Relationship Interview #5

(this is the sequel to Relationship Interview #4)

Mark and Bernice met through Find The One, a web site designed to assist people in their search for life partners. Their first date went well, and now, two days later, they meet again for a walk on the beach.

Bernice is fifty-seven, five-foot-eight, trim, with short brown hair going gray. Mark is sixty-four, not quite six-feet-tall, burly, with gray hair turning white.

The February day in northern California is sunny and cool. Bernice and Mark wear masks as required by the virus protocols, Mark’s mask gray, Bernice’s red. As they walk along the shore they try to keep roughly ten feet apart, though again and again they inch closer to each other, partly to hear the other more clearly, partly because they are drawn to each other.

Bernice: (stops walking) You have a son? We talked for an hour at the café and you never mentioned him. How old is he? What his name? 

Mark: His name is Dean. He’s thirty-five. I haven’t seen or heard from him in fifteen years. He lives in Salinas. I send him a card and money on his birthday and a card and money for Hanukkah. He cashes the checks, so I know he’s alive, but he doesn’t communicate with me.

Bernice: Do you know why?

Mark: I have an inkling.

Bernice: Which is?

Mark: His mother and I divorced when he was eight, and we had joint custody of him until he was eighteen, during which time neither my ex-wife nor I remarried. Then a few months after Dean turned eighteen, my ex-wife remarried and Dean refused to go to her wedding. He said he would never speak to her again, and thereafter lived with me full-time until he went off to college. When I remarried a year later, he said he would never speak to me again, though he allowed me to pay his college tuition and living expenses until he graduated with a degree in Computer Graphics. And my inkling is that so long as neither of his parents remarried, he felt we were still a family. But when we married others he felt betrayed.

Bernice: Sounds… infantile. Sorry.

Mark: No, no. It’s fine. Infantile is an appropriate word for Dean at nineteen. I have no idea what he’s like now at thirty-five, but the last time I saw him, he was still very childish in many ways, like a surly eight-year-old, which was one of the many reasons I divorced his mother. She did everything she could to keep him a baby, while I did what I could to help him grow up, though I am hardly objective about this.

(They walk on in silence.)

Bernice: I have a daughter.

Mark: (stops walking) You’re kidding.

Bernice: No. Her name is April. She’s thirty. And I do hear from her now and then when she calls to ask for money, but I haven’t seen her in seven years. And the reason I didn’t mention her at the café is that I didn’t want to ruin the wonderful time we were having.

(Bernice takes off her mask and gazes at Mark, so he removes his mask and gazes at her.)

Mark: I think that’s why I didn’t mention Dean.

Bernice: I like your face. You look very kind. Do you have a dog?

Mark: (laughs) No dog. Two cats. Ariel and Harpo. I love seeing your face. You’re by far the most beautiful woman I’ve ever gone on a walk with. Do you have a dog?

Bernice: No. Just one very large cat named Victoria, though if I ever live in a house instead of an apartment, I will get a dog. Victoria be damned.

(They put on their masks and continue walking.)

Mark: What does April do for a living?

Bernice: She says she’s an actress ever on the verge of a big break, but I think that’s highly unlikely. As far as I know she hasn’t been in a play or a film since she was a Drama major in college for a year. She’s very beautiful and very seductive, as was her father, so I imagine she finds men to take care of her. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what I imagine.

Mark: Where does she live?

Bernice: Los Angeles. Where else?

Mark: New York?

Bernice: Too cold for April. She likes warm weather and swimming pools. And the sad thing is she very well could be a successful actress if she’d ever tried. But she doesn’t know how to work at anything. She only knows how to seduce others into taking care of her.

Mark: Have you forgiven yourself regarding her?

Bernice: For the most part. Have you forgiven yourself regarding Dean?

Mark: Yes. When I finally understood he was the result of our disastrous parental equation resulting from our disastrous relational equation, and not from any conscious doing on my part, I was able to forgive myself.  

Bernice: I think most of us are born of disastrous parental equations, and then we seek those same equations in our relationships, knowing no other equations until we get well. If we’re so lucky.

Mark: Strange, isn’t it? These children we loved so much turning into people we don’t know anymore, when we thought we would know them and love them for the rest of our lives.

Bernice: Yes. Very strange and very sad. Whenever I see women my age happily engaged with their grownup daughters, I cry. Can’t help it.

Mark: I’m the same.

Bernice: Did your parents still love you after you became your own person?

Mark: My mother did, though she didn’t really know me, didn’t want to know me after I became something she didn’t want me to be.

Bernice: What did she want you to be?

Mark: A doctor. And failing there, a lawyer. And worst case scenario, a college professor. But definitely not a writer working at any old job to support my writing habit. How about your parents? Did they love you after you became you?

Bernice: If they ever loved me it was before I can remember. As I told you, my father was an abusive alcoholic, my mother his desperate slave. My brother and I were merely extra burdens for her to bear as she sacrificed herself to the monster.

Mark: Yet you turned out so sweet. Was there a loving grandmother in the mix?

Bernice: No, but we had a wonderful nanny, Nana Rose, who loved me from the day I was born until I was ten, and she loved my brother Robert even more. She was from Tennessee and I loved her more than anything.

Mark: A nanny. Your parents must have had money.

Bernice: My father was a doctor.

Mark: And are you close to your brother?

Bernice: Was. He died at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Darling man. I miss him still.

(They walk for a time without speaking.)

Mark: And here we are.

Bernice: Here we are.

Mark: Where the past need not impinge.

Bernice: Unless we let it.

Mark: How goes your present life? Dates with suitors aside.

Bernice: I love my job. Love the people I work with. Most of them. The theatre is shuttered until the virus is conquered. We’re guessing it will be another year at least before we can safely put on plays inside again. We’re looking into outdoor venues for the summer. But right now is all about staying afloat until the blessed day, begging patrons for money to pay the bills and the salaries of our skeleton crew. How about your present life?

Mark: Books are thriving in the pandemic, but I’ve had my fill of editing. Hope to retire in a few years and do more of my own writing again. Maybe move to a smaller town. Simplify. Maybe get a dog. A medium-sized mutt.

Bernice: What do you write?

Mark: Stories. Plays.

Bernice: I’d love to read something of yours.

Mark: Oh I’ll have to get up my courage first.

Bernice: Yes. Courage. I write, too. Poetry mostly, though I’ve read so many plays, the form is in me now, and my poems often morph into scenes with dialogue.

Mark: (stops walking) By the way… I think you’re marvelous. I could talk to you forever.

Bernice: The feeling is mutual.

Mark: Oh good. Shall we have another date after this one?

Bernice: Yes. And this time you call me.

Mark: Yes. This time I will call you.


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