While putting myself through grad school, I took the summer off and got a job managing a motel in Provincetown.  Since this was a motel, that meant I did everything, including painting all 21 rooms before we opened for the summer tourist season.  The owner, an absentee boss named Sue, hooked me up with this middled-aged guy, Andrew, who I mentally nicknamed “Sad Sack.”  His big, brown, cocker spaniel eyes were always sad and bloodshot from the copious amounts of alcohol he consumed each evening.  Still, he was such a good painter that he did not need tape or drop clothes when edging the walls–unlike me, who needed a drop cloth just to open the paint!  We worked together fairly harmoniously.

Then one night, I heard a knock on the office door, which had a room in the back that doubled as my bedroom.  I opened the door.  Andrew stood there.  He asked if he could come in and have dinner with me.  I hesitated, but then thought about his sadness.  “Sure, Andrew,” I said, “Come on in.”  As I was a limited cook, we dined on macaroni and cheese from a box; Andrew supplied the hotdogs to make it more of a dinner.  He helped me do the dishes after dinner, and we sat around and played poker for matches for a while.  Eventually, he left and went home.

After that, our work painting together, even our frequent silences, felt warmer and more comfortable.  He told me he had been an artist:  no wonder his lines were so perfect.  We finished painting all 21 rooms fairly soon, and I did not see him again for the rest of the summer.  When fall arrived, I left Provincetown and returned to graduate school in Boston.  But at the end of the year, my buddy Wayne and I took the puddle jumper to Provincetown to party and hang out with my friend Bob.  New Year’s Day dawned brilliantly cold; the snow sparkled as if the sun had scattered diamonds in it.  Wayne and I hugged Bob good-bye and started to depart by walking across the wooden deck that framed the apartments in the building.  When we reached the last door of the last apartment, the door opened, and Andrew stepped out.  His hand plucked my sleeve.  “Barbara, Barbara, you have got to come in, you have got to come in.”  I tried to gently disengage by telling him I had to catch the plane back to Boston, but he insisted I come into his apartment.  I held out my hand, palm out, to Wayne, gesturing for him to wait for me.  Then I followed Andrew inside.

He handed me a gorgeous, finely crafted tea cup.  The artist had glazed interesting Asian symbols in a light blue on the sides and handle of the cup.  The handle was shaped like a dragon, and a top with a delicately wrought knob sat on top.  In short, the cup was beautiful.  I looked at Andrew; his brown eyes were focused on my hands, holding the cup.  Then he looked at me, and our eyes met in that way in which the two people are really seeing one another.  “It’s for you,” he said.  His eyes were filled with warmth–unexpectedly so, I thought–I had not seen him for months.  “Remember that time I came to your house for dinner”?  I nodded.  “Well,” he went on, breaking his gaze from my eyes, looking out the window on his right, the sun shining in, “I was going to kill myself that night, but I came to your house instead.”

Now it was my turn to look down.  But then I looked up at him, and stepped in, and hugged him, hard.  “Thank-you, Andrew,” I said.  I blinked the tears out of my eyes and stepped outside into that brilliant sun, shaken and moved.

I kept that cup for over 20 years.