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People in Your Life

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“Research shows,” the man is saying now, “that 68 percent of married people say that were they to be reincarnated to live a second lifetime, they would not remarry their current spouses. That’s with an error factor of plus or minus 3.5 percent.”

I do the math–64.5 to 71.5 percent. Like it might make some difference. It doesn’t. We still have to figure out how to make it through the next 15 minutes.

“I thought your-friend-the-speaker was supposed to be discussing mental health,” I whisper to Harvey.

“Bill’s been divorced four times,” Harvey says. “He always talks about marriage. It’s his thing.”

It used to be my thing. I used to be so married you wouldn’t believe it. And then one day I wasn’t.

So. Who was this lucky lady? Why? Do I intend to go look up the middle-aged remains of Carlton’s mistress–a woman he may have forgotten all about, a woman he may be pining for today. This woman, my knowledge of whom could have changed my life. This slut, who may have come to be the mother of my three sons.

Suddenly, everyone is shifting around and stretching and standing up, so our speaker must have reached a place in his remarks where he felt he could let go.

“I’m sorry if what I wrote upset you,” Harvey says, as we stand up. “I was sure you’d known all about it.”

“That’s OK,” I say. Harvey Decker is probably one of the nicest guys in North America.

It is OK.

Ron Baylor didn’t do my life. I did. He didn’t create and fashion the marriage I had. He was no more than a circumstance: a hard rain that cancels a picnic where your spinster sister would have met her man; an X-ray treatment that exes out your last fertile egg, the one that would have been your daughter; a Japanese girl at the ski store your son meets and marries, who becomes the reason he is living in Japan.

Ron was that kind of a life circumstance, the sort that happens every day; only 95 percent of the time, a person doesn’t even know it. We’re always operating with only partial information. We’re making up our whole lives–our only lives–with crucial bits of data missing. No matter. We don’t take into account half of what we do know.

“There he is,” Harvey says and nods in the direction of a fat old man in a plaid flannel shirt walking back down the aisle. “That’s Ron Baylor there.”

This sad-looking old man is not a circumstance at all. He’s an actual person, if you want to look at it that way. Who knows what other way his own life might have gone. His personal patron circumstances might have been so very different: His smother-mother might have died when he was 17, springing the trap, letting him fly free; or, he could have met up with another priest, a man who knew God personally and introduced him properly and made his faith into an Eiffel Tower of a thing; or, I could have done my own work that year on the project and so let Ron leave work early one dark December afternoon, his timing perfect for a fender-bender with a man he might have fallen in love and made his life with from then on.

Chance and circumstance. Damn renegades. I knew what Carlton was, even if I didn’t let me know I knew. I was fully aware of what kind of marriage I was in–a person knows these things–and I never even stepped outside of it to have a little look around. My marriage is not Ron Baylor’s fault (however much I wish it were). I’m the girl who’s crafted my whole life so far, who made up me, and I’m the one standing here in the middle of this mental-health mob scene, holding maybe 30 more years in my two hands, three whole decades I will need to turn to some account, to fashion into the old lady part of my life story.

“That’s Marianne with Ron Baylor there. Ron married her.” Harvey makes a project of not catching my eye. But I require no knowing looks today. I get it on the first try: Marianne, Ron’s wife, this shriveled, gray-haired woman walking back the aisle toward us, as inevitable, as unstoppable and deliberate as Time, this is the woman Carlton was involved with. I don’t know how I know it, but I do.

Curiouser and curiouser.

I do a quick jig in my mind. I slept with a man who slept with a woman who slept with Ron Baylor. A variation on the old dancing with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales. It could lead a person to suspect we’re all in this together, after all. I almost say, But I thought Ron was gay, but I let it go. It takes a lifetime to figure out another person, and we’ve got about two minutes here.

“When did they get married?” The question asks itself.

“A couple of months after you moved away. It seems Ron had a thing for her the whole time.” Harvey trains his gaze on the old couple being carried down the aisle by the slow-moving crowd. “The boy was born right after that.”

The boy?

What boy?

Carlton’s son? My brain whirls. This boy, if he is Carlton’s son, is a blood relative of my children. He’s practically related to me, this son of my sons’ father. You don’t get much more related than that.

Why, that means we’re all family. Practically. We could have our Christmases together and Thanksgivings and potluck cookouts on Memorial Day. All of us. And Carlton could come and bring his teenage girlfriends. And Harvey Decker could come too.

Now here they are. This old man whose hand I want to shake, this woman whose worn cheek I will before the afternoon is over smooth with a kiss. I’ll take them both to lunch someplace noisy and Italian and have them tell me everything, and I will say, “My, my, is that a fact?” and shake my head at life’s unlikely ways and order big desserts, and we will laugh together and we’ll cry, over all the things in life that really should be laughed and cried about.

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