Home > Love in the Present Tense(10)

Love in the Present Tense(10)
Catherine Ryan Hyde

Jake says, “Talk to me, Leonard. You never talk to us.”

I say, “Jake. You know I love you and all. But you’re disturbing my thought pattern.”

“That’s just it,” he says. “We never know what you’re thinking. It’s like you never let us in.”

The soft rip of a piece of tape, then more blind smoothing under my fingers. I’m looking up, at the shadow.

“I’ll make a deal with you. If you’ll sit here with me quietly, and not mess up my thoughts, I’ll think them out loud for you.”

“Seriously?” he says.

“Hush,” I say. “Here’s what I’m thinking.

“I’m thinking that if a boy drops into the world without a father, and without a name, it’s almost like he didn’t get here the same way everyone else did. Like the immaculate conception or something. Not to have a swelled head. I know Pearl was not a virgin. I don’t kid myself. I know. It’s just this feeling you get. This really displaced feeling.

“I’m thinking how when I went to kindergarten—oh, Jesus, now there’s a whole other subject altogether. Anyway, don’t distract me. I’m thinking how Mitch gave me his name. So for those three years I was Leonard Devereaux. But I knew I really wasn’t. He wanted me to be but I wasn’t.

“I’m wondering, what does that mean, to really wear somebody’s name? If Mitch’s name could be mine for real, if he had impregnated Pearl, would that change me? How would that change me? Would we be something different to each other?

“We would have lived together all this time. That’s the part I can see. Not that you and Mona haven’t been great.”

Another soft rip of tape. I’m holding this long strip, feeling the stickiness under my fingers. I want to go on, but now I realize that it’s not the same out loud with Jake here. It’s not the same with somebody listening. Nobody ever listens to my thoughts, and now I realize I don’t really want anyone to.

Besides, I want to think about things I can’t tell him. Because he’s part of my family, my adoptive people, and it’s somehow important to them that I wear their name, like a new coat someone gives you because the old one was getting threadbare.

I was thinking about how sometimes I want to go back to using the name Devereaux, but I can’t say that out loud. I know it would hurt Jake’s feelings.

Also how sometimes I understand these kids who go off looking for their birth parents, because they don’t really know who they are. And how other times I think that feeling, that disconnectedness of not knowing who I am, is on my side. It keeps me from getting too earthbound. From thinking this is some kind of final resting place, like home. But I can’t feel all that in front of Jake.

“Tomorrow we’ll take it out and inspect it in the light,” I say. “Mount the harness.”

I can feel him building himself up, to say something big. One of those critical human communications that seem so popular with everybody except maybe me, Leonard Nobody.

“We can’t let you do this, Leonard.”

“Okay. Fine. I understand.”

I knew this would happen. I’ve already made up my mind not to fight it. It never helps to fight. You have to make like a piece of cheesecloth. Let ’em sweep right through you. No damage.

“What did you say?” he asks.

“You’re right. I shouldn’t do it. I’ll call it off.”

I hate like hell to lie to him, but it’s kinder. I’ve already lied through my teeth to Mitch. I hated to do it. It goes against the grain. But it will be important for them in the long run. This way, if something goes wrong, they can say they didn’t know.

And, anyway, this is something I need to do alone.

I’d like to think Jake believes me. But I think we both know that was way too easy.

After he leaves, I think about the time Mitch asked me why I was such a happy little guy. I was five years old. Pearl had been gone a few weeks. I thought really hard for an answer even though I think he’d gone about his business without expecting one.

Then I said, “I think it’s because my mother loves me so much.”

He gave me this look of utter pity, like I was the bravest kid in the world. He missed the point completely, you know? But he’s my friend, anyway. There are just some things he doesn’t understand.

MITCH, age 37: leonard won’t unpack

Monday morning, like clockwork, I arrive at my office and there’s Mona, waiting to talk to me.

Here’s the thing about Leonard: Leonard being Leonard, never any more or any less, every time I see Mona waiting for me I get this pitch inside my stomach, thinking what I might hear. If I were a parent for real, it would be the cops on my doorstep in the night. But much as I love that boy, much as I feel I have the right to call myself his parent, and much as he may see me as his true parent, Leonard could die and the police would never bother to come knocking. Likely I would hear it from Mona.

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