WE SIT ON a green bench, quietly watching the flow of the Delaware, from left to right, a wide river at this point, with an occasional sandbar in the stream, and one tiny island maybe fifteen by twenty feet, holding scrub brush and a small, twisted tree.
Charlotte told me about the re-enactment every Christmastime, of Washington crossing the icy Delaware to attack the unsuspecting Hessians, a likely turning point in the American Revolutionary War. She told it to me with a repugnant look, as she said, “The 1976 event was supposed to be the grandest, the two-hundredth anniversary of the Crossing, only it was fouled by the overhead presence of helicopters.”
Sitting in the little town of Washington’s Crossing, I can imagine the towering figure of big George, standing in his skiff, showing his courage to his followers.
Meredith looks forlorn, and I am tempted to confront her despondency with straightforward questions, but realize that would be invading her privacy.
As so often happens with me, when I am aware of something, but choose to wait, the issue confronts itself. She breaks the silence with a soft but steady torrent of words.
“We’ve known each other a couple of years, and there is much about me you don’t know. It’s not as if I’m deliberately trying to be secretive, but I’ve had so much going on, emotionally, that I thought it better to let it be. I know you are a dear man, and I can imagine how frustrating it must be for you to be on the outside, looking in.”
I manage to say, not altogether truthfully, “That’s okay, Meredith. Secrets are part of all of us. I’venever wanted to pry. I…uh, have my secrets, too.”
She seems to ignore my pathetic little reply, and goes on. “You see, there was this fellow.”
Ah, a fellow. I knew it! Here it comes, the kiss-off, the “I like you, but…” scenario, the “You’re a good friend…” rationale. Not sure I want to hear it. The river becomes a tumultuous flow, its current noisy, competing for my attention, a distraction. Well, not really, I am glued to her face, an addict to hervoice.
“His name was Ted. Theodore, actually. He was a writer, not famous, but talented. Had two novels published, neither a bestseller, but was learning his trade, and was convinced the next one would be his magnum opus. I told him he was a mix between Hemingway and Steinbeck, economical in words, yet focused on social themes. He would laugh at me and tell me I was grandiose.”
I am beginning to feel annoyed. So, she had a romance with some big-shot author, and kept it from me. What’s the point? Where is all this going?
“Paradoxically, he was a surfer, aesthetic and cultured on the one hand, and a hippy on the other. I was charmed by the contrasts, seduced by his vagaries, his seemingly incompatible interests. I’m not sure what pulled him to me; I mean I’m not all that talented, and I think of myself as rather uncomplicated.”
“Oh, Meredith, you underestimate yourself. You are a deep person, smart and insightful, and beautiful inside and out.” Saying this is my biggest risk ever with her.
“You’re my friend, and of course you will see me in a positive way. But I don’t think Ted viewed me the way you describe. Frankly, as I look back on it, I think he saw me–and I feel crude saying this– as a good lay!”
Hearing her say this, shamefully I admit, brings on a surge of passion in me. Nothing wrong with being a good lay, but Meredith is a hell of a lot more than that.
“Not sure what you say is crude,” I reply, “but if he didn’t see the elegant aspects of you, he didn’t deserve you.”
“Well, see, I looked at it that way too, but I was…hooked on him.” She looks at me apologetically and continues. “I was in love with him. Drastically. Stupidly.”
“I notice,” I say, “that this whole time you have been saying ‘was.’ Tell me what happened, what the status is.” I’m not really sure I want to hear it, but I can’t stand the ambiguity.
She covers her face with her hand, seems to shiver, looks up and about at the woods across the river on the Jersey side, at the lapping water just below us. What she says first is escape, a retreat from the tension, relief from the personal stress.
“The river is amazing, so eternal, so carefree.”
I wait, testing again my pattern of trying to be patient.
“He…” she starts, but stops abruptly.
“Look,” I say, trying my best to be tender, “if this is too hard for you…”
“No,” she says at once. “I want to tell you. I’ve been holding onto it for too long. Claire was the only person in the world who knew. She was my comfort, and now she’s gone.”
“It seems to me, you and Claire were mutual comforts. She had her secrets and you had yours.”
She shakes her head, stares hard at the water, and says in a whisper. “Ted…drowned.”
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