A happier ending I should have seen it coming. Stuck somewhere between seething with anger and shuddering with tears, I stopped my car in a vacant parking lot. I just needed to take deep breaths. I’d just finished listening to the last of Matchstick Men by Eric Garcia as read by Stanley Tucci. At the very end of the fifth and final disc, I knew I, the reader/listener, had been conned.
“Calm down, Barry,” I can hear you telling me, “it was just a book.”
How would I answer you so that you’d know that, for me, the writer had crossed, brutally crossed, what I regarded as a redline.
In short, the book tells the story of two flimflammers who pull one last con. And they seem to get caught. That’s distressing because Roy, the meticulous and careful one, wants to give up his crooked ways for the best of reasons. He wants to do honest work so that he can be a full time father to a child he’d recently found was his.
Much of the second part of the story was about the father-daughter reunion. Roy had suspected he had a child because the girl’s mother had ended her relationship with Roy during her pregnancy. For almost fifteen years, she’d refused to see or talk to Roy because he’d been abusive at the end of their relationship.
When the daughter finds then initiates a relationship with Roy, Roy tells her to say hello to her mother. Roy’s daughter reports that the mother doesn’t ever want to hear about Roy. He accepts that; the daughter spends more and more time with Roy.
After a psychologist tells Roy his OCD is due to his angst about his daughter, Roy understands, opens himself to a loving relationship with her. He wants to go to court to gain custody. For all the right reasons, I was cheering. I knew what it was like to regain the love of a one lost child.
But I was reading my story into that of Matchstick Men. My tears were wasted. According to the text, Roy escapes imprisonment due to an unlikely getaway. Unfortunately, he’s separated from his daughter who is in hiding. He’s told that she’ll get in touch with him.
She doesn’t. Roy does the unthinkable; he goes to see her mother. “We never had a child.” She says something like that to him. “I had an abortion,” she explains.
He wants her to be lying. But she’s not. Roy had been conned in the worst way. After hearing that, as I was parked in my car, I thought I would vomit. Matchstick Men should come with a warning: If you’ve ever lost a child to divorce, this book could be emotionally harmful.
Four days have passed; I’m still thinking of throwing away my copy of Matchstick Men. It’s been sitting by my keyboard like a piece of evidence from a sordid crime. Should I discard it?
I didn’t want to share it. Neither did I want to stare at it any more. Stymied, I went to work; I knew that figuring out a customer’s shirt size would be a sane distraction.
Someone called to me. I turned to see an old friend. He wanted to talk. In private.
We left the sales floor. Although he hadn’t said a word, I thought I knew what he might say.
For years, he and his wife had wanted a child, had decided to adopt. But nothing had happened; they were childless. I sensed he was about to tell about some very good news.
He did. They had been approached about adopting an infant.
“What do you think?” he asked, after giving me the details.
I knew how much it meant to him to be a father. As I shared my thoughts, I fought the tremors that had begun to rumble inside me. Being a father changes a man. Forever. I couldn’t be more grateful for having learned that.
I sensed my friend had learned it too. I thought of Matchstick Men and, as he left, prayed that Roy’s loss would be nothing more than the tasteless fiction it is, that my friend would get to be the incredible father to an infant child in dire need of loving parents.
As I throw the Matchstick CD’s into my trashcan, I’m focused instead on an image of my friend and his wife with that child in their arms, their own.
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