86: Turning the Page

86: Turning the Page

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Married Life!

Turning the Page

The language of friendship is not words but meanings.

~Henry David Thoreau

The book sale reminded me why I had fallen in love with my ex-husband Larry. My daughter Jessica borrowed my card tables for the occasion. On this sunny Saturday she hoped to earn a little money and sell some of the many books she had inherited when her father died.

Her driveway and yard brimmed with tables and boxes, evidence of Larry’s great intellect and insatiable curiosity. When I met Larry in college, I was swept away by his ability to be poet, philosopher, historian or economist, depending on the occasion. Larry was a prodigious reader, delving into any subject that piqued his interest. As his interests grew, so did his bookshelves.

Even though Larry and I had turned out to be emotionally and spiritually incompatible, I always admired his intellect and humor and we had remained connected after our divorce. Now, I smiled as I saw the religious books, exploring Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. When I met Larry in college, he described himself as an agnostic. But when he learned I was Jewish, he revealed he was three-quarters Christian and one-quarter Jewish. When he was drafted during the Vietnam War, his religious preference imprinted on his dog tags read, “Pantheist.” Perhaps it should have said, “Flexible.” Later, he became a born-again Christian. Even then, he still read about Hinduism, Buddhism and Paganism.

I stopped by a stack of science fiction and thumbed through a battered copy of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers.

“You’ll probably want to save this,” I told Jessica. This was one of Larry’s favorite childhood books. As a kid growing up with an alcoholic father, he had needed a world to escape to. Science fiction provided that and I tenderly touched his well-worn copies of Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress and Dandelion Wine.

One box held a hardback collection of Isaac Bashevis Singer books. Larry had introduced me to the famous Yiddish story, Gimpel the Fool, by Singer, on our second date and it became one of my favorites. During the next months, I avidly read all of Singer’s works, transporting myself from our college town of Columbia, Missouri, into old world Poland, rich with tradition, superstition, humor, and faith.

I leafed through a thick book, The 500 Top Poems. On our first date, Larry recited poetry to me. He loved Ginsberg, T.S. Eliot, and Ferlinghetti. But his favorite was John Ciardi. I rescued the slim Ciardi book hidden behind a volume about the Boer War. Larry had this book when I met him, more than forty years ago. On the flyleaf, he’d scrawled “Love is all.”

There was a certain irony in finding the flowered yellow Sarah Ban Breathnach work, Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self, settled amongst the Michael Connellys and the James Lee Burke mysteries. Self-improvement was a definite mystery for Larry — he often mocked the concept, even while he searched for answers in history and poetry. Perhaps some hopeful woman bought him the book, wishing he would take the hint.

I looked for the book Larry had been reading when I last saw him — the story of America’s upcoming economic collapse. Although divorced, Larry and I had arranged to sit together at a mutual friend’s anniversary party. When I arrived, Larry was alone on a sofa, reading. As usual, he was passionate about his current obsession and cited several other books on economic upheaval.

“I’ll lend them to you, if you want,” he said. But I knew I’d never read past the first pages.

“I’m buying some property in the country,” he added. “For when the world ends. I’ll be off the grid. I’ll grow my own food.”

I thought of our vegetable garden, back in our Whole Earth days. We had planted the seeds together, but somehow Larry always ended up indoors, reading about gardening while I weeded, controlled the pests, harvested and cooked.

“Who’s going to grow the food?” I asked.

“Oh, one of the kids will do it,” he said, waving his hand. “Anyway, the property’s about fifty miles from town. If things get bad, you can come if you want to.”

I smiled as his words, some of the last he spoke to me, played back through my mind. If my friends browsed this eclectic collection, they would easily understand why I had fallen in love with this quirky, curious, brilliant young man. But one thing they wouldn’t be able to read into our relationship was Larry’s enduring generosity. Early on, he had promised to look out for me, and years later, he was still trying to do just that.

Carefully, I selected the books I wanted: the Ciardi, a Singer, a copy of the Upanishads with Larry’s handwriting on the bookplate.

After I paid my daughter, I carried my modest armful of books to the car.

Though our marriage didn’t survive, our friendship did. With this odd assortment of titles, I was keeping a part of Larry with me, allowing his legacy of reading and discovery to live on within my bookshelves.

 

~Deborah Shouse

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