Boston to Birmingham Ch. 04byqhml1©
All right, you caught me. This story was my tribute to DQS, for all his great work. I did a story called 'The Cost', influenced by Ohio, and its' had over sixty thousand views, my best effort so far. I figured if it worked once, maybe it would again.
As for DQS and HDK praising my writing, it's like
Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan saying the boy can carry a tune. Many thanks.
Oh, HDK, you're next.
Hardy found himself in the office of an old friend, waiting anxiously for his appointment.
Rabbi William Goldberg had retired, gotten bored, and opened a counseling practice, specializing in marriage and relationship problems. His work with veterans had been gratifying, but the stress and the daily reminders of the horrors of war wore on his soul. Between active duty when he was younger and twenty five years the reserves, he was able to retire with honor and full benefits.
He truly felt God moved him in this direction, and didn't want to be a disappointment. A New Yorker by birth, he had spent a lot of time in the South, and when he retired he surprised his friends and family by moving to Montgomery, Alabama. He loved the area, close to the coast but far enough inland to take the edge off the occasional hurricane, plus the mild winters were a balm to his arthritis.
He was moderately surprised at the size of the Jewish population there, but a friend told him they had been there since the late eighteen hundreds. It still took awhile before the phrase "Shalom, ya'll" to lose its' novelty.
He remembered Hardy Wilkes well, one of his most interesting patients. Always smiling and friendly, he seemed opposite of his dossier description. Peeling away layers of defensive protection, he found an incomplete man, results of having an unstable, stressful childhood and poor role models. His moral compass was almost nonexistent during his formative years, and despite his best attempts to become a better person, he would sometimes revert to his childhood beliefs, especially under great duress or emotional upheavals.
"Rabbi Bill" as Hardy addressed him, spent the better part of a year with him between physical therapy for his wounds and broken bones and analysis sessions with Major Stein. He taught him to play the organ, to help focus his mind and relieve stress, amazed at how quickly he learned, and the intensely emotional way he played. It was like he poured his whole being into the music. It became standard to spend a few minutes playing before they talked.
Bill was surprised with his profession and marital status. Years ago, he would never have envisioned Hardy as a lawyer, dressed in expensive suits, or actually being married, to a beautiful woman, an heiress and daughter of the principal owner of his firm. The term 'married well' definitely applied. But he wasn't surprised to see him, trouble in paradise was his stock in trade. He would have bet his bottom dollar this was going to be very interesting.
They shook, then hugged. Bill looked him over, noticing the shaggy hair and short beard, giving him a totally different look than he remembered, the smooth face and military brush cut gone. It wasn't that he looked unkempt, more like unruly.
All in all, it gave the impression of being slightly out of control.
"So, rabbi, the sunny South, huh?"
"Yeah Hardy, what can I say, I'm hooked on grits. Try getting that in a New York kosher deli. Believe it or not, there's a very good bagel shop just around the corner. This must be a lot like heaven."
They talked about mutual friends and colleagues for a bit, then Bill leaned back in his recliner, he found a desk setting too impersonal, and besides, it was comfortable. He added or deleted furniture, depending on the outcome he was trying to achieve.
"So, this isn't a social call. How did you find me?"
"Major Stein told me. Up front, you should know I see him twice a month for a three hour session, and yes, it's related to this."
He filed away a mental note to call him. He knew Stein was still active military, there was something he wasn't seeing.
"Hardy, I'll be glad to provide counseling, but why me. It takes almost two hours to get here, I'm sure there are qualified professionals in Birmingham."
"Two reasons. I know you, and the drive will probably piss my wife off."
"Hardy, I have to tell you up front, if these sessions are going to be just a way to irritate your wife, don't drag me into it. I don't need the business that bad. Why don't you tell me what you want up front, and what caused you to seek counseling."
So for two hours he told him as much as he knew. About Paris, about what happened at home, including his reaction. Bill kept as good a poker face as he could, but he was shocked. He told him how he resisted her advances at first, their courtship, the arguments towards the end, the disrespect he felt she had for him.
"Even without the cheating, we were heading down the wrong road. She made promises to me I began to understand she was never gonna keep. The cheating tore it, I'll never trust her again, and damned if I'm going to look over her shoulder and worry when she was gonna cheat again. Better a clean break."
"Tell me Hardy, do you still love her?"
"You know, I'm sick of everybody asking me that question. Yes, I can't seem to stop. But I'm hoping with enough practice I can."
"So you don't see a reconciliation? Then why the sessions?"
"Court ordered, can't get out of them. I'm hoping you'll see how hopeless it is and pull the plug early."
Bill leaned back, turning on the back massage control to high. Damn, he loved this chair!
"Based on what you told me, I have no interest in seeing you. I can tell it will get ugly, and I just don't need the aggravation. But in the interest of fairness, give me your wifes' number. I'll set up an individual session with her, two hours minimum. After that we'll see. And before you ask, this session and hers won't count towards your mandated visits. Take it or leave it Hardy. Remember, you came to me."
Hardy argued, but accepted the terms in the end.
Gwen cursed and fumed at the rush hour traffic on I-65. Seventy mph speed limit and she was crawling along at twenty five. She had to smile, Hardy had gotten her good on the counselor. J.T. was a little pissed also, but as he pointed out, they did agree he could choose, and nothing was said about location.
Bill hung the phone up smiling. Mrs. Wilkes had called three times, a good sign. Looked like one of the spouses was committed to the counseling.
She was still twenty minutes late, apologizing as she came through the door. The short bearded man with the skull cap didn't fit her mental picture of a counselor.
"Sorry, sorry, damn traffic. I'll know better next time, adjust for travel."
"Relax Mrs. Wilkes, you're too stressed to make sense right now. Let's do some breathing exercises, get you centered. Close your eyes."
For the next five minute she listened to his calm voice, breathing in and out as directed. When they finished, she was breathing normally and was much more relaxed.
"Thanks doc... wait, what should I call you, doctor? rabbi? counselor?"
"I find Bill works best, and I'm not a doctor, just a licensed therapist. Do you prefer Mrs. Wilkes, or Gwen?"
"Oh, it's been so long since anyone called me Mrs. Wilkes that I enjoy hearing it. But Gwen would probably relax me more."
"All right then. Gwen, what do you want from me?"
The question surprised her.
"I want you to help me get my husband back."
"Why do you want him back?"
"Why? Because I love him. I miss him. I need him."
"Excuse me for being direct, but according to your husband you cheated on him, treated him disrespectfully, went back on your agreement of your family goals. If that's the case it sounds like you don't need him at all. It sounds more like he was just comfortable, a fall back."
"That's not true at all! I did neglect him, I was wrapped up in a big project, and it became my focus temporarily."
"So you're saying that as soon as your project was over you were going back to being an attentive, faithful wife? What would happen if a newer, bigger project came up? Would you have put him on the back burner again until you were done? Did you ever intend to start the family you promised your husband?"
"You're making me sound like the bad guy here! I was supposed to go into a new department in the firm, court litigation. I would have been home, we could have worked on our marriage."
"But didn't the fact that your boss, your father, kind of force you into that, precipitating Hardys'
departure temporarily? He told me you lashed out, saying he and your father conspired to change your responsibilities, to force you to spend time at home. Then when he returned, he finds you in bed with another."
"I've already explained that! I was more or less raped!"
"I find your terminology interesting. Were you more raped of less raped?"
"I was drugged. He took advantage of me. Truthfully, I now realize I put myself in the position for it to happen, but it was at the least nonconsentual. Even in my drugged state I tried to make him stop."
"Why didn't you press charges?"
"You forget I'm a lawyer. It would never had stuck, I had prior sex with him in almost the same set of circumstances, willingly taking the drugs. I doubt I would have won, and I didn't feel like putting my family through the pain. The admission of drug use alone would have killed my career, embarrassed my family. It would have just publicized what kind of person I was."
"Ah, tell me Gwen, what kind of person are you? What were you like before this came about, and are you different now?"
She sat silent for a few minutes, collecting her thoughts.
"Before, I wasn't an adult. I was just a spoiled little rich girl pretending. My mother was a compulsive cheater, my father finally got tired of it and divorced her. I spent nearly a year in her custody before going back to my father, and she wasn't really much of a role model. My dad was so glad to have me back he catered to my whims. I just got used to saying 'I want' and seeing it happen I didn't understand how the real world works. Hardy tried his best to get me to understand, and my dad did too. In fact, he begged me not to marry him, not because he didn't approve of him, but because secretly he didn't approve of me."
"Were you happy with Hardy? Truth now."
She frowned, wrinkling her forehead in concentration.
"Yes, overall. I was very happy. There were things I wished I could change, of course, what spouse doesn't? But when he looked at me with those warm grey eyes and that goofy smile of his, professing his love for me in that soft, almost musical drawl of his, I would melt. He loved me, heart and soul, I knew it without a doubt."
"When did you start withdrawing from him?"
"Who said I withdrew from him?"
"He did. Said he wondered why you didn't think you were good enough for her anymore, why you seemed embarrassed by him sometimes. Any truth to that?"
She hung her head.
"Looking back, I have to admit there were times when I wished he was a little more urbane, a little less 'countryfied'. He didn't really care for the most of the people I socialized with, thinking them pretentious, and boring. Sadly, I now feel he was right. I didn't like his friends that much either, cops, black ghetto kids, people at his gym. And I hated his paralegal, that bitch is still trying to get him to fall in love with her. They were scary, but at least they were real, and real scared me."
"I realized later that his Southern charms, while real, were often exaggerated to achieve a certain result. He would amp them up or down, depending on the results he wanted to achieve. It's one of the reasons he was so successful in Boston. Opponents would listen to him, watch him. They assumed because he talked slow, moved slow, he was slow. The next thing they knew they were lying on the ground watching the taillights of the truck that just ran over them recede, with a rebel flag for a tag and the words 'Honk If You Love Dixie' emblazoned across it."
"So, you're proud of him then?"
"Yes, very. He takes difficult cases that no one else would, for free, thanks to my dad. He would use every resource to get justice for that individual. He chose carefully, never representing anyone unless he was sure they were innocent. He would occasionally take one where guilt was established but he felt the punishment was excessive to. His success rate is exceptional."
"Have you told him you were proud of him?"
"Not often. His cases were depressing, and I was too shallow to hear about them."
Bill looked at the clock.
"Mrs. Wilkes, we've got about forty minute left, but I'm willing to stay a little longer if you are. Let's make a pot of coffee, relax for a few minutes."
They stood up, to get the circulation going and to make the coffee. Bill had been to the bagel shop, and had half a dozen assorted, with toppings. Gwen hadn't eaten since lunch, and had been too nervous to eat much then, worrying about the session. The bagel was very satisfying. They joked since they were in the South, he should have had a platter of buttermilk biscuits.
Sitting back down, Bill asked if could review what was said so far, just to make sure he didn't miss anything. She nodded.
"All right, so far we've established that you were a shallow, spoiled immature child who had no idea how the real world worked, used to get anything you wanted with no effort, or bearing responsibility for your actions. Now, that being said, who are you now? Have you changed, and why?"
Gwen drew a deep breath.
"For good or bad, I'm definitely not the same person I was before. I'm not a girl anymore, I'm a woman now."
"I hated my dad for sending me down here, for cutting off my money. I hated it here for the first couple of months, actually cried myself to sleep a number of times. Spent myself broke for awhile, almost didn't leave enough to eat or for gas."
"But then I started learning. I planned a budget and stuck to it. Ive always been driven to succeed, a legacy from my dad, I guess, so I threw myself into my job."
"It was a far cry from dealing with people in five thousand dollars suits over a bottle of expensive wine in a five star restaurant to dealing with the lowest levels of society in a small dirty, airless room. I learned to tell the difference between liars and kids who were so scared they almost wet their pants. I put away drug dealers, thieves, pimps, violent criminals, looking them in the face, knowing that they would hate me for what I did to them. I did it anyway, society was better off with them off the streets. I became very good at what I did, gaining a reputation for being tough but fair."
"The single biggest motivation for change was meeting my family. I was an only child of an only child, remember, and there was no family ties to anyone but my father. My mother had a sister, but I haven't seen her since I was eight."
"At first, it was my husbands' relatives, his grandfather, Joshua Hardy, and enough Wilkes to start a new nation. I would eat Sunday dinner with them about every other week, and they accepted me. Some may have resented what I did to my husband, but were mostly too gracious to express them."
"It was one of the greatest pleasures I have ever know. These people weren't social climbers, didn't have an agenda to speak of, they just accepted me as one of their own and treated me accordingly. Suddenly I was 'Aunt Gwen', bombarded with attention from the younger generation, tolerance and even in some cases love by the older."
"Then I met my great aunt, did I tell you my grandmother was from Birmingham? Anyway, that brought a whole new set of cousins to the fold.
I'm officially related to most everyone in a four county area, including the black population. That's a story for another time, but the point is I came here a Yankee and stayed as a relative. I didn't tell my dad, but regardless of whether Hardy and I work things out, I'm never going back to Boston. I'm home now."
She sat for awhile, sniffling with emotion.
Bill could empathize. As long as he had been here, he got asked almost weekly if he was related to this person or that. At first he was resentful, thinking they assumed all Jews were related. After a few weeks he realized that no matter what your color or religious affiliations were, establishing family ties were as natural as commenting on the weather.
"The point I'm trying to make is that I've grown up. I'm willing to bear responsibility for my actions. And the actions of a foolish girl are not those of a saddened, mature woman. I know I may never get him back, Bill, but I need to show him if he does, he's not coming back to the child he knew, but the newer, better woman I've become. One that is nowhere near as foolish and shallow as the old one. I want to make sure he knows I don't want the old marriage back, but a better, stronger one instead. Please try to get him to understand that. And no matter which way it goes, I'll always love him."
Bill was impressed enough to accept them as clients. He wanted one more individual session with each before he met with them together.
His parting comment was "Tell Hardy not to miss any, and yes I'll make sure the individual sessions are counted in the agreement."
Rabbi Bill called up Major Stein, and had a lengthy discussion about a Mr. Hardy Wilkes.
The agreement was that he was a work in progress, and should be watched carefully.
Major Stein sat, thinking. Reaching a decision, he picked up the phone. Hardy had cancelled his upcoming session, saying he would be out of the country and couldn't make it. Maybe now it was time to talk to someone else. He had discussed talking to the wife, Hardy was reluctant but agreed that if it was necessary he could do so.
"Mrs. Wilkes? Good morning. You don't know me, my name is Ben Stein, actually Major Stein. I don't know if you know it but I'm doing some sessions with Hardy, strictly followup from his military past, through the local VA. I want, and let me assure you that Hardy agrees, to meet with you. He can't make his appointment this week and I was wondering if you could take it instead. You will? Thanks, let me give you the address, you can google it. It's Friday afternoon, if that's all right. Thank you."
Gwen took the day off, her workload was light due to the Escobar trial, and she actually had a few vacation days coming. She just told Paul she had to go out of town unexpectedly and he let her off without argument.
"Maybe she"ll go some where and blow off steam" he thought, "It'll probably do her some good."
She mentally thanked her dad for putting ten thousand in her checking account. She had updated him on the scheduled counseling and her visit to Major Stein. When he found out she was going to drive the seven hours it would take to get to Ft. Stewart, he insisted she fly, not wanting her to go that distance alone.
"Daddy, I can't afford the plane ticket, the rental car, or a hotel stay."
"You can now, I'll put the money in your account. Take it as a gift from a nervous dad. If you had let me release the trust fund we wouldn't be having this discussion."
"I gave you my reasons. It's important to me to make this year, it's only less than two months. I'll take the money, as a loan. I'll pay you back. That's the only was I'm going to take it."
He agreed, heart swelling with pride.
The flight to Savannah was uneventful. It was the first time she had been in a plane in over a year, and the small commuter jet made her nervous. The Lexus she had reserved didn't feel right either, it seemed gawky after a year in her Focus.