A fifth-grade bully, a blossoming romance, a late-night crash
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Standing outside the Baymont LaGrange Hotel on the morning of Thanksgiving, I was able to see the indoor pool through a set of tall windows by the lobby doors. It had rained the night before and the air was damp and cold and the trees were bare and the groundskeeping had been neglected, so the parking lot and grass were covered with wet brown leaves in various states of decomposition, and the reflection of the leaves in the glass made it appear as though they were floating in the pool rather than littering the ground outside. At first I thought there must have been a hole in one of the skylights, and I was furious, ready to complain to the management, because I’d chosen the hotel specifically for its indoor pool, and I’d even called to make sure the pool would be open on Thanksgiving before I’d confirmed the reservation, and now I felt sure that the whole vacation was fucked. My wife and daughter would be without distraction, and my efforts to get us away from our nasty history with Thanksgiving would be for nothing. It took me longer than it should have to realize that I was looking at a reflection. In fact, I did not realize it at all until my wife, Madeline, called it to my attention.
She’d gone ahead with the bags and the child to check us in while I’d parked the car, and now she came out of the lobby with a quizzical look on her face, like she wondered why the hell I was standing by the windows instead of coming inside. She lingered in the entryway to the hotel, letting the warm air out and the cold air in, the automatic doors closing an inch or two every few seconds before jerking back open when the sensors detected her body.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
I took her by the arm, brought her outside, guided her to the windows, pointed to the offending leaves.
“I don’t get it,” she said. “What’s the matter?”
I felt baffled. Betrayed. As though she’d been in on it somehow. “It’s full of leaves!” I said, raising my voice without meaning to.
Madeline recoiled slightly, a shrinking from me that only I would have noticed, even in a room full of family and friends. Then she smiled. Shook her head. Gave me a pat on the chest. “That’s a reflection, sweetheart,” she said.
I looked through the windows again, and it was immediately clear that I had mistreated my wife. I’d lost my patience with her so quickly, raised my voice so readily. The moment had laid our estrangement bare and placed the blame incontrovertibly on me. It had been so natural for me to slip back into treating her like the enemy. The second she’d challenged the most absurd of my perceptions, I’d been ready to fight. And what had she done, apart from helping me see? And how gracious had she been, after the fact, to laugh when I’d laughed, to allow me to believe that when I’d smacked my forehead and admitted stupidity, I had done all I needed to do by way of apology?
Our four-year-old daughter, Dolly, had been standing beside us throughout the exchange.
Once we’d dropped off the bags, I took Dolly to the pool, and as she descended the steps into the shallow end, I was relieved to see her happy, gleeful, and oblivious to the trouble that her parents were in and the looming threat that trouble posed to the world as she’d known it. She put her pool noodle between her legs like a witch’s broom and giggled and splashed. “Daddy,” she said, “look.”
“That’s great, honey,” I said.
Madeline had stayed behind in the room because she needed a nap. I was trying very hard not to be angry with her for this. I stood by the same tall windows I’d stood by that morning, only I was on the inside now, and I wondered what was wrong with my head, why I’d been so easily angered by that business with the leaves, why I’d been angry with her, and why it had been easier for me to believe that the front desk had lied to me about the condition of the pool than it had been for me to recognize what anyone else would have immediately seen: that the leaves in the pool had been an illusion; that I’d been looking at a reflection, not reality. A much more pleasant illusion presented itself from inside the hotel — the reflection of the swimming pool superimposed on the parking lot. Standing by the tall windows, I watched the asphalt ripple and lap at the curb like water, and I thought of the baby.
We’d decided to come to this hotel to forget about the baby. Forgetting about the baby was of paramount importance, especially for Madeline. If Madeline thought of the baby, I thought, everything would be ruined. The hotel, the pool, the “holiday,” as we called it, avoiding the word Thanksgiving — the whole thing would be a waste of time and effort and money. And yet, in spite of my being so certain of what Madeline should not have been thinking, I stood by the window and thought about the baby. Instead of getting in the water with the child who was still alive, instead of playing with my daughter or teaching her how to swim, I stood by the window and thought of the baby who had not even been a baby, who had died in the womb, and I watched the asphalt ebb and flow and thought how lovely it was but at the same time how false, even more false than the illusion of the leaves, and even more obviously an illusion. I wondered if I had stumbled upon some universal principle: the more beautiful the illusion, the more egregious the lie. Something like that. Because leaves can float in a pool, but you can’t make ripples in pavement. Pavement does not flow. Can’t change stone, I thought. I realize now that this, too, is technically false: erosion and so forth, time and decay, if not bulldozers or bombs, will one day crack the pavement, and trees will grow through it and turn it into jungle. Perhaps that would have been more apparent if I’d been standing in the parking lot, looking at the cracks in the pavement, instead of inside, looking through the tall windows. Outside, the entropy of all things might have been apparent, just as it might have been apparent that Madeline was in charge of what Madeline thought; that forgetting the baby was not what she needed but, rather, what I wanted. But from inside the pool area, I could not see any of this. I could see only the floating parking lot on Thanksgiving Day, and could only reflect that it, like all beautiful things, was a lie. Because even with my living child splashing around in the pool behind me — my daughter, whose reflection I could also see in the tall windows; who paddled, giggling, with her foam pool noodle between her legs — it did not seem to me that the world would ever change, that it could change, that with all its conflicts and tensions (especially between Madeline and me) the world could be anything but concrete.
Even Dolly had cried about the baby. When we’d told her, the day after Thanksgiving, one year earlier, that the baby was dead and there would be no little brother, she’d wept. We told her the day after Thanksgiving because we’d been in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. We’d dropped her off with some friends on the way there. Friends of Madeline’s. Church friends who had a lot of kids for Dolly to play with, who were happy to have her over for Thanksgiving dinner. We wanted her to have fun, not to worry, so we told her Momma wasn’t feeling well, but we didn’t tell her why. We dropped her off with her mother’s church friends and then went to the hospital and spent the day in a dimly lit room on the third floor, in the maternity ward, where a gynecologist had determined that the baby was dead, then given my wife drugs to induce labor so she would deliver the dead baby, still technically a fetus at twenty weeks. It seemed like a long time ago, longer than a year, I thought, but it was a year to the day and as fresh in my wife’s memory as if it had been yesterday, so we could not stay home and cook a turkey and act as if Thanksgiving were something to be thankful for. We decided to get out of town instead, to pretend there was no Thanksgiving.
I was glad, too, that we would avoid the housework. The housework was the part I hated about holidays: Cleaning the kitchen, the living room, the playroom. The cat litter. The toilets. Everything had to be clean, as though we were having company, even when we weren’t; otherwise my wife felt terrible, as if she had failed as a wife and mother, failed Dolly and me, because Thanksgiving at her mother’s house had always been clean. I hated it. If it had been up to me, I would have sat on the couch and watched TV, eaten fried chicken out of a box. But of course you couldn’t do that — not at my wife’s house. If you were going to have Thanksgiving, you had to have a real Thanksgiving, with turkey and pumpkin pie and clean toilets, and she just didn’t have it in her this year, not with the memory of the dead baby resting over the whole thing, so she didn’t want to do it at all, and, frankly, neither did I. I was more than happy to simply book a hotel and take the kid to the pool. Dolly was on her floaty pool noodle. She had it between her legs, pretending it was a horsey, paddling from one end of the pool to the other. As she got closer to the deep end, I felt obliged to get in with her, even though the water was cold. I couldn’t have the child drowning. I had to be in the pool with her. Madeline had insisted on this, and I couldn’t be sure she wouldn’t wake from her nap and come down to the pool and discover the child in the water without me. It would have been trouble, and it wasn’t worth it. Not that my daughter would have been able to drown, anyway. I would have heard her go under if she fell off the noodle, even if I wasn’t looking. Even if I was looking out the window, I would have heard her cry out, and I would have been able to get to her within seconds, well before she could have drowned. And even if I hadn’t been able to get to her that fast, she wouldn’t have gone under, because she had the noodle and could have just grabbed on to it, would have just grabbed on to it, because she was not stupid. In spite of the scared act she liked to put on, Dolly was — like her mother, who had insisted I stay in the pool with our daughter at all times — perfectly capable. They were both perfectly capable. Well, the child was, anyway. There was no way to be sure of her mother anymore, I thought, as I walked down the steps into the pool, the water freezing first my balls and then my nipples. Madeline had been released from the psych ward a mere month before the holiday, after being locked up for a week — locked up voluntarily, but locked up just the same. I’d taken her to the hospital because she was talking about killing herself again. She often talked about killing herself, but I couldn’t know whether this time was any different from the other times. It might not have been different. But it was different in the respect that I was fed up with it and wouldn’t allow it to go on. Her psychiatrist had told her. Her therapist had told her. They’d both told her a dozen times or more that the next time she was feeling suicidal, she should go to the emergency room and ask to talk to the on-call psychiatrist, who would likely commit her until they felt she was no longer a danger to herself. But she did not want to be committed. One night, when Dolly was not quite two years old and insensible to what was happening, we were actually on our way to the hospital in the middle of the night when Madeline changed her mind. At home she’d said she wanted to go. At a quarter past midnight she’d said she needed to go. She was afraid she’d kill herself if she didn’t. So we’d packed a bag, and I’d lifted the child out of bed and placed her, half asleep, in the car, and we’d headed off to the emergency room, the wind blowing the leaves in the trees, no moon, a beautiful night, and when we were halfway there, Madeline said she didn’t want to go. And amazingly, astoundingly, stupidly, with a measure of love outweighed only by my naiveté, I told her it was all right, and we went to Taco Bell instead.
But this time, the most recent time, I’d told her I wasn’t going to stand for it. She was down that morning and, according to her, begged me not to leave her alone with the child, but I could never recognize the begging as such, because she never came right out and said it. She just said she was feeling down. She lay in the dark bedroom and told me it was bad, really bad, but she didn’t say, I’m thinking about killing myself. She didn’t say, Don’t go to work. She said, “Have a good day.” So I went to work.
I’d been there only a couple of hours when I got a text asking if she should ask her friends from church to watch Dolly while she went to the emergency room, or if I wanted to come home. I told my boss I had to go. I canceled all my appointments — important appointments with money riding on them, our money, Dolly’s money — and I went home. And when I got there, Madeline had changed her mind. “I don’t need to go,” she said, and the truth was that she was probably just embarrassed; that she felt like a hypochondriac, like she shouldn’t have pulled me away from work, even though she was, in fact, considering suicide more seriously than usual. But the way it felt to me was that she had called me away from work simply because she did not want to look after the child. It’s not that she did not love Dolly. She did. And it’s not that she wasn’t, in fact, depressed. She was certainly depressed, and I knew she was depressed. I knew that her depression incapacitated her. I’d seen her lie in bed, staring at the wall, shell-shocked, mouth open, eyes blank, unresponsive. But after I was called away from work and then told, once again, that she did not want to go, it was hard to contain my anger, because it made me wonder if the whole drama had been manufactured just to bring me home. And I didn’t want to come home over some drama that wasn’t real. I did not want her to go upstairs to bed and lie there stunned, motionless, gaze fixed on some invisible horror. If she was going to talk suicide, we were going to the hospital, and that was that. I told her as much. I said, “No. You’re going,” and when she said she didn’t want to, I said I didn’t care. I said, “Pack your shit.”
She pleaded with me, the child sitting on the carpet a few feet in front of her, old enough now to understand that something was deeply wrong, her eyes fixed on the television nonetheless, as though if she could only keep her eyes fixed on the television, this wouldn’t be happening; as though she could disappear into a video on one of those toy-unboxing channels on YouTube, CookieSwirlC, a woman who never showed more than her fingers, opening L.O.L. Surprise dolls and saying, “Oh, my gosh, this one is super cute,” while my wife assured me that she was probably overreacting. She was probably fine. She just needed some rest. “I promise,” she said. “I’ll be better if I just get some rest.”
But I was inflexible. “That’s not OK with me,” I said. So I called her church friends, and we took Dolly to their house and then went to the hospital, where we waited for hours in a room for the doctor, Madeline complaining the whole time that she wanted to go home, me saying no over and over again, until the doctor finally came in and asked Madeline if she was hearing voices, and she said no. He asked if she’d been hallucinating, and, as her tongue was poised to say no again, I said, “Yes.”
She looked at me sharply.
“Last week,” I said. “You told me you were seeing coffins on the side of the road.”
“It was more like seeing things out of the corner of my eye,” she said.
“You used the word hallucinate.”
The doctor nodded and said, “OK.” Then he left, and Madeline asked me if I really thought she’d been hallucinating. Like, actually hallucinating. “Or am I just seeing things out of the corner of my eye and filling in the blanks with my imagination?”
The incident itself — the hallucination, if it had, in fact, been a hallucination — had taken place on a Wednesday afternoon. She was on her way home from a morning shift, and she’d slept poorly the night before, and she didn’t feel like she could take care of our daughter, so she called me from the road and told me, “I can’t take care of Dolly. I’m hallucinating.” She told me there were black coffins lining the road. I told her to pull over, then told my boss that my wife was ill and couldn’t take care of our child. I had to go home. Though he was gracious about it, I could tell he wasn’t happy, because this wasn’t the first time. But what else could I do? I went home. And a week later at the hospital she asked me if I thought it had been a genuine hallucination. Had she actually seen coffins lining the road? Or had it been in her head? At the end of my patience, I said, “If you want me to come home from work, it’s a hallucination. If you want to get out of the hospital, it’s in the corner of your eye.”
“Fuck you,” she said.
She was in the psych ward for Halloween, and now it was Thanksgiving, and I was in the pool with our daughter. The water was freezing. I asked my daughter if she might like to try sitting in the hot tub for a few minutes instead, and she acquiesced. It was hard keeping her company all the time. She wanted company. She wanted you to sit on the floor and play with L.O.L. dolls. She wanted you to sit on the floor and build strange structures with magnetic tiles we called “sticky blocks.” She made beautiful things with the sticky blocks, like toy temples of Angkor Wat, but after fifteen minutes I invariably became restless. I wanted to play my guitar, look at my laptop, catch up on work. If I left her to play alone, though, she wouldn’t play for long. Within a few minutes she’d be watching those unboxing videos on YouTube: grown-up hands playing with little plastic toys. It made me feel guilty. It made both of us feel guilty, my wife and me, as though we were destroying this beautiful brain, allowing it to be destroyed, because we were too selfish and bored and busy to sit on the floor playing with dolls for longer than fifteen minutes. That was why we’d wanted another child, I thought, as Dolly and I got into the hot tub on Thanksgiving Day.
My balls felt better in the hot tub, but the feeling that I wanted to leave remained. I wanted to let the child soak on her own while I read a book or went to a bar, for God’s sake. I wanted to meet some awful woman, the kind of woman who would be drinking alone in a bar on Thanksgiving Day, and let her take me home because it didn’t matter who I was on Thanksgiving Day: she was just god-awful lonely, like me, and we were just smashing our bodies against each other in the dark to curtail that loneliness, however briefly, because though she — this imaginary woman — was single and I was married, we were both so profoundly isolated in our own lives that anybody, any body, would do.
But I had to stay with the child. I didn’t want her to drown. And I didn’t want her to be lonely like me, like this imaginary woman I wanted to fuck. Marriage had not always been so lonely. In the beginning Madeline had been more vibrantly alive than almost anyone I’d ever known, always telling me what she was reading, taking me to art exhibits around town. One time she’d taken me to a museum installation where the ceiling had been completely covered with styrofoam cups. You wouldn’t have thought so, but the effect was amazing, like white honeycomb up there. We watched old movies together, too, sometimes the same ones over and over again. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The first time we’d seen the beautiful Esmeralda take pity on the monstrous Quasimodo and give him water, I’d looked over at Madeline in her black turtleneck and bumblebee earrings with her eyes all shiny, and it had seemed to me as though she’d given me water. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, how this person had just appeared in my life, this person who reacted to Quasimodo and Esmeralda with genuine emotion. And it became a riff we had: Anytime she did or said something that made me feel good, I’d say, “She gave me water.” Like if she reminded me that I was on the way out the door without my wallet or keys, I’d say, “She gave me water,” and she’d laugh and throw her arms around my neck and kiss me. But over the years her depression had gained traction, until eventually it came to dominate her personality. I couldn’t get through to her. I couldn’t make her happy. I tried so hard to do things that would cheer her up. I bought flowers and gifts. I sat on the edge of the bed and tried to talk things through with her. I tried to fix it. And when she shouted at me to get out of her room, I realized I’d been an ass and then put all my efforts into trying not to fix it, trying to overcome that macho-shithead fix-it instinct and instead just sit there and listen, no matter how depressing it got or how much it felt like she was saying it was my fault, because maybe it was my fault, I thought. Maybe I wasn’t enough for her. Maybe I could never be enough for her, because she said it was like I wasn’t even present anymore, and I’d tried so hard for so long to be present, but it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t be. I had no idea where she was, and no way to meet her there. I sent her anonymous postcards with photos from the old monster movies we used to watch together, black-and-white movies with black-and-white monsters who abducted or seduced or otherwise rescued Hollywood beauties like Fay Wray and Mary Philbin and Patsy Miller — King Kong, The Phantom of the Opera, and, of course, The Hunchback of Notre Dame — and I’d get a smile every now and again, a heartbreaking, nostalgic smile with one side of her mouth, a smile that could change my mind about anything. But I couldn’t get anything more than the smile, and sometimes it would be followed by tears, and I still felt like I couldn’t get through to her, like she was underwater somehow and I couldn’t bring her up, and eventually, sometime after the stillbirth or, God forgive me, even before, I stopped trying. I told myself that if I just took a hands-off approach, maybe it would be OK. I told myself that if I stopped trying to force her to come back to me, she would come back on her own, when she was ready, and things would be even better than before. But that was just another way of telling myself it was OK to give up on her. And I did. I gave up trying to reach her, and eventually we were completely disconnected from one another and, it seemed to me, lonelier than we’d ever been. Even Dolly was lonely. That was the reason we’d wanted another child to begin with: to keep Dolly company.
Dolly was quickly bored with the hot tub. She wanted to get back in the pool. A woman in a hotel uniform — khaki pants and a dark-green polo shirt — came into the pool area from the lobby, rolling an enormous garbage can beside her. She went around the pool and out a glass door on the other side. There was a little patio out there. It was cloudy. Looked like rain.
“OK,” I said. “We can get in the pool.”
Our fingers were pruned, but I didn’t want to say no, so I was giving in. I’d been giving in ever since I’d fucked up with Madeline on the way to the hotel: We’d decided to stop at Starbucks. My wife didn’t drink coffee, but she wanted a frothy hot chocolate with whipped cream, and our child wanted one, too — or thought she did. She could never drink hot drinks. She’d take a sip and say, “It burns. It burns.” So we stopped at Starbucks. I wanted some coffee anyway. I always wanted some coffee. Life was barely enough to keep me awake anymore. So we had to take a little detour. We turned on the radio. It was Thanksgiving, and there was Christmas music on: “Let It Snow.” My wife liked “Let It Snow.” I mean, she really liked “Let It Snow,” and I did, too. Even Dolly liked it. We sang along: When we finally kiss good night / How I’ll hate going out in the storm / But if you’ll really hold me tight / All the way home I’ll be warm. As we pulled into the parking lot, the song ended, and Madeline said, “I’ve always liked that idea.”
“What idea?” I asked.
“That a kiss could keep you warm all the way home.”
I parked. “Too bad it’s a falsehood,” I said.
I said this because I thought the conversation was about an idea she’d liked in her youth and had subsequently outgrown. I hadn’t understood, until after I’d said it, that the conversation had in fact been about something she found romantic. This was stupid on my part. Wading back into the cold water with my four-year-old daughter, I marveled at my stupidity. Because I could have just said, “I’ll keep you warm, baby,” and we could have gone on attempting to have a lovely time, like we were fine, like everything was fine, like there was no dead baby, like marriage wasn’t hard. But instead of saying the romantic thing, I had felt compelled to say the thing that was true. I’d said it as we were getting out of the car, and then, once we were standing outside the car, I saw the astonished, hurt look on Madeline’s face and was totally baffled by the sudden shift in her mood.
“Why would you say that to me?” she asked.
I shrugged. “Because it’s true,” I said.
“But I was being sweet,” she said, and only then did I understand. We would not have been singing along to “Let It Snow” if we had been interested in the truth. We were pretending that everything was fine, and pretending was more important than the truth. The pretending is always more important than the truth. In marriage, after a while, the pretending is all you have left.
I’d sat on a couch beside her hospital bed in the lamplight. The overhead lights were off, so it was mostly dark, and there was blood and human tissue on the bed, and my wife was crying, pushing, her legs spread, and the baby came out that wasn’t a baby; it was a stick doll with a misshapen head, bloody and gray like raw calf’s liver, limp and still, and the nurse asked my wife if she wanted to hold it, and she said yes, so the nurse put it on a towel and gave it to her, and she held it and said, “Hi there, little guy,” and I wept and held it, too, only I didn’t say anything, because there was nothing to say, and it was grotesque, this pretending we could talk to the thing, pretending the thing was a baby and we could say goodbye. I couldn’t say any of that, and I could never tell anyone why not. I didn’t know enough to lie about “Let It Snow,” but I knew enough never to tell anyone, especially Madeline, how I had felt holding our baby that wasn’t a baby, the calf’s-liver baby with the misshapen head. We had to sign some papers to send it to the crematorium, the thing that would have been a child, a child we’d hoped would live even after they’d told us that, on the off chance that he did, he would have Down syndrome and severe developmental problems. Why would you not hope he would live? Later a friend would tell me that if she’d been pregnant with such a child, it would have been a “moral dilemma,” and I would wonder how she could say something like that: not just how she could say it to me, but how she could say it at all, how she could even think such a thing. This friend of mine, this liberal humanitarian friend of mine, actually believed that killing the baby inside her might be the right thing to do if she found out he was going to be born dumb with narrow eyes and destined for a life of bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. As if there were something wrong with that. I’d wonder how she could have said it to me, of all people. But the truth was that when I’d found out the child was dead, I’d thought to myself that he’d been spared: not spared from a life of bagging groceries, but spared from life itself, regardless of its content. So you had to pretend, I thought. Because there was no virtue in the truth. No kindness. No meaning. No nothing. The truth is cheap, I thought, wading into the deep end now, bouncing my daughter on my shoulders, my balls getting used to the cold. Anyone can tell the truth, I thought. I don’t have any use for it. I don’t have any fucking use, and as my daughter laughed, I thought how pointless and stupid it was, looking for the truth in parking lots and leaves, in science and nature, in philosophy and religion, when all you really had to do was look at the ugliest part of yourself. Look at the ugliest part of yourself, I thought, and you will find truth every time, and it will not make anything any better. It will not make your wife feel better. It will not make your kid grow up better. It will not solve your problems. So why was it, I wondered, that every marriage counselor we’d seen had made truth the focus of the conversation? Honesty. Communication. That was the big thing. I could never understand it. In precisely what way, I wondered, would it enrich my wife’s life to know how I’d felt holding that baby — like it was obscene to hold him, this baby we’d named Charlie? And I couldn’t bear it, because he would never learn to play guitar. He would never smash his body against a strange woman’s body in the dark. He would never read Chekhov; never see a movie, the ocean, the sun. And I could never tell my wife that I’d felt relief when he’d died. And I could never tell her why I’d been relieved: that it wasn’t about him being spared the suffering of his condition. It was about him being spared the suffering of everything, the interminable, stupid tedium and loneliness of not being able to tell anyone, ever, what you were really thinking, because if you told them, they wouldn’t understand — or, worse, they would understand completely. They would know that you were a low, loathsome, detestable creature, and I did not want Madeline to detest me, so I did not tell her how I’d felt when Charlie had died, and I did not want her to know that I had come to detest her, so I did not tell her how I’d felt the day I’d picked her up from the psych ward, and when she finally emerged from our hotel room on Thanksgiving, when she walked through the glass doors into the pool area in her black bikini and I saw those beautiful stretch marks, when she saw me standing in the corner of the pool with our daughter on my shoulders, still giggling, unaware of her father’s tears, I did not tell her why I was crying.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, and I shook my head as if I didn’t know what she was talking about. I nodded to the bottle of water in her hands and asked for a sip, and she tilted her head and smiled the way she did, with one side of her mouth — that smile that could change my mind about anything — and she handed me the bottle and said, “Here you go, Quasimodo,” and I smiled back and took the water from her and drank and said, “She gave me water,” because it seemed to me that it didn’t matter whether the riffs we had were funny or sad, whether the life we had was characterized by tragedy or joy. I said, “She gave me water,” because I didn’t have to tell her how I felt. She could see the ugliness inside me as plainly as I could see the stretch marks on her belly, and she accepted it, and she saved me, because I was the one who drove her to the hospital in the middle of the night. I was the one who brought her back home. I was the one who insisted, who relented, who remained. I was the monster who gave her shelter; the hunchback who rescued her from the gallows, carried her to the cathedral rooftop, and shouted to the angry mob below, Sanctuary! I give her sanctuary!
What an intricate story Sam Ruddick has woven, of two people whose lives are deeply complicated by death, depression, and the macho need to fix things [“Coffins Lining the Road,” February 2022]. In just five and a half pages, Ruddick made fiction feel like raw truth.