I went to Procida yesterday to take a lot of pictures, a few of which I’ll send your way in a couple of days. Meanwhile, I need to share with you what I wrote in my notebook throughout the day. Stuff I’ve been avoiding talking with you about. I know you will understand.
* * *
Yachts. Charter Service. That’s what got them started. What if you and I had not endorsed their plan to do the round-the-world sailing thing? Well, what should we have told them? You can’t do it? You’re too old?
They spent a long time in training, in Long Island Sound and up and down the east coast. They hired a tutor to teach them celestial navigation, and so on. Two, three years worth of study, practice. They both absorbed it eagerly. You know how it is when you pursue a subject you love, feel destined for. Not so much a learning as it is a recognition.
I’ve been thinking of our discussion about the answering machine tape with mom and dad’s last message. Before their boat went down in the storm. Modern technology. Sattelite telephones. Electronic documentation of the precise month, day, hour, minute and second a particular call had taken place. It came in the monthly bill. There it was, in black and white.
Would it have been better if we had not heard what mom and dad said on the tape? Hearing the roar of the wind and the waves crashing on their boat, and their trying to mask their fear, because they knew they were about to die. Echoing, fearful—but loving—voices. I don’t want to write about this. I don’t want to recall those voices. I want to put the whole thing aside.
But you told me that you can’t allow yourself to turn away from it, and neither should I. Because it was a gift. Their last thoughts were of US. And we must honor them. Remember them.
Jack, you reminded me that we all process loss and grief in highly individual ways. You’re going down a path just a bit different from mine. You are not angry, as I am. I don’t like to admit this, but it’s true.
Mom and dad’s death is, in my twisted emotional thinking, a horrid mockery. It’s like a repudiation of what I always clung to. One moment I believed that love is forever. The very next instant, I knew it is not.
If God is behind this horror, then I loathe Him. But that’s absurd. We all die.
I try to understand Vittoria’s state of mind in her adoption melodrama. Surely she’s feeling the same sort of repudiation that I am. That everything she thought was true turns out to be an illusion.
Remember in my imagenovel where I made such a big deal about the rock in the bay of Chiaia d’Luna in Ponza, where Restituta and Giovanni had their first kiss? Well, when I stood at the top of the promontory and looked down at that tiny island I elaborated on my feelings of mystical connection, because here was the spot where Vittoria originated. In her parents’ first kiss.
But now we all know that they aren’t her real parents. So that feeling of mine was entirely bogus. Self-induced.
And that made me feel foolish. And then angry.
And yet, Jack, I turn around and tell Vittoria she’s making too big a thing of her own trauma.
When you’re brought up in a climate of unconditional love as we were, it’s very easy to preserve the illusion you won’t ever die. Which is a childish frame of mind. We children know we need not concern ourselves with what furrows the brows of old folks, right? Right. Party on!
I realize that part of my anger at their sudden death has to do with being forced to grow up instantly. To become an adult. But I was not quite ready, was I? No, I wanted to keep happily playing. And so, having adulthood thrust upon me, I turn to Vittoria and I say: “What makes you exempt?”
I don’t like to think of myself as a hipocrite, but there it is.
Hey, she shouldn’t be allowed to avoid the wounds of “real” life, especially since I was no longer permitted to avoid them. Maybe I’m jealous of how very well she hides from pain.
SILENCE. The great peaceful retreat.
* * *
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
Jack sent these lines from Prufrock in his last post. When I read them I wept.
* * *
I don’t like where this introspection leads me. I should do something else, like take a trip to a new place, and take a lot of pretty pictures. With a camera I can make something ugly look good, and vice versa. A client once said of a portrait I made of her: “Yuck! Do I really look like that?” To me it looked OK. Well, here in paradise I may paint whatever kind of picture I wish.
* * *
I put my notebook away and headed for the quay. I decided right then that I would do something I had not permitted myself to do before. And that was to look carefully at the boats. The yachts. The sailing vessels moored side by side, gently rocking and creaking.
No, not just look. Raise the camera. Take the pictures. I told myself: Do it. Now.
The compass by the big chrome-plated wheel. Condensation clouds the plexiglass hemisphere. Makes it hard to see where we’re actually heading. Is that North by Northwest? Or South by Southwest? Who can tell? We are lost. We don’t know where we are going.
I raise the camera: an act of creation. I am in control. I may do as I please. I answer to no one.
I’ll decide. I’ll make the world as I want it to be. I will mock nature and fate and The Great Invisible Creator. God might decide to put me out of business, but as long as I’m breathing I’ll do THIS.
* * *
Along the quay, Jack, were “pleasure boats.” Big ones. Little ones.
My bag contained all that I needed. Two Nikons, 28 mm to 300 mm of lens focal lengths. Plenty of Ektapress 200.
Those boats. Until then I avoided taking pictures of them. Whereas everything else in this part of the world seemed worthy of my documentation. My form of SILENCE.
I pretended those boats did not exist. Why? Because I did not wish to be reminded. Why? Because it was just too painful. Oh, poor little Jimmy.
* * *
All right, after our long talk I made a duplicate of the tape and sent you a copy. I brought mine with me, along with a microcassette player. I will listen to it, perhaps each year on the event’s anniversary.
Through the viewfinder I was struck by the great expanse of white fiberglass of that yacht. Very clean, slick, smooth. Nice. White is the symbol of death in some ancient cultures. But a symbol of purity and life in others. So who is to say?
* * *
Ah, there it is. One that is a dead ringer for the vessel our father named “JIMMYJACK.”
When dad announced the name I thought it was corny, and even somewhat embarrassing. You know how we felt when we were teenagers? We cringed at our parents’ behavior, we didn’t want to be seen near them. I particularly didn’t like dad’s sentimentality.
Awkward and contrived, isn’t it?
But secretly I was pleased he hadn’t made it “JACKIEJIM.” No, my name just had to go first. Because I was the firstborn. See, Jack? Underneath I’m as absurd as anyone else on earth.
* * *
Vittoria believes silence is her friend. But I rebel against silence. The boats sway, their mooring lines creak. I zoom in the lens, manually focus, and press the shutter button. There. The sun illuminates the white fiberglass hull. It glows like angels’ wings. The quiet rumble of an idling engine. A gull’s call.
Vittoria reverts to silence. I can not. I must speak. I must find the words for things, even death. Because speaking is to affirm life. Silence is to ignore life’s reality.
But wait. Is one better, more moral, than the other?
Doesn’t Vittoria have the right to neutralize her pain by pretending it does not exist?
Of course she does.