The Sunday I went to see Leo I got an early start on the road. It was a beautfiul morning for a drive. I kept wishing I had something more pleasant on tap for the day. It seemed a crime to spoil a gorgeous morning like this fretting over what I would say to Leo. As much as I loathed the task, I realized I must choose my position, my words, my demeanor with care. Leo deserved an honest and direct explanation form me and I do my best. I would simply say that I had married him impulsively, that I had acted the coward and not faced some personal struggles honestly, that I my actions were worse than inexcusable, they were just plain wrong, something we both had realized almost as soon as we arrived in BallyK. I sighed deeply and for a moment considered turning around at a gas station. The urge was strong but I drove on.
A glance at the car clock informed me it was 8:30 Sunday morning. Was Peter at mass right now? I wondered. I could picture him seated in a pew, meditating to the slow rhythms of an organ. Has he been praying for us this morning, his friends in BallyK. No doubt he has. Has he been praying for me? In a very odd way I felt sure he had been. And odder still, I didn't mind. I did wish I was in his thoughts. in whatever shape those thoughts might be. I was getting nearer to Leo's neighborhood and needed to focus on figuring the best place to park. I felt resolved and ready for this. Or at least as ready as I was going to be.
I knocked at Leo's door and waited. I wondered (OK, hoped) for a second
that he wasn't in. But just as I was about knock a second time the door
swung open. His face beamed when he saw me. God I hate myself.
"Hello Leo. How are you?" I gave a weak smile and entered as he motioned me in.
"Alright. Good to see you." His beaming made uncomfortable I looked about his living room to avoid his eyes. This was the wrong thing to do. Maybe I should have written a letter instead.
"Want some tea?"
"Maybe later." I sat in chair a few feet from the door and sat on couch beside it. "The place looks good. You got a new plant. It's even alive!"
He smiled briefly but then his expression got serious, the reality of how little mileage we were going to get out of superficial exchanges seemed to have hit him. I hadn't driven to Dublin to discuss his green thumb. "So what's the occassion?"
"I just needed to be straight with you is all. Our communication wasn't too grand before you left and I know that the lion's share of responsibility for that is mine. The whole thing was such a obvious mistake, a painful and regrettable mistake. I don't know what I was thinking."
"You don't? Oh, I quite think you do, Assumpta. Just maybe you thought that a wedding band on your finger would cure your infatuation for the only single man in town under 40, hmm? Never mind that he's married to God! Well, Assumpta, I don't know who's the bigger fool, because I believed it would myself! With my whole heart I wanted to believe it!"
"Wait a minute!"
"What? You're going to deny it? Oh this ought to be good...." He shook his head and chuckled. He is so insufferable when he thinks he's right.
Stay calm, I told myself. "Listen Leo, I know this marriage is not going to work. Even you've acknowledged that. Even when you were in BallyK it all felt wrong. we need to face that fact."
He leaned in towards me. "We only ever face the facts we want to face Assumpta. And we only do it when we're ready to. Each of us. I hoped and I still hope that you face the fact that I love you and I want to make you happy." He was getting choked up and stared out the window away from me as he continued. "You're here today because you're ready to face the fact that this marriage was a bad idea" Then his gaze returned to me, "My guess is that you're ready face some other facts too, well spare me the details. I'm not up for that level of 'sharing'. It's not right Assumpta. And I know I'm not the person you'd be able to hear this from but your present interest may not be the best thing for you. I just wonder when you'll be ready for that fact..."
"What are you talking about? Leo..." He was confusing me, even with all his not too veiled comments I truly wasn't sure where he was taking this.
"Not all priests are entirely honorable, Assumpta. That's certainly not a news flash to you. I have to give him credit for duping you of all people. Never would have seen that one coming in a million years."
"Leo are you mad? What are talking about? No one's duped anyone! How can you even think..."
"How can I even think that he asked for a transfer out of Manchester because of an unwelcomed attachment to a young congregant?" His face was mixed with pride in his trump card and softness to comfort me in my moment of illumination. He explained his information by telling me that nothing can make the church talk about their dirty laundry quicker than being led to believe that the press already knows it better than they do. "And I didn't even have to use the words 'knocked up' but I suspect if I had let the cleric I spoke to continue much further he would have. Ah, the power of suggestion! But I thought I'd leave the good father with a little integrity in tact."
"Stop it Leo. You're making an ass out of yourself." By now I was on my feet.
"Oh and you're not? Assumpta open your eyes. At least consider the conditions he left under, it wasn't exactly above reproach." He was standing now too. "Hey, I know this is news to you. I doubt truly that he's talked over his involvements...."
My stomach was in a terrible knot. This was Leo's talent, to take thin facts and spin them into something large and powerful. Half truths, unsubstantiated facts, inferences of an aquaintence, these were his tools of the trade. He told me as much when he discussed the power of print. Well he was handling them very nicely on a verbal level as well today. I was sorry I had come. He thought he was scoring himself major points but in truth I only felt sorry for him. I placed a hand on his shoulder and soberly addressed him. " Look the short of it is I did the wrong thing marrying you when I did and I'm sorry. No one deserves to be put in the place you're in. Certainly you don't. I better go."
He studied me for a moment and looked very quizically at me, tilting his head suspicously. "He's come onto you hasn't he? Taken it to the next level? I was afraid my leaving would give him some kind of license. I bet he was dispensing his comfort before I was even over the bridge."
My mouth fell open and I came Oh-so-very-close to slapping him from here til kingdom come! How dare he! How dare? How dare? How dare? Then I drew a deep breath and said, "Thank you, Leo. I came here knowing I had to say these things and knowing it would be hard. But your last remarks have just made it so much easier for me to walk away with no sympathy. Good bye, Leo. My solicitor will be in touch."
On my way out of town I noticed a sweets shop and it was screaming my name.
If ever I felt I deserved a bit of an indulgence it was now. I ordered
a hefty supply of chocolate caramels, my usual. As the clerk asked me if
I cared for anything else I had the strongest urge to get a matching bag
of chocolate covered peanuts. Then Niamh and her sweet tooth for mints
came to mind. Five minutes later I exited the store carrying three sacks
of sweets. Life was feeling more managable, at least for the moment. Put
quite a dent in the caramels before I got home though.
I dialed him and he answered, sort of a flat "hello."
Peter, how are you?"
"Assumpta! It's so good to hear you!" I was melting. He sounded so pleased.
"Yeah, likewise. Just sorry it's under this circumstance--to give my condolences."
Hey, I appreciate it. I really do."
"How are you doing?" I asked.
"Oh, about as well as one can, I suppose. You know yourself, I'm sure. I feel OK and then something strikes me and I'm reeling again."
"Yes, I remember what that was like."
"But the time with her the week before was really grand. You know? I mean it was like we connected better than we ever had. and it's not that we weren't already close. It was just like she and I really understood each other. It kind of strange at times."
"Just our conversations. She talked more about her years with Dad than she'd ever done before. Or maybe I just understood their love better than before, I don't know. We talked a lot about life and I found myself opening up to her about a whole range of topics I never would have anticipated bringing up." His voice hung in the air for a moment and he seemed to close I could almost touch him across the miles. Then he abruptly changed the tone of his musings and informed me that "she was insatiably curious about my friends in BallyK. Of course I've been supplying her with antecdotes for last three years."
"Any of them include me?"
"Oh, I should say so.."
"What did you tell her about me? Were these the amusing sort of antecdotes, like say the pub race that YOU fixed or the serious woman-who-puts-ideas-in-people's-heads antecdotes or... " My voice trailed off as I couldn't find a remotely polite way to articulate my worse description, the woman who entered into a sham of a marriage to put distance between herself and the village cleric.
"I'd have to say both, or rather more than both. She heard about you at some length. I hope you don't mind. You shouldn't. She liked your spirit."
That last bit brightened me a bit. "Oh? What did she say?"
"Hey, can't I save some stories for when I get back?"
"Oh, fair enough."
"Um. Remind me to tell you what she said about Fr. Mac!" Turning the subject to a more serious note he began, "When I spoke to Doc Ryan he told me that you'd gone to see Leo, that you were certain there was no hope of reconciling. I hope you don't mind that he told me."
No, I'm rather glad. I wondered about bringing it up to you. It was an awful day."
"Yeah, I can believe that."
"Actually, Peter, you're too good a person to imagine how ugly it got. I wanted to keep it simple and straight forward. but Leo couldn't resist the cheap shots. It was nasty."
"Was he harsh with you? What did he say?"
"Most of it, No, all of it- is not worth repeating."
"Assumpta if he was out of line with you...."
"What? What would you do?" I asked. "Peter, I appreciate your intention, but believe me, I took care of myself."
"Oh, I believe you. I'm just sorry to hear it was so rough. If you want we can talk about it when I get back."
"Sounds like we're getting a full calendar, all this talking could fill our free evenings up pretty fast." Then he was quiet. Had I said the wrong thing? Did he think I was hitting on him?
Then he broke the silence. "I've thought about how many times I pulled back from your friendship and then I think how difficult it is to lose the people you care about. From now on I'm going to more involved with the people I care about, no matter what."
"That's quite a decision."
"It was less a decision and more of a fact"
"Funny. Leo said to me 'We only ever fact the facts we want to face and then only when we really need to.'"
"Huh, I couldn't have put it better myself. Sounds like he was handling your visit pretty sensibly."
"Oh, believe me, it went down hill from there." Leo's accusations came back to mind. I didn't for a second entertain Leo's inferenences, certainly not in the way that Leo had cast them. But I did feel angry at the institution that kept men like Peter from having a normal life and kept them so emotionally isolated. Celibacy was so much more than I had ever taken the time to contemplate. And I thought of his new resolution to get closer to those he cared about and found myself musing out loud, "That can be dangerous ground for a priest, though, can't it? Being involved with people?"
He sighed big. "Being more involved will have some profound implications for my life. But life is too brief to be lived shallowly. I'm convinced of this." He drew another breath, "Actually this is a topic that goes to the front of the calendar--if you can spare the time?"
"I'm pencilling it in as we speak. What day do you get back?"
"Tuesday. Assumpta? Thanks." His voice was filled with tenderness, even though I wasn't clear at all what I was being thanked for.
I answered, "Of course, Peter. But what's the thanks for? No, don't answer now. Answer when you get back. But there is one thing I would like to know now. What's your favorite sweet?"
That caught him off guard I could tell, "I'd have to say chocolate covered peanuts. I could eat my weight in them."
"Huh, fancy that! I happen to have come into a handsome supply of them."
"No! you're joking?"
"Peter, I don't joke about chocolate. Maybe I'll save you a few. If I can keep Niamh out of them..."
"If you can keep WHO out of them?"
"Right. See ya Tuesday."
"It's been good to talk to you." Was his voice shaking a bit or was it just my heart racing?
"Bye." I answered.
So diary, where is this headed? What was that about profound implications? What is he thinking? Will Tuesday ever get here?
I got busy in kitchen it had only been 20 minutes since I had talked to Peter when the phone rang.
"I love you Assumpta. It's that simple. I can't wait til Tuesday to tell you."
"Look we need to talk face to face. I'm prepared to take the necessary steps. I WANT to take the necessary steps. It's what I want more than anything. I've had time to think it through. In fact I've been thinking it through for the last year. And it's clear to me that the time has arrived for us to talk." He paused to allow his message to sink in a bit. "This is a lot to lay on you on a phone call I know."
"No. I'm glad you did. I'm thrilled and I'm a little scared but mostly relieved. Now I know that you feel what I do I can start to think about there being a future for us together. That's so much more than I had when I woke up this morning."
"I'm just sorry it's taken me this long to tell you. We talked on the phone I was so close to telling you then but I didn't want to overwhelm you. But at the same time I wanted you to a little prepared as well.."
"So what should I be prepared for now?"
"Be prepared for an ex-priest who wants to share his life with you. Are you up for that?"
"Yes, I think I am."
"Good. Monday will be here soon."
"But you said Tuesday earlier!"
"Why do you think I waited 20 minutes to call you back? I had to get my ticket changed to tomorrow. Uh, you are free tomorrow I hope..."
"Let me check my calendar. Well, what do you know! The pub's closed for cleaning tomorrow."
"And that means..."
"You'll be pushing mop---Once we're done talking."
"Fair enough. I'll see ya then."