Today's Reading

PART I

AMERICA


To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness in yourself.

ASLAN, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, C. S. LEWIS


CHAPTER 1

Begin again, must I begin again
Who have begun so many loves in fire
SONNET I, JOY DAVIDMAN

1946
Ossining, New York

There are countless ways to fall in love, and I'd begun my ash-destined affairs in myriad manners. This time, it was marriage.

The world, it changes in an instant. I've seen it over and over, the way in which people forge through the days believing they have it all figured out, protected inside a safe life. Yet there is no figuring life out, or not in any way that protects us from the
tragedies of the heart. I should have known this by now; I should have been prepared.

"Joy." Bill's voice through the telephone line came so shaky I thought he might have been in a car wreck or worse. "I'm coming
undone again and I don't know what to do. I don't know where to go."

"Bill." I hugged the black plastic phone against my ear and shoulder, the thick cord dangling, as I bounced our baby son,
Douglas, against my chest. "Take a deep breath. You're fine. It's just the old fear. You're not in the war. You're safe."

"I'm 'not' fine, Joy. I can't take it anymore." Panic broke his voice into fragments, but I understood. I could talk him off this
ledge as I had other nights. He might get drunk before it was all over, but I could calm him.

"Come home, Poogle. Come on home." I used the nickname we had for each other and our children, like a birdcall.

"I'm not coming home, Joy. I'm not sure I ever will."

"Bill!" I thought he might have hung up, but then I heard his labored breathing, in and out as if someone were squeezing the life
out of him. And then the long, shrill, disconnected buzz vibrated like a tuning fork in my ear and down to my heart, where my own fear sat coiled and ready to strike.

"No!" I shouted into the empty line.

I knew Bill's office number by heart and I called him back again and again, but it rang endlessly while I mumbled a mantra: "Answer answer answer." As if I had any control from where I stood in our kitchen, my back pressed against the lime-green linoleum counter. Finally I gave up. There was nothing left for me to do. I couldn't leave our babies and go look for him. He'd taken the car and I didn't have help. I had no idea where he might be other than a bar, and in New York City there were hundreds.

Isolated, I had only myself to blame. I was the one who'd pushed for a move from the city to this banished and awful place far from my literary friends and publishing contacts. I'd begun to believe that I'd never been a poet, or a novelist, a friend or lover, never existed as anything other than wife and mother. Moving here had been my meager attempt to whisk Bill away from an affair with a blonde in Manhattan. Desperation fuels one to believe idiocy is insight.

Was he with another woman and merely feigning a breakdown? This didn't seem too farfetched, and yet even his lunacy had its limits.

Or maybe it didn't.

Our house in the Hudson Valley at the far edge of the suburb of Ossining, New York, was a small wooden abode we called Maple Lodge. It had a sloping roof and creaked with every movement our little family made: Bill; Davy, a toddler who was much like a runaway atom bomb; and Douglas, a baby. It often felt as if the foundation itself were coming undone with our restlessness. I was thirty-one years old, surrounded by books, two cats, and two sons, and I felt as ancient as the house itself.

I missed my friends, the hustle and bustle of the city, the publishing parties and literary gossip. I missed my neighbors. I
missed myself.

Night surrounded my sons and me, darkness pressing in on the windowpanes with an ominous weight. Douglas, with his mass of brown curls and apple cheeks, dozed with a warm bottle of milk dangling from his mouth while Davy dragged toy trucks across the hardwood floors, oblivious to the scratches they dug.
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