It Takes a Strong Manbyradk©
To the reader:
Recently I found a list on the internet that had a series of attributes of a strong man. I'm pretty sure it's not a comprehensive list because I can think of a few more to add. However, my first impression after reading it was that it could be the basis for a short story. I showed it to my editor and got the challenge back to go ahead and write it. What you're about to read is the result of that challenge. I hope you like it.
Oh, and sorry, but there's no sex in the story.
Thanks to jo for editing, as usual a great job and very harsh critic.
© Copyright by the author, August 2012.
Hello, my name is Samuel, my friends call me Sam. Well, they did at one time. Right now I don't have too many friends, but I could sure use some. I want to tell you a story, a story about me and why I'm standing before you, friendless and begging for someone to care. All I ask is that you spare a few minutes and hear me out. I promise it won't take long. Once you hear my story you can judge for yourselves if you think you can call me 'friend.' I sure hope so.
Before I get started I want to thank you for listening and thank you for being a friend, even if it is for just a few minutes.
It takes a strong man to admit when he's wrong.
One Friday night, about five years ago, I made the biggest mistake of my life - I killed a man. It's not like me to be violent but the circumstances got the best of me and I just flipped out. They told me that I hit this man with my fist over and over again until his face was just a puddle of blood. I don't remember the people trying to pull me off or my wife screaming for me to stop; I don't even remember the cops hitting me with a Taser to end the assault. I became aware of things again when I was sitting in the backseat of a police cruiser with my hands cuffed behind my back listening to the officer read me my Miranda rights.
I'm ashamed of what I did. I never wanted it to go that far. All I wanted to do was stop him. He was kissing my wife when I arrived in the parking lot and I knew that if I didn't do something then I would lose everything. You see, I love my wife. The thought flashed in my mind of a life without her and I didn't know if I could live without her. But she was standing between two cars with her arms around this man kissing him like she always kissed me. The pain in my heart was overwhelming. It must have gone straight to my brain because the next thing I remember was sitting in a cop car handcuffed. I didn't know anything but rage. It was awful. To this day, whenever I think about it, I feel horrible.
That was absolutely the worst thing I've ever done in my life.
It takes a strong man to swim against the current.
Well, now you know what I did but you need to know why.
My wife's name is Hope. For as long as I can remember I've loved her. We grew up together, went to school together, and we were each other's first and only love. We've been married for five years, five blissful years. A year before the incident we had a little baby girl named Brandy. To me the sun rose and set on her blond little head. I was the happiest man in the world. Hope and Brandy created such joy in me that everything else seemed unimportant.
Then I found out that Hope was seeing another man.
One of Hope's so-called friends told me. She said she didn't want me to get hurt. Yeah right. Telling me that my wife was seeing another man wasn't going to hurt? I heard later that she told a friend that she always found me attractive and wanted to be there when I threw Hope out in case I wanted a little revenge. I haven't seen her since the day she told me, and I hope I never do. I still have a lot of anger in my heart where she's concerned.
I was devastated. How could the only woman I've ever loved even think of looking at someone other than me? Was there something wrong with me? Did I do something to make her hate me? Why did she want to be with someone else? I questioned everything I ever said or did and couldn't come up with a single answer.
I moped around for a few days until my best friend at work asked me what the problem was. I told him what I found out. His solution was to "dump her and file for divorce." I listened politely but the more I thought about it the more I ached inside. I mentioned what I knew to my father and his advice was essentially the same. "Kick her to the curb," he said without even hesitating. Everywhere I turned the advice was the same -- confront her, make her pay for the pain she caused me, and then divorce her. Even one of my female friends at work said the same thing, of course when she was telling me this she had her hand on mine and was leaning close to me smiling. "I'll always be here for you if you need someone to talk to," she said. I'm not stupid; I know what she was really saying.
Losing Hope would have been like losing my soul. I could no more lose her than I could stop breathing. I loved her in spite of the pain she caused. People called me a wimp or a loser or a whole bunch of other names because I wasn't man enough to oust her from my life and find someone else. And where she went so did Brandy. I couldn't lose Brandy too. So I decided to try to talk to her and figure out where we went wrong.
It takes a strong man to truly love and cherish a strong minded woman.
It sounded like such a cliché when I said, "Hope, we've got to talk."
I dumped everything I knew right there at the kitchen table. I told her how I felt. I asked her what I did wrong. I told her of the advice I had received from friends and the options open for us. I opened my heart up and said everything that I felt and thought. I told her that she had to stop. I also told her that I still loved her and if she came back to me I would forgive her.
She sat quietly while I laid my soul bare to her.
"Is this some kind of a sick joke Sam?" She finally said. "How could you think that I was seeing another man? Sure I go out with Shari and Bess some Friday nights but that's just to get away from the routine of the house. You go to ball games to get out of the house so why shouldn't I get away and relax too? I don't do anything there that I wouldn't do in front of you. How could you accuse me of such a sick thing?"
I looked her straight in the eye and said, "Do you want me to go get everything I have that proves that you're fooling around? I will if you want." I really didn't have anything but I thought a bluff would force a dialog between us.
She looked straight back into my eyes when she said, "Whatever you have is only proof in your own mind. I'm telling you now, and I won't repeat myself that I have never cheated on you; I have never lied to you; I have never done anything to hurt our marriage. I love you, you idiot. Now if you have made a big enough fool of yourself for tonight I've got to go check on Brandy and I'm going to bed. I want you to come to bed with me but if you want to sit out here and sulk then go ahead. This conversation is over."
And the conversation was over but nothing was resolved. I still felt the same pain in my heart as before; the only difference was now Hope knew that I knew and would probably be more careful in the future.
Call me what you want but I still can't imagine a life without Hope and Brandy.
It takes a strong man to admit to himself and to others, his true place in the world.
My best friend at work was now saying "Hello Cuck" when he greeted me. My father kept phoning me at work asking when I was having divorce papers served. Even my female coworker friend that offered to be there for me was showing up in my office a couple times a day, always smiling.
Hope wasn't speaking to me either. We slept in the same bed but never touched. Everywhere else we were together, but apart. I loved her but I couldn't tell what she felt for me. The pain inside was getting intolerable; I had to do something to get back to normal, but what?
Hope finally spoke to me on Thursday but it wasn't something I wanted to hear. "Bess called and she and Shari are going out Friday and want me to come along. Now if you're still on this cheating kick I won't go, Lord knows I don't want to give you any more fodder to feed your silly idea about what I'm doing, but I want to get out of the house and talk with my friends, maybe have a couple drinks. You can come along if you like, although you'll have to get a babysitter. Well?"
I thought about what to say and do for a while before replying. "Go ahead and go out with your friends, but just Shari and Bess, no boyfriends. I will be here waiting for you. I love you Hope, just remember that while you're out relaxing."
She did give me a strange look but the conversation was over.
In spite of what everybody thought of me, including Hope, I was adamant that she wasn't going to cheat on me again. I may not be what you would call a macho man but I do have my pride, but so does Hope. I just hoped she remembered the quote we learned in school 'Pride goeth before a fall.' If you are too proud and overconfident, you will make mistakes leading to your defeat.
It takes a strong man to stand up for himself.
Shari and Bess picked up Hope and they drove away. I had a pretty good idea where they were going and decided to see if my best friend at work was right. Was I a cuckold or not? The lady from next door came over a few minutes later to watch Brandy while I went out. Before I left I went into her room and ran my fingers across her little forehead, almost like I was saying goodbye to her. I stood there and looked down at her innocence face and prayed that I would be around to see her grow up. At that point I wasn't sure.
I drove to the nightclub that I thought they would go to and sure enough Shari's car was in the lot. I parked around back and went in through the back door. I peered through the service entrance door and saw the three of them sitting at a table near the back. They seemed to be having a good time laughing and talking. I felt so foolish because they were there alone and Hope wasn't with any other man. I just stood and watched for a long time before deciding to go home and think about things. As I turned to walk out the back door a man approached their table and sat down beside Hope. The two of them whispered to each other ignoring the two women seated across from them. After a minute or two Hope put her head on his shoulder and he kissed her on the top of the head. That was too much for me. I retreated to the men's room and lost my dinner. When I returned Hope and the man were walking out the front door. I hurried out the back door and around the front. What I saw was my wife in the arms of another man kissing as they stood between two cars. After that I don't remember anything until hearing my Miranda rights.
I sat in jail for a week after the arraignment. My father posted my bail they released me into his custody. He drove me to his house where some of my clothes and personal items awaited. He said that there was a restraining order preventing me from going to my house or getting anywhere near Hope or Brandy. I went out in the back yard and did what I did for the week I was in lockup, I thought about the mess I was in.
I thought about Hope too. I didn't know if what she did was her fault or not, probably, but I couldn't know for sure until I talked to her, and that wasn't going to happen any time soon. I thought about Brandy, and when I did I cried. My little girl was way across town without her daddy. That was the worst thing I ever felt. I loved my family and wanted them back. I thought that I could even forgive Hope for what she did. That might make me seem weak in the eyes of a lot of my friends and family but I was just lost without her and my little girl. I would do just about anything to get them back.
It takes a strong man to drop to his knees and repent.
Around dinner time I took a walk around the neighborhood. I walked and brooded and cried. I didn't even know how far from my father's house I was but at dusk I found myself sitting on the steps of a little community church.
I heard a voice from behind me say, "May I help you?"
I turned to look toward the voice and saw a short, weather beaten old man with a mop in one hand holding open the front door of the church. His clothes said that he was the janitor but something about his face and smile said otherwise.
He spoke again and said, "I'm Pastor Duvall. I sense you've got a problem. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Just like a week ago I didn't think, I just got up, walked past the old man, and sat in the last pew of the church. I started crying.
The old preacher put his mop down and sat beside me putting his arm around my shoulder. "Whatever the problem is you came to the right place for help. When you want to talk, God and I will hear you."
I don't know how long I cried but for the whole time that little old man sat there with his arm around me, giving me the first bit of comfort I've had in a while. He handed me a handkerchief to wipe my face with when the crying slowed down a bit, but when I turned to look at him I broke out crying again. After a few minutes the tears ended and I did reflexively what I've always done. I said, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned."
He got a big smile and said, "Ah, a good Catholic boy. You don't need all the formality here my son, this is a Pentecostal church. Just say what's in your heart."
I just blurted it out, "Pastor, I killed a man."
He didn't even flinch. I just told him that he's sitting next to a murderer and he didn't even react. "Are you going to kill me?" He asked.
"No! Absolutely not!" I replied with surprise. "I feel horrible about what I did and I need help."
"Tell me all about it," he whispered.
For the next hour I told him everything: Every slimy, morbid, painful detail. He heard about Hope and Brandy and the events of Friday a week ago. I told him things that I didn't even realize I was feeling. I described what little I remembered of the beating. I told him of my loves and my fears. All the while he sat quietly and serenely.
At the end of my monologue he just smiled at me. "Say five hail Mary's and ten our Father's," was all he said.
"What?" I said with a shocked look on my face. "I say a couple prayers and it will absolve me of my sins? Are you crazy?"
His smile got even bigger when he said, "No, I was just trying to make you feel at ease. In the confessional you confess you sins and as penance you say a prayer to absolve you of your transgression. Life isn't that simple. What you did was bad, real bad. You killed a man. It sounds like you didn't mean it but nonetheless a man is dead. You have to accept the facts and mold a new life around them. You may have lost your wife, maybe, maybe not, but still if you did then you will have to go on without her. The man you killed can never come back. His family will grieve for him just like you would for one of your family. You will have to make restitution to them somehow. That's going to be tough. And finally, the state is going to want you to pay for your actions. Maybe with the help of a psychiatrist you can find out if what you did was a dissociative response to the circumstances and if you were legally responsible for your actions. Your future is going to be rough and you will need to take things one step at a time. The first step is to come see me on Thursday in my office and we can talk some more. In the mean time I want you to go home and reflect on everything you did and what would be an appropriate response on your part. Oh, and copious amounts of prayer wouldn't hurt either."
He pulled out his wallet and gave me a business card. It said 'Albert Duvall, Psychiatric Counseling.' "I'm a psychiatrist by trade but a preacher by vocation," he said. "Kind of a strange combination I know but when I can't figure something out, I ask God for help. Pretty strong team, God and me."
It takes a strong man to forgive those who hand him misfortune.
When I got home that night my father said that Hope called while I was wandering the neighborhood. She wanted to talk but was afraid of what I might do. My father didn't want anything to do with her but I convinced him to set it up so we could meet. I wanted him to be present and asked that he call Hope's father and mother and ask if they would be there too.
The following day Dad and I drove home, or what used to be my home. Hope and her mother and father met me at the door. Hope looked awful and she wouldn't look me in the eye. I didn't feel good about seeing her like that, besides I probably looked just as bad. I wanted to take her in my arms and hold her and make our pain go away, but I just couldn't manage it. Instead, we all sat around the dining room table, me and my father on one side and Hope and her parents on the other. I had a ghastly premonition of attorneys taking the place of our parents at some future date. God, I hoped that didn't happen.
Hope started the conversation. "Sam, I'm glad you agreed to talk with me. I have so much to say that I don't know where to begin. But before I start I want you to know that I told my parents everything that I'm going to say to you now. I swear that everything is the absolute truth, no lies, no spinning things to make it sound good, just full disclosure. I guess I'll just say what I want to say and then let you talk."
Hope took a long drink from the glass of iced tea sitting in front of her and wiped her tears on the tissue she was holding. She took a deep breath and started again.
"Sam, I screwed up, big time, and I can't say I'm sorry enough for what I did. I did probably the worst thing that a wife can do to her husband, I cheated on you. I did it for no other reason than I wanted to have some fun. At no time did I ever consciously try to hurt you; I just wanted to have fun. After Brandy was born I felt trapped in the house, and trapped with you. I wanted to do something that didn't involve cooking or cleaning or watching TV. When Shari invited me to go out with them I saw it as a way of blowing off some steam and coming back to the house, and you, relaxed and refreshed. For the first few weeks it was just that; us girls, drinking and laughing. One night a table full of men sitting next to us asked us to dance. At first we refused but the more we talked about it we rationalized that it would be okay as long as it didn't go any further. So we danced with them. We had a good time and then we all went our separate ways. The next week they were there and we danced with them again. This time we danced slow dances too. We all swapped partners each dance. It was a lot of fun. I never told you about it because I didn't know how you would react. I guess I should have known right there that if I thought I had to hide something from you then it was probably the wrong thing to do.
They didn't show up the next week, well at least all three of them didn't. One of the guys, Nate, showed up alone and we invited him to sit with us. At first we all danced with him but by the end of the evening he and I were doing all the dancing. He even touched me in places that you would not have liked. Again I didn't say anything to you about it. I enjoyed the attention and thought I could handle myself. Over the next few weeks he would show up and we would dance, but now he wasn't dancing with Shari or Bess, he was my partner. One night he kissed me right on the dance floor. I was surprised and excited. At the end of the evening he walked me out to my car and we stood there and talked. He kissed me again and this time I kissed him back. Before too long we were in the car kissing and... and... well, our hands were actively touching each other. We didn't do anything more that touch each other and kiss. He left and I came home to you. That was the first time I ever let anybody but you kiss me or touch me. When I came home I was so ashamed that I held onto you in bed and cried into my pillow. I knew that I did something wrong and made a promise to myself to stop it before I got into real trouble.