Authors: Kathleen Tessaro
This book is dedicated to my dear friend
, whose remarkable character has forever shaped the fate of my son for the better and given me proof time and time again of true heroism in this world. I am beholden to you, sir.
A man's character is his fate.
ooking back is a dangerous thing. I've spent much of my time studying other ages, searching out the treasures of ancient worlds, but I've always found it best to move forward, eyes front, in one's own life. Hindsight casts a harsh, unforgiving light, and histories too tender and raw are stripped bare of the thousand shadowy self-deceptions that few of us can afford to see ourselves without.
But even the most conscientious of us can forget. The past dangles before us, as innocently as a loose thread from a sleeve. For me it began with a few lines in the local newspaper.
“Renovation works scheduled to begin at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.”
It had been years since I'd been there. I'd thought of going, many times, and even gotten so far as to be standing on the front steps before something stopped me. I suppose the place held too many memories, maybe even a few ghosts. Is there anything more haunting than the ambitions of youth?
But one of the great myths of age is that it brings us wisdom. It had been too long, I decided, folding the paper. This time I will knot the thread, tie the untidy end of my past or cut myself free of it.
And so, like Orpheus in the underworld, I talked myself into turning back and looking one last time at what I shouldn't see.
I made the mistake of going on a rainy Saturday afternoon in March. The museum was full of families with small children
careering from one room to another. They're encouraged to touch everything these daysâsticky handprints on all the glass cases.
I managed to avoid being tackled by toddlers and found my way to the Art of the Ancient World wing. The room I was looking for was sealed off with a red velvet rope and a sign that read “Closed to the Public.” I stepped round the rope, behind the sign, and into the abandoned gallery.
It was cool inside, and wonderfully quiet. There were tins of unopened paint and folded dust sheets, a few cigarette butts floating in some empty Coca-Cola bottles, but no work had actually begun. They hadn't moved any of the displays yet or stored away the artifacts. Above the marble arch of the entrance it read “The Treasures of the Golden Age” in gilded lettering. I could see from where they'd constructed the scaffolding that they were probably planning to rub it out.
The mural was still there, though faded and cartoonishâGreek temples and dancing nymphs, satyrs playing flutes. I was surprised to feel a nostalgic twinge of sentimental affection for it, even though I hadn't liked it at the time. Aging does that; it makes you amenable to far more ambiguous feelings and opinions than the inflexible black-and-white thinking of youth.
I walked past the statues of the mythical brothers Kleobis and Biton, frozen in rigid perfection, and paused by the vase and plate by the Harrow Painter, the archaic red-figure master. I even read the plaque beneath them, although I already knew what it said.
I remembered the first time I'd seen them, and the thrilling, slightly terrifying anticipation came flooding back, like dÃ©jÃ vu. Among the finest aesthetic accomplishments of their age, they'd been entrusted to my care one strange, ill-fated evening.
How young I'd been! How desperate and frightened and arrogant, all at the same time!
I continued, moving from case to case.
And then there it was, in one of the cabinets along the far wall: the black agate ring. I wasn't sure it would be there; I just had a feeling.
Even after all these years the sight of it made my skin go cold.
“Excuse me, madam?”
The voice startled me. I turned.
A young guard was hovering tentatively by the entrance as if he didn't dare disobey the sign.
“I'm sorry, madam, but this gallery is closed.”
I feigned surprise. “Really?”
He nodded. “Can I help you? Are you lost?”
I didn't answer right away. Instead I looked round one last time. The thread of my past unspooled before meâmemories, dreams, and regrets.
“Do you need some help?” he repeated, louder this time.
I shook my head. “No, thank you.” And lifting my chin, I pulled myself up to my full height, tucked my handbag under my arm, and marched past him. It's a trick I learned from my motherâwhen in doubt, act like you know what you're doing, and you'll be treated like you do.
And of course, if you can convince others, there's a chance that someday you might just be able to convince yourself.