She Deserves It!byNigel Debonnaire©
"Look guys, don't worry about her. I'll make everything right tomorrow. She put me through hell, letting me think she was having an affair with a man I hate. It was the worst three weeks of my life going through doubt, denial, resignation and rage. She deserves it, every part of suffering she's had to go through this week, to learn what kind of hell she put me through."
Brendan Mackey took a long pull from his beer; his friends Nathan Lucas and Charlie Fredrickson kept him company at the Holidome "Happy Traveler Lounge" where Brendan was hiding out. Brendan was a computer programmer for the University and met his wife Valerie in the computer lab, where a eleven year relationship/marriage had started. The men had met at a faculty holiday party years before: Valerie was a colleague in the University English department with Nathan and Charlie was a distinguished alumnus and former professor. A shared interest in several esoteric subjects drove their friendship: Civil War history, Roger Zelazny's books, Monday Night Football and literary trivia. Nathan and Charlie exchanged looks as Brendan downed his beer and refilled it from the pitcher: he was ahead of both of them put together. Nathan held up his hand for another pitcher and shortly a waitress with a plunging neckline, a short skirt and a badge proclaiming "Vicki" brought it over. Brendan ogled her muzzily as Monday Night Football kicked off.
"Brendan, I think you've gone over the top," Nathan said as he refilled his mug and topped off Charlie's. He was the middle one of the group: Brendan had just turned thirty, Charlie was fifty six and Nathan himself was forty two. The older men were chubby and causally dressed; Brendan spent an hour and half in the gym daily, and was still in the dress shirt and slacks that were his unofficial school uniform. All were six foot two. "Sure, she did a lot of things wrong, she didn't trust you, she hurt you needlessly, but she was trying rather innocently to help a couple of dear friends of hers. She didn't realize that you were getting caught in the crossfire. Lighten up." Charlie gravely nodded in agreement.
Brendan steamed. "Lighten up? Lighten up? Your wife's never cheated on you, has she?" Charlie started to say something, but Brendan cut him off. "Sorry, Charlie. I know you've always been in a different kind of relationship and that's your business." Charlie looked at Brendan sharply, but settled back to nurse his beer. "Betrayal is one of the worst agonies man could ever know, and betrayal with a slimeball is agony cubed. I don't care what she meant, or what her intentions were. Valerie hasn't paid me a lot of attention lately, and the thought she was screwing that cokehead Jarvis Griffin was an insult: I thought my heart or my head was going to explode for days. No, no, no, she doesn't deserve any consideration until she's learned her lesson."
"You teach children lessons," Charlie murmured as he arched his right eyebrow.
"Some people would have called what she was doing noble," Nathan retorted, "she helped Jarvis get clean and sober for the moment and got Michelle to consider giving him another chance. Everybody deserves another chance; you should consider giving your wife one." Charlie's eyes darted to see Brendan's reaction.
Brendan shrugged. "Look, I'm only giving her a taste of what she gave me. I let her think I was going to screw every woman I could get my hands on this week so she would know what it feels like. She's only having one week of hell to pay for three of mine. It's over tomorrow."
Nathan shook his head, "When I was growing up I heard a line in Sunday School: 'Vengeance is mine, saieth the Lord.' That's worth thinking about."
"The Bible also says 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' That's all I'm up to here, and I don't think that God is going to strike me dead for insisting on it."
Charlie stirred from his silence, "I think someone also said 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth lives the world blind and toothless.'"
Brendan sniggered. "You must have seen that in a movie about Gandhi. Look Charlie, I don't expect you to understand all this, after all, you're a free spirit, you're an artist, you've been getting regular action next door all these years without a commitment. . ."
Charlie glared at Brendan. "You have no idea what my life is like. I think that I've been more committed to the women I've loved than you've been. I also know what taking anger out on someone blindly can do to a person."
Brendan looked pained and stood up quickly, "Let's pick this up in a minute or two. I've got to pay the rent on this beer." He lurched out the door into the lobby toward the restrooms as his friends took a long pull from their tankards. Nathan and Charlie looked at each other gravely.
"Our waitress Vicki says that Brendan's been in here every night, drinking and watching basketball and football, running up an incredible bar bill this past week," Charlie said.
Nathan took a sip from his beer. "He's been taking some vacation time from work, so they haven't seen much of him on campus. I'm amazed: he's a good man and a good husband, better than this. He's been a good friend to us, fun to be around, generous to a fault. Tonight has been painful; he's never been like this before."
Charlie said, "Nobody deserves what's happening to those two right now. That boy is throwing away a perfectly good marriage over nothing. Just because they can't communicate well and jump to the worst possible conclusions in doubtful situations. . . "
"I thought they trusted each other," Nathan interjected, "you think you know folks pretty well after ten years and suddenly they turn into strangers. I wouldn't say he's throwing his marriage away over nothing, but he's letting his emotions call the shots. He's not thinking things through and he's not listening to us."
Charlie leaned over toward Nathan and gestured animatedly as he said: "Valerie was pretty brave to organize that intervention for Jarvis. That's why she was gone from home so much: she practically had to live with Michelle for those three weeks to convince her to give it a try and keep her nerve through it all. She had me over a couple of nights to help hold Michelle's hand and talk her into this. Brendan's always hated Jarvis since they were kids and Valerie was afraid of how he would react to her intervention. She was right; he didn't take it well at all."
Nathan shook his head. "Valerie isn't a saint in all this; she did screw things up pretty dramatically to let him jump to the conclusions he did, and she didn't pay attention to how he was doing while she was off fixing her friends' lives. From time to time, she's taken on these little crusades for what she thinks is right without thinking through the consequences; the last time she did something like this she almost got fired in spite of tenure. She can be relentless and single minded in her objectives and this is the first time Brendan's been caught in the crossfire. I hope this crisis doesn't change her for the worse."
Charlie looked at Nathan with concern. "How's Valerie taking all this?"
Nathan shrugged and took another pull from his beer. "Not well. She's been sullen and silent outside of class this past week, no eye contact, no usual banter in the faculty lounge. Her students are worried about her. We've only seen her pass through the lounge this week when she's gotten her coffee: it's not like her. I hate to think how this weekend was like for her; if he wasn't going home tomorrow morning. . ."
"Can it, he's coming back." Charlie leaned back as Brendan weaved awkwardly between tables as he returned, signaling for more beer, and sat heavily on his stool.
"Charlie, you're the lucky one." Brendan blurted out. "You still have your freedom when you want it; you can hang out wherever you want without having to answer for it, and you don't have to worry about what your woman is doing as long as she doesn't bring some disease home with her. Married life is different. . ."
"Look, Brendan," Nathan cut in, touching Charlie's arm to mollify his building outrage. "I've been happily married for twenty years. We were kids when we married, but we've stayed together because whenever we got angry or had a disagreement, we resolved it before we went to bed, even if it meant staying up all night. If one of us didn't understand what the other was doing, we asked, and if the other couldn't answer right away, we trusted each other enough to know whatever secrets we had would come out and they wouldn't hurt."
"Look nothing. Did your wife stay out almost every night for three weeks without a good explanation?"
"Did your wife ever keep a secret about what she was doing like this one? Refuse to say anything about what she was doing and get snooty when you tried to find out anything?"
"Did your wife leave all kinds of little clues that pointed to her fucking an asshole when your back was turned, and lie stupidly to try to cover it up?"
"Then don't presume that your kissy face little relationship is anything like mine."
Brendan took another long drink from his beer, draining the mug and sloppily refilling it from the pitcher.
Charlie stirred once again. "I don't think you know what the price of vengeance is. Sure, people deserve the consequences of their behavior. Sure, people ought to make amends for the wrong they've done. The problem with vengeance is we get lost in our anger, we let our rage rule us and strip us of our humanity. Vengeance makes us blind, and blindness is dangerous. Irreparable damage can be done without meaning it: you could run way past 'An eye for an eye' and not even notice. We become like the monsters who've wounded us, and the circle of violence spins merrily on. You knew the truth when you started this stupid game: Valerie deserves better than this. She was Charlene's favorite student and like a daughter to her: even with her faults she's a better woman than you're treating her. I know what blind anger and frustration can make a person; I hoarded frustration for three weeks once and it unglued me. I hurt an innocent person in my frustration and risked my life in a storm to try to work out my blind anger. It took months before I could get rid of the shame and feel human again."
"Well, I disagree with you, my friend, I feel very human, very peaceful and very right in all this. Let's just leave it there. Thanks for the parable from your youth."
Charlie glared again and said coldly: "It was last year, Brendan. One year ago today." They took another sip and looked at the monitor to catch a touchdown replay.
Brendan sighed and shrugged again. "Let's change the subject, let's talk about something less controversial. After all, we're all friends here. I have a new theory for my Zelazny fansite: Corwin of Amber was really pussywhipped. What do you think of that, boys?" He giggled manically.
Charlie put down his beer. "This free spirit has just decided to walk through his open door to read his kids a bedtime story, then see what he can do for the most beautiful woman in the world. Good night." He stalked from the room; Brendan's and Nathan's eyes followed him all the way out, then returned to the game.
"Charlie's really changed in the past few years, hasn't he?" Brendan moaned. "He hasn't been the same since Charlene died."
Nathan nodded, "Yeah, success and contentment can really mess up your outlook on life. Look Brendan, I need to roll out as well."
Brendan grabbed him by the arm. "No, no, c'mon Nathan, keep me company for a while. I'm going home tomorrow to make everything all right with Valerie, I promise. I'll behave. Stay, please?"
Nathan shook his head and disengaged his arm. "I've had enough to drink. A word to the wise: Valerie may not be a strong as you think she is. Be careful." Nathan threw some bills on the table to tip the waitress and slipped out of the room, leaving Brendan alone to finish the pitcher. Brendan staggered up to his hotel room during the fourth quarter of an overtime game.
Brendan's hangover the next morning was spectacular despite a pint of water and three painkillers. He entered his kitchen with a dozen roses and called out for his wife. Everything seemed normal except for a note on the kitchen table. It read:
"When I hurt you, it was
my insensitivity, ignorance, distrust, blindness, fear.
I wasn't malicious, cruel, calculating, or unfaithful.
I made you suffer needlessly, thoughtlessly, stupidly;
I wish you would have let me spend a lifetime in atonement.
When you hurt me, it was
deliberate, calculated, cruel, indifferent, cold.
You are malicious, vindictive and unfaithful
(or least, you've let me think it).
The man I love is gone forever,
why should I stay?"
Brendan grimaced and put the flowers down on the table. "Shit," he said out loud, "I'm really going to have to work to straighten this out." He got a vase from a cabinet and put the flowers in water, then took his suitcase upstairs to dump his dirty clothes. The bathroom door was shut but the radio was on. Good, he thought, she hasn't left yet, she's having a long soak. He put his hanging clothes in the closet and approached to the bathroom door gingerly. Desperately sad music was welling from the radio and Brendan grimaced again: this is going to be an uphill struggle; this kind of music always feeds her blue funks.
The hangover, the music, the words he was ready to say, everything was forgotten as he opened the door and looked in. The lights were on, revealing the blood red water and pale white body in the bathtub. He flung himself to the floor beside the tub in desperation, but everything inside was cold, ice cold.