Fall 2000, Volume 18.1
Neila C. Seshachari
It's Your Heart That Makes All the Difference
Neila C. Seshachari (Ph.D., U of Utah) is a Professor of English at Weber State University, where she teaches twentieth-century American literature and critical theories, among other courses. Her most recent publications include an edited collection, Conversations with William Kennedy (Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1997), and a pioneering chapter titled "Asian-Indians of Utah: The First Recognition" in Asian Americans in Utah: A Living History (State of Utah, 1999). She is currently working on a book-length study on the subject. After many years as editor of Weber Studies, she is particularly honored and delighted to make her debut as a "contributor" to the journal.
They have decided to stay home and celebrate the New Millennium in a unique way, as they have never celebrated any New Year's eve before. It is her idea.
When everyone was planning where to be to usher in the rare occasion, long before anybody had been pushed into celebrating it at home as a protest against obscenely high event prices or as a response to terrorist scares, she had decided that home was the best place to savor the fin de siècle of this century, ruminate on its wonders, peer into the crystal ball of their own lives to see what they should expect in the new one. This rare gift of seeing the end of a millennium deserved close spiritual introspection and fondly-considered outcomes, she felt.
The idea had sneaked into her imagination secretly, on padded feet. They were at a party in early March when their hostess had broached the topic of millennium madness. They should do something really unique and outlandish, her friends had all agreed. Should they be on an ocean liner bound for an exotic island? Or should they just fly to Las Vegas and splurge? How about Alaska in winter? Was that possible? All of them had given their hosts the responsibility of inquiring about the most outlandish, most unusual celebration.
On the way home, he said, How come you were so quiet when they were all planning this big celeb?
In the darkness of the car speeding on the freeway, she looked at him, searching for his eyes that were fixed on the road ahead. Sweetheart, she said, would you be terribly disappointed if I suggested we stay home and celebrate that one unique event in our lives with each other? We could plan something exciting, intimate, out of this world.
Anything you say, he said. Let's stay home.
She noticed with some concern that he didn't sound very enthusiastic.
How would you plan the evening? he asked.
I shouldn't do it alone, she said. Let's plan it together. Let's put our hearts into planning a quiet, perfect evening. Will you? she asked.
Sure, let's do it.
Since then she has been thinking off and on about this momentous last evening that marks the end of the year, the decade, the century, and the millennium! She isn't sure what to make of it. She knows it's going to be like any other New Year's eve bursting noisily into the New Year's day. Even though they've spent their New Year's eves in many ways, she can only think of Times Square in New York, watching the clamorous count down to the hour on TV. Everyone at the party scrambling to get a champagne glass raised in time to toast the New Year. Lights going off and on, blinking sporadically, giving every couple a chance to hug and kiss before the pandemonium of twanging glasses, everyone crowding in the room, repeating New Year's wishes with loud enthusiasm. It had seemed fun all those years. She wants this year to be very special.
It's early December when she asks him with some concern, Do you really want us to stay home and make this New Millennium very special?
Yes, he says. You said that a long time ago, didn't you?
She is happy that he remembers. She says, We should write something original for each other and read it out to each other. How does it sound to you?
He doesn't reply, doesn't want to commit himself.
Well, perhaps not necessarily write for each other, but just write something original and read it out to the other.
Maybe, he says.
Two days later, she asks if he plans to write.
I'll see, he answers.
She says, We should meditate too, don't you think? And read out to each other, something not necessarily written by us, but something each one wants to read out to the other. Will you read to me?
Umm, he says without enthusiasm, we could read.
The news radio announces the President's famed Renaissance Weekend. Some 1,200 people have signed up for the event, it says, but the Clintons won't be attending it this year. Bill Clinton wants to be at the millennial celebration at the Jefferson Memorial.
Should they plan a private Renaissance Weekend of their own, just the two of them? she wonders. The idea is heady. It would be so exciting, even challenging, but it would need careful planning by them both. She is beginning to realize that she cannot plan anything at all unless he shows some enthusiasm. Everything depends so much on one's heart, she thinks with apprehension. She realizes that the very same events on any day could be bathed in one's moods to make them special or irritating, unique or just plain dull. She desperately wants to make this beginning of the New Millennium, this once-in-a-lifetime day, to be special for them both.
She has been grading the semester's research papers and exam papers all week. This afternoon she is going to turn in her grades, after which she will have two weeks of winter break.
Should we go out to a movie? he asks just as she is about to leave.
Find one, she says. Perhaps Green Mile with Tom Hanks; it's one we've been wanting to see.
Or should we look in the newspaper for something else? he says.
Green Mile or you'll have to lobby me. Don't know how long that'll take you.
Perhaps we should just stay home, Sweetheart. You look tired.
That's what I really want, she says, as she collects the grade sheets and tests in her arms. I have yet to compute and enter one set, she says. But let's plan tonight what we should do New Year's Eve. I shouldn't be more than an hour. Until then think of something different to do by ourselves. We haven't yet talked about anything, and we have only ten more days. Pouting her mouth apprehensively, almost flirtatiously, she says, You are so lazy about these things.
He looks at her ominously. Taking two steps toward her, he says in a menacing tone, Lazy? Do I hear you say that I am lazy?
She notices that his mouth is quivering, his chin thrust out. She is afraid.
I'm surprised you say that, he says with deliberation. He has been washing rice at the kitchen sink, getting ready to cook for her.
O, I don't mean you are physically lazy, Sweetheart, she says hastily. You do a lot of things around the house—you are cooking right now, for heaven's sake. I mean you are mentally lazy. You don't want to think about…. She fumbles, knows she has made a faux pas.
You can't speak for an hour without insulting me, he snaps. You always insult me.
She is too hurt to retort. She closes the door after her and leaves. No goodbye pecks, no Drive safely admonition.
Entering grades and computing them keeps her mind off her wounded heart. But she is despondent again when she gets back to her office after delivering them.
The phone rings. Haven't you given your grades yet? he asks.
Yes, I just came back to my office. The grades are in.
Then when? he asks.
I have a few things to take care of, she says.
Are you on your email?
Bye, Sweetheart, he says.
She starts her computer and opens her email. There are several messages, three from the same student. Melissa has already left her one telephone message and twice hung up without leaving messages, she suspects. I have paid my fees and left the receipt in your mail box, her message had said. I need you to give me a grade, ple..ee..ease.
She is relieved that she can now send her distraught student an instant reply:
Dear Melissa, I am writing now so you won't spoil your vacation worrying about your grades. Your grade has been turned in. You've done well and earned a B+ on the course. Congratulations. Smart of you to leave the fee receipt in my box.
Then she adds,
Wish you a merry Christmas and a wonderful New Millennium. May you dream dreams that are within your reach, and may you work with all your heart to make them come true. No matter how simple or complex your wishes, it's your heart that makes all the difference.
It's past 5:00 p.m. and getting dark. She sighs. She has no heart to go home. The phone rings again.
Tom Brokaw is on, he says. When are you coming?
She does not respond.
The market's gone up, he says, by 124. I thought you'd be interested. The NASDAQ too by 57 points. Do you think I should have transferred more into my tech stocks?
That's good news, she says with no enthusiasm.
How long will you take? he asks. Another fifteen minutes?
O, about half hour at the most.
She answers more email. It's very dark now and from her window on the third floor, she sees that the dimly-lit parking lot is empty, except for three beat-up cars. She is afraid to stay any longer, and she leaves in haste. A mop and bucket on the stairs assure her some student-janitors are somewhere in the empty building. Still hurting, she fights back tears. She hates cry-baby eyes and thinks of casual reasons to tell him, should he ask when she gets home. He has never asked, but she suspects one can never be sure. People can change, especially at special times like these—the turn of the millennium. What if he does notice and does ask? She tunes in the golden oldies station on the dial. If he asks, she'll tell him she was listening to Linda Ronstad's tear-jerker, "What'll I do?"
This evening, he does not open the back door as he normally does when he hears the garage door opening.
See, Dan Rather is just coming on, he says, as she enters. It is six o'clock; he has barely finished changing TV channels.
She smiles wanly. She has resolved that she must not talk to him at all because she does not want to "insult" him. Ten more days to the New Millennium. Ten days' lead into a new resolution—ten days of dull, speechless respect for him, if he is dumb enough to believe she insults him every hour, on the hour.
Expertly blended spice flavors surround her the moment she enters the kitchen. For one flickering second she forgets her resolve and wants to coo around him, hug him from the back and plant a kiss on the nape of his neck. Remembering just in time, she ignores the flavors and makes a beeline for the evening newspaper on the granite kitchen-counter. She is figuring out the pattern of the silver flecks in the shiny black and grey and mother-of-pearl pink-tinted granite but pretends to read the newspaper with great concentration. She is trying to imitate him doing exactly that after he picks up the newspaper from their mail box when he returns home. Dan Rather is giving the market recap for the day and forecasting what this continuing bull market will do for Americans in the first five decades of the New Millennium. She does not look at the TV, knowing he is looking at her, but she is listening intently as she normally does when she is cooking.
He has set the table, laid out three warm dishes on the other side of the long island-counter with two Christmas china plates next to them and is waiting for her to serve him. No matter who cooks, he waits for her to serve him and always waits for her before he starts to eat.
I'll wash up during the commercials, she says. She takes great pleasure in making him wait today. You should know how it feels to wait every day, she says to him wordlessly. But his patience is monumental, she knows. He can wait without fidgeting, without even knowing he is waiting.
Let me serve you, he says as she picks up a plate, but she ignores him. She serves herself and waits for him at the table. She notes it is easy to wait today.
This is very good, she says in a flat tone as they begin to eat. Everything's good.
He asks, Don't you feel good now that you don't have the weight of all that grading?
Yes, she says.
Isn't that good news about the market?
They eat in total silence. She swallows her vitamin pills that he has set on the table. She picks up both the plates and goes to the sink and starts loading the dishes as he cleans the table and brings the remaining dishes to her. Then she goes back to the newspaper and starts reading in silence.
Shall we play? he asks.
Normally she is the one who asks him. She imitates his usual response to her, waits a deliberate second feigning disinterest, before she looks at the radio clock and says, Okay, half hour.
Don't talk, don't insult him, she keeps reminding herself as they play rummy in silence.
When the half hour is up, she climbs the stairs to her perch, flips her computer into purring life, and starts writing this evening's events. She is still hurting; her eyes are still stinging. She has made up her mind to spend New Year's Eve all by herself, reading to herself, writing for herself.
If he puts his heart into their New Millennium plans and they spend an enchanting evening cooking a lovely meal together listening to Wynton Marsalis's In This Home This Morning or Ravi Shankar's Chants of India, toast a glass of red wine to the birth of a new era, talk reverently about how good life has been in spite of all the wrenches…if they read aloud to each other something written for the other, she will read this to him.