kind of thing I have to avoid reading before I go to bed.” I looked at her skinny shoulders and ached to take care of her. “I've been forgetting to eat, too” she added, fixing me with her soft, brown eyes. Suddenly famished, I went back to the kitchen to check the apple bowl on top of the fridge, to see if she had any before I went through the rigmarole of asking her for one. There was only one, half kid-bitten and brown. I left.

Early the next morning the rude jangle of the phone hauled me out of bed. “Hi,” she said. “It's time for the opening of the presents.” Several inches of snow had fallen overnight and the streets weren't plowed yet. I trudged through knee-high drifts. Cars were entombed in white. I felt like the last person left alive.

“Thank you for this food,” Wren said over carefully folded hands. He peeked at me, then shut his eyes again. “And thank you for Daddy.” Grief flooded my lungs like dishwater. Stoically, I ate. The boys cleared the table, and we all moved to the living room.

“Baba coming?” Ariel asked Carol.

“That's what he calls Amin. No, Ariel, he isn't. Later.” I sat down like a bag of broken bones. All my babies had called me Baba before they could say “D” for Dada.

I opened my present from Carol: a little wooden unicorn. I held it in my hands and remembered three years earlier at Findhorn in Scotland. On New Year’s Eve I left Carol pregnant and alone while I went climbing with two members of a group called The Sisters of the Unicorn. When I got back Carol cut into me for deserting her for other women. At the time, she was pregnant with Amin’s baby. Trembling with rage, I opened the note: “In gratitude and recognition.” My hatred parted with love like the angry sea for Moses. Then I looked at Ariel, who'd wanted his Baba, not me, and my heart closed down again. It shut a little bit tighter with each present opened. By the time the living room was the usual Christmas ruin of shiny litter and little squabbles, I was building to an explosion.

I hurried to stuff the boys into their coats for a playdate for the afternoon. Playing riotously with six little boys kept me safe until it was time to walk back to Carol’s. The journey was long and arduous, especially with a detour to the corner store for cigarettes, only to find it closed. The temperature had dropped 50 degrees since I'd arrived in Halifax and so had I, sunken into bitterly cold hatred. By the time we made it back to Carol's I was carrying both Wren and Ariel while Caleb was whimpering like a refugee several yards behind me. They collapsed on the floor, moaning. I yanked their coats off then strode down the hall to the kitchen. “I'm in trouble,” I said, my voice breaking. “I have no cigarettes. And they are the only means. By which I can tolerate. Being in a place I so intensely do not want to be in.”

“Go, then, by all means!” She looked scared. I took one step toward the door. “Danny!” I froze. The dead man’s name. Silently, slowly, I turned around. “I'm just worried about Fred and Susan coming over.” She needed me; my hatred vanished.

“Don't worry. I'll come back.” I labored through the heavy snow back to Derek’s, got out a pack of his unfiltered Camels that hurt my throat, then picked up a pen. Hatred burst out in a torrent of rancid poems. A few hours later, I ran out of hate. Into its absence came deep sadness, then a tiredness so consuming I couldn't even hold my pen stiff. All I wanted to do was let sleep eat my leftovers. But it was time to go back to Carol's as I’d said I would. I felt like a traveling salesman, afraid I’d sell my feelings cheap and beg to be let in.

I walked into her house and into extreme hunger. I greeted Fred and Susan, our first friends in Nova Scotia from 1970, and reached for the tangerines. They had a skin, so Carol couldn't have poisoned them. I sat at the table and ate lots of them while the four of us talked about movies and other safe things. A record of holy music was on, and the room filled up with peace and kindness. One by one I put the boys to bed. I suspiciously tasted her food: cookies, nuts, and wine. It fed me. I filled with love and appreciation. She was giving my boys a good Christmas, with no help from me.

The next day I took the boys sledding for the afternoon, then walked with them to the train station. We were going to spend a few days with Cary and Phyllis, my best friend and his wife, who lived in an old farmhouse in the Annapolis Valley, famous for its crisp red MacIntosh apples. Caleb and Wren kept collapsing in tears, swearing they couldn’t take one more step. I was just as tired, and the frigid air rasped down my sore throat like a file shredding wood. Finally, I carried Ariel in one arm and Wren in the other, telling Caleb to hang onto the back of my coat. When he’d collapse on the sidewalk in tears, I'd carry him and make Wren walk in tow. Step by drag, we made it to the cavernous train station where we huddled on a bench like abandoned boys. Carol brought our luggage. She walked up to us red-cheeked and shining-eyed like all the love in the world. I lightly hugged her goodbye, stealing one last whiff of her indescribable scent that filled my heart with intolerable thoughts of what might have been.

An hour later the dry, stuffy, crowded train left us standing on a snow-covered platform in the middle of a pile of luggage, then thundered on into the dead black of a starless winter night. It was eerily quiet, extremely cold, and deep snow was everywhere. Cary was supposed to pick us up, but there were no cars and only one streetlight. Some old warehouses hunched over in the distance. I put Ariel down to zip up my coat. He fell face-first into a drift and screamed. I picked him up and dusted the snow off his face. Caleb and Wren tightened their grip on my legs. I was about to freefall into panic when a car pulled up. “Do you want a ride?” the driver asked. “I'm a taxi. I lost my sign.” I looked at him uncomprehending. He got out and opened his trunk. The boys and I all crowded around to look at the taxi sign inside it. “It fell off last week,” he explained.

I squeezed Caleb and Wren and the luggage into the back seat, then got in front with Ariel in my lap. I gave the driver what few directions I remembered. The headlights cast a small glow onto a narrow, snow-covered road. Huge drifts on either side loomed out of the dark. I was so surprised to arrive at the old farmhouse, I didn't believe it until Cary opened my door. The house was warm as wood, but I had to get boots off eight feet and get three little boys to sleep before I could say hello. I went right to bed, squeezing the boys over to make room.

…I’m hiding in the closet. Amin's gone crazy. He's got a gun, and he's looking for me. I fling open the closet door and say, “Shoot me just once, in the lower belly.” I woke up to a hungry-boy fight breaking out on top of my chest, and the cold like acid splashing my sinuses. I fed the boys through a daze of weariness, drinking a steady stream of coffee until it was time to take them outside or watch them kill each other.

Ariel started crying the minute I forced him into his snowsuit. With him screaming in my arms and the other two in tow, I walked out the door and stepped into a grief far deeper and colder than the six-foot drifts. I persuaded Ariel to stop crying by having him help me build a snow fort. By then the older boys were disintegrating into whimpers. Cary saved the day by attacking the fort with snowballs, galvanizing Caleb and Wren into excited defense. In the melee, snow covered Ariel's face, and he bawled as if murdered. I took him inside to play with Asa, Cary and Phyllis’ little white-haired boy the same age as him, then dragged myself back outside.

“I'm choking!” Caleb whined, stumbling up to me. “The snowsuit zipper's choking me!” I wanted to strangle him. I loosened the zipper instead. “It's still choking me!” I loosened it a little farther. “Daddyyy! I'm still choking!” I yanked off his scarf and ripped open the zipper down to his waist. “There!” I screamed. “You weren't choking with only your shirt on inside the house! Now that's all you've got on out!”

I went back to work on the snow fort. The walls had all fallen in. The snow was too cold to stick. A few minutes later, I saw Caleb hiding his face from me. I turned him around to see held-back tears squeezing out from under red-rimmed eyes. Wordlessly he pointed to the corner of the lining that stuck him in the neck no matter how far down the zipper was unzipped. “Oh, Caleb!” I said, hugging him. “I'm sorry. I didn't know.” I wiped my tears before they froze on my cheeks, then went inside and got an enormous safety pin. I pinned back the lining and zipped his jacket up. Then we all went in for lunch.

We had the house to ourselves for the afternoon. I put on a record and danced with Ariel in my arms to a lady singing, “Filling up and spilling over, just like a waterfall.” Without warning my face fell off my face and tears gushed out. I whirled faster and faster around the room with my baby, her lover's son, in my arms, until I cried dry. When the record was finally over, I put Ariel down so I could play it again. “No dance!” he shouted.

“Why?”

“Cuz it make you cry!” he shrieked, his little face flushed bright red.

I turned off the stereo. Caleb and Wren clamored for attention. I ignored them and started to clean the kitchen up. Leaden sorrow turned to hate. I couldn't find the broom. Hatred collapsed into despair. Ariel toddled into the kitchen. Despair flipped into pain, but I found the broom! I seized it like a soldier grabbing his gun. When I was done sweeping the kitchen, her lover's little boy held the dustpan, dumped spilly dirt into the garbage can. Grief nearly smacked me to the floor. Fighting for air, I picked up a pen. Rage hit like a thunderbolt. My hand jerked violently as I scribbled a letter to Carol. I looked for an envelope, then realized I couldn't mail her one more letter she would put in the attic unopened. I dialed her number, clutching my letter so I could read it aloud if grief erased my voice.

“Hello?”

“Hi. One of the conditions of my custody is that Amin is not allowed to see any of my children, not even his one.”

There was a silence like a black abyss, then she said in a trembling voice, “I can see who I want to see, and the children can see him, too.”

“Unless you do, I'll tell everyone the truth about Ariel.”

There was a shocked, brittle pause. “I'm not ashamed of Ariel's origins.” Her voice was nearly inaudible. “Your demand is unreasonable. You can't tell me who I can see in my own house.”

“Why should I be the only one to be reasonable?” My voice wobbled like an old man’s.

“I'm going to hang up now,” she whispered. I put down the phone and shook. I was now as guilty as Carol and Amin of destruction and treachery.

Cary and Phyllis came home. After we put the boys to bed, the three of us sat around the wood stove and I regaled them with tales of Bonnie's school. “Does Carol have a lover?” Phyllis asked suddenly, her brown eyes bright with curiosity. Cary interrupted before I could reply. When he stopped talking, I launched into stories of my 13th-century monk, the dry Archbishop, and my struggles with celibacy. “I'd never have guessed,” Phyllis said. “Are you aware of how sexually you come across?”

“No! I'm not, I—”

“Your face has changed,” Cary interrupted. “It's a lot more chiseled than it used to be.”

“I'm sorry, I forgot to shave.”

“Oh, no,” Phyllis said, “I like you unshaven. You don't look nearly so angelic. Are Carol and Amin lovers?”

“Yeah,” I said without thinking. There was a stunned silence. “It's been going on for a long time,” I added, trying to act casual. But my voice gave my pain away.

“That's terrible!” Phyllis said. “I hate the way Amin treats women. And what about Ariel? He sure looks a lot like Amin. I wonder if he's even yours!”

“He's not!” I quivered so violently I nearly fell off the stool. Phyllis leaped up and hugged me, and when she let go Cary caught me. His limbs were so long and his body so tall and narrow, it was like being embraced by articulated kindness. I got back on the stool and told them the whole story, from the night I went to the movies on the sixth of June, right up to the unreasonable demand I made a few hours ago that Amin not see any of my children, not even his. There was a long, respectful silence when I finished. Ariel woke up crying. I carried him to the toilet and we all looked at the half-asleep baby boy in my arms, my sweet and innocent two-fathered son.

I fell asleep with a mighty shudder, which woke up Ariel. He cried until I rocked him back to sleep. I lay down on the couch, but couldn't sleep there either because all I could think about was Phyllis. She was as tall as me at 5’8”, with broad, sexy shoulders, strong legs, and wide baby-maker hips. She exuded femininity like a sweet, heavy odor. Ever since I told the story of Ariel something had been going on between us, as if married taboos were rattled just by hearing the story of divine adultery. She coughed upstairs in my best friend's bed. I wormed my way into the pile of sleeping boys, hoping to crowd out thoughts of Phyllis.

I woke up a few hours later to children crawling all over me. I laughed, and climbed all over them, tickling until they squealed with delight. All day long my good Daddy was back, who had uproarious fun playing with his boys. My sinuses drained like open faucets, and the pain of the witless cuckold washed out of me.

“Lie down,” Cary said after the boys were in bed. “I'm going to give you a massage.” He twisted great gobs of worry off my neck and I fell asleep like a dropped stone. Sometime later, I awoke to the weight of a crying boy as Cary laid him on my chest. He fell asleep as soon as his little body rested on mine. I didn’t know which boy it was, I just knew he was mine. A few minutes later I checked. It was Ariel. My body’s truth: Ariel was my son. I squeezed us both into the bed with his brothers, singing, “Daddy’s here, Daddy’s here, little boy I hold so dear, Daddy’s here.”

…When I wake up I will be looking into the eyes of my true mate who will finally love me completely as I am. I opened my eyes to see Ariel looking brightly at me from two inches away, his little black eyes shining like Zuni Indian beads. I was mystified.

When we were nearly at the airport, Cary said, “Amin is coming out with Carol to pick up the boys.”

I watched the snow-covered trees whip by.

Halifax airport was full of little boys running, yelling, and being scolded. From a distance they all looked like mine.

Back in Northampton the days went by in pain and silence. Poetry piled up around me in drifts. My parents called. After I hung up, I noticed my right hand was clenched. Surprised, I opened it. It was full of chest hair. I couldn't remember the conversation very well. Something about how they were angry at me for running off to have a fine time in the States on the money they'd lent me while I let my children suffer with an overburdened mother. They'd repeatedly offered to pay for a therapist . . . I had to tell them about Ariel.

It was cold and late at night when I finally finished the letter. I concluded, “It would have been easier for me had Carol died, even if all my children had died with her. Our children had always been the salvation of our marriage, the one thing we agreed on no matter what. To find out only two of them were mine was the final assault on what remained of my ego after finding out Carol had had an affair for years. It's as if someone picked the one thing that could destroy me, yet leave me physically alive to experience the destruction. A Nazi concentration camp would have been easy, because then I could have said, ‘Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do.’ With Ariel, God wasn't on my side.”

I didn't know if I should send it. I left it on my desk and went to bed . . . A fanatic priest is unaware he’s standing on shards of glass. He’s bleeding from many cuts. He's covered in blood below the waist. He thinks his pain makes him closer to God. Things couldn't get any worse. I mailed the letter. When I got back from the post office I phoned the boys in California. She sobbed into the phone for a long time before she could speak. “My family is treating me like a pariah. I'm an economic, social and emotional outcast. I feel like a refugee. I don't know anybody else here, and I'm all alone in the little house behind my mother's with three miserable little children. I really need some money from you as a symbol of support. Please send me something, anything! Even a dollar, please!” She sniffled for a while. “The room went black and white when you told me you weren't going to allow Amin to see any of the children, including Ariel. Please time your venom. It interfered with the children. Please don't do that again.”

After six months as a zombie, if I didn't follow my feelings I would stay dead. After a short pause I said, “May I please speak to the boys?”

She called me the next day to say, “Twelve hours sleep was all I needed. I was just tired yesterday. Now then, we need to make some things clear. Any contact you have with the children has to be at your expense.”

“But you agreed we'd split the cost!”

“Oh, by the way, Amin says he might sue you for libel over the poems you're sending him.”

“That's ridiculous! You can only sue when it’s public. Besides, what I say would have to be false, and it’s not!”

“It could interfere with the children, that's all. Here's Wren. He really wants to talk to you.”

“Hi, Daddy. My castle pieces are all lost. I can't built my castle without them. No one will help me find them. I need someone to help me built it.”

“Can Caleb help you find them?”

“No.”

“Did you look under the couch?”

“No.”

“You go look under the couch. If they're still lost when Daddy comes to visit, then I will help you find them, okay?” I hung up close to the lunatic edge of grief. I couldn't even put my own castle together. I couldn't even begin. I was still losing pieces of myself in the dark beneath this divorce.

Bonnie's two-week workshop on the glands began at the School for Body-Mind Centering. Exploring each gland with movement, sound, and touch by a female partner unlocked a Pandora's box of emotion at each place along my spine. I left every class trembling and sweating with an erratic, rapid-fire heartbeat that kept me in a strange, electric exhaustion. I carefully wrote out the story of the day, trying to understand why experiencing the energy of a gland turned me into an idiot from stress. In the process, something would go zap! and the emotional energy of the gland would be pinned, then flip and pin me. I'd have to write poem after poem until the emotion felt known and respected, leaving a peace which usually lasted only minutes before the next emotion moved in screaming and throwing things. I couldn't sleep until I'd emptied my pen of poetry, and as soon as I slept it filled to overflowing with dreams that poured out poetically, expanding on the poems as if they came from the same source.

On the last day of the workshop we explored the heart bodies, two little glands Bonnie claimed to have discovered beneath the heart. “Traditional anatomy is based on corpses,” she said, “but living people are actually quite different. Although you can’t dissect them to prove it.” I partnered with Mary Jane and her friendly heart bodies. She was solidly built and laughed a lot, with freckles and short black hair. When she put her sweater back on, I ducked my head under it. She pulled it down over our heads—“OW!” we both yelled at once. A spark had flashed between our upper lips. I ducked out from under her sweater and took two quick steps back. “Why don't you come over for dinner tonight?” she asked, before I could retreat any farther. Sybil was in Atlanta for the month of January, so I agreed.

I walked into Mary Jane’s apartment and she hugged me. I had to step back. My erection was standing up in my pants and pushing us apart. She looked down at its one eye looking up at her. “Please make love to me,” I said. My voice cracked. I was mortified. She smiled and led me by the hand into the bedroom. She acted as though sex was normal, even with me.

Fish and potatoes had never tasted so good. I couldn't speak except to ask for more food. When all the plates on the table were empty, fatigue hit me over the head like a baseball bat. I could barely keep my eyelids open long enough to ask, “Would it all right if I went to sleep?”

“Uh, sure,” she said, looking confused. I was asleep before I fell on the bed… Blood drips from the penis of a monk. I jerked awake and went into the living room. Mary Jane was sitting on the couch watching TV. “I need to tell you something.”

“Sure,” she said, and turned off the TV.

I told her about my problem with celibacy, then said, “So you see, Jesus is stuck in my pelvis, and I can't swear fidelity to you or any woman until I figure out how to get Him out.”

“Is that all? I thought you were mad at me because you hardly said anything during supper.” She led me back to bed with a grin. It was a good thing she knew what to do. I was too astonished to take charge of anything.

…I've lost the boys! I frantically call their names. I gently extricated myself from sleeping Mary Jane and her big, firm, freckled breasts. After a lot of thought, I decided to go to California for Wren's birthday on February 13. The only problem was Carol. I wrote her a letter, but didn't send it. I didn't call. I couldn't bear the thought of hearing their little voices filled with the pain I was causing them by not being there.

The longer Sybil was gone, the more paralyzed I became when I thought of talking to her, even in imaginary monologues. When she finally came back, all I could see was a monster of jealousy. When she called, all I could do was make vague excuses and hurry to hang up the phone. In class I avoided her eyes, which made me feel even more guilty and even less able to talk to her.

One night the phone rang like a police siren. I answered it anyway. “Hi,” Carol said. “I'm just calling to tell you that Amin is threatening to sue you for obscenity through the mails. I'm only telling you for your own good. I don't want your relationship with the children jeopardized. I'm talking from a clear point here. I'm really not involved in this. The children are the stakes you're gambling with.”

“Did he show you the poems?”

“No, but he says—”

“Why can't he tell me directly? What are you doing in between us? You have no clear point! Don't talk to me about Amin ever again!” I remembered the latest poem, about the five different Amins and how I didn’t want to be there when they all got caught being the same person. “Now then, I want to visit next month. It sounded like you could use a break from the kids. So why don't you go on a vacation for a week and I'll stay with them? That'll be the least amount of upset in their lives and the boys and I will get maximum time together.”

“It's bizarre for you to replace me in my house!” She was as shocked as she was offended. “You have to find someone else's house to take them to. Here's Caleb, he really wants to talk to you.” I was almost unable to deal with Caleb, then Wren, eager for his turn, then Ariel, who only breathed and giggled into the phone whenever I said his name. The money from selling the Bean Sprout was gone. Even if I could find someone who would hire a snowback, an illegal Canadian, it would be months before I'd have enough money to go. But I had to go. Grief for the boys was a meat hook in my heart.

My parents phoned. After reading the letter about Ariel, my mother got sick for three days.