Everything failed to subdue me. Soon everything seemed dull: another sunrise, the lives of heroes, failing love, war, the discoveries people made about each other. The only thing that didn’t bore me, obviously enough, was how much money Tim Price made, and yet in its obviousness it did. There wasn’t a clear, identifiable emotion within me, except for greed and possibly, total disgust. I had all the characteristics of a human being–flesh, blood, skin, hair–but my depersonalization was so intense, had gone so deep, that the normal ability to feel compassion had been eradicated, the victim of a slow, purposeful erasure. I was simply imitating reality, a rough resemblance of a human being, with only a dim corner of my mind functioning. Something horrible was happening and yet I couldn’t figure out why–couldn’t put my finger on it. The only thing that calmed me was the satisfying sound of ice being dropped into a glass of J&B. Eventually I drowned the chow, which Evelyn didn’t miss; she didn’t even notice its absence, not even when I threw it in the walk-in freezer, wrapped in one of her sweaters from Bergdorf Goodman. We had to leave the Hamptons because I would find myself standing over our bed in the hours before dawn, with an ice pick gripped in my fist, waiting for Evelyn to open her eyes. At my suggestion, one morning over breakfast, she agreed, and on the last Sunday before Labor Day we returned to Manhattan by helicopter.
He buried her beside her husband. After the services were over and the few mourners had gone, he stood alone in a cold November wind and looked at the two graves, one open to its burden and the other mounded and covered by a thin fuzz of grass. He turned on the bare, treeless little plot that held others like his mother and father and looked across the flat land in the direction of the farm where he had been born, where his mother and father had spent their years. He thought of the cost exacted, year after year, by the soil; and it remained as it had been—a little more barren, perhaps, a little more frugal of increase. Nothing had changed. Their lives had been expended in cheerless labor, their wills broken, their intelligences numbed. Now they were in the earth to which they had given their lives; and slowly, year by year, the earth would take them. Slowly the damp and rot would infest the pine boxes which held their bodies, and slowly it would touch their flesh, and finally it would consume the last vestiges of their substances. And they would become a meaningless part of that stubborn earth to which they had long ago given themselves.
In the days to follow the hacendado would come up to the corral where they’d shaped the manada and he and John Grady would walk among the mares and John Grady would argue their points and the hacendado would muse and walk away a fixed distance and stand looking back and nod and muse again and walk off with his eyes to the ground to a fresh vantage point and then look up to see the mare anew, willing to see a new mare should one present itself. Where he could find no gifts of either stance or conformation to warrant his young breeder’s confidence John Grady would likely defer to his judgment. Yet every mare could be pled for on the basis of what they came to call la unica cosa and that one thing which could absolve them of any but the grossest defect was an interest in cattle. For he’d broken the more promising mares to ride and he’d take them upcountry through the cienaga pasture where the cows and calves stood in the lush grass along the edge of the marshlands and he would show them the cows and let them move among them. And in the manada were mares who took a great interest in what they saw and some would look back at the cows as they were ridden from the pasture. He claimed that cowsense could be bred for. The hacendado was less sure. But there were two things they agreed upon wholly and that were never spoken and that was that God had put horses on earth to work cattle and that other than cattle there was no wealth proper to a man.
He let the phone slip from his hand and lay crying for a while, silently, shaking the cheap bed. He didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know how to live. Each new thing he encountered in life impelled him in a direction that fully convinced him of its rightness, but then the next new thing loomed up and impelled him in the opposite direction, which also felt right. There was no controlling narrative: he seemed to himself a purely reactive pinball in a game whose only object was to stay alive for staying alive’s sake. To throw away his marriage and follow Lalitha had felt irresistible until the moment he saw himself, in the person of Jessica’s older colleague, as another overconsuming white American male who felt entitled to more and more and more: saw the romantic imperialism of his falling for someone fresh and Asian, having exhausted domestic supplies. Likewise the course he’d chartered for two and a half years with the Trust, convinced of the soundness of his arguments and the rightness of his mission, only to feel, this morning in Charleston, that he’d made nothing but horrible mistakes. And likewise the overpopulation initiative: what better way to live could there be than to throw himself into the most critical challenge of his time? A challenge that then seemed trumped-up and barren when he thought of his Lalitha with her tubes tied. How to live?
He ran as he’d never run before, with neither hope nor despair. He ran because the world was divided into opposites and his side had already been chosen for him, his only choice being whether or not to play his part with heart and courage. He ran because fate had placed him in a position of responsibility and he had accepted the burden. He ran because his self-respect required it. He ran because he loved his friends and this was the only thing he could do to end the madness that was killing and maiming them. He ran directly at the bunker where the grenades from Jake’s M-79 were exploding. The bullets from the M-60 machine gun slammed through the air on his right, slashing past him, whining like tortured cats, cracking like the bullwhip of death. He ran, having never felt so alone and frightened in his life.
Each failed overture of peace made the next overture less likely to succeed. Before long, what at first glance had seemed to Gary an absurd possiiblity – that the till of their marriage no longer contained sufficient funds of love and goodwill to cover the emotional costs that going to St. Jude entailed for Caroline or that not going to St. Jude entailed for him – assumed the contours of something terribly actual. He began to hate Caroline simply for continuing to fight with him. He hated the newfound reserves of independence she tapped in order to resist him. Especially, devastatingly hateful was her hatred of him. He could have ended the crisis in a minute if all he’d had to do was forgive her; but to see mirrored in her eyes how repellent she found him – it made him crazy; it poisoned his hope.
Being in high school, Miles had no idea there were girls in the world who might be nice to some boy who’d suffered the misfortune of falling in love with them, even when they couldn’t return the favor. Charlene Gardiner was such a girl. Instead of seeing Miles’s crush on her as an occasion for ridicule – by far the most effective cure for a crush – she managed to convey that both Miles and his infatuation were sweet. She didn’t encourage him to persist in his folly, but neither could she bring herself to treat his devotion as something shabby or worthless. Mockery and contempt Miles would’ve understood and accepted as his due, but affection and gratitude confused him deeply. Gratitude for her kindness clouded his judgement, and the proximity she allowed him was simply too intoxicating to give up, so he convinced himself that her fondness was merely the beginning, that if given the opportunity it would metamorphose quite naturally into love. He made no connection between Charlene Gardiner’s kindness to him and his own kindness to Cindy Whiting, an analogy that might have proved instructive.