It was at that exact moment when I first thought about leaving her. I had set up a romantic getaway at San Simeon which had included a late night tour of the Castle and a candlelit dinner. Our room even had a personal hot tub. Jenny, on the other hand, had decided to choose the week-end not to talk to me at all. If I asked her a direct question about something simple like if it was raining outside, she would answer, but other than that, zilch. During the dinner, she hadn't said a word to me at all.
We were on our way back home to the valley and had reached the junction to turn onto the highway by San Luis and head east. She had looked out of the passenger side window the whole time, just like she had been doing on the way over. This was where I had swallowed my pride sixteen years before and just kept driving. Jenny left me about six months later, but not after repeating the behavior one other time after we had been looking for houses in Belle Vista all morning. We were stopped at red light after looking at a house we had both liked. She was staring out of the window again.
"I liked the patio best and the upstair rooms. I can use one for my office, you can do whatever you want with the . . . . ," that was when I then noticed that she wasn't even listening.
She suddenly turned toward me, brushed a strand of blonde hair out of her eyes and said, "Of course you do know that I don't love you anymore, Danny and never will again."
It was my second chance to do something, but once again I froze. It felt as if the ground had dropped out below me and as though I was floating in the exact center of an unfeeling universe. My throat constricted, and I felt sad enough, given a choice, to check out completely. There were other things involved, louder things, things that crashed and wailed, but I knew deep down that this was one of the moments on which the future hinged, the facing down of the monster, and instead of rushing forward sword in hand, I froze up inside, pissed my pants, let the monster bar the way, and turned a retreated with my tail between my legs. I tried to explain to her once about the freezing up inside, the inability to talk, and the feeling that every word we said in such moments contained nuclear capabilities, able to annihilate our existence as a family. I tried to explain how my older brother had watched transfixed as my parents had fought tooth and nail. She never understood. Maybe she shouldn't have; maybe it was for me to understand.
This time though I didn't waver. I knew what was coming and had Googled directions to the Greyhound station. Jenny was so lost in her thoughts she didn't even notice until I pulled up to the station and shut the car off. I opened the door, got out, and got my suitcase out of the trunk. I came back and threw the keys onto the front seat.
"What are you doing, Danny Wilson? What's this?"
"You haven't said a fucking word me this whole trip. Now you want to suddenly ask questions. I ain't driving home with you. There's the keys. I'll take my chances on the bus."
Her face went from a state of confusion to one of outrage in single moment when she realized what I was doing. " Oh so now, you want to be a big man, and show me how tough you are. Now, instead of doing..."
I cut her off. I knew from the all the arguments that we had later what she would say. "NO. Don't say a fucking word. You lost that privilege when you decided to treat me this way. I don't want to hear shit about our relationship, what you think I do wrong, nothing! You don't treat people the way you treated me this weekend."
I walked into the station, and by the time I bought the ticket, she was gone.
"Well, how did that make you feel, her being gone?"
"In truth, not that great. She was gone, and it was over, just like that. I felt better because I had made the stand. I had said what I should've said before. I just felt like I didn't deserve better. I can convince myself that when I got home, she would have been more inclined to treat me like a human being. For some reason, I believe that it was the only chance that we could have worked things out. She understood better than I did why I needed to fight back. I mean, once I had gotten past the idea that every word I wanted to say back then weighed like a ton. You're sure that this is not going to change anything, I mean, my daughters aren't going to disappear or anything like that?"
Doctor Laurel took off her glasses and laughed, "No. This was for you alone, to give you a sense of closure. Our technology allows us to recreate such moments virtually. The thought behind it is this is a process that allows people like yourself to repair psychic damage, those who suffer from some form of trauma to make some corrections. Our founder was a Japanese bio-geneticist who proved that the humans can alter their genetic make-up by doing right things and learning how to deal with traumatic situations. How do you feel about it now that you experienced your first correction?"
"It's been cathartic. I mean it felt so real, and I have been waiting to say those words ever since that day. When you've been fighting depression as long as I have, you just know when the moments were that you did the worst thing that you could have done."
"Great. It says that you have two more treatments scheduled for today."
"Well, I know of hundreds of such moments; it was a hard decision, but I believe I've picked three that were pivotal in making me into who and what I am today."
"Well, are you ready? We can start on the second one right away. Sit back and close your eyes and count backwards from ten, please." My eyes were closed and I heard the song You're Still a Young Man by Tower of Power playing. Then I heard a voice that I hadn't heard in over thirty years. It was cold and deadly and sounded like a hiss.
"Shit, you just don't seem to be listening to me, Danny. I don't exactly understand these things myself. All, I do know for sure is that I sincerely don't want to stay with you anymore."
"Sincerely, huh? Just last Friday you told me that you were in love with me, Jocelyn. Just last Friday. I haven't even seen you since that night."
I recognized the scene immediately. It was the moment right before I cried, a single tear escaping and sliding down my cheek. I knew its effect immediately. She had been talking and listening to me before, but upon seeing the tear, she swiftly checked out and after several moments, laughed to herself, opened the door, got out of the car.
We were parked and sitting around the corner from her house. We were mostly in the dark shadow of her neighbor's tall wooden fence, but the light from the street light on the opposite corner seeped through the front windshield and fell on her face. She had never been more beautiful.
Jocelyn had been lying to me about her ability to get out of the house for about a week. She had been calling me everyday for weeks and then, suddenly, every time I tried calling her she had an excuse or just didn't answer. On the night in question, I had gone to a party and when I walked up to the house, I saw her sitting in the living room talking to another guy. It was awkward as hell when I went in, and she tried to make it less awkward by saying that she needed a ride home and was just going to call me to ask me if I would take her home.
I knew better to let that tear drop. For thirty years I had practiced what I should do next. I started the car up which surprised her.
"What are you doing?" she asked as we pulled away from the curb.
"I'm taking you back where I picked you up. I know where this shit is going. I know you and how you like to get guys to fall in head-over- hills in love with you and then break their hearts. I thought about taking you outside of town and dropping you off and making you walk home in the dark, but I decided against it. That's what my friends would do, but I ain't that kind of guy. I'll take you back to Randy's and drop you off."
"Why would you fucking do something so stupid, Danny! This is insane."
"Maybe, but I know where this is headed, Joss. You're going to walk in the house, and I ain't never going to get the chance to tell that I know who you really are, and how you hurt the ones who fall in love with you to try and get back at someone else."
"That's crazy. Who exactly am I trying to get back at, Danny?"
I just shrugged, "I don't know, your drunk ass parents maybe, your step-dad, or how about that Dad you never see? Thing is I don't care. I don't want to spend the next thirty years knowing I didn't kick your ass out of my car when I had the chance. I don't want to have your ghost hanging over every relationship I'll have going forward."
I pulled up in front of house where I had picked her up. This time she was incredulous and asking herself how it was possible for someone like me to resist her.
I reached across her and opened the door.
"Danny. . . . .."
I drove off. She stood there and watched with a stunned expression. When I turned the corner it was like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
The third experience had happened a long time before. I was in the second grade in fact. My friends and I were at recess and a guy I knew named Markie Rodriguez had a taken a Popsicle stick and touched this homely looking girl with it, and we played cootie tag with the stick the rest of the period. When the bell rang, we all ran to class. I was the last one and I looked back and saw the girl, red-haired, freckled face Barbara Lewis sobbing with her head buried in her arms while she leaned up against the drainage gutter coming down from the corner of the next wing of buildings. It had been raining earlier and water was running out of the bottom of the gutter.
I instantly understood the cruelness involved. I kept watching till the teacher told me to take my seat. Years later I was hanging around with this girl Teresa who was Barbara's best friend, and I got to know Barbara one night, and discovered that she was a sweet person with a very funny personality. She was homely as ever but possessed a smile and a sense of humor that easily made one forget about her shortcomings in the looks department. I had always wanted to apologize for what happened when we were in elementary school, but never found the time or way or the courage.
I eventually quit hanging out with her friend when her friend started going out with another guy, and I never talked to Barbara after that night. A few months, later she was killed in a traffic accident on her way to junior college. Every so often, that image of her crying up against the rain gutter reappears and prevents me from truly believing that I am a decent person. I have this problem; I carry around so much guilt and shame that most times I don't feel worthy of forgiveness. A person can't function very well that way.
I didn't ask the doctor to place me back into the moment where I could have walked over and gave her hug and walked her back to class or even in the moment where I could have prevented it from happening. Our reactions to events like that are the tests that define us, mythic moments that create the bricks of our existence. Preventing it would make me seem heroic, and I wasn't shooting for heroic. I knew what. I needed most was both the remorse and the repentance.
Teresa, a slender blonde with beautiful green eyes was milling about the kitchen fussing and talking. She seemed nervous about something. We found out later, she was trying to capture the attention of this guy she had met the night before. He worked at this store on Main Street, "I'm going to run down to the store and get some more cokes. You guys stay here, and I'll be right back."
She left Barbara and I sitting there at the blue linoleum covered counter that divided the living area with its gold-green shag carpet of her apartment from the rusty red tiles of a Spanish style kitchen. Barbara was leaning up against the wall beneath a small, framed, autographed portrait of Tommy Bolin. There was an awkward silence for a moment before I asked,"How's school going, Barb?"
"I love it. It's pretty hard but kind of fun too. I'm going to be a nurse, Danny. Ain't that funny? Maybe someday you'll come into the doctor and I'll have to give you a shot." She laughed at the thought.
"How about if Mark Rodriguez came in for the shot?"
She stopped laughing immediately. "Now, why would you say that?"
I explained to her how I had seen her crying that day, and how ever since, I wanted to tell her I was sorry but never had the nerve nor the courage.
"I've so, fucking sorry, Barb. I have been so fucking sorry for such a long time, ever since I saw you there and realized how cruel it was."
She was quiet for a moment and looked at me suspiciously. She looked away and spoke in barely more than a whisper, "I hated that fucker. Mark, I mean, for the longest time. He always had it in for me and made my life miserable. It's weird. Last year I was doing some internship stuff, and he was one of the patients. He died last week all alone, all by himself. He shared the roomed with this other guy, but the guy died the day before he did. I mean it bothers me to think that the he had spent the last night of his life thinking about the death of that other guy. Mark recognized me right away, and he apologized. He confessed that he took the misery of his own life out on mine. He told me that his dad used to beat him and his mom would just sit and watch and not say anything. I can remember once seeing his dad beat the shit out of him in front of the school. It was tight after he had did that stuff with the popsicle stick. I laughed. I smiled all that day thinking that God had answered my prayers for revenge. Mark told me he came to school looking for someone to abuse and that there wasn't anything personal about it."
"You forgave him?"
"Yeah, I mean ... it hurt me a lot, but I needed to get past it. Look at me; I ain't never going to be physically beautiful. I had to learn to accept myself for who and what I was and not to define myself by someone else's judgements. I even apologized to him because I had gotten such joy from watching his dad whip him. I was visiting him when he died. And now, here we are and you say this. What? Are you wanting forgiveness too? There you got it, now what, Danny Wilson?"
"Naw. I mean I'll take all the forgiveness I can get, and I'd be glad for your forgiveness, Barb, if that's what this really is, but what I was needing more is learning how to forgive myself, and the only way I could get that was to face you and tell you I was sorry, and how you didn't deserve none of that."
She smiled a little, "Well, it would have been a lot nicer if you had done it back then."
"I know. I'm real sorry about that too."
"Well, Danny, I'm glad you resisted the urge to warn her about the wreck. It could have done a great deal of damage to the program. We have to constantly warn participants that they are not there to change the fabric of reality, or to alter fate. Barbara Lewis was destined to die in a car wreck in the fall of 1970.
"I know. I wasn't there to change her future but my own. Still."
"I know. But what would be the point of living a life if all we are going to do is edit it later. Here, we only work on unpacking trauma related issues. The great fabric of reality always weaves itself into the forms it needs to express. "
"That's nice. Hindu?"
"No. Just something I came up with on my own. Egyptian, more or less."