The Writer and The Word (03)byAdrian Leverkuhn©
In the hours, then days, after Diane Westhoven's attempted suicide, all of the characters in our little drama underwent profound changes as their role in her near demise became increasingly clear, indeed, became profoundly evident. No one, not even poor Angela White, escaped the bouts of self-examination, and self-recriminations, that followed. And no one contributed to these outpourings of doubt and retribution more than Nancy Greenbaum.
In the immediate aftermath of Diane's emergency surgery at Mass General, it was learned that the vascular surgeons' attempts to save her blade-ravaged left arm had failed. The exigent nature of the surgery, coupled with repeated episodes of near total cardiac failure brought on by narcotic overdose, had conspired to forestall efforts to save her left arm, and it had been amputated just above the elbow. Further, it was not known whether Diane had suffered a small stroke during surgery, or if the overdose and surgery had in some way compromised her ability to talk. When neither option bore medical scrutiny, psychiatrists added that malady to the retinue of problems to be sorted out. They were going to have their hands very, very full.
Even as surgeons worked through that night to save Diane Westhoven's life, Nancy Greenbaum had found herself in the center of an emotional hurricane. She had no way to gauge the impact of her efforts to unsettle Diane emotionally other than by the evidence before her: she had been utterly and devastatingly successful. As best as she could reconstruct events in her own mind, Diane had been completely demoralized by Sumner Welles' rejection and consequent verbal assault, then she, Nancy, had administered the coup d gras by taking a fundamentally heterosexual female already under extreme emotional duress down the long and winding road of a profoundly disconcerting homosexual encounter.
Sociologist C Wright Mills introduced the term 'anomie' to describe most exactly what had subsequently subverted Diane Westhoven's moral and emotional world. You might find it more meaningful to consider that in the aftermath of the week's varied emotional upheavals, Diane had simply lost the will to live. In the midst of these extraordinarily powerful and contradictory emotional impulses, she had then shut down emotionally. Her only attempt to secure help, appealing to Sumner Welles' sense of honor and propriety - in a way, appealing to the possibility of resurrecting some viable frame of emotional reference by declaring her love for him - had been met by Sumner's inchoate question about 'not asking the right question'. At that exact moment in time, lost in the shattered wake of the telephone conversation that seemed so very full of 'might have beens', Diane Westhoven began her fateful slide into 'anomie'. That Nancy had called not long after, as has been mentioned, served only to make Diane's vertiginous descent all the more rapid. But I don't want to get to far ahead of myself, so please bare with . . .
In a world where other people's words and actions became - however well or ill intentioned they might have been - the determinant of an emotional landscape that Diane best described as 'Lost', she found her self battered by fathomless seas of such complete unfamiliarity that she had simply lost shape - she had unraveled as her external references dissolved into shadowy fogs of forsaken hope. With no valid emotional frame of reference surviving, Sumner's words and Nancy's actions became a kaleidoscope of distraction that only served to interfere with the quiet spiral of her descent into the easy mists of ambivalence. Without the will to live, Diane was no longer capable of anger, and even the thought of love came to her as the hollow echo of a painful joke she had played on herself. This hollow echo grew into an evil laughter as that fateful day had turned to night.
Sitting on the floor above the surgical suites, Sumner Welles and Angela White listened in abject horror as Nancy described her anger at Diane Westhoven, and the consequent decision to attack Diane psycho-sexually as payment in kind for Diane's manipulative - and men-spirited - seduction of Sumner. Both Sumner and Angela deduced that Nancy had been emotionally conjoined to Sumner, perhaps on their walk in Scotland, or in their conversation on flight 481 after Sumner's ebullient conversation with Angela, but in the end that really didn't matter. What did matter was that in spite of a seemingly noble sentiment - the desire the protect someone she thought she loved - Nancy Greenbaum had become a dangerous predator.
Nancy's father had listened to his daughter's retelling of the week's events with a his parental horror in full conflict with his sense of professional detachment. He had no idea his Nancy had been flung into homosexual encounters with her high school teachers, her mentors, and he had no way to ascertain if or to what degree these affairs had warped her personality. Looking at the evidence before him, he knew that his daughter was severely burdened by the knowledge that what she had done to Diane Westhoven was profoundly wrong, and she was struggling with the idea that she was capable of doing such a thing at all. What Dr Greenbaum did know, and know professionally, was that his daughter was going to need a lot of help to get through all of the guilt and anger that was headed her way like a runaway freight train.
Sumner and Angela were having Sunday Brunch at the Four Seasons, but they were unusually quiet. Eggs and Champagne really did not seem a fit antidote to the emotional and medical carnage they had both witnessed over the past thirty hours; they were plainly exhausted and the emotional euphoria of new found love had vanished into unforeseen fogs just as surely as Diane's will to live had. Angela found it difficult to even make eye contact with Sumner - so complete was her emotional befuddlement. She had no way to gauge his role in these events; whether he was indeed an innocent bystander to events or a more active instigator remained to be seen. She simply did not know Sumner well enough to make that leap of faith.
Sumner, for his part, seemed to take things in stride. Perhaps he had watched people fall under his influence all his life; perhaps even watched equally dreadful consequences unfold in an amorphous polyglot of human greed. That was, he knew, a very real consequence of wealth: people threw themselves at you all the time, offered you their loyalty, and for no other reason than the wealth and status that might be bestowed upon them through you, their newfound benefactor. Most people would find Sumner's feelings jaded, but then again, most people aren't raised by Swiss nannies on forty million dollar Long Island and Cape Cod estates. Sumner's perspective might be just a bit different that yours or mine, anyway, so don't jump to conclusions just yet.
An astute reader such as yourself might be asking about now - aha, there has been no mention of Sumner's other parent, his mother - what's up with that? We have been able to infer from the few conversations between Sumner and his father that we have been privy to that they are close, and that they each love and respect one another. We also know that Sumner has only recently dealt with the passing of his first real love, and that he was devastated by the event . . . so much so that his cousin Madeleine even thought to mention to Angela that she had been concerned enough for him - that she had actually been afraid - Sumner might do something.
So what might Sumner have done? Or had he yet to do?
Of course, these weren't the thoughts Angela had as she sat there in the Four Seasons eating Eggs Sardou and sipping champagne. She wasn't thinking that Sumner was a little unstable, that he had fallen for her much too quickly, and that he had caused the near suicide of a famous author with a verbal assault on an airplane. She was not thinking about how charming he had been to her, about the romantic sequence of events on the Welles' family yacht, about his recently deceased one true love and the passing of her own father. No, indeed not, for she was looking across the room at a young First Officer she knew from her Flight Attendant days with BA, and she liked what she saw.
So, on a dismal Sunday afternoon, Sumner was dropping off Angela White at Logan's Terminal E, and he was in a deep blue funk. As the morning had drifted into afternoon Sumner watched as Angela had grown increasingly distant, so much so that by the time he took her to Logan he was not surprised that she wanted him to just drop her off curbside. He thought the cause so lost he hadn't even put up a fight.
Before Angela had walked off, she had thanked him for an interesting - interesting! - weekend. Brian had taken him back over to Cambridge, and he had sulked his way gloomily back to his dormitory. A very uncharacteristic Sumner Welles performance, indeed.
He had showered and shaved and thought briefly about taking a nap, then given up on the idea as hopeless and a waste of time. He walked over to the Harvard Square T Station and rode in on the Red Line to the Mass General stop, and made his way over to the hospital annex where Diane Westhoven was now residing. He made his way to the information kiosk and was informed Ms Westhoven was allowed no visitors at this time. Was he surprised? Indeed, no, he wasn't.
He tried to call Dr Greenbaum but was greeted by the Good Doctor's answering service; 'No, he didn't wish to leave a message . . .' and he informed the anonymous voice he would try later. He walked out of the hospital to the pedestrian overpass and walked along the Charles for a long while, occasionally looking up as rowers or sailboats drifted by in the subdued early evening light.
He had never felt so alone in his life.
Angela White was - if this was indeed possible - in an even deeper funk than Sumner. She fumed at herself for the miserable manner she had treated him, for the failing of her compassion at such a crucial time in her life and his. She thought about calling his cell phone, thought about apologizing to him. She wondered what that would mean. Was she really sorry, had she misjudged him in some truly unfair way? Was he truly an innocent caught between two fundamentally unbalanced and hysterical women, or had he contributed to the awful chain of events that had led the Westhoven women to the brink? She was really at a loss for words. Hadn't she counseled him to not be too quick assigning blame or taking undue responsibility? Was she being a hypocrite, or merely self-protective?
And the more important question came to her . . . If, as she now suspected, Sumner Welles was an innocent caught up in very unfortunate circumstances well and truly beyond his control, was she being too cautious? Did he deserve such judgement and implicit condemnation from someone he claimed to love, given that only hours before Angela was sure she loved him, as well? And had she not as much as told him so? Was she really so shallow and self-effacing?
Angela looked for a telephone to call Sumner with, even as she heard the final boarding call for her flight home to London. Failing that, she would call Brian.
As Sumner walked along the river's edge he heard his telephone buzzing away in his pocket. He took it out and looked at the display, saw that it was Dr Greenbaum on the line, and he took the call.
Dr Greenbaum filled Sumner in on events that had passed during the day. Diane had regained some semblance of consciousness and had talked to a psychiatrist during the afternoon. She had barely reacted to news of losing her left arm. She had, in fact, only inquired about two people - Sumner and Nancy - and had wanted to know if they knew of her suicide attempt.
Dr Greenbaum and the shrinks now thought it might be a good idea if Sumner came over and made a brief appearance. They were cognizant of the risk, but thought the benefits of a positive encounter might outweigh the risks of a negative confrontation. Did Sumner understand?
Yes, Sumner understood. He told Greenbaum he would be there in a few minutes. Before he hung up, he inquired about Nancy. Dr Greenbaum advised he would fill him in when he arrived. Sumner put away his phone without looking at it, without noticing he had missed one call.
Nancy had been, Dr Greenbaum told Sumner, voluntarily committed earlier that afternoon after she had voiced some apparently very self-destructive remarks during a brief interview with the on-call house psychiatrist. Sumner noticed the very steely - almost robotic demeanor of the man, and felt quite bad for him. A Dr Susan Katz had arrived, introduced herself as Diane's attending psychiatrist, and filled Sumner in of the somewhat delicate nature of her condition and their request of him. Namely, they wanted Sumner to go in and talk to her about anything positive he could think of, try to engage her in some meaningful conversation without agitating her. They asked him to make sure he turned off his cell phone, then took him to her room.
Diane was in restraints when he entered the room; her one good arm was attached to the bed frame by a single nylon strap, as were her legs. Her left arm was tented, hidden from casual view. There were IV lines in her chest, under her left collar bone. A catheter bag about half full of deep reddish brown urine hung near the foot of the bed; hourly urine output was logged on a hanging clipboard near the bag. Diane's head was turned away; she was looking out the room's only (barred) window toward some dreary soot covered brick wall about thirty feet away, and she appeared almost catatonic.
Sumner walked in, looked at Diane Westhoven, and he began to cry in a way he scarcely thought possible. He thought of her lying on flight 481 exactly one week ago in the sprawling first class seat, thought of the overt sexuality of the woman, her mesmerizing legs, and how tantalized he had felt in some faraway recess of his mind as she had begun her assault on him. He knew he had wanted her, he knew it then, and it was amazing to him that he thought he felt that way now. He knew what he wanted to say, was even sure he knew how to say it, but her stony distant silence was almost intimidating, and he felt unsure how to proceed. Everything felt questionable in the frame of reference that the hospital room presented . . .
Then Diane Westhoven turned to him. In a clear voice she simply told him to "Please go."
"I'm not sure I can yet, Diane. Would you please listen to me for a minute?"
She simply turned her head away from him. She seemed ashamed, which surprised Sumner.
He took a chair and moved to her side, not blocking her view out the window, but easily within her field of vision. He put his hand on top of her restrained wrist, atop the bandage there, and he asked her to listen carefully, that what he had to say was important.
"Diane? You asked me if it would ever be possible for me to love you. Do you remember; I asked you to consider that you might not be asking the right question? Do you remember that, Diane?"
"Yes," she whispered. "Yes," she said again in a voice even fainter than a whisper.
"I was wondering, Diane, had you ever considered that I might already, in some way you might not have considered, that I might love you? Even right this very moment?"
He heard tears coming up from within some shattered core deep inside Diane's soul; these tears seemed to cough their way to the surface and sputter into the room. He took her hand, and she took his into her cold frightened grasp. Her eyes were too full of tears to see the look of desolation on his face; she would not have understood the look on his face in that tormented moment in time.
Sumner Welles was not aware of the crushed and defeated mein he wore; he was only aware of his own very real mortality, of the frailty of all life, of how every woman who had ever loved him - had died. He didn't want Diane Westhoven to die; he had been mortified when Rebecca Dassault had been diagnosed with breast cancer and passed away so soon thereafter, just as he had almost perished when his mother had passed away when he was but seven years old - from ovarian cancer. He loved, they loved, they died. It was a simple calculus, and it had colored his every waking moment for as far back as he could remember. He didn't trust life, or love, because death was always there, waiting.
For Sumner Welles, life failed and love perished.
He held life in his hands right now, a life that had loved him, and so desperately he clung to that life he never recognized the basic lie of his declaration. He couldn't see that his pain at Angela's departure was clouding his judgement. He no longer knew what the truth was.
But, oh, he felt so lonely.
He never wanted to be lonely again.
Susan Katz met him as he came out of Diane's room.
"Mr Welles, did I hear you correctly? Did you tell Ms Westhoven that you love her? Is that the case?"
Sumner looked confused, out of focus. "I said that in a way I love her."
"Oh, and in what way might that be, Mr Welles?"
Sumner froze, the proverbial deer caught in the headlights of an on-rushing car.
"Can't you see what you did, sir. You told her what you thought she wanted to hear; not what you truly feel. You looked for a easy way out and you took it. Now, what is she going to do, how is she going to react, when she learns you were being less than truthful. How long do you want me to keep her in restraints . . .?"
"Less than truthful?" he whispered.
"Is it impossible to love someone and not want to live with them, marry them, follow that all too predictable path . . .?"
"Do you mean some kind of altruistic platonic love? Tell me, Mr Welles, do you really think that woman lying in there is reaching out for platonic love, that she felt compelled to end her life out of losing a connection to some vapid sophomoric idea of love? Oh, crap, you Harvard know-it-all shitheads . . ." She turned and walked away . . . "you're all the same!"
"Less than truthful . . .?" he said aloud, again, though just barely, as if in prayer.
He thought again of Nancy, and their conversation on the flight home after he had gotten off the phone talking to Angela. Had he led her on, too? Had he sent her signals, however unintentionally, that he had developed feelings for her? Had he really been the cause of events that had led two women to feel like ending their lives? Did the finger point at him?
He walked out of the hospital and over to the T Station, and got on the outbound Red Line train toward Harvard Square. As he walked into the car he looked at an old woman, obviously homeless, sitting at the back of the car, and facing away from the doorway. She stared vacantly out a window as the train gathered speed and crossed the Charles, her open toothless mouth making noiseless words in the air. She seemed to look at the words as they formed in the air, then both the old woman and her words dissipated into helplessness and despair.
Sumner wondered what fool had driven this poor soul to such despair.
His mind drifted toward the wounded land of anomie. What a fool was he?
Had he acted in some way that killed Rebecca, or even his mother? Would he have driven Angela to these depths? Is that why she ran away? Had she recognized something dangerous in Sumner, and run from him in self-preservation? Why was he at the center of all these questions, he thought.
Or indeed, was he?
He withered under the weight of that question.
As he sat looking at the old woman, he was certain that he had in some way been responsible for these deaths. He was certain that he was a soul-murderer.