Unfinished

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He took his hands and rubbed the arms of the chair. “This is the ugliest chair I’ve ever sat on.”

“It serves the purpose.”

“What is it? Like corduroy?” He shifted and put both feet flat on the floor. He instantly rethought his move and crossed his legs at his ankles. He felt uncomfortable.

“So tell me what’s going on.”

“Could we make this less like therapy?” He crossed his arms, uncrossed them, and gripped the sides of the chair. “You’re not a therapist. You’re a priest. I’d rather handle this like confession.”

“Look I’m not doing attitude. How about we just talk?”

He drew his hands until his fingernails lined the tufts of the chair arms. He traced the welt cord that defined and decorated the crowns. “I’m sorry.” He lifted his body with his palms and sat straight on the seat. “Okay. I can’t get it in my head. I just can’t.”

“Just talk. We’ll sort it out.”

“Okay so my heart is fucked.” He winced. “Oh God. Bro, I’m sorry. I forgot where I was.”

“We’re going to have a ground rule. No editing. This is a safe space.”

“Complete, entire, no omissions?”

“It’s worked for two thousand years.”

“Okay.” He stood up. “I’m sick of sitting. I do it all day.” He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. “Okay so my heart isn’t working properly. But I didn’t know that. I was having trouble breathing. Do you remember I smoked?”

“One right after the other. I remember that blue ashtray you had. The circumference must have been a foot.”

“Yeah I forgot that ashtray. It was my aunt’s. Talk about a smoker. Jesus, she smoked Pall Malls.”

“So you had trouble breathing.”

“Oh yeah. So. I was having trouble breathing. My lungs jerked all the time. A couple of years ago a pulmonologist said I had COPD so I thought maybe I was having problems again. I had thrown out the inhaler so I made an appointment with him. But I couldn’t get an appointment for a couple of weeks and I was damned sick. So I went to an internist. A guy I didn’t know. Just an ass. Long story short I had an irregular heartbeat. I had a shitload of tests. Turns out I have congestive heart failure. One side beats too much and the other won’t empty. My heart is literally beating me to death.”

“So your heart is fucked.”

He turned around, “Hey. I get to be the one with the filthy mouth.”

“Hey I get to talk too.”

He laughed. “Okay.” He stopped laughing and turned toward the picture window. “Yeah. My heart is fucked.”

“What are they going to do?”

“I don’t know. I’m on a lot of drugs.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I can’t figure it out.” He turned around. “You know when diabetes took two of my toes I could see it. It was easy to understand. I could see the disease but this … heart failure … I can’t see. I can just see the can’ts. I can’t bike anymore. I can’t walk any distances. Shit I have to sit down at Lunds just to catch my breath while I buy groceries. I’ve always said I was brokenhearted. Who knew it was actually true? I can’t see it. I just have to believe it. And I hate that part.” He returned to the window.

“Did you see your test results? That’s concrete.”

“Yeah. True.” He put his hands on the sill and leaned into the window. “This is a great view.”

“So which part can’t you get inside your head?”

He lifted his heels and stretched his calves. “I don’t get the point of all this. I feel so unfinished and now someone has shown me the finished line.”

“Why do you feel unfinished?”

“Oh Christ.” He lifted his arms until he gripped the top frame of the window. He lowered his arms and shook his fists that bordered his thighs. His guttural growl was a cross between an ugh and an eww. He turned from the window. “I’m 54 years old and what have I accomplished? I’m not married. I’m not a priest. I’m not successful. I don’t have any kids. Christ. I’m nothing.”

“I think you need to take a step back and see your accomplishments.”

“Like what?”

“Well, personally, you have wonderful relationships. Right?”

“Friendships only go so far.”

“Do they?”

He smirked. “Yes.” He crossed his arms.

“And professionally, you’re a wonderful writer. Don’t underestimate the gift of talent.”

“No one’s paid for talent, my friend.” He walked over to the chair and sat. “But all that’s beside my point. I feel unfinished in a different way.” He crossed his legs at his ankles. “Shit I have to think how I want to say this.” Silence filled the space between them. “Do you like being a priest?”

“Yes.”

“Do you believe Divine Revelation is a process? Like it still happens?”

“Yes I do.”

He sat up and put his hands on his knees. “Okay like, work with me here.” He stood up. “I feel like every day I learn stuff. I learn about people and relationships. And I don’t feel like that’s finished. But now I’m told it’s ending. And I can’t comprehend all the work for nothing.”

“Have they given you a prognosis?”

“Well, kind of. One of the PAs said ‘many people live 10 to 15 years!’ like that was hopeful. Christ almighty! How the fuck is that hopeful?”

“Did you get a second opinion?”

“Of course I did. A cardiologist told me he was more optimistic than that.” He walked over to a bookshelf and glanced through a row of books.

“So that’s hopeful.”

He turned around. “No. You’re missing the point. Okay it’s like this. Life is hard. Right? If you have a conscience at all or try even a little, life is difficult. And I’m finally feeling like I’m getting there. Like I’ve mastered the whole damn thing and now this. How can this be the end of it? I’m not finished yet.”

“But you’re not finished yet. You’re in the process today.”

“Yeah, okay. That’s not what I mean. I’ll tell you how I feel. I feel like my life is this big massive handjob. Only it’s too much friction. It’s like I’m chafed but it’s okay. Because I thought the ending was so going to be worth it. Only I’ve found out it’s all just friction. There isn’t going to be a moneyshot. It would be easier if I was impotent but no such luck. Everything is so goddamned hard and for nothing. Just friction. Too much fucking friction for nothing.”

“Well that’s graphic.”

“You said no editing.”

“I think you’re missing the bigger picture.”

“Well paint it sweetheart because I don’t see it at all.”

“Take a seat.”

“If I sit too long my legs go numb. Neuropathy bites ass.”

“You say you’ve accomplished nothing. I think your writing has more impact than that.”

“I’m saying I became nothing. Not a priest. Not a husband. Not a father. Nothing.”

“And I’m saying your writing has a value you’re not seeing.”

“Show me.”

“I think your writing is your ministry.”

“It’s not sacramental.”

“There’s more than one kind of grace.”

“I like that.”

“You know what else you’re missing?”

“What?”

“The one who gives a handjob does all the work.”

“Oh padre. That’s brilliant and kind of perverse.” He laughed.

“You chose the colors bro. Now quit being so self-absorbed.”

“It kinda is about me.”

“Here’s your sentence I want you to think on. It’s never about you.”

He turned around and looked through the window and watched a car swivel on a snow-slicked street.

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