Chapter 6 – Jade

All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name.

                                                                               Andre Breton

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                  Of the three siblings, Sam had always been there and, it seemed, always would be.  His beliefs were founded in those things that he had heard most often and that were told with the greatest conviction.  Before his mother died, he had talked of moving south to some place warmer but, after her death, it looked like he had just been fantasizing his escape from the slavery she had trapped him in.  He was born in handcuffs and found the key to release them as he laid his mother in her grave but was hesitant to use them.

Jade, on the other hand, came late to the family and left early.

When Jade met Walter, she had a confused reaction. She was trying to be a good person but felt that she was not and was in a constant, internal struggle against the disgust that she felt for herself and longing for the love that she naturally needed.  What Jade saw, in his face, was something that she had never seen before and it made her happy until she began to fear it.

“Please find Dad and tell him I love him and miss him.  I have not fucked up anything he ever cared for me to play.  I want you to find his address and phone number.  I want to call or write him; please help me I will do anything for you.  I will pay you anything when I get a job. Please help me.  I really love Dad and God.  He makes me feel guilty. I hate mean people.  Jade is an asshole.  Jade is stupid.  Jade is ugly.  Jade has to masturbate because everyone thinks she’s too ugly and sick.  No one has touched her in a month because they might catch her ugly disease.  I’m stupid, remember?  Sorry.  He tries to fuck their brains up.”

Walter had just finished reading, for the fifth time, the words of a twenty-one year old girl.  It was one of Jade’s letters to Mara that she’d had kept from when they were much younger.  He had talked to the sisters and neither one remembered writing or reading these words; neither one remembered the pain reflected there.  If he showed them the letters, handed the pages to them, they would just glance at the paper then refold it and put it away.  The words, the envelopes, the traces are there, filed and boxed and kept available for him to read but not for the girls.

“Thanks for the memories,” Walter thought.

Jade is a couple of years older than her sister Mara, and came to be when her mother, Truc, and father, Jürgen, paired in Vietnam in the late ‘60s.  Back then, her young father was lonely, scared of being killed, and horny when he’d met Jade’s mother.  Her even younger mother was lonely, hoping to escape the war, and horny when she’d met the man who would become Jade’s biological father.  To her father, her mother had smelled like fish but was a tight little bundle of sex; his LBFM as he used to say to the other soldiers – little brown fucking machine.  To her mother, her father had smelled like a cow and, while not gentle, he was the size of most Vietnamese men and vigorous and knew of her wish for a better life than the one she had.  Mother thought of him as a water buffalo.  Somehow, for about three months, their relationship had worked.  As often happened, the unborn Jade and her mother stayed behind when her father left their country at the end of his twelve-month tour.  So, Jade was labeled Amerasian, a “half-breed dog,” and began her life shunned by most of the adults around her and most of the children, too, once their parents were done imprinting them.  Jade couldn’t know why her father had abandoned her but she often fantasized that he just didn’t know how to find her or that he’d been killed in combat.  To the contrary, he’d done everything he could to make certain her mother and, by extension, his unborn child, wouldn’t know how to find him, and he’d held a desk job in Saigon on one of the most protected bases with no exposure to combat; he’d abandoned them due to the qualities of his character in the start of a pattern he would continue throughout his life.

It wasn’t until six years later, when the protective man Bao, who had become her step-father, had accumulated enough money to buy the family’s way out of the country, that her mother finally felt her dreams were coming true and little Jade dared dream that she might find her real father.  Her stepfather was a fabric salesman in Saigon and found life too difficult in the harsh years after the war.  He had found, as had many, a fisherman on the coast who promised safe passage out of the country.  It took them three days to gather some meager possessions, along with all their gold, and travel to Vung Tau where they boarded the boat along with thirty others hoping for happiness. Being on the water for ten days proved to be too much for Truc, who died from the flu and dehydration and was ungracefully pushed overboard into the sea one day before the sky rained down fresh water on the survivors as they touched land in Indonesia.  For months, Jade and her stepfather struggled in the immigration camp until they were finally relocated to America.

The Universe does work in surprising ways: Bao and Jade were resettled in Michigan, in the very town where the father who had abandoned her now lived with his U.S. wife, daughter and son.  One day, a car came across the good man who’d protected Jade in her early years, and tossed him fifty feet after striking him as he crossed 28th Street in the early morning hours on his way to his shift at the factory.  At about that same time, Mara and Sam’s mother came across the letter that Jade’s father had failed to destroy, that sought the answers and made certain things clear.  Through Child Protective Services, she tracked down Jade and brought her into their home to be raised as one of her own.  It could have been what he was confronted with when looking at his oldest daughter, now living with him, that caused the last crack in his psyche or it could have been just the way he was put together but history repeated itself and within a few years after Jade’s arrival, their father walked out on the family leaving them in poverty.  With his leaving, one-half of the verbal violence also left, most of the physical threats departed, and all of the inappropriate sexual innuendo was gone.  He left their home but remained in the same town, coming back into their lives when the need was there for him.

Walter always smiled when he thought of how Jade introduced her family.  About Sam, Jade liked to say, “He’s my brother from another mother;” and when introducing Mara she’d just call her “My twin sister.”

Walter heard of Jade shortly after he started seeing Mara when Jade and her husband drove to Michigan to spend the 4th of July with the family at Sam’s cottage on Pickerel Lake.  At that time, it seemed that Mara didn’t really like her sister.  Walter didn’t spend time with them, that holiday, but he was at Mara’s the same week and heard the stories about the drama at the cottage and how Jade’s husband had been critical of Mara and how their mother had gotten into it with him and he and Jade had departed a few days ahead of schedule because of the tension. Mara continued to tell him stories about Jade, over the next year, and it made feel wary but also made him smile. The next year, after the death of their mother, in a replay that would become tradition until Jade’s marriage ended, the couple drove to the cottage for the summer holiday, bringing potato chips and Hostess Cupcakes with them.   That was the first time that Walter met Jade.

“Be sure to call about a half hour before you get here,” Mara had instructed.

“How come?” Walter had asked.  He was bringing Mara’s friend Kara, who was Jade’s age and had been her close friend in high school.

“Jade wants to make sure she has time to fix herself before you two get here.”

That made him smile.

“Whatever she thought needed fixing got fixed,” he thought when he first saw her.  She was petite with pale, flawless skin, stood straight and proud, and had a bit of a boyish figure, athletic, with broad shoulders for one so small.  He remembered thinking how she had one of the cutest butts he’d ever seen, standing there with her clothes on.  The only time he ever saw it naked was in his dreams.

That first day, when he met her, the women were gathered around the dining table and Walter was sitting there, the only male figure in the room, and Jade was telling a story, entertaining the other women.

“We all know what it’s like to be disappointed by a limp dick!” said Jade and, with a smile on her face, she looked over at Walter.

He didn’t know if she had looked at him like that because of his failure to butt fuck her sister; he knew that sisters could talk, or if she was judging whether he found her words to be inappropriate for a first meeting, but he took her words for what they were; the truth of a part of life.

That night he caught her just as she was coming up the stairs from the kitchen, heading for her bedroom.  He was on his way out, taking Kara back to River City before heading back to his home.  He stopped Jade to say goodbye.  She was standing down the steps, lower than him.  He leaned forward and gave her a kiss on her forehead.

“What’s that for?” she asked.

That should have been his first clue.

“You are great.  I’m really glad we got to meet,” was what he said.

Silence, and a face staring at him, wearing a smile.

Sam and Mara had been so excited about Jade’s visit and had anticipated it for weeks.  Walter thought that they would feel a letdown, when she left, but it was he who felt the letdown.  He thought that, for that one day, Jade had just been one of his last distractions and, in that, he might have been right.  He was deep into his relationship with Mara and knew that he loved her but what he didn’t know, at that time, was that he had fallen in love with Jade also.  And his loving one did nothing to diminish his love for the other.

“Probably just my projection,” was what he thought.

He knew that what he was seeing in Jade was the light of life, just as he’d seen it in her sister earlier, but that it seemed to have faded just before she left.  Walter was beginning to realize that it was his character, or habit, to respond to that fading light in people by trying to infuse life back into them.  He didn’t, yet, understand the lesson; it was to let that light shine brightly inside of him.

Years later, it was a Friday night and Jade’s training group would do their long run the next morning.  That Saturday would be the start of the cycle for the next marathon they were training for so she wanted to be sure and make the run.  She set her alarm for 5:30 a.m. so that she would have time to get her coffee, take the dogs for a brief walk, and then get herself together and to the meeting spot on time.  She completed her evening ritual, brushing and flossing her teeth, cleaning and moisturizing her face, and the rest, and then lay herself down for sleep at a little after 11:00 p.m.  She tried to sleep but she tossed and turned for a couple of hours, not willing to admit to herself what she was thinking of, before finally nodding off around 1:00 a.m.  Barely a few hours later, at the pre-set time, the alarm went off.

“Why am I so tired?” Jade asked over the phone, talking to Mara.

“What do you mean?” asked Mara, in return.

“I slept right through my alarm, this morning, and missed my running group.”

She had been working sixty hours a week in a high stress position managing Creatives and trying to keep the product ahead of the competition.  Her department worked seasons ahead, trying to project what the trends would be at future holidays, so that their products would sell and the company would stay on top.  She had worked her way up, over the years, happy with her accomplishments but, perhaps, unaware of the cost.

“I don’t have much of a libido anymore, either,” she said to Mara, again over the phone, when they were talking about relationships.

“I wish I did but I don’t,” Jade said, with resignation.

Mara had talked to Walter about it.  She knew that he cared for Jade and that they talked but also knew that she wouldn’t share such personal details with him.

“She’s probably just burnt out,” he said, “She should slow down or take a vacation.”

“I know, but she probably won’t,” said Mara.

“Maybe she never had much of a libido.  Maybe that’s part of the problem with her marriage,” suggested Walter.

“No,” Mara said, “I don’t know how it came up but, when they were first married, she used to fuck like a bunny.”

“Rabbit. How do you know that?” he asked.

“I don’t remember.  It was inappropriate but I think her husband told me,” she answered.

Jade had told Walter that, in the early years, her husband had a crush on Mara.

“It’s normal,” was what she said.

When she first got married, she planned to keep her husband happy while he designed Carolina houses and earned big bucks to keep her happy.  Early on plans changed when he decided he wanted to become an actor instead, so she pledged her support and stayed behind while he moved to LA.  She was miserable and lonely but he had some limited success that kept him going.  They lasted that way for less than two years before he came back depressed, she traded her misery for happiness, and their new way of being together had begun. She kept working, getting busier and more active in perfect balance to his fall into lethargy and inactivity.  He set up “his” room with skulls and skeletons, mounted bats and rattlesnakes, and started attaching his beliefs to conspiracy theories.  He’d go three nights without sleeping, growing his beard out, and looking half-crazy but still handsome.  He became a germaphobe and it starting rubbing off on her.  They tried to have kids until he lost his erection.  They tried blue pills to get it back and they got it back enough to keep trying and failing so they tried fertility clinics and hormones and everything they could until it became obvious that they couldn’t.  She got sick.  She had a biopsy that proved positive for breast cancer and, after weighing the alternatives; she opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.

“At least they’re bigger now,” she often thought, “and they aren’t going anywhere when I run.”

Her husband never doubted that she’d be okay.  Mara stayed with her for a bit, during that time, but it probably hurt them both more than being of any help because even then Mara recoiled from the unseen blows that life rained upon her.  A few years later, Jade and her husband decided on adoption and, through an agency, found two young sisters living in the Soviet Union who needed a home. Jade invested her heart, along with thousands of dollars, into the girls and the process only to find out that she was considered unsuitable, by the Soviet adoption agency, because of her history of cancer, even though it was more than five years behind her.  They shifted their search to the U.S. and fell in love with a two-year-old girl whose mother had given up her parental rights and began the process, all over again. They seemed to be well on their way to a successful adoption, taking the requisite parenting courses, having their home inspected, their lives looked into, only to find that they missed the deadline and another couple took the child.

Her husband continued to get parts in community theaters, impressing everyone with his talent and apparent honesty.  None of the parts paid but that was okay because she was making a good six figures now and just wanted him to become happy and to stay with her.

Jade had so much love to give and was filled with caring, so she and her husband did the best they could with each other.  She loved being seen with him and loved being on his arm.  He was tall and dark, a little heavy but not fat, kind of brooding.  They never travelled, never vacationed, other than a few days at his family home or Sam’s cottage.  His distance became greater and she needed something more so they decided on a pet, tried a guinea pig and a cat but she was allergic to both so they settled on Papillions, two of them, and the only thing her husband ever said, “No!” to her about, in twenty years, was when she tried to name one of them a name he couldn’t stand.

“It might have worked if we’d only learned to argue and fight instead of compromising on everything in an effort to get along,” Jade told Walter, later, when she and her husband were still married but living states apart.

They gave the Paps good names and called them by many.  It might have drawn another wedge between Jade and her husband, when he found traces of their feces on the carpet and called it, “Pap smears.”  When she finally drove her husband away for his sins, the two furry Monsters were all she had left.

“She used to return the rage back to our parents,” Mara said, about Jade, talking to Walter. “Once, in high school, she overdosed on aspirin and her boyfriend and I drove around trying to find her.  It took forever but we found her and took her to the hospital.  Our parents never found out.”

Jade was approaching that age when she would no longer get wet and though she didn’t fully understand what the changes would bring, some part of her mourned the loss for the things she had given to her ideals.  She thought of herself as a good person, and she was, and she would never be with another man while married and, once separated from her husband, she couldn’t think of dating.

“Do you think you guys can get back together?” asked Mara.

There was a long silence.

“No.  I don’t think so,” Jade answered and Mara could hear the sadness in her.

“You’ll find someone new,” Mara assured her.

“No one would want me,” Jade responded with complete certainty.

Chapter 5 – Sam

 

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Maya Angelou

At the point in his life when he met Mara and her siblings, Walter had yet to integrate his ways of perceiving and the result was that it gave him unusual sensitivities but also created great weakness and contributed to his suffering. When Walter first met Sam, he could see beyond the form and the behavior that life had, so far, given him and he saw Sam’s goodness. What Sam saw, in Walter, is hard to know. That first meeting, Sam was following behind his mother, pacing the floor inside the family home with the heat turned down low, the rooms gray, appearing dark and muddy from the windows being covered with plastic and the curtains drawn shut, mother and son both wearing winter coats and stalking caps pulled over their ears to preserve body heat as well as money. In the background, there was an old color television set, turned on but quiet, and the picture was faded so badly that it might as well have been a black and white contraption. Their mother was slightly bent over, suffered from poor knees and bad leg veins, as well as suffering from life. She had a habit of repeating everything she said so that she said it twice, and her son followed in suit so that the recipient got it three times.

Sam was the youngest child, and a boy, and those two things brought with them certain advantages and disadvantages. He took the brunt of the verbal abuse, perhaps because he wasn’t the sexual object of his father’s secret desires and, thus, was treated with no ambivalence, just clear-cut disdain. Even as a baby, Sam took immediately to silence and, as he grew, people outside the family viewed him as weird. People outside the family with some education and a greater vocabulary, thought that, maybe, he was afflicted with Asperger’s syndrome. He mostly suffered behind that silence and that suffering became more acute when Jade joined the family and she and Mara drew close to each other; the understandable result of sharing a bedroom, being girls and near each other in age. As the girls grew close, the distance Sam felt, from people and life, grew greater. To Sam, it might have felt as if Mara had forgotten him but she never did and would become even more of an ally, whether he knew it or not, after Jade graduated from school and left the home.

Sam became a good tennis player but had to endure the public criticism and humiliation that his father rained down upon him whenever he lost a match. He did well with his grades but never had male friends, let alone female friends. In childhood pictures, you could see Sam hanging in the background, a look of sadness mixed with anticipation on his face, his sisters with their few friends, smiling and playing in front of him. Strong as a boy, he grew to be strong as a man, though slimly built and carrying a potbelly from his robust consumption of regular Pepsi and other soda. He walked with his body in a curve, of sorts, his left shoulder held a little forward of his right, his left arm partially extended, the left hand curled, kind of like a claw, and centered in front of his belly as if defending himself from incoming blows. The hair on his head was in frequent disarray and he had a noticeable gap between his upper front teeth, not unlike Ernest Borgnine, but he came across more like the character Dexter Morgan on the Showtime series. His fashion sense seemed to trend towards browns and oranges, sometimes pinks and greens, and he was seemingly oblivious to the judgment and opinions of others.

“He’s way ahead of me,” thought Walter, after he’d known him for a spell.

When their father finally abandoned them, Sam stared in the role that would be his for the next twenty years; that of surrogate spouse to his mother. The sisters grew. Jade left home as soon as she could. Mara left, came back, then left again but Sam stayed by his mother’s side until her death. Each working day, their mother would make Sam’s breakfast and, while he ate, she’d pack his lunch. Each evening, upon his return, they’d take their supper together and discuss their days.

Sam learned how to keep his mind off of the thoughts that could cause him trouble by making lists; if something was on the list, it took a certain priority and, also, took Sam’s thoughts. Sam’s thoughts went from the list to the task and then back, again, to the list.

“How’re things going?” Walter would, sometimes, ask.

Sam would reply in his halting speech pattern, “I’m not getting my projects done,” meaning his lists.

When Walter met Sam, it wasn’t long until he learned that he had to find a spot on one of his lists if he wanted to have a conversation with him that would last more than a few minutes. Sam kept a table in the hall between the living room and the kitchen and, on that hall table, he kept up to a half-dozen lists arranged side-by-side. It wasn’t uncommon for the same task to be on more than one list at the same time but rather than serving as a duplication of the commitment, it seemed more to serve as amplification. It was unusual for Sam to smile or laugh but on one occasion when Walter asked him about his progress and he went to the table and ran down the lists and noticed, seemingly for the first time, that the same task was listed more than once, he broke into a large smile, as if he’d been caught in a private joke that even he found humorous.

Sam and his mother, and to some extent the girls, took on a kind of gypsy behavior, gaining skill at minor shoplifting, and becoming expert at negotiating down the price of home improvements and car repairs by outright wearing down the opposition.

At Sam’s, if you wanted a straw to drink from, you could choose from twenty-five or thirty with Wendy’s wrappers standing in a plastic cup on a shelf. Hot sauce, for your taco or burrito, was conveniently stored in Taco Bell packets offering three varieties of spiciness; several hundred packets kept in a Tupperware bowel in the pantry. Need a new liner for a trashcan? Pick from the several hundred plastic shopping bags that were liberated at the self-checkout line the day before.

“I got this nice wallet for free. I put it on the cash register belt at the store but the clerk forgot to ring it up,” said Sam, “I didn’t notice until I got home and looked at the receipt. I thought the bill was a little light.”

He was expert at retaining receipts and returning items just before the expiration of the store’s return policy, frequently coming out of the store with a duplicate of the returned product along with the original. It was puzzling, just how frequently large items would be left on the lowest rack of the shopping cart and failed to be rung up. Walter didn’t care enough to ask how all of the schemes worked but he did shake his head in frequent amusement.

Through high school and college, Sam never had a girlfriend. His sexuality surfaced once, when his mother busted him for looking at porn over the Internet. That time, Mara came to his defense, reinforcing to him that his urges were only natural. In his mid-twenties, he enlisted Mara’s help in setting up a Match.com account, focusing almost exclusively on blond, Barbie doll types but the first dates didn’t go too well and he never had a second.

He loved animals but, with his allergies, he never shared his home with a pet. For a while he was a frequent visitor at Mara’s house, stopping by to see the cats and asking the whereabouts of any furry critter that he couldn’t find. When Mara and Walter took their trips, Sam would offer to drop in and take care of the cats, giving them food and water, petting them and cleaning their litter pans. When a feral cat was found in his back yard one winter, he built it a shelter made from a large appliance cardboard box and filled with blankets to keep it warm and protected from the snow and ice. He’d check the box every morning, to see if the wild cat had visited.

He also shared his mother’s love of plants and birds and kept cut flowers on the dining room table and seed in the feeders.

What Sam really became good at was being frugal. He seldom ate out and, if he did, he’d only order appetizers or what he could purchase with a coupon or on special. He saved money by seldom bathing, rarely used deodorant, and wasn’t fond of visiting doctors or dentists. Those times when he visited Jade at her home, or when Jade would come to his lake cottage, there would be the usual conversations.

“Sam, you need a shower. Go do it,” she’d command.

He’d stare for a minute, and then obey.

“Sam, let’s go shopping. You need some new clothes,” she’d suggest.

He seemed pleased, by that.

By the age when most men are just getting started, having spent their money on foolish things like flashy cars, trips, parties and women, Sam had inherited the paid-off family home and had paid-off the lake cottage and both his new car and truck. In addition to his frugality, Sam became an expert at working the system, any system, and shaved every dime every time. He walked a fine line at the edge of the law, didn’t fit into society, and made his money in a way that’s common but not spoken of.

Walter, “What do you do for a living?”

Sam, “I’m kind of in the trades.”

“Carpenter?” asked Walter.

“No,” replied Sam, “I’m more like the second or third middleman.”

What he went on to explain was that he worked as a consultant, so to speak, for general contractors who would come to him to get bids on projects they were working on so that they could force the right price. For instance, a homeowner would need a new roof that, reasonably, might cost ten thousand dollars. Sam would round up three contractors and have them make preset bids, per the general contractor, which would inflate the price of the project but make things appear, to the homeowner, that an intelligent process had been followed and a fair price received. The project might end up costing twice what was reasonable and the general contractor would receive a kickback, and Sam would get his cut, and the losing subcontractors would know that they’d be brought in on future projects and make more money than they could by placing legal bids on their own.

“In a way, it’s like I’m the government,” Sam explained.

During the years that Walter and Mara were together, they usually included Sam in their plans, asking him to dinner or a garden tour, offering him the opportunity to travel to the Caribbean with them. Sam would spend days researching islands and countries, becoming expert in the details, but never seemed able to get the vacation time to go away.

Walter tried to help Sam out with projects, around his house or cottage, as often as he could but Sam often ended up deconstructing whatever Walter had constructed and then rebuilding to his own specifications once he had learned the method by watching Walter work.

There was a period of time, in the first year that Walter knew them, during which Sam looked and acted as if he was ready to explode. Uncomfortable and scared, their mother had threatened to find an apartment and move out. Mara was afraid that Sam would either kill their mother or kill himself.

“Did Sam ever own a gun,” Walter asked Mara, one day.

“Only a BB gun,” she said, and then, “Why?”

“Oh, just wondering,” he had answered. It was during the stressful time in Sam and his Mother’s arrangement.

Once, when Sam was dropping Mara and Walter off at the airport, the traffic cop pissed Sam off and he accelerated his car and almost ran the man over before Walter pulled the wheel, turning the car just in time. The cop had his back to them and never knew how close he came to being flattened. Once, late at night at the cottage, there was a knock at the door and the police were there, having received a report that someone fitting Sam’s description and driving a similar blue truck had caused some damage at a local supermarket in response to the store not having a product he wanted.

“It was all a misunderstanding, my word against hers,” he had said, smiling after the cops left.

Relief finally came, as it often does, with the death of their mother. The lid that had kept the steam from being let off was lifted and Sam began to flourish, in his way, and appeared to be a happier person. He fell in love, telling Mara and Walter where he and his love were in their relationship.

“We’re at Level 3,” he said one day.

“Have you slept with her?” Walter asked.

“That’s Level 6,” said Sam, shaking his head no.

Mara, Walter, and Sam were at the cottage one day. Sam had been down at the shoreline, working as usual, raking free reeds from the water. Mara and Walter had been on the balcony, talking as usual. When evening rolled around, the three met at the grill.

“What do you guys talk about?” Sam asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You two always seem to be able to talk. We run out of things to say and then it just gets quiet,” he said.

“Just talk naturally.”

“Give me some ideas. I’ll make a list and practice,” he had said.

As Mara and Walter prepared for their winter in Mexico, Sam had asked if Mara wouldn’t mind if his girlfriend moved into Mara’s home while she was gone.

“No way,” was his sister’s response.

That option being closed, Sam abandoned most of his old life and sunk both his time and his money into remodeling the family home, preparing it for his new life.

He told Walter, “She’s the one.”

“Must be at Level 6,” thought Walter.

And, indeed, they were and Mara was happy for him, the child whom was most abused.

Three months before his girlfriend’s lease was up, Sam constructed a budget for her, reviewed it with her, and asked her to move into his home. She declined but promised that she would when the lease was up, and she did. Once there, she never left and their family home became her home, her pride and joy. They began hosting parties, inviting her family and friends and moving on from the life, and the family, that Sam had come from.

As Sam’s and his girl’s comfort grew, they no longer searched for what to say, him teasing her about her weight and she telling him what he could do to make her happy, short of stopping the teasing. Each working day, his lover would make Sam’s breakfast and, while he ate, she’d pack his lunch. Each evening, upon his return, they’d take their supper together and discuss their days. He continued adding projects to his lists and she would change those projects, altering the makeup of the yard of her home from natural rocks, trees, perennials and annuals, to grass, cement retaining walls and poured concrete patios. Her mind saw completed projects and relaxation. Little did she know that Sam’s projects never ended, his subconscious knowing that he didn’t want to face that which Mara was facing. He needed the distractions.

Over the course of the time that Walter knew him, Sam became a drinking man, choosing pricey bottles of wine and good liquor as his favorites. Perhaps it was the influence of his lover or, perhaps, he was in transition.

One day, Sam witnessed an abnormally difficult afternoon with Mara, and he had pulled Walter aside to talk.

“I can’t be around her when she drinks,” Sam said to Walter, referring to Mara, “Besides, she only needs me when she’s in a crisis.”

Sam stopped talking to Mara. He stopped dropping by to see the cats. He never had time to talk to her on the phone.

He had his life to live, and rightly so.

The two times that Mara consented to go into rehab, both over holiday weeks, Walter had taken her, making certain that Sam had known but Sam had neither visited her nor inquired after her, perhaps afraid that in doing either, he might come one step closer to something that he didn’t want to see.

“He never talks to me anymore,” Mara said, feeling sad.

“I know,” Walter agreed.

“Is he happy?” she asked.

“I was over there, helping him move some furniture, and they got into a disagreement about where a piece should go,” he told her, “he wanted the chair positioned so that you could look out of the window and she didn’t. She wouldn’t change her mind and he stood right where he was but starting turning in circles, like a dog chasing it’s tail, making two or three turns, his mouth opening like he wanted to say something but no words coming out, and then we put the chair where she wanted it.”

The last time Walter and I talked, he told me that when he was leaving town, he was in a taxi on his way to the airport and they pulled up along Sam at a stoplight. Sam was trying to pull a short hair out of the backside of his earlobe, using his thumb and middle finger, and was having no success, unaware that he was being watched, as if he was invisible within the protective cover of his car.

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Chapter 4 – Mara

DocImage11You cannot save people, you can only love them. Anais Nin

It was through Walter that I met Mara. She was a pretty woman of average height, for an American girl, with a real cute face. Her skin had a healthy glow that survived the assault of the nicotine and booze that she kept throwing at it. She was small boned with petite hands and feet, balanced a small butt with large breasts and she kept her hair in pigtails most of the time. When she was in her sober cycle, which was most often the summertime, she would walk and run and burn off thirty pounds of grain and grape that she stored around her belly and chin through the winter months. According to Walter, she was uninhibited, happy to sunbathe, hot tub, or playfully practice yoga in the nude. She had to be careful not to burn in the sun, but her skin would darken with time and she loved the Caribbean and couldn’t understand why she was born in Michigan. She never found shame in her desires or feelings and felt pleasure and gave the same to a lucky number of men in her time, a character than was quite contrary to her mother’s.

As a youngster, Mara was forbidden, by her mother, to wash her hair except during her bath that was allowed only once per week. She would sneak into the basement, before school and before her mother got up, and wash her bangs and dry them over the heat register, tired of and hurt by the teasing delivered up from the other students at her school; afraid to death that her mother would catch her. In her preteen years, Mara brought home some pollywogs that she’d found in a nearby stream, hoping to name them and keep them as pets. Her mother, upon finding the tadpoles, tossed them into the yard, killing them. Mara’s pet cat got sick; her mother killed it rather than having to incur a veterinarian’s bill for treatment. In her teens, while making some popcorn, Mara burned it and her mother grabbed the pot off of the stove and, screaming at Mara, threw the pot at her, bouncing it off of the wall and making a mess in the kitchen that Mara had to clean up while her mother raged. In addition to her rage, Mara’s mother had assumed the values of an older generation. Beyond that generational conditioning, Mara’s mother had revealed to her, in confidence, that she’d been raped as a young woman; “offered a ride” by some guys after a dance one night. Put those things together and add in that she had been raised Catholic and it’s understandable why she held the value that sex was for procreation and definitely not for pleasure. Walter had asked Mara why her mother revealed the rape to only her, considering how harsh their relationship was.

“She wanted someone to know before she died and she didn’t feel comfortable telling Sam, and Jade had moved away.”

It’s safe to assume that Mara’s father wasn’t getting his sexual needs met and that, coupled with him being a total jerk, led to young Mara becoming the target of his frustration. In the lulls between the regular oral combat that took place between her parents, her father would remark about Mara’s body, show her porn, and offer her money for favors. Once he lifted a brick over his head and threatened to hit her with it when she irritated him. Another time he came at her with some scissors.

When she turned eighteen, after he’d been absent from her life for some years, he contacted her and asked her, “How about a date? You’re no longer jail bait.”

Later in life, when he was in his seventies, she visited him in the hospital, taking off her covering sweater because of the warmth of the room, leaving on her blouse.

“Are you stripping for me?” good old dad asked.

He offered her money if she would let him spank her, saying, “Jade let me spank her and she turned out good.”

She made a point not to see much of him, after that. As a young girl, Mara had fantasized poisoning her parents with the Deadly Nightshade that grew along their property line. She would sit on the floor in a corner of the living room, a book held in front of her face, not reading, just staring, as her parents fought.

Finally, in her late thirties, Mara left the family home, and moved a city block away to her own place. For years she had dreamed of having her own place, a place with boundaries and privacy and room for gatherings of friends away from her mother’s criticism and her brother’s lurking. Once in her home, she fell into a deeper depression and felt anxious and terribly alone. Mara’s parents, like many, expected perfection from their children. Who knows the motivation of most parents, in this regard, but for these it was more out of terror than anything else. To them, life was fragile and resources were scarce and that combination of fears reflected in every act they took. They were also, I suppose, angry at the hand that they felt life had dealt them.

Mara was deep into her depression when Walter met her. Their meeting was before he heard the call, and he sensed in her something different. When they met, Walter was damaged at least as much as most, and more than many, and this damage is, most likely, what let the light, that shined in her, pierce his soul and start his awakening. Walter’s instinct told him that he needed to know her so, at one of their business meetings, he reached across the desk and touched her hand.

A few days later, he was leaving her house after having dropped off some paperwork and he asked her, “You said you were studying some things. Do you mind my asking? What are they?”

She replied, very softly, “It’s nothing. I don’t like to talk about it.”

“No, tell me” he insisted.

“It’s just a story,” she said, and they left it at that.

People thought that Walter was a little crazy, and he was, but Mara said that he only appeared to be crazy because he had, “dark insights.” What she meant was that he had insights into the darkness that people are; he could tell what peoples’ intentions were, almost immediately upon meeting them, through his refined powers of transduction. The fact that he carried such awareness but didn’t try to change anything, with his premonitions, caused him to carry an almost constant scowl and a disbelieving look on his face. What some people saw in him was, in reality, a mirror reflecting the evil that they thought to do and, as the saying goes, “There’s a Nazi inside each of us.”

When Mara met him, she saw without seeing, beyond this quality to the other side of him. What she saw was the part that could perceive the damage being done by energy trapped inside the body of a person at an age before that person could understand and process what had happened. Up until the moment she met Walter, Mara had accepted, in full faith and without question, whatever the universe sent her way and that included accepting Walter. Then it was as if the meeting of him acted as a marker in her life, and within moments after receiving that mark, all things came together and she began to do battle with reality. Walter became a catalyst in her experience, often saying the right thing, or the wrong thing, at just the right time to push her beyond her previous limit. Sometimes Walter would recognize what he had done but, from what I know, most times it passed right by him. When I think about them, it always seems clear that Walter gave Mexico to Mara, and Mara gave Advaita to Walter. You might understand, later. Walter’s third wife, the woman before Mara, had been an unacknowledged alcoholic, as had been the woman that he’d known for the six years prior to that marriage. Part of Walter’s gift was his ability to find the ones who were damaged. He felt, without acknowledging it to himself, that he should help them, save them. Some part of him knew that someone in the equation needed saving. So, he came to Mara sensing the damage in her, himself damaged, and holding a fierce belief in kindness and an unstated need to try to heal the wounds. If only Walter had understood but, as the saying goes, all things unfold as they should, in time. As their relationship grew and Walter began to understand what Mara had led him to, he said that he couldn’t tell if she was clinically depressed or if she was treading water on the Void and she was no help in understanding because, even with her training and experience, she was in it and couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell where she stood. All she could say was that the things that used to give her joy no longer did, that everything was flat, and that she was bored beyond tears and was beyond wanting to slit her throat. Her only remaining fixation seemed to be the Caribbean; her distractions wine, vodka, and cigarettes.

“Want some wine?” Mara asked.

“Okay.”

They were at the lake cottage; she had forgotten her corkscrew and so she chipped away at the cork with a pair of manicure scissors until she chipped away enough to push the cork through and let the wine out. It was a slow and tedious process, like breaking out of prison. She poured some for both of them. Mara’s sexuality was intermittent as it faded, which didn’t really help Walter very much. He had switched off his desire in the final months of his final marriage and their sex, his and Mara’s, usually consisted of his going down on her.

“What are you doing?” she’d cry, with pleasure, in the first days when he’d suck on her labia.

She enjoyed that until it, too, became painful. That weekend, at the cottage, her sexuality was in an upswing. They were sitting on separate couches, looking out at the water, talking while sipping from their plastic wine glasses. Mara got up and walked around the sofa and up the four steps to the hall and into the bathroom. She was gone a few minutes and then returned bringing a pink aura with her, walking over to Walter.

“Let’s have anal sex,” Mara said, handing him a condom and some lubricant, “I love it in the ass. I used an enema and I’m clean.”

He’d never had anal sex before and the idea excited him. They stripped and dropped to the carpet, kissing and petting. She rolled him on his back while kissing him and reached her hand down to his penis, massaging it. She moved her lips from his and took his cock into her mouth and sucked. He grew hard and she pulled her face away. She opened the wrapper of the condom and slid it over his cock and then lay down on her side, her back to him, grabbing her ass cheek and spreading it away from the other one, opening herself up to him. Walter took the top off of the lube tube, put some on his fingers and rubbed it into her asshole. He grabbed his cock and moved towards her…and grew soft.

“Uhhh, sorry. Just a minute,” he said.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Just give me a minute.”

She was patient. She just lay there, waiting, wanting it. “Is something wrong? Don’t you want to do this?”

“I’m sorry. Yes, I do,” he said, trying to think of anything more erotic to give him back his erection.

Failing, he said, “Let’s just wait a bit and then try again, okay?”

They got up off of the floor and sat beside each other on one of the couches. They drank some wine and waited while the condom fell off of his limp dick.

She said, “That’s okay. I understand.”

At first Walter felt mad, but not at her, and then he laughed internally. “This is so stupid” he thought. What a great joke. “What could be more erotic?”

She finished her wine and moved from the couch, placing her sarong on the floor then lying down on it to nap. The weight of her milky breasts pulled her lobes outward towards each side of her body, her large pink nipples were soft and relaxed. She had been letting her pubic hair grow and it was a warm, natural strawberry blonde, in contrast to the auburn hair on her head. She had gorgeous legs. Walter liked underarms and looked at hers. He started growing hard, again. She sensed him and opened her eyes but didn’t move her body. He stood up, over her, and grasped his hard cock in his hand and stroked. She just watched him with no expression on her face. He grew harder until he came, spewing over her body, his warm semen falling on her, spotting her flawless skin. The only movement she made was to spread her legs farther apart and push her mons pubis up as she came with him. Mara closed her eyes and fell back asleep while Walter went into the bathroom and ran some hot water over a wash cloth, cleaned the lubricant from himself and then rinsed the cloth, wet it again and, taking a towel, went to Mara and cleaned her while she dozed. Kneeling there, he gently touched her with the warm, wet cloth and noticed that her fingers effused a green color, he assumed from picking basil in her garden. She smelled of nicotine. She was adding fat to her stomach and face. He wondered, again, why she wouldn’t just stop killing herself, why she couldn’t see what she was doing. He thought that she should be able to just flick a switch inside her brain and make a choice to be happy.

“Just kick off the demons that are clinging to you and move forward, be happy,” he willed.

I came to understand that as strongly as she was drawn to her needed substance; he was drawn to her in an attempt to keep her safe. I’m not sure he ever realized that. What he also didn’t realize was that, in being so obsessed with her, he was able to avoid having to stare into the eyes of the beast that stood disguised, right in front of him. It’s the same beast that stands in front of each of us.

Mara’s brother, Sam, who owned the lake cottage, had, for the first time, fallen in love and subsequently abandoned the property, letting woodpeckers drill through the exterior siding and make their home in the stud bays, allowing the weeds to grow tall in the sand leading to the water and being content to let the fallen leafs coat the cement patio and walkway. Walter had pulled the tall plants from the sand, clearing a path from the patio to the lake, winding its way past trees, the storage shed that was beginning to fall apart from having fallen off of Sam’s list, and around the fire pit to the water. They hadn’t put the dock in the water that year and the pontoon boat had remained stored in the garage. Later that day after her nap, she was on the path through the sand, walking towards the water carrying a glass of vodka and orange juice.

Walter stared after her and said, “You’ve given your flatness to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay. It’s probably a good thing.”

That day as she walked away from him and towards the water, he had looked up at the sky and the clouds and, for the first time, he saw what is always there but what most never see and what he hadn’t seen before in fifty years of looking. It took his breath away. It overwhelmed him with its magnitude. It made him weep and drop to the ground as he started to understand. Mara was floating on a rubber raft when this happened, a witness limited to her own thoughts. She stayed on the water for an hour or more before floating her way back to the shore. During that hour, Walter’s mind had stopped and his face was just as blank. Mara had beached her floaty and started her walk up to the cottage, starting to pass Walter as she got to the cement patio, intending to get a fresh drink and smoke a cigarette. She stopped walking when she saw his aura glowing yellow. She stood there, for once no longer lost from the world, worried that he might be ill, until she understood that he was just starting to get well.

“There’s a flow to it, isn’t there?” she said to Walter. He just turned his face towards hers and looked into her eyes. She patted his shoulder and resumed her mission, passing into the cottage.