Monday, December 03, 2007

Reflections, part two

Once he got home, and the normal routine was filtered through, he lay down in bed, and started reading. And reading. Thoughts seemed to fly from every corner of his mind, and he started to go to those places in his soul marked by signs that said "Proceed at your own risk" or "Abandon all hope ye who enter here" or "Here there be monsters". He made it halfway through before fatigue simply cried out too loud to be ignored, and he had to shut out the light. The empty place on the other side of the bed did not go unnoticed, and he quickly drifted off to sleep with a dull ache throbbing in his heart, and tears seeping out through the corners of his now shut eyes.

The next evening, after the kids had been put to bed, and the icy silence between he and his wife resumed, he returned to the bedroom and opened the book again, reading it to completion. Closing the book, he mulled over the thoughts the text had left him with, and he prayed quietly, asking if the epiphany was real, and if it really all came down to something so simple, knowing as he did so that it was. He fell asleep alone, considering the revelation, and wondering what he might do about it.

The next morning, after dropping the children off, he began the winding drive to work that was his route every Thursday and Friday morning. Even though it was longer than the highway, it had the virtue of less traffic, and the ability to keep moving, rather than sitting for long periods and inhaling the exhaust of the cars in front of him. It didn't disappoint today. As he came down from the foothills, the winding road took him through the trees, where clouds hung low and uneven, like cotton dragged across Velcro. As he left behind the second valley town that he travelled through on his way to work, he found himself smiling for no reason at all. He couldn't remember the last time he had done so, or even if he had ever done so before. He considered this riddle for a few minutes, then he started to speak. "I get it, God. I need to put it down. The fear I have had for so long. The fear that applied to everything. That it isn't enough. That I'm not good enough. That I'll have the relationship with my kids that my Dad had with me."
He could swear that he heard a reassuring voice, with calm quiet tones resonate in his head. "I'm glad you finally get it, Son. Put it down. Walk away. Do not look back. It isn't for you. I have called you to other things. But you also have to take away all the barriers you hide behind."

This came as a slap in the face to him. The barriers were there for so many things. Their efficacy had been dubious of late, as emotions continued to spill over and around them, even as he still sometimes tried to hide from them. The sarcasm, which was an automatic defense for so many years had lost its edge, and it seemed a chore these days to wield it. Still, it was like being asked to give up a limb. The bargaining began. "OK. How about this one?"
"No. Put them all down."
"OK, not that one, but you really don't mean this one? Or this one?"
Sigh. "I want you to put all of them down. Every last one. You need to live without them for awhile. Someday, I might let you have a few back, once you learn a few lessons that are going to take some time. What you will get back in turn will be as liberating as it is instructive. It won't be easy, but it wasn't easy for you to get here, either. Remember that in the days that will come."
"OK. I get it. Thank you for letting me see this."
"Thank you for listening. By the way, this doesn't come without a price. You know what you are doing Sunday now, right?"
Feeling like a chastised child, but still smiling, he said "Yes." as he came around the blind corner by the old power plant.

So many things had happened since then. The strained trip to California, where he wanted to have fun and really connect with her again, but there seemed to be a wall between them that he could not breach, no matter how hard he tried. Alone, on the flight back, he wondered if that was the face he had presented to her for so long while he battled his own demons.

Then came the chest pains, that seemed so real, but were simply anxiety. The diagnosis of his eyes. The growing distance and the increasing absences. The nights alone in the house after the kids went to bed. The bizarre encounters two weekends in a row that left him feeling bewildered and valueless. The announcement, and the open contempt and hostility that came with it. The continuing emotional blows, that brought the disappointing discovery that yes, he really could hurt more, even when he didn't believe it was possible. And through it all, the faith that God would carry him through when he didn't think he could walk any further. Then came the pain.

As he lay in bed alone one evening watching TV, he wondered why he felt the very real physical pain he felt. He mentally reviewed the last few days. There was no reason why he should feel this way. He considered it for a few minutes, and realized that he had been feeling this way for a few days. Alerted, he turned on his laptop, and after a few keystrokes, his eyes poured over a list of symptoms on the screen that sounded alarmingly familiar. He performed a physical exam and realized that they matched his own very closely. Regret hit him like a ton of bricks. He did not want to leave the relationship like this. He had come too far, learned too much, and was still too in love to let it end in failure. He couldn't accept the concept. Then the thought of his children filled his mind. Now that he was certain he had something worthwhile with them, and had forged a relationship that they would cherish far more than the one his father had built with him. The thought of their last memories of him being of him wasting away in a hospital was too much to bear. He fell to his knees, sobbing silently as he leaned against the bed, and eventually fell asleep there on the floor. The next morning brought the confrontation with her about it, and the departure before she could see the tears welling up in his eyes as he headed out the door on his way to the Doctor's office. He had already shed too many before her in the previous weeks. He selfishly harbored the belief that these were his, and his alone. The confrontation itself was borne of the simmering stew of emotions that had been prepared over the previous weeks. It wasn't fair to her, and he knew it the minute he started saying the words to her. The words came from a place of deep pain, a wound that was resisting all attempts to heal. The doctor's lousy poker face and marked change in attitude as he wrote the referral for more testing did nothing to alleviate his dread.

The testing was likewise terrifying. After a 45 minute exam that left him in more pain than ever, the focus on two areas in particular, and the technician's repeated question "Are you here for any other tests today?", he had no words. After cleaning up and dressing, he walked to his car, got in, and mechanically drove up the hill to deposit his paycheck, then, got back in, and drove to an empty area of the parking lot, and in the rain and gathering darkness, he shut off the engine. A text message from a friend in another state flashed on his cell phone. The joke didn't make him laugh. He shut his eyes for a minute, then started crying. He wanted only three things at this moment. A drink, a steak, and three to five hours of uninterrupted, passionate, messy sex. As he slowly came back into control, he looked at the message again, and laughed. He called the friend back, and let him know that what he was suggesting didn't happen, and that under the circumstances, it probably was a good thing. They both laughed as he told his friend what he wanted most right now. His friend was reassured by the list that nothing at all was wrong with him. He looked at the clock, saw the time, and ended the call. Instead of proceeding to obtain the items on his list, he met up with his father in law, and took the kids to the elder child's psychologist for his scheduled appointment. Afterward, he took them to McDonald's to buy both children dinner before heading home. As they headed to the restaurant, a text message flashed on his phone.