December 28, 1997 in Features

Lost Love May Neve Know True Feelings

Kathleen Corkery Spencer The Sp

Nearly New Years. I consider the resolutions of last year, how well or poorly I’ve kept them. And my thoughts turn to the bonds of friendship, honored or broken.

I once had a friend named Robert whom I loved but neglected to tell.

We met in our early 20s, more full of dreams than sense. I wanted to be a novelist, he wanted to be a protagonist. The role of the king of England would have suited him nicely. His dreams were 18th-century English. His wit was pure Oscar Wilde.

There was an air of the heir apparent about him though he was a country boy, having grown up on a farm, asthmatic and restless. He drove an old, perfectly kept Cadillac and chauffeured me around town.

We were fast friends from the start, working as booksellers at one of the local stores. This role suited our vague Dickensian notions. Robert, like Dickens’ Pip, had great expectations. I, like Estella, had an ax to grind with men. But not with Robert.

Robert loved men. He said he always had, from the time he was aware of having feelings of that sort for anyone. It wasn’t an easy way for an asthmatic farm boy. But from the start, he said, it was who he was, as random and personal as having blue eyes.

He was dramatic and mercurial and served tea in thin china cups. He was convinced that a great deal of beauty hinged on the right lighting. Amber lamps, soft as gaslight, gleamed in his home, washing all of his many heirlooms and art objects in a gauzy glow. He was a devoted hypochondriac and on occasion both exasperatingly petty and heartbreakingly kind.

He longed for children and with his sensibilities, would have made a wonderful mother. I was both charmed and mystified by the idea of babies and would have made a great dad. We agreed that when the day came that I met the right man and finally had a child, Robert would be godfather. The baby would be given paints and fencing lessons and never want for love. But the baby never came and one day, Robert became ill.

Of course, with Robert, it was difficult to tell. He had so many aches and pains that at first his lethargy seemed perfectly normal. But it didn’t ease up, it grew worse. One day he got the test and it was positive. Weird, he said, that positive meant bad, meant almost hopeless. Almost.

Whenever I called he said that he was tired, tired all the time. And that he just didn’t have the energy to get together. Sometime later, when he felt better, he’d call. But he never did. And after a while, I didn’t call him. I meant to, often, but didn’t. I got caught up in what I then considered essential things. And then I was afraid to call, afraid that he would be ill, or angry or gone. Years past in the impotent silence of good intentions.

Last winter, I attended a reading and book signing in Robert’s neighborhood. The party broke up late. The night was deep blue cold with snow falling fast. As I drove up the street I noticed a light on in Robert’s window.

I stopped the car and parked. I peered at the house trying to imagine who was inside. The light gave no indication. Even from the street, the light was brighter than any of his rooms of the past. I started to his door three times and three times I stopped.

I went back to the car and sat in its indifferent grip. I didn’t turn on the heater. I had the clearest sense that to have sought comfort for myself that night would have been just another betrayal. I stared at the cold stars and told them everything I wished for him. Words that I hoped would hang in the sky long enough to reach him, wherever he might be.

A few weeks later I heard that Robert had died. He left this life within days of my latenight visit.

I think back to that night often, him laying in his bed struggling for life, while I, struggling for courage, sat in my car offering up vapor trails of words.

I wonder if any of those words found him, if he knew of my love; the love I told the stars too late and neglected to ever tell him.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Kathleen Corkery Spencer The Spokesman-Review

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