Happy That It’s Not True, part of a three book series gives the reader a glimpse of the interconnectedness of friends, strangers and family members.The end of the book reveals a sort of parallel universe existing and providing the possibility that there is something more profound going on. Read an excerpt from the book below. Courtesy- Carlos Aleman.
About the author- Carlos Aleman is a Cuban American writer, painter, illustrator, book cover designer, digital product artist/prototyper and web designer. An early e-book draft of this novel entitled As Happy As Ling was a finalist in the 2012 International Latino Book Awards. In 2013, the release in paperback of Happy That It’s Not True was named one of the best novels of the year by the Latina Book Club. Carlos lives in Sunrise, Florida with his wife Jean. Read his interview here.
Excerpt from Chapter Twenty Eight
In her dream, Ling could see her father. She wanted to love. Not the all-encompassing love thy neighbor, but the unique love of a daughter for her father. But as in all relationships, one cannot just will themselves to love. Whether it’s God, Eros or family, love is mysterious, just like her father who happened to be looking straight at her—through her, as if she weren’t really there. His unmistakable voice captured all of Ling’s senses. Their estranged relationship kept her from rejoicing as she struggled to form desperately needed words: but I thought you died.
She felt foolish as she spoke these words in a Mandarin she had much forgotten. They embraced, and once more she was like a child, wondering if she really did love her father and whether he could tell that she was never quite sure. She smelled the ethanol base of his cologne, which was like the balmy fragrance of a childhood memory, only quite genuine. It was all a lie, you’re not dead, she stammered as she tried to quickly adjust her worldview.
And then Ling saw her grandfather. He was in another room, preparing a canvas. She beamed. She didn’t want her father to see how much more she loved her grandfather, who still looked just as he did the last time she saw him, a frail eighty-eight year old man. She felt a flood of emotions that she couldn’t control and wept. Possibilities began to race through her mind: He’s still alive. He has no idea how much his life has meant to me. I can tell him now.
Ling’s grandfather, the man who painted melancholy and loneliness with flat brown colors—the man that perhaps no one could understand unless their lives were painted with sadness—Ling saw in him what she often finds in older men who have attained a crown of mastery and self-discovery: a father figure.
Seeing her grandfather alive filled her heart with joy. She could imagine him, over a hundred years old, still making his own egg tempera paints, still falling in love with grassy hills, winter and autumn landscapes, still in love with the wrinkled faces of his friends and the beautiful nude models—still searching for a truth that eludes lovers persistent enough to chase after it.
Ling looked at him for a long while as he pulled on the canvas, stapling it to the wooden stretcher. He turned to look at Ling, and she noticed that he had become Diego.
The next morning, Ling stood with Diego just outside his drawing class. The two were sipping coffee, peering inside the room and admiring the work of a particular student.
“The funeral is Monday,” Diego said. “And then I’m leaving for the West Coast.”
“How’re the kids?” Ling asked.
“As good as can be expected, I suppose. My sister’s moving in finally, so they won’t be alone.”
“When someone dies—you never get over it. At least they have you. You always seem to know what to say.”
“I don’t know what to tell them.” Diego’s shoulders slumped as if his entire being had been defeated. “I remember when I first thought I had found all the answers. I was about Alex’s age. I saw one of those televangelists with the big hair on TV. He said to call the phone number at the bottom of the screen to be saved. A little old lady answered the phone and screamed with joy. It was pretty exciting, but the high wore off after a few days.”
Ling nodded. “I could probably use some kind of spiritual awakening at this point in my life.”
“A few years later, I was watching a rebroadcast of the Live Aid concert. I saw my favorite band performing—”
“And don’t tell me—you got saved again-”
“Close. I still remember their words: We’re an Irish band—we come from Dublin CityIreland.”
“Then I heard that echoing guitar—so beautifully repetitive. That was long before I knew anything about minimalism. The song was about loving people despite their addictions. Watching it was like having a religious experience.”
“And it changed your life?”
“I actually went to see those guys in concert when they came to the US. The whole thing started with what sounded like church organs.”
“Ah, so that’s when you found God.”
“Yeah—it was such a high. But then the high eventually wore off. Every day can’t be a concert.”
“I backpacked across Europe to find myself.”
“I saw Koyaanisqatsi.”
“I love that movie.”
“It was a lot more effective than backpacking Europe, and a lot cheaper.”
“And you found yourself?”
“Pretty much—And then I started reading books about Eastern philosophy and Zen. I went through such a transformation. I was like a born-again Buddhist, of the Zen variety, practicing non-judgment, acceptance, detachment. I was so happy. It felt so good not to judge anyone. I was walking around—in love with life—the leaves on the trees were so green, and everything was so beautiful. What a high. But then the high wore off.”
“I know Eastern religions work for a lot of people. They say they have happiness and inner peace and all that, but all I do is think. I can’t stop my mind to meditate. It’s impossible for me. So guess what I tried next?”
“I started going to church. I fell in love with the people there. It changed my life. I had some profound experiences there—synchronicity and all that stuff. Everything was going great, until 9/11. Church was never the same after that. We all became deeply divided about going to war. Politics destroyed the church. I felt heartbroken. My friend, Jerry—he never let anything get to him. He always knew how to get along with everyone. But I guess I never had that kind of maturity. I couldn’t stand being in that place anymore. I moved as far away as I could. I don’t think I ever recovered. It seems that’s just the way it is with everything. The secret to life is to fall in love—and stay in love. But the high always seems to wear off.”
“There’s nothing you can do about falling in love,” Ling said. “It just happens.” As Diego gazed at the students and their artwork, Ling felt herself blushing. She looked up at him, unsure if she wanted to be caught in her infatuation.
“Mr. Alonso, I have a question,” said one of the students.
Diego glanced at Ling, but didn’t notice she had fallen completely in love with him.
“I guess I’ll talk to you later,” Ling said.
Diego went inside the room and Ling walked back to her class, confident that her high would never wear off.
Ling’s therapist was a woman in her fifties from India. She had compassionate, priestly eyes and a soft soothing accent. Her linen blazer and flower bib necklace gave Ling something ornate to look at while the two searched for answers.
“What’s he like?” she asked.
“Perfect,” Ling replied.
“You must really care about him.”
“I can’t stop thinking about him. But I’ve tried to stay busy like you told me.”
“Go anywhere interesting?”
“I went to Vizcaya again.”
“I’ve never been there. Can you describe it to me?”
“Well, there’s a limestone barge half submerged in Biscayne Bay with sculptures and obelisks. It looks like a sinking ship.”
“And why do you mention that first?”
“I don’t know.”
“They have Italian and French style gardens—fountains, a beautiful European-like villa. The guy who built it—they say he suffered from depression. He had some kind of anemia. He felt sick all the time. Vizcaya was a huge exciting project for him. It was what kept him going. After it was finished, he lived there nine winters, and then he died.”
“What’s your favorite thing about it?”
“I love the fact that there’s a hidden room behind the library. It’s a jib door made of bookshelves. The books in the door are fake.”
“Can you describe the bookcases?”
“Neoclassical—looks like rosewood. They go almost to the ceiling. The books are behind glass. The Memoirs of Cardinal de Retz—mysterious writings to an unknown woman in the sixteen-hundreds. That’s a faux book; all you see is the spine. And there are lots of real books, encyclopedias and history books—all kinds of books.”
“It’s amazing that you can remember all that. The memoirs seem to stand out for you.”
“A religious guy and his scandalous writings. Don’t know much about it.”
“Nothing can be more interesting than a holy man writing steamy letters. And your friend—is he religious?”
“Spiritual. I don’t think he likes to be called religious.”
“Do you think of him as the Cardinal, and are you like the mysterious woman?”
“I don’t know,” Ling laughed.
“Tell me about your friend.”
“I think life keeps letting him down. Things start off great for him, but then the bubble always bursts.”
“Is that why you won’t date him?”
“I’m mentally ill. It wouldn’t be fair to him.”
“You’re a very smart and mature woman. You’re not going to blame him for your problems, and try to make his life miserable through pettiness and passive aggression. Maybe you need a project to keep you going—like the man who built Vizcaya. Maybe your friend, he can be your project. Everyone needs a passion to live.”
Ling stared at a mental image of the library. Most of the books were real. Leather-bound, with many words by many men with many discouragements and qualms—how many words had the owner of the estate read? How many words had interested him? How many hours had he spent with these words? How many words had bitten and torn at him? How many words had excited him, resurrected him from his melancholy? How many words had mocked him, amusing themselves with his state and condition? Cruel words, comforting words.
And then she thought of Diego. She knew exactly which words she wanted to say to him: I don’t feel well. I really don’t feel well. But I want you to know that I’ve fallen in love with you. I’m all yours. Please be gentle with me.
Excerpt from Chapter Twenty Nine
Later that night in the hotel room, despite being exhausted, Diego was unable to sleep. Every position seemed torturous and every attempt to silence his mind seemed fruitless. Eventually, late into the morning hours, his mind began to surrender to the strange and solid surroundings of unreal things that seemed very real. And once again, he was in a small room in the cardiologist’s office.
Take off your shirt—was the request made by a woman, not in a nurse’s uniform, but in a gown the color of sandstone that hit at her ankles. She wore a spiked coral necklace. It was Ling. Her warm full lips smiled serenely. Her eyes sparkled as if she were giving birth to poetry. Her fair complexion glowed like a celestial being that had just entered the physical plane. She walked to the window and closed the blinds to make the room darker.
Okay, lie on the table with your back toward me. I’m going to apply some gel.
An echocardiogram. Diego knew the procedure well. Ling put her arm around him and held the transducer against his chest. He felt her warmth against his back.
I really like this—it’s like getting a long hug, Diego mused.
I like this very much too.
Can you see anything?
I see your heart. I see the leaflets flapping and your left ventricle contracting. Your heart is like an old beat-up little machine. Looks like it’s been through a lot. Sure you’ve never had your heart broken?
Oh lots of times I suppose.
Which was the worse?
Hmm—maybe one of my many failed relationships. There was a little girl. I was her stepfather. I loved her so much. When her mother and I were no more, I was devastated not to have a daughter anymore. To this day I still can’t admit that I was married. It was a very short marriage. I prefer just to forget it ever happened. I cry like a baby every time the girl’s birthday rolls around.
What was her name?
The girl’s name is Sashi, it means moon in Sanskrit.
Love is the worst thing for the heart, isn’t it?
Yeah, I know.
And so is loneliness.
Yeah—What else do you see?
I see a lot of love in your heart. Despite the pain it causes. Love is like a stubborn disease. There’s no way to cure it.
Diego caressed Ling’s hand. What else do you see?
Yes Diego, I can see that you love me.
Diego felt Ling’s breath behind his ear and then a tiny kiss on his neck.
And Cara is like having Sashi back, right?
So it all worked out. The love you showed Cara—you’ll never know how important that was to her. Something she desperately needed. It’s all because you had a void in your heart shaped like a little girl. See how things work?
And me? You’ve ever wondered why you’re so attracted to me?
It’s what I represent to you. I am—Asia. I’m a continent far, far away. One of the furthest and most unfamiliar places you can go without leaving the earth. You want everything to be new and different. An Asian woman would logically be the next step in your departure from this world. That’s what you see when you look at my Chinese face. Escape. You can’t take this world anymore. You want to escape from your sadness. The sadness you won’t admit to.
I’m very happy right now.
Diego felt another kiss and the dream melted away like beach sand in the warm surf.
Happy That It’s Not True is now available at Amazon.