(a short story by Timothy J. Verret)
When I met Norma, my entire world changed. I went from bumbling idiot to quite the lover. She brought joy into my life and finished my sentences that desperately needed finishing. It was all planned how it would go: Engaged, married, kids, growing old together. But plans never rarely go as we plan, do they? A wrench gets thrown in, and this wrench was Chris, Norma’s father.
After dating and being engaged for a little over six months to Norma, it came time to meet her parents. Not such a big deal, really, unless everything hung on whether those same parents would approve of you whisking away their daughter. I was pretty nervous and Norma repeatedly told me there was nothing to be nervous about. She constantly reminded me that her parents were highly educated, highly sophisticated, and highly spiritual. In other words, they were not judgmental and did not go out of their way to dislike someone. Norma said there was absolutely no way they were going to dislike me, but I still feared getting tongue-tied and putting my foot in it and thus losing Norma for good. To lose Norma would have returned me to the bumbling idiot I was before I met her. I didn’t want to go back to that.
The day came to meet Norma’s parents, and I dressed up mighty nicely for the occasion. In fact, if I’m being honest, I went all out: Suit, tie, new non-leather shoes. Norma was a vegan and impressing her parents would hold no merit whatsoever if I had purchased “cow shoes.” Norma thought it would be best if we both showed up together to lessen my nerves and probably lessen hers, as well. One can think they know their parents well but one doesn’t ever really know that to be completely true, right? Norma rang the doorbell while I sweated profusely. The door opened.
“Well, hello. Hi, honey. You look beautiful! And you must be Evan? I’m Chris.” A hand came forward.
A hand don’t lie. Chris’ hand didn’t. At that very moment, I knew I was in love with that hand….with Chris. I don’t know how I can explain such a reaction of immense and intense love for a person from an extended hand. If I could, I would explain it to you right now. I also can’t explain to you what this thought I had at that moment would mean for me and Norma: “What was I ever going to do about this immense and intense love I have for Chris?”
I wanted to continue looking down but I looked up and caught heaven in Chris’ eyes.
“Yes, my name is Evan. And you must be….Chris, right? Or do you want me to call you Mr. Ferguson?”
“No, Chris is fine. Now, why don’t you both come in and, honey, you go see what your mother is up to, okay? Us men have to talk.”
Norma and I came in, but I got left behind. I left something at the doorstep and wanted so bad to go back and retrieve it, if I only knew what it was. I think it was my breath. Probably my heart, too. But it’s rude to come in and go back out, right? Unless you are with your fiance and you realize you are in love with her father.
“Can I take your coat, Evan? Or is that Mr….honey, what did you say his last name was?”
“Oh, daddy, it’s Coleman. I cannot believe you don’t remember that?”
“Well, forgive me, honey, but when you talk about Evan, you don’t refer to him as Mr. Coleman. You shun such formality when you talk about this handsome and kind man in front of us.”
Norma hugged her dad hard and kissed him on the cheek.
I was jealous.
“No, Evan is fine and yes, you can take my coat, sir. I mean, Chris.”
I took my coat off and handed it to Chris. Now, remember when I said Chris’ hand don’t lie? Well, my hand don’t lie, either, and it brushed up against Chris’ hand when I offered him my coat, and I thought I would faint from his touch that told me, “You are another person in the world, and I like that you are in this world with me.” With that thought, I needed to sit down because that same world Chris liked me in had dropped me suddenly and swiftly.
“Oh, yeah, Norma had me running the roads with her today, and I’m quite tired, I’m afraid.”
“Let me fix you a drink, Evan. That’s sure to put a pep in your step.”
Norma leaned over and kissed me on the cheek, very similar if not identical to the kiss she planted on Chris’ cheek, the same cheek I wanted to kiss.
“You’re doing great, my little man. Keep up the good work. But did you have to sit already? We just got here!”
“I’m okay, babe. Just tired.”
Norma chuckled, completely oblivious to what was inside of me at that moment. Inside of me was, “what am I going to do with this love I have for Chris? This love that won’t ever die as long as I’m alive?”
“Mommy, where are you anyway?” Norma made her way into the kitchen. She must have met her mommy there because there were high-pitched squeals and talks of “you must have lost weight….are you eating?” coupled with, “oh, mommy, do I have to hear this again for the umpteenth time?” Norma’s mommy was right, though. Norma was way too skinny. Was she anorexic?
“Here you go, Evan.”
Chris handed me a drink. I took special note that Chris didn’t even bother to ask me what kind of drink I wanted, but he somehow delivered to me my favorite: Bourbon, neat, with a lime and a pineapple. I mean, seriously, how could anyone get that order exactly right without being given that specific order that is sure to be a one-in-a-million lottery number?
“Thanks, Chris. This should do the trick.”
I downed the drink and looked at the inside of the glass. There was nothing left in there, and I think my expression at that moment was one of lacking something, thinking something was missing from my life. And then Chris sat next to me, and I realized there was nothing I lacked, nothing missing from my life. Chris sat too close to me but not close enough. Chris put his hand (you know, the one that don’t lie) on my leg. The upper part. I wanted it there, but it seemed like it should have been on the lower part for two strangers, but who puts their hand on the lower part of a person’s leg when they are sitting next to each other? Still, physical touch was something I spent years warding off because once upon a time, a hand DID lie. A hand lied when it went up this upper part of my leg and found its way to my very young groin. All went dead there, including me. I had to reteach myself how to accept touch from a hand that I couldn’t let lie to me again. It took many, many years to know a touch could mean just that, a touch, and that I was no longer young and no longer damaged. When flesh meets flesh, it’s not always about, “who told you that you could touch me there?” I could give the permission now to be touched and to touch, but I could also deny it if I wanted to. I didn’t want to deny Chris’ hand or Chris’ touch anywhere on my older body.
“Well, that was much needed.”
“I had a feeling you’d like it. Care for another one?”
Another one what? Chris’ hand on me? A drink? Oh Chris meant a drink. No, thank you. My dad died from that stuff, and my mom went crazy from his death. No, not another drink. Just you, Chris, to hold me and tell me everything was going to be okay. That Norma would understand that Chris and I had to spend eternity together and that Mrs. Ferguson would understand this, too, and all’s well ends well. Take that, Shakespeare!
“No, this drink did the trick. Thank you.”
“So, you are going to be the one who is going to take my daughter away.”
“You, Evan. You do intend to marry Norma, right?”
Can you say, “throw up?” Because that is exactly what I felt like doing. The nausea hit me ad nauseam because my thoughts were always to marry Norma, and I could not for the life of me comprehend how that all changed so drastically. I was not going to marry Norma and take her away from Chris. I was going to marry Chris and take him away from Norma and Norma’s mother. I am not one to be so determined about anything, but anything takes a back seat when something is Chris and something is Chris in my arms.
“Evan? Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m sorry. I think the drink is buzzing me up. I don’t know where my head is.”
Chris put his hand on my shoulder. I thought of the classic angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. I was not sure which shoulder of mine had which of the classic foes, but I knew the shoulder Chris put his hand on could have either the angel or the devil, didn’t care at all, as I only cared that Chris’ gesture meant something meaningful to me.
“Well, it is perfectly okay and completely appropriate that you take Norma away from me.”
Chris whispered in my ear. “She really loves you, you know? Why would I want to ever come between that?”
Come between it! Please, come between it!
“She’s a great gal, Chris. You and your wife did very well raising her. She’s very kind and thoughtful and she makes the world a better place.”
I looked at Chris after I said that, though I didn’t whisper it in Chris’ ear. Our eyes met as predetermined old souls yet in the prime of our youth. We were both so young at that moment, two children really, with a lifetime ahead of us. Long leisurely walks on the beach together. Corny, right? But I tell you what is not corny. Retiring at night in bed with Chris, both of us lying side by side, with Chris wearing reading glasses and reading his book and me wearing reading glasses and reading my book, until I get so lonely and feel so neglected that I take off my reading glasses and put down my book, and I roll over on top of Chris and take off his glasses and put down his book and look at Chris and kiss Chris passionately and then we make love. No, never can that right there ever be corny.
“I want to show you something.”
Chris took my hand in his, and he led me down a hallway of the house into a room. When we talked in there together, I immediately called the room the “Pepto-Bismol room.” Pink everywhere. The curtains, the bedspread, even the carpet.
“This is Norma’s room. Her mother and I didn’t change one thing about her room, because we always hoped she would return to us one day.”
Chris sat on the edge of the bed. I sat next to him. Once again, too close but not close enough. Chris lowered his head and spoke.
“I know I wasn’t the best father to Norma. I lost my temper with her way too many times. When you love someone so much that you can’t bear the thought of that someone ever leaving you, you sometimes don’t act right, you know what I mean, Evan? You say things out of a hopeless longing and a hopeless ‘don’t ever leave me, okay?’ You use this hand, Evan, and you hold onto that someone too tight. You don’t ever want let go of them with this hand. But now I can see this hand can’t hold on any longer to Norma. I need to give you my hand so you can take it and put it in Norma’s hand. I’ll walk her down the aisle with this hand, but I’ll release it you, Evan, when she meets you at the front of the church. I’ll give you my hand and you place it in hers, okay? That’s my gift to you. To Norma. That you use my hand to hold her when she’s scared, when she wants to touch you as a way of saying how much she needs you. Because she won’t need my hand anymore. She won’t need me because she has you. And I need to be okay with that. I need you to know that, Evan. I need you to take my hand and give it to her for safekeeping. Will you do that for me, Evan?”
Chris looked up and looked at me, and I kissed him so deep. He kissed me back. Now I know why I called it the “Pepto-Bismol room.” My stomach was in knots. I didn’t know I would kiss Chris at that moment, and I certainly didn’t know how he would respond. But his kissing me back was full of passion and angst and fury. It told me he loved me, too, and he needed me just as much as I needed him. He put his hand behind my head to hold my kiss closer to him. Everything about that kiss was hope. Everything about that kiss was longing. Everything about that kiss told me that I was right, that Chris did love me and that I was going to have to let Norma know that and that I was going to have let Norma go. I needed to be with Chris, and he needed to be with me. There would be no need for Chris to give me his hand to give to Norma but rather his hand would be given to me to be mine forever. But just as sudden as this kiss was so much about our future together, a wall came up and I was shut out. Chris stood up.
“What are you doing, Evan? Why did you do that? What could you be thinking? What about Norma? What’s wrong with you? I’m gonna be sick! I have to go!”
Chris left the room. As he walked by me, I sunk lower into the bed. I was unprepared for how quickly things can change. How one can so quickly change. I wept pink tears.
Funeral services will be held Saturday, August 1 at 10:30 a.m. at the St. Sebastian Catholic Church for Evan Walter Coleman. Mr. Coleman used his hand to grab a garden hose and hook it up to the exhaust pipe of his car. He died of carbon monoxide poisoning. He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Norma Marie Ferguson, and their three children, Jackson, Marie, and Chris.
– OBITUARY SECTION, The Cincinnati Herald