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About the author:
Charles S. Isaacs has been a schoolteacher, a college professor, a community organizer, a Congressional consultant, a social activist, a gambler and an occasional journalist. He has written opinion columns and feature stories for numerous newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times Magazine. During recent decades, he has been a consultant to dozens of non-profit organizations operating in the social justice arena. His recent published work includes fiction, poetry and award-winning non-fiction.
Here is a short sample from the book:
I spent the rest of the day waiting for Cat to come home, growing more anxious by the hour. At around seven, the doorknob turned and my heart leapt. But it dropped as soon as I saw the stern, stoic look on her face. The joyful reunion I’d hoped for wasn’t going to happen.
I wasn’t sure what to say, so I asked, “Have you eaten?”
“Yes, with Emma,” she replied in kind of a detached, robotic voice. “She told me everything that happened to you, and that made up my mind. She said you deserved an explanation, so here I am.”
“Made up your mind about what?” I asked.
She headed for the couch and pointed me to the chair. “Steve,” she announced, “I can’t be with you anymore.”
“Why?” I implored, my eyes tearing. “We’ve been perfect together. This was our first and only fight.”
“And that’s the reason. I’m not saying it’s your fault. But I can’t handle the anxiety, the fear. I’ve been thinking it through, and well, I can start from the beginning if you want.” I nodded.
“Do you remember, during the first night we spent together, I told you it was my first time?”
“I’ll never forget it.”
“Well, that wasn’t all. After my parents were killed, I never even went out on a date.”
“I bet you had plenty of offers.”
“I did, and some were from young men who seemed very nice. That was the problem. I’d resolved not to gamble on letting anyone into my heart, because risking another loss would be too much to bear. Bonding with Emma was the only exception, but that just happened. I made friends, of course, but I never let any of them get too close.”
“I understand that. You were grieving for your parents.”
“I was. But I was also protecting myself. It worked fine for two years. I stayed focused on my studies, and helped Emma with the store. Then you came along and my wall crumbled.”
“I don’t know for sure. The first time we talked, I sensed you were a good listener. I was comfortable sharing personal stuff with you, but I couldn’t talk about the accident. That would’ve been too painful. In fact, Emma was the only one I’d ever told about it. By the next time, though, I felt compelled to share it with you too.”
“It was the way you heard it, Steve. I saw it in your eyes. Empathy. Compassion. They reflected my pain. I felt you connecting with me in my deepest, most guarded level. You said you’d always be there for me, and somehow I believed you. I felt cared for, safe. But I was sliding down a slippery slope.”
“Those words popped right out,” I said, “from the bottom of my heart. I meant them.”
“I know you did, and I knew it then. I still tried to keep my guard up, but I was conflicted. While you were off on the Pentagon march, my feelings rose to the surface, but I still fought to keep them down. The dam broke on Thanksgiving, when you chose to take care of me instead of appeasing your own family. It scared me, and I told you that during the bus ride. By the time we got back, though, I couldn’t resist anymore. I had to open my heart.”
“The happiest night of my life,” I said, “and what a weekend we had. I was already head over heels in love with you.”
“And I with you. But I was still conflicted. The deeper I let you in, the more afraid I became of losing you. For two months, I tried all kinds of strategies to protect myself. Then, almost three months ago now, I finally gave in. I had to have you here with me.”
“And haven’t we been happy together?” I asked. “I love you more each day.”
“Oh yes, and every day my being has become more entangled with yours. For a while, my fears even began to subside.”
“That’s what I wanted,” I said. “I’ll always love you.”
Cat’s demeanor softened for a moment. She leaned against the cushions and closed her eyes. Suddenly, she shot straight back up, her brow furrowed in anger, her eyes glistening.
“And then came yesterday! All day, I worried and waited for you to come home. But you didn’t. I knew something terrible must’ve happened. I was already frantic when Whit called and told us you got arrested. The gut-wrenching pain of loss I’d worked so hard to prevent came back with a bang. If it wasn’t for Emma, I don’t know what I would’ve done.”
“But you must know I wanted to come home, Cat. But I couldn’t.”
“Getting arrested was bad enough. But you also got beaten. One more blow, and you might never have come home. I can’t live like this. The fear is too much. I know I’m hyper-sensitive, but I’m not imagining things. You can be reckless, and then my world falls apart. That’s why we have to get away from each other, before it gets any worse. I need to leave you while I still can.”
At first, I didn’t respond. My head started throbbing again. I leaned back and closed my eyes, feeling the ground beneath me slipping away.
“Steve?” she called out, alarmed. “Are you there?”
I shook my head and opened my eyes. I went to her, dropped to one knee and took her hands in mine.
“Cat, I know I’ve put you through a lot, and I’m so, so sorry. But please don’t do this. I can’t live without you. I wouldn’t want to. We can work it out. Look at me. Please.”
Our tear-filled eyes bore into each other’s souls.
“But I don’t see how we can work it out,” she said. “You crave danger and I need safety. You can’t imagine my pain last night, my despair, not knowing if I’d ever see you again. I saw you in my mind’s eye lying in the street, your head all bloody. Then Emma told me that was what happened. I can’t do it. I can’t do it.”
“What I need above everything, Cat, is you,” I spluttered. “I know I’ve been unstable lately. I’ve handled the pressure badly, and I need to do better. It might not look like it, but I really am trying. Really, I am. The one thing I know for sure, though, is that I can’t do any of it without you. Stay with me. Please. I’ll do anything.”
“If we stay together, Steve, I’ll need you to trust my instincts about these marches and demonstrations, about confrontations with the police. That’s the only way. But I don’t know if you can do that. You need to be in the middle of everything, no matter how dangerous it might be.”
“I can do it. Yes, I know it’ll be hard at times, but I can do it. I will do it. I promise.”
“You really think you can control that restless energy?”
“I have to. I have to keep my priorities straight. You will always come first.”
“Oh, I want that so much,” she said, starting to cry. “I’ve been so scared and lonely these past two days…”
“Never again, Cat. I promise.”
“Come up here now,” she said, “and hold me.”
We held each other tight, as I kissed her tears away. Our lovemaking was long and languid. We’d come through the wilderness and found our way back. It was so good to be home again.
But I had to keep my promise. Never again. Could I really do it