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Friends & Marriages: excerpt


At the party Samuel could stay only a few minutes; they were due for late dinner at his parents’ home. He sipped watered scotch and could not for the life of him remember the name of the woman approaching. She had as sharp a wit as he’d ever encountered, and her political punditry on television had earned her celebrity status, even notoriety. Till two years ago they’d been together for seventeen intimate months. Their love, he used to say, made them a unit. Her name was gone.

They’d parted amicably so this wasn’t repression. In a major career move she went out to the coast. Later, when he told Sandra about her, her name was there, as it should be. Sandra had said, “I know about her, I’ve watched her show.” In two seconds he would have to introduce them.

“Samuel! How wonderful!” The woman was all warm smile, genuine as ever, and much shining thick ginger hair. In the embrace she gave him, he her, her scent brought back moments of their times together, walking side by side, sitting across restaurant tables, late evening rendezvous. But no name.

“This is wonderful!” Work, mind. “How long’s it been, two years?” Find, brain! “This is my friend Sandra.”

“Hello.” Sandra, reaching out her hand.

The other woman took it.

An instant of silence, so brief only he could have felt it? until: “I’m Deirdre Deerborn,” and for the moment the problem was overcome.

“Yes, I’ve seen you lots of times and I. . .” began Sandra’s fine piece of grace, sending the silence to lost memory.

This happened, didn’t it? Everyone told him so. Certain people remembered names well, others badly. What shame in showing a human failing once in a while.

He knew exactly the moment this began–his, as he thought it now, absurd case. In some grand salon, just over a year ago at the meeting after Thanksgiving of the International Immunology Association in Teheran, he had to introduce to each other associates from three parts of his life, one who’d been his professor at Harvard, another now his colleague at the General, the third he’d that morning been on a panel with and he couldn’t remember a single name. He laughed it off; jet-lag. Which he then believed. They kidded him for the next three days. Though not a man who welcomed teasing, Samuel allowed it then; easier than straight-out admitting he’d lost their names, perhaps their most valued possession. Nor could he escape a sense of nakedness that came with the forgetting.

It happened again, after Teheran–first occasionally, recently more often. A month ago he could not find the name of Sandra’s son, her step-son, the boy’s foot had just been amputated at the ankle. Nine years old with bone cancer and Samuel wasn’t able to remember the kid’s name. Tyke lived with them, for pitysake. Home now with a sitter, unwilling and so unable to go out. Tyke, nickname for Talbot Carter Robinson III. Sandra had cried in silence. Rarely had Samuel felt more awful. True, that piece of forgetting had one valuable outcome, it made him spend more time with Tyke. Time with Tyke made Samuel’s daughter Midge’s absence more bearable too.

When he admitted he sometimes forgot names he laughed, newly, at how clever he was to take up with a woman whose initials were the same as his, S.B.; or he might even forget what he was called. In June he, Sandra and Tyke had taken the apartment, moved in together. Samuel and Sandra had been a couple for ten months.

Over the summer his case had turned to just plain substantives. With Sandra he didn’t hide the new phase, these new more general blank spaces. As, half an hour before on the drive to the party: “Trouble with Dimmesdale using that damn post-operative drug, none of us know its–its– How dangerous it might be, in the side effects.” He controlled his anger, he breathed, “Damn.”

Or with the toast he had to propose last week at his annual Christmas party, a small thing for the core people: “To health. To the health of all of us at the General, to the health of our families, to the health of those like ourselves downwind from Three Mile Island, to the health of all who need not be unhealthy. And to the health of America’s economy, so that our — our, uh– our– So those who feel they should contribute to the immunology wing will recognize the spiritual as well as fiscal benefits of giving so they may one day receive. Especially at the end of the tax year.” Friendly laughter and applause. He’d almost managed to get the rhythm back; not quite. Tiresome, uh, contributors throwing him off. One way or another.