The Virgin, the Devil, and the Chosen One
Chapter 9

July 10, 1981

It was a cloudy, brooding, hot, and humid Nova Scotia day when I opened the six boxes I’d packed in anguish one year ago. Bad vapors seeped out of each one. I was alone in Cary’s farmhouse near Wolfville with the leftovers of my life. My personal history was too heavy for garbage bags. Only fire could handle its weight. I hunted through the tall grass next to the house for stones to circle a bonfire, and found an old wood stove. I started a fire in its round, rusty belly, then dragged the boxes outside and fed the flames with my past.

When I was 15 I wrote an essay on Siddhartha, the prince who became Buddha. He discovered death at the age I was when I found out about Ariel. He abandoned his wife and children in response, an event called the Blessed Night of the Great Renunciation. I did not feel like Buddha. I felt like the death that had beckoned Sidhartha. I watched the essay turn to ashes. Only when I'd killed everything in me that Carol could kill would I be safe from her murder. Tired, bad smelling smoke hung in the humid air. Steamy clouds choked the sun. My feet sweated in old rubber boots and I gave the fire lots to eat. Caleb turned nine years old today.

I couldn't burn the picture of myself as a six-year-old, so I propped him up on top of a pile of things safe from the fire for now. I picked up a book on flowers Carol had given me a long time ago. “May you tend all your gardens with love,” she'd written inside the cover. With the other hand I picked up a skirt with a joyful print that I'd planned on giving her at some special dancing time in the future. With both hands full of pain, I looked up and saw my six-year-¬old looking down at me from on top of the not-now pile. His big, warm, brown eyes were full of promise . . . for what? The promise had to be now or never. In one swift execution I threw book, skirt and six-year-old into the fire. The little stove pumped out dirty smoke that went swirling across the meadow.

I looked at the three paintings I'd saved out of the hundreds I did when I was 20. I'd planned on giving them to the boys when they were 20. Each one spoke specifically to each boy. I set them carefully in the flames like well-loved corpses. The past and its future burned with intense pain.

“We are great to the degree that we obey,” I wrote in my high school journal. I'd copied the saying down, not knowing what to obey. Now I knew: my body. Which meant I had to go to bed now because I was tired. The setting sun seared through the clouds. I let the fire go out and put the not-now pile in one box, then stripped naked and sat in the center of the house in a full lotus position and chanted while I projected an image of myself chanting into every room in the farmhouse. In the bedroom I found the memory of me and the three boys all tangled up together from last Christmas; in the kitchen was the first telling of the secret of Ariel's origins; in the living room was the phone call where I’d told her Amin was not allowed to see any of my children, not even his. My sonorous chanting rang like church bells at a funeral as I gathered all the memories back into me then keeled over asleep.

Cary came back to drive me to Halifax. I'd casually told Carol I was going to visit Halifax and wanted to get my bicycle, so there was no problem getting the key from her friend. Clothes and toys and furniture were piled high in the middle of every room like the petty debris of a family salvaged from a shipwreck or a flood. Carol's stuff was all mixed up with the riffraff of three little boys' lives. Combing carefully through the piles, I found my high school yearbook, a box of our love letters, and three photo albums. I took them out to the car and stuffed them into the box that held the not-now pile. I looked everywhere, but my bicycle was not there. “I'm done,” I told Cary, “I just can't do any more. Let's go to the airport.” We’d just entered the freeway when a policeman stopped us. Blood dripped onto the pavement as a woman was lifted onto a stretcher. Her hand hung off the edge, dripping blood.

I was just in time for a plane to Boston. For the entire flight I hung my head between my legs and chanted, so I would be ready for death when the plane crashed. “He's meditating,” the stewardess whispered to the worried man next to me. I shuffled off the plane in a stupor when we landed in Boston. “What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?” the immigration official asked me, looking at the substantial box of the not-now pile.

“My wife is trying to declare me an unfit father! She's suing in California so I have to get a lawyer in the States! He said to bring any evidence—pictures, diaries, anything—that proved I was a good father! So this is it, my marriage is in that box!” My voice broke on the word “marriage.” The officer waved me through in a hurry before I started to cry.

The next day in Amherst, Mass., I sat at the desk in my tiny monk's cell and opened the box of love letters. Susan intermittently screamed “Mommy!” in the room next to mine. I'd just turned 19 and Carol was almost 24 when I fell in love with her at a Student Christian Movement conference in Cleveland on Christmas, 1967. I was from the University of Manitoba, and she was from the University of California at Berkeley. We stayed up all night in her room, drenched in a sparkling river of love. She wouldn't even let me take a shower, let alone do more than kiss. I loved her all the more for that. Back in Winnipeg, I limited myself to one letter a day. Hers came like slow pigeons, once or twice a week. I even fell in love with her handwriting.

As I read of being smitten over Carol, Susan let out a long steady wail that broke into a fit of sobbing that petered out over several minutes. I stroked her black cat under the desk with my bare foot. She stretched and purred. She’s like a witch’s familiar, I thought, the way she carries Susan’s feelings—Yasu clawed my foot, unerringly catching and ripping off the scab from the glass cut of a month ago. I limped to the door and threw her out, muttering, “You and your stupid cat, Carol—oops.” Appalled, I shut the door and leaned against it. My subconscious had transferred Carol onto Susan. I had to accept it. After all, it made sense. Susan was just like Carol in her passion and its denial. If I had sex with her even once I would turn into Carol's husband again, full of insatiable sexual need. Susan’s wailing and sobbing went on and on. The wall between our rooms was so thin I could hear her inhaling for the next mommy-scream.

Sitting on the floor amidst the garbage of my life, I read what I’d written in March, 1969: “I'm sitting on the floor amidst the garbage of my life giving away or throwing out almost all my possessions.” For a minute I didn't know in which when I was. I was 20 the first time. I'd just dropped out of my second year of university to hitchhike to Africa. I didn't make it because I stopped to find long-forgotten Carol in Manhattan.

I looked up as tall, big-breasted Bonnie, the third roommate, stood in front of my open door to talk to Susan in her room. She had only a shirt on over her panties. She casually checked to see if I was looking. I quickly looked away, feeling endangered.

At midnight, I was lying naked on the thin foam mattress in the sultry heat when Susan appeared in panties and a torn T-shirt. “Just a little hug goodnight,” she said, and lay down next to me.

After a few hours of deep, wet kissing, I cautiously touched her breasts. “They're like prairie dog hills,” I said, as thrilled as a teenager at the first touch of woman.

She laughed, then said, “Can I scream?”

“No! A moan is okay, though.” I was worried about Bonnie hearing.

“Oh. Well, I think I'll go to my own room now.” I watched her nice little bum as she left my room and wondered how on earth I was going to avoid sex with her.

Hours later and still wide awake, I got up and turned on the light. The journal from 1969 was still open on my desk. “You're so gentle, fine and loving,” Carol said when she met me for the second time, when I was 20. She'd loved me once. I slept for a few hours right after dawn, then went to work on the photo albums.

Each one was a work of art and showcased my yet-to-be perfect marriage. I was frozen into the future with hope. At the same time, the emotion that I'd placed on each picture—usually of longing or joy—made it so heavy it fell into the past, draining me of life in the present. I removed all the pictures and slipped them like bookmarks into the journals of the years in which they had been taken, then tore the albums apart and threw them away.

The days went by in a blur of scenes from the past, and every night after midnight Susan and I gently stroked each other into flames. I just hoped she stayed scared of sex, because if she melted I would drown.

“I feel all billowy inside,” Bonnie said. I looked up from the bottom of the stairs, holding my buttered toast. She was standing at the top in a white nightie that only came to the bottom of her panties. She was certainly billowy on the outside. She walked slowly down the stairs, her shiny brown shoulder-length hair bouncing along with her mighty breasts unencumbered by a bra. We had a long talk about the inner voice and how to tell the difference between impulse and intuition. She left to get dressed for work, and I went back to the past.

Susan got up while I was having lunch, and paced around the house in her transparent nightie without any underwear. Like a team, we'd almost gotten her to orgasm the night before. I turned away from the delectable sight of her and went upstairs to call the boys, hoping Caleb would get to the phone before Carol did.

“Hi,” she said. “We're going back to Halifax in ten days. Will you be there to meet us?”


“The boys really want to see you. Badly. When are you coming?”

“I don't know.”

“Well, when?”

“I really don't know.”

“Do you have any idea when?”

“…Not in the foreseeable future. “

“The boys have listened to your tapes and are full of talk of you all the time.” Joy flared my chest open. I couldn’t talk. “They think they're going back to Halifax to see you.” Acute pain replaced joy. I still couldn’t talk. We both breathed heavily into the phone. “Here's the boys. You tell them why you won't be there.” I kept them talking about themselves. I was nowhere near ready to see her. I couldn’t afford a plane ticket anyway.

After I hung up, I went for a long, lonely walk, riding the keening desire to be with the boys like a surfer on a tall wave, careful not to fall off into the endless grief on one side or the agony of denial on the other, the same way I was riding desire for Susan without getting wet in either sex or celibacy. I wanted to be like the little fox that makes it all the way across the thin ice without getting his tail wet—but only as long as he never stops to look back.

“The movie wasn’t too good but the star was,” Bonnie said late that night. She’d walked by my doorway and stopped when she saw me lying naked on top of the sheet, sweating in the humid heat. “It was great just to watch him walk around,” she added, glancing at the rest of me. She went to her room, looking back over her shoulder with a big, dazzling smile. Helplessly, I rose to my feet and followed. I stood in the middle of her room, surprised by the bravery of my nudity.

“See that picture of the skinny woman?” she said, pointing out the ad she’d pinned to her wall. “That’s to inspire me.”

“That’s one kind of beautiful. You’re another.”

“No, I’m fat.” She punched her belly with disgust.

“No, you’re not,” I said, patting her tummy, “You’re—”

“Fat!” she said, glaring at me.

I was too naked to be in a conversation of this intensity. I went back to my room and lay down. I drifted off to the rushing sound of her shower. I was jerked awake by an erection. I felt called to go to her room like a sinner is called to Jesus. I flat out refused. The call rippled up from my tail like a pulsing volcano. I still refused. Soon it was a fire alarm and the only point of clarity in my entire life. I gave in, and walked with great tension to the bathroom where I brushed my teeth for as long as it took for the erection to go away. Gums bruised, I turned off the bathroom light then glanced into her room as if by accident. In the flickering light of a candle, she lay naked on the bed. Then I was inside her room, without knowing how I’d gotten there. It was like falling into a Rubens painting. She was a pink cornucopia of a woman. Every luscious part of her jiggled slightly with her breath. I couldn’t take in such an abundance of female beauty. My eyes fell to the floorboards.

“I can’t sleep,” she said, and smiled.

“Me neither.” I walked toward her, my heart in an uproar. I sat on the bed and leaned against her thigh, careful not to look at her impossibly large breasts.

“Your back is soft,” she said.

“I love this feeling.”

“What feeling?”

“Tremendous sexual excitement.”

“I feel it, too. Well, some of it,” she added, anxiously.

“I’m always nervous in situations like this because you have to worry about what might happen. So I like to say no to sex at the beginning.”

“Yes, that’s right!” she said, delighted, and pulled me down into a hug like the embrace of pink clouds. I got so impossibly erect I had to keep talking about what I was feeling in order to keep breathing. I described the rushing up my middle, the fluttering over my heart, the deafening roar in my ears. The front door slammed and Susan came thumping up the stairs like a gorilla. The walls vibrated to the pounding of her feet.

“Do you want me to blow your candle out?”

“Yeah, please,” she said, relieved. I walked naked out of Bonnie’s room just in time to see the back of Susan’s head as she disappeared into the bathroom. The door closed inches from my face.

I went noisily downstairs and poured myself a glass of buttermilk. In my whole life I’d only met one other person who liked to drink buttermilk. He was an old, old man from Nova Scotia who said that his family was so poor they had to turn all the milk from their one cow into butter to sell. All the kids ever got to drink was what was left over, the thin, fermented butter’s milk. It tasted like mother’s milk to me.

I lay down on my thin mattress and felt the call again, this time to go to a different woman. Again, I resisted until my sacrum turned on the fire alarm. I walked into Susan’s room. She was lying on the bed in a T-shirt and panties. I lay down next to her, feeling differently naked to be naked with a different woman.

“I read Corinthians today. Paul says better to marry than to burn.”

“Susan, rules are for children who can’t control themselves.”

“But we could be doing the wrong thing!”

“And where is this leading to?” I yelled in a stage whisper, bugging out my eyes. She giggled and flushed. “Just don’t tell your mother about it.”

She groaned and hid her face. “But I’m supposed to meet the ideal man, and after we get to know each other—ah! All my ideas are crumbling!”

“If that idea in your abdomen crumbles you won’t be constipated anymore.”

“How would we know if this was evil?”

I pulled her little body on top of mine. “Knowledge not lived is sin. And that’s all sin is.” I slid my fingers over her small bum and inside her other lips, soft and juicy like her mouth. The constant wind in the trees suddenly ceased. Desire vanished. I tiptoed out of the room like a cartoon character. She was still laughing as I shut her door.

A few hours later I was jerked awake by sexual shock. I was bone hard and being called again, this time to Bonnie. Wide-eyed from sleep and much too naked, I stuck my head into her room and asked, “Want to cuddle?”

“I was just about to get up and ask you the same thing,” she said, smiling, then stretched her long body like a huge cat. Her pink skin shimmered as it rippled all over in voluptuous delight. I lay down next to her and hugged her from behind, draping one arm over her tremendous breasts.

“You have a heavenly body,” I said, so lost in its cumulus clouds I could hardly talk.

“It’s nice to hear a different point of view.”

Several minutes later, the front of my body sweat-joined to her back, the fingers of one hand playing inside the little wet cushions of her vulva, my other hand holding a heavy breast, she orgasmed with such a tremendous shuddering release of energy I almost spontaneously ejaculated. I jerked away from her slippery back in the nick of time. I waited until she fell asleep in my arms, then extricated myself and went back to my room and as the sun came up read children’s books onto tapes for the boys. I felt so good afterward I went for a walk, and was surprised to find myself at the little store buying cigarettes, after so long without them. I got Pall Malls for their red death. I smoked one and got dizzy, feeling it killing me the same way ejaculating would if I let it happen.

I spent the nights tiptoeing from one naked woman to the other, in between days like Christmas turkeys stuffed with my past. Then one day Susan came into my room, in the daytime when both of us had clothes on, and said, “I want us to slow down for a while.”

“Sure. Why not for a couple of months? Besides,” I said, drawing her into my lap, “here are talking about sex in the daylight as if it were normal, and everybody knows it's not!” She exploded in laughter, sputters and giggles.

“Yes, that's it exactly!” she finally managed to choke out.

I went outside for a Pall Mall and worried about money. I could go to the Buddhist monastery as I had last year. I could get a lot of journal work done without two naked women to deal with at night. I suddenly felt scorched by poverty, so I went directly to the post office and sent off a money order to reserve my place at the retreat in September. If I clutched at my remaining money all I'd get would be hemorrhoids. When I got home, I started a letter to Carol to ask her for a plane ticket to Halifax so I could see the boys but ended up writing something so vicious I threw it out. After that the thought of asking her for anything made me apoplectic with rage. But Susan and I had our first orgasm (hers) and I was so physically satisfied I fell asleep in seconds and slept better than I had in weeks.

I looked at a picture of Carol when she was pregnant with Caleb, frightened and wan in an ankle-length black dress printed with brightly colored flowers. She practically lived in that dress after she passed the nine-month mark. Nothing else would fit her. She couldn't tolerate sex or even sexual touch during the pregnancy, and after the birth got such a painful growth on her episiotomy scar we couldn't have sex for the next year. Sexual affection made her uncomfortable at the best of times. My hatred of her affair with Amin was inappropriate. She should be congratulated. I threw out the photo and dug back into the past. On Christmas, 1972, Carol and I were all alone with a cranky six-month-old baby and no money, no friends, and no family. We opened each other's present at the same time, then laughed and cried in each other’s arms. We were each holding an identical cream-colored coffee mug.

The last photo album was full of pictures of me and my first baby. I extracted the pictures like pulling teeth, then savagely ripped the empty album to pieces. Photographs did not prove a boy was loved by his Daddy. I opened the journals from 1973. After Caleb was a year old he couldn’t eat until after we’d made love but we couldn’t make love until after he’d eaten. Several times a week he screamed in our arms until the sun came up. Over and over again, I wrote, “Last night was Caleb's worst screaming night ever,” each time thinking it was the first time I'd written it. I read through the night and on into the new day until I slipped into morbidity. I had to do this from an attitude of joy, or at least detachment, or the past would not transform. I shifted my attitude in the direction of joy—and was shocked and brutalized she would even think of trying to get rid of me. I was just so good at being Daddy.

I slammed the journal shut, fed up with my need for Carol to be different than she was. I took a bus downtown and paid exactly $100 for a pair of roller skates, tax included. I'd always wanted roller skates. I would've bought them even if it took the last penny I had. It almost did. $400 left. Learning how to roller skate was like learning how to walk in this divorce that repeatedly cut my legs out from under me. It looked like the only legs she couldn't cut off were the legs that had no children attached. I fell, got up, staggered, and fell again. It took me all afternoon to get home, teetering from pole to tree to pole again.

“Lie on top of me,” I told Bonnie a few days later. “I like your weight.” We were lying naked on her bed in the sweltering humidity. Delighted, she climbed on. She outweighed me by at least 50 pounds, and it was all female. Her slippery weight made me feel delightfully real. I’d lost so much weight I felt I was disappearing.

“100% of my body wants to make love to you,” she said, then kissed me hugely. Her lips were big and soft like the rest of her and her tongue was alive with love.

“Me, too, except the rule is we can’t make that decision as long as we’re horizontal.” I was pinned down by enormous breasts and getting nervous.

“Good rule!” She laughed, then wiggled her heavy sweat-slippery body on top of mine like delicious soapsuds. I rolled out from under her in the nick of time before I ejaculated. She grabbed me in a bear hug. I slipped my fingers inside her wet vagina and loved her there until her glorious body exploded in sweat and little cries flew out of her mouth. I nearly came—Susan’s heavy feet crashed up the stairs like two filing cabinets. I slipped back to my own room before she saw me.

“Boy, you sure are good with babies,” the teenager said the next afternoon as she watched me change a dirty diaper. She was babysitting at the house of a friend I was visiting, and had never changed a diaper before. This baby was so stinky I'd offered to help. After, clean baby and I sat in the rocking chair and talked about important things like what color things were. Sadly, the mother came home.

I rolled home, topped a hill, then started down the other side. It was too steep, I had no brakes, I was going way too fast, and suddenly I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “Where are my children? This is wrong! This is unnatural! This is criminal violence!” I slowed to a shaky stop at the bottom of the hill, covered in sweat and shivering in the hot sunshine. I forced my feet to move as I sang over and over to the rhythm of the wheels, “I want to sleep and dream I wake and find my daddy with me tonight and ask him why I cannot have his warm hand on my cheek tonight. Fly me moon, dream me sky, I want to go deep, I want to go high, I want to know what, I want to know why, why my daddy said goodbye. Dreamtime Daddy come to me tonight.” In the happiness that came from singing I was sure I'd see my boys by and by. I rolled in the door, clomped up stairs in my skates, and rolled rapidly down the hall and landed in 1974…

“I’m not going to have sex with you until you stop saying ‘Ow!’”

“I’m not going to stop saying ’Ow!’ until you stop hurting me with your penis!”

“But all it is, is erect.”

“It’s too big!”

Caleb had his worst screaming night in years.

I slammed the journal shut and called the boys. The phone squealed as it malfunctioned. I didn't want to talk to them anyway. The thought of hearing their voices made me too sad to want to hear them. I threw the I Ching: Retreat. How could I possibly retreat any farther from Carol? My back had been to the wall for months.

Long past midnight, Susan showed up in her underwear. “Are you scared of penises?” I asked her after a few hours of kissing.

“Whenever you come close to touching mine you pull back as though it'll explode. Or make us do something we might regret. Carol wrote my penis a letter in 1974 that said, 'Penis, you're a creep. You can't come in me.’”

“I knew a woman in high school who inhaled semen, vomited, then inhaled her vomit—and the semen too, I guess. She had to be rushed to a hospital!” Her eyes were wide with horror.

“What a terrific phrase, 'rushed to a hospital.' It's so full of urgency and death. That's what you think of your own desire.”

“No, really! You can drown in semen!”

“Susan! I know you want to talk about lethal fellatio but I don't!” We were quiet for a while. “You know, what we're doing is much more threatening than a committed relationship, because it has no future, only present. I want all my relationships to be like this.” She was silent. “How about you?”

“What? Oh, I was thinking about the woman who was—”

“Rushed to the hospital? I think I want to go to sleep now.” She grimaced and left. It might not be all that difficult to make it out of this house without sex. Or being rushed to a hospital.

…I am starving to death. No one knows, though I beg to be invited to dinner. I try desperately, but l can't remember the words or the tune to my “Dreamtime Daddy” song. I woke up spiraling down into a horror of grief and the only way out was to believe I would never see my boys again. It was time to visit Roberta. She was from Tucson, so I called her Roberta Arizona. She lived in Amherst during the summers to attend Feldenkrais movement therapy training, was about ten years older than me, and so easy-going and matter-of-¬fact I felt better just being around her. I rolled out to her house, my ankles sore and bruised from skating. I was sore and bruised in general. My days were worry beads threaded too tightly on a wire of wide-awake nights. Roberta served me tea and cookies, and I told her why I was going to sign the certified letter waiting for me at the post office. It was the divorce decree, and by signing for it, I implied my acceptance of Carol’s conditions: giving up Ariel.

“Is that best for the child?” Roberta asked. Her face was gentle and kind.

“It has nothing to do with Ariel. Carol's self-¬esteem apparently lives or dies on this point. She has the power, being the custodial parent, to prevent me from seeing him by hook or by crook. I figured this was the only way to get any access to him at all.”

“If this is what she needs to preserve her self-esteem, then her self¬-esteem is worthless to begin with and nothing will make it better.” Her brown eyes flashed anger.

“But this whole thing is killing me, Roberta…Although I notice I haven't made it down to the post office yet.”

“Don't. It's obvious to me you're Ariel's father and you can't give him up without harming him.” I blanched. Carol would be livid to hear that.

“But what do I gain if I hold onto him and lose access to all three?”

“You can't give up that boy. He needs you.”

She hugged me kindly. I rolled home in the uneasy dusk.

…“You need to give up Ariel, “Amin says, “but keep Caleb and Wren.” He's scared he'll have to marry Carol and support all three boys. I decide to wake up instead of replying. Good move, I thought, waking up. That was the real Amin. There was a marked difference between the Amin in my dreams who was a symbol for my feelings, and the real Amin who invaded my dreams at will. From the look on his face I could tell he knew he no longer had the power to manipulate me.

Despondency is the state of being surrounded by old diaries. My life was untenable. Everything that was part of who I used to be had been taken away from me. Rather than crank up that poor broken me all over again, I would become a man from whom nothing could be taken. That meant my old self had to die. But I couldn't just throw him out because that would be throwing me out, an impossible act which would only junk up my mind with self-pity and morbidity. I had to de-acquisition him, item by item, with the respect due the dearly departed, until he was no more. I burned, I sold, and I gave away, setting aside in the not-now pile only that which would make me bleed to death if I disposed of it now. Frustration burned me like a cigarette.

. ..A man gives up his self-respect to keep his three little boys. As they grow up they have no respect for him, either.

“When are you going to see the boys?” my parents ask.

“Maybe never,” I tell them, gently. The real tragedy is I'm such a good father.

I woke up feeling a door had been slammed in my face. My mother called later that day. I didn't have much to say. She asked me what I did in my spare time. I laughed with a sharp barking noise and got off the phone before I went hysterical.

In 1975 when I came home from a week away Caleb was so relieved to see me he crawled into my arms and fell instantly asleep, his little-boy body soaking up Daddy like a sponge drinks water. I went downstairs for a glass of water and sipped it slowly. The setting sun threw orange stripes across the kitchen wall. I would feel so good going to Halifax to be with all three of them for a week. There had to be a way. I went back upstairs and asked the I Ching what it thought: Retreat. “I know that!” I said, and threw it again: You're all dammed up. “I know that, too!” I yelled, and threw it again: Do not be tempted by dazzling offers. I knew what that meant: I should not go to Halifax even if she dangled crying boys, plane tickets, and dazzling promises of three-boy time in front of me. I did not have to see Carol! The relief was so deep I barely had time to lie down before I swooned into sleep.

…Amin wants to fire me. I kick him in the groin, but not hard, because he's wide open. Suddenly love rushes over me and I gladly follow it, fighting my way in past his pain and his punches to hug him. He softens. Our faces touch. I woke up saying, “He is me, he is me, he is me.” This was my Amin, not the real one who could invade my dreams. My Amin was a symbol for my sexual power: a dark, barbaric Muslim from the East, able to get stiff, dry Carol wet enough to want him.

I took down a picture of baby Caleb pinned above my desk and looked at it. The phone rang. I pinned the picture back up then went into the hall to answer it. “Hi, Daddy,” Caleb said. “I want you to come to Halifax and be with me. I want to spend time with you because you're my good friend.”

“Uh…I don't have enough money.”

“I have some money.”

“You do?”

“Yep. Lots. I have three dollars!” His voice was full of pride.

I sat down heavily on the floor. “That's wonderful, Caleb, but I need $300.”

“You can have my three dollars!” His voice was thin with defeat.

“Thank you, Caleb, thank you very, very much, but that's not enough.”

“When will you have enough money?” he asked listlessly.

“I don't know, Caleb, I just don't know. But thank you for calling me, I'm so happy to hear your voice. I'll talk to you later, okay? Bye for now.”

I curled up on the floor in a fetal position and lay there for a long time, then crawled to my desk, reached for the I Ching, and crawled back out to the hallway to get away from my diaries. Houses are collapsing. It does not further the superior man to go anywhere. The phone rang.

“Hi,” Carol said. “Amin has a room across from the Bean Sprout that he's rented for his karate class. You could spend your nights there. Of course if you take the boys out of my house I'll keep Ariel with me. I have sole custody of Ariel. Joint custody means you have an equal voice in matters like religion. Because his parentage is different, Ariel's treatment must be different. They need you, and I certainly have no intention of keeping you away from them.”

“I am just as much his father as Amin is,” I said, as a boy yelled loudly in the background.


“…I said, it doesn't feel right for me to come now.”

“You could have them visit you there—but not Ariel, of course.”

“…I can't afford that.”

“I wouldn't want to come either, if it meant I'd be dependent on you.”

“Yeah. Well, bye.”

I walked to the window and looked out over the scorched lawn of August and boiled over at the image of spending my nights in my wife's lover's little rented room looking out the window at his store that used to be mine, at her beck and call just like the teddy bear she always wanted me to be. I threw the I Ching one more time: Retreat. My, but I was sick of that hexagram.

I went back to the past with a vengeance until I could hardly see for tiredness. I lay down and drifted off, then startled wildly awake to the sound of Amin playing with my children. I was in jail in Afghanistan. No one knew I was there, let alone could pay my ransom. It was the middle of the night. I got up and went roller-skating in the dark. It was raining. I thought about Caleb, the boy who did not know he was loved by Daddy, and fell down, hard.

I rolled home at dawn, dripping wet, and clomped upstairs in my roller skates and got the three remaining pictures of Caleb: one of a naked baby lying in my screaming lap; one of a six-month-old boy wrapped around my hungry head; then, last of all, the one I had pinned to the wall, of a tiny, happy one-year-old taking his first steps as he held Daddy's hand. I clomped back downstairs, found a spot on the pavement, and burned them.

I watched the strangely-colored flames turn the pictures to ash and remembered being woken up by this boy every 90 minutes every night for the first six years of his life; remembered how I’d hated him for his insistent crying until I understood it was my own crying I could not bear, not his; and how I’d learned to love both of us, sleeping with my baby Caleb on my chest and feeding him food from my own sore and hurting mouth until I hated him no more.

I roughly wiped my tears, then scattered the ashes and washed my hands. It was the 13th of August, a good day to die. I skated down to the post office. They still had the letter from the California divorce court. I looked at the space for my signature on the receipt for certified mail and saw my death certificate. I could not sign it. I turned around and was about to leave when I saw in the doorway of the post office, as clearly as if the hexagram were hanging in front of my face: The last defense has been breached. To resist evil with the same methods as before would be violently self-destructive. I had lost the fight for my children. I signed.

…“The baby was supposed to be yours,” Amin says with a forced chuckle, “But you give Carol the custody and come take care of the big boys in the summertime and it will all be fine. We're going to be good friends someday.“

“What do you know? You're just babbling!” He is flustered by my response. I am aware I have enough power to stand outside his prophecies. I am solid with the strength of the knowledge that I will not go to Halifax.

That was the real Amin, invading my dreams. He was losing power and I was gaining it. Which only made it seem more likely I would never see my children again.

A crow called once. I looked out the window. The horned moon hung far above the orange edge of sun just beginning to sparkle through the mist. I shivered on a thin mattress with not enough blankets and not warm enough dreams.