Lyin' Eyes Ch. 07byLonghorn__07©
"I have a grandson," Carl announced. I glanced at him over the rim of the big mug of coffee. I had a feeling sometimes I was keeping Juan Valdez in business; the main office always had a huge urn of coffee brewed and I drank my share plus a little more. Lately, I had to switch to decaf in the afternoon or I went home to Alyssa with my nerves jangling and my fingers dancing on the steering wheel. Carl drank tea. I think he avoided most of my problems with the brew.
"Yeah, I know," I replied. "Two of them...I've met them a couple of times." I had. Carl brought his wife and children, plus their offspring, to every family day picnic or dinner the firm sponsored. I was being facetious in saying I'd met them only twice. I'd actually watched his three granddaughters and two grandsons grow from tiny babies to young ladies and gentlemen. Carl was shaking his head.
"No. I have three grandsons." I cocked my head to one side. This was something I didn't know. I didn't say anything. Carl had become one of my closest confidants over the past year and a half or so. He'd worked with me to detect and document my wife's infidelity and then quietly dismantled the team of investigators who'd done the work. There was no one left, save him and Maggie, my personal secretary and assistant, who knew all the details of the tragedy.
"My daughter Janet's oldest boy, Zane has been institutionalized for years," Carl said quietly. "He's fifteen now."
"I didn't know, Carl," I said softly. "I'm so sorry...I should have been more observant." I felt terrible. He waved it off casually.
"Not at all," he replied. "He was already in treatment in Colorado when I came to work here...and he's unfortunately not a part of our daily lives any more, though we see him when we can." I nodded. I was still uncomfortable. I felt like I'd failed him somehow.
"Zane's a big boy for his age...six feet tall already," Carl mused. "His weight goes up and down...he'll be up to 250 pounds for a while and then forget to eat for a long time and get down to 170 before you know it." Carl shifted in his seat; the leather seat squeaked under him with his movement.
"Most of Zane's life isn't based in the here and now...he hears voices that worry him, confuse him and lead him into hurting others." Carl was watching the swirling liquid in his own mug as he moved his hand in slow circles. "He's physically very powerful; mentally...he's very immature and very hard to deal with. Some days he is a silly, sweet little ten-year-old boy. Other days, when he's in a paranoid stage, he's your worst nightmare. My daughter couldn't handle him; he's been bigger and stronger than she is since he was eleven and we went through the hell of having him confined to a treatment center." Carl stirred a mug of coffee that didn't need stirring. His face was moody.
"We hope they can work with Zane and get him able to deal with his demons so he can survive on his own when he's grown, but there's no guarantee of that. He can tell the difference between the voices in his head and real people now; we have a lot of hope for him--he's responded well to some of the treatments." He coughed behind his hand, glancing around to me.
"Have you seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind," boss?" he asked. I nodded. "Well," he said, "the doctors say that is Janet's child. If you want to understand my grandson Zane, that's the thing to see." I nodded again. My eyes were fixed on nothing against the far wall as I thought of the gut-wrenching scenes in that movie. I shook my head.
"I'm so sorry, Carl," I said, not knowing what else to say. "I wish I'd known," I added. He shook his head in turn.
"Nothing you can do," he said succinctly. "I'm not a man who can talk about such things just for the heck of it." For the first time in a long while, he swiveled his body around in his chair to face me directly.
"Boss, I'm not ashamed of my grandson, though I don't talk about him to much of anyone. My wife and I don't talk about him because it brings up a lot of pain that we have to keep under control or we can't get through the day...you see what I mean?" I did and my face must have reflected the sympathy I felt for my senior vice president and friend. He looked away.
"What I wanted to say is...well, it's not Zane's fault, you know? He didn't go out and decide one day for his mind to go sideways into a place where we couldn't reach him...couldn't help him." Carl cleared his throat a couple of times and took a long swallow of coffee before continuing. It gave me time to think too. "Boss," he said hesitantly, "you've let me into your life a little more than I ever expected. You've trusted me to run my share of the corporation my way too, and I appreciate that. I respect you more than anyone I've ever worked for and I think you respect me in return." I nodded. I did.
"Thing is, boss," he began, "I just can't sit and watch--." I held up my hand to stop him.
"It's not Laura's fault either?" I said quietly. He nodded, watching me closely to see my reaction. I sighed. Carl had brought home to me something I'd seen coming for a while.
"Yeah, Carl, you're right," I said finally. "I still have a problem--no, more like a question-- why Laura didn't talk to me about some of the things that were bothering her but...well...I've done a lot of reading and I understand a lot more now." I chewed at the inside of my cheek for a bit. "I hear what you're saying, Carl. She didn't intend for her mind to start playing tricks on her but some of what she did was so...treacherous...I just..." My hands made a helpless gesture. Carl nodded his understanding.
"But, Mark," he said softly, "can you let that go? Can you understand, deep down inside, that if she'd been in command of her faculties she would never have done any of those things? If she'd been the Laura you married, the Laura that I know, instead of a woman eaten away by things she couldn't understand and couldn't deal with...she'd never have been unfaithful. You know that...I know you do."
He watched me struggle with it for a moment. I wanted to say yes, but the images of that last night kept flooding my mind. Curiously, the rage inside Laura that had burst forth that moment in Las Vegas had also brought her out of the trancelike fog she'd been in for so long. I'd gleaned at least that much from listening to Doctor Jamison.
"Boss," Carl said smoothly, "if Laura had cancer and she was going through chemotherapy...and lost her hair and stuff...and she was down to skin and bones and was pale and weak...Boss, would you blame her for having her disease? Could you do that?"
I sat frozen for a long time. I'd had some thoughts along this line, but Carl threw a vivid image at me--one I could not ignore or set aside. What he was requiring me to do was examine my core beliefs and wonder whether I was a real man or a Hollywood image of one.
Did I want my pride (my ego?) and my instinctive revulsion at the thought of Laura having shared her body with another man to be the defining characters of my manhood? Either my thoughts were being pasted on a billboard on my forehead or Carl was far more perceptive than I'd known.
"Mark," he said gently, "if you were just meeting a young divorced woman--call her, oh, I don't know...Laura?--and you were thinking of committing to a deep relationship with her, would you ask her...would you even be interested...in how many times she'd had sex before she met you, what kind of sex it was, and with whom? Would you?" he said challengingly.
"I didn't think so," he concluded, seeing the answer on my face.
In truth, those would be things that were none of my business--things that were part of Carl's "fictional" divorcee's private past. They were things a man marrying a divorcee would automatically get past. He'd live with her past as a matter of course and not feel any the worse; he'd feel no humiliation, no desire for retribution...if he were man enough. She'd live with his past too, comfortable that he was with her now, and not with the women he had been with.
Abruptly, I was reminded of a few parties I'd gone to with one girlfriend I'd had before I met Laura. I didn't dwell on those wild gatherings--I hadn't thought of them in years--but some of the things I'd done at them weren't things I was terribly proud of. Laura had lived with those things, though she'd never known of them. They were part of who I was as surely as the high school football games I'd played in. They made me who I was; I'd learned what not to do...what to avoid...and what I didn't want to be.
"Carl?" I asked, settling back into my comfortably cushioned executive chair. His eyebrows rose in question.
"I know you have a degree in criminology, Carl...did you have a minor in applied psychology too?" I inquired with a small smile. He grinned and shook his head.
"Nope," he said shortly, "but I was a cop for seventeen years, boss. You run into all kinds of stuff driving a radio car." His face stiffened. "My grandson taught me a lot of things too, Boss. I'm sorry to say I didn't start out the experience with him with as good a mindset as I have now. I--." I held up my hand to stop whatever he was going to say.
"Don't beat yourself up for that, Carl," I said sympathetically. "I guess we all have to learn as we go through things...and I've learned today, my friend. I thank you," I said simply.
"Nah," he said with a grin, "you were working your way down that road anyway; I just scooted you a little farther along and maybe a little quicker, that's all." The telephone rang at that moment, interrupting what I was going to say. It was Maggie, on the intercom.
"Yes, Maggie?" I said, pressing the button to put the conversation on the speaker.
"Mark...Laura is on the phone," she said quietly. I didn't react for a moment.
"Put her through, would you please?" I said at length. I turned to apologize to Carl for taking the call, but he was already slipping through the side door leading to his office. He gave me a thumbs up sign before disappearing.
"Doctor," I said quietly. "I've found ways to deal with almost everything to do with this whole episode, but I still have problems accepting why my wife couldn't have talked to me about what was bothering her right at the beginning. I might not have understood immediately, but she could have at least said something."
The doctor looked at me contemplatively for a while. I know at the back of her mind was the fact that I'd gotten up and walked out more than a year earlier when something she'd said didn't sit well with me.
"I'm not going anywhere," I told her with a wry smile. Her eyes widened briefly. She hadn't expected me to be able to read her. She returned my smile.
"She couldn't have articulated them well enough even to make sense to herself, Mark," the doctor said. "And that's assuming she noticed when the first bits of stray memories began to eat at her," she added. "Laura didn't have the tools to work with her feelings at that time either."
"I do now," Laura interjected firmly. "I'll be talking to you about things that bother me if I have to kick down the bathroom door while you're...while you're having a bowel movement if I have to," she concluded. I blinked, taken aback.
"Uh...I don't think you'll have to go to that extreme," I muttered.
The two women laughed at the embarrassed flush creeping up my neck to engulf my ears. It was good to hear Laura's cheerful chuckling. It had been a long time since I'd heard it.
She squeezed my hand. It was captured in both of hers and she was holding it tightly. We were sitting close against each other, our arms touching for most of their length. I was comfortable again with the intimacy. I'd crossed a barrier with Carl's help and I wasn't going back.
"As Laura said, Mark, she has the tools now to deal with you and with any stray quandaries that escape from her subconscious. There's no guarantee, but she's so much better prepared now. It's taken a long time, Mark, for Laura to come to this point and there are still things we need to explore, but she's exorcised her major demons. There will be things you need to address as a couple but Laura and I believe there will never be a confluence of so many problems that cascade down on her at the same time.
"How about you though, Mark?" the doctor asked. "Are you okay with what we've discussed?" I took a deep breath.
"Doctor Jamison, with the help of a good friend, I've worked through most of the...issues." I smiled briefly at the doctor. I'd objected to that word a few months ago.
"Briefly, my friend shared the story of his young grandson who shares the same mental disorder they showed in the movie "A Beautiful Mind" and what Carl's family has gone through with his grandson made me face my anger and put it in perspective. The doctor nodded her empathy with me...and with Carl's family.
"I had to reevaluate a lot of things," I continued, "and I let go of the pent up anger and disgust I felt." I thought for a minute. "I'm not saying I'm healed, but it's no longer the central focus that I'm holding on to," I added. I turned to face my wife.
"There will be times, I'm sure, when events will get me down and I'll let some of the meanness slip through and I'll hurt you with the words I use, Laura. But I'll get better too...and I won't stop working on that, okay?" Laura's eyes brimmed with unshed tears. She could only nod and pat my hand.
"Honey," I said, "Some part of me still wants to say there is no excuse, no reason for what you did and I should not allow you back into my heart...my life, but I refuse to give in to that urge."
I looked at my wife's pretty face as she watched me. The last time we'd been together in Doctor Jamison's office, she'd still been weak...still recovering...and she'd been weepy. She'd only infrequently been able to meet my gaze decisively. Now she was again the woman I married...perhaps even a little stronger. Sometimes the weld is stronger than the original material.
"I think...I think if I can tell you that I can forgive what you did...but at the same time if you understand that I cannot absolve you of those things...then I can move on with less difficulty." I halted, waiting for someone to say something but no one did. "I just don't think that we can behave like all this never happened, Laura. There's been too much pain and suffering...on everyone's part...for that to happen. I can get by that...but..."
"But I want to use these horrible...events...in focus too, Mark," Laura said delicately. "I can't forget them, but if I use them, make them work for me as reminders of what I can never descend into again, they'll be tools for me. Do you see?" I did. I nodded in understanding.
"Is there anything else, Mark?" Doctor Jamison had been quiet for a while. I breathed deeply, shrugging my shoulders to loosen them and let them settle again.
"I think some men will see me as a cuckold in the ancient sense of the word, a wimp to be scorned by every man I meet," I said slowly. I wasn't used to opening up to that extent before an individual I knew as poorly as I knew our counselor. "I will have to deal with those men on terms they will understand. Few of them will be men whose opinions I value...but still, I'll have to deal with them." Doctor Jamison was shaking her head in negation.
"I don't think you will, Mark," she said decisively. "I don't see any wimps in my practice. Wimps, whether male or female, accept what abuse their spouses dish out without objection." The doctor looked at Laura and let a grin curl her lips for a brief instant before returning to me.
"Laura and I have discussed...things," she said, "and if there's ever been a man who took decisive action, excepting only some overt violence, to put an end to something he would not tolerate, that man is you." She said firmly. She paused with her hand half-uplifted. She wasn't through making her point.
"I've said this to you before, Mark, but there is a side to you that you don't show often, and almost never to Laura...I suspect never to your child. You can be utterly ruthless and unforgiving to someone who wrongs you...and Laura understands that at a deep level now. If nothing else, if no other understanding has come from this, she knows you will never accept conduct like what she exhibited back then." She shuddered delicately.
"Oh, and I don't think there will be many who will think poorly of you," she added. "I think they'll see your compassion and comment on the love between you two rather than dwell on the circumstances that brought you to where you are." She looked at me and grinned. "Still...if you have to challenge some...slime ball...to a duel...then go for it," she concluded.
"I'll hold your coat while you beat the slime ball to a bloody pulp, honey," Laura said softly, "and we'll walk home together, okay?" There was nothing I could do but kiss the lips my woman offered me.
I was having trouble buckling the car seat into the cab of the truck. It wasn't easy. Trucks aren't made with small children or car seats in mind but I got it done eventually. Alyssa had been waiting for a while, almost exhausting her patience in the process. She threw herself into the protective seat as soon as I finished.
"Hurry, Daddy," she said, urging me to secure her lap belt and shoulder straps.
"Shoes off or on?" I teased. For once, my 5-year-old daughter hesitated. She was older now but she still loved the tickle game that inevitably followed taking her shoes off. She really didn't like the car seat anymore but she was still so small; I needed the reassurance she would be safe if I screwed up driving.
"On," she said finally. "Let's go now, Daddy!" she insisted. I smiled.
"I'm hurrying as fast as I can, honey," I told her. I closed the passenger side door, ran around the front end so she could see I really was, and climbed up into the cab. In a few minutes, we were on the open road and rolling fast out into the county west of the city.
We were on our way to Alyssa's Uncle Dan's house and we can't get there fast enough to suit either of us. Laura has been staying with her brother, Dan, for the past year and a half while we worked on getting our relationship back on track. Today, my young daughter and I are bringing her mother and my wife home where she belongs.
That wasn't the end of it of course. Laura and I still had many, many trust issues to sort through and deal with. I know I watched everything she did for a long time. I'm sure sometimes the suspicion showed in my eyes but Laura always took the time to explain whatever I asked about. I'm quite sure she resented it on some level; she wouldn't have been human if she hadn't, but she took it in stride.
But then again, perhaps she felt it was something she had to do. Two years ago, she called me almost in hysterics, pleading with me to understand she was stuck in traffic and she couldn't get home when she'd told me she would be. I had to help her calm down a little so she could drive safely. I could see on Transguide there was a big pileup on the Interstate ahead of where she was and there was heavy traffic backed up for miles in both directions. With the help of a map website, I suggested she take the next exit and told her which ground streets to take which would get her home more easily than waiting out the traffic jam.
The point is that her anxiety made me less concerned. I've worked my way past most of my suspicions now, but neither of us will ever forget why we are apprehensive about unexplained absences and delays. I, by the way, am careful to let her know when I'm unexpectedly delayed too. We don't talk about why anymore.
I sit here in the dark in our living room, with only the moonlight shining its ghostly light through the side window. I like this time of night; there are no traffic sounds, no hurry and bustle outside to intrude. There's only the softness of the nighttime; it enfolds me in its peacefulness.