The Marriott Theater's magnificent and heartbreaking reprise of the "Bridges of Madison County" made me think, again, that the play/book/movie needs a sequel.
The story is about a young Italian woman, Francesca, who married an American GI, Bud, after World War II and moved with him to rural Iowa to raise a family. Years and two children (Michael and Carolyn) later Francesca feels isolated and ground down from the unbending routine of farm and family life. Until a National Geographic reporter (Robert), on assignment to photograph the county's covered bridges, shows up on her doorstep to ask for directions while her husband and the children are away at a state fair.
What follows is a secret, four-day love affair that ends after she nearly, but not quite, runs away with Robert. It's a sad story about a woman torn between the love of her family and the possibility of a life of love she had hoped for, but now admitted to herself, never realized..
In the mid-1990s, the book was a best-seller and the movie a smash. But when I read the book and saw the movie, I was left with a feeling that the story ended too soon. A big question was left unanswered: What about cuckold, boring, thoroughly Midwestern husband Bud? His wife betrayed him. Did he know? Is there more to tell? As a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed columnist, I wrote my own sequel:
Love Letter From Madison County
By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Sun-Times, June 6, 1995
Just as the shock was wearing off from learning that their recently deceased mother, Francesca, had a four-day affair years ago with someone photographing the bridges of Madison County, Michael and Carolyn made another startling discovery. Cleaning out the old family farm, they found an unopened letter stuck in the recesses of a balky bureau drawer, addressed to Francesca in the hand of their late father. The letter, which Francesca had never discovered, read:
All I ever wanted was to make you happy. Perhaps someday, before I die, I can tell you how much it hurts to know that you have your dreams, but that I can't give them to you. How I wish I could, like your photographer friend from long ago.
Yes, I know about him. How couldn't I? Floyd mentioned seeing the green pick-up truck in the lane, one belonging to the photographer. There was the stale cigarette smoke around the house when I got back. I saw the agony on your face as you looked at each other on that rainy day he left town. But mostly, how can you hide from someone who loves you so much the deep changes I see - your sadness, your surrender to your humdrum fate?
But what can I do? I'm scared that if I tell you, it will only push you away. Every day I'm terrorized that whatever he touched within you will make you run to him. Or that he will return to take you away from me and the children.
Every day is agony. The sights and sounds of him surround you - the kitchen table, a truck in the lane, water running in the shower. After all these years, these reminders still must give you some comfort and pleasure. Me they fill with anger, humiliation and sadness. Every single day.
What keeps you here? Duty? Love? Would you leave if you found out that I knew about him? A real man is supposed to tell you, to get mad, but I can't risk the chance that you'd leave, in your shame. That can't be; we - I - cannot live without you. Whether you stay or leave, I can't risk telling you I know and making you even more unhappy.
From the first I loved you. I could not believe it when you agreed to marry me, to come to America. I know now that you dreamed for more, that maybe your dream was more America and less me.
Still, you were an unbelievable gift. I was like a violinist, blessed by God with the gifts of a magnificent instrument and a burning desire to make beautiful music, but tormented because God withheld the talent to play well. It is not your fault that in my ordinariness I cannot make you feel what I feel. You have told me you appreciate my sturdy kindness and my steady ways. But where are the poets who celebrate gentle providers? Where are the odes to loyalty, predictability, dependability and faithfulness? Are they not given in equal measure as the gifts of passion and ardor? Are years of quiet love not the equal of a few days of intense, erotic love?
I love you for who you are, and I forgive you for what you did. Every day I think this; every day my life silently speaks to it. I only wish you could love me for who I am, as much as I love you for your spontaneity and freshness.
I wish I could tell you these things now. But you will safely know when I am gone and discover this letter in a place that you associate with me - that sticky drawer that you have to keep showing me how to open. In those last days, you will know that I cherished and loved you to the end.