St. Valentine’s Day red turned into to St. Patrick’s Day green, and as a result all the cherub-face cupids made way for the little dancing leprechaun men. Supposedly the electronic age was doing away with hard-copy greeting cards too, but I had yet to see strong evidence of that. It looked to me as though there’d always be a place for poems and pictures delivered in colorful envelopes that often explicitly declared extra postage required.
As I had done in February, I also considered buying Madison a St. Patrick’s Day card. It would have to be something funny of course, with a hint of the suggestive if I could find it. I had shied away from the Valentine’s Day greeting ultimately being too nervous about appearing to push him, but now that things were definitely progressing between us, it would be kind of nice to have something like written documentation from me at least. Perhaps that was the social worker in me. If it wasn’t documented then it didn’t happen, right? I had actually pressed petals from the roses that Madison had given me into the back pages of my copy of Persuasion the Jane Austen novel with the older, ugly-duckling heroine who finds true love at last. If I gave him a card, maybe Madison would even hang it on his fridge and that way make it the single piece of art in his barren bachelor pad, as schmaltzy as any card I’d probably buy might be.
Perhaps it did bother me a little that Madison’s home was so devoid of art. His home wasn’t cold for the lack of it per se, just more like restrained or something, although maybe reserved was the better word for it. Could Madison be warm and fuzzy at all, I wondered. Functionality seemed to rule the day with him. Except for his library, which was extensive and diverse enough surprisingly to include novels and books of poetry mixed in with the law, the political science, and the Keynesian economics. Although Jane Austen was not among them. And of course perhaps the frivolous books had been gifts, possibly even left behind by Karen. After all shouldn’t there be some trace of her?
Like Derrick, Karen still lived here in Atlanta, which meant that there was the very real chance that we could run into her someday. Surely she and Madison must have liked the same things, shared the same interests, gone to the same places. They probably had not been as mismatched as me and Derrick. And if the accident had turned out even a little bit differently, she would have probably stayed with Madison, and most likely been the one shopping for a coffeemaker at Target that night. At times, usually when I wanted to douse my romantic ecstasy with the cold water of potentially unhappy endings, I’d picture Karen coming back to Madison, confessing a love that could never die; and Madison, perhaps more open now due to my efforts, accepting her back, while thanking me for giving him the confidence to follow his heart, and so dumping me. Case closed, in every sense of the word.
It was total torture to keep doing this to myself and yet I couldn’t help it. I might be one to hope for the best, but I always expected the worst. Although I carefully concealed such expectations, and in so doing was proof positive that the theory of cognitive dissonance was right. If the truth was that my present reality with Madison was really kind of wonderful, I was determined to let myself be happy.
An act of naked defiance in the face of my sister, Pam. She had been pretty upset after meeting Madison, coming at me the minute I was back in the house with a fairly predictable and impassioned arsenal of why this was never going to work. Apparently I was the nicest naïve person in the world, not to mention kind-but-misguided social worker ever to cross the line between feeling-sorry-for and falling-in-love. I wasn’t desperate. I didn’t have to settle for a man I’d have to take care of for the rest of my life. I would have been insulted on so many levels for so many reasons had I not been able to draw on my professional skills and understand that my sister was just too surprised by it all to be anything but reactionary. In a manner of minutes she had conjured up all the negative images that Madison had been concerned about all those times when he had been hesitant to let us happen. And when she ran out of new images, Pam simply recycled the original ones for emphasis.
“There’s absolutely nothing helpless about Madison, Pam,” I had tried to tell her. “You forget he works. He’s totally inde--”
“He’s crippled, Paige,” Pam had insisted. “He couldn’t even shake my hand.”
“You wouldn‘t shake his hand. That was all you.”
“I didn’t want to hurt him.”
“No you just insulted him instead. He’s not made a glass, Pam. He might be the strongest man I’ve ever known.”
“Oh please don’t be ridiculous! I know, courage of heart, blah, blah, blah. He’s not one of your clients, Paige. You can’t fix him.”
“I don’t need to fix him. He’s fine, just the way he is.”
“Oh yeah, right. You’re thrilled that he’s crippled. It’s a blessing.”
“That’s the way you talk, Pam, not me.”
“We reap what we sow, Paige.”
“So your husband keeps telling me.”
“It is Scripture.”
“So is an eye for an eye, and muzzled women, and slavery.”
“I can pick out Bible verses too, Pam.”
“I know you feel sorry for him, so do I but--”
“Pity’s not love, Paige.”
“You’re absolutely right. It’s not. And I am in love with him.”
“You can’t be. I mean he’s…he can’t--”
“What? Make love? Oh Pam, you just don’t know. Madison Reese rocks my world like I never knew before.”
It had felt so good to say it out loud to someone even her, and despite just the tiniest hint of melodrama. It wasn’t especially fashionable to be overly sentimental, and I hated it as much as anyone did when the drama was for show, but please I was truly in love with the guy: head-over-heels, hard-core, cherry-popping, on-a- rocket in love. And when I wasn’t scaring myself with the realities of how challenging any relationship could be, I was just elated. Why was it that love seemed to be the ultimate four-letter-word? The one most forbidden unless it actually meant nothing or was merely about a song or some kind of food?
My sister’s ability implications had been meant to knock some sense into my head, and had they come before Valentine’s Day night, she might have had better luck, although I kind of doubted it. From the moment Madison had offered me his hand and I had taken it something had taken root inside of me; something that had immediately wanted more. And for him too. And now it had grown green, pushing up and out towards the light with the promise of a bloom.
Pam had rolled her eyes dismissively that morning as we had argued in her kitchen, leaving no doubt that she didn’t believe me, or that she just thought I was crazy and had foolishly romanticized the situation. In a way, it was very ironic, my saintly sister Pam concerning herself about my sex life, or lack thereof, since in her eyes I wasn’t even supposed to have one of those without the sanctity of marriage first. Not to mention the fact that her husband believed that having been divorced the right thing for me to do would be to put myself away and remain celibate until forever.
Eventually that morning Round One had dwindled into a silent truce. But it was only the first round. There would be subsequent ones. Armed with the knowledge that she had in fact been right about Derrick, Pam would never give up that easily. My little sister was determined to save me from myself and my ongoing bad choices when it came to men. It was meant to be loving. Next time around she’d likely bring in the big guns that being my brother-in-law, Ted, self-proclaimed knower of all things, head of household, and therefore head of the family. The Bible also said that wives should submit themselves to their husbands and since I no longer had one of those, then Ted had long ago assumed he was the next best thing.
As March reached for April, and I tip-toed around my sister’s house as best I could to avoid conflict, while I spent as many nights as possible at Madison’s, I started looking for another place to live. There would be a show-down sooner rather than later regarding my sleeping arrangements, and an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. With my Target wages and my credit report my options were limited, but all I really needed was a room of my own in a house where I could be without interference an adult.
And although Madison might be the immediate catalyst for this next step in my regeneration, I avoided discussing the topic of my housing or my family troubles with him as much as possible; because a) honestly my moving out had always been inevitable; and b) I didn’t want Madison to feel in anyway responsible for the situation. After all Pam was right, pity was not love. And if Madison offered to take me in, like I was some kind of stray cat or something, how would he ever love me? I’d always be feeling indebted to him and I was sick to death of debt. Besides what if the Bible was really right in that part about people needing to be equally yoked. If Madison and I were going to have a real shot—and I wanted that so much—then I had to get on my feet first.
He naturally picked up on the fact that I was keeping something from him, and unfairly perhaps I let him believe that it mainly had to do with my family’s reservations about his disability, when that was only part of it. He was already so willing to believe that anyway, that even if I had explained how it was more than that, how Ted was just a self-righteous jerk and Pam was his dutiful wife, Madison would have accused me of trying to defend him at their expense.
He tended to take Pam and Ted’s side, just as he took Karen’s, logically understanding their unwillingness to share any part of his unfortunate fate. “They believe you can do better than me,” he had said on more than one occasion. “And they’re right.” It frightened me when Madison spoke this way about himself, putting his body back between us like a wall, because it reminded me that he didn’t believe we were possible long-term. He’d get this funny smile, a crooked one that seemed to say that try as I might I couldn’t overcome his reality. And I’d think of Karen and wonder if this was what she had left behind, Madison’s inability to believe that a woman could love him. It was the wrong inevitability that he was waiting on, the one where I went away, and so it was the one that kept him holding back from me, frequently retreating behind his curled fingers and still legs, and what he had to do to move his bowels and empty his bladder, retreating even though I knew he wanted not to, and would again find himself pulling me to him, wrapping me in his arms.
Madison wanted not to want me too, but he did, and that was for now my ace in the hole. Madison Reese was not nearly so strict and sterile as his home would suggest. He was more than function, feelings were in him too. They’d get passed him sometimes, reveal themselves, reach for me, often times in tiny, timid motions, like when he voluntarily moved one of his weakened muscles and I caught him doing it. In these instances his smile would be sheepish, not superior, as if he had embarrassed himself a little, and I wasn’t supposed to make too much out of it. But secretly I always did; and rejoiced, letting myself hope for the best, believing in it for both of us.