This story only makes some sense if you've read --Previous: Becoming Wreckage and the others which are not linearly dependent.
Business trip. On Sunday night I’m in the hotel bar in Amsterdam on my second double-fermented barley wine. I have a program listing with me and when I’m not staring into space I keep filling my mind with lines of code and alcohol. Images of Anna with those people drip into any blank space I leave in my mind so I’m running as fast as I can to plug the leaks. I’m in a booth at the side of the nearly empty bar. It’s dark, and the booth deep red.
Then someone slides in opposite me and I have to work up the ambition to see who it is.
“We’re worried about you,” comes a female voice. Lila, our contracts negotiator. Guess the business part of the day is over early at 11PM. Her voice is cool and liquid. I feel my heart beating slower, not so hard when she talks to me.
I look up at her and shrug. What can I tell her without sucking her into my private hell? It wouldn’t be professional.
Business is for professionals.
She leans back in the seat and orders white wine when the waiter comes by. Lila is taller than I am by about an inch, and older by some amount I can't determine. No matter how casual the group seems to get, she always looks like she just stepped out of a salon. She wears shoulder-length auburn hair tied behind her head in a tight bun, and she dresses in bright blues and reds. When she speaks I have the feeling that she weighs the import of every word before she utters a sound.
Lila leans forward again and puts her elbows on the table. “Joe told me what happened to you the night before we left.”
“Oh?” That’s my attempt at being nonchalant. It will stop here.
“I don’t think you should try to get a divorce right away. Have you thought about a marriage counselor?”
It feels like an invasion. I don’t want any advice, but I don’t want to be rude.
“No,” I say. Then, “I don’t think we can fix it.”
She sighs and leans away for a moment when the wine comes. Then she moves forward even closer and says, nearly whispering, “Stop. Mitch. Just stop.”
She puts her hand on mine and pulls the program listing away from me.
“Nobody ever thinks they can fix anything. The first step is to stop and think. What you’re doing isn’t healthy.” Then she says, “You shouldn’t even be here.”
“Where should I be?” I ask. “In the office, working?” A confusing array of emotions clouds my mind along with the alcohol I’ve consumed. I’m angry. Her presumption to help without asking feels invasive. At the same time I want to tell her everything.
“You shouldn’t be on this trip. You should be home with your wife trying to resolve your problem.”
“What’s there to resolve? I caught her in bed…” I choke on the words and clear my throat with a swallow of the barley wine.
Lila pushes the glass away from me and then signals the waiter to bring me some water.
“There’s a resolution to everything. Litigation is the last resort.”
“Who said I’m taking legal steps?” I say.
She ignores my question and goes on. “You have to ask yourself why it happened. Did you do something? Did she do this on her own?”
“What are you saying?” Okay, so now I’m not confused anymore. I’m just mad. “Who’s fault can it be when I come home and find my wife humping some guy?”
“People do things for a lot of reasons. It’s rarely so simple.”
The water came and she pushed it toward me. I took a few swallows.
“What really happened, Mitch? You don’t have to tell me, but I’m here now.”
Business is for people who don’t blab their private issues to any pretty face that sits down.
Now I’m frozen. “What do you mean?”
“You tell me. What really happened?” She stares into my eyes and it becomes uncomfortable to look at her. I scan the bar, then stare at the table in front of me. Why do I have to be lying? She’s just presuming. She doesn’t know anything.
“How old are you?” she asked. Even though I had no idea what that had to do with anything, I answered her.
“And your wife…”
“Anna’s twenty-seven, too.”
“You guys are young. Young people do adventurous things. It’s not always fatal.”
The anger subsides under a tiny wave of embarrassment. Am I really that transparent? “Are you sure you want to hear this?”
“I’m here,” she said.
Business is probably not for people like me.
So I explain. What I told Joe was a smoke screen. I didn't come home to find Anna in bed with another guy. So then there's everything.
She listens dispassionately, never once showing a sign of shock or amusement, never once taking her eyes off me. When I’m finished my voice is shaky and I feel a bead of sweat on my forehead. I swipe at it with a shaking hand. There’s a long pause.
She says, “That’s quite a story.”
Yeah. No shit.
“I’ve heard worse,” she offers. Then she purses her lips and furrows her brows. “I have two reactions and I’m going to share them both with you even though I know you’re not going to like either one.”
Damn. Now it’s all going to be my fault. Right? Now it’s out and she isn’t going to be sympathetic.
“My first reaction is as a professional and my second is as a human being.”
“Go ahead,” I say, staring at the table in front of me, bracing for the impact of her words.
“As a lawyer I’d say you have a good case for irreconcilable differences, but neither of you has the upper hand. Any lawyer you see is going to tell you two to calm down and resolve your differences outside of court. If you still feel like a divorce after a year, you’ll split the property equally and move along. It will be simple. There are no kids, and your assets aren’t worth a lawyer’s time to fight over.”
I want to tell her that I’d never been thinking seriously of a divorce but she won’t let me jump in.
“And as a human being—as a woman—I think you need a good kick in the pants.”
“What?” That’s what I get for sharing my personal issues with someone from work. I’m the one who had been wronged. Didn’t I come from a grueling day at work to find my wife in a veritable orgy?
“Your wife didn’t leave you for another man, Mitch. This isn’t about betrayal. This is about misunderstanding. Despite all the talking you say you do there’s little to no communication. You’ve been married for what—three, four years?”
“We took vows,” is all I can say. “I promised her I’d be faithful. I have been faithful.”
“So has she,” Lila says. A woman taking the woman’s side. It’s all sexual politics. They’re like an army. What the hell was I expecting?
She says, “Unless there’s something else you haven’t told me, it’s obvious, she doesn’t love anyone but you. When she took the wedding vows to be faithful she had every intention of following them just like you did. And I’d say that up to last week, both of you had been sexually monogamous. But then she got the impression you were willing to relax one of the commitments and she gave you the same slack. Neither of you ever planned to stop loving each other, and she’s probably devastated you took it that way.
“Look at me, Mitch,” she commands, and I realize I’m staring at the rug beside the booth. I’m shutting down and she won’t let me. Fine. I stare into her eyes and she says without blinking, “Your reaction to the situation is your problem, and I know you don’t want to hear this, but you’re the one who behaved inappropriately. The communication gap lit the match, but you could have put the fire out. Instead, you threw gasoline on it.”
“So this is all my fault?” I growl. When you're tired, anger comes out like you're sitting on an uncomfortable mattress. “I don’t get your logic. I’m not the one out sleeping with two or three people at once. All I do is my goddamned work to try to make a living. I don’t even look at other women.”
“It’s not about that. Your situation is about the two of you coming to an understanding about your lives together. This is about the changes you have to make when you get married to someone. Sometimes it’s frightening. You know what causes most divorces?”
“Money,” I quip.
“Fear,” she says. “Money is just the catalyst. In the end it’s fear. Fear one spouse is going to stop loving the other, that the way of life is going to deteriorate, that they’re getting too old to do anything anymore.”
I sit staring at the table, my hands shaking. She’s amplified the emotions I was working hard to subdue, and now they’re coming to me stroboscopically. Anger. Sorrow. Hate. One by one each feeling succeeded the other until I felt like a broken kids’ toy.
Lila pulls herself out of the seat.
“You’re going home tomorrow,” she says. It’s not a suggestion. It’s an order.
I look at her. “Why? Aren’t I doing a good enough job?”
“You’re doing a great job. If you don’t resolve this issue you’re going to wind up with bigger problems and we’re going to lose you. Rosenberg wants you to go home and take the next week off. My advice is you go back to your wife. Get help. Find a good marriage counselor. Get the resolution started.
“Your tickets will be at the front desk when you check out in the morning. You’re on the eight AM flight back.”
She stands next to me and touches my shoulder. Why did they pick her to talk to me?
“You’re not mad at your wife, Mitch. You’re terrified at the changes she’s brought into your life.”
“I’m not afraid,” I say.
“Don’t go into denial. You’re not that good a liar.”
“Right. You guys know everything.”
“I don't know how to be any clearer, but I'm going to say this off the record: If you want a completely monogamous relationship there isn’t a court in the land that will fault you. If it comes to that the divorce will be simple. I think going that route is a big mistake. I don’t envy you, Mitch, because it's going to be very hard. But trust me, eventually you have to forgive your wife or this will haunt you for the rest of your life. And more importantly, first you have to forgive yourself, and that’s not going to be easy. You don’t realize it, but the person you’re most angry at right now is you.”
I stare at her and search for something to say. It will be useless to tell her the analysis was off base. She didn’t know the half of what I felt. I want the lecture to end. I nod. Maybe if I agree she’ll just go away.
“Fine,” I say, raising my palms.
“What you did, while somewhat immature, isn’t all that abnormal. Unfortunately, it’s standard male reaction to fear. I see it all the time.”
“Gee, thanks,” I say.
She smiles and says, “You’re welcome. You’ll get the bill next week.” Then she’s gone.
“We were up late one night and Mitch was kind of drunk. He told us that being in love with Anna was like drinking nitroglycerine. They kept daring each other to go further and further until they realized they couldn't make the slightest move for fear of blowing everything up.”
--- Tina Nelson, Limnologist, Los Angeles Times interview 2002
In Amsterdam I board the 747 absolutely convinced I’ll need to begin a process that will terminate my marriage. The company travel agency made hotel reservations for me at the airport back home. I would not go to the house under any circumstances. Anna would hear from me by mail. A ratty looking guy would hand her a trifold of paper and say something blunt.
Anna Dale, consider yourself served.
Mitchell Dale, consider yourself a total jerk.
And then it hits me somewhere over Greenland. Fatigue. I pass out, or not. Suddenly she's crawling around in my head again. Maybe I’ve fallen asleep. Maybe I died like I wanted to.
The pilot banks the plane and tells us to look out the right side windows and that’s where I’m sitting, right side, face against the lucite as the horizon rises and the white and brown fills my view. Below us is a barren tract of ice and rock. It’s a fairy tale. Nothing of it maps. Except in dreams, I’ve never seen anything like it. The brilliant white snow and ice was traversed in deep fractures and made the jagged rock outcroppings seem like coal. Polygonal rafts of ice floated on a blue-green sea like broken glass. I wondered what lived there—could anything live in that treacherous waste?
It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. And suddenly I can’t see anything but white and there’s Anna. Suddenly, there I am floating in that white nothingness, the blank land of the never born, the city of souls who have no experience upon which to create their world.
We’re sitting in a conference room like the ones we have at the office. The walls are white, the conference table is white, chairs white, white light from the ceiling, white phone on the table, white coffee cups filled with nothing. And I’m sitting in one of the chairs dressed in white. Anna in a flowing white gown. Only my hands add color to the scene.
Then Anna’s brown eyes. Now I know why they’re brown. It’s how she’s seen in all this nothingness. They’re creativity in the dearth of imagination.
She strolls around the perimeter of the table, running her hand along the backs of the chairs, singing to herself. Her hair falls to her shoulders and obscures her face as she cocks her head first to one side, then another.
I feel her finger draw a line across my back as she passes behind me.
“Annie,” I say, perturbed. “We’re wasting time.”
She ignores me, continues strolling until I call her a second, then a third time.
“What's the rush?” she says when she stops. Her brown eyes occupy the only finite space in the white. I can’t look away.
There’s a speech in my head. I’ve been writing it since I left her in the hotel. By now it’s ninety pages long and contains long illustrative passages about my pain, what she did to me, how deeply I’m hurt. There’s no way to recite it now. It’s as if the pages are blowing away.
She says, “I can’t make you do anything, Rocco. What are you trying to do to me?”
“I just want you to act normal,” I blurt without thinking.
“Stop trying so hard. Tell me what normal is.”
“Normal is not--it's--you should stop…” What? She should stop, what? Fucking everyone in sight? Had she ever done that before? Just what is it I’m trying to say?
She takes a step toward me and lowers her chin, brown eyes burning from under her brow. “I am whatever you want. Don't you see? Don’t be so afraid. Nothing can hurt you. Not even me.”
I tell her I’m not afraid. I complain. I struggle right up until the time she moves toward me in smooth feline gestures, kisses me and something inside me I hadn’t felt before collapses. A huge glass building cracks and shatters and I realize I’ve been staring at it to see my own reflection. What insanity made me build it? Could I have been that scared? Did I think I could build a reflection better than me?
Nobody deserves to be loved so much. She should leave me to be eaten by my own monsters. But she won’t. Why doesn’t she walk away?
And then I’m awake in the plane with a strange tightness in my gut and my throat closing. I hide my face in my hands and try not to move though my body is shaking. I can’t stop. I wince and feel the drops slide down my cheekbones, breathe in gulps, try not to vocalize the groan that wants to come up from my chest.
I can’t remember when I’d felt this way before. Out of control. I want to stand up and apologize to everyone in the plane. This never happened to me before. I must be a real spectacle.
I’m so sorry. Sorry if I’m screwing up your plane trip. Don’t pay any attention to me.
It’s just—see, I'm not used to this. Weird, isn’t it? It’s one of those male things. We don’t allow ourselves to cry, usually, so when it happens it’s a total disaster. Pretend I’m not here.
I’m so sorry. Really sorry. I’m really sorry you have to see this.
Oh God, Annie. I’m so sorry.
When the plane lands I take the shuttle to the hotel. Going home isn’t a consideration. Not after being so wrong and being so away for so long. No calls. When you’ve been avoiding someone the inertia takes over and it takes a massive amount of energy to start again.
I’ll just stop eating and drinking. When I’m closer to dying, I might be able to overcome this force, this ego that stops me from going back and pleading, begging, damn, if I’m not strong she’ll never take me back but when I’m strong I can’t go. Can’t move.
Pick up the goddamned phone.
I’m sitting on the bed in the room. Suitbag on the floor. Stuff from my pockets on the night table, receipts, ticket stubs, paper clips. Will you just pick up the phone?
Call, you goddamned spineless protoplasmic excuse for human life.
I pick up the phone and dial. What the hell am I going to say if she answers? What am I going to say? Hey honey, I’m back? What’s for goddamned dinner?
She should carry a kitchen knife. Arm herself. Strike as soon as she gets a whiff of me.
Thank god it’s the answering machine. When it beeps I inhale to speak but nothing comes out. I’m not even breathing, just silent. Hang up.
I pull the pillow over my head and stare at the dark for a while. When I get up again the red light on the phone is blinking. A message.
Front desk: “Someone left an envelope at the front desk for you, Mr. Dale.”
“Who?” I say, figuring the office guys have tracked me down. They couldn’t keep their hands off for one entire day.
Business is for people who whip nearly dead dogs.
“I don’t know, sir. I wasn’t here when it was left.”
At the front desk I pick up the envelope, something heavy’s inside, wrapped in paper. The paper has writing. Handwritten words.
My wedding ring falls like a shard of broken starlight. It rolls across the carpet.
I don’t need this.
You son of a bitch. When I leave this time you won’t ever find me.
So the next part of the story is My Flying Horse if you want to read the more of it.