A new, and very old way of coping
It seemed rather late in life to be learning the truth of it.....how hard it can be to accept a dream-destroying reality.
So how does one cope with the loss of a fifty-year-old dream? What is the appropriate antidote?
On that Tuesday afternoon Elly Warren closed the kitchen drawer and reached for the ringing telephone. It was Tom Berry on the line, complaining once more that she had turned off the intercom to the guest wing.
"Some day I’m going to have a real emergency,” he laughed. “And you’ll have the intercom turned off. Just think how badly you’ll feel when that happens.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better.”
“That’s okay. I just assumed you probably had some special company, and maybe wanted a little privacy.”
“That’s not funny at all. You know very well I don’t have that kind of company.”
“At least not lately,” Tom teased. “I have a hunch there was a time when you did.”
“Exactly why are you calling?” Elly grumbled, hoping that he could hear her irritation.
“I want to talk to you.”
Tom was laughing again. “My God. Do I have to fill out a form and take a number, just to visit with you?”
“What do we have to talk about?”
“About you. And why you don’t have that special company any more.”
An instant later the line went dead. At one end of the house Tom sat staring at his handset, wondering what had caused her explosive reaction. At the other end Elly angrily threw her wireless handset across the room into the sofa. Hopefully she had made her point. There would be no more ‘Tom and Elly’ talks. Not now. Not ever.
By the time she had walked over to pick up the phone she was startled by the loud banging on the guest-wing door. “What is this about?” she asked loudly as she stalked down the hallway toward the offending noise.
Tom too was yelling to be heard from the other room. “I’m going outside, where the whole damn world can see us talking. Maybe then you’ll feel safe. I’ll be waiting for you in the driveway. Okay?”
Back in the living room Elly stepped up to the front window, watching as Tom, true to his word, maneuvered his power chair down the ramp to the driveway….where he sat waiting for her. With an exasperated sigh she walked out on the porch to ask again, “Tom. What is this about?”
“It’s about you, Elly Warren. If you’ll give me just a couple of minutes I’ll have my say and we can go back inside before the rain starts again.”
There was no mistaking the overt suspicion in her eyes as she edged down the sidewalk toward him. Stopping in front of his chair, hands on hips, she asked defiantly, ”Well?”
Her performance had Tom grinning. “I do hope that someday you’ll be able to trust me. This is getting silly.”
“I’m here, aren’t I? Now what is it you have to say?”
He looked down, fiddling for a moment with the chair’s control lever. “It’s this. The other day, when we were talking with Elaine, you said that I knew the price you had paid for making the choice you did….having me come live in your guest wing. Am I remembering that right?”
“That’s nothing for us to be talking about," Elly protested. "That's ancient history.”
“It is something for us to talk about. Because even though you’d mention how much my moving here upset Clint, I’m ashamed to say that until you told Elaine about that ‘price’ you‘d paid, I had never stopped to think about your side of that transaction....of how much it had cost you.”
He cut her off before she could continue. “Elly. I don’t have any answers right now. I just wanted you to know that I understand your situation a little better than I did before.”
Leaning back in the power chair, he flexed his shoulders. “The girls and I are working on some ideas that will give me something more to do at the funeral home. I’m pretty sure I need that, even if I won’t always admit it.”
“Yes you do.” The trace of a smile came to her lips. “I’m glad that it’s working out that way.”
“So, here’s the deal,” he said. “You know very well that I care for you.” Her smile vanished. The hint of her returning frown was enough to hurry him on. “And I know that you don’t care for me the way I hoped you could. But you did care for me in a way I hadn’t expected. I’ll always be grateful for that.
“I want you to be happy, Elly Warren. At first, when I realized that my being here was enough to send Clint running off to California, I thought that was just fine. But I can see now that it only hurt you.”
“What are you saying?”
“Just that we ought to be thinking about that unfortunate situation....and how we might address it. Don’t you agree?”
Elly stood speechless in the middle of the driveway, trying to make sense of what he was saying. Before she could compose an answer Tom had turned his power chair around and was driving up the ramp to his apartment.
It was nearly noon before Clint was ready to check out of his Fresno motel room. He had driven back from Ritter Park after his ill-fated ‘soulmate’ excursion, stopped for a quick breakfast, then walked a mile or two up the street and back. For all that while his mind was not so much occupied with thoughts, as it was dazed by the numbing awareness of a dream gone wrong.
Returning to his room he sat on the edge of the bed replaying the depressing snippets. Over and over he drew the day-dream vision of his soulmate to the front of his mind….comparing that image of Tanya Worth with the bent, gray-haired woman he had seen at the Rawlins home. Each time he berated himself with the same question. Why he had not foreseen that startling discrepancy?
At the sink for a glass of water, he caught himself staring into the mirror….pausing to study the wrinkled, sagging face that looked back at him….wondering why was he so surprised to find that his potential soulmate had aged in that same way?
He reminded himself that not once during the entire morning had Gary’s passionate objections crossed his mind. His brother’s concerns about Tanya’s husband and her family, and how they might be hurt, had played no part in Clint’s choices. His reasons had been more elementary than that. He had seen her….briefly, from afar. He had heard her voice on the phone. Those minimal impressions alone had been enough to tip the scales.
He had reached his conclusion….not because it was what he ‘ought to do,’ not to save innocent people from being hurt, not for any of the reasons Gary and Claudia had suggested. Instead he had relied on his own intuition….a subtle knowing that the present version of Tanya Worth would not fit into his life, anymore than he would fit into hers. It was a pleasing thing, to have relied on his own logic….as though his reasons were better than theirs.
By the time his few things were packed in the pickup Clint had concluded there was no need to drive all the way to Indio that afternoon. In fact he decided he would rather not. Passing on the hectic high speed of the interstate he settled instead for the slower back-road pace of Highway 99.
Tracking south through the lush farmlands and busy market towns of the Central Valley he turned on a country music station out of Bakersfield and did his best to think of nothing at all. When lingering ‘soulmate’ thoughts threatened to intrude he simply turned up the volume and sang along. The greater his distress, the louder he sang. After a comfortable three and a half hour drive he was on the northern fringes of Los Angeles.
In a cookie-cutter motel room he stretched out on the bed, relaxing away the weariness of his long day. With the consuming drowsiness came new questions....not of soulmates, but of what to do now. What came next? How could he move beyond his latest setback? Before an answer appeared he was asleep.
Not until early evening, over the remains of his fish and chips dinner, did Clint return to the morning’s events. In retrospect, the reality of his confused love thoughts emerged with a clarity that surprised him.
For as long as he could remember, even as a young soldier, he had been willing to forego the validation of his feelings for Tanya Worth….and set them aside for another time. After all, as long as that connection remained a possible option he was free to nurse his long-standing hopes of a happy ending.
Then, just days earlier, a worn little book had reignited the seductive urgency of finding her....his soulmate. In hindsight, the truth of it was so obvious. After being unceremoniously dumped in favor of Fat Tom Berry he had succumbed to the tantalizing notion of a ‘dream-in-waiting,’ wrapped with a bow, ready to be picked up at the ‘will call’ window.
Now, having learned that his future was not prepackaged and preordained, he was once again face to face with the hurtful truth of the matter. First Karen, then Elly, and now Tanya. He had checked off another possibility, and was still no closer to knowing what came next. He was absolutely alone, with no apparent way to change that reality.
Leaving the restaurant Clint paused to study the bright, flashing lights of the night club across the street. It was a tempting thought, a place to set aside disappointment, for at least one night. On second thought, he realized that he had little interest in any place that included a roomful of strangers.
Instead he walked to the strip mall next to the restaurant. There, in a cramped convenience store, he settled for his own, more intimate form of forgetting….a pint of cheap, off-brand whiskey. For the time being, if there was nothing that would ease the pain, perhaps it was better to feel nothing at all.
It had been a quiet Wednesday dinner, with conversation at a minimum while Gary watched the national newscast. The side door of the Tanner Hilton was open, allowing a cooling breeze to filter through the motor home.
For the second time in as many minutes Claudia thought she heard a noise from the patio. She started to the kitchen to get another slice of bread for Gary and there, through the side window, made her surprising discovery.
“Gary. Look at this.”
Gary looked up from his program. “What is it?”
“Come see for yourself.”
Mumbling something she could not understand Gary shuffled to the counter, where she stood pointing out the window. There on the patio, in an extended lounge chair, his brother Clint was curled up in a fetal ball, apparently asleep.
“How long has he been there?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I thought I heard something out there a bit ago. Why don’t you go ask him to come inside.”
After a last bite of chicken, Gary hurried down the steps to the concrete patio. Standing over his brother he wondered whether or not to wake him. A moment later Clint stirred, shifting positions and straightening his legs.
“Are you awake, Clint?” Gary asked. There was no reply. “Why don’t you come inside?”
There was no mistaking Clint’s grumbling response. “Just go away. Can’t you see I’m dying?”
“Are you sick? Is there something we can get for you?”
From the doorway Claudia heard her husband’s questions. Giving in to her natural caring, she was soon standing beside Gary, looking down at their still-uncommunicative visitor. This time she was the one with questions.
“Are you sick, Clint? Why don’t you come inside and lie down?”
For the first time Clint turned his head to face them….half-opening one eye to ask, “Have you got a handful of aspirin?”
“A handful?” Claudia exclaimed. “You can’t take that many.”
“It will take that many to make me well.”
From the sidelines Gary watched his wife playing nurse to his brother’s reluctant role as patient. Finally he leaned forward with his own questions. “Have you felt like this all day?” There was no answer. “Do you wish you could die?”
It was that last question that earned Claudia’s immediate complaint. “Gary. That’s a terrible thing to say. Can’t you see he’s sick. He doesn’t need that kind of talk.”
“You bet he’s sick.” Gary knelt close to Clint’s ear. “Don’t you con me, brother. What you’re feeling right now is the mother of all hangovers. Right?”
His blunt assessment brought nothing more than Clint’s long, low groan.
“I thought so.” Gary stood and draped an arm over Claudia’s shoulder. “Looks to me like your patient is suffering from a bout of barleycorn flu. From the looks of him….I’d say it’s an advanced case.”
“Gary Harris. This is nothing to joke about. He’s really sick.”
“I’m sure he is. I have some recollection of the condition and how it feels.” He paused to wonder what might have triggered his brother’s self-inflicted trauma. “I’ll see if I can get him inside.”
Suddenly there was a hint of animation in Clint’s movements. He sat up, draping his legs over the edge of the lounge chair. Holding his head, without opening his eyes, he registered his protest. “Just get me over to my place. I’ll be fine there.”
Claudia was not ready to accept that option. “There’s no need to do that.”
Rubbing his eyes Clint tried to produce a smile, an attempt that ended in failure. “Look. I could use a couple of aspirin. Then just take me home.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she repeated. “You should stay here, where we can look after you.”
He was trying to focus a hard stare in her direction, wanting to emphasize his determination. Unfortunately, his head was spinning fast enough to have him closing his eyes again.
“Look, if I stay here I’ll probably spend most of the night in your bathroom, which is really a part of your bedroom. That’s probably not such a good idea.”
Claudia started to reply, “Clint, we can ....”
“For crying out loud, brother. Will you explain it to her.”
While Gary provided a brief recital on the care and feeding of a stubborn hangover, Clint began his slow trek to the pickup. By the time he reached the passenger door Gary was ready to help him in.
“I’ll drive you over to your place, then walk back,” Gary said, taking the aspirin Claudia handed him.
By then he was trying his best to fit the disparate pieces into an understandable whole. Clint had returned without Tanya Worth. That was no surprise. But what had happened? It must surely have been more than a casual rejection that had launched him toward his present state.
A few minutes later Gary took his brother’s arm and helped him stumble toward the park model. After two or three tries to find the right key, they stepped inside, and he directed his struggling patient to the couch. “There you are. You sure you’ll be okay?”
“I’ll be fine.”
Having dispensed his aspirin Gary started to leave, then turned back. “You ready to talk about what happened?”
“Nope.” Clint pulled the lone blanket over his shoulders.
“Maybe tomorrow. Eh?”
While Gary was running his humanitarian errand, Claudia had cleared the table and washed the few dishes. Now, as he closed the screen door behind him, she was anxious to hear what he had learned. “Did he find her? What happened?”
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t say. But I’ll tell you what. He did some serious drinking to feel the way he does now. Whatever happened, it was bad, real bad. She must have really cut him down to size.”
“I didn’t know he even drank. I can’t imagine what she could have done to make him react like that.”
“I suppose we won’t know until he’s ready to talk about it.”
By the time Clint’s cell phone rang for the sixth or seventh time the jagged sound had finally registered. He groped across the floor next to the couch for his pants, and the phone strapped to his belt. "Why didn’t they give up," he muttered to himself. Most people would have quit by then. At last he pried the phone open and fumbled to find the Talk button.
“Is this really necessary?” he grumbled.
“Just wanted to be sure you’re still alive.” Gary’s voice was neither quiet nor sympathetic. “Seemed like eighteen hours of sleep should be enough.”
Clint squinted at the clock. It was one-thirty. Daylight was streaming through the window. That would make it one-thirty PM. He paused to note that for the first time in hours, the room was not spinning out of control. Hopefully the worst was over. “I think I’m going to make it,” he said. “I wasn’t so sure last night.”
Gary kept his laugh to himself. “You want to come over for some lunch?”
“Give me time to wake up and get a shower. And ask Claudia to make it something light. I’m not sure my stomach and I are on speaking terms yet.”
It took nearly an hour to set things right. When Clint finally stepped through the door of the Tanner Hilton he was famished, somewhat sociable, and profoundly apologetic.
“Claudia, I hope I didn’t make a total fool of myself last night. My brother has seen me do that before, but it’s nothing I needed to inflict on you.”
“Don’t be silly. We’re just glad you made it back. But it didn’t seem like you should have been driving at all....not in the shape you were in.”
“It’s against the law to drive when you’re drunk,” he explained. “By the time I started driving I wasn’t drunk. I was sick. It was a slow and miserable trip. I can tell you that. With more than a few road-side stops.”
From the couch, Gary sensed his brother’s reluctance to be part of a fact-finding conversation. Yet, after days of waiting, he was in no mood to be put off. Motioning Clint toward the recliner he got right to the point. “Sit down and give us your report. How did it go?”
It was Claudia who raised an objection to her husband’s aggressive insistence. “For heaven sakes, Gary. Give him a chance to eat something before you start with your questions. He needs time to relax.”
“That’s okay,” Clint laughed. “Gary has always liked to know about the juicy stuff. You watch how he sneaks a peek at the tabloids in the check-out line. Anyway, I can talk while I’m eating. I know he can’t wait much longer.”
“So....as you can see, I came back alone. I guess that says something.”
“You also came back seriously under the weather. That says something too.”
“Yeah. Well. I had kind of a rough day. One of those times when nothing seemed to go right. I guess I was trying to forget all that.”
“Did you see her?” For the first time Claudia asked her quiet question.
“Yeah,” Clint nodded. “I saw her. Saw him too ....her husband.”
“What did she say?” Gary was ready to take up the questioning. “Did she recognize you? That must have been kind of awkward.”
Clint was grinning at their edge-of-the-seat anticipation as he motioned for quiet. “Look, I don’t want to do this more than once. So please pay attention. I did see Tanya Worth. Actually, who I saw was Mrs. Rawlins and her husband. I was across the street, in the park. They never saw me.”
“You didn’t even talk to her? I thought that was the idea.”
“I called her. On the phone.”
“And? What did she say?”
“She said ‘Hello.’ That’s all. I didn’t say anything.” Clint was on his feet, pacing to the open door, staring out at the patio. Without looking back he continued, “I couldn’t talk to her. It just wasn’t right. Nothing about it was right. The lady I saw wasn’t the lady I went to see.”
“You didn’t even talk to her?” Gary repeated. “She never knew that you were there? How could you know whether or not she was your soulmate?”
“I suppose I could tell by the way all that struck me. There was nothing about it that felt the way that seeing a soulmate should feel.”
Returning to his chair, Clint was ready to end their interrogation. “That’s really all there was to it. It didn’t feel right at all. I just couldn’t do it.”
“So what now?”
“I don’t know. At first I thought it would help to get drunk.” His laugh was as sad as his smile. “All that did was make me very sick. Maybe tomorrow I’ll have time to start making sense of everything. In the meantime I don’t want to talk about it any more.”
“You did the right thing,” Claudia offered. She scooted closer to Gary and took his hand. “We’re so glad for that. There’ll be lots of time to find a better answer.”