“Don’t think of it as an end,” Charlie said when I gave him his birthday hug that morning.
“I know, I know!” I replied. “‘Every new beginning,’ right?”
“‘What we call the beginning is often the end,’” he quoted. “‘And to make an end is to make a beginning./The end is where we start from.’”
“You’ve been reading Eliot!” I exclaimed.
“I have,” he admitted. “But I didn’t understand it.”
I continued where he’d left off:
“‘And every phrase
And sentence that is right… Yada, yada…
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph.’”
He completed the stanza: “‘And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.’”
“It’s so fitting, so true,” I said.
He would be moving the next day, to the stone cottage on the island, beside the “sea’s throat.” Paolo’s parents, Charlie’s avós, had left him their home after they passed.
I wanted to tell him not to rush–to wait and stay. To live here with us while his career got underway. But I remembered. I remembered how Berry and I had felt, eighteen years before, when we had our fresh inheritance and dreams bursting the seams of every pocket and purse.
I’m glad that Charlie doesn’t yet understand Eliot’s Four Quartets. It takes a lifetime of choices and loss to understand those words of hope and sorrow. One day, he’ll be an old man, sitting perhaps on the balcony of the old stone cottage, looking out over the sea, and with an old man’s wisdom and fulness, he will know what it means when Eliot writes,
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
Oh, but this is to be a happy day! A celebration! Why am I so mournful?
Berry wrapped our boy in a hug, and I felt all my pieces come back together. The island isn’t so far! And a beginning! Who can begrudge a boy a beginning, the start of an adventure?
Charlie seems full of excitement. He’d inherited his avô‘s woodworking set, too, and Paolo had delivered it to our place. Charlie spent the morning crafting a sculpture of a horse. He seemed so delighted as the shape took form.
Of course the sink broke again. When have we ever thrown a party and not spent the afternoon fixing the plumbing? But before Berry could get to it, Charlie stepped in and repaired the leak.
“I’m leaving you two in a top-notch home,” he said. “Better than new!”
I turned around, and it was evening already. Our home filled with guests. Paola and I ducked into the bedroom for a few moments alone together, and when we emerged, the party horns were blowing, and Charlie’s friends were singing.
We moved in an impromptu circle around him, each one of us wishing Charlie happy birthday, congratulating him, bestowing him luck.
I saw the crowd there–each person, someone who counted Charlie among their closest friends. Berry and I are such loners. Even though I have a world of friends, I still think of myself, primarily, as alone, someone separate from the crowd, someone, perhaps, not capable of being fully understood by any save Berry and my boy.
But here is Charlie. The center of a circle of benevolence that revolves around him.
That, perhaps, is his greatest success–even more than the A grades. Even better than his accomplishments. Maybe even more than his music and his art. Friendship. To think that he has already touched the lives of so many.
His friends from school were the last to leave. I watched Miranda, drawn to him by those invisible lines that we women feel when we fall in love. She’s a good person, a strong and smart woman. When I see how she lights up whenever he looks her way, I feel a mom’s gratitude that my boy could be loved by a true heart. I just hope that he discovers a way to reciprocate before she falls any deeper.
Beryl and I were beat. When Charlie offered to clean up, we didn’t put up a fuss. “Tomorrow, you’ll have to wash your own dishes!” he said.
He has no idea what a heart-breaker he is.
I glanced out the window when I got up for a drink of water. Charlie sat at the table with a slim volume of Four Quartets.
I wondered if he’d reached those haunting lines near the poem’s end:
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
Who could think twenty minutes in a closet with a retired player of futebol could result in such a miracle that changed everything?