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Matters of the Heart


Connecticut, 1962

The situation was frustrating and fatiguing, worrisome and distracting. Frances could hear all that Hadleigh was saying and found herself, surprisingly, in agreement with much of what her daughter had to say; but she simply couldn't respond. There was a segment of her brain that wanted very much to engage itself at long last in this dialogue. She'd waited years for a confrontation that didn't seem now as if it would take place after all. Not only could she not respond, she was also exhausted. She just hadn't enough energy to deal with Hadleigh. Which was, really, a great pity.

Another surprise: She enjoyed the sound of Hadleigh's voice and found it rather like an anchor, grounding her to this time and this place, giving her a clearly defined point to which she could return. The disadvantage, however, lay in the distraction factor. The more closely she listened to what her daughter was saying, the more difficult it became for her to fix her focus. Impossibly, she wanted to be able to do both: to respond to and deal with, finally, Hadleigh's lifetime accumulation of unanswered questions; she also wanted to think of the past. This duality of purpose was exhausting her further.

Mercifully, a time arrived when Hadleigh was silent, and Frances was able to review her daughter's words, finding in them undeniable elements of truth and, more significantly, evidence of Hadleigh's emergence as a person in her own right. It had been a long time happening and Frances was in no small way responsible for the retardation of the process. She'd long since acknowledged her culpability, but hadn't ever made any sort of declaration to Hadleigh. She'd been unable. After a lifetime of refusing either to explain or to apologize—at least in any direct fashion—it appeared she might never have an opportunity to do either. It was a pity. Their time together would have been far more successful, their relationship would have been infinitely more compatible had Frances been able to step out from behind the barricade of her carefully calculated defenses in order to make herself visible and comprehensible to her daughter. Certainly over the years she'd found all sorts of justification for why this had never occurred, but she could readily see now that no amount of justification could ever recompense Hadleigh. How could one possibly say to one's child, "I couldn't, simply couldn't tell you?" It was worse than no explanation at all.

There were fragmented memories, recollections that made Frances wince with distaste, particularly in view of that sense of eminent justification she'd felt for so long in a mode of behavior that could only be described as off center, even mad. Madness, yes, was unquestionably what she'd indulged in when, faced with the options, she'd discovered herself unable to pursue safely any other course. And even after the madness had passed, she'd dragged it out upon occasion—like a well-worn, comfortable disguise—to shield herself from the need to deal with situations that rarely evolved as she'd have wished.

A pathetic excuse, really, but she had been mad for a time; quite mad. Hopelessly, helplessly mad. And the crime lay not in her madness but rather in her refusal ever afterwards to make good in tangible fashion some portion of the damage she'd done—especially to Hadleigh. The truth would, at last, be made clear to Hadleigh very soon now, but she doubted the skeletal facts would offer sufficient release. No. What Frances most wanted was for Hadleigh to experience an infusion of understanding that would bring with it all the basic elements of forgiveness. It grieved her now to think that her actions, whatever the cause, had impaired Hadleigh to such an extent that she'd never be able to live fully; that she'd blinded Hadleigh to the truth of Hadleigh's own strengths.

Never complain, never explain! Really! What sort of credo was that for a life, for a mother? Viewed from this point, it had been nothing more than a frightful cover for her inability to confront matters head on. Yet there were things she couldn't explain, things that defied rational explanation. And she gave up the right to complain when, one dismal afternoon, she decided to resurrect a love that she now knew hadn't ever existed, except within the confines of her own distorted imaginings.

Much of the past was rain-drenched, its boundaries and details smeared beneath a permanent downpour. But she could remember with alarming clarity even the slightest detail of that afternoon when, in the course of a telephone conversation, she'd made the decision to abandon everything for the sake of a self-indulgent fantasy. That telephone conversation had been the embarkation point for her journey into madness. No one and nothing else was responsible. It was extraordinary to recognize how little it had taken to send her on her way. It was as if all her life up to that moment had been nothing more than a pastel prelude to everything that followed. She'd assembled her emotional baggage, and off she'd gone, allowing her nerve endings rather than her intelligence to lead her.

Hadleigh was speaking again, and Frances listened. Her listening was a kind of counterpoint; she italicized certain of her daughter's remarks, underscored others. She was saddened, rendered regretful by the words, yet made increasingly optimistic. Hadleigh was gaining on her own sources of courage; she was locating her strength, perhaps even drawing it right from Frances's own rapidly diminishing supply. Good! she thought. It was a slim gift, but a gift none the less. Perhaps this is how it ends, she thought, with my feeding you directly from my cells as I once fed you from my breast. She had loved the infant; she'd even, briefly, loved the process by which she'd provided that inchoate nourishment. They'd been part of one another in a primal, never to be duplicated fashion, at a point in her history when nurturing had been well within Frances's capabilities. It had been a brief period, but one, perhaps, that had seen the formation of an enduring bond between them. The bond did exist; it always had.

Hadleigh was—and how Frances wished she could tell her this!—an infinitely more lovable person than the woman who'd carried her to completion and then heaved her into the daylight. Hadleigh's determination to love and be loved by so impossible a mother was nothing short of remarkable in Frances's eyes. That Hadleigh could still care for her, that she could go on demonstrating her caring was almost more than Frances could bear. It would have been infinitely more appropriate if Hadleigh had separated herself once and for all. It was what Frances had always expected, but Hadleigh obviously had her own form of selective vision, and chose to see qualities in her mother Frances had spent a lifetime trying to conceal.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a sudden image of Arthur that brought with it fully her undiminished loneliness for him. His features filled the screen of her mind and she studied them for several long moments, remarking upon the quality of the light that surrounded him. Chagrined at her own actions, she feared she was becoming one of those dreadful aging women who drifted off into vague recollections that rendered them unbearably dewy and nostalgic. Nevertheless, the sight of Arthur chewed at her, making her impatient with the limitations of her body. Without the body she might have traveled anywhere in time; she might have been young again, but with finer insights and the skill to replay events to a more satisfactory conclusion. She was sliding toward self-pity and refused adamantly to fall into the cloying trap. Yes, all right, she did love, had cared—for Arthur, and for Hadleigh. And, yes, it might be too late to make restitution to Hadleigh, but there was Bonita; still a final answer to be found. Go on! Frances mutely urged. It's coming closer. We'll have all we need to know very soon now. And then, when it's ended at last, perhaps I'll rest for a bit.


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