Jacob and Rachel

She heard the knock at her door and went to the front window and parted the curtain just an inch and looked out onto the front porch and saw him standing there.  He stood with his back to the late sunlight and she could not see his face, but the outline of his slender body was all she needed to be sure.  He shifted his weight from foot to foot and looked all around as he waited for an answer to his knock.   When he came to a rest, his head was a little tilted to the left as if he had just asked a question.   She had not seen him in eighteen years, yet she could have picked him out of a crowd from a block away.  She believed that she had never loved him, yet she was haunted by his form the way lovers are haunted.  In only a matter of days almost two decades ago she had done to him that very thing she had determined never to do to any man.  She had, in a moment of very particular circumstances, in a time of song and poetry, allowed him in.  And then, as heaven again turned to earth, she had run from him.  She knew even then, although she had tried her best not to know, the pain she caused him and she knew even then that he was justified in wondering why and in asking her why.  She also knew, by a few words dropped by a friend at Christmas or at some wedding or funeral, that he had never really healed from this, although he never approached her again.

All of it had happened between them in less than two weeks.  The circumstances had seemed to allow it, to call for it, even.  She had been aware of his admiration of her all through high school and she knew of his deep, unspoken respect for her person and his profound and justified doubt about his own chances with her.  He would have forgone any attempt with her if only to save her the pain of refusing him.  But there were others around them then.  Friends who knew of his desire and his reluctance and friends who also knew of her own loneliness, self-imposed though it was.

And it was the end of time just then.  The world they had known for all of their eighteen years was coming apart just as it ever has in that age.  Within only days every relationship they had known – those that had enriched and enabled them and those that had held them down – would be drowned like Pharaoh’s horsemen in the sea of time.  She knew that and welcomed it. It had been the focus of her thinking and desire for more than a year.  So much so that she never imagined that any other so situated had not seen the same thing coming and welcomed it just as she had.  

Particularly Jacob Eaton.  If anyone should have welcomed the imminent social apocalypse, it was him.  Jacob’s defining characteristic, it seemed to her, was his open-handed independence from every power and principality that held sway in the halls of the school.  Jacob’s penetrating intellect was obvious to anyone who interacted with him socially or happened to be in the same classroom anytime some unsuspecting teacher made the mistake of challenging him.  He was athletic, but found no home in any of the school’s sports teams.  He was attractive and at ease around the prettiest and most popular girls in the school.  They sat next to him when the opportunity arose and they confided in him and trusted him far more than in any of the boys they dated.  And the cliques, even those that others would have given an arm and a leg to belong to, it was as if he never noticed the strategies they employed to distinguish themselves; as if he was oblivious to their rigid hierarchies.  He paid no one any dues.

And yet he was no rebel. He seemed as unaware of his own particularity as he was of the anxious striving for inclusion and acceptance of nearly everyone else in the place. He never wanted to be first in line.  He just wanted out of the line.

These traits were so well defined by the end of their senior year.  He was going somewhere else; he was meant for or concerned with someplace or something else.  He was not at home here.  Rachel Thompson had by then become aware of the power of the light she could shine.  A smile or bit of polite conversation could raise the interests and hope of just about any boy in the school.  She had watched as other girls in the school employed the same powers – even if of a lesser strength than her own – to make boys fall all over themselves and end up in misery.  So she curbed any show of affection and stayed clear of any evidence of preference or intimacy.

But Jacob was a different kind of guy.  She could shine her light on him for this little time that was left them.  He would know her limits. Indeed, they would probably be much like his own.  It would be a glowing but passing season for them both.  There was a clear end in sight.  Then everyone would just walk away, hearts intact.

Oh, how terribly she had misread him.  Jacob Eaton had ignored the dominating, prevalent order at the school not because he was otherwise fulfilled, but because the empty spaces within him were broader and deeper than anything that juvenile order could fill.  He knew this much about himself: that those belongings and achievements that seemed to satisfy others around him would be no solace to him at all.  None of it was worth the effort.  And so he had walked calmly through high school, paying tribute to none of the gods of adolescence, fully aware that the longings within him would find no satisfaction there.

When God said “It is not good that man should be alone” He first formed out of the ground every beast that swims, flies, crawls or runs and paraded them all before the lonely Adam.  And Adam gave names to all the animals; to the eagle and hawk and dove, the lion and the zebra, the pig and the cow.  When all of that was done, the Scriptures say, Adam was still alone.  There was still no help-meet for him.  Every name that Adam gave to every animal was his way of saying that this creature is not like me.  How exhausting and finally disappointing for the lonely Adam.

It was only after this that God caused a great sleep to fall on the man.  He took out one of Adam’s ribs and from the flesh and bone of the man he created woman.  And when God showed Adam the new creature, Adam saw immediately he contrast.  This one was different.  This one was like him.  He gave her a name that was like his own.   Surely Adam’s speech here is ecstatic: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”  It is, after all, the archetypal expression of the most fundamental dynamic of human life.  The attraction that has survived almost intact for untold millennia; that has preserved and multiplied the race; and has given men the incentive for nearly every great accomplishment and the best consolation they will know this side of Jordan.

Jacob Eaton’s experience was much the same as Adam’s.  Given his rare intelligence and temperament, his young life had been a long process of giving names to the things around him that were not like him.  Things that did not provide the help he needed.  For Jacob, the naming was not of animals, but of people.  There were those who could run or swim or fly, but there was no one like him.  He found no true friendship anywhere.  There was no one around who could match his intellect; no one who perceived the world so deeply as he; no one who saw through the façades; no one whose desires were so profound as his own; and finally, no one for whom the search for companionship had been so disappointing, so frustrating.

But one evening alone with Rachel Sanders had changed all of that.  Here, finally, was someone like him.  Bone of his bone.  Jacob’s ecstasy then was like that of a prospector who has long since given up hope of but stumbles at last onto treasure unimagined – the pearl of great price.  The very attraction that Adam first knew and that was strong enough to be passed on from generation to generation without dilution and thereby preserve the race over centuries now infected every cell of Jacob’s body, every neuron in his brain, and every chamber of his heart.

Jacob sold everything – every hesitation; every reservation; every fear; every other plan or goal – and bought with his soul the field in which this precious pearl lay.

When she said yes to him, even though it was, as she thought then and as she thought he must have understood, all conditional, all applicable only to that brief time, that one season of twilight, time stopped for him.  She filled every empty space in him. He would have lived forever there.  His attachment to her was as strong and as distinctive as had been his detachment from everything else.

And there she was, right in the middle of the crime she had sworn never to commit.  She had led him on.  By any fair standard, the tokens she had shown him in that short season were encouragement.  He was justified in wondering why it all disappeared.  He was justified in asking her why.

She opened the door.

“Jacob.  Come in.  Come on in.”

She had anticipated the moment of awkwardness there in the foyer.  To embrace or not to embrace.  They were old friends.  The oldest of friends.  No one could see it any other way.  Not even him, if he were fair.  And surely his decade and a half in the highest reaches of the legal world had taught him something about fairness and perspective and how an individual’s feeling about a situation might be completely unfounded and how facts that unfolded as time passed would prove how unfounded.  And so much time had passed.  They had each had their share of life by now.  Enough disappointments and other joys as to give them long perspectives.  How could a simple embrace hurt anything?  How could it be misinterpreted now, this far down the line, this long after the first mistake?  They were different people now, more fully formed, more sure of their lives.

And yet.  As she looked him in the face only two steps away, memory rushed in on her like a wind.  She remembered his agony, his search for words, his confidence broken, his easy winsomeness dissolved.  And her own accordant suffering.  His questions “why” she could not answer. 

Never again.

She swung the door wide and stepped back and he entered and stood there in the foyer as if waiting for some direction.

“Here,” she pointed to the living room.  “Come on in.  I’ve still got coffee in the kitchen.”

He sat on the couch and she brought coffee and he took a sip and set his cup on the low table before them.  They were quiet for a moment.

 “I was sorry to hear about John.  I didn’t know him at all.  He was gone by the time I got there.  I knew people who knew him though.  He was loved and respected.”

 “I appreciate that, Jacob.  He was a good guy.  A good husband.”

 “You all never had any kids.”

 “No.  That wasn’t by choice.  It just never happened.  You still have time for that, Jacob.  You never know what might be around the corner for you.”

 “You have time, too.”

 “Not as much as you do.  Nature isn’t fair that way.”

 “I want to tell you right now that I’m not here to pursue you in that way.  I know that you wouldn’t want that.  I talked to Linda.  She didn’t say anything outright.  But I know how you feel.  It’s how you’ve always felt, I guess.”

She did not turn away from him, but she said nothing.

“But I wanted to see you because I think I have something important to tell you.  I’m not going to put anything on you.  I’m not going to make any request or promise.  I just have something to tell you.  I know that it’s kind of presumptuous to do this.  Just knock on your door uninvited, out of the blue like this.  But I wanted – I felt like I should, finally – I felt like I had to tell you about it.  It’s selfish in a way, I know, but I think there might be something unselfish about it.  Something that might help you.  Might tell you something about yourself.  Be valuable in that way.”

“It’s okay.  Go on.”

“You know, lots of people think the business I’m in is all about deception.  All about fooling the other guy.  Being clever enough to hide the ball.  And I’ll tell you that on many levels that is how the practice goes.  But at its best and among those who are the best at what they do, it’s about telling the truth.  I don’t mean to suggest that it’s either simple or easy.  It’s very hard to get to the truth.  Hard to recognize it.  You have to sweat to get there.  But it’s what works.  I’ve seen the greatest deals in the world go down the tubes because one party discovered some deception somewhere and that was it.  On the other hand, I’ve stuck my neck out and admitted things that might not have looked good on my client’s side and sometimes it has killed the deal.  But time has shown me that the deals I have lost that way would have been bad business for my clients in the long run.  It all comes back to you.  You tell the truth and you put yourself in a position that you don’t have to defend.   Lots of times what you thought was over will come back to life.  I’ve seen it happen.  You just have to be brave enough to lay your cards on the table.

“So I’m going to tell you the truth.  Not with the expectation of anything in return, but just because it’s true and the truth does something.  When it’s communicated unselfishly, it does something good for everybody.

“You know how fortunate I have been.  Some would say lucky.”

“I wouldn’t.”

“Thanks for that.  But I can’t deny that things have broken my way, time and again, that I had no control over.  Doors have opened for me that I didn’t even know were there.”

“You worked hard, Jacob.  And you’re smart.  You’ve stayed out of trouble all your life.  You deserve what you have.”

“I think there is a real good argument that no one deserves what I have.  I can’t help but believe that it all might have been different if I had been born a day later or a day earlier.  But that gets me kind of where I want to go here.  I am not here to brag, but I have to talk some about my life to make what I say to you now mean what it should mean.  I beg you to stay with me here for a moment and the self-aggrandizing stuff will be over in just a minute or two.”

“Don’t worry about me.  I’ve already heard a lot about your life, but I would love to know more.”

“I have traveled in the best circles in England and Europe.  My best friend at Oxford was the son of the Duke of Devonshire.  He gave me entrance to . . .

Here Jacob stopped himself and sat silent for a moment.  He began again, this time more slowly.

“What I want to say is that in one sense, in one major, overriding sense, nothing I have seen or done, nothing I have achieved or been given, and, most importantly, no one I have met has changed my feeling about you.

“ I have worked for years to make that not be true.  The feeling for you is no help to me.  It’s something I have spent untold energy on.  And for no reason.  No reason at all to do that.  No chance that it would ever be anything other than just thinking.  But it was always there.  There has not been one morning or one afternoon, even in the busiest and highest times, when I did not think of you.  I apologize for this, for saying this to you, I mean.  I don’t mean to say that this is something you intentionally did or caused.  But it is there and it is undeniable and I think I have finally figured out why it’s there and I think that it might actually mean something to you right now.  

“I know that you’ve got to be searching, Rachel.”

And she gave him an answer that she would never have given until this day.  “Yes, Jacob.  I am searching.”

 “We all are, really.  Almost all of the time.  And we get hints sometimes.  After years of stewing, walking blindly, sometimes we get a clue.  And when that happens, it’s worthwhile.  It changes things.  Do you know what I mean?”

“I’m not sure that I do, Jacob.  But, please, keep going.”

“Well.  You’re thinking about buying that house.  The old Phillips place.”

“Yes, I am.”

“But you don’t know why, exactly, do you?”

“No.  It’s a feeling I have.  I can’t really explain it.  If I could talk about it to somebody – somebody who wasn’t trying to talk me out of it – then I think I might get closer to understanding it, myself.”

“Well, Rachel.  I am happy to say for once that just now, just for this purpose, I am your man.”

She smiled.

 “I think I have felt the way I have about you all this time because of the way you love.  You have loved boldly.  Your love has come from your own heart and it hasn’t been the product of prevailing opinion.  That’s what makes you you.  That’s what makes you different from everybody else.  That is why I was so drawn to you.  I saw something in you that I have seen nowhere else in this world.

“I saw it in your friendships all through school.  You were at the top of our little society back then, but you made connections with people who others ignored and avoided. And with your friendship, those people blossomed.  It was like they became other people.  I think they grew into what you saw in them.  That’s power.

“And so I am here to tell you that you have to do this thing that others are warning you against.   It’s who you are.  It’s what makes you you.  This may be your gift to the world.  The thing that only you can do.”

It was this last arrow, the one that Jacob aimed away, that finally struck Rachel’s heart. And an hour after he had spoken it, when their conversation was over and he was stepping back through her door and onto the little porch and into the late twilight, she knew it would be the last time he would ever call and she had to muster every bit of strength she had in her broken heart to keep from grabbing him by the hand and pulling him back.

copyright 2019

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