The Forever Year
by Ronald Anthony
Published by Forge
352 pages, 2003
Buy it online
Do you believe that love can last forever?
Jesse Sienna doesn't. His own parents' marriage was caring but passionless, and his own romantic history tells him that love burns brightest before fizzling out completely. So when his elderly father, Mickey, moves in with him and seems unable to understand Jesse's no-strings-attached relationship with his current girlfriend, Jesse barely pays attention. It's just another example of how different they are -- and more evidence that he and his father will never connect on any meaningful level.
But the truth is, Mickey Sienna knows more about love than most people learn in a lifetime. More than half a century ago, he found the truest love that life can offer. He knows the endless rewards of investing your heart and soul in someone ... and he knows the devastating costs of letting that perfect someone slip by.
When Mickey sees Jesse taking an extraordinary woman for granted, he decides it's time to tell Jesse a story he's never shared with any of his children. Over the course of the next few months, Mickey explains his most private and fulfilling moments to his youngest son ... and forever changes Jesse's perception of love and the possibilities of a lasting relationship.
A stirring family drama and a touching romance, The Forever Year is filled with richly drawn characters and powerful situations. You might find yourself looking at love in a new way.
It didn't dawn on me that getting to know my father meant getting to know all of the ways in which we differed philosophically and practically. I hadn't considered that we would have very different ideas about what one did with a Sunday morning or how many times we needed to have my Aunt Theresa over for dinner or what percentage of the available hot water was too much to use in one shower. I hadn't imagined that he would play the television so loudly that the broadcast studio in Manhattan would wonder where the echo was coming from.
"Dad, really, I'm trying to get some work done," I called from behind the closed door of my home office.
There was no response. Of course there was no response. How could he hear me with the television up so loud? I tried to ignore it and return to the article I was working on, but the combination of boring quotes from a physician about reducing the risk of testicular cancer and the inane exchanges that came through the walls from some second-rate '40s movie made that virtually impossible. Finally, I walked out to the den.
My father looked up at me from his chair with an expression that either suggested that he was baiting me or that he genuinely had no idea this time what he had done to produce the annoyed expression on my face.
"It's a little loud," I said.
"I turned it down when you complained before," he said defensively.
"And the windows in my office stopped shaking, thanks. Think you can bring it down to subway station level?"
He scowled and picked up the remote, lowering the volume.
"I don't understand why you play this so loud," I said. "You don't have a hearing problem."
"It sounds better when it's loud. Like that music you used to play at home."
I looked at the TV screen. "That's Jane Russell, not Jimi Hendrix. Not to mention the fact that you're 82 and not 14." I was actually a little surprised that he remembered the music thing at all (typical dad/kid moment: "your father would really prefer it if you didn't play the music in your room so loud at night"), imagining that it was one of the dozens of ways in which we barely interacted when we were previously under the same roof.
He snapped the remote at the television, turning it off. "I didn't know you were running a library here," he grumbled.
I went back to my office and tried to get back into the article. But I was still peeved at our exchange and I couldn't concentrate. I finally decided that it was time to make myself an early lunch, hoping that it would kick off a much more productive afternoon.
I went back out into the den. My father was still sitting in his chair, staring at the blank television screen. I assumed he was waiting me out, staying that way until I emerged from my office so he could show me how inconsiderate I was being. I could have asked him what he was doing. I could even have suggested that he put the movie back on since I wasn't going to be working for the next half-hour or so. Instead, I just walked into the kitchen, waiting until I got there to ask him if he wanted something to eat. He didn't answer, but a minute later he shuffled into the room.
"What I want is a BLT, but you don't have any more bacon," he said.
I opened the refrigerator and pulled out a package. "There's bacon right here."
"That's not real bacon."
"It's turkey bacon. You eat too much pork."
"Yeah, and it's killing me. That stuff doesn't taste like bacon at all."
"That's because it's not 80% fat. You know, just because eating terribly hasn't hurt you yet doesn't mean it isn't going to."
He walked over to the refrigerator and peered inside. "I'll go shopping for myself later. What are you having for lunch?"
"I'm making a veggie burger. Want one?"
He pulled his head back from the door. "You're kidding, right?"
"Well I was going to make a lard on rye, but we're out."
He gave me that look again, the one that said that he was still surprised that I was speaking to him the way I was. Matty spoke to him like this all the time and it seemed like he enjoyed the challenge of parrying with him in this way. Why was it a problem coming from me? He pulled out a plate of roasted chicken from the previous night's dinner and walked over to the kitchen table with it.
As I cooked my burger, I glanced over at him eating the cold chicken. I couldn't tell whether he was angry or upset. I wondered if he was having second thoughts about moving in here or if he just saw this as part of the process of our learning to live with one another. The thought of the former saddened me. I realized that it would be far worse to go through this and learn that we couldn't live together than to have never gone through it at all. This was the other thing that was driving me crazy ñ the emotional see-sawing that came from alternating good moments with my father with bad moments, switching from wanting desperately to have a meaningful bond with him to wishing he'd moved into Darlene's house instead. It was just like what happened in a romantic relationship when you cared too much. You'd think I might have learned.
I finished making the burger and sat down at the table next to him. We didn't say anything for a few minutes.
"Do you want something to drink?" I asked finally.
"You could get me a Coke if you want."
Things were just destined not to go well. I didn't buy soda, either. I was feeling pretty displeased with myself at this point. How could I expect him to feel at home if I wouldn't let him make it his?
"We don't have any Coke. We'll go shopping later this afternoon, okay? We'll get more bacon, too."
He looked up at me with an expression I couldn't read clearly. I wanted it to say that he accepted the flimsy olive branch I was offering. But it might have said that this relationship was getting old really fast. He returned to his meal and I tried to stomach mine.
"I used to have quite a thing for Jane Russell," he said after it had been quiet for a while. "It used to drive your mother crazy. Like my ogling Jane Russell was going to make her stop by the house one day and take me away."
I smiled. "Turn it back on when we're finished with lunch. I've been having a hard time with this men's health article I'm writing. I think I was just using the television as an excuse."
"Nah. I have some other stuff I want to do this afternoon. What's your article about?"
"Preventing testicular cancer."
"You should have seen my article on colonoscopies a couple of months ago. I think it even made my computer squeamish."
He snickered and got up to get himself a glass of water.
"You do good stuff. That article about the wheelchair basketball star last year almost made me cry."
I didn't even know that he read it. I felt a little catch in my throat, which I tamped down by taking another bite of the burger.
"What's that stuff taste like, anyway?" he asked, sitting back down.
"It's really good. All you need is an imagination. Want a bite?"
He curled his lip. "My imagination isn't that good."
He put down his fork, which indicated that he was finished eating. At lunch, when he was finished, he usually got up and went back into the den. Today he decided to stay until I was finished. We didn't say anything else to each other, but he didn't go back to the den until after I went back to my office.
I think that qualified as progress. | May 2003
Copyright © 2003 Ronald Anthony
Ronald Anthony lives in southern Connecticut with his wife and three children. He is currently completing his second novel, Crossing the Bridge.