From there Ai William!
I would like to say a few things about my first husband, William.
William has experienced some very sad events lately — many of us do — but I would like to mention that he feels almost compelled; he is now seventy-one years old.
My second husband, David, passed away last year, and I also feel sorry for William in my grief with him. The sadness is such … oh, such is the case lonely thing; this is the horror of it, I think. It’s like sliding from the outside of a long glass building while no one sees you.
But William is what I want to talk about here.
His name is William Gerhardt, and when we got married I took his last name, even though there was no fashion for it at the time. My college roommate said, “Lucy, are you taking her name? I thought you were a feminist. ” And I told her that being a feminist didn’t matter to me; I told him I didn’t want to be me anymore. I felt like I was at the time tired for being me, I spent my whole life unwillingly being myself — I thought this then — and so I took her name and became Lucy Gerhardt for eleven years, but it never seemed right to me, and almost immediately. After William’s mother died I went to the place of motor vehicles to get my name back on my driver’s license, even though it was harder than I thought; I had to go back and bring some court documents; but I did.
I became Lucy Barton again.
We were married for almost twenty years before she left, and we have two daughters, and we’ve been friends for a long time — how, I don’t know exactly. There are many horrible stories of divorce, but except for the separation itself, ours is not one of them. Sometimes I thought I was going to die from the pain of our separation, and the pain it was causing my girls, but I didn’t die, and here I am, and so is William.
As a novelist, I have to write this almost like a novel, but it’s true — as true as I can be. And I mean, oh, it’s hard to know what to say! But it’s because I’ve been told something about William when I’ve told him or because I’ve seen it with my own eyes.
So I’m going to start this story when William was sixty-nine years old, which is less than two years ago.
William’s lab assistant recently started calling William “Einstein,” and it seemed like William had come out very well. I don’t think William looks like Einstein, but I take the young woman’s opinion. William has a very full mustache with gray whiteness, but his kind of mustache is trimmed and his hair is full and white. It’s cut out, but it gets out of his head. He is a tall man and dresses very well. And it doesn’t make Einstein, in my opinion, look that blurry. William’s face is often closed with an uninterrupted pleasure, except occasionally, when he throws his head back, with a real laugh; I haven’t seen anything like this in a long time. His eyes are brown and have become large; Not everyone’s eyes widen as they get older, but William’s eyes do.
Every morning William would get up in his spacious apartment on Riverside Drive. Imagine him: throwing a dark blue cotton duvet aside, his wife still asleep in his king-bed, and entering the bathroom. Every morning, he would be stiff. But if he did the exercises and did them, he went out into the living room, lying on his back on the big black-and-red carpet with the old chandelier, his legs pedaling in the air like a bicycle, then stretching. them here and there. Then he would move to the big brown chair by the window overlooking the Hudson River, where he would read the news on his laptop. Once Estelle would come out of the bedroom and shake him to sleep and then his daughter, Bridget, who was ten years old, would wake him up and after William had showered the three of them would have breakfast in the kitchen around the table; William enjoyed this routine, and his daughter was a talkative girl, who liked him too; it was as if she were listening to a bird, she once said, and her mother was also talkative.
After leaving the apartment he crossed Central Park and took the subway from downtown, down Fourteenth Street and walking the remaining distance to New York University; He liked this daily walk, though he noticed that he wasn’t as fast as the young people who passed by with bags of food, or prams with two kids, or in trousers and earplugs, on yoga mats. a piece of elastic hung over the shoulders. He took it hard that a lot of people could pass — an old man with a vehicle, or a woman who used a cane, or just a person his age, who seemed to be moving more slowly than he did — and that made him feel it. healthy and alive and almost vulnerable in a world of constant traffic. He was proud because he took more than ten thousand steps a day.
William felt (almost) vulnerable, which is what I’m saying here.
On those morning walks he thought for a few days: Oh, God, I can be that man-! There sitting in a wheelchair in the morning sun in Central Park, an assistant was typing on a bench while the man’s head fell to his chest on his cell phone, or it could have been. that-! twisted arm as a result of a blow, irregular gait … But then William would think: No, I’m not that person.
And he wasn’t that person. As I said, he was a tall man, his age added no extra weight to him (except for a small belly that could almost be seen with his clothes), he still had hair, now white but full, and he was — William. And he had a wife, his third, twenty-two years his junior. And that was no small feat.
But at night, he was often terrified.
William told me one morning — not two years ago — when we met up for coffee on the Upper East Side. We met for dinner at the corner of Ninety-first Street and Lexington Avenue; William has a lot of money and he gives a lot and one place he gives is a children’s hospital near where I live, and when he had an early morning meeting in the past, he would call me and we would meet briefly in this corner for coffee. On this day — it was March, a few months before William was seventy years old — we sat at a table in the corner of this dining-room; the windows were painted with St. Patrick’s Day tribals, and I thought — I thought this — that William was more tired than usual. I’ve often thought that William looks better with age. The full white hair gives it a distinctive air; he wears it a little longer than usual, and lifts it a little from his head, to counter the fallen big mustache, and his cheeks are more outstretched, his eyes still dark; and it’s a little strange, because he’ll see you whole — nice — but from time to time his eyes become very penetrating. So what’s going on with that look? I have never met him.
In the dining room that day, “So how are you, William ?, “I hoped he would answer as he always does, which is in an ironic tone” What, I’m fine, thank you, Lucy, “but this morning he just said,” I’m fine. ”He was wearing a long black coat, which he removed and folded on the chair next to him before he sat down. Her outfit was tailor-made, ever since she met Estelle the clothes were tailor-made for her, so she fit her shoulders perfectly; he was dark gray and had a pale blue shirt and a red tie; he looked solemn. He folded his arms across his chest, which he often does. “You look nice,” I said, and she said, “Thank you.” (I think William has never told me he looks good, or pretty, or even good, every time we’ve seen each other over the years, and it’s true that I’ve always hoped for him.) He promised us. coffee and eyes wandered from place to place as he pulled his mustache lightly. He talked about our girls for a while — he wondered if Becka, the youngest, was angry with him; he was kind of — awkwardly — annoyed when he called her on the phone one day to talk to him, and I told him he had to give her a place, that he was getting into his marriage, so we talked. that was a little — and then William looked at me and said, “Button, I want to tell you something.” He leaned forward briefly. “I’ve had these terrible horrors in the middle of the night.”
When he uses my pet name in our past it means that he is somehow present, often not, and it always excites me when he calls me that.
I said, “Do you mean nightmares?”
He bowed his head as he considered this and said, “No. I woke up. It’s dark when things come to me. ‘ He added, “I’ve never been like that. But they’re scary, Lucy. They scare me.”
William leaned forward again and left his cup of coffee.
I looked at him, and then I asked him, “Is there any different medication you’re taking?”
He held his forehead a little and said, “No.”
So I said, “Well, try taking a sleeping pill.”
And he said, “I’ve never taken a sleeping pill,” which didn’t surprise me. But he said his wife did; Estell took several pills, leaving her wanting to understand the handful she was taking at night. “Now I’m taking my pills,” he would say cheerfully, and he was asleep for half an hour. He didn’t care about that, he said. But the pills were not for him. However, he was often awake for four hours and panic often began.
“Tell me,” I said.
And so he did, only occasionally looking at me as if he were inside those horrors.
From there Ai William! By Elizabeth Strout, published by Random House, a remnant of the Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright (c) 2021 by Elizabeth Strout.
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