Fourth Conversation With Emily

A warm sunny day at the beach, Neal, sixty-four, a community college English professor, is sitting on a big beach blanket with his daughter Emily, thirty-two, a marriage and family therapist. Emily’s son Andre and Andre’s friend Joshua, both nine, are in the distance, playing Frisbee at the water’s edge.

Neal: Could there be a more beautiful day?

Emily: No, I don’t think so. They’ve even provided us with puffy white storybook clouds.

Neal: How are you doing in the aftermath?

Emily: I’m okay. A little depressed. Find myself saying less to my clients these days, allowing the silence to speak for me. What do I know about relationships? I know how to start them, but sustaining them is a mystery to me.

Neal: I don’t think sustaining your relationship with Michael had anything to do with you, except that you chose to be in a relationship with someone who had no experience of sustaining any emotional connection to another person until you came along and showed him how.

Emily: Which begs the question: why did I choose to pursue a relationship with someone like Michael?

Neal: Because he’s a wonderful person and you wanted to get close to him. Most of your two years together were fine. Don’t you think?

Emily: Except he was never comfortable with Andre or you, and that always made me uneasy. I kept thinking he’d eventually relax around you, but he never did. He was only comfortable when we were alone, which was wonderful, but I have a son and a father and friends, and he found the inclusion of anyone else overwhelming. He only wanted it to be the two of us.  

Neal: I’m sorry, dear. I hope you don’t think it was all for naught.

Emily: No, I loved being in love and being loved. It was a big healing for me. I’m just sad about not seeing him anymore, though I know it’s for the best.

Neal: I’m sure I’ve told you about Rosalie, but your two years with Michael reminds me of my three years with her, without which I would not have been prepared to sustain a relationship with your mother.

Emily: You’ve mentioned Rosalie, but you never told me you were with her for three years.

Neal: Shall I tell you about her?

Emily: If you want to, I’d love to hear.

Neal: So… other than a high school romance that never went beyond smooching and a brief college fling during which I lost my virginity but learned little about sex, I was at twenty-seven completely inexperienced in the ways of love. I was teaching English at a private high school while slaving away on my doctoral thesis exploring the complete works of Nikos Kazantzakis, and sharing an apartment with an ever-changing cast of male characters, most of them graduate students. And then Will Ciardi moved in, we became fast friends, and I became a regular at the pub where Will was a bartender and Rosalie was a waitress.

Emily: And she took you in hand.

Neal: Indeed she did. Rosalie was the most straightforward person I have ever known. The night Will introduced us, Rosalie looked me up and down and said, “Are you involved with anybody?” And when I said No, she said, “Quelle coïncidence. Nor am I. Why not ask me out?”

Emily: But you didn’t because you were too shy.

Neal: No, I did. Right then. And she smiled and said, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Emily: Where did you go on your first date?

Neal: An Italian restaurant. We shared a bottle of wine, went to her apartment, and didn’t leave for two days.

Emily: Papa. I’m shocked. You never told me that. And then you were with her for three years.

Neal: Three wonderful years. During which time she helped me complete my thesis, we went to Europe twice for two months each time, and I was blissfully happy and she was happy, too.

Emily: Did you want to marry her?  

Neal: More than anything. And she wanted to marry me.

Emily: So what happened?

Neal: I met your mother. Or I should say… your mother arrived.

Emily: You left Rosalie for Mama?

Neal: Yes.

Emily: Was Rosalie crushed?

Neal: Devastated.

Emily: You never told me this.

Neal: And I’m still ashamed for hurting her as I did.

Emily: But you loved Mama more.

Neal: Yes and no.

Emily: How no?

Neal: Your mother was a beautiful powerful alluring woman. We met on my first day of teaching at the college where I teach to this day, and by the time I woke from my bedazzlement, I had left Rosalie and there was no going back, though I wanted to.

Emily: You mean after you and Mama were married?

Neal: Long before we were married.

Emily: Oh Papa, why didn’t you ever tell me this?

Neal: I never had a reason to.

Emily: What’s your reason now?

Neal: I’m not sure. I just had the feeling it might help you.

Emily: It does. Because I’ll always remember the good lessons of loving Michael and being loved by him.

Neal: There. That’s why I told you about Rosalie. Because I remembered the good lessons of loving her and being loved by her, and those lessons made it possible for me to have a good relationship with your mother for as long as it lasted.

Emily: Life can be so sad.

Neal: Sometimes sad, sometimes joyful. Ever changing.

Emily: Speaking of which, how are things going with Karen?

Neal: Fine.

Emily: Do you think if Andre and I didn’t live with you, you’d ask Karen to marry you?

Neal: I am sure I would not.

Emily: Why not?

Neal: Because save for a fortuitous affinity in the sack, we are different as two people from the same society could be.

Emily: How so?

Neal: She’s a compulsive neatnik. Every object on every surface in her house is arranged just so, as if the rooms are soon be photographed for a spread in Architectural Digest. My surfaces, as you know, are otherwise. Her politics are distinctly right of center, mine are far to the left. She is obsessed with her appearance and spends lots of time and money trying to beat back the hands of time, whereas I have only a vague notion of what I look like from one day to the next and don’t give a hoot about getting old. I love dogs and cats; she finds them annoying. I am a gardener and a cook; she abhors dirt and would rather eat at a swank restaurant than eat anything I cook. I like classical music and jazz, she has her radio ever tuned to easy listening elevator music that makes my teeth ache. And so forth.

Emily: Don’t you ever long for something more in the way of a relationship?

Neal: In the absence of you and Andre, I suppose I might. But in the meantime, Karen is a lovely person to be with now and then, and she seems to feel the same way about me.

Emily: Do you ever wonder what happened to Rosalie?

Neal: Often. But I know the last thing she would want is to hear from me again, so I do not seek her out.

Emily: How do you know she wouldn’t want to hear from you again?

Neal: Because I know how much I hurt her. And the last thing I would ever want to do is remind her of my terrible betrayal of our love.

Andre and Joshua return from the edge of the sea and flop down on the beach blanket.

Andre: Mom? Can we have our dessert now?

Emily: Yes you may.

Emily opens the little ice chest and brings forth two ice cream bars for the boys.

Emily: You want one, Papa?

Neal: No gracias. But might there be a beer in there?

Emily: You know there is.

Emily opens the bottle of beer and hands it to Neal, then gets herself an ice cream bar.

Neal: How went the flinging of the disk?

Andre: Fun. Kind of windy. But fun.

Joshua: I’m not very good at it. Andre is, but I’m not.

Andre: You’re quite good, Josh, especially when you don’t have to throw into the wind. Once we got our positioning right, you were great.

Joshua: I’m not a very good athlete.

Neal: Looked good to me.

Joshua: My dad says I’m a klutz.

Andre: You’re not a klutz. You just need practice. I’ve been playing Frisbee since I was a small child. That’s the only reason I’m so good at it.

Joshua: (to Emily) Is there any more of those ice cream bars?

Emily: One more. You two want to share it?

Andre: That’s okay. I’m pretty full. You can have it, Josh.

Joshua: (taking the ice cream bar from Emily) Thanks.

Silence falls.

Neal: So… any travel plans for the summer, Joshua?

Joshua: I think we might go to Lake Tahoe.

Emily: That sounds fun.

Joshua: Not really. I mostly stay in the motel room while my mom and dad go gambling. But maybe we’ll go water skiing.

Emily: Water skiing sounds exciting.

Joshua: Yeah. Do you have any Coke?

Emily: Lemonade.

Joshua: Never mind.

Joshua gets out his phone and starts playing a video game.

Neal: I think I’ll go for a swim. Anybody want to join me?

Andre: (jumping up) I do. You wanna jump in Josh?

Joshua: No. It’s too cold.

Neal: You coming, Em?

Emily: No, I’m gonna stay here and keep Joshua company.

Joshua: You don’t have to.

Emily: I want to.

Neal and Andre head for the water. Emily gets out a book and starts to read.

Joshua: What are you reading?

Emily: These are case studies of people in therapy and how therapy helps them.

Joshua: What’s therapy?

Emily: Therapy is when someone goes to a counselor or a psychologist for help with an emotional problem they’re having. Did you know I’m a counselor?

Joshua: Yeah, Andre told me. You mean like for depression?

Emily: Yes.

Joshua: My mom takes meds for depression.

Emily: Yes, she told me.

Joshua: Are you on meds?

Emily: No. But I have some clients who are on meds.

Joshua: What is a med anyway? Like a vitamin?

Emily: It’s medicine that helps people with chemical imbalances that make them anxious or depressed.

Joshua: What is depression anyway?

Emily: It’s a kind of persistent sadness that makes a person feel exhausted.

Joshua: What’s persistent?

Emily: Persistent means it won’t go away.

Joshua: Oh.

Emily: You know how sometimes we’ll be sad, but then the sadness goes away and we’re not sad anymore. But if the sadness won’t go away, we say it persists.

Joshua: I’m sad some of the time. But not all the time.

Emily: There’s nothing wrong with being sad some of the time. It’s a natural feeling. Everyone is sad some of the time.

Joshua: I’ll be sad when Andre skips two grades. I don’t really have any other friends.

Emily: Well you’ll still be friends with Andre even though he’s in a different grade.

Joshua: Probably not. He’s too smart for me anyway.

Emily: Oh come on. You’re just as smart as he is. Just in different ways.

Joshua: I’m better at video games, but that’s only because he doesn’t get to do it very much because he doesn’t have a phone.

Emily: Not yet.

Joshua: Hey how come you guys don’t even have a television?

Emily: I never had one when I was growing up because my father didn’t want one. He finds them annoying. So I never got in the habit of watching television and never wanted one.

Joshua: Oh.

Joshua resumes playing a video game on his phone.

Emily: What game are you playing?

Joshua: Fight To the Death. It’s the main one kids play now.

Emily: What happens in the game?

Joshua: Well… you’re going through this multiverse and these aliens and cyborgs and monsters are attacking you and you have to kill them before they kill you. And your powers change when you enter a new universe. Stuff like that.

Emily: You have different kinds of power?

Joshua: Yeah, different ways to kill them and dodge them and get past them.

Emily: Like what kinds of power do you have?

Joshua: You have lasers and lightning bolts and stunners and you can fly at different speeds and make yourself invisible. And you have shields and you can morph into different things. Stuff like that.

Emily: How do you win?

Joshua: You just go as far as you can and try to beat your best score.

Emily: You never come to the end?

Joshua: No. There is no end. You just try to get your highest score.

Emily: I see.

Joshua: Do you think it’s stupid?

Emily: No.

Joshua: Then how come you won’t get Andre a phone?

Emily: I don’t want him to have a phone yet.

Joshua: Why not?

Emily: I want him to learn other things first before he has a phone.

Joshua: Like what other things? He’s already smarter than all the other kids. Even if he skips two grades he’ll be smarter than all the other kids. And if he had a phone, then I could text him and he could text me any time we wanted. What’s wrong with that?

Emily: Nothing is wrong with that. I just want him to experience life without a phone for a few more years.

Joshua: But what if he gets depressed because he doesn’t have a phone and everybody else does? Wouldn’t it be better for him to have a phone than be on meds?

Emily: Yes, it would.

Emily stands up to give the returning swimmers beach towels.

Andre: The water was freezing!

Neal: But it felt fantastic!

They take the towels from Emily and dry themselves.

Andre: And now I’m starving.

Joshua: Me, too.

Neal: Let’s go for pizza.

Joshua: (puts his phone away) Now we’re talkin’.


Broke My Heart