Patricia, Keith, Sean and Kevin Kenel
I met Willy Loman when I was in eighth grade. My brother Greg, a high school sophomore, brought him home. As Greg read aloud the first scene where the Loman brothers are introduced, where Biff talks about spring on the ranch, in my mind he was Biff and I was Hap. I enjoyed my short visit to Biff’s ranch.
Two years later I was a sophomore and we read Arthur Miller’s, ‘Death of a Salesman’ in class. At 15 or 16 years of age I focused more on Willy’s betrayal of his wife Linda than I did the failures of the Loman family. Willy cheated on his devoted wife Linda and caused all the family’s problems. If he was half the man he should have been then life for the Lomans would have been ten times what it was.
I think Willy and friends stayed at that level of understanding for me for nearly a decade until I revisited Brooklyn and the Lomans as a twenty three year old undergraduate. I took a speech class, ‘Reading Aloud,’ at Central Connecticut State College (Now University) and I used the final scene of the play where Willy’s wife Linda speaks to him at his grave site as material to share with the class:
LINDA: Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry. I don’t understand it. Why did you ever do that? Help me, Willy, I can’t cry. It seems to me that you’re just on another trip. I keep expecting you, Willy, dear, I can’t cry. Why did you do it? I search and search and I search, and I can’t understand it, Willy. I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear. And there’ll be nobody home. We’re free and clear. We’re free. We’re free… We’re free.”
When I was twenty I betrayed a loved one in the same way Willy did to Linda. My experience and perspective broadened. I didn’t graduate from college until I was 25 years old and by then I had a little more understanding of the tragedy that is the Loman saga, of their need to retell their stories in a way that was, if not great, at least rose to meaningful.
As a young man reared in a conservative Catholic home I was taught that suicide is a sinful and selfish act. I had known sadness but not depression, difficulties but not defeat. On May 2, 2015 I saw my first stage presentation of, ‘Death of a Salesman.’ It’s funny how perspective changes with time and place, how I’m no longer Hap or Biff but rather Willy.
Not only am I Willy but I have two sons, my own Hap and Biff. In my life Biff is the younger son rather than the older and at just shy of twenty two years of age his rambling ways are not quite the burden to me that Biff’s were to Willy. I thank God that even though ‘Biff’ and I do not see eye to eye on many things that we communicate openly and lovingly and that each loves and respects the other.
My Hap turns twenty five this year and marries this month. No, really. Not just saying that. As he peruses the American Dream I hope he finds the time to love life and find himself along the way. Life is short and we have far too little time to waste it on things of no consequences.
At 54 I understand desperation, heartache and the need to self deceive so much better than I did as a pubescent boy or young man. I know betrayal and heartache as both offender and offended. My Linda is a strong, independent woman. We have our own lies that we tell ourselves and one another but she knows that it is she around whom my world revolves and that I am forever hers. We may not have the riches of kings but we have one another. When I fall prey to thoughts of rubber hoses and nipples Linda is there for me.
I pray she always will be.