Copyright© 2012 by Robert McKay
As the week went by I began to realize that Tyrone's idea to mostly listen while I mostly talked wasn't as pointless as I might have thought. Just talking about these things was helping me. I hadn't had anyone to talk to about it all. I'd tried and tried to talk to Frank, and he hadn't wanted to listen, and my friends had all withdrawn from me after it came out that I'd been an adulteress.
No, that wasn't quite true. Yes, some of my friends at least had turned a cold shoulder in my direction. But had I called on them when I first fell into the slough of despond? Had I given them a chance to hold me, to cry with me, to comfort me, to reprove and chastise me, to lead me back into God's peace? I had to admit that I hadn't. I'd been so sunk in despair and pain, and in anger toward Frank, that I'd ignored my friends. It was true that refusing to have anything to do with me was wrong. But it was also true that I'd given them grounds to think I wanted nothing to do with them.
If I hadn't been pouring my heart out to Tyrone, if I hadn't been finally talking to someone about the things that had led me to attempt suicide, I wouldn't have been able to think so clearly about what I'd done to my friendships. I would have continued to blame others for everything. It was true that others had blame to shoulder – but it was also true that I wasn't blameless. I'd sinned against my husband, and then in the aftermath I'd sinned against my friends too.
By Wednesday I couldn't let that go any longer. While Frank was at work I sat down at the dining room table with my address book and a writing tablet, and a box of envelopes. I'd bought the paper and envelopes at a stationery store on Menaul. I didn't know the neighborhood in which we'd lived for so long, for I'd been a hermit for months on end, so I'd gone out that morning, driving west on Menaul, and not seeing a grocery store I'd pulled into the Hoffmantown Shopping Center, and found the store there.
I began on the first page of the address book. I decided that I would write just to my true friends – not mere acquaintances or people who'd been members of the church, but those people whom I could have turned to without fear, if I'd only chosen to do so. I wrote all afternoon. My hand began to cramp, but I pressed on. I spotted most of the letters with a few tears, but I didn't discard the paper – they were honest tears.
Each letter was individual, not a copy of some form I'd written out beforehand. But in each one I admitted my sin against my husband, and my sin against that particular friend, and asked for forgiveness. And when I was done, all the envelopes sealed and needing only stamps to go out into the mail, I realized that a burden had lifted from me. I hadn't sent the letters yet, and theoretically I could throw them all the in the trash and never send them – though I wouldn't do that – but just writing them had been a relief. And I realized, or began to, that confession isn't something that God requires for His benefit, but for ours. After all, He is God, declaring the end from the beginning – indeed, He Himself is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. So when I confessed my sin to my husband, or to my friends, and to God, He wasn't learning something He had previously been unaware of. But in confessing I allowed Him to carry my guilt, to bear my burden, and to relieve me of anxiety and pain.
It wasn't over. My marriage was still in grave danger, and I knew that every one of the people to whom I'd written might see that the letter was from me, and spit upon it and burn it in an act of scorn. But I had done something that was necessary, and that helped me to gain a little better appreciation of life. And I was just that step further away from the despairing, defeated creature who had deliberately swallowed pills hoping never to wake up.
The old proverb – Chinese, or so they say – tells us that no matter how long the journey, it begins with just one step. I didn't know how many steps were before me. But I knew that at least one was now behind me, and I had started on the journey I must make if I were to save my marriage and my life.
Frank's second session with Tyrone was as productive, or unproductive, as the first, to judge by appearances. He was as civil, and as rigid, as he'd been after the first one – no more, and no less. We were still very tentative with one another. It wasn't much, but it was, to be honest, more than I'd expected or hoped for this soon.
I burned with curiosity. I wanted to ask Frank what he and Tyrone talked about. But I knew that just as I wasn't ready to tell Frank what I let out in my sessions, so he probably wasn't ready to tell me either. Right now being able to tell just one person – one person who had no emotional attachment to me and no emotional reaction to what I said – was paramount in my recovery. And I had to give Frank the same respect that I wanted for myself.
But it was hard. I wanted so much to know what he was learning, so that I could respond to that. I wanted to know what weaknesses he revealed, so I could target those – yes, I was imperfect in my desire to know. I wanted to know what strengths came out, for I desperately needed to lean on my husband as I hadn't been able to for nearly a year. It was very difficult keeping my tongue in my head.
But I knew that I couldn't possibly discuss my sessions with Frank yet, and it would be dangerous – not to mention rude and unkind – to ask him to do so. We were barely holding on. Every interaction was fragile. His coldness was melting, albeit slowly – and melting ice is subject to sudden shatterings. In my transition from despair to whatever I was becoming, I knew that I was emotionally unstable, liable to fly off the handle or fly to pieces, and there was no telling which it would be. I was maintaining an outward calm by utmost effort, and I couldn't believe that it was much if any easier for Frank.
So when he came home that Saturday, I merely had food waiting for him, and sat across the table drinking coffee while he ate. And when he was done, he thanked me, quietly, and got up and went out into the back yard. And what he thought in that long evening sitting in a chair, I didn't know.
The next Monday, I began by telling Tyrone about the letters I'd sent to my friends.
"Have you received any responses yet?"
"No, not yet." I realized what we were implying. "Do you think I'll receive any?"
"You seem to think so." He'd picked up on the implications of yet as surely as I had.
"Yes, I do," I said with a smile. "I hadn't realized it, but I do. And I have to admit that even if it's an angry response, it'll be better than none at all."
"Fire is better than ice."
"Oh, it's infinitely preferable." I shook my head at that sentence, so like Frank's love of big words.
"So you've said, though in a different context."
"Yes. I would rather that Frank berate me than treat me like a slug."
"And you're hoping that your friends, if they can't continue the friendship, will at least express their anger."
"Is this the shrink question?"
"No – though I guess it sounds like it, doesn't it?" He smiled a little. "No, I'm not trying to get you to do my work for me. I'm asking because I want to know. Why would you rather receive an angry response than none at all?"
I thought about it, and was, I thought, better able to articulate now something I'd said before about Frank. "If they ignore me, or treat me coldly, they're refusing to acknowledge me. They're denying that I hurt too. They're saying that I'm less important than they are, because their pain is more real than mine. If they are angry, they're at least acknowledging me, rather than treating me like furniture."
Tyrone nodded, leaning far back in his chair. "Do you mind if I say something about being black? I think it's relevant."
"I have a friend in this church – we've been friends, actually, for nearly 20 years. I first met her when she was just a girl. She says, sometimes, 'My great-grandfather was a slave.' And he was, too.
"I don't know my family that far back. I assume my great-grandfather was a slave, because I am the descendant of slaves. But I know nothing about anyone beyond my grandparents.
"Slavery meant many things, of course. But there was one thing that it meant to both owners and slaves – property. A slave was property." He reached out to his desk, and unerringly picked up a stone paperweight that was there, though I'd have sworn his eyes were closed. "This rock is property. I can keep it or sell it. I can put it on a shelf out of view, or I can display it. I can use it as I wish, or I can set it aside and never use it. I can throw it in the trash if I wish. It's my property. And that's what a slave is."
Now he opened his eyes and looked directly at me. "Property is a thing, an object. My ancestors enduring having people treat them like things. And when your husband was so cold to you, or if your friends respond coldly to you, they'll be treating you like a thing."
"Exactly..." I said, my voice almost merely my breath.
"There is a reason why I've mostly listened – more than one, actually. But there's one which I'm going to tell you now. I fully intend to tell you what I think when the time arrives. But by simply listening, and letting you talk, I'm allowing you to work things out for yourself. No, I'm not asking you for both the diagnosis and the cure. But I've learned that a lot of times the solution to human difficulties is simply working them out – and that many times we don't do that, but just cram everything down inside."
"And I've been doing that?"
"I can't tell you for certain. But I know people. I've been preaching for a long time. And if you haven't been doing that, I'll be surprised."
I nodded, almost to myself. I knew, though, that Tyrone saw it – I had learned that no matter how little he seemed to be paying attention, he heard and saw everything.
And then Tyrone went right back to where we'd left off, with that amazing memory of his. It must have been memory, for I'd never seen him make notes. He said, "Living with Frank while he treated you like a thing has been hard on you."
I nearly choked as a sob tried to come out. "It's been agony."
"What is the one word you would use to describe what you've wanted from him?"
I thought for a minute or two. I discarded love and compassion and words of that nature. I thought about anger and set it aside – when I'd tried to antagonize Frank it hadn't been the anger itself, but something else, that I'd needed. Finally a word came to me: "Recognition."
"You wanted him to treat you like a person."
"Yes." The energy – almost the fury – in the single word shocked me.
It must have caught Tyrone's attention too. "You are angry."
"The lack of recognition has hurt you, and that hurt has turned to rage."
My voice sounded foreign to me, almost like the growl of an animal. "Yes, oh yes."
"And you turned that on yourself..." I don't think he was really talking to me, just thinking aloud for a moment. After a bit he said, "How do you think your husband has felt?"
"Tyrone, I don't know. But I know how I felt, how I feel. If I could I would kick him in the—" I broke off the sentence, shocked that I'd almost used a vulgarity that literally had never passed my lips.
Tyrone smiled slightly. "That does hurt us, doesn't it? My wife tells me that it's possible to produce similar agony in a woman, though in her experience women don't think in such terms. We men tend to characterize great emotional pain as being like a kick ... there. Women, Pat says, tend to speak of it as their heart being ripped out, or something like that." I realized that in this session he was talking more than he'd done previously. "I can't quarrel with her image – I know when I've suffered hurt it's felt like that. But I understand why you'd express your anger in that way. I too have that vulnerability."
I sat quietly. I thought of what I'd said, and knew it was something no wife ought to ever wish to do to her husband. "Tyrone," I said, "what kind of woman wants to kick her husband in the crotch?"
"A woman who has suffered great hurt, and either rightly or wrong thinks her husband has caused it – and wishes to pay him back."
"But that's not how a wife ought to be!"
"No." He drew in a breath. "I'm probably going to offend you with this, but bear with me, and we'll make use of it. Genesis, another way a wife ought never to be, is someone who commits adultery."
Before I knew it I was out of my chair and standing at his office window, looking across Menaul. There was a shopping center there, and the Subway right by the road and the Denny's on the corner – and above it all the rugged crest of the Sandia Mountains. I clenched my teeth in anger and whirled to face Tyrone. "How dare you say that!"
His eyes opened and he said mildly, "You dared do it, my sister."
The anger went out of me like wind from a broken balloon. I felt my legs giving way, and I slid down the wall and sat on the floor. "Yes..."
"We have all done things we ought never to do. You committed adultery, and have wished to kick your husband where it would give him the most excruciating pain a man can imagine. I have ... well, perhaps we'll talk about that later. Let's just say that I have things in my past of which I'm ashamed, and of which I've repented in tears. Pat I know has had to repent of some things. Everyone does wrong, sometime."
"What's the cure, Tyrone?"
"What's the cure for any sin, Genesis?" His voice was exceedingly gentle now.
"Exactly. Genesis, I've been assuming that you're a Christian. Now I don't assume lightly, but under the circumstances I've done it, rather than question your profession. But I ask you directly now, do you trust the Lord Jesus, and only Him, as your Savior and Lord?"
"Yes. I have since I was eight years old."
"Then you know that Christ is the answer, it's not just a response you give because you're supposed to." He leaned forward in his chair, looking into my eyes now. "I'm going to give you an assignment, my dear sister. I want you, during this next week, to take that rage against your husband, and give it to the Lord. I don't know whether you have any meditation techniques you use – I don't, but some find them helpful. One that might help you I know about from Pat. Imagine your anger as a ball of some sort, perhaps a ball of fire. And picture yourself taking that burning, hateful ball, and placing it in the hands of the Almighty God.