The Sandra Texts
I begin this ending with the plain admission that I cannot describe it truly. As loath as I am to confess this--being one who seeks to relate such events--I cannot deny that there are moments, there are occurrences in time that transcend the powers of description. The human being has a limited capacity for experience. There are events that the human being cannot fully process. Such cataclysms are bigger than the human being though given by his witness their meaning. The end for Joshua and Katherine was such a cataclysm.
Before that Thanksgiving weekend of Joshua's return from El Paso, before that midday meal for which he met Katherine excitedly at that cafe near her Wichita insurance offices, before that very moment that he glanced down to see that she had removed her engagement ring, Joshua had not felt the flicker of a shadow of a possibility of a hint that he and Katherine were not meant to be together forever, uninterruptedly.
But he and she were to him an act of fate. Fate the way the end of the world will be an act of fate. Fate the way the cutting of every umbilical cord is an act of fate. Joshua believed blindly, and without doubt.
A coffee before him, a plate of fresh cafe food steaming as yet untouched, the moment came that Joshua glanced to see this bare finger. He looked again. God did not exist suddenly. The fabric of his existence deflagrated suddenly. His soul was extracted. Joshua would never be the same.
"You've taken off your ring," he said.
The food was left uneaten.
Joshua had just a few days in southern Kansas that Thanksgiving. Their nights were sleepless, tormented, dreamless. Rats dwelled now in his chest, gnawing without cease at his lifeforce. The vermin poisoned, taunted, chivvied him until death he craved. But life held fast. To live, he must, to heal the love he had lost, to salve the indecency of his bared devotion, to reclaim his shattered faith.
And then he returned to El Paso.
The days between Thanksgiving and Christmas aged him by as many years. Without a telephone, estranged from Katherine in a distant land, among unfamiliar faces, Joshua would plod to pay telephones to listen to his heart crashing against his rib cage, to feel his throat tightening as if strangled, to call Katherine for the faintest breath of affection, for some hope from her voice, for anything that might vouchsafe to him a reason to go on.
"Joshua, could you call me back..."
And Joshua stood shivering in the warmth of a Southwestern night; to return again and again to his cockroach-infested flat; to lie on his air mattress; to hide his sobs from the thin walls with a pillow; to pace aimlessly then the dark wee-hour streets; to chant, to chant and chant, though never before in his life had he chanted; that the chanting might gift him a few minutes respite; that his exhaustion might overpower him and grant him an hour or two of oblivion; that he might rise with his black eyes and his gaunt and drawn visage and his broken posture and shuffle to the small university campus to idle himself in the crowded dining hall and seek succor from people he did not know, from people that did not really exist for him.
Then, the night came that he could endure it no longer. That night, after pedaling the streets of El Paso, pedaling them like a sick bird pacing its cage in a zoo, maniacally, back and forth, up and down, Joshua planted himself in a cafe. For four hours there he scribbled poem after poem for Katherine. Between each he leaned against the cafe's pay telephone, dialing her long distance number. She never answered. And that was it. The end. He was meant for Katherine, Joshua determined. Katherine was his life, he decided. And he refused to die. So Joshua gave up. That was his answer. He surrendered.
"I'm coming there, Katherine," Joshua declaimed into her answering machine. "I'm coming there. I'll never write again. It's stupid and selfish. It doesn't matter whether you tell me to come there or not; whether you want me to come there or not; whether you accept me when I arrive there or not. I'm coming to Kansas to live. I'll get a good job. I'll buy a nice car. I'm coming there regardless what you say so that if you change your mind I will be there."
And Joshua, flushed at the boldness of his gambit, exhaled. He felt relief for the first time in weeks. But, lying on his air mattress afterward, staring up sleepless into the ceiling afterward, he came to deliberate the full breadth of what he proposed. Joshua believed he had the soul of an artist. Joshua believed he might accomplish great things. For the whole of his youth, Joshua realized, he had been nurturing this soul, developing its equipment, the tools that might make it expressible. And now he envisioned himself marching into in a high-rise building, marching into an office building in downtown Wichita. He saw himself clad in a blue suit and a necktie. And he recanted.
"I cannot talk to you, Katherine." This a second pivotal message, the following night. "I've got to get a hold of myself. Arrange a day with my mother that I can see you after I get back from El Paso, after December fifteenth."
Through the intervening days, through his semester finals, and through that long bus ride back to southern Kansas, Joshua suffered a brutality of aloneness that only the tortured know.
And so, the end.
Joshua sits now in Katherine's comfortable apartment. Joshua sits now in Katherine's comfortable armchair. The appointed day has come. The appointed hour is arrived. He is a wasted man. Katherine kneels at Joshua's feet. She leans against her sofa, her arm draped over his knees, her large dark eyes looking up to him, her coal-dark hair hanging around her pale face. Her stoicism has vanished. She has been broken by this, too. She is as bare as he.
He says, "...I've thought of abstinence..." And the words bring a pained but sensuous play to Katherine's lips. Joshua had tried to kiss Katherine but she had turned away. Joshua had touched Katherine but she had been cold. He had no physical cravings. He craved only to be close to her.
She rises. She takes his hand.
"I want to make love to you, Joshua."
"I want to be close to you one more time."
And Katherine leads him to their bedroom. And Katherine undresses him slowly and kisses him tenderly. And Joshua undresses her tenderly and kisses her longingly. And Joshua tries then to make love to this woman he loves so infinitely. But he cannot make love to this woman. He can only lie next to her, a wasted man.
The telephone rings. Katherine rises. Katherine leaves the room.
"Yes," Joshua hears her quietly say.
And, yes, I am still here, Joshua says to himself.
It is another. It is another man calling to see if Joshua has yet gone. It is another man.
Katherine hangs up the telephone.
Katherine returns to the bedroom.
Katherine lies down on the bed.
And it is here, my reader, here, that the indescribable erupts. It is here that this scene, that these events transcend our participants. This is our cataclysm.
For when Katherine lies down on the bed, Joshua crawls to Katherine; Joshua wraps his arms around Katherine's waist; Joshua lays his head upon Katherine's belly; and Joshua breaks himself open. It is a guttural sound of sobbing that gushes forth. Raw, it comes, from some hell of the soul, from some unearthed region, from some corner that children fear in the dark. For minutes this goes on, minutes upon minutes, this howling anguish, this subhuman weeping and pain.
Stroking his hair, Katherine can only say, "What have I done to you, Joshua?" Over and over again, she says it, quietly, meekly, repeatedly, as if stunned by his animal eruptions into a phrase she cannot escape. "What have I done to you, Joshua?"
Eventually he cannot continue.
Eventually Joshua has been cleansed of his weeks of suffering and torment, of his weeks of racking visions, of his lost faith in God, of his passed youth. It is all there now on her belly, this racked and lost suffering, a salty pool, pooled there on her naked belly.
He explains: "I realized I was giving up my soul, Katherine. I could not give up my soul, Katherine. It was between love and soul. If I give up you. If I give up love there's a chance I might find it again someday. But if I give up my soul, I'll never find it again. I'll be lost."
And Joshua lays his head back into the wetness of his own tears, back upon Katherine's belly, to feel Katherine shudder, to hear a whimper.
For weeks afterward Joshua wept. For months afterward he was not himself, unsteady, defeated, afraid even to speak, defenseless. Joshua was as fragile as rice paper through that period, his emotions pressing from behind, always trying to tear through.
He had given up love for soul, so now Joshua gave up everything else for it. In his second week of student teaching he told his cooperating instructor he could no longer teach. In the middle of her third period class he lay his Spanish book upon her desk and walked out of El Paso High School for good. He strode home to his flat. He hung up clothes he would never wear again.
Two days later Joshua was on a downtown El Paso telephone trying to sell newspaper subscriptions.
The next week Joshua shaved his head.
Three months later Joshua piled everything he owned into a rental car and moved to Tucson, Arizona where, in earnest, he began his recovery.
It would be six years before he would finally write their story; six long years, and still, as he wrote it, it would bring tears to his eyes.
Joshua never saw Katherine again.