“Christ, Jack, what did that old man ever do to you?” Carol asked me, half teasingly.
I snapped out of my deep thoughts and back into the mall food court.
“Who?” I asked, looking around us. “What old man?”
“The one you were giving a death stare at. You looked like you want to kill him,” Carol replied.
“Death stare? I wasn’t looking at anyone,” I replied. Soon after, the subject was dropped. I wasn’t even thinking particularly dark thoughts this time. I was reflecting on my self-confidence now versus then, and was starting to wonder if I had been crossing the line into arrogance at times when I was interrupted by Carol’s comment.
I now wondered what Carol was thinking about me. Since I had told her how what she did to me changed me, I feel that she’s been hyper vigilant about the darker parts of my new self. I’ve made the wrong comments and laughed at the wrong parts of movies and she’s always been quick to jump on these moments to tell me, “That’s not funny,” and “You don’t mean that,” as if she can erase my view with her opposite thoughts. Is she trying sweep the lasting damage she’d caused me under the carpet and keep only the good parts?
None of this was on my mind the next morning, this past Sunday, when I woke up and told Carol that I just had the most wonderful dream.
“What about?” She asked.
“I was hurting someone I don’t like,” I said, with a smile. Seeing the concern on Carol’s face, I elaborated on the dream. I was being attacked, so in self-defense I restrained the attacker, but since I was particularly annoyed at him, I put a little extra pressure on him that would cause extra pain and panic, nothing serious or damaging, just creating a whole lot of discomfort in a show of dominance. I thought I explained it well enough but I felt like it went into the ‘Disturbing Comments of Jack’ file in Carol’s mind anyway.
We then got ready to go to the event in honour of Carol’s late grandmother, which has been an annual event for the past decade. I have participated in it maybe half of the time. I have a history with it, good and bad. It’s an outdoor event that requires teams. Having health difficulties related to sun exposure, it’s been a problem for me to participate, so sometimes I volunteered at the event, helping in areas that allowed me to stay indoors or under a pavilion, and other times I made plans elsewhere and kept away altogether. The event has been held at a few different places over the years.
This year, I decided to participate for the first time in several years. Carol and I were on a team together with my brother and his wife. We had a great time and Carol told me she hopes to do this kind of activity with me again and again.
“Having a better time than last year?” I asked, jokingly.
“Oh, God, last year was terrible and awkward,” Carol replied.
Last year at this time, we were separated. Carol had already signed up her team, which included Rick, long before the incident. As the date of the event approached, I teasingly asked Carol who was going to play with her now since I figured it was obvious that Rock would no longer be participating.
“Rick is still on my team,” Carol replied.
“Seriously?!” I shouted, enraged.
“I have no choice. Phil is on our team and he doesn’t know what happened, so I can’t suddenly remove his son from the team or he’ll know something’s up,” she replied.
“No, you wouldn’t want him to know that his star employee isn’t so wonderful after all. Why don’t you tell your lover to pretend he’s sick? That’s what he’s done to get you to do his work for him all these years.”
“Jennifer insists that he goes. She says he has to, that he deserves to.” Carol always side stepped around my biting remarks at that time.
“That makes no fucking sense. He cheated on her with you, and now she wants you two to hang out together? That’s fucking ridiculous. You’re ridiculous.”
“Doreen’s on my team. I’ll just stick with her.”
“Great idea. Now, can you do me a favour?”
“When you drop the kids off today, I want you to leave immediately.”
“I understand,” Carol replied.
Carol got through the day, on a team with Doreen, Phil and Rick. Doreen, her sister who knew what she did with Rick and was rightfully disgusted with her, Phil, her boss and father of Rick, and Rick, her affair partner. It was horribly awkward, made worse by me hinting that I may just come down to the event ‘to see her family’. Of course, the thought that I may confront Rick in front of her family terrified her, but even worse was that I may see Phil and start dropping hints about Carol and Rick’s extracurricular activities.
The next time I saw Carol, she had a huge cut on her face from running into some bushes during the event. I told her she looked terrible. Then, when she was back at her ‘home’ to sleep, I laughed about it, delighted that she had a miserable time and ended up with a wound that brought some of her inner ugliness to the outside.
I’ve told you before that I was often very cruel towards Carol the first month that we were separated. I am not ashamed of it and I have never apologized for it. After all that I had done and put up with as I tried to keep the marriage together, just to discover her committing the ultimate betrayal, I had every goddamn right to let off a hell of a lot of steam on Carol. And so I did.
I went off on her a lot after the event. She had allowed Rick to destroy her life, then he took a leave of absence from work, remaining at home while Carol, single and devastated, living in her parents’ basement away from her children, could not miss a day of work, and now once again had to cover for him. The illusion that he had given the slightest shit about Carol was gone, yet she still went to that event with him. It was maddening. At first I tried my best to keep communication with her about arrangements with the children only, but when she question why I was being so cold, that set me off on a rant and from then on, I no longer kept my nasty comments to myself.
It was after a few weeks of this that Carol could take no more and lashed out back at me.
“When are you going to take responsibility for your part in this?” Carol snapped.
“Responsibility? For you being a whore?” I asked.
“If you were doing what you were supposed to be doing in this marriage, this wouldn’t have happened!”
“What the fuck did you just say?!”
“This is your responsibility too!”
“Are you serious?! You stupid, fucking cunt! You’re so goddamned stupid. You deny me sex, then you tell me I’m not doing my job?! And your answer to that is fucking Rick, a fucking moron who ruined your pregnancy, you fucking nutcase?!”
“No, he didn’t.”
“Yes, he did.”
“No, he DIDN’T!”
“Do you honestly think that didn’t happen? I was there, you fucking moron! I held you while you cried all the time about what he was doing to you! What? Do you now imagine it was me who made you work double and triple shifts until you were hospitalized? You really are a fucking nutcase. You want it get nasty, fine, let’s get nasty! You’re living in a fantasy world where Rick isn’t the worse person you’ve ever met. C’mon, tell me what you really think is happening, you bitch!”
“I’m not talking about this anymore,” Carol replied. I saw the fear on her face but I ignored it.
“C’mon, let’s get nasty! You wanna go there, then let’s go there, you disgusting, fucking cunt whore!”
“No, I don’t want to go there.”
“We’re already there, bitch. This is going to get real dirty now!” I shouted as I walked away.
Later that night, Carol said she was sorry and that what she did is solely her responsibility. That is another time that I can remember crying. I was so crushed from what she did to us, to be blamed for it was an act of war as far as I was concerned and I was pumped up and ready to head into battle. When she took it back, all that rage turned into tears. We talked late into the night and from then on, the conversations became more deep again. My anger, bitterness and frustration with her were still apparent many times, but there was also understanding and friendship. We chatted a lot about life, our past, how this came to be, our dreams, and our goals.
The event in Carol’s grandmother’s memory, in a way, set off a sequence of events that brought us back together. And now here we were again this past Sunday, and, for the first time in I don’t know how many years, Carol and I were on a team together, both at the event and in our lives. We were overwriting the memory of last year’s event with a new one.
The last time I had been at this event was a few years ago, where I was a volunteer while Carol was on a team that included Phil and Rick. It was held at the same location then as it was this year. I remember it clearly. After the team portion of the event, there is a lunch, followed by speeches and prizes. When I had sat down in the pavilion to have lunch, Carol was not at my table. Next to the pavilion is a path of rocks and from inside the pavilion, one can only see the legs of people as they sat on the rock path. As I ate lunch alone, I watched the legs of Carol and Rick as they sat on the rocks for quite some time. No, nothing like that happened, not while surrounded by dozens of Carol’s family members, but Carol had already spent much of the day on a team with Rick and there was no reason for her to be out there having a deep conversation with him now and not sitting and having lunch with her husband.
“What was so important that you had to have such a long talk with Rick about?” I asked Carol, after I had finished my lunch.
“Rick was angry that his dad lost his fancy cup,” Carol said. “He was flipping out over it and I was trying to calm him down.”
“I just had lunch by myself at a completely empty table. I thought you were going to sit with me, but instead you sat over here for the last half hour. Rick’s drama with his dad isn’t your problem.”
“It is if he’s swearing and threatening to go yell at his dad. He was losing it, so we talked for a while until he could calm down.”
Carol’s relationship with Rick was always so perplexing to me. How she could even stomach being around him, I couldn’t understand. I made it no secret that I found her relationship with him inappropriate and the time she spent doing shit like this with him was unnecessary. Sure, she could be civil and friendly at work, but getting in between his family drama was too much, especially when Rick has done nothing for her but cause her grief. Because of how awful of a person Rick is, I figured that Carol would never engage in any kind of an affair with him, so although I found her friendship with him to be crossing the line, it would be insane to think it would go into that territory. I mean, you always assume the people you love have an inkling of self-respect. But these very thoughts could be played against me. Already believing that such an affair would be absurd, any suspicions I had could easily be shot down by her because I was already doing so in my own head. I was just a guy who needed to “get with the times bro, women and men can be friends”. Of course, she had to maintain a friendship with him, he was part-owner of the business. There was nothing to accuse them of but a bizarre friendship and all that made me was a jealous husband. None of it sat well with me but I couldn’t say anything. I was stuck.
It wasn’t until one of our reconciliation ‘arguments’ (which was really me interrogating and giving her a piece of my mind) that I had my say about this past moment.
“Do you understand that much of the tension in our marriage was caused by your insistence on developing a relationship with a scumbag? That you were okay with causing it? That when you’re at a family charity event and instead of sitting and eating lunch with your husband, you take off to talk with him privately?”
Carol didn’t have an answer as to why she did such things, but she knows that she did me wrong.
On Sunday, as we approached the pavilion, I saw the rock path where they sat.
“Come here,” I said to Carol. “Sit right here with me for a moment.”
I sat us down on the rocks, as close to the spot as I believed they were sitting at years ago.
“Do you love me and want to be with me? Am I your man, your one and only, the one you want to grow old with?” I asked her.
“Yes, I love you so much and you’re my man, only you. I want to spend my life with you,” Carol replied then kissed me.
After the lunch, the family members of Carol’s grandmother were asked to stand together while some words of gratitude were spoken. I chose to stand with them. I’m sure a few people may have looked at me and thought I didn’t belong, after all, even my own father-in-law didn’t stand up with the family. I stood with pride and confidence: I am part of the family and I belong.
I lost all of my grandparents before I met Carol. All of them got sick and there was time to say goodbye. When I lost my first grandmother, I was young. The last time I saw her, she said ‘hello’ to me and I could barely choke out a ‘hello’ back, shocked as I was by her appearance. All the other grandparents, I had seen at various stages of their sicknesses. There was one day that I chose not to see my other grandmother for stupid teenage reasons, which ended up being the last opportunity I had to see her. I always felt some regret over it but still, I was glad I had at least visited her a few times. One of my grandfathers was in real bad shape when I saw him last. He didn’t seem to be aware of anyone’s presence, but still, I was glad that I visited.
After we had been dating for a while, Carol told me about her grandmother. She had begun suffering from dementia at a very young age, and Carol, having difficulty coping, had never visited her since she had been moved to a long-term care home. I spoke to Carol a lot about this and, while listening and being understanding of her feelings, I encouraged her to try to visit her grandmother sometime, telling her I’d love to meet her too. She asked what the point was, since her grandma was very far gone at this point. I then told her about my experiences with my grandparents. It wasn’t until we were married and had our first child that Carol had finally worked up the strength to visit. And so we went to say hello to her grandmother, my son and I for the first time, and Carol for the first time in many years.
We visited number of times over the next year or so until the final visit, where there was no more life left in her grandmother. Her body lay in that bed in the room that was her home for many years, her spirit now free of the prison her mind had become to her. We said our goodbyes then left the room as Carol’s grandfather had a final moment with his wife, whom he was devoted to and cared for as her health deteriorated over the years. I would’ve done the same for Carol. That was my promise to her as we declared our love for each other in front of both of our families. I cannot say for certain I will be there for her in such circumstances now, not after how completely she has failed us.
Carol is glad that she went to see her grandmother in her final days. I don’t know if she remembers how many years of encouragement from me it took for her do so, but it was my work, my understanding of family, love, and regret that pushed Carol to see her, and to take me to meet her. And though her grandmother would never know me, I knew her. And though there was no awareness in her eyes, I still saw those beautiful eyes, beautiful eyes I’ll never forget as I see them on Carol’s mother, and I see them on Carol, and now I see them on my own daughter.
That woman never knew me but I loved her all the same because of who she was and what she gave to me. I stood up with the family because that’s where I belong and I know that although I don’t feel like it sometimes, Carol’s grandmother knows I’m good person who, through my love and understanding, decided to still stand at Carol’s side, to pick her up when she falls, and be her shoulder to cry on.
There were almost some tears there. Almost. Come back to me, humanity. Please come back. I know I want to touch lives in a positive way. All the friendly conversations, the love and hugs on Sunday, I know I enjoyed that. I know that I like being thought of fondly, being a person that others look forward to seeing. I don’t want to dwell on the darkness. I don’t want to be the person that hurts others, the person that other people fear or dread seeing. Once I get my feelings back fully, I will regret having been such a person.
Afterward, as Carol and I lay in bed, I told her I had a really good time and that I felt happy. ‘Happy’ doesn’t feel like the truth though. ‘Distracted’ may have been a better word. I was distracted from the fact that I feel so goddamned broken. I felt what I imagine would’ve been happiness if it weren’t for the damage that has been done to me.
Let’s really get to work undoing this damage so I can have some of that happiness.