Four thirty. If Joyce is the best writer of the last century, then what about him was great? He was no garden variety Christian; that would have been dull. He was a wonderful humanist, trying to make life better for the world of people. I find it odd that I learned about literature before I ever went to a church. Most people do it in the reverse order and become lapsed churchgoers. I feel like coming around full circle to secularism. This would be like my parents… like Mom. Like my brother too. The two of them were the intelligent ones in the family. I loved them the most, yet they didn’t love each other. Mom didn’t really know Jeff at all, and he misunderstood her. What they had in common they didn’t even recognize: it was pure intellect. But Jeff still resents and begrudges Mom, long after her death. I offer no apologies for my way of seeing it… Kate was smart like my mother. She loved the Joyce that she read, particularly Portrait of the Artist… but also “Eveline” from Dubliners. I blew it with Kate. I could’ve had a complete relationship with her, and I just blew it. Nothing stopped her from doing what she wanted to do. But I sold out for the sake of safety and a longer lifespan. I did the conservative thing to stay alive, when maybe the brave thing to do was to go for Kate. The courageous and radical thing! But I would have died young, the way Lord Byron did. And Kate would’ve been a widow. Some alcoholics can drink enormous quantities and still function. I could not. It would’ve killed me. It just worked out the way it did, and I’m still alive, though loveless and rueful. Was I intelligent to save my life, or would it have been wiser to do a Sara Teasdale? “And for a breath of ecstasy / Give all you have ever been, or could be.” So this was the “bartering” I failed to do. I guess I am no Teasdale, let alone a Byron or a Joyce. Instead I am something more boring, but I suppose there’s an advantage to being alive. Dear reader, what would you have done?