4. My Father's Son Ch. 13-15byinspirixis1©
The office walls were covered in Van Gogh prints and Nicholas found it to be ironic. Wasn't Van Gogh the one who went crazy and cut off his ear?
"Tell me why you're here," the old man requested, his rectangular spectacles slipping a little down his straight narrow nose.
Nicholas sighed. "I guess I'm confused. I don't really know who I am or why I'm doing the things I do." He jiggled his knee nervously.
He hadn't spoken to anyone about how he felt about his life since Hamid had shown up on his doorstep six months ago. Dr. Moll was the second therapist he had seen. The first one, Carol Huez, had pissed him off beyond belief, she didn't want to know how he felt, all she wanted was the details of his personal life and then she threw them back in his face. He felt like she was accusing him the way his dad did and it just made him feel defensive.
He knew he was a shitty fiancé, he knew he was hurting Grace, he didn't need other people to tell him that.
He had resisted getting help for so long. His pride was what was holding him back, there was a part of him that thought it was a sign of weakness to talk to a stranger about his problems. He was a man, shouldn't he be able to deal with them himself?
He'd finally caved in when he'd figured out that Grace was back in counseling again. She hadn't said anything to him about it; he had looked through her date book and noticed that she had appointments scheduled for every Tuesday after her 9:00 am class. He was intrigued so he looked through the receipts she had tucked under the front of the leather cover and found one from the mental health department of her school's health center.
It had made him feel shitty. Grace was back in counseling because of him and she hadn't even said anything to him about it.
He had tucked the receipts back under the front cover and put the date book back in her backpack. It was a nice date book, it must have cost Adrian a small fortune. It's what he had given her for Christmas last year.
Nicholas hadn't bought her a gift. He hadn't bought anyone gifts. The people back home hadn't realized it because Grace had added his name onto the cards that she sent with the presents she'd bought for their parents and siblings. She had given him a dark grey cashmere sweater that Mai had promptly puked on.
"I didn't get you anything," he admitted. "Sorry."
He watched the pain and disappointment register in her eyes, but she smiled bravely. "It's okay Kolya," she said as she sat beside him and put her arm around him. "You've been under a lot of stress."
That was back when they were still touching, before the night that he'd made her have a flashback. They didn't touch anymore. He didn't deserve the right to touch Grace.
"What sort of things do you do?" Dr. Moll asked.
He told him and he didn't spare the details. He was waiting for the old man to turn around and start slinging his actions back at him like insults, telling him how badly he was fucking up, but he didn't. He just nodded his head and asked more questions. He asked about how Nicholas felt about different things, everything from his parents to sports to Hamid's upcoming trial in Illinois. He never once made him feel like a villain.
The hour was up before he knew it and he paid and made another appointment with the receptionist.
"When would you like to make your next appointment for?" She asked, her perfectly curled hair bouncing around her ears as she typed on the keyboard with manicured fingers.
"As soon as possible," he replied.
"Oh, well Dr. Moll just had a cancellation for tomorrow, we could fit you in at 1 pm?"
Nicholas has a class from 12:30 to 2:00 but he didn't care, there were some things he wanted to talk about.
Dr Moll didn't comment about how soon Nicholas was back to see him. "Is there something you want to talk about today in particular?"
"Yes, my father."
The doctor nodded. "Okay, why don't you tell me about him?"
"Well that's the problem... there are two of them."
"Okay, tell me about the first one then."
He told him about Tyler; how he had always been there since his memory began, how he had fought with him as a teenager and then again when Grace was raped, how he was pissed off at Nicholas because he was fucking things up with Grace, but mostly how he was a good person, how he always emphasized how important it was to be a good person.
"Do you think you are a good person Nicholas?"
He choked out a cynical laugh. "No. I'm about as far from being a good person as you can get."
Dr. Moll didn't push the point, he asked about his 'second father.'
"Hamid. He's my biological father, the one who I got all of this from." He pointed to his head.
"You think you inherited your brain from Hamid?"
Nicholas shrugged his shoulders. "I look like his twin. I inherited almost everything else about me from him."
"But you never knew him until recently. You spent all of your formative years with Tyler as a father, and what about your mother? Surely she must have had some impact on you."
"So? It's useless to deny it. I am what I am. I'm the son of a psychopath. He's a killer, I'm a killer. I'm pretty sure killing people is off Tyler's list of things that 'good' people do."
"You killed someone?"
"I've killed five people. Four of them with my bare hands, the fifth with a broom handle."
"Tell me about it."
The doctor was leaning forward across his desk, apparently fascinated by what Nicholas was telling him. He told him about the three men he had killed in their old apartment and the one in the stairwell, and the one in the penthouse he had killed when he'd been told that someone was pointing a gun at Lucas' head.
"Do you regret it?" He asked.
Nicholas hesitated for a moment before he shook his head. "I've thought about it a lot and I know that if I had those moments to live over I would do them in almost exactly the same way. Perhaps in retrospect I would have used a different kick, maybe I would have tried to kill the man in the stairwell with a single blow rather than toying with him like a cat tortures a mouse, but the end result would be the same. They'd still be dead and I'd still be a murderer."
Dr. Moll nodded his head thoughtfully. "You say you don't regret it, but at the same time you seem to be bothered by the label of killer, or murderer. I guess the implication is that killing is always a bad thing, that killing someone necessarily makes you a bad person."
Nicholas shrugged. "It is one of the Ten Commandments right?"
He nodded. "Let me ask you something... Hamid has killed before, right? Perhaps not with his own hands, but he has ordered for people to be killed which is the same thing."
"Yeah, for sure."
"Do you think he has thought about it in the sort of depth that you have? Do you think the label of killer would bother him the way it bothers you?"
Nicholas thought about it and he just couldn't see it. Hamid was the one ordering the murders, if he felt bad about it he could just stop doing it. "No, I don't think he cares."
Dr. Moll nodded. "Well, I guess there is at least one part of your brain that you inherited from someone else."
That day happened to be his birthday and when he went home Grace had decorated with a few streamers and balloons and she and Mai were wearing party hats. Mai kept on grabbing at her head, trying to pull the hat off so she could stick it in her mouth.
Grace had cooked his favorite meal of stuffed pork with garlic mashed potatoes, and had baked a cake for dessert. After they had eaten she handed him a gift with an envelope.
"I didn't know what to get you," she said, the pace of her words belying her nervousness.
He opened the package and found four canisters full of different teas. He brought each one to his nose and inhaled deeply, savoring the different aromas, some sharper, some more earthy, one even smelled sweet.
He opened the card and piece of paper fell into his lap. He picked it up and read it.
I know things haven't been easy for you lately and I want to make sure you know that I still love you. I love you with all of my heart, I always have and I always will, no matter what happens.
Love, your Grace.
Nicholas fought back tears as a hard lump formed in his throat. He didn't deserve this, not after everything he'd done to her. He looked up and saw that Grace was fighting back her own tears, her eyes were watery and she was biting down on her lip.
"Thank you Grace," he said softly.
It was then that he swore to himself that he was going to get better. He didn't know what had happened to him, how he had fallen into this pit of despair, but he was going to get out of it, or die trying. He might be a despicable pile of shit, but he was Grace's pile of shit and it was his responsibility to be as good as he could be for her.
He started seeing Dr. Moll three times a week. It seemed like an awful lot and sometimes he got sick of talking about himself, but then he would just ask for advice on how to make things better for Grace.
The doctor asked about the ways Nicholas used to show affection for her when they were still 'courting,' as he put it, and he encouraged him to go back to some of their old routines.
Grace was surprised the first morning that he got up with her to walk her to rowing practice.
"It's okay Kolya," she whispered. "You can stay here with Mai, I'm used to walking on my own now."
He moved around the kitchen quietly so as not to wake Mai while he made her thermos of tea. "We'll come with you Gracie, just wait a sec. while I put Mai in her stroller."
They made it to the gym a few minutes late. "Sorry Grace," he said as he handed her the thermos flask. "I guess I have to get up a few minutes earlier now that we have Mai to worry about." He wanted to lean in and kiss her goodbye but something was stopping him. There was still a wall between them.
"Thanks," she said. "Have a good day." And then she turned and went into the gym.
Nicholas took a detour on the way home and ended up walking for an hour along the path on the banks of the river. Mai was asleep in the stroller despite the cold air. He checked on her a few times to make sure the blankets were still securely wrapped around her and she slept through. She was getting to be a good sleeper, she slept through the night most of the time now.
He was puffed when he got home. It had been months since he had done any sort of workout. He got online and looked up jogging strollers, decided on one that looked suitably rugged and ordered it with rush delivery.
He and Grace had never discussed adopting Mai or giving her up for adoption since that first time when she decided to come home from Adrian's place. He knew that Grace didn't want to keep her and so it was probably stupid to buy an expensive jogging stroller, but he didn't care, he'd just give it away if they decided to give Mai up for adoption.
Two days later he lay Mai down in the new stroller and jogged along the banks of the river after he'd dropped Grace off at the BU gym. It hurt so much. His legs were cramping and each breath of the frosty February air was like a dagger in his lungs. He had to stop and walk every now and then. He checked on Mai and her blankets more than was really necessary just for the excuse to stop for a while.
When he got home he flopped down on the couch. Mai was awake by then and he propped her up on his belly, using his legs as a backrest for her. She had one of her toys in her hand and she rattled it and squealed and gooed and gahhed at him.
"Yes baby girl," he said. "Your daddy is a slow fat old fart, isn't he?" He only ever called himself her daddy when Grace wasn't around.
Mai squeaked and then laughed.
He laughed back and tickled her on her belly. "No need to rub it in angel."
Dr. Moll seemed happy when he told him that he'd started exercising again. Nicholas had grown to like the old codger; he was encouraging without being demanding. They talked a lot about his fathers, it seemed to be the theme that they came back to again and again.
Nicholas didn't understand how his Baaba and Daadii could have raised such a mentally deranged son. They had always seemed so normal to him. They had some unusual customs that they'd brought with them from India, but they were kind, gentle, loving people.
"Do you think they abused Hamid when he was a child? Do you think that's why he turned into such a psycho?" Nicholas asked.
Dr. Moll turned his palms upwards. "Anything is possible, but I doubt it. You said that you knew them well as a child and they never touched you."
"Then how come he is so deranged? How can he look at a woman and see an asset that could be used to make money?"
"You seem to think that everything about a person is either inherited or a product of their upbringing, have you ever thought that perhaps there is something inside each person that makes them an individual?"
"Huh? No, everyone is a combination of nature and nurture. People are different because they have different genes and different life experiences."
"Okay, let me tell you about identical twins. Exact same genes, in most cases they're raised in the exact same environment by the exact same parents. More often than not they have totally different personalities. Why? Because we get to choose who we are Nicholas."
Nicholas was silent.
"We don't get to choose what we look like and there are certainly some other things about us that we can't change, I will never be good at math, for example, but our fundamental morality, the pillars of our personality... we get to choose those ourselves."
Nicholas sat for a moment and tried to digest what he was saying. "I get to choose who I am?"
Moll nodded. "Yes. You're never going to be a NBA star, and from the look of the bookbag that you bring in here you're never going to be a neat-freak either, but the fundamentals of your personality, the things that you value above all else... you get to choose those."
"They don't come from our parents?"
"Parents guide us, they encourage us in the direction that they'd like us to go, but in the end it is your decision."
Nicholas nodded slowly.
"So the question is not, 'who are you?' The question is, 'who do you want to be?'"
Nicholas couldn't help the tears that were leaking out the corners of his eyes. He felt like he had just been handed a get out of jail free card, a chance to make something of himself.
Who did he want to be? He wanted to be an honorable man, he wanted to be a good father, but above all else he wanted to be a good husband to Grace.
Grace was starting to see what Nicholas had meant when he said that he had 'fallen for' Mai. She was absolutely adorable. She was five months old and the happiest, rolley-polley little girl you could imagine. She had bright, playful eyes and chubby little hands that were constantly reaching for Grace.
Grace didn't know if she was imagining it or not, but she thought that Mai loved her. Sometimes she got fussy at night and wouldn't go to sleep, even if Nicholas cradled her and walked around bouncing her gently the way she liked. The only thing that would get her to calm down was if Grace held her close and sang to her softly.
There was a childcare center on campus that Grace got a discount at because she was a student and Mai went there for a few hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays when Grace and Nicholas were both in classes at the same time. When she came to pick her up Mai would look around for her as soon as she heard her talking to the staff. It was amazing how she could recognize Grace's voice in a crowded noisy room. As soon as she heard her she would hold her little arms up and fake-cry until Grace had picked her up and they were walking out the door together. Grace knew the difference between a fake-cry and a real one.
The idea of giving her up for adoption was starting to become a dreaded thought, rather than a welcome one. She and Nicholas still hadn't talked about it and she was beginning to wonder if maybe she should just let it go. Maybe they could raise Mai as their own child.
She had mixed emotions about that idea. She was only twenty-one and Nicholas was twenty-two. She loved him dearly, but it was obvious that he was messed up and their relationship was messed up too. They didn't even touch anymore, let alone snuggle or have sex. What sorts of parents don't touch? They weren't exactly models of perfection for Mai to mould herself after. She felt sure that there were normal, happy, well adjusted couples out there who could provide a better life for her.
But then Mai would smile or laugh at her, or she would cling to her and cry when a stranger came too close and it made Grace's heart ache with love, with the need to protect her.
She didn't know what to do and so she just let it slide. She promised herself that she would talk to Nicholas about it when Mai turned six months old.
Nicholas was slowly starting to go back to what she considered normal, although she had a feeling that his new normal might not be the same as what his old normal was. He wasn't as angry with her as he had been and he didn't try to pick fights anymore. She had noticed that he had started to slip back into some of his old routines. He walked her to practice in the mornings and then worked out himself. He just went jogging, he didn't do martial arts anymore, but she still thought it was a good thing.
One afternoon she came home and Nicholas had been to the market. There was a big bunch of Ranunculus in a vase on the kitchen table, their bright, perfectly formed flowers a delightful contrast to their wild curly foliage. There was one of those generic looking flower cards folded at the base of the vase and she picked it up to read it.
"I love you Grace," it read.
She sat down at the table and looked at the flowers and cried. She had Mai sitting on her lap and she tried to pull the card out of Grace's hand. When she let her have it Mai looked at it for a few seconds then shoved it in her mouth. Grace laughed and Mai laughed back at her, her chubby cheeks round and rosy.
When Nicholas got back from whatever he was out doing she thanked him for the flowers.
"You're welcome," he said shyly, giving her a small smile. "I was wondering..."
"Do you want to go to Aikido with me on Thursday? I was thinking I could ask Adrian to baby-sit, it's only for an hour."
Grace was momentarily stunned. Something had changed. The importance of this moment didn't elude her. Nicholas was asking her out on a date.
"Only if you want to," he added quickly, trying to mask the uncertainty in his voice.
"Yes, I want to. That would be nice."
On Thursday Adrian showed up at their apartment with his usual laid back manner in tact. She saw or spoke to him weekly so it was no big deal for her, but she knew that Nicholas hadn't spoken to him in months.
"Hey," he said to Nicholas jovially as he punched him on the arm lightly. "I can't say I like what you've done with the place."
He smiled as he surveyed the apartment and took in the baskets of baby toys, the changing table and piles of clean diapers.
"There's my girl!" He gushed at Mai who squealed with delight.
Adrian was surprisingly good with the baby; he seemed to have a natural talent for acting like a baboon. Nothing got Mai giggling and squealing like the faces he pulled and noises he made for her.
"Who's going to have the best time on earth with their uncle Adrian?" He asked in his baby-talk voice. "You are little Mai," he said poking her in the tummy gently with his finger. "I'm going to introduce you to a little friend of mine called sugar..."
Adrian gave Grace a wicked grin.