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Would it have been better if she had never seen him? Catherine thought. He had appeared like a frozen apparition that December night her Lexus LS 400 broke down in the Cheektowaga movie parking lot, the winds howling like a mad winter pronoucement that something mystical and extraordinary was about to happen. That's always the question, Catherine said to herself as she looked at Thomas for the last time. Happiness, that elusive quality she had so seldom known. Would she have been happier if she had never been with him, had never watched him -- impossible as it seemed at the time -- get her luxury sedan started in that awful weather? Would she have been better off if she had never felt the current between them for the first time as they sat in the all-night Dunkin' Donuts across the street from the Como 8 Appletree Mall discount theaters drinking coffee from those smooth brown cups?

Because being there and feeling that first spontaneous kiss -- she had kissed him -- meant she could no longer tell herself how that unsettling, restless, never-satisfied feeling would never go away. Now she had to believe in love and bliss and the happiness that comes from surrendering her heart. She knew there was some way to answer the void.

"Then just don't go, Catherine," Thomas said as they sat in the lovely darkness at a curved leather booth at Oliver's restaurant, the night before her West Coast flight was scheduled to leave. "Wait a few months. Stay in Buffalo. Set up a Seattle-to-Buffalo modem or something. This is 1999."

For a moment Catherine did not answer. She just sat there in front of her Salad Nicoise looking at him, at the ineffable mix of his smooth and rough features, at the slightly funereal white shirt and tie he had put on to please her, albeit a little too much. In front of him was a folder with hospital papers for his dying sister. That was his easy reason for not going with her to Seattle. He could not leave his terminally ill sister, the one who relied on him to make things a little better. And there was his elderly and disturbed mother, who the family had succeeded in keeping out of a nursing home but who every day locked herself in the attic of her Lancaster homestead, crying out in her delusionary angst.

But Catherine knew, as only lovers know, there was no way he would go with her anyway. To admit he was not in control of his own life, to admit to himself his life's direction was dependent on her's, that was not Thomas, and never would be.

So they gazed at each other and had what Marie-Clair magazine calls eye lock (Catherine had read about this waiting to get her nails painted at Calista); their eyes met and held together for a long time, and a world of communication and thought and feeling pass between them in an almost visible, palpable current. Like they were coming from the same source, like the tingle two identical twins feel when they meet for the first time, like the sensation of knowing on some visceral level that there was some harmony and web in the world.

"It's just not going to work," Catherine said and then blushed for sounding like the cheap, mundane novels she used to sneak read as a teen-ager while attending Buffalo Seminary. Then she found another voice.

"It's this darn economy," she said. "Why couldn't the Niagara Frontier share some of the nation's unprecedented economic boom or at least enjoy the moderately improved business climate parts of upstate New York are starting to realize? Did you see Jerry Zremski's article in The News? Maybe if Hillary Rodham Clinton is elected to the Senate, Buffalo can start moving again and I can come back."

But as soon as she said it, she felt a cloud come between them again. It was the static of limitless job possibilities in her financial planning and consulting career, the one she was being told in no uncertain terms by her company's CEO and CFO she must transfer to the West Coast. And close behind was the language of her own demons, the urge again to quiet the inner dialogue to justify her own existence with activity, movement, accomplishments -- whatever it took to escape the circling black dogs in her mind and prove to herself what she was was enough. Even though it never was.

It was going to start all over again -- the boring, insincere power lunches, the compromises, the waking up in the middle of the night and wondering what terrible things would happen that day, the ever-increasing condo payments and the stock options to pay for it, the paralysis she had recently experienced at Cafe Aroma (the Bidwell branch) over which flavor to order -- a anxiety she knew would only get worse in whatever neighborhood Starbucks she happened to land near in her new home.

But it would not start tonight. The star-crossed lovers left for a final evening together at Thomas' upstairs double, not far from the Cheektowaga parking lot where they met. A left turn at the AppleTree Business park -- again the fierce Buffalo wind howled outside as Thomas drove the Lexus down the dark, misty roads. A quick right and another 2.5 miles later, they arrived at his flat. The mist had turned to a cold late-October rain. The two lovers pulled each other close as they walked up the creaky stairs. The bleak winter was not far behind.

As that fierce autumn wind shook the aluminium siding, Catherine abandoned herself one more time to the strength and comfort of Thomas' presence, to the concrete reality of the here and now, to the spark of divinity they each felt looking in the other's eyes. Then Catherine felt another voice in her rise up. And like the other sensations she felt, she gave in to this as well. Fully. Completely. Without limits.

"I cannot live without my life," she cried, now resting in Thomas' arms and breathing hard. "I cannot live without my soul. How can I bear it?"

The couple's rhythmic breathing became one. Gradually, they became aware of the steady rain making metallic noises on the plexiglass bedroom storm window. For a moment they were quiet, listening to their heartbeats and the rain, and wondering how anyone could ever imagine anything but peace for those lying beneath that maligned and beloved Western New York earth.
Charles Anzalone is the editor of FIRST SUNDAY.

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