QUICK NOTE: This story is essentially the second chapter of my attempt to turn "Sexual Healing" into a novel, re-titled and posted as a love story...there is no real sex in this story, so keep that in mind...thanks to all who have been asking about it, and thanks for reading...
Chapter 2. Failure.
There are some events in a man's life that just seem to eat away at his soul. Events that etch themselves indelibly upon us with the passage of time, like the lines that form upon our faces as the years pass. Though less visible to the naked eye, they too rob us of our youth and along with it, our youthful aspirations we once held so dear. The first such event I can recall is the failure of my first marriage. Of all the things I had been prepared for in life, failure was not one of them. It had never been an option.
My initial reaction was to want to run and hide, something I had never felt before. I kept to myself more, rarely speaking to friends and family. For the first time in my life, I withdrew inward, wallowing in my own self-doubts. The hurt and anger I had bottled up inside was something I did not know how to express. Perhaps it was because I was never really taught how. Or maybe it was some subconscious wishful thinking on my part that no one would ever find out the level of hurt and shame I was carrying deep inside. Imagine me, the kid who once reveled in the spotlight as a star high-school athlete, avoiding other people like the plague. It was a part of me I never knew. A part of me I wished I never had to meet.
Not long after Debbie and I parted ways, I moved into a fairly modest bachelor pad in a small city across the border in New Jersey. I told myself I should make an effort to get back into the dating scene and I thought moving to a more urban area might be a plus. Or maybe in the back of my mind I had hoped I'd somehow be able to lose myself amongst the crowds.
One thing I did do was to put myself more into my work. This seemed to afford me a certain amount of solace. An old friend of mine from my high school days had found me a job with a surveying company. It was a change of pace, which I sorely needed at the time, and I enjoyed the work. The pay was fairly decent and I was always an outdoors kind of guy, so things seemed to be going relatively well in that regard. Being outside during the day was something I really thought I'd appreciate, especially in the summertime.
Besides finding the work pleasant enough, I also fit in well with my co-workers. For the most part, they were a bunch of regular guys who, as they say, liked to work hard and play harder. Since we were usually sent off to a different job site on a daily basis, we were free from the boss's watchful eye. It was not unusual for the beer to start flowing before the end of the workday. We usually ended up in a local bar after the work was over, and I started to thoroughly enjoy the camaraderie of the other guys, the conversations rarely getting much deeper than a discussion of the previous nights TV sports.
Our boss Mike would sometimes meet us at the bar after work. It would be a chance for him to assess the days events as well. Mike was just a few years older than myself and had founded the company after a stint in the army. This company was his baby and he would do anything to make it work. He could be a bit obsessive about it at times, but his stubborn persistence was no doubt a key to his success. His efforts often produced tangible results and he had a vision and tenacity that earned him respect. Though he was generally amiable, he could be ruthless at times with subordinates. His own competence and quick thinking made him the type of person you didn't mind following. One could easily imagine him leading his squadron into battle back in his army days.
Mike was also an avid fisherman and owned his own boat. During the summer months, he would take the guys out on fishing trips on weekends when the weather was nice. There was always plenty of alcohol and the actual fishing always took second place to the drinking. Nobody seemed to mind, myself included. There were several of these so-called fishing trips that first summer I had worked for Mike.
More and more during this time, I found myself putting more and more of myself into my work. My efforts did not go unnoticed. I soon rose up the ranks and became Mike's assistant. Because of the amount of time we spent together, we became good friends. As a result, Mike started to invite me alone amongst his employees to go sailing with him. He was fortunate enough to own a 40 foot two mast sailing yacht built from mahogany with teak decks. It was a very beautiful craft. The scenery was always beautiful as well, and like the fishing trips there was always plenty of food and drink. What was there not to like?
One such outing I recall rather well. My boss had invited me to go sailing and he had brought along his girlfriend Nancy. I had never met Nancy before, but I was certainly aware of her existence. They had been together for some time, sharing a nice apartment in town, though Mike did not really speak of her that often.
It was a beautiful clear day when I arrived at the dock that afternoon. The sun shone brilliantly against the clear blue sky. Mike and Nancy were there to greet me, having just arrived themselves. My initial reaction was that she was a very pretty girl, a few years younger than Mike, perhaps around my age. The bright sunlight played upon her head as the highlights in her dark brown hair broke the sun's rays into a rainbow of color. Small diamond earrings glistened in each ear. She was wearing a sheer white beach cover-up over a matching white two-piece bathing suit and her shapely figure only added to her attractiveness. Though she seemed a bit reticent at first, she opened up a bit during the day. Her reticence may have just been a relative thing, since Mike could be very outgoing at times.
After the initial introductions, I offered to help Mike load the large cooler of beer he had brought with him onto the boat. Nancy carried aboard a large tote filled with sandwiches and other food items she had prepared. The plan for the day was to set sail and later dock at a point a couple of hours south of our starting point. There we would go ashore for a time and later have dinner at a nice seafood restaurant with seating right on the waterfront.
Almost immediately upon boarding, Mike opened the cooler and pulled out a beer for him and myself. As Mike handed me my beer, Nancy caste a furtive glance in our direction as she proceeded to go below deck with the food. Mike and I then proceeded to inspect the riggings and the various lines that controlled the sails. It was clear that he took the safety of the vessel very seriously and his attention to detail was reassuring. It was something that needed to be done before we got under way. My boss was far more experienced at this than myself, but I had learned a lot from the relatively brief amount of time I had spent sailing with him. I found sailing to be a very peaceful, relaxing pursuit. The day looked very promising, as it was a nice day with a steady light onshore breeze and no inclement weather. It seemed a perfect day for sailing.
As we proceeded out of the docking area, we passed the other boats lined up with their white sails rising up majestically against the deep blue sky. Colorfully dressed people tended to their craft and some would wave to us cheerfully as we made our way out to sea.
Once under way, I was mesmerized by the gentle waves as the boat road with the swells. The clear blue waters gently beat upon the brilliant white sand as the white spray would seem to almost pause in midair, catching the suns rays before coming down upon the shore below. The subtle rhythmic sounds and salty air filled my senses. Deep bays and rolling surf that crashed endlessly upon the massive rock formations captured my thoughts and put my mind at ease.
Almost as soon as we got out to sea, Mike offered me another beer. No one could say he was not a gracious host. Nancy arrived back up on deck shortly carrying a tray of snacks, mostly chips and dip and pretzels. She set the tray on a small folding table and took a seat on a red beach chair. Mike offered her a beer which she declined.
Mike and I took turns tending to the sails as Nancy looked on. The lines controlling the sails needed to be attended to regularly as the wind subtly shifted and the sails started to luff, or flap in the wind. Sailing is an art, filled with as much beauty and requiring as much skill as any other art form. The skilled sailor becomes almost one with his craft, a certain learned familiarity, like long-time lovers. It seemed to have its own rewards, a level of tranquility rarely found elsewhere, which I was quickly learning to appreciate.
As time passed, the conversation seemed to flow far better. Nancy in particular seemed to be more at ease, and Mike was his usual talkative self. It didn't hurt that my boss and I had each consumed several beers in the first couple of hours and we were each feeling the effects.
When we got to our destination I helped Mike dock the boat and secure it. Mike seemed particularly eager to get onto land and was quickly off the boat. I got off the boat next, and held out my hand to assist Nancy off.
"Thank you," she said quietly as she took my hand and stepped off the boat.
Once on land, there seemed to be a slight disagreement as to how we should proceed. Nancy wanted to walk around a bit and take in the sights while Mike wanted to go right to the restaurant. After a brief conversation, Mike won out and we made our way to the restaurant.
We were soon led outside onto a large patio overlooking the water. We were shown our table amongst the other diners, and as we took our seats Mike ordered a bottle of wine. The wine steward soon brought back the bottle along with three glasses, which were quickly filled. Mike immediately raised his glass and made a toast.
"Here's to good friends...and good wine," Mike said with a grin.
"I'll drink to that," I responded. Nancy didn't say a thing.
We all touched glasses and in short order the waiter came by and handed us menus. After we made our decisions and placed our order, the conversation resumed as before.
The setting was really quite wonderful. The boats were clearly visible from our vantage point as was much of the boardwalk. As it was approaching dusk, the lights on the boardwalk were slowly being turned on. Typical of a shore town during summer, the boardwalk was packed with both tourists and locals and there were no shortage of interesting sights to see.
"Gary, check out that red bikini over on the left," Mike said a bit loudly.
I thought the remark somewhat inappropriate, considering Nancy's presence. I noticed she didn't say a thing.
"Yes," I said somewhat awkwardly as I took another sip of wine.
Our food soon arrived and looked quite delicious. Nancy and I both ordered stuffed shrimp and Mike had some lobster dish. Fortunately, the food tasted as good as it looked. Maybe seafood just always seems to taste better when you're eating it by the water.
As dinner progressed, Mike again did most of the talking. He talked about a little of everything, from work to some plan to go on an East African safari. At times I couldn't really tell if he was dead serious, or if it was just the alcohol talking. Perhaps it really didn't matter. I added my input from time to time, but Nancy seemed to mostly nod in agreement, no matter what Mike said. Mike did like to talk.
"Yes, an East African safari would be fun," I commented. Nancy just smiled and nodded.
Looking at Nancy, I could not help but think that Mike was a very lucky guy. Perhaps I was a bit jealous. The truth was, I was afraid to start over after the failure of my first marriage, fearful of another failed relationship. I fully realized that nothing ventured, nothing gained, but yet I was somehow afraid to venture forth. More fearful than I have ever been in my boxing days in the ring. I had never been afraid of any man, yet here I was, afraid of the unknown. The courage to start over was somehow lacking, yet I had never lacked for courage. I was playing the part of the fighter agonizing over some past glories never to be recaptured, and seemingly forever out of reach. It was if I was staggering under the weight of some unreasonable expectation I could never hope to achieve, the expectation of a perfect world, where promises are never broken. Yet the reality is nothing is really promised in life. In reality, I was just setting my self up to be knocked down by wallowing in my own unexpressed grief. Setting myself up for failure.
After dinner the three of us returned to the boat and set sail. As we got under way and sailed past the shore, it was quite a scene. The lights were now illuminated on the boardwalk and the crowds of revelers were rather colorful as they bustled about, their voices and laughter could be clearly heard off in the distance. The energy and party atmosphere so typical of a weekend in a shore town was very apparent.
In contrast, the view looking out over the water was equal in spectacle but far more peaceful. As the moon climbed into the sky, the moon and sun seemed to trade places like a well-choreographed dance. The setting sun slowly dipped its golden orb into the sea lending its vivid hues to the waters below. The various shades of reds and yellows seemed to almost melt upon the shimmering surface below. As darkness gently cloaked the night sky, the meandering clouds seemed almost draped above the horizon in wisps of reflected color, as if painted on by a single brush stroke of a master artist. It was a glorious display, as only nature could provide. As beautiful a sight as was presented before me, I could not fully appreciate it. It was as if somehow the beauty of the world seemed lost on me.
Once out to sea, Mike resumed his bartending duties, making sure neither of us was without a drink for long. Mike, Nancy and myself took turns tending the lines and keeping the sails trimmed and flutter free. It was clear that Nancy was not very experienced at it, but I thought she did alright.
While Nancy attended to the sails, Mike and I stood at the rail of the boat and just drank beer and took in the view. As night time began to come upon us in earnest, we watched the sun drift below the horizon and the last of the colors drain from the mirror-like surface of the waters below. The last of the gulls passing overhead slowly disappeared, so that the loudest sounds were the gentle rustling of the waves as the boat cut silently through the water. It all seemed so peaceful, and seemed a fitting end for a pleasant day.
As beautiful as the day was, the night was equal in its beauty. The night time sky was clear and soon the light of day was replaced by a nearly full moon overhead. Stars dotted the summer sky like lights on a Christmas tree. Once again, it was very peaceful and serene as we made our way silently under the starry sky. That near silence was soon broken by a slight shift in the wind which caused the main sail to flutter quite audibly. After about a minute, Mike left my side to go over by Nancy and address the situation. I really did not pay them much mind, as I was lost in the beauty and serenity of the night sky. Moments later, Mike returned.
"I'll make a sailor out of her yet," he stated with a laugh. He handed me another beer as he spoke.
"She should be by now, hanging out with you," I replied, taking the beer.
Mike and I resumed our conversation, mostly about work and his plans to expand the company. By this point, he was getting a bit loud, but not necessarily in a bad way I thought. He was just obviously feeling good, as I was as well. After a while, I could feel the wind pick up again. My initial reaction was that the sudden cool breeze off the salt water was a refreshing change on a clear summer night. I hardly noticed that the main sail started to flutter again, but Mike apparently did. Suddenly Mike jumped up.
"She'll ruin the sails," I heard him mutter.
The events that happened next transpired so fast it was nearly a blur. I quickly turned around and heard Mike yelling at Nancy. He seemed to raise his hand as if in anger. The moment seemed so surreal, it was as if I could see his movements but cannot recall his words. Instinctively I jumped up and ran over to the two.
"What seems to be the problem?" I asked Mike pointedly. He hesitated for a moment, then dropped his hand.
"Nothing," he replied as he turned and walked away.
I looked at Nancy. She diverted her eyes for a moment, as if to hide her face. After a long pause, she looked up at me.
"Thank you," she said softly, a look of pain momentarily revealed itself upon her face. I realized she had diverted her gaze to hide the tears forming in her big, dark eyes.
It was a very awkward moment, as was the remaining time on the boat. I quickly helped myself to another beer out of the cooler and leaned against the rail looking out at the moon reflected upon the ocean. Whereas the conversation had flowed freely most of the evening, the few words that were spoken seemed carefully measured in precise increments. I couldn't wait to get off the boat that night.
The next day at work, Mike made it seem like nothing had happened.
"We had a good time this weekend, didn't we Gary?" Mike asked with a big smile.
"Yeah, we sure did," I replied somewhat awkwardly.
"We'll have to do it again soon," he started, "Nancy had a great time as well."
"It was nice meeting her," I replied, "She sure is a nice girl."
I was glad things went smoothly that day, though in the back of my mind I had a slightly uneasy feeling I could not pin down. The three of us did go out again a few times, all without incident, though that would change a few weeks later.
One evening, towards the end of the summer, Mike and I were out drinking in a local bar.
It had been a long day, and Mike joined the guys afterwards for a few beers. Him and I ended up staying later than the rest, practically closing the bar.
As the night progressed, it became apparent that Mike had become rather intoxicated, even more so than myself. Since I was the more sober of the two, which really didn't say much, I offered to drive him home. He gladly accepted.
We arrived at the apartment Mike shared with Nancy a short time later. Nancy came outside as we pulled up, apparently hearing the car approach. She stood under the porch light and gave a quick wave. Mike muttered something about seeing me in the morning, got out of the car and staggered up to the porch where Nancy was standing. Waiting just long enough to make sure Mike got in alright, I returned Nancy's wave, pulled out of the driveway and made my way home.
I arrived back at my place about fifteen minutes later. As I made my way up the steps and put my key in the door, I could hear the phone ringing in my apartment. I wondered who could be calling me at this time of night. I put down my keys on the kitchen table and answered the phone.
"Gary, please come quick," it was Nancy on the line.
"What's wrong, did something happen to Mike?" I responded, somewhat concerned.
"Gary, please, just come here quickly," there was an urgency in her voice that was unsettling.
I picked up my keys off the kitchen table and got back into my car. The drive back to Mike and Nancy's place seemed to take forever, even though it was only a short distance away. My immediate reaction was that something had happened to Mike. I knew he had a lot to drink. Perhaps he had an accident. Nancy would not say, but I could tell from the sound of her voice that something had happened.
By the time I had arrived back at their place, sweat was beading on my forehead. The light from my headlights swept across the front lawn as I pulled my car into the driveway. At the base of the steps, I could see Nancy. She was holding a bag. On the top of the steps, where Nancy had been standing previously, I could see Mike. In the light of the porch light, he appeared quite agitated.
As I stepped out of the car, Nancy ran up to me.
"Please, take me with you," she pleaded.
"What's the matter?" I asked, somewhat confused.
What are you doing here?" Mike asked somewhat angrily, stepping off the porch.
"Nancy called me and said to come right over," I responded, "Mike, are you alright?"
I was beginning to realize that Mike was alright, but I was involved in a scene I didn't want to admit was happening. Nancy ran over to my car and quickly got into the passenger seat with her bag. She rolled down the car window and shouted to me.
"Please Gary, let's get out of here."
"Mike, I really don't know what is going on. Nancy called me and said it was urgent," I explained.
Mike looked down and shook his fist, then walked back towards the front porch.
"Please Gary, lets go."
I hesitated for a moment, then got back into my car. As I started the car, Mike suddenly came running up shouting loudly.
"If you want her, you can have her!" He screamed.
Nancy was pleading with me to leave. As I started backing out of the driveway, Mike suddenly ran up to my windshield and punched it hard with his fist, almost shattering it completely in front of Nancy's face. He was shouting obscenities directed at the both of us. I hit the brake and thought for a moment about getting out of the car and punching his lights out.
"Please Gary, get out of here," Nancy pleaded emotionally.
I resumed backing the car out of the driveway and headed back out on the road. For a while I did not say a word, desperately trying to make some sense of the situation that just unfolded before my eyes. After a long silence, I turned to Nancy.
"Did he hurt you?" I asked softly.
Nancy just sat there in silence. I could tell she was trembling, but did not speak, her eyes gaze diverted. I drove to a local all-night diner and led Nancy inside. We found a table and took our seats. Over coffee, we sat in silence for some time.
I thought about how my situation with my boss had suddenly become adversarial. I thought about where I was going to work and how I would support myself. I thought about if I should leave town. Most of all I thought about Nancy. She looked so pretty sitting at the table across from me, yet there was a look of hurt that revealed itself upon her face. Nancy seemed so innocent and vulnerable, yet the reality at the time was that she was perhaps stronger than me.
I offered to help her in any way I could. We left the diner and I took her to a local hotel and paid for the room. She assured me she could get some money in the morning and that she would be alright. As I left her at the hotel, I told her she could call me any time day or night if she needed anything.
"Thank you," is all she replied.
When I got home that night, I could not sleep. I grabbed a beer out of the refrigerator and sat there quietly in the dark. After some time I was able to fall asleep, but a lot was on my mind.
Nancy called me the next day and we met for lunch. We talked for some time, but not about Mike. It seemed appropriate that the events of the past be left unspoken. We talked about where she might live, what both of us would do for employment, and just various likes and dislikes. I found her a delightful companion and started to really enjoy the time we shared.
Nancy and I both found employment not long afterwards. She found a small apartment she shared with another girl and I was able to keep the place I had. Interestingly, Nancy became even more beautiful once she was out on her own. Her reticence seemed to disappear and her expressions revealed a certain joy that had been missing during the time she lived with Mike.
I started to see Nancy on a regular basis and what started as a friendship soon became sexual. As much as I enjoyed Nancy's company however, I was not really ready to get serious. Perhaps I was afraid of getting hurt again, haunted by the failure of my marriage, I do not know. Plagued by fear of failures both real and unrealized, I just know I seemed incapable of loving another human being. In fact, I could not even love myself.
The fact of the matter is that I started drinking more during this time than I ever had. Where I should have been opening up to another human being, I remained a prisoner of my own self-imposed isolation, reveling in my own loneliness and isolation. I had become my own judge, jury and executioner. I knew nothing about grief or depression, yet I was dealing with unexpressed grief and I was clinically depressed. It was as if I deliberately decided to kill off a part of myself to make life bearable, to cut off the emotions that plagued my mind, never realizing I was cutting myself off from the positive emotions as well as the negative. That deal comes with a heavy price I could not afford to pay. I was secretly hoping that nobody could see the chinks in the invisible armor we all try to hide behind from time to time, and yet everyone could clearly see. Everyone except myself.
Frustrated by an enemy I couldn't get a handle on, my life began to spin out of control, slipping like so many grains of sand between my fingers. The extent of which became painfully obvious one autumn evening.
I had dinner with Nancy over her place that night. She had prepared a delicious meal of salmon and fresh asparagus. I had been in the habit of bringing my own liquor over to her place as she rarely drank, and that night was no exception.
After dinner, we sat for a bit and watched a movie together on TV. When it came time to leave I kissed Nancy in the front doorway and we said our goodbyes. She took my hand and told me to call her on the phone when I arrived home that night. She seemed genuinely concerned. I assured her that I would.
As I drove home that night it began to rain lightly. I watched the light from my headlights as it reflected upon the falling droplets. Instinctively I turned on my wipers, as the wiper blades passed back and forth before my eyes in a steady rhythm. I watched as the wipers pushed aside the rain drops as they cascaded down the edge of the windshield pillars and pooled at the base of the windshield. I leaned over and turned on the radio to break the monotony of the slow sweep of the wipers, hardly aware the alcohol was obscuring my own clarity of thought like drifting clouds blocking the sun.
The next sequence of events happened in a split second. Whether the roadway was just too slick or it was some human error on my part, I'll never know.
My car left the roadway in a high velocity drift, and momentarily became airborne. As the vehicle made contact with a tree, metal was shorn away opening the side of the car like the lid of a sardine can. The sounds of shattering glass crescendoed in my ears as the vehicle flipped and rolled into a ditch. When it finally came to a rest, the smell of anti-freeze wafted through the car and along with the scent of burnt rubber invaded my nostrils. The hiss of the ruptured radiator played in the background. The steam caused the heat of the cabin to rise, sweat forming on my brow filling my eyes along with the blood from my cut forehead where I hit the windshield. Broken glass littered the highway in every direction surrounding the wreckage that temporarily imprisoned my own damaged body. I was vaguely aware of the taste of my own blood in my mouth.
That is exactly how the accident occurred, except for one detail. I don't remember a thing. Not one bit of it.
I only regained conscious several hours later. First only vaguely aware of light, slowly and incrementally I became aware of my surroundings, like a newborn discovering the world for the first time. The first thing I became aware of was an IV line attached to my left hand, and a faint beeping sound every minute or so. There was an undercurrent of pain which seemed to hammer at every nerve unmercifully, every breath, every little movement revealing new damage I was not previously aware of. After a while, I was able to open my eyes, or rather my eye, as my left was bandaged as the result of a significant cut. As the anesthesia wore off, my field of vision began to increase. As the darkness of the room slowly gave way to light, I became aware of someone else in the room. It was Nancy.
My initial reaction was that I did not want her to see me like this, all broken and bloodied. I was ashamed of what I had done to myself. I suddenly tried to move, as if to get up, but the sudden pain held me in check, the grimace on my face no doubt revealing my suffering.
Nancy called the nurse and she came in with a shot of morphine to kill the pain. The shot held the pain in check and I drifted back to sleep. When I awoke, I was vaguely aware of Nancy holding my hand. The sunlight filtering through the windows played upon her hair and diamond earrings, reminding me of the first time I saw her. Her touch felt good, so very healing. I regarded her for a long moment, her eyes seemed so filled with compassion.
"Thank you," was all I could say, as I closed my eyes again.
I tired easily and laid there drifting lazily in and out of consciousness, while Nancy held my hand. She stayed with me and nursed me back to health every day of my long recuperation. It was a time that changed my life.
During this period Nancy and I had got to know each other well. We talked for hours. We laughed. We cried. But, it was the quiet moments together that seemed to mean the most. The way she held my hand like she held my heart. As we sat in silence, there seemed to be a profound communion between us. We shared a bond mere words could never convey. A bond understood only by two people whose hearts bore witness to unspeakable pain. Her quiet gaze revealing a sense of hope that was somehow missing in my life.
It was during this time we became kindred spirits. Like an angel who came into my life bearing precious gifts, she asked nothing in return, not even thanks. Yet the gift she bore was as precious as any human being could bestow upon another. The gift of a second chance, for which I am forever grateful. She showed me love at a time when I needed it most in my life. For me to not love her in return would almost seem a sin against nature.
Nancy and I were married less than three months later in a small civil ceremony surrounded by a couple of close friends and family. Nancy did more for me than anyone else in my life ever had. I vowed to myself that I would do anything I could for her.
I realized I had become so blinded by my own mental anguish, that I could not fathom the hurt she was going through. I never did really know the extent of what she went through with Mike. I never really asked, my feelings always being that it was her right to tell me if she wanted, and I would always be there to listen. The closest I ever came to understanding happened many years later. We were in a theater, watching the movie "Sleeping With The Enemy" with Julia Roberts. Suddenly she held my hand tightly. She turned to me slowly and with tears forming in her eyes, she whispered.
"It was like that. It was just like that."
Our lives together seemed filled with hope, a chance to turn to each other rather than our own grief. It seemed as if all the broken promises and false hopes were forever behind us. Never again would there be fear of failure. It just wasn't an option.