NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
I sat on the floor staring at the dying embers. The coals from the large fire I'd built earlier were coated with a fine gray ash ... as the exquisite thirty-four-year-old single malt was tinged with the same, more than faint, taste of ashes. The fire—gloriously hot with the popping, almost explosive sound of the pockets of burning resin—had been laughing at me, providing a jeering counterpoint to my pain.
Now the logs were only embers, their very soul sacrificed to provide me with a meager comfort; that sacrifice mimicking the sudden death of what I had falsely, foolishly even, believed and accepted—without question—had been a love for the ages.
Wait ... a sudden flare up of hopeful flame, flashing even as the structure of the fire collapsed, glinted off the fool's gold of the ring properly located on my third finger, left hand. I held that ring up in front of my eyes—that ring that had never left my finger in those twenty-six years of marriage. Where was the happiness so joyfully promised ... lo those many years ago? Where was the love implicit with the sliding oh so carefully onto my hand in that blessed sacrament of marriage?
With an anger I would have not believed possible six months earlier I ripped, ripped with a savage force the ring of betrayal off my cursed finger and threw it in the remains of the fire ... only to see it bounce off some hidden hard spot of what I thought had only been ashes—and roll slowly away through the wood consumed by fire, away from the dying, almost dead embers.
This was unacceptable; this I could not contemplate. My effort, a gesture really, had been refused by the Gods. I nodded, carefully, at the half empty bottle and made a heroic attempt to lower the level of that amber fluid of life. I slowly, oh so slowly, stood up, staggered to the kitchen and carefully grasped the tongs. Easing my way back to the fireplace I grasped the ring with a gentle care and dropped it into the heart of the ashes.
Like an owl wisely turning my head, this way, that way, I spied the papers lying carelessly strewn on the strips of contrasting Brazilian hardwood flooring. Ah, the papers. The papers that spelled out so carefully like that great Tammy Wynette song: D-I-V-O-R-C-E. Would that light my fire? No, no alcoholic humor now. Yes, the divorce papers would wonderfully bring light to the ashes of my life so I carefully centered them over the slight crater caused by dropping the ring in the ashes.
Yes, this was high quality paper. The fire now brightly flared. I grabbed two, four ... oh, yeah, one more of the resin filled logs and built a pyre—this is a good image, I muse; does a dead love deserve a sad funeral pyre? I carefully stack them, center them over the ring now hidden ... but not forgotten.
The heat was high now. A rhythm. A pattern. One log. Swig some scotch (such a beautiful word that, swig—to heartily, greedily even, take a big drink). Yes, I like that. Log, swig, log, swig. A nice rhythm going now. The fire a crucible for the ring as those hated D-I-V-O-R-C-E papers had proved a crucible of my love.
The embers are alive! No ash covered logs now ... a roaring, powerful heat pushing me back. A swig. Now the embers are coming to me. One here, on the hearthstone. One there—yes, that's on the carpet. The carpet glows—marches towards me with an evil glee. Another swig? Yes the last. The bottle thrown at the burning carpet, one bounce, two—the count so carefully noted—the bottle crashes. The noise of the breaking glass lost in the loud roaring of the flames. It's warm. It's hot. An idle thought—is a hot flash the same as a flash of heat?
Hot, fire, hell. Is that my destiny? To burn in the fires of hell? I laugh at the fire. I laugh at the D-I-V-O-R-C-E papers, those ashes of my life. I laugh at Jean. I laugh at each of those twenty-six years of my happy marriage. I laugh at the damn ring, hopefully laying there in a puddle of molten gold.
God, it's hot. I can't breathe. Some instinct, some primal call from an unknown ancient caveman leads me to the door ... out in that blessed coolness, out in to that icy cold snow. Loud noises—sirens blaring? A medic; am I okay? A uniform; a cop? Talking to ... me. Taking my arm. I'm in a car, smelly, dirty. The heavy aroma of vomitus permeating the air.
They take me away and now I'm here in this place of peace and they feed me, bathe me, talk to me ... I say nothing, never, not a word for months on end.
Two years later I was released. They told me I was "cured." What does that mean? Should I be happy? Should I be glad? No, cured or not I still felt nothing but sadness. I guess that's all there is to life.
TO LIVE AGAIN
It was another three years before I really knew who I was and what I was about. They told me my name was Sam Adams but it sounded rough on my tongue—like speaking a foreign language. I would sometimes stand in front of a mirror, saying the name over and over. My first trip to the store I brought some beer—I just grabbed some, didn't bother to look at the label. I laughed when I got home and put stuff away and saw the label. I was only a guy on a beer label.
I remembered all about Jean now. I had no idea why it happened but the what was forever burned into my memory from the many—altogether too many—sessions with my psychiatrist.
We'd had some problems—nothing more than any couple married over a quarter century. We started meeting with a counselor a couple times a month. Some stuff came out; hell, no one has a perfect marriage. It was mostly things related to passing the fifty-year mark and starting to question our lives and our commitment to each other. Jean would say at the therapy sessions that she felt old and used up, not attractive any more.
I think she mostly missed the kids now that they had both moved out and were doing their own things. For myself I guess I just felt tired. The sun rose looking a bit flat and washed out and the nights lasted longer than my body could lie down.
I guess our sex life was like most people our age. The spark that had made a bonfire of our early years of loving was flickering weakly by the time we sought help for our marriage. Maybe once a week at best we found time to focus on each other in a loving way. Even then it seemed at times it was more of a habit than anything else.
The guy we went to for counseling was a younger man, about thirty-five or so. I had to concede that he was good-looking. He had curly black hair and a complexion that spoke of Southern Italy. It did turn out that he was from Palermo. A Sicilian ... I might have known!
I never felt comfortable with him—somehow most of the problems seemed to be mine. He was always making googly eyes at Jean ... and she ate that shit up! If things weren't bad enough, we would go home and fight about the guy that was supposedly helping us. I should have picked up on things better when Arturo—yeah, that was the prick's name—suggested we have a few separate sessions ... once a week for each of us.
I was going in on Monday's and Jean on Tuesday's. He scheduled us at the end of the day, because, " ... that's the only time available on short notice." This went on for several weeks before I forgot my watch at one of the Monday sessions. Arturo always made us take our watches off so we could focus on our "feelings" and not what time it was.
After that session I was kinda pissed off. We always left our watches with the secretary and she would leave them on her desk when she left at five. As upset as I was, my watch was the last thing on my mind. The next day I missed it—it was a nice Rolex—so I called Janine and she said she would leave it on her desk and my wife could bring it home with her after her session that afternoon.
Jean had seemed distracted after her sessions lately so I was figuring she would probably forget the watch. It wasn't out of my way so I decided I could stop by on my way home—I was really attached to that watch. I knew Jean and Arturo would be in session but I could just grab the watch and take off. Arturo always closed the door for his sessions for privacy so there would be no interruption.
I got there to pick up the watch and I heard this keening sound. I recognized the sound immediately: it was the unique noise Jean made when she had a strong orgasm. No one ever said I was stupid; I figured out quickly what was going on. I tried the heavy oak door but it was locked.
Now I'm a big man—six-four and about 240. I'd been a heavy equipment operator all my life and now I owned a franchise in San Antonio for several major lines such as Caterpillar. Yeah, I'd gone to seed a little but not that much. A well-placed boot knocked the door in. Typically, they had a heavy-duty security door in a crap frame.
There on the couch Arturo and my wife were in a tight embrace, seemingly enjoying the down slope of relaxation after the physical exertion of sex. They looked up—stunned was the image that stuck with me.
I felt a murderous rage but I had no desire to go to prison for what I knew I could and would do to Arturo. I stared at Jean for a longish moment, letting her see my disgust and rage.
In a cold, dead voice I told her, "I'm glad to see you got more out of this counseling than I did. I'll go see Ed in the morning."
With that I turned and stalked away. I stayed at one of our construction trailers that night—we kept a cot folded up for occasional use, particularly at remote sites. The next morning I went to see Ed Terrell. Ed was my cousin but we had grown up together and had been closer than brothers. Ed wasn't a divorce lawyer but he had one on his staff.
.... There is more of this story ...