Temporary or Permanent
“LUCIA, COME HERE, child,” the elderly lady called. Eight-year-old Lucia bounded in to the house of her neighbor, a very nice Greek woman, whom she called Υιαγιά or Grandmother. Young Lucia looked into the dazzling dark eyes of Yιαγιά, the elderly lady’s face framed by beautiful white hair. Yιαγιά asked, “Tell me Sweetheart, which do you think is more important — your friends or the sun?”
Without missing a beat, young Lucia replied, “Of course, the sun, Yιαγιά.”
Yιαγιά responded, “So now tell me, how much will the sun be able to help you when you have problems at midnight?”
From that day on, Lucia was always willing to talk to anyone regardless of the hour. Her friends and students had her house phone number, just in case someone needed her at midnight.
Lucia listened to her phone messages. First up was Hilary. Lucia often marveled at the incredible aspects of memory. Hearing Hilary’s voice brought to mind first meeting Hilary, then just twenty years of age, beautiful, kind, and intelligent. She recalled the happiness and lilt of Hilary’s voice, the bounce in her step, and the brilliant highlights in her green eyes. When Lucia met her, Hilary had fallen in love with Pierre, fifteen years older.
Pierre was tall and handsome. He was charming, kind, and attentive to Hilary. He easily captured Hilary’s heart. He had a son, Joachim, and he owned two quite successful businesses. He had an easy way about him and entertained Hilary with quips and jokes. She laughed more than she remembered laughing. The little boy was equally charming.
Soon, Hilary moved in. Joachim’s mother took this opportunity to take custody of her son. Neither Hilary nor Pierre minded that too much because it gave them the house to themselves. Pierre gave her use of a car, gave her a budget to decorate the house, and encouraged her to hire a maid to take care of house cleaning. He presented her a lovely, white Persian cat. Hilary suggested they marry. Pierre told her, “When the time is right.”
Two years passed. Pierre’s two businesses took more and more of his time. Hilary sat at home, hoping and praying for just a weekend with Pierre, just a single day, just an evening, just an hour. Pierre’s business occupied him more and more, taking him out of town, out of the country, accompanied by his loyal secretary.
Hilary found out about the affair. Heartbroken, she packed her suitcase, took her cat, and went back to the loving home and hearth of her parent’s house. She was sure she would never fall in love again.
On the other side of the city, there was a young man named Philip. His wife deemed Philip useless. Five years and no children. What kind of a man was he? Philip’s wife left him for another man. Philip rented a bungalow and furnished it with a bed, a leather recliner, and a fifty-inch flat screen TV. He put on weight. His friends teased him. He resolved to change himself and joined a gym.
One day, early in the morning, Philip noticed a beautiful young woman with dazzling green eyes. He gathered his courage and spoke to her. Hilary liked him too.
The beginning proved rocky. They kept each other at a distance. Neither wanted to open themselves to the potential of getting hurt again. Still, they encountered each other at friends’ houses, the theater, and cafés, until one day, they felt they had fallen in love. They thought themselves lucky to have found such a compatible, empathic soul mate, and they decided to live together.
Very soon afterwards, Hilary told Philip she was pregnant. Stunned, Philip asked, “Who is the father?”
“You are, of course. There is no one else,” Hilary responded, equally stunned.
“But I am sterile,” Philip insisted. “Yolanda and I tried and tried, and then when she remarried, she immediately got pregnant, so it wasn’t her.” Doubt, fear, worry, jealousy, and anxiety began to fill him.
She touched his cheek lovingly. “My dearest,” she said softly, “you are our baby’s father. Maybe, somehow, your body knew that before was the wrong time, and now is the right time.”
Philip took Hilary in his arms and swung her around in delight.
Hilary and Philip married, surrounded by their happy friends and ecstatic families. They had everything — love, understanding, and a baby on the way. Their families threw a big, joyous wedding with food, music, and dancing long into the night. Seven months later, an angelic, beautiful baby girl entered this world. They named her Joy, the same feeling they had about her birth.
Bringing up a child proved costly. Both took better-paying jobs, and with those jobs came long hours of work. At the gym where they met, Hilary became an aerobics instructor and then assistant manager. Philip received promotions from his sales rep job to district manager and then division manager. The new incomes allowed them to buy a big, new house with a good-sized garden where Joy could play. Hilary’s mother moved in to the basement apartment to take care of their little Joy.
By the time of Joy’s third birthday, Philip’s division manager job occupied his time nearly eighty hours each week. Hilary taught classes at the gym eight hours every day Monday through Saturday and often stayed late helping her manager with the daily accounts. They barely saw each other, or Joy.
The phone message was short but to the point. When it was done, Lucia sighed. She was not a bit surprised to hear Hilary reaching out. She phoned back and invited Hilary to bring Philip to come and talk to her.
“He won’t come,” Hilary said, sounding quite defeated. “He doesn’t have the time.”
“Give me his number,” Lucia said. She phoned Philip on his mobile. Philip agreed to come and talk. It was nearly impossible to say no to Lucia.
Thursday evening at seven, Hilary and Philip arrived together at Lucia’s front door. The distance between them could not have been larger. Lucia escorted them to her front parlor and offered them tea. They greeted Lucia perfunctorily and took seats at opposite ends of the sofa; their bodies twisted away from each other.
Lucia began in earnest, peppering the two with questions, “Didn’t you two share your mutual stories? Didn’t you share with each other how much each of you had suffered? Didn’t you take the time to be sure that you were doing what you both wanted?”
Philip sat and studied his own hands. Hilary respond, “Yes, Lucia, we did all of that, but . . .” and launched into a tedious recap of their situation.
Lucia thought, Could it be that these two immature people used each other? She had her baggage full of bitter deceptions and so did he. The two of them suffered the same deceptions from former lovers, and they both felt the pain of abandonment. Could it be that they became mutual handkerchiefs? When all of their painful tears have dried and the stories have become old and boring, are the two of them still in love?
It was acutely obvious to Lucia that the pair took advantage of each other as one takes advantage of an advisor, a priest, or a good friend, seeking comfort and validation. If they had only been honest with me at the beginning, Lucia thought, I would have advised them that marrying a wounded person most often leads to a sad end. The worst of it is, if one or the other finds someone to listen to his or her new tale of woe, another tragic cycle starts.
Suddenly Hilary said, “Are you hearing me? You seem somewhere else.”
“Yes, Hilary, I understand you perfectly well,” Lucia said. “Let’s see if I can parse this. What happened between the two of you is that both of you were in the position of being each other’s transitional lover. Sometimes this is called a rebound relationship, and it is usually temporary because you are not in a healthy state of mind, but you reach out to an opportune person for momentary comfort. The fourth-century philosopher St. Augustine would not have called it transitional. He would have called it transgression or what I call ‘walking backwards.’”
“So you’re saying we should never have married,” Philip asked dourly, with a sidewise glance toward Hilary.
“Listen closely, guys,” Lucia replied. “We must learn to be able to take the temperature of personal sincerity. St. Augustine himself said, “Do not look outward, look back into yourself; the truth dwells in the inner person.” The transgression you committed is looking for someone to blame. This is what Adam did in Paradise when he accepted the fruit from Eve, knowing perfectly well what that meant. When you told each other your stories, both of you were competing to see who had suffered the most, which caused to pity each other. And that pity ultimately resulted in each of you losing respect for the other. My advice to you is stop talking about the past because you already have a daughter in the present. Both of you have to understand that the union of marriage is not something temporary but permanent. Both of you have constructed a house with a weak foundation. You have an adorable daughter for whom both of you need to reinforce your marriage and move forward. So, go home, return to your child, and return to her the joy for which she was named. When you got married, you signed a contract promising mutual loyalty. Go home and put it in practice. Both of you are very young. And do not forget that life is long and benevolent.”
Philip set his teacup down before him on the table. He stood, smoothed the wrinkles down the front of his pants, and said, “You’re finished? That’s that then.”
“I hope you will consider what I said,” Lucia added hopefully. Philip gave her a perfunctory nod.
“We will have a long conversation about this,” Hilary stated.
“Yes. We transgressors will have a conversation,” Philip said. “Philip . . .,” Lucia said, touching his sleeve. “I said what I said because I care for both of you. I urge you to make the effort, for your daughter, for Hilary, and for yourself.”
“We will,” Hilary interjected. “Thank you very much, and we promise.”
Philip looked at Hilary with warmth for the first time during their visit.
“Yes,” he echoed. “We promise.”
“You don’t have to promise me,” Lucia said. “Promise yourselves.”