Julie Cohen: Why I Chose to Delete this Chapter

Julie Cohen: Why I Chose to Delete this Chapter

Also, although this book is about a couple and their relationship with each other, one of the themes of the book, to me, is how two people and their relationship can affect so many other people and communities. None of us is an island. Robbie and Emily and their decisions have changed a lot of other people’s lives – some for the worse, but many more for the better. The funeral is almost Robbie’s last gift to Emily: the people there are a tangible reminder that although Emily has lost her husband, she’s not alone.

In the end, I deleted this chapter because I felt I’d already said most of it elsewhere, and it disrupted the rhythm of the book. But if characters have a real life somewhere, I think this is what happens. Emily will spend the rest of her life surrounded by these people who love her, who see her for herself, not for the choice she made a lifetime ago. And that is just what Robbie wanted to happen.

September, 2016

Clyde Bay, Maine

From the Rockland Courier-Gazette:

BRANDON, Robert Edward Junior.

Robert Brandon, aged 80, passed away unexpectedly on September 8th, 2016 near his home in Clyde Bay. The former owner of Brandon’s Boatyard, Robert moved to Maine in 1972 with his wife, Dr Emily Brandon, and their son, Adam. Robert was born on May 23rd, 1936, in Cleveland, Ohio, the only son of Robert Brandon Sr and Dolores Brandon. He discovered his love for the sea and sailing as a young man. He trained as a boatbuilder and a sailor in Annapolis, Maryland. In his early life he sailed the world, and on one of these journeys he met the love of his life, Emily. Robert served in the Navy in Vietnam before being honourably discharged with a Purple Heart.

Robert will be remembered for his pride in his family, his sense of humour, his incurable optimism, his love of sailing, his fine boatbuilding work, and his insistence on supporting the Cleveland Cavaliers. He is survived by his wife, Emily; their son Adam and his wife Shelley, of Portland; Robert’s son from his first marriage, William, of Anchorage, Alaska; their grandchildren John, Brianna, Chloe, Bryan and Francie.

A memorial service will be held on Wednesday the 20th of September, outside the Marshall Lighthouse, 2:00 p.m. In case of rain, services will be held at the Port Clyde Episcopal Church. The family asks that instead of flowers, donations be sent to the Maine Maritime Academy.

***

Emily read Robbie’s letter aloud at his funeral.

Not all of it. She read the first two paragraphs, and the last four lines. She stood at the foot of the white-painted lighthouse, a quarter of a mile from where Robbie had walked into the sea. Gulls wheeled overhead in the blue September sky and the ocean crashed over the grey and black rocks.

‘This is the letter Robbie left me,’ she said to the people who had gathered to celebrate her husband’s life. ‘He left me little notes sometimes on my bedside table, because he always got up before I did. And on the day he decided to die, before he lost any more of himself, he left me this letter to say goodbye.’

She had tears in her eyes as she read Robbie’s words aloud, but her voice remained steady. These were the last things she could do for him: reading aloud his words, and keeping their secret, and watching over their family. There was no casket, no flowers. Only people and the sun and the sky and the sea and the gulls overhead tracing their endless circles.

When she was finished, she stayed standing while the music played. Glenn Gould in 1955 playing the Aria Da capo, the final aria, from the Goldberg Variations. As the piano music lifted into the air, she looked out at the people who had come.

An entire town, almost, sat in rows in folding chairs on the grass. Young people and old people, sailors and fishermen, boatbuilders from Camden and Bath and Southwest Harbor up on Mount Desert Island. Her former patients. Sarah and her daughter Dottie and her daughter, whom Dottie had named Emily. Little Sterling, his son Fourth and pregnant wife Anne who was presumably carrying Sterling Lunt the Fifth; Pierre L’Allier and his twin sons. Near the back was a stooped, pot-bellied man with dyed-black hair who was Luís Fuentes, Robbie’s old boss at Dinner Key. He’d flown up from Florida with his much younger wife.

In the front row, Adam and Shelley held hands, Chloe with her arm around her little sister Francie, while Teddy held the toy wooden sailboat that Robbie had carved for him and rigged with string. William sat beside them with his children John and Brianna.

So many people. A whole life, so well lived. The life they’d chosen together.

The music was just over two minutes long and Emily had heard it many, many times before, but this time she listened. The rises and falls; the exquisite tangles of notes running into each other and smoothing out into a poignant, simple melody. It ended on the same note where it had begun: a G, in unison in the treble and the bass.

As the last note faded, she slipped the letter in her pocket before she went to join her family.

***

Dear Emily, my sweetheart,

I wanted to wake you. But if I did, I knew I would never go. And you look so beautiful asleep. Almost every day since 1972 I’ve woken up before you have, and watched you sleeping. Since I met you, you’ve begun every day and you’ve ended every day of my life.

I’ve thought about who will look after you. Adam is there. He’s good with his hands, as well as his brain. He’ll help with the house and he’ll make sure the driveway is shoveled and the lawn is mowed. The kids will stay with you on weekends. You’ve got friends. Let them help you. I know you won’t be alone.

There are so many things we didn’t talk about. And maybe we should have. Maybe we should have told people the truth. Then we wouldn’t have had to lie to Adam, and lie to everyone, and keep silent. But I guess the time for that has long gone, and maybe if we’d told people, we would never have had Adam. Maybe we wouldn’t even have been able to stay together. When people say things about you, you tend to start believing them. At least this way, we could make our own reality of who we were.

They’ve been good years, sweetheart. The best I can imagine. I don’t want to let them slip away from me. And I know you’ll be angry at me for leaving you, but this is the only gift I can still give you, Emily. You’ll be the only one who knows our secret. You don’t have to have any more fears. You’re free, now.

You’re my beginning and my ending, Emily, and every day in between.

Goodbye.

I love you.

Robbie