9.13.16:The Borderline: Chapter 38

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Chapter 38

Liz shut the door behind her, leaving me alone in the humid heat, and I fell back to cleaning my paint trays before sitting on the wet concrete steps and rubbing my eyes.

It was over, the anxiety of being watched, the fear of someone knowing. The flight was over. Wiping the sweat from my face, I tried to allow myself some sense of relief. I walked into the kitchen for a beer and went back outside to sit on the steps again. A palmetto bug struggled by while I waited for my shoulders to relax.

But I felt no sense of relief or closure, no flood of happiness, no sense of freedom.  Again, a wave of anxiety; again, I feared some mistake had been made, convincing myself that some international police force had concocted this plan as they waited for rights of jurisdiction. They were coming for me, and I would spend the rest of my life in a Pakistani prison.

I walked the back yard, pulling a few weeds under the oak trees; my catastrophizing building as I circled the wide trunks, the Spanish moss about to drip onto me. I was whipping myself to frenzy.  “Calm down,” I demanded.  “Calm down, calm down, calm down.”

“Anthony, you finished?” Liz asked; I jumped at her voice. “Wow, why are you so wound up?”

“Sorry, was just out in la la land,” I answered.

“Well, snap out of it; you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said. “Can we have dinner in one of those Hyde Park bistros?”

“Want to see if the Snyders want to go?” I asked.

“I don’t feel like talking; I just want to relax and people watch.”

“Let me take a shower,” I said. “I’ll only be a minute.”

The heat and humidity pulsed into the evening as we walked to the Cactus Club.

“We’d like a spot inside…that one if possible,” I said, pointing to an empty table looking out to the street below.

“Of course,” he replied.

Once seated, Liz and I surveyed the trendy scene around us. From our perch, we watched the neighborhood sway with life below us.

“Our lives have changed so fast,” Liz said while looking over the menu.

“And its only June. We still have over a month before school starts.”

“I’m going to teach,” she said. “I can’t believe it!” Liz took a sip of water before continuing. “I’m a little nervous.  Kids like you; I hope they’ll like me.”

“They’ll love you, Liz. You just have to stand there. The boys will all have crushes on you; the girls will want to be you.”

Liz stretched her arm over the table to hold my hand. “We’ll have lots of time for us.” Liz looked out to the people walking by.

“We can go to the Cape for the summer or travel,” I answered. “I hear the Keys are great; we can get scuba certified, drive to California.”

“I already feel so much more alive here than in Missouri,” Liz said. “We need bikes, Anthony, and a calendar where we can write down our plans for each weekend. There’s so much to do here.”

“In October, Chris Isaak’s playing at a place called Ruth Eckerd Hall,” I added, catching her enthusiasm.

“Let’s go,” she said. “We were in the middle of nowhere in Matanzas.  It’s nice to be so close to so many things.”  Liz then smoothed her napkin before giving a quick nod of finality before settling in to say something important. “Anthony, this is a perfect place to raise a family.”  She pushed her sunglasses into her hair revealing eyes lit wide but I became agitated, not wanting about babies again.

“I thought we agreed on waiting,” I began. “You want to be pregnant during your first year of school? You remember how busy I was during my first year, don’t you?”
“I remember, but your first year was at a boarding school. That’s more work than I’ll ever have.”

“Let’s slow down. We haven’t seen how much we’ll be bringing home, haven’t even made a mortgage payment,” I countered. “And, honestly, we’ve been through a lot in a short time, moving, two new jobs, Prateek.”

Liz bolted upright. “Are you always going that against me?” she snapped.

I tried to remain calm as Liz became indignant. “No, I’m not…but I think we’ve had a lot thrown at us.”

Liz crossed her arms, and we sat silent for a few moments.

“I don’t want the pressure of a baby right now. I’ll be busy with 100 students, more than I’ve ever had.”

“There’s never a good time to have a baby,” she pled. “I told you; we’re not going to get pregnant right away. It could take a year or more.”

“We’ve been damn lucky so far; you’d get pregnant the first time we try,” I answered.  “Weren’t we going to wait half a year?” I asked again. “Start our teaching jobs, get into a routine? We should know if we like our schools by November. Can we start trying in December?”

“Fine,” she surrendered. “December will be okay.”

Liz and I spent the rest of the summer driving the back roads of Tampa Bay, eating lunch on the Sponge Docks of Tarpon and enjoying Clearwater Beach. My two-hour summer review course in the morning was a joy to teach, and by the time our school meetings began in Mid-August, both of us wore the honey brown skin of native Floridians.

For $1900 we bought a ‘89 VW Jetta.  Parked under the bungalow’s carport, our Cabrio sat idle, driven less now that it had been caught several times with its top down in mid-afternoon downpours.

Once school started, Liz and I settled quickly into a routine; up at five for workouts, breakfast, last minute revision of lesson plans, and then on to work. After school, I coached soccer and Liz coached volleyball. On the nights we didn’t have games or practice, we ate supper together before heading to our homemade desks to prep.

By mid-October, our routine included Friday nights Scrabble with a married couple who taught with me and Sunday night dinner and movie at the Snyder’s across the street.

During those first three months, Liz and I were once again happy newlyweds.  Our careers had started off well, our relationship felt strong, and we were making good friends. However, one Sunday night at Claudia and Tim’s, Liz’s passive resentment surfaced.  Allan and I were helping Tim install surround sound speakers; wires spread across the living room as we measured and spliced; Claudia and Liz in the kitchen; their voices rising with their wine consumption.

“Everything’s the same, get up, work out, come home, eat and work,” Liz announced as she poured herself another glass.  “Even the weather’s getting dull.”

“…honeymoon’s over,” Claudia said, rolling her eyes. “There’s a reason the fairy tales stop at ‘happily ever after’, honey.”

I worked on the wires in front of me but kept my ear trained to their conversation. Claudia tried to comfort Liz by making jaded comments about husbands not living up to expectations and listing the joys of living the middle class dream.

“I want a baby,” Liz told Claudia. “I’ve been married almost three years.”

“I love my kids,” Allan said from across the room. “Kills me every time I have to send them back to my ex.”

“You’ve been divorced for how long?” Liz asked.

“Three years,” Allan answered as he screwed a speaker to the wall.  “Married too young.”

“We probably did, too,” Liz said.

Her comment stung for a moment, but, hell, maybe she was right.

Getting up from the floor with a couple remotes in his hand, Tim shoved Fargo into the VCR to make sure everything was working. We all sat down to watch. Claudia and Tim took the loveseat while Liz and Allan and I sat together on the sofa.  Halfway through the movie, Allan passed out.  Liz nudged him awake, but he dozed back to sleep a few moments later.

“We should have a New Year’s Eve party,” Liz announced after the movie. “You guys have been so welcoming that the least we can do is host a party,” she glanced at me for approval, though I knew her mind had already been made up.

“Sounds good,” I shrugged.

“New Year’s is a couple months away; plenty of time to plan,” Claudia said before kissing Liz goodbye. “That sounds wonderful, darling. We could walk home instead of driving, half in the bag like usual.”

“I don’t need another DUI,” announced Allan. “I’m up for it.”

“We’ll discuss it next Sunday then,” Liz stated and then filled her cup for the few steps home.

Once in bed, Liz took out her notebook and brainstormed for the party, pen tapping her lips as she thought it all through. “It’ll be a potluck party,” she said. “Everyone’ll bring something. And we need a better stereo.”

“You’re really getting into this party, Liz. Aren’t you tired?”

“All we’ve done is work, work, work, work since school’s started,” Liz snapped. She placed a hand on her temple as if she were building up to frustration. “I want this; it’ something fun. Don’t spoil it for me.”

“How am I spoiling it for you, Liz? I just asked if you were tired”

“You never want to do anything,” she accused.  “No baby, no party, nothing.”

“I knew you’d be negative; I should have just let Allan have the party at his house,” Liz snapped.

“Allan wants the party at his house?” I asked.

“No, but it was his idea for the New Year’s Ever party.”

“When did you talk to him about it?” I asked.

“When you were at Home Depot.”

“At 8:30 this morning?” I asked.

“Are you angry about me going to Allan’s?” Liz answered.

“No, should I be?” I snapped back.

“No,” Liz began. “When you left, I went to our mailbox. He was bringing back his garbage cans,” she said, her tone softening. “He made me some coffee and I came home with it. You didn’t leave me with much.”

Liz curled up beside me, whispering in my ear. “Are you really jealous of Allan?” she began. “It’s cute.”

I did feel the sting of jealousy; it rose over me, familiar and comforting, ready to build me into intensity. The emotion excited me, and Liz and I began kissing; I closed my eyes and thought of Allan’s hand on her shoulder, his mouth on hers. As Liz and I made love, it was not me in her; I pretended I was Allan; it was over in a matter of seconds.

I now understood why I didn’t want to a child. For me, the future had ended; reserved for those capable of creating momentum, but I would forever be checking myself, fearful of my emotions.

Liz and I flew to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving Break. Our somber little party spent the four-day weekend in her mother’s dark home, watching TV, the heavy drapes pulled tight against the invading draughts and streak of daylight. Accustomed to the Florida sun, I felt claustrophobic and became irritable and morose by the gloomy, silent sterility around me.

The one bright moment during our trip was going to Liz’s uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. The extended family, large bellied, pale Norwegians lived in a house brightly lit through skylights and sliding glass doors. These relatives reminded me of Santa’s elves, only bigger.  However, Liz was persistent for a baby which caused some embarrassment during dinner when Liz brought up her desire for a child at the table.

“So, Liz, you two settled in Florida now?” asked Liz’s uncle while passing around his homemade lutefisk.

“We’re in a great place and everything’s going well,” Liz turned her head to look at me and patted my thigh.  “And we’re going to start a family,” she announced.

All eyes bore into us, waiting for Liz’s announcement. I wiped my dry lips with my napkin, waiting for someone to say something. Liz seemed shocked at the quiet of the table.

“Liz!  I’m going to be a grandmother?” her mother stated with a curling smile.

“No, no… not just yet,” I rebutted, shaking my head. “Liz just means we’re starting to think of having a family.  She’s not pregnant.”

“The journey’s just as important as the destination,” Liz’s uncle said, clearing the air. “Enjoy the process is what I say!” and he raised his glass to toast. “Here’s to practice!”

“Well, I’m excited that you’re at least thinking about it, dears,” Liz’s mother beamed. “The winter months are romantic, if you know what I mean.”

“Mother,” Liz groaned. “We live in Florida.”

“Been to Sarasota yet?  I love Sarasota,” bellowed Liz’s uncle, and the dinner conversation turned with no further mention of a baby.

That night, against the winds howling outside, as I tried to fall asleep, Liz wound our conversation tight around her desire for a child.

“Anthony, our baby will be so beautiful,” she said.  “It’ll have big brown eyes like yours…your curly hair.” She played with my hair before getting on top of me and slipping off her t-shirt.  We rocked slowly, afraid the bed would creak; I tried to hold it in but couldn’t. If it happened, maybe a child would temper my emotions and force me to think of the future rather than dwell on the past.

The night we got back from Wisconsin, Liz approached me strong and fast, a cheetah in for a kill, no foreplay, no soft caresses or slow moans as we built. Afterwards, she got right up and washed off.

“Thanks; honey, I needed that,” I said afterwards. She had come towards me with the aggression of a pit bull. Two nights later she attacked me again.

“What the hell!” Liz yelled from the bathroom on our first Friday morning back in Tampa.

“What’s wrong?” I answered, running to the bathroom door.

“I’m starting my period!

“So?” I asked to the door.

“So? You’re probably happy!” Liz snapped back.

I ignored her comment. “Liz, you told me we’d wait until December, remember? And that it would take a while.”

“Yes, but the best chance of getting pregnant is the five or six days before a period,” Liz said as if reciting a how-to manual.

“Liz, aren’t you trying too hard?” I asked.

“Leave me alone. I know you don’t really care,” she answered.

“Of course I care, Liz,” I said. “I’m sorry you feel like I don’t,” I said, relieved that she wasn’t pregnant.

Sunday night at the Snyder’s house, Liz told Claudia about our attempts, darting quick and sharp glances towards me as the guys watched the end of the football game.

“We’re trying…well, at least I’m trying, but it doesn’t seem to be working.” She looked up at me.

“I’m not complaining about trying,” I said trying to keep the conversation light-hearted.

It was Allan who first broke the tension.  He finished his can of beer and waved to Liz for another. “You can’t just want a baby and get one. Maybe you’re trying too hard.”

“How can I be trying too hard?” Liz asked. “We have sex; we get pregnant. That’s it.”

“What’s the hurry?” Allan asked.

“I’m twenty-four, Allen,” she answered, rolling her eyes in disbelief. “I’m not getting any younger. My clock’s ticking.”

It was Heather’s turn to speak. “Baby, your clock is always ticking.  That doesn’t mean the alarm’s ringing.” She patted Liz’s hand. “You have plenty of time. Just relax; let it happen on its own.”

“Not to change the subject, but, Liz, I know you like Tom Cruise. Got the new Mission Impossible for tonight!” announced Tim, holding a shiny unlabeled DVD in his hand.

Sometime after that Sunday night dinner, things fell apart for Liz and me. Used to snapping cold, hot chocolate, and wool sweaters, Christmas in Florida, with its commercialized Santas in Bermudas shorts and floral shirts, seemed so anachronistic to the season and added to the malaise in our house.  The temperature never entered sweater weather, and the funk between us only intensified as we placated ourselves with a video of a yule log.

We sent the invitations to our New Year’s Eve party and busied ourselves with the end of semester grading, but we acted separately, speaking little to each other, the warmth gone. We looked like the young couple about town as we went to our school’s Holiday parties, but at home, the tone had become jaded and tense as Liz fought to get pregnant. She continued to climb on top of me, but her desire came from want not love.

On the Friday night after exams, however, I came home to a much changed feeling at our house. Holiday music played and Liz sat on a bar stool, casually sipping a brown drink in a tall glass, a happy, relaxed smile finally across her face.

“Hello, honey,” she said. “I’ve been thinking.”

I took a sip from her glass, iced tea; no sugar. “Hello back, honey,” I answered. “You’re in a good mood.”  Then it hit me. The way she beamed at me, begging me to ask; I knew Liz was pregnant.  “Are you pregnant?” I asked, trying to sound as enthusiastic as possible.

“No, Anthony, I’m not pregnant,” she answered.  “But I do think I’ve been coming on too strongly. I did what I promised I wouldn’t do, and I’m sorry,” she said, rising from her seat. “What we need is to just relax and observe.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Allan is stuck in Sarasota until around seven, but he has his kids this weekend. I told him that we’d watch them until he gets home. You know; play house like we used to with Emily and Sophie”

Liz took another sip of iced tea, waiting for me to say something. Allan’s kids, two tow headed boys aged five and three, had the energy of Border Collies and could destroy a room in seconds. They were not my ideal playmates on a Friday night after a week of teaching and coaching, but it would only be a couple of hours. And Liz was in such a good mood.

“What are we going to do with them?” I asked.

“We’re going to bake cookies and then make decorations for our party,” Liz answered. “I got Jack and Owen some juice boxes, and for us… tequila and chips and guacamole. Avacodo’s supposed to be an aphrodisiac.”

Liz opened the bottle and poured me a shot. “Karen, his ex-wife, should be here soon with the boys. Now go change; take your tie off and relax.”

“It’s gorgeous outside; could I go for a quick run?” I asked.

Liz hesitated. “I wanted us to spend the time together with the kids.”

“But the kids aren’t here yet…” I said before the light bulb went off. “Oh, I get it now; you want to get me to see what it’s like to have kids around.”

“Yes, Anthony,” Liz answered. “To see what it’s like to have kids around. You loved Sophie and Emily, remember?”

But if Liz planned on the night to cast some magical spell on me, it didn’t work. Liz had sole custody of their attention, controlling their movements and organizing their activities by the minute. Jack and Owen were so engrossed in the baking and decorating that I was able to grade fifteen exams.  After Allan picked them up, Liz and I lay on the couch and analyzed the evening.

“You didn’t pay much attention to the kids,” Liz said.

“I just got into that grading rhythm,” I answered. “Got more done than I thought.”

“You could have engaged more, Anthony,” Liz chastised.

“You had it under control. I’d have just been in the way.”

“I wanted you to see how much fun it is to have kids in our lives,” she snapped.

“You could have told me about it a little earlier then instead of surprising me the minute I got home. I wasn’t expecting to play father tonight.”

“Sometimes you have to deal with the unexpected, Anthony.  Sometimes you can be so inflexible,” Liz said.  “Allan thought this would be a good idea too.”

“Oh, you and Allan planned this night?”

“No. When he called to ask for my help, he thought the night might change your mind about having kids.”

“Liz, I want a kid; I’m not preventing us from having one, am I?”

“But your heart is in it, which may be why I’m not getting pregnant.”

I looked up at the ceiling, took a slow breath and laughed. “Liz, my equipment is working; I can’t fake it.”

In the morning, Liz seemed to have forgotten our spat. She focused on next week’s New Year’s Eve party, rearranging furniture, buying decorations at Party City, and planning the food. No mention of babies or children invaded our conversation, and we held hands, talking in easy conversation while walking the aisles of Publix.

The day of the party, just after lunch, Liz and I placed the last of the decorations and rearranged the furniture one last time. We sat down, surveying our set up and decor with a satisfied air.

“I’m thinking we all go to the Ranch House for breakfast tomorrow morning. All that grease’ll be good for our hangovers,” I said.

“Claudia’s planning on sleeping in; Tim might go with us; Allan picks his kids up tomorrow afternoon,” said Liz. “I hope he doesn’t get too drunk tonight.

By 5:30 we sat in the quiet living room, waiting. We had a while before guests arrived, but we were ready.  Liz adjusted the tray of Chex mix on the coffee table before getting up and putting a cd in the stereo. She looked into our back yard. The old Spanish moss I once thought of removing hung quiet and tranquil from the branches of our live oaks. Liz slipped into the kitchen and made herself a white Russian.

“Let’s see what’s on TV,” I said. “When was the last time we just sat and vegged?”

“I don’t even know what channels we have,” Liz answered. We settled on a Bewitched rerun before the doorbell rang. The Snyders were the first to arrive; Claudia presented us with a bottle of vodka.

“I can never trust what alcohol you’ll have in the house,” she said, rolling her eyes in feigned disgust at our cheap bottle of vodka. “Open mine. Let’s get this party started.”

“I’m on it,” I answered, taking out a bag of ice to fill the bucket.

“Tim has his beer, Anthony,” Claudia said. “Make our drinks on the stronger side.”

“I’m putting the Bowl Game on,” Tim stated. “Let the girls do their thing. Nebraska and Virginia Tech’s playing.”

Allan arrived and we watched the Fiesta Bowl as Liz and Claudia talked at the kitchen table. Engrossed in the game, Tim and Allan sat drinking beer. I walked over to the girls.

They were tipsy; Liz got up and put the music louder, raising her hands and swinging her hips.

“Well, I’m ready tonight!” she slurred as she danced.

“I don’t know what’s up with your wife, Anthony, but I think I like it,” Allan said.

“Have some water, Liz,” I said, handing her a cup. “We should pace ourselves.”

“Why?” Liz snapped. “Will I get lucky tonight?”

Partiers began arriving, and Liz regained her grace as we played the dutiful hosts. Near midnight, we all gathered round the television to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Glasses raised, toasts made, and heady from the night’s drinking, Liz and I lost each other in the drunken crowd.

With the climax of the night over, some guests began leaving while others stayed, drinking, trying to make the night last longer. As the guests stumbled out, I realized Liz was missing. I ran through the house looking for her, but she would not be found. A familiar but dormant, stomach-wrenching nausea came over me when I realized that I hadn’t seen Allen for a while either.

My knees buckled, but I approached the Allen’s house like I had on Kentucky Street a lifetime ago. Like before, I crept into the backyard. In Allan’s living room, two people groped together on the couch under a blanket. I turned to head back into my house but the yellow glow of the streetlamp attracted me like a bug.

Numb with shock and fear yet again, I crumpled down onto the curb beneath the lamp and rubbed my eyes hard. New Year’s Eve fireworks burst above and “Baby Got Back” boomed from my house. Alone under the light, my head collapsed. This time I felt no tears, no rapid beat of my heart, no metallic stabs of anxiety.

I had wrestled demons for her, changed my life for her, and killed for her, but it still wasn’t enough. I believed my love would heal her, make her whole again, but after six years of self-sacrifice and humiliation, she remained a hollow, beautiful shell.

Tomorrow, Liz would be resentful and angry, telling me again she committed an act so vulgar and heinous that she ruined the one thing she needed most. I would forgive, and we would stay together riding our roller coaster, year after year, dependent on the extremes on which we were now addicted. Maybe we would have children, maybe they would slow the dance down, maybe Joe Peak would offer me a position and we move to New England, but our dynamic would never change; we would be forever locked into this struggle between insecurity and forgiveness.

But now, I needed to think clearly as I had done with Prateek. I couldn’t act out of petty, jealous anger.

I walked next door to Allan’s again. Slipping into the house, I listened to my wife’s moans and his grunts before walking back out into the Floridian night. Music still beat from my house, but around me all was still as if I had headphones on.

Allan’s hatchback was unlocked. I opened it. Searching through the fast food wrappers, clothes, and other trash, I found a tire iron and held it up, feeling its weight before throwing it back in the car.

I had killed Prateek in a third world country; no trace remained of him, no connection to me. Reflecting on that feat, I smiled; I had finally freed him from my mind. But Allan and Liz were too close; I had to be more clear-headed and careful this time, and so I walked into the house with the clearest of intentions.

9.6.16:The Borderline: Chapter 37

imagesChapter 37

Col. Thomas had given me my first teaching job so handing my resignation to him bothered me.  I felt disloyal to the man who had first believed in me.

“I’m sorry to see you go, Anthony. You have a way with kids. Is there anything I can do to keep you?” Col. Thomas said after I told him of my intentions.

I drew my breath in. “Liz just isn’t happy here, Scott. She wants to go back to the east coast,” I answered.

“The Midwest isn’t for everyone,” He rose to shake my hand and lead me out of his office. “I wish you the best.”

In the spring rain, I caught up to the cadets dressed in their chalky black trench coats as they walked to the academic building, and I began to see the school through the lens of bittersweet nostalgia. I would miss the tradition and formalities of the military school, and the comfortable certainty that came with such rigid routine. But my new beginning with Liz was more important.

After the year-end closing ceremonies, I walked through the now empty Bravo Company barracks for the last time, listening to its floors creak and feeling the claustrophobic now that the dark the dorm stood empty.

“This is it, honey,” I said making one last inspection around the U-Haul and the trailer pulling our cabrio. “You ready?”

Liz smiled before climbing into the truck. “I am, Anthony.”

“It feels different moving out this time; we have a lot more crap.”

“It is different,” said Liz. “We were so naïve back then.”

“Only two years ago,” I answered. “But, yeah, a lot has changed.”

During the sixteen-hour ride to Florida, Liz and I tried to envision living in Florida; armed with brochures, maps, and books about the state, we made lists of neighborhoods we might want to live in and places we wanted to visit.

When our conversation lulled or Liz napped, I worried about Prateek. He would be in Pakistan now, but as the miles and time lengthened, I began to believe that either he had not taken the pills or that I had gotten away with his murder. Though I drove southward continuing to feel the monkey on my back, my anxiety sometimes lifted and I allowed myself brief moments of mindful calm.

On the third night, we reached Tampa, pulling into the same Radison off the Courtney Campbell Causeway where I stayed for my interview. Liz fanned herself with a Florida road map as we parked.

“Wow, it’s hot!” she stated, pulling her shirt from her skin. “What’s it like during the day?”

“I guess everyone goes to the beach or stays inside in the air conditioning,” I said. “Let’s check in and go eat; that place looks good,” I said, pointing across the street to a weathered, cypress clapped restaurant high atop pilings; a bright yellow seaplane floated in the blue waters below it.

“I need a shower first,” Liz answered. “I feel disgusting!”

We sat in front of a large window looking into the Gulf as the sun set into the bay. Liz, wearing a sleeveless button down shirt, cut offs, and flip flops, already looked like a Florida native. Her hair, pulled into a ponytail, curled off her right shoulder while she sipped a flying grasshopper cocktail.

“Are you happy?” I asked.

“I’m very happy,” Liz answered.

“The school’s so close; we could visit if before our meeting with the real estate agent,” I said.

“I’m up for anything,” Liz answered.

We watched pelicans, arched high, their heads tilting rightward, plunge into the waters below in their relentless pursuit of fish.

“Let’s go to our room, Anthony,” Liz said, her eyes heavy with seduction. “I have something to show you.”

“I’ll get the check,” I answered immediately.

Awakened by our room’s air conditioning, we celebrated the first night in Florida, and afterwards, Liz nuzzled closer, wrapping her legs around mine.

“Anthony, I love you,” she said. “This is a great beginning of our next chapter.”

“It is Liz,” I answered. “A lot to look forward to.”

“Let’s start trying for a baby,” Liz whispered.

I lay silent, next to her, not knowing what to say. I knew I would be a father one day, but the timing troubled me.  We had no place to live, no income yet; I needed to be settled before bringing another life into our world. And, besides, until I knew for certain that everything was over, Prateek still plagued me.  Liz may have wanted to move on, but my burden stymied my progress.

Several time throughout each day, my nerves continued to hang on edge, anticipating news of Prateek, waiting for some stranger to approach and tell me the chase was over. I certainly couldn’t bring another life into this world until I knew for certain I was free.

“Can we wait ‘til we’re settled first? We need a house; need to start work…” I answered. “What if things down here don’t work out?”

Liz fended off my excuses with ease. “There’s never a perfect time to have a baby, Anthony. I want to feel our love grow inside me,” she answered. “And as long as we have each other, we are settled.” Liz rose and cupped my face to her hands. “I almost lost you, Baby; I’m not going to lose you again. A child will only strengthen our love.”

I lay back; looking at the hotel ceiling. “A lot happened to us, Liz. I just need a little more time.”

“It’ll take time, Anthony,” she answered. “We won’t get pregnant right away.”

Against her arguments, my excuses sounded clichéd; nothing I could say would change her mind. Liz sat upright and cross-legged beside me, firm and excited about her decision.

“These will be my last birth control pills, Anthony,” she said with finality. “We’ll be wonderful parents; I know it,” Liz held my hands tightly to prove how strong we had become.

Liz would have naturally felt it was time to have a baby. I had taken her back and now she wanted to live the normal life of a happily married couple. She couldn’t know what I had done for her and for our love and why I remained so hesitant.

In the morning we toured my school, and I introduced Liz to Mr. Lucas before meeting Jack, the realtor we had contacted a month ago. By the end of the day after seeing three houses, we made an offer on a two-bedroom bungalow a mile from my school. While waiting for an answer, we tried Pipo’s Cuban Cafeteria for dinner.

“A bungalow, Anthony!  It’s so cute,” Liz said as we settled into our seats.

“And so close I can walk to school.”
“We have palm trees, Anthony! And Spanish Moss in the trees!” she added. “I can’t wait to send pictures to the Peaks!”

“We don’t even know if we have it yet,” I answered, sobering to the possibility.

“I have a feeling we’re going to get it,” Liz said.

“What do you think of Cuban food?” I asked. Liz pushed a scoop of black beans and rice onto her fork.

“Yum!” she answered.  “Healthy!  Lots of protein, hardly any fat.”

Liz ate like a contented tourist, enjoying her meal, no fear of the future, naïve and happy.

I rose to pay, but someone came from behind and pulled the check from my hand. I turned to see Jack smiling.

“I’ll take care of this,” he said smiling. “Don’t get up guys. We have some paperwork to fill out!”

Liz looked at me, shaking her head in disbelief. “Oh my Gosh!  We got it!”

“Better than ‘you got it’, practically on your terms!  The owner countered your offer as expected, but he agreed to let you move in this week and rent until closing,” Jack answered.

After dinner, Liz and I drove past our pink bungalow and around its neighborhood, mapping out routes to my school, the Publix grocery store, restaurants, the gym, and a handful of other places before heading back to our hotel and relaxing by the pool. Pen in hand, Liz became a maestro of planning; off again writing lists and plans, color ideas for each room, furniture we needed, and all else that came to mind.

“The second bedroom will be the nursery,” she said.  “Someone will buy the crib for us, but we’ll put a futon and our desks in there first.”

Liz was a dervish of excitement and organization as we emptied our U-haul. Together in a unified mission to ready the house before the start of summer school, we cleaned, painted, called our utility companies; bought furniture at second hand stores, and laughed often. At night, I worked on my lesson plans and prepped for my summer course while Liz readied a resume for her job hunt.

On our first Friday in our new home, next door neighbors, Claudia and Tim Huls, came over with a wine and cheese tray and began educating us on Florida living.  Allan, the neighbor on our left, brought over a six pack of beer to introduce himself.  A recent divorcee, he promised to show me the less refined parts of Tampa only to be rebuffed by Liz, who would not hear of wasting money at Mons Venus or the Pink Pony.

Mr. Lucas called during our second week in town; he had spoken to the headmaster of St. Marks School in South Tampa. A teaching position had become available, and he felt that Liz might enjoy teaching. Though apprehensive at first, she was ready to give it a try after we drew out a list of pros and cons of a two teacher household.

On the morning of her interview, I dropped Liz off at St. Marks and settled into reading Du Maurier’s Rebecca in a small café in Hyde Park. Two hours later, I walked into the school’s open aired atrium and found Liz, sitting on a shaded bench, beaming. Beside her was a tall woman in her fifties, gray hair in a bob; such a striking resemblance between the two that she could have been Liz’s mother.

“Anthony, I’d like you to meet Dr. Kennedy, my new headmaster.”

“Wow! Honey, this is amazing!” I said shaking my head in disbelief.

“Welcome to Tampa,” Mrs. Kennedy answered. “Liz will fit in well at St. Michael’s.”

“Wow, Mrs. Kennedy, you’ll love Liz!” I said proudly.

In the car, Liz talked fast, her hands flashing in all directions as she described how she and Mrs. Kennedy hit it off. She too had gone to Providence college, and lived in New England for most of her life; Mrs. Kennedy moving from Minnesota eight years ago.

“We’ll have the summers off together!  And holidays!” Liz quieted, placing a finger to her mouth and looking out her window in somber introspection. “Wait…how can this be happening?” Liz asked, her green eyes dilated wide in panic. “Anthony, what are we doing? We need to be careful. We’ve been way too lucky; something’s going to go wrong.”

The speed of her swing confused me. “Nothing’s going to go wrong, Liz,” I said. “It’s karma. You know, you feel good; good things will come to you,” I countered.

“Still…we at least need to be thankful, not take all our luck for granted,” she answered, becoming self-reflective before placing her hand on mine. “I love you.”

“I love you, too, Liz,” I answered.  “We’re going to need another desk in the spare bedroom.”

“You’re right,” Liz mumbled. “The second bedroom. You know good things happen in threes. We can start thinking about a baby.”

“Let’s get through this year first,” I said.

“How about getting through the first half?” she countered.

“We’ll see,” was all I could say.

On the weekend, Liz and I busied ourselves building desks out of sawhorses and used doors I bought at a home salvage business in St. Petersburg. We stepped back from our creations, dabbing each other with our paint brushes.

“I love you, honey,” I said pulling her into me just as the telephone rang.

“It’s a telemarketer,” I whispered, “Let it go.”

“I’ll be right back,” she giggled. “It might be my mom.”

Liz took off her paint splattered Tretorns and tiptoed into the kitchen. I began hosing down the paint trays. After a few minutes, Liz came outside with a far-away look. Mouth half open, shaking her head, she seemed shocked.

“Liz, what the hell’s wrong?” I asked.

“That was Susan Klein,” she began. “My friend from the hospital in Missouri.”

“Susan?” I froze; my breath shortened as my heart beat faster. It was all over; police would be here at any moment.

“Prateek’s dead,” she answered.  “He took pills laced with cyanide.”

I began to sweat and feared I would be sick.  Wiping my forehead, I didn’t even try to conceal the flush that could alert Liz to my concern.

“Susan said police in Pakistan didn’t know much. Just that either Prateek made the pills himself or someone poisoned him.”

Someone else poisoned him punched me hard. My throat tightened as I tried to remain calm; the paint trays felt like cement in my hands. Liz smiled at me, and for a moment, I thought she understood what I had done, but then she looked down, kicking a piece of mulch off the concrete step.

“You didn’t do anything…no, you couldn’t. Nevermind, I shouldn’t have told you,” she said.

“No…no.  No more secrets,” I stuttered.

“A maid found his body in an apartment a week ago. He had been dead … a few days,” Liz began. “Susan says he was involved with some fringe political party. Police called the death politically motivated.”

Politically motivated, a cliché people had grown accustomed to because of action movies and main stream media. I rubbed sweat from my hands onto my shorts. Was I really now a free man, release from the relentless fear of being caught?  But still, I worried. Did police really believe the crime was political or was the determination only a ruse used to calm Prateek’s murderer into revealing himself?

“Anthony…the last time I saw him, he told me that he thought someone had been in his house; like he was being watched…never mind, that doesn’t make much sense,” she began before turning away. “I guess you never really know someone, do you? I’m going to take a shower.”

8.30.16:The Borderline: Chapter 36

active-hopeChapter 36

Independent schools want their hiring complete by April, but I had trouble concentrating on the recommendations, personal statements, transcripts, and everything I had to collect because my thoughts kept going back to Dr. Prateek.

He’s packing his bags now,” I thought, and if he took two capsules a day, he would have gone through four of the thirty unadulterated ones by the time he reached Pakistan. If the poisoned pills had settled to the bottom of the bottle, it would take about half a month before he neared them. I would be on Spring Break when he panicked, placing his hands around his neck as his esophagus spasmed to closure.

But what if he took the cyanide in his hotel room in Columbia, and housekeeping found him lying dead on the floor? I would still be in Matanzas. My nerves heated with fear as I retraced my steps once again, certain no one had seen me enter or leave the doctor’s house. And no one knew about the old poison in the basement or that it rested there no longer.   The dulled tin, my fingerprints pressed into its half century of dust, lay in my front closet, easily found if I were held suspect.

Reality tightened my chest at the thought of being placed in handcuffed and interrogated; I needed the tin destroyed, removed from this earth with force and finality. No weapon meant that even if a connection to me were drawn, the means to commit such a repulsive act could never be established. But how could I destroy such a tangible object?

“Anthony? Did you hear me?” Liz asked, coming into the bedroom and snapping me out of my anxiety.

“What?” I asked. “Sorry…guess I faded away thinking about what I have to do for this job hunt.”

“We have money. Maybe we can buy a house,” Liz began. “You’re worked to death here. Can you imagine no dorm duties, no weekends or nights?” Liz placed a finger to her lips while listing the benefits. “No military uniform…we’ll have more time together, too.”

“Okay, Liz.  Let’s do this.” I repeated my consent with bravado as if ready to leave tomorrow morning. “When should I tell Col. Thomas?”

“When you get your first couple of job leads.”  She paused before recalling a memory of long ago. “You didn’t have a choice for your first job, but now we have the possibility of living anywhere we want!” Liz’s excitement was building.

“I miss the mountains…and the ocean. I’d like a job near either one,” I said. “Or both…what about California?”

“I’d like to be close to a city,” Liz added.

Together, we began imagining our future like the newlyweds we were.

Once in class, however, while my students took vocabulary quizzes, my mind returned to the poisoned tin waiting to be found. During lunch I ran home and snatched the tin from its hiding, dumping its entire contents into the kitchen sink and chasing the powder down with a mixture of Clorox and Drano before scrubbing the entire sink with Pine Sol. I threw the tin back in the closet before meeting my 8th graders in the library. Walking past the science room, I heard Cpt. Fontain discussing the properties of acids. Which of those acids could break down tin? I wondered.

After dismissing my 8th graders, I stayed in the library for my planning period, reading up on common acids. Inexpensive muriatic acid, used in science classrooms across the country to clean steel and iron lab equipment, stood out as the most logical. It could break down an aluminum can in less than six hours and could be purchased at Wal-Mart, if Cpt. Fontain didn’t have any. While everyone dressed for athletics, I stole into Fontain science room.

Underneath a lab counter, I found a half empty glass jug of the substance tucked behind a five-gallon bucket of citric acid. Into a glass jelly jar, I poured enough of the clear, odorless liquid to submerge my tin. At home I placed the acid in the closet alongside the empty tin before returning to the gymnasium for basketball.

At the end of school, I rushed home, grabbed one of our Pyrex baking dishes, the acid, and the tin and hurried to the Alamo where I climbed the stairs to the dusty, silent third floor. There, in a corner room behind a pile of old desks, I placed the tin and its cap into my glass dish. Slowly I poured the acid, watching the liquid ooze into the old container’s silver mouth. In a few moments, the tin was submerged, and, according to what I had read, the acid had begun its duty. I stared into the glass dish, looking for signs of deterioration but witnessed nothing, no whiff of smoke, no spark, no curling of paint. The process would take longer than I wished so I left the tin to rot in its bath. Tomorrow I would check on its progress, hoping nothing would remain but a clear, odorless pool of liquid.

I slept little that night, fearing some rat would enter the Alamo’s room and chew an electrical connection causing maintenance to stumble upon my experiment.

In the morning I called Mr. Cronin of The Learning Group to distract my attention from acid wash obsession. He agreed I had a strong chance of employment. On my free period, I ran to the Alamo to check on my destruction, greatly relieved to see that after twenty-four hours of submersion, no trace of the tin remained save for a slight browned tincture to the liquid.

Satisfied, I poured the acid back into its glass jar and took it and the Pyrex dish back to my apartment where I drizzled the fluid down the drain and repeated the cleansing process I had used on the cyanide.

The powder, the tin, and the liquid existed on earth no longer. I allowed myself a moment to relax until I saw the Pyrex dish and the jelly jar on the counter. Residue could be found on them; how would explain that? I concentrated on a solution. Glass was easy to destroy; I would grind it up into such tiny bits and then spread the granules over miles of highway.

Before Liz came home, I took my hammer to both glass containers, crushing them to sand inside a paper grocery bag behind my Alamo. I then drove highway J with my window open the grains of glass disseminating over the cold highway. I burned the paper bag in my kitchen sink.

Now nothing tangible could ever connect me to Prateek murder. I buried myself in my teaching and job search to try to keep any further anxiety from building. I continued to have difficulty sleeping through the night, but desire to drive past Prateek’s house no longer pulled me, and I lay staring at the ceiling while Liz slept next to me. By the second week of March, I had lost twenty pounds and had to buy a new suit for the jobs I hoped to pursue.

By the week before Spring Break, I had sifted through several potential job opportunities, settling on two schools; the Barre Valley School in Atlanta and the Gasparilla Day School in Tampa, both of which offered to fly me in for interviews.

“Spring Break’s going to be busy,” Liz said as she prepped me.

“The first half, anyway,” I agreed. “If I come back with a job, maybe we can go to the Ozarks for a vacation or Memphis; that city’s supposed to be fun, and I’m guessing its only about three hours away.”

“I’d like Memphis,” Liz said. “It seems to have more culture than St. Louis or Columbia.”

Monday morning, we drove to the Kingdom City bus station. I held Liz’s hand hoping her warmth would calm my nerves, thinking of my growing personal empire. Money in the bank, a wife begging for forgiveness, two years’ experience in a boarding school, and no news about Prateek; my time had come at last.

But we passed a cop hiding behind a billboard.  Though I was only going four miles over the speed limit, my heart jumped and my hands became clammy. I tapped the steering wheel with my thumbs to rid my body of nervous energy.

“Anthony, what’s the matter?” Liz asked, seeing my odd twitch.

“Nerves getting to me.”

“Why…” she stated rather than asked. “You’re going to do fine. We’ve practiced, and these schools wouldn’t be flying you out if they weren’t serious about you.”

“You’re right,” I said, checking to see that the police weren’t following. “Still, there’s always a chance I’ll blow it.”

“This is where I first met Col. Thomas,” I said pulling into the graveled lot where my Greyhound waited, grumbling in the cold morning. “Now it could be taking us away.”
“Don’t be so sentimental. You did your time,” Liz coached. “Now go get us something better. Let those schools fight over you!”

As we rolled out, I thought about how young I was on my first bus ride, wide eyed, eager to prove myself, ready to say yes to anything. Now, less than twenty-four months later, my innocence had disappeared, the optimistic potential for new possibilities dulled by the pressure to escape.

Alone in the bus, I didn’t feel like the rookie all-star teacher these schools would fawn over. During my time at Greenan, I had given into temptation, lurked around town late at night, had forgiven my wife, and killed a man. I felt as if were living on borrowed time, and I held little hope for the future as the Greyhound drove on.

My flight to Atlanta was without incident, and I picked up the rental car reserved for me. Though I hadn’t driven in city traffic, Atlanta’s perimeter road was congestion free at 3 in the afternoon. Taking the exit to Buckhead, I soon pulled into the Wyndham Hotel with no trouble.

Walking into the hotel’s Victorian inspired lobby, I felt fine and confident; however, passing the large, airy cage of exotic finches, I froze. In front of me stood the tall and lanky, dark-skinned Dr. Prateek, smiling, waiting for my approach.  Panic struck me; I could no longer walk, and the walls closed in on me. Shaking my head, I looked again; the resemblance had faded; no Prateek menaced me; only an eager reservation clerk prepared to check me in. The pressure must be playing tricks on my nerves.

In my hotel room, I looked out onto the Atlanta cityscape, feeling far removed from Missouri, yet worried that I could never escape the feeling that someone was about to approach and tell me it was all over.

In the morning, I worked out, put on my new suit, and walked to my rental car as confidently as I could.

My top choice, The Barre Valley School, a PreK through twelfth grade school took up over sixty manicured acres in Buckhead, Atlanta’ upper class suburb. Peterson’s Guide rated the school a nine out of ten, noting its comprehensive course of study based on a scaffolding approach beginning in the lower division.

I drove up Barre Valley’s main road determined to make a terrific showing. The interview would begin in the middle school office with the division director. During my interview we walked through the school and met faculty and staff who asked me predictable questions, but though the campus was beautiful and the opportunities many, the school held an institutional feel that left me uninspired. Everything was too organized, too routine, and too sterile. Though Greenan was a military school rigid with rules and regulations, the administrators allowed me free reign within my class. At Barre Valley, the school’s adherence to a course of study created by curriculum specialists afforded little individuality or creativity.

In my final meeting, the Middle Division director sat behind his desk, holding a white envelope embossed with the Barre Valley School’s logo and crest. I guessed the man to be in his mid-fifties, and he spoke in such a defeated, low tone that he seemed to be counting the days to his retirement.

As we spoke, he reached into a desk drawer and took out Prateek’s bottle of glucosamine capsules. Eyes widening, I felt sweat drip from my armpits as he stuck two fingers into the bottle and took out two tablets. I blinked, realizing my mind was again flirting with madness; the tablets were Rolaids.

“Anthony, provided you pass a routine background check, I would like to offer you the middle division English position,” said the director, pushing me back to reality.

Thinking of my crime, I tensed for a moment; did he notice my hesitation? “Thank you, sir,” I snapped, rising to accept the envelope. “I’m definitely interested.”

“You’ll find the contracted salary. We’ll need the signed contract faxed to us within five days,” he said. He rose to hand me the envelope; the idea of a candidate declining the opportunity appearing foreign to him. I took the envelope, shook the man’s hand, and left the school as quickly as possible.

That night I flew to Tampa for my interview with the Gasparilla Day School. Though I had much to celebrate, I felt anxious. I had nailed the first interview, and The Barre School’s salary was $7,000 more than I earned at Greenan, but when I flipped through the Atlanta Apartment Finder, I found Buckhead’s housing market far too expensive. Liz and I would have to find a home on the outskirts of Buckhead, far away from campus. Against the commuter traffic, the required coaching, and the general malaise I felt at the school, the more implausible this opportunity became.

Feeling anxious because my go-to school was not what I expected, I now looked at the Gasparilla Day School with greater interest. The school, founded in 1961 during the white flight of desegregation, was much smaller than Barre Valley, and unlike the Atlanta school, Gasparilla had only paid for my flight and a room at the Ramada Inn, no trendy boutique hotel or convertible to lure me.  And unlike my Barre Valley interview, the Gasparilla Day School interview included teaching a 7th grade class.

After I grabbed my suitcase from the baggage claim, I walked out of the airport and stepped into a wall of heat. Used to the cold winter wind of Missouri, beads of sweat trickled down my back while I waited for the hotel shuttle. Spiky leaved palm trees stabbed the humid air; the sun’s intensity blinded me. So far Tampa seemed to be a foreign, inhospitable planet.

The shuttle drove out to the Courtney Campbell Causeway, dropping me off at my hotel across the street from the Tanga Lounge and Scarlett’s, two windowless, shady looking gentlemen’s clubs, their marquees advertising steak dinners with “shakes” at additional cost.

After checking in, I lay on the bed, trying to take a nap, but the room was too quiet for me to relax; Prateek’s capsules again entered my thought and I wondered where Prateek would be right now. Not wanting to obsess and fearful of hallucinating again, I changed into my workout shorts and t-shirt and went to the outdoor bar for a beer. On this Tuesday afternoon, the place stood empty save for the bartender.

“I’ll have a Corona,” I said to the leathered, yellow-haired man.

“Sure thing, brother,” he said, a broad smile revealing several missing teeth. He swung my drink to me as I wiped sweat off my face with a bar napkin.

“Man, it’s hot out here,” I said. “What kind of people move to Tampa besides retirees?”

The bartender slung a towel onto his shoulder. “Drunks and transients, my friend. That’s what you’ll find here, drunks and transients,” he answered, nodding his head to affirm his statement. The deep wrinkles in his ruddy face creased when he spoke. “Been doing this gig for twenty-nine years in just about every waterin’ hole in Tampa. They’re all the same ‘round here,” he said offering me his calloused hand.

“Drunks and transients; I guess I’ll fit right in then,” I chuckled. The sun-washed look of everything around me gave a seedy, derelict feel to what I saw, as if the people of Florida had given up a long time ago. The grass and weeds along the medians remained high, and the Causeway that stretched ahead of me had more potholes than macadam. What I had seen of Florida so far made the state seem like a great place for criminals to become lost and forgotten.

“Have you heard of the Gasparilla Day School?” I asked.

“Good ol boy money,” the bartender answered. “Rich kids’ school. South Tampa elite. Big fence around the whole place to keep the riff-raff out.”

“Doesn’t seem too well-liked.”

“It ain’t. Listen, the rich are few in number around here. They all hang together, acting better than everyone else, thumbing their noses, expecting to be treated like royalty, and leaving shitty tips.”

“Damn; I’m here for a job interview tomorrow. Doesn’t sound like my kind of place,” I said, thankful I had Barre Valley in my pocket. “I may as well enjoy tonight then. I’ll have another one.”

“Hell ya!  Enjoy tonight,” Marty nodded and laughed hoarsely. “Have a shot on the house,” he said pouring me a jigger of tequila. “There’s always some kind of trouble to get into in this town. Tampa’s the lighting capital of the world and the strip club capital of the country…two of our finest right across the street, on the way to the God damn beach!”

“How far’s the beach from the school?” I downed the tequila and almost threw it up as fast. Behind the bar, the bartender helped himself to a shot as well.

“About seven miles straight to Clearwater Beach, some say the finest beach in America,” he laughed.  “Listen man, I thought North Dakota was lawless country, but man!” spirited by the shot, the bartender became animated, his eyes widening and his grin beaming. “Floriduh is crazy stupid! Ever notice all the Cops shows are filmed here! Bad Boys, Bad Boys…Whatchya gonna do when they come for you,” he sang, pointing his fingers like guns straight at me like he knew I had murdered Prateek.

With the alcohol, my mood lifted; I felt the itch for another drink so I rose to leave before I was talked into a long night.

“I’m heading out; let me settle up.”

“Good luck on the interview,” the bartender said before reaching into his back pocket. “Here’s a coupon to the Tanga,” he nodded to the building across the street. “Can’t come into Tampa without experiencing the ladies. Tell ‘em Marty sent ya.”

I had no intention of going to the Tanga Lounge. Though my head spun from the drinks, I wasn’t so far gone that I would enter a dive recommended by a seedy bartender who had just tried to get me sauced.

The next morning, I followed the same routine as I did in Atlanta, and by 7:45, waited in the hotel’s air-conditioned lobby for a Ms. Liedman. Ten minutes later, a good looking, middle-aged woman in a red Mustang convertible pulled up and waved. Once outside, I was again hit by the hot air hanging like an invisible velvet curtain.

“Mrs. Liedman?” I asked, approaching the car. The sun attacked with ferocity, and in my wool suit, I feared I would be reduced to a mass of sweat and body odor by the time we arrived at school.

“That’s right, Anthony. Call me Sonya,” she answered, fluffing her bobbed hair. “Hop in. School’s only five minutes away.”

Sonya led our conversation easily, taking a sincere interest in getting to know me and telling me about Tampa’s storied history. As we drove onto campus, I hoped Mrs. Liedman didn’t see the shock on my face as we pulled into her parking space; the campus reminded me of a military base with utilitarian concrete block buildings and stabs of planked walkways piercing through the patches of thick, spiky grass in between the classrooms that opened to a covered patio with picnic tables; ceiling fans with wilted blades struggled to move the hot, heavy air.

“Welcome to Gasparilla Day School, Anthony,” Sonya announced, smiling. “Don’t worry. Most people have the same expression when they first come on campus. I think you’ll be surprised, though.”

Sonya led me to the Middle Division office where I first met with Mr. Lucas, the Middle Division director and Mrs. George, the head of the English department to discuss teaching philosophies. We spoke about pedagogy, teaching styles, and the funny things that happen in the classroom, the passion for teaching evident and heartfelt in all of us. I was then given ten minutes to prep for my class.

Halfway into my teaching, Sonya gave me the thumbs up and winked approvingly. After my class, I talked to the athletic director, ate lunch with the Middle Division student government, spoke with the librarians and two other English teachers before my interview with the headmaster. At 3:30 I was delivered back to Mr. Lucas, exhausted, disheveled, and overwhelmed but excited about the feel around the school.

“Anthony, how are you feeling?” Mr. Lucas asked, smiling from behind his desk.

“Mr. Lucas, honestly, this is an awesome place,” I answered.

“We do have a good thing here,” he said.  “I’m not going to beat around the bush; the reviews are in. Everyone liked you.”

Flattered by his frankness and the congeniality I encountered during my interview, I saw Gasparilla Day School as a better fit for me than the Barre Valley, and Tampa certainly appeared more affordable than Buckhead.

“We’re a competitive school, Anthony, and our strategic plan has us doubling in four years. We’re committed to hiring only the best teachers so you’ll find the salary we offer to be very competitive,” Mr. Lucas said, raising an eyebrow as if daring me to challenge his statement.

“Everyone here is so friendly,” I answered. “Though, honestly, it took a few minutes to get used to the campus.”

“You’re used to buildings with internal hallways. Form follows function here,” Mr. Lucas answered. “Cheaper to cool just classrooms rather than classrooms, hallways, and attics.”

The Barre Valley School was what I expected from a private school, prestigious, beautiful and aloof, but the Gasparilla Day School held a vision, a plan, and most importantly, a culture. Where Barre Valley felt institutional, Gasparilla felt comfortable in its progressive stance; more involved in the learning process than the product, and the teachers had engaged me in genuine friendly discussions that made me feel like part of the team already.

“Mr. Lucas, I’m going with my feelings on this. I do have another offer, but Gasparilla is my first choice as long as everything works out.”

“It will,” Mr. Lucas stated with an assertive nod. “We’re a close knit family here; we all look out for each other. Does your wife work?”

“She’s in hospital administration,” I answered. “Well, she’ll have to quit her job to move here.”

Mr. Lucas sat back with an air of relaxed confidence. “Anthony, we feel that Gasparilla is the premier school in the state,” he said, rising to a map of the city on his wall and pointing to a small dot abutting a shallow bay. “The president of the school’s Board sits on Tampa General Hospital’s board, and there are three other hospitals in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. If she wants a job in hospital administration, she’ll have one by December.”

I surveyed Mr. Lucas office, noting the many ribbons, trophies, and pictures of smiling kids. “You’re telling me I’m your first choice, your salary can’t be matched, and my wife will have a job within months?” I asked. “I have to ask.  Why?  I mean, it sounds unbelievable.”

“Anthony, you’re in a boarding school, so I know you’re used to long hours and already have a wide range of responsibilities. You’ve proven that you can hold a class’s interest, and you’ve lived on a campus in the middle of nowhere, so you’ve probably saved money which means a smoother transition,” he began. “Here’s what I’m not supposed to tell you: you’re also young, energetic, married, and don’t have kids. Even if we assign half the responsibilities you have at your military school, you’ll be doing more than most non-boarding applicants do.”

“I see,” I said, shrugging my shoulders in surrender.  “How can I say no?”

“Also, look around,” continued Mr. Lucas. “This is a thirty-four-year-old school. Most of the teachers are founding faculty. We’re older, and the school’s transitioning. The school needs younger, passionate teachers.”

“The other schools’ interviews weren’t as…” I searched for something to say. “Dynamic as this one.”

Mr. Lucas sat down at the corner of his desk before answering. “I’m assuming the other schools are sending offers to you within the week. Am I correct?”

“Yes, sir, you are,” I answered nodding firmly.

“Here’s our letter. Take a moment to read it,” Mr. Lucas said, handing me the envelope. “Provided you pass a routine background check, we’d like to offer you the position. You’ll also get $2000 towards moving expenses.”

Provided you pass a routine background check. Like a curse, that phrase would follow me until vengeance was served. My body heated, and I rubbed my neck.

“So much for my poker face, Mr. Lucas,” I said, reaching to shake his hand.

“You’re going to work hard at this school, Anthony. The demands are high, but why would a teacher passionate about his subject want to work in a mediocre school?” Mr. Lucas asked. “We’re prepared to treat you like the professional you are.”

“I’m ready to sign. What’s next?”
“As I’ve said, read through the contract with your wife. Sign it and fax it back within a week, please, so we can begin your paperwork. There’s also a summer English prep class I’d like you to teach so you get used to the pace of the school. You’ll be well compensated, of course.”

“Of course,” I said with more enthusiasm than I should have. Another handshake and I walked out of Mr. Lucas office, feeling overwhelmed at such a positive experience.  Sonya was talking with the front desk secretaries, waiting for me as if she were an old friend.

“Well?” she asked.

“It sounds too good to be true,” I answered as we walked to her convertible.

“This is a great school.”

“Is there a downside?”

“Live close to school; you’ll be working long hours,” Sonya offered. “The English head brags that his department is the strongest; he holds a lot of meetings, and we’re building a writing center next year.”

“This school doesn’t stop, does it?” I asked.

“Why should it?” Sonya answered.

Alone in my hotel room, I looked at my contract again before calling Liz with the news. Excited for our future, I had difficulty falling asleep that night.

Liz was waiting in our Cabrio at the Kingdom City Bus station when my bus pulled in. We hugged each other tightly, and though still stunningly beautiful, she now seemed more approachable. Our trials had made us a stronger team, one that was ready to embrace a new beginning. The demons we had killed along the way only made our love stronger.

“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” I said as I climbed into the car.

“I’m so proud of you, Anthony!” Liz answered. “You did so well!”

“I can’t believe we’re going to do this,” I answered back. “This doesn’t seem real!”

“A pre-k through high school…we can think about children now,” she answered, kissing my fingers as we drove home.

I nodded, barely noticing her comment about children.  My mind was elsewhere, darting between Florida and Pakistan, between a new life and a dead man.

8.18.16:The Borderlines: Chapter 35

f78040b7d9a31773-AlwaysAndEver_03Chapter 35

I looked into the mirror noticing a jawline with two day’s stubble, brown eyes red with tiny veins, a nose too big for its face, puffiness around my eyes. I didn’t feel like shaving this morning; I had been good to Liz, helping her see she was loved and valued, encouraged her to pursue her career, shared chores, treated her with respect, yet my kindness had not been enough.  I began to think that my love might not enough for Liz; I wondered if I ever would be enough to fill the hole inside Liz.

I performed my duties that morning in rote fashion, a programmed robot focusing my available thought on my own insecure jealousy, my shoulders hunched forward, tight with anxiety and anger. The walls of my classroom closed in on me; I had difficulty breathing. I needed to get out.

During lunch, I took the Academy pick-up past Liz’s hospital, wondering if she was talking to Prateek. Again I drove onto North Kentucky Street. As before, his house lay low and solid, the windows into it revealing nothing.  Like the night I followed Liz, I pulled into Plunkett Park, my eyes staring at his house.

The truck door creaked against the cold, echoing through the empty park when I opened it.  My heart raced as the cold air rushed in.  Head down, I walked. I found the front door locked.  I went around back and saw the gas grill.  Placing my gloved fingers to the slider’s handle, I tried the door, but it too was locked.

Walking to the front again, I tried the garage door handle. It turned, and so I opened it and stepped onto the empty garage; its grey cement floor gleaming cold and clean beneath me; across its expanse, the door into Prateek’s house; nothing signaled for me to stop.  My heart beat a deep, slow heavy rhythm as I walked on; no one but me heard to the hollow echoed click click of my dress shoes. I turned the handle; the door opened. Immobile in the silence, I stared into his house.

All remained empty, still, and quite, pulling me to enter, a slight smell of curry, the clean white gleam of the kitchen.  Beads of sweat gathered; I hesitated but couldn’t stop. I entered, breaking into Prateek’s home once again, into his private world, as he had broken into mine.

I stole into the living room and in the daylight stood in front of the couch where he sat, leering at Liz before pulling her into his bedroom. I looked out the sliding glass doors to see where I had crouched. My mouth dried as I followed imaginary the path into the bedroom and stood in front of his unmade bed.

I imagined a strand of Liz’s hair on the pillow, her DNA, unseen, spread everywhere on the bed. Nausea staggered my movement, but I pushed forward into the bathroom. Here, I pictured Liz sitting on the toilet. I knew her routine, afterwards, using a washcloth and then primping her hair before going back into the bedroom to snuggle. Now Prateek shared that intimacy.

His bathroom was as sterile as his kitchen; no pictures, no reading material on the back of the toilet, no stubble in the sink, and no trace of the affair.  Opening his medicine cabinet, I noticed an assortment of bottles and tubes arrayed on its three shelves; fish oil, aspirin, two medicine bottles, Neosporin, a new toothbrush. I picked up a bottle, Glucosamine Sulfate. I read its label: A safe and all natural solution for pain relief and expanded mobility! Eliminates joint pain and improves joint movement with fast, evident results! I shook it, listening to the capsules rattle in the home’s silence before shoving the bottle into my coat pocket.

Walking out of the house, I felt cocky, hoping he would pull into the driveway so I could face him. No car drove past so I shut the garage door without confrontation. Nothing stirred in the frozen cold outside, no shadows disturbed the drapes in the neighboring windows, and no stranger walked by waving hello. Though I felt the weight of hundreds of eyes staring at me, the street remained empty and still as I started the pick-up truck. Emboldened by my intrusive act, I felt a sense of calm driving back to campus.

After work I came home to a sticky note on the refrigerator written in Liz’s formal cursive sways.  At the gym, Love you it read; Liz had written the time as well; forty minutes ago. I folded my jacket over a kitchen chair and took the glucosamine bottle out of my pocket. Opening it, I saw about twenty clear capsules inside. I removed a capsule from its nest, held it over the kitchen sink and pulled it apart, watching its white powder fall and spread bright talcum white into the silver sink.

From the vestibule outside our apartment, Liz’s voice interrupted my focus as she spoke to a cadet. I threw the bottle in my school bag and washed the medicine away in the sink. Liz opened the door as the last of it swirled down the drain.

“Hello, Liz. Good workout?” I asked, pouring a glass of water for her.

“Yes.” She seemed calm and happy to see me. “I’m thinking I want to teach aerobics again.”

That first week after the affair, I struggled through the initial emotional turbulence of reconciliation. I was moody and sullen, getting up was a chore, a week’s worth of beard now on my face, I had stopped working out and was on the outskirts of depression. Liz, on the other hand, continued to work out daily and wrote in her journal frequently.

We spoke awkwardly; our apartment a quiet mausoleum; I avoided confrontation, fearful of starting a fight that would be heard by the cadets. Thursday night, Liz offered a much needed diversion to our sobriety.

“Anthony, we need to do something different,” Liz said. “I can’t go on like this.  I feel like I’m on pins and needles, always afraid we’re going to say something that causes us to fight.”

“What do you want me to do, Liz?” I asked.

“We haven’t been out in a while. Let’s go to the movies… have drinks, stay at a hotel, just get out of the house for a couple of days.” She reached across the table for my hand, something I used to do when we were dating.

“Okay,” I agreed. Her idea would help; we had been virtual shut ins since the night we drove to the cabin.

“I’ll book a hotel in Columbia. You choose the movie,” she announced, regaining her firm, confident tone.

After work on Friday, we drove to Murry’s on Columbia’s south side and shared calamari and a salmon dish. We left the cozy restaurant in high spirits on our way to Basic Instinct at the Forum 8.

“The movie’s supposed to be good,” Liz said while waiting in the line into the theatre.

“It looked interesting,” I answered. A gust of wind blew through those of us waiting, and I pulled her close and kissed her.

“I love you, Anthony,” she whispered.

As we walked through the crowd to our theater, I felt Liz, for a flicker of a second, freeze up.  I scanned the lobby; ahead of us, unaware that we were behind him, Prateek walked into the same theatre we were about to enter. I sunk quickly. What masochistic god would allow this run-in?

“What the fuck, Liz?” I said. A mother with a young child looked over her shoulder at my words.

“I don’t know what to say, Anthony,” she stuttered. Liz’s eyes began to moisten and she pushed her fingers through her hair, her lips trembling. “Let’s just get to our seats.”

We sat towards the back of the theatre and watched the previews. In the darkness ahead, I saw Prateek. He chose a seat eight rows ahead as close to the center as he could.

The trailers started, but I could only focus on the back of Prateek’s head as my own movie played out in my head, Liz and he together, his face bent over Liz’s, his lips kissing her neck; Liz unbuckling his belt, his hands slipping her shirt off. My lips dry with nervous anxiety, I got up, telling Liz I needed some water.

In the bathroom, I splashed water over my face, and looked into the mirror, the stubble, puffy bags under my eyes and unkempt hair made me looking older than I was; my face revealed the stress of keeping everything together.

“Liz, can we go?” I whispered when I got back to the theatre. “I don’t want to look at him.” Saying nothing, Liz got up and we fled the theater.

“What do you want to do?” Liz asked as we walked to our car.

“Just go to the hotel,” I mumbled.

Liz stopped and grabbed my hand. “I’m not going to let you stew,” she said. “Let’s get a drink somewhere.”

We ended up in a booth at the Applebee’s across the street from our hotel. Facing each other in the dimly lit restaurant, I realized that this night was the first time since we were married that we had been on a date. I drank my Long Island Iced tea, shaking my head at the night’s irony, listening to Liz try to save the night, but I went to bed pouting. By morning, my mood had cleared enough to walk around the Columbia Mall, stopping at the Pottery Barn to window shop.

“This reminds me, Anthony; we need to touch up our baseboards; they’re disgusting,” Liz mentioned.

“Maintenance just painted all the bathrooms in the dorms,” I answered. “I know there’s a bunch of leftover white in the basement of the Alamo.”

Once on campus, eager for some mundane assignment to pull my thoughts out of their stupor, I walked to the Alamo for the paint.  I saw the box of poisons in the far corner.  I approached it, lifting the lid and staring at the same half dozen or so rusty, faded tins. I picked up the potassium cyanide. The can was cold and light. Could the poison still be potent? I laughed at the morbid thought.

My eighth graders were reading the Sherlock Holmes short story, “The Babbinger Seven”, in which the murderer kills seven chimney sweeps with rat poison. I unscrewed the lid. Bright white granules similar to coarse sugar filled half the container and appeared as fresh as if the can was just bought yesterday. It might be neat for my students to see real poison rather than just reading about it so I put the small tin in my coat pocket. Back in our apartment, I realized the absurdity of showing the toxin to kids, placed the old tin next to the turpentine in the storage closet and busied myself with painting.

Sunday morning, I went to the school’s library for information on a Victorian era unit I was preparing for my 7th graders. The kids would get a kick out of what I was photocopying; men in bowler hats and handlebar moustaches and women with eighteen inch waistlines and ankle length swim suits, old storefront windows and advertisements for goods and services, all in grainy black and white.

Engrossed in research, I dropped the large P encyclopedia with a thud onto my desk thumbing through it for pictures of pens. I saw a small column for potassium cyanide and read it. Potassium cyanide causes respiratory failure by preventing cells from receiving oxygen. Heart and brain function are restricted and, within minutes, symptoms such as rapid breathing, dizziness, nausea, and headaches become evident. 

Fascinated by the macabre revulsion of death, I read on:

A rounded teaspoonful of potassium cyanide contains fifty times the amount necessary to kill a human within minutes of ingestion…I reread the entry’s comment on concentration, trying to imagine what one fiftieth of a rounded teaspoon looked like.

I continued my reading. Cyanide has a history of being employed to kill humans.  The Nazi regime used it in gas chambers during the Holocaust and Saddam Hussein used hydrogen cyanide to kill Kurds.  Jim Jones used it to murder his followers in Jonestown, Guyana. The chemical has often been used for suicide as well.  Notable cyanide suicides include Erwin Rommel, Eva Braun, and Adolf Hitler.   

Espionage, counter intelligence forces, and revolutionaries (most notably the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) carry crystalized potassium cyanide in capsule form to be taken if captured.  

Still readily available in most third world countries, it continues to be used as a form of pest control though calls for its banning have become increasingly stronger.

So the poison was effective in rendering a person lifeless, and I possessed a supply no one knew existed. Again I wondered how small a dose was one-fiftieth of a teaspoon. Removing even double, triple, or quadruple that amount from the old tin in the basement would never be noticed.

The potential for murder amazed my senses, but, again, I laughed off the notion.  Of course, I wasn’t capable of murder. Only the most heinous of man could murder another.  Still, the melodrama was intoxicating enough to daydream through to its conclusion. I fantasized about pouring the crystalized potassium cyanide into his salt shaker, the granules mixing together as I shook it.  Would the good doctor dismiss the subtle almond odor before realizing what he had just swallowed? Would he die quickly or would a buildup of the poison over several dosages be necessary?

The possibilities, the calculated risks, and potential rewards excited me. I shut the encyclopedia, ending my garish dream.

My responsibilities were light that week, only morning and evening mess hall supervision, and Liz promised she would be home early that week; her boss away at a conference in Chicago.  I was being empathetic to Liz’s needs and reading The Myth of the Greener Grass by J. Allen Peterson. I wanted to love her as before and forgive her so that the healing could begin.

Until Wednesday night.

Liz came home with some paperwork to finish after dinner. I held up the essays I needed to grade; we smiled in understanding as we set up in our usual spots in the living room; Liz perched on the sofa, her papers spread around her, and I in the cushioned chair, reading lamp over my shoulder.

Enjoying a serenity and comfort I hadn’t felt for some time, I went into the kitchen to make tea, looking back to Liz, working so hard on her project. According to the self-help books, the first year of marriage was the hardest. Our marriage had, indeed, been tested, but we seemed to be getting through the tough times; I looked forward to many relaxing nights like this one. As I placed Liz’s tea on the coffee table, my eye caught a note scribbled on a receipt sticking out of a folder beside her.

Almost indecipherable, I read ‘…good time to say goodbye?’ in the messy scrawl.

I pretended I didn’t see the note, but grading papers became difficult. I wanted to assume Liz had ignored the request, but why had she kept the note? I reached for a pen in my book bag and spotted the bottle of glucosamine sulfate tablets.

Liz had said he was soon returning to a country rife with corruption and turmoil, a place where death was common. Overworked Pakistani police would be quick to dismiss his poisoning for any number of reasons; money, jealousy, politics, even suicide.  With potassium cyanide readily available in third world countries, no one would never suspect a murderer halfway across the globe.

That night, I mulled over replacing Prateek’s glucosamine sulfate with potassium cyanide. Liz slept next to me, oblivious to my machinations. When I closed my eyes, I saw my fingers open the capsules as I had done before, pulling them apart, emptying their contents into the sink, using a wooden coffee stirrer to load the capsules with the poison, and then the doctor choking, gasping for air in some dank apartment in a rushed and crowed Pakistan city.

Next morning, thoughts of poisoning the doctor turned to obsession, driving me to joyous madness. I could barely stifle a wicked smile at the thought as I watched my students take their quiz; each kid unaware of the scenes playing out in my mind.  No one on campus knew the power I held- the awesome potential to destroy my enemy.  All they saw was a dedicated teacher and a loving newlywed who looked like he was growing a beard and losing weight, but my façade hid a scheming planner still too passive to carry through with his grisly plan to remove this bastard, this insidious fungus, from society. Yet, that day my idea grew more fantastic, realistic and plausible as I obsessed over it.

At lunch, I went home to my empty apartment and took from my bag the glucosamine sulfate bottle, staring at its cylindrical shape and wondering if this was really happening. In the kitchen, I emptied another capsule, tapping its contents into the sink and placed the empty shell on a paper towel.  I emptied another and another, and quickly, a small mound of white powder rose in the sink; I counted twelve empty capsules on the paper towel.

Yet, I felt no sense of accomplishment, no feeling of getting away with something sinister, the only minor exploit being that I had kept the now empty casings intact. I needed to place the poison inside the capsules to see if I was clever enough to pass them off as benign glucosamine capsules. I needed to know I could create a poisoned capsule so realistic it could fool a doctor. Then I would throw them all down the kitchen drain, satisfied in knowing that, had I actually wished to be a murderer, I could have. I went to the closet, and there, next to the turpentine, waited the silent tin.

As in my daydream, I took a coffee stirrer from the pantry and marveled at the steadiness of my hands handling such poison. Soon, all twelve capsules had been filled and resealed. I placed the remainder of the pills from the bottle next to the twelve poisoned ones, noting only a slight difference in opacity between the medicine and the poison.

An unassuming person would dismiss the subtle difference.  I saw the poisoned capsules immediately, however, so I placed all the capsules back into the bottle and shook it gently.  I then emptied the bottle, trying to separate the potassium cyanide capsules from the unadulterated ones.  The pills had all grown more uniform in clarity, and I had difficulty discerning between them now.

With five minutes before my afternoon classes, I placed the capsules back in their bottle, one by one, listening to them fall onto each other before placing the bottle in my school bag. I walked into the school building in high spirits, marveling at the quality of my prank.

Just the thought of eliminating Prateek made me feel closer to Liz.  I had the power to rid our lives of this pest.  Liz would be safe, and we could get back onto the track we had idealized. I couldn’t wait to see her tonight and tell her I loved her.

Excited by the possibility of getting away with murder, I kept close watch on my book bag, fearful that one of my students would find the capsules and suck down a few on some sophomoric dare and rid me of this unique opportunity.

I managed to get through my classes, and at the end of school, I dismissed my students so they could dress for athletics. With my school bag tightly gripped, I returned to our apartment to change, leaving my bag in its usual place beside my favorite chair before heading to the field house for basketball. When I came home for the night, I called out for Liz, but the air hung still and silent.

She should have been home; she hadn’t called or left a note as she had done so religiously for the past month. I remembered the note and knew where she was. Nervous with jealousy, I changed my clothes and took a beer from the refrigerator before sitting in the living room. I opened my book bag; tucked between essays and my journal, the bottle stared at me. I was on my seond beer when I heard Liz coming up the stairs. Slowly the door creaked open.

“Anthony?” she asked, averting eye contact.

“You’re home late,” I answered.

“I had to stay…those nursing certificates HR wanted me to work on.”
“Liz, I saw the note,” I said feeling heady from the beer.

She sat down across from me on the couch, looking resigned and tired.

“I had to tell him I loved you,” she began. “I wanted him to know he meant nothing.”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were going?”

“You didn’t want me talking to him,” she answered.  “He’s leaving in two days, working nights until then.” Liz looked pained and tired.  Her voice as she searched for the right words.  “Anthony, I’m not the person I was a year ago, not the person I was two weeks ago.” Liz wiped her eyes with her fingers.  “I feel like I understand things better.”

Liz did seem more relaxed and in control than she had been since before the wedding.  “Well, you had a lot going on this year, graduation, wedding, job search,” I said.

“You never doubted your ability to love,” Liz said. “But I never thought I could love at all.”

I thought I understood what Liz had done; she had made closure with her previous life; she had faced her insecurities, wrestled away her demons and now could love me unconditionally.  Though I resented the hard lesson, I thought back to Sarah. Being with her made me see that we often live our lives in between right and wrong.

That night we made love with no need to prove anything; our rhythm calm and slow. With the intensity of a midnight fire, we stoked our desire, feeling like we were together for the first time.  We fell asleep holding each other, but thirty minutes later, I woke, staring into the silent darkness. I tried different positions, but sleep escaped me. Finally, after an hour of frustration, I rose and sat on the couch.

I began obsessing about the hypocrisy of the doctor, a person dedicated to the preservation of life had taken advantage of Liz. At least when I slept with Sarah, it was consensual; we needed each other to escape the tedium of our lives.

But Prateek knew Liz was married.  I remembered how tall and arrogant he looked when in the theatre but how cowardly he acted when I confronted him in his home. Did he know something Liz wasn’t telling me? Did she tell him she didn’t know what love was, like she had told me? Was he privy to secrets that should have been shared only with me?

I took deep breaths to calm my nerves and slow my heart. Now fully awake and pacing, I looked out the window into the dark, cold February night.

He’s working the night shift.” Liz’s comment echoed in my mind. Without a thought, I grabbed my book bag, and lifting my keys from the ring near the door, I stole from my apartment in my sweatpants and t-shirt.

Before me, the road to Prateek’s house. I was freezing so adjusted the car’s heater.  Along the way, I heard the bottle of glucosamine sulfate vibrating in my bag on the passenger seat, the poisoned capsules rubbing against the unadulterated ones.

A crescent moon, bright against the black winter night, watched me pull into Plunket Park. I opened the bottle. Arranging several capsules on the passenger seat, I could not identify the ones I had perversed.  I placed the capsules back into the bottle before proceeding to Prateek’s house. Without a pause, I rolled up the garage door and walked through the home as if I lived there. With singular determination, I turned on no light and veered nowhere from my course.

Prateek’s airline ticket lay on the kitchen counter; I read Peshewar and the departure date from the St. Louis Airport. I walked into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. I placed the bottle where I had found it before shutting the medicine cabinet. Retracing my steps, I shut the door into the house and slid the garage door down. I stole back to my car and drove the dark road home where I crawled into bed next to Liz, who seemed not to have moved at all, her breathing deep, serene, and regular; the entire scene could not have taken more than thirty minutes.

But I lay awake, staring at the ceiling and rubbing my eyes. My heart never slowed as I thought of what I had just done. At 3:00, I lay down on the living room sofa where I finally found sleep. Liz woke me at 6:00.

“Anthony, honey,” she said, rubbing my back. “What are you doing out here?”

“I couldn’t sleep; didn’t want to wake you.”

“I heard you get up around midnight,” she said. “Thought I heard the front door too, but I must have I imagined that.”

“I thought I heard a cadet walking around,” I answered and, for a moment, thought that my deed had only been a dream.

“I’m sorry you had trouble sleeping. I hope it wasn’t my fault.”
“No, I love you, Liz,” I said, relieved she had not come out to find me gone.

“I love you, too, Anthony. Let me make you some coffee. You look like you’ve been up all night.”

I watched Liz walk into the kitchen in only her t-shirt. She knew nothing, and hopefully soon the doctor would be dead in Pakistan, never to return, and her secret would be safe. My heart raced again as I let last night’s escapade settle on me. I worried that my deed had been witnessed, but I remembered that no car drove by and no light flickered on in any home; the dark night had cloaked me in secrecy.

I was edgy and nervous for the next two days and thought frequently of returning to the house to take back the bottle. During my Officer-in-Charge duties, I was called into Col. Schlact’s office.

“You okay, Anthony?” he asked.

“Yes, having been sleeping well, but other than that I’m fine,” I answered.

“Listen, I need you to shave; faculty handbook says no beards or stubble. Doesn’t look good with the uniform,” he instructed. “Take care of it by tomorrow, will you?”
After the gentle scolding, I paced the barracks floors, looking out the dorm windows for police, jumping at each ring of the phone. For the rest of the week, I listened to the radio, watched the evening news, and read the newspapers in the library with a mixture of fear and hope that Prateek’s body had been discovered. At night, I slept little, drawing into a fetal position then flopping onto my back to stare into the darkness.

After four days of anxiety, I tried to calm myself through reason. Prateek had left for Pakistan or maybe he lay dead and rigid in his home; his body yet to be discovered. I felt a pull to drive by his house in hopes of finding it empty so I could end my torment.

Once, after the sun set and our dinner together finished, I did go back, telling Liz I needed to buy some fish food for the guppies in my classroom. Silence kept me company as I walked around the house only to find each door, including the garage, firmly locked against my advance.

“Anthony, is everything all right?” Liz asked as we climbed into bed after my inspection.

“Yeah, I guess so. This week’s been tough,” I answered. “I guess I’m just a little emotional, hoping your friend’s gone.”

“He left two days ago,” Liz answered, her eyes lowering with her voice. “I love you with all my heart,” she added trying to change the subject. “You know that, don’t you?” She took her hand in mine.

“Yes,” I answered.
“We’re together, forever,” Liz sated firmly. “The worst is over,” she followed with fierce resolution. “We’re together…forever.”

She paused as if waiting for me to say something; I knew she was holding something in by the way her brow furrowed.

“You’re thinking of something, Liz.  What is it?” I asked.

“I can’t get something out of my head,” she answered. “I don’t want to say it right now.”
“You may as well. We have no more secrets.”

She rolled over to face me and placed her hand on my chest. “I don’t want to live here anymore,” she answered. “I want to leave the bad memories, start someplace new that’s ours together.”

“You mean leave my job?”

“Please?” she asked. “You’ll find another job. I’ll help you with your resume and interviews.”

Exhausted by lack of sleep and stress, I agreed. Anyway, I too now wished to leave Matanzas, to run away from any mess that might be found.

7.8.16: The Borderline: Chapter 34

3-Simple-Steps-to-De-Catastrophizing-Scary-Events-Such-as-BREXITChapter 34

I didn’t think to ice my hand when I got home so when I woke, the knuckles had swollen up, tight, tense, and red, they pulsed with ache; I took an aspirin, hoping that the swelling would go down. I began to worry about Prateek calling the police. To calm my nerves, I started shaving slowly, going over the contours of my face with the patience of a surgeon to prove that my hands were steady and confident.

I started to catastrophize, fearing the police would be knocking at my door at any moment. I tried to focus on the act of dressing, straightening my tie, perfecting my gig line, rubbing a rag on my dress shoes, but obsessive fear continued to control me. Failing to calm my nerves with such mundane routine, I poured a cup of coffee and tried to grade some papers.

“Anthony, can you make me a cup?” Liz asked from the bedroom.

“Sure. You’re up early,” I answered “What time did you come in last night?  I didn’t hear you.”

“Around 9:30 I think,” she answered. “You were in bed. Sound asleep.”

“Yeah, busy night,” I answered as I walked into the bedroom. Liz was up with a notebook in her hands. “What are you doing?”

“I want the presentation to go smoothly; not everyone’s going to be happy with their assignments,” she answered before noticing my knuckles. “Oh my God, Anthony, what happened to your hand.”

“Banged it on the ping pong table,” I answered.

“It looks awful; you should put some ice on it.”
“I’ll go to the nurse before classes,” I answered. “Should have done it last night, but it didn’t seem that bad then.”

I did visit the nurse before walking to the academic building, but she only applied some Neosporin on the cuts and told me the swelling would probably go down by the afternoon. I gave group work to my morning classes as my anxiety rose, scanning the parking lot outside my window for a police cruiser, listening for the phone call asking me to come to the front office where a policeman would be waiting for me. By the end of my workday, exhausted by the constant fear, I fell asleep on my couch.

The jangle of keys on the opposite side of our door woke me; Liz walked in and dropping her bags by the door. I looked at my watch before getting up.

“Must have dozed off,” I said. “How was your day?”

Liz looked beat; her brow furrowed by some complication in the rolling out of her plan at work. “It was fine, I guess,” she answered. “I was right; a lot of the employees didn’t like the assignments I gave them for the accreditation.”

“Sorry to hear that,” I said. “Want to go out to eat?”
“No thanks. I’ve got a lot of reading to do,” she answered. “Could you make us some soup while I get out of these clothes?” As we left the living room, the phone rang; Liz checked the caller id. “It’s work; I’ll get it in the bedroom.”

I saw Liz draw the bedroom door. Curious, I put my ear to our door.

“…horrible,” I heard her whisper. “Is he okay?”

Liz did receive an occasional phone call from work, but none had ever produced this level of concern. I continued to listen, holding my breath as if doing so would allow me to hear better.

“…could falling cut him up like that?” Liz asked. “He’s not telling the whole story, is he?”

Knowing she was talking about Prateek, I waited to hear that he had confessed to whomever was on the other end of the line.

“Susan, I need to go,” Liz said. “We’ll talk about this more tomorrow.”

I jumped back to the pot of soup on the stove, stirring it as if it were the most important task in the world.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“Susan, from work,” she answered. “It was just work issues.”

“Like what?” I pressed.

“Nothing, really, just the usual people complaining about the work they have to do for this accreditation review.” Liz said. She took two bowls from the cupboard, glancing at my bruised hand as she brought them to me.

I moved away, taking a hot plate from the drawer; placing it and the soup on the table. Neither of us sat; the space in the kitchen heavy with stilted silence.

“Anthony, what really happened to your hand?” Liz asked.

“Hit it on the foosball table after study hall.”

“You told me you hit it on the ping pong table.”

“Ping pong, foosball,” I said. “Whatever; I was playing both.”

“Anthony, Susan said Prateek looked pretty beaten up.”

“So? What do I care?”

“Did you do anything to him?” Liz asked.

“I was with the kids last night,” I offered, my voice cracking with guilt.

“You can prove that?”

I avoided Liz’s gaze, looking at her forehead and then out the window behind her. “No, I can’t,” I admitted.

“You did this to him, didn’t you?”

“Yeah, I did,” I answered.

“How could you?” Liz asked, her voice flaring with anger.

“How could you do what you did?” I asked. “Especially with him?”

Liz ignored my dig. “He can press charges, Anthony.”

“He didn’t tell your friend who did it, did he?” I asked.

“Susan’s pretty good at getting information out of people.”

“I scared the shit out of him,” I said.

“Sure,” Liz said, rolling her eyes. “I’m going to talk to him, Anthony; to make sure he doesn’t say anything. I know he feels bad about what happened.”

“How do you know he feels bad?” I asked. “Are you still seeing him?”

“We talked after you and I talked at the cabin,” Liz answered, her voice calm and confident. “Remember, I wanted closure.”

“Yeah, well I want closure too,” I shot back, my mind spinning with jealousy. “Where’s it going to lead, Liz? You going to start sleeping with him again? Self-fulfilling prophesy to prove that you’ll do something so bad to break us up?”
Liz took a step back, quiet for a moment, as if unprepared for my line of attack. “No, I’m not, Anthony. I’m going to talk him out of going to the police.”

“When? Before or after you fuck him again?” I asked.

“Do you really think the school will be happy that you beat someone up? Anthony, they’ll fire you just for the accusation.”

“You just want a reason to talk to him,” I shot back.

“No, I don’t. What I did makes me sick. The fact that I have to talk to him again after what you’ve done, sickens me even more.”

“Yeah, but I have to live with what you did.”

“And so do I, Anthony,” Liz said. “You’re just being an ass,” Liz said picking up her bowl. “I’m going into the bedroom to get some work done. Stay out until you cool down a bit.”

“Fuck you, Liz,” I snapped.

“I’ll ignore that comment, thank you,” Liz said before grabbing her bags and shutting the door to the bedroom behind her.

I sat in the kitchen, eating my soup alone, my mind awash in anger, resentment, jealousy, fear, guilt. I needed a plan to settle my wild thoughts. He would have to go before anything more came out of what I did to him. It wasn’t going to get any better. Liz would always defend him because I had taken a step towards violence. My anxiety built as I played the scenario out; Prateek convincing Liz that I, now angry, volatile, and capable, would soon turn hostile towards her.  I knew then, as I tilted my bowl and spooned in the last of my soup, that I was going to kill Prateek.

7.30.16:The Borderline: Chapter 33

20150610230823-InnChapter 33

I remained moody for the next few days, my emotions volleying between forgiveness and resentment. Twice after my Officer-in-charge shifts, I drove past Prateek’s house, twice, seeing the blue hue of the television flickering inside. I imagined him watching some American drama, a Budweiser in his hand as he unwound from a day checking farmers with high blood pressure, housewives with ulcers and overweight people with pre-diabetic ailments from too much bacon, red meat and fried food.

Driving past Prateek’s home failed to quell the deeper anger that pulled at me. I was outside, circling and watching, but he was in there unaware of me. Prateek had fucked my wife, and now he was sitting in front of his television oblivious to what he had done to me and Liz.

8th grade Cadet corporal Thompson first gave me the idea of facing Prateek. After dinner, he broke up a fight between two seventh graders in a manner that demonstrated exemplary conflict resolution skills.

“Magdaleno! Bracy! You both have two choices; continue fighting and have your Saturday free time taken away or shake hands and promise to stay out of each other’s way tonight…What’s it going to be?” he demanded.

Without a word, the cadets looked at each other, shook hands and went their separate ways. Thompson’s approach was direct, confident, and quick and that night as I supervised study hall, I daydreamed about approaching Prateek in that same manner, making him bend to my demand.

Heather had mentioned that I would have to meet many of Liz’s lovers in order for closure, and that night I realized that I would be going to confront Prateek, and while the cadets focused on their assignments, I thought out several scenarios.

I would knock on his door; he would answer and I would tell him who I was and offer him two choices: leave the hospital or I’d beat the crap out of him. Or I would just announce who I was, order him to let me in, and we’d sit and talk like I did with Sean. If he wasn’t home, I would open the garage door, enter his house, sit in front of the TV and wait for him. However, the more I thought about meeting Prateek, the vaguer our confrontation became. I could only dream up my initial comment; I couldn’t imagine what he would say or act afterwards; my mind became locked on only these three scenarios, and I became frustrated so I rose and walked around the study hall; my mind still looping around the idea of meeting Prateek.

When I got home, Liz was reading in the living room. She seemed relaxed and happy curled up with her book, and I thought of the days at Queen’s Landing when I peeked through the windows of the model home to catch a glimpse of her as she read. I put my book bag down and kissed her.

“How was your day, honey?” I asked.

“Fine, just routine. How was yours?”

“Busy; I don’t think I sat for more than five minutes at a time,” I answered.

“But you like it, right?”

“I love it.”

“I like my job, too,” Liz said. She paused for a moment, hesitant to continue. “I do have a meeting tomorrow night though.” She bit her lip waiting for my response.

“What kind of meeting?”

“An administrative meeting to begin the accreditation process. The hospital has to go through it next year, and our group has to divide the responsibilities among the staff.”

“He’s not going to be there, is he?” I asked.

“No, he only works in the day shift now.”

“Howe do you know?”

“The doctors’ schedule is in the administrative office.”

My anger searched for grounds to rise, but, having no real reason for it to rage, the emotion surrendered to acquiescence.

“No problem,” I answered.

But the next night, alone in my apartment, my thoughts settled on Prateek at home watching television, smugly unaware of what I was going through. I turned on my television and grabbed a beer from the fridge, hoping the buzz would change my focus. I watched Jeopardy and was on my third beer when the show ended. Anxious and emboldened from my buzz, I grabbed a bottle of wine, the rest of my six pack for courage and the keys to the school’s pick up. I drove to Prateek’s house and opened the front door as if I owned it.

“Who’s there?” I heard from down the hall.

“Your worst nightmare,” I said following the voice to the bathroom off the kitchen.

“Who are you?” Prateek asked again.

“You know who I am,” I answered before knocking loudly on the bathroom door. “Hurry up!”

“Please, give me a minute,” he pled. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“Liz’s husband, and I’m going to kill you,” I answered.

“Oh God,” I heard him whisper.

“I’m waiting; if you’re not out in five minutes, I’m coming in,” I said. I walked into the kitchen; it was spotless; Prateek ate most of his meals out. I opened the pantry and noticed an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels. A tag with Congratulations on your residency taped to the bottle’s neck. I opened it and gulped down a strong shot of courage. I took another for good measure, almost throwing up as I did so. The bathroom door opened and a tall, skinny dark man walked into the kitchen and stared at me.

“Sir, I am sorry for what I did,” he began. “You must believe me. We only did this thing together once.”

The Jack Daniels hit my head fast and the room began to spin. I had to regain some sense of dominance so I gave him the bottle of Jack. “Drink,” I demanded.

“Oh, no sir. I cannot drink spirits,” he said.

“You will tonight, or I’ll wipe your fucking ass all over this floor now!” I yelled.

Prateek brought the bottle to his lips; his hand tremble as he sipped lightly.

“Not good enough; drink more!” I demanded.

He put the bottle to his lips, this time taking a stronger pull before setting the bottle on the white countertop. As soon as he had done so, I slapped him hard across the face; he reeled backwards at the sudden attack.

“Sir, stop please. I am sorry; I am sorry,” Prateek pled as he backed away from me.

“Fuck you, asshole! You weren’t sorry when you were fucking Liz, were you?” I yelled before punching him in the jaw. “You’re only sorry that I’m here now.”

My hand throbbed after hitting his jaw, but in irrational anger, I punched his refrigerator, denting it and cutting my hand. I grabbed Prateek by the throat and punched him in the stomach. He crumpled onto the kitchen floor, and I began to worry that I had hit him too hard.

“One more drink,” I said handing him the bottle.

“Oh no, no sir. Please, I don’t drink liquor; it’s against my religion.”

“Sleeping with someone’s wife isn’t against your religion?” I asked before kicking him. “Drink, asshole, or I’ll pour the hole bottle down your throat.”

He did as instructed, slumping down and hanging his head as the liquor began taking its toll. “Please, Sir, please, forgive me; I was a virgin and was not thinking clearly.”

“So you thought you’d get some easy American girl to fuck,” I said. “Did you think they’re all sluts? Not like the women in your country?” My speech slurred as my mind began to lose control of its rationale. Beneath me, Prateek crumpled to the floor, blood trickled from his nose. I kicked him halfheartedly, but I had begun to lose interest in beating him. I took another swallow of Jack. Now a drunken mess, I fell down next to Prateek.

“One more oughtta finish you off,” I said. “Drink!” I had to hold his head up and pour the shot down his mouth before taking another drink. “Why did you fuck up what we had? Liz is too beautiful to be fucked around like you did.”

“I’m sorry,” Prateek sighed. “I’m sorry.”

Prateek’s blood had dripped onto the kitchen’s clean white tile; some of it had smeared on the cabinet on its way down and some dots had dried on the counter near the sink. I began to worry about Prateek calling the cops on me.

“You call the cops, I’ll come back and beat the shit out of you again,” I started. “They have nothing on me. It looks like you got pretty drunk and fell down here It’ll be your word against mine if you call.”

“Sir, I will not call; I am sorry,” was all he could say before he passed out. I stared at him for a few minutes, watching to make sure his breathing was even and regular. I looked at his face; though he had a soft jawline, I could be considered handsome; he had long eyelashes, high set cheekbones, and full lips. He was a doctor so was intelligent and he was foreign so I could see why Liz was attracted to him. I got up, and realizing that I would never make it home, collapsed on the same couch where Liz and he began to undress each other.

I woke about an hour later with a bad headache. Prateek had gotten up and passed out again; I saw his body prone on his bed. I entered his bedroom and noticed the bathroom off to the left where Liz would have gone to after sex. I checked on Prateek’s breathing before driving back to my school.

Liz was still at her meeting, our apartment empty so I took a long, hot shower before collapsing into bed. Not much of a drinker, I fell asleep quickly; the night’s consumption had taken its toll on me as well.

7.30.16: The Borderline: Chap. 32

Staffa_Fingal_s_Cave_1832

My favorite painter…a 19th century romanticist. Can anyone name him?

Chapter 32

I drove out of Greenan’s back country feeling more mature; I now bore the weight of an empathy that only came through deep emotional drain.  Next to me, Liz stared into the darkness, looking tired and defeated. I wanted to think that we had come to a higher place, comfortable with each other and the quiet understanding between us, but as we drove, my mind began twitching once again. Like Heather had warned, I just had to know more.

“How many times did you …?”

“Just that once. I swear,” she answered. “Just that once.”

“But you drove to his house,” I said. “and opened his door like you knew the place.”

“Anthony, I’m sorry,” Liz said. “I didn’t ever want to hurt you.” She gripped my hand tighter. “We did kiss at work; I’m sorry.”

I could only nod.

“Tell me you love me.  Tell me we can get through this,” she begged.

“Quit your job,” I answered. “Get out of there. That’s a start.”

“He’s leaving in two weeks,” Liz said. “Volunteering for something…. Crescent Movement, Red Crescent … something like that back in his country.”

“Whatever… I hope he goes to fucking hell,” I snapped.

“I have vacation time; I can take it until he’s gone,” Liz said.

“Does anyone know?”

“No, Anthony, no one else knows,” Liz answered.  “I swear.”

Liz called in sick next morning which gave us Friday plus the weekend together. During those three days, my emotions ebbed and flowed. At times, I wanted to yell at her for her reckless stupidity; other times I wanted her to see me as more powerful, more attractive, and more sexual than her lover.

Liz had taken me higher than I ever knew I could ascend, but with that rise came sacrifice. That weekend Liz played the dutiful wife role, attentive to the rise and fall of my feelings, but keeping quiet, allowing my emotions to run their gamut.

Liz did ask for two weeks’ vacation starting immediately but was told she could only take one week on such short notice. She would have to work with him for five more days.

“Tell him it’s over; you need to face him,” I demanded.

“I will, Anthony; I promise,” she answered.

I still loved Liz. I loved the way she moved her hands when she spoke, and I loved her resolute drive. I loved her expectations of me, and I loved how her large, almond shaped eyes bore into me when I held her. Her vulnerability awoke in me an instinct to protect, to save her from those who preyed upon her.

Liz, the beautiful fragile porcelain doll, was now chipped, but her missing flake was barely noticeable. I knew she drew other men into her, but I was the one. Through me, she would be made whole again, but that patch would take time to heal.

Though I still idealized our love, the images of the dark hands of the Pakistani doctor touching Liz’s body blasphemed my romanticism. After a year without jealousy, the doctor had opened the gate for all other men of Liz’s past to once again flood my thoughts. In my dreams, they were all together, grabbing, groping, and touching her in one orgiastic mass of lustful hands all over her body. To them she was a cheap toy to be thrown away after play. My love for Liz lapped lightly against the hardened anger I felt for not being able to rescue her from these men, and I became angry that I couldn’t have met her sooner.

During formations, I stepped into the rows of my cadets, adjusting ties and straightening hats, hoping outward action would send away the ghosts that haunted me. During my prep periods and study halls, I pored over student essays, addressing the most minute of grammar infractions and faulty logic to keep out the images of her with other men.

Yet, as I worked, one specter continued to menace me whenever a second of silence darkened my mind. I had another name to add to the list in my journal: Dr. Prateek. His skinny frame rushed in at the merest moment my guard went down. His name sounded piggish and overbearing; he was that spoiled rich diner loudly complaining about an overdone potato, used to being spoiled and treating others as servants. He had pushed my Liz to do the unthinkable, forced himself upon her vulnerability, and afterwards, scratched his belly as she rose out of bed to wipe herself.

Just as the tense mood in our apartment was about to boil over, I came home to a more ebullient Liz. When I opened the door to our apartment, I found Liz rearranging the living room furniture. Fingers to her lips and a hand on her hip, she studied the new formation like a critic.

“What do you think?” she asked.

“Looks good,” I answered.  “Why though?”

“Time for something new,” Liz answered.

“Okay.  How was your day?” I asked.

“Fine.  I stayed in the office,” Liz answered.   “I love you, Anthony.” She gripped my arms and looked into to me with her kaleidoscope eyes. “I love you.  I know I love you.”

I drew her in, feeling her breath on my neck as she nuzzled into me, but then the movie of Prateek and Liz played out in my head.  Did she think he was a good kisser? Was I better? Did he fill her, make her moan, cry out? Again, the floodgate lifted, but instead of flailing out in anger, I became aroused, especially when thoughts of Liz going down on Prateek came to mind. I pulled the shades in our living room and began undressing Liz, letting the thoughts of him and her run wild as I lowered her to the couch and unzipped her pants like I had watched him do to her.

Later, I ate dinner and graded papers with Liz on the couch next to me, but as we sat, like a slow moving madness, my questions continued to build into visions. What did he do or say to make her surrender? In the bedroom where he led her, did she take off his clothes first or did he take hers off? For Liz, I tried to look happy rebuilding what we had, but inside, dark, raging clouds continued to build, and I crawled into bed with a fevered mind.

I lay awake, staring into the blackness before giving up.  At 1:47 a.m., I walked into to the living room. Sitting on the couch, rubbing my eyes, I tried to massage away the madness, but the walls kept closing in on me. Bleary eyed, I rose, grabbed my coat and keys and walked out the door. Too cold for a walk, I got in my car, thinking a short drive would tire me out.

Like a blanket to thin for warmth, the dark night covered me in its biting embrace, and zombie-like, I drove onto North Kentucky Street. In the quiet darkness, his squat house, a dense dark brick, sat waiting for me. No dull blue of the television, lights burned, no garage door accidentally left open or trash cans remaining on the curb; the house seemed devoid of life. I drove home and slipped back in bed where I fell into fitful sleep.

“Liz, how old is Prateek?” I asked the next morning as I shaved.

“Twenty-six,” she answered. “Why?”

“Just curious. Twenty-six. Is that a normal age for a resident?”

“It is.” Liz came into the bathroom and watched me shave. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I just need to know.”

7.18.16:The Borderline: Chapter 31

jaded-ghostChapter 31

When we returned from our honeymoon, Liz and I began making the narrow, high ceilinged quarters in A Company our home. We painted the plaster walls bright yellow, washed the wood floors, bought carpet remnants for rugs in the living room, and searched the second hand stores of Columbia and Hannibal for furniture. At night, we made love under the spell of the night blooming jasmine outside our bedroom window.

During breakfast, Liz continued writing to-do lists, leaving little time for the frivolity of the easy summer love we had before. In her organized frenzy, Liz set to work finding a job; she joined the town’s chamber of commerce and the United Way, hoping to network herself into some position. By the beginning of August, Liz had three-part time job offers, as a receptionist in an insurance agency, a sales associate at the JC Penny catalog store, and a lab assistant at the town’s hospital.

“Just take one of them and keep looking,” I said.

Liz, brow furrowed and lips tight, met my comment with derision.

“As soon as I start working, I have to start paying my college loans…And all these jobs are dead end ones; they lead to nothing,” she snapped.

“You’ve only been looking for a few weeks.  How fast do you expect to find a full-time job that you like?” I asked.

“I don’t know what I expected,” Liz said. She shoved her stack of resumes into her folder. “I need to finish up the brochure for the Chamber. I’ll be back for lunch.”
“I love you, Liz. We’ll get through this,” I said.

“I love you too. I know we’ll get through this; I’m just afraid that if I don’t have something to do, I’ll make your life miserable.”

“You won’t make me miserable, Liz,” I said.  “You know I’d be happy with you sitting in lingerie all day, waiting for me to come home.”

“You’re so sexist,” Liz said. “I’ll see you in a couple hours!”

I had spent much of the summer reading books and working out while Liz concentrated on her search. John and I met frequently to play tennis or basketball, and I honed my lesson plans while Liz combed through the help wanted sections of the Matanzas Ledger and the Columbia Post-Dispatch and volunteered at the chamber and United Way. Though I offered help, she refused, insisting the job hunt was her issue to deal with alone.

Liz was becoming overly focused on her goal, seldom smiling or speaking about her search, and as summer ended, I began to worry.  Lost were the intimacies of newlyweds, replaced by aloofness born of fear and unease.

“Liz, you can’t go on like this. I can’t go on like this,” I said as I watched her pick at her dinner.

“I know. I know,” she answered. “But I don’t know what else to do. I feel so lost.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Everything’ll be fine.”

“I always had a direction and a plan. Now, no matter how hard I try, I can’t see where I’m going,” she answered and then burst into tears. I rose to comfort her, holding her in my arms and leading her to the couch.

“Give it time, Liz. Some of my friends still don’t have jobs and they’ve been out of school for over a year.”

“Oh, that’s comforting!” she said, rolling her eyes.
“I just mean you’ve been working so hard. Not just on finding a job. Working hard at school, planning the wedding,” I said. “You’ve been so busy; I just think you need to slow down.”

“Slow down? I need to speed up!” she said. “I need a job before I start regretting my decision to move out here.”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.

“I’d already have a job if I stayed in New England, or I’d be applying to grad schools at least,” Liz snapped. She got up from the couch and stomping into the kitchen. “There isn’t anything out here for me!”

“What about me? I’m here.” I looked at the cannons in the front of the Academy. “And you don’t need a full time job right now, Liz. We live and eat for free!”

“I don’t want to be dependent on you,” Liz said. “I need something of my own.”

“You’ll find something,” I promised.  “If not, go back to school.  You have the grades to get into the university in Columbia.  It might not be what you want, but it’s better than worrying yourself to death.”

“Whatever,” Liz said. “I’m going for a run.”

The first of our school meetings began with little fanfare for me. After working so many hours last year, I was confident and excited to start without the fear that accompanied me last year. I joined the faculty in welcoming Col. Vedder, the new Junior School principal, and we reviewed the material for the year in the same rote manner I witnessed last year. When I came home, I found Liz waiting for me on the sofa, a big smile lighting up her face.

“Arthur Spencer just called. Do you want to know what he asked me?” Liz asked.

“He wants you to manage the Turn Inn,” I answered.

“No.” Liz shook her head. “At the Chamber meeting this morning, he heard about an administrative position at the hospital. You know he’s on the board there.”

“Whoa! That’s awesome!” I said. “And you’re interested?”

“Yes, I’m interested! Hospital admin has lots of potential,” Liz answered. “It’s a full time job with benefits, and the salary is good. He’s guessing around $23,000!”

“Damn, that’s more than I’m making,” I said. “Go for it.”

As expected, Liz had no trouble landing the job, and, energized by feeling productive once again, she adapted well to her work. She brought home manuals and folders thick with policies, procedures, and regulations, and while I graded paper, she studied them as if they held the secrets of the universe.

Within two months, Liz earned a promotion, being placed on both the disaster planning committee and the hiring committee, and we now spent our evenings together under stacks of my students’ essays and piles of her charts, graphs, and paperwork. As I perfected my art as a teacher, Liz flourished in her career in administration.

“It’s a small town, Anthony; everyone needs a hospital,” Liz said after saying hello to a woman as we ate lunch at Ruby’s Buffet.

“I think it’s great. We’ve been here for less than a year and people already know you.”

“I’m not missing New England as much as I thought,” Liz said.

“I miss the ocean; don’t you miss the ocean?” I asked.

“I guess,” Liz answered. “Oh, tomorrow night I have a hiring committee meeting; I should be home around eight.”
“No problem; I’ll eat in the mess hall. Who are you hiring?” I asked.

“We’re looking at a second year resident from Pakistan. The board’s looking to make the hospital more diverse.”
“Pretty forward thinking for this part of the country,” I said.

“I know…not all board members are in agreement, but I think we have enough to sign off on him.”

“Too bad for the bigots,” I said.  “Invite him over for dinner. Let him know that not all people in town are like that.”

And that was all I heard about the doctor from Pakistan for the remainder of the first marking period. The responsibilities of the Academy pulled me, and Liz began spending more time at the hospital. With our honeymoon over, a rut of routine began to form. Then sometime after Thanksgiving, a little piece of our contentment broke off.

When Liz came home after dinner, tired and complaining of the long day she had, I thought nothing of it. I was pulling long hours as well.  It’s what young people did to establish themselves in a career. Liz enjoyed her job so I couldn’t blame her for losing track of time. She was making a name for herself at the hospital, and her experience would pay off when we moved back to New England.

“Honey, I’m sorry I’m so late. We had so much to get done,” she said.

“Don’t apologize,” I said. “I’m happy you found something you enjoy so much.”

“They just keep piling the work on me. It doesn’t end,” Liz said. She placed her files down on the kitchen table. “I have another meeting tomorrow night, too.”

“Not a problem,” I answered, trying to play the respectful and supportive husband.

By Christmas break, however, Liz was so intent on her work, and I was pulling my early morning and late night duties, that I realized that our routine left little time for our marriage. From the town library, I checked out Men Are from Mars, Women are from Venus and The Five Love Languages to better understand marriage, and on the drive to her mother’s house for Christmas, we tried to connect.

“We’ve been pretty busy lately; it’s good to get away for a few days,” I said. “We’ve been so busy we haven’t had time for each other.”

Liz looked at me and stroked my hand. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m putting in long hours like you did last year; I just want to take this position as far as it can go.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “You know; I think boarding school’s for single teachers…too many duties. When do you think we’ll start thinking about moving back to New England?”

“Oh, I’m not ready yet, Anthony!” Liz answered. “I’m just getting started here.”

“Okay. I was just thinking out loud.”

After break, Liz became even more distant, her behavior more erratic. We used to wake together and share breakfast, but now she stayed in bed, rarely rising before I left for work. Her evening meetings often lasted well past ten o’clock, much later than before. Left alone in my apartment during that first year of marriage, I began to sense that something wasn’t right.

Finally, one night in January when Liz said she had yet another meeting, I switched duties with John, telling him I wasn’t feeling well. Grabbing the keys to the school pick-up truck, I told him I was going to Walmart for some medicine. I parked the truck behind Richrath Hall, where Liz had to pass, and waited for her to leave. I didn’t know what I would gain from this surveillance. I just wanted Liz to let me in again.

In a few moments, Liz walked out of A barracks and climbed into our Cabrio. I ducked as she drove past and off campus. I expected her to turn left to the hospital; instead, she took a right. I followed her towards the northern outskirts of town.

Off West Monroe Street, she took a right into a row of houses, pulling into the driveway of a one story ranch. I parked my truck six houses down and watched Liz walk to the door and open it without knocking. I turned and drove past the house, 1262 North Kentucky Street, and parked in in a nearby park.

Liz was supposed to be at a disaster planning committee meeting at the hospital. Mouth dry, my heart beating hard, I climbed out of the truck and walked to the house with only the shadowy blue blur of surrounding homes’ televisions watching me.

The house she walked into was dark so I lifted the latch of the chain link fence to the back yard and crept toward the lights that were on in the back of the house. I saw two people, one on a couch and one standing.

I slunk closer, squatting behind a large covered grill at the patio’s edge. Separated by the sliding glass door not ten feet away, Liz stood, holding a glass of wine, completely unaware of how close I was. On the couch, a dark skinned man smiled and motioned for her to sit down. Though I couldn’t hear their conversation, from their mannerisms and ease at talking, I could see how comfortable they were with each other. In a moment, Liz set her wine glass on the coffee table and sat next to him. He put his arms around her, drew her in, and they began kissing, his hand rubbing her thigh.

I watched everything from my cold blind behind the grill. He placed his hands on her chest, she reached for the zipper of his jeans before sliding off the couch onto the carpet in front of him. After a few minutes, he led her to another room. I remained a statue in my hiding place, frozen in disbelief.

Finally, I crept to the sliding glass door. I pulled but it was locked. I pressed my ear to the glass but heard nothing save the slow and thick beat of my heart. I circled to the front door, but it too was locked. A car drove by slowly, settling in the next door neighbor’s driveway. I nodded towards the driver as I walked to my truck and drove to the Academy, my mind racing with rage, shock, and sorrow.

At our apartment, I sat in the living room, trying to come to grips with what I saw.  I watched for the Cabrio’s rounded headlights, waiting for my wife to drive up the school’s path, unsure of what would happen when she opened our apartment door. I paced, I sat, I paced again, and finally, I broke down and cried.  Not a year into our marriage, Liz was fucking someone else.

Heart racing, my mind awash in confusion, I stared into the dark night before reaching for my coat and walking to Bravo Company, but halfway there, I realized I had told John that I was sick. I turned back to face Liz when she came home.

Back at my apartment, I turned on the TV, clicking through Melrose Place, Absolutely Fabulous, and Mad about You, all too simple to hold the wash of emotions raging through me. I went to bed, angry and afraid of what I would do when Liz came home. Eventually, I heard the front door open, but rather than confronting her, I pretended sleep as she slipped into bed.  I lay awake as the night wore on with Liz beside me unaware of what I knew, anger, jealousy, fear all boiling inside.

Liz remained in bed when I left for school. I couldn’t say goodbye or I love you as usual, and throughout my morning, images of her and the dark man warped through me at the speed of light, darting fast, fractured images of all the worst possibilities   My mood flashed from anger to self-pity to jealousy to fear, with all facets and degrees of emotions vying for space and time in my mind as I tried to teach. I was being driven mad, and so during my lunch, I called Liz at work.

“I have a lot to do,” Liz said.  “Is everything okay?”

“Just a couple things I need to clear up,” I lied.  “Some work schedule changes. What time will you be home so we can talk about them?”  I worried a subtle inflection or my cryptic response would reveal my true reason, but if she had seen through my lie, she didn’t let on.

“I’ll be home around 5:30,” Liz answered. She had to know something was wrong; I never asked her to be home before. Or maybe she felt she had been too careful to arouse suspicion.

Then I thought of Sarah; I had been with her even when I had professed my undying, passionate love for Liz. I knew I wanted to be with Liz, had proposed, bought a ring, planned a wedding, and yet I slept with Sarah.

From the very beginning, Liz had always been truthful; she questioned her ability to love, she confessed that she didn’t know if she was in love with me, and she had trusted me. Was this affair an attempt to find out if she was in love with me? Would we weather this storm and come out stronger because we had been tested?

For the rest of the afternoon, I tried to remain objective. What I saw last night blazed through me; it horrified me yet excited me at the same time. Though I tried to rationalize Liz’s behavior trying to figure out where I would go from here, a part of me had enjoyed watching her and the man together and allowing my emotions to rage.

When Liz came home, I told her to keep her coat on when she came home, that we were going somewhere.

“How was your day?” I asked on the drive out to the cabin in Greenan’s back acres.

“Okay, a lot to do. HR wants me to review their nursing files to see who’s up for certification,” she answered. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing; I just thought we’d go somewhere private to talk.”

As I fumbled with the cabin’s old lock, I became dizzy by the emotional rush that surged through me now that I was about to confront Liz.

The cabin was cold; I walked to the thermostat to raise the temperature. Liz turned on the kitchen and living room lights before sitting on the couch and looking into the darkness outside. I stood in front of her and crossed my arms.

“Liz, where were you last night?”

“I told you, a disaster planning meeting,” she answered. Her face reddened and she crossed her hands. “Why?”

“No, Liz.” I shook my head at the lie. “You went to someone’s house on North Kentucky Street.”

“What?” She snapped straight up and flared angry. “Are you following me?”

“No,” I answered. “Yes, but only last night.”

“That’s where the meeting was, silly.” She laughed, trying to play my suspicions.

“The meeting was with just you and one guy?” I asked. “I waited…no one else came.” I watched Liz; the corner of her mouth twitched before she rose in cross-armed defiance and walking to the sliding glass doors of the porch. “Who is he, Liz?”

            We stood the room’s length away from each other, a tense showdown in the cold, lighted room until finally she sat on a kitchen barstool, looked to the floor, and began her confession.

“The doctor from Pakistan, Dr. Prateek,” Liz said. “He was finishing his rounds and the meeting was postponed,” she began. “Nothing happened. We just talked.”

I couldn’t believe she was lying to me with such a straight face. “Nothing happened?”  I asked. “Are you sure nothing happened? Because it sure looked like something happened. You drank his wine, you made out on the couch; you unbuttoned his pants and went down on him!” I shot back, my temper flying. “I watched it all!”

“Where were you?” She asked. “Watching in the closet or something? You’re sick, Anthony! You followed me and then watched?” She said defiantly. “Why didn’t you stop it?”

“Wait! Wait! Wait!” I yelled. “How is it my fault you were fucking some other guy?”

“If you cared about me, you would’ve stopped it.”

“I did try to stop it. I was in the back yard behind a grill. After you guys went into the other room, I tried to open the porch door, but it was locked. I went around to the front door, but it was locked. too!”

Liz rose frm her seat and paced the room, silent, seething, angry and defiant like a caged animal looking for a way out. She walked to the couch, collapsed into it, and began crying real tears this time, thick streaks that dripped into her hands, crying uncontrollably, no longer holding back, but giving way to her sadness and frustration.

“I knew I would do something to ruin us! I knew I was a monster!” She wept; deep, convulsive sobs, not a hint of defiance now, only sad plaintive cries of desperation and fear.

“Stop it! I’m tired of hearing that,” I snapped. “You walk all over me and then blame it on some daddy issue! This is all you!”

Liz held her knees in a ball on the couch and gasped for control of her crying; green eyes, wide and afraid, she looked every bit like a hurt little girl unable to escape some private hell, frozen in an awful memory.

“How could you?” I yelled. “Why the fuck did you?” I kept yelling, venting my disappointment, my anger, my frustration at her betrayal as she sat in her frozen ball staring at the wall across the room. I screamed all my frustrations out in this cabin where no one could hear, and she remained huddled like a child witnessing something traumatic.

When I had blown through all my anger and rage, she remained frozen. I wanted to hold Liz and tell her that I loved her. Ask her why she had broken us. Was she sorry? Did she regret it? Did she love me? Had she ever loved me? Did she love me now that she was about to lose me?

I wondered if I should tell her about Sarah to show that I was a sinner too, and now that we shared betrayal, we could somehow understand true love. Knotted with tension, I approached the couch and sat next to her.

“Liz, say something,” I said. “Are you sorry at least?”

“Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!” she screamed as I neared. “Leave me alone! Get out of here!” Liz curled into a fetal position. “Just leave! You know you want to!”

Drained and numb, I retreated to the doorway and watched her regress into a child, rocking on the couch, gulping her tantrum down.

I needed to help her up. She needed me now that she had become the young fearful young girl locked in emotion; she was in a desperate downward spiral, and I needed to be strong and tell her everything would be all right. In doing so, I would exorcise that hurt inner child still haunting her, and we could salvage what we had.

“No, Liz, I don’t want to leave you,” I said.  “I love you.”

“You will though,” she yelled back. The room was hotter now; she fixed the bra strap that had fallen over her shoulder, and drew me in with her vulnerability.

“I just need time, Liz,” I said. “But I love you.”

“I kept thinking about how much I loved you when I was with him,” she said.  Her comment comforted me. I kept quiet, waiting for her to reveal what she and her lover had done. “When it was over, I cried.  I wanted leave, to be with you. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I’ve done something that can’t be fixed.” Liz stared at the empty space in front of her, gripped immobile by the reality of what she had done.

“She’s still that hurt little girl,” I thought.  She had helped me escape my world and now it was time for me to pull her from her past. A part of me hated Liz, yet I was also excited that others found her so attractive. And Liz needed me, and I knew as I approached her that I would never leave her. No matter what she did, she would always need me, and that fact made me feel like a real man.
“I’m sorry, Anthony.  I’m sorry.”

“I know you are, Liz,” I answered. “I should have seen this coming, that’s all,” I answered. “You always were always truthful; always warned me that you would try to drive me away.”

“I’m a monster,” she cried. “I don’t deserve someone like you.”

“Yes, you do, Liz.  I’m not going to let you run away.” I rationalized away what she had done the night before. It was separate and different from the intangible, emotional attachment of true love.

“I think I know what love is now, Anthony,” she said. Her sobbing quieted as I stroked her neck, feeling her soft under curls run through my fingers.

Liz turned her face towards me, her lips full, pouty, and red from crying; the blush of surrender on her cheeks. She reached to kiss me, and we fell to each other as desperate loners who knew they were the only ones who understood each other.

We would pick up our broken pieces, put ourselves together, and return to New England united. We were ruined now, ruined by the Seans and Sarahs that stole our emotions, but we were ruined together and from now on, people would see only the strength of the love that endured despite our hurt. Our infidelities were painful yet necessary episodes in our lives, and I had proven that I was not like her father. She had to know I loved her now.

7.15.16: The Borderline: Chapter 30

Em-Cooper-is-this-loveChapter 30

Two days before our wedding, guests and relatives trickled into Matanzas. When I first saw Lena and Brian, the old flashes of jealousy burst inside me, but thinking of Sarah and me kept my jealousy at bay. Besides, the Academy was beautiful and he hadn’t found a job yet. This was my show and he was beneath me. Most guests had never been to a military school and many of our New England friends had never experienced a small Midwestern town.

In the mess hall, Col. Lake and John West held a reception for our Northern army and made a terrific show of Southern hospitality, and the next day everyone met at Ruby’s on the Square for a lunch provided by my parents.

“Thank you all for coming all the way to Missouri for Anthony and Liz,” my father began, soaking the spotlight. “Isn’t this place a beautiful place for a wedding?” he asked, raising his champagne glass.

And because of Liz’s meticulous attention to detail, our wedding did succeed.  Liz stunned everyone as she walked down the chapel’s aisle alone.  Her exotic curls and green eyes, her tanned and tone body against the soft white of her gown; she floated towards me, and I saw that she was crying.

We said our vows in the modest chapel and in the mess hall, partied late into the night before our limousine drove us to Columbia where we would spend the night before driving to Tan-Ta-Ra in the Ozark Mountains for our honeymoon.

“Anthony, I did it! Wasn’t the wedding beautiful?” Liz asked through sips of champagne.

“You’re gorgeous,” I answered. “I hope I get lucky!”

Over breakfast, however, Liz once again became distant. I assumed she was hung over so didn’t say much until we were driving to our Ozark resort.

“Too much to drink?” I asked. “You haven’t said much this morning.”

“Yeah, probably,” Liz began, chewing her lip. “Little tired.”

I knew the look. She wanted to argue. “What’s bothering you, Liz?”  I asked. “If you get it out now, we’ll have a better time.”

“Honestly,” she answered. “Anthony, how do I know I’m in love?”

I kept my eyes on the road and took a slow breath. Not this crap again. I looked at my new clothes and wondered how I would answer the question differently this time.

“Thanks for being honest,” I began. “Honesty is important, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Liz answered.  “Everything just happened like it was supposed to.  It was all too easy.”

I fielded that question as if it were a pop fly. “Isn’t true love supposed to be easy?”

“I don’t know. Have we really sacrificed anything for each other? We just decided on being together because it seemed obvious and right,” she answered.

“We’re young and just starting out. Maybe it’s too soon to know if our love is real. Maybe we need to grow into love,” I answered.

“I’m scared, Anthony. I’m afraid something’s going happen to show what we have isn’t real.”

“Let’s think of it another way,” I said. Her fear no longer worryied me; we were married now. “If something happens to test our love, we’ll get through it, right? I mean… do you love me?” I asked.

“I think I love you, Anthony,” she answered. “No…no, I know I love you,” she said with more confidence.

“And you know I love you, right?”

She nodded before gripping my hand into hers.

“Then we can face whatever comes our way together. That’s all we can hope for…right?”

“Right,” she answered.

“Now what’s the plan when we get to the resort?” I asked.

“I’d like to go canoeing and…” Liz answered, and our unease subsided for now.

7.10.16: The Borderline: Chapter 29

imagesChapter 29

Winter ceded to March, each day becoming brighter and warmer in such slow succession that I could see the buds on trees unfold and the school’s perennials inch upwards in their flowerbeds between the academic buildings and barracks. I enjoyed the unhurried pace of Missouri’s spring, spending as much time as I could in its gentle breeze; often taking my classes to the stream in the back acres to write stories and poems before reviewing them on the benches in the little grotto where I first held the cadets’ attention during my interview.

Just before Spring Break, Sarah decided on Truman State University for her MBA program and told Col. Thomas she would be leaving at school’s end. Though we still met regularly, I no longer felt guilty about my double life, our duplicitous behavior had allowed me to rationalize Liz’s casual affairs as the means of coping with the loneliness she felt from her father’s abandonment.

Liz, however, was becoming more anxious as Spring Break approached, and during one of our calls, her obsessive worry over the wedding plans came to a head.

“I wrote a guest list, and I think I found the bridesmaids’ dresses,” she said. “But I still need to pick out invitations, find a caterer, entertainment…oh my God! Who’s going to marry us? We don’t even go to church!” Liz’s spoke in short bursts, her anxiety evident in each staccato comment.

“Liz, I’m here… where the wedding will be.  I can do something,” I said. “Let me speak to the Catholic priest on Sunday.” As part of my weekend duty, I walked with the younger kids to morning mass and Sunday school at the various churches in town.

“No, I’ll call him,” Liz answered before letting a deep breath out. “Okay. You do that. You can, right?”

“Yes, I can. Liz.” Happy to have relieved some of her pressure, I changed the subject. “What are you doing this weekend?” I asked.

“Haven’t gone out with the girls in a while. I think I need it.”

“Well, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” I said.

“I wouldn’t think of it!” she laughed.

She had been so serious about the wedding that her sudden laugh surprised me. Her mood had changed the second she told me she was going out with the girls, like the wedding had become such a burden that she needed to get loose with her friends to destress from it.

I didn’t understand why she became tense when talking about our wedding. Most of our recent conversations revolved around it, but now her comments were delivered in a sharp and irritated tone, as if annoyed at the prospect of marriage itself. I thought she would be happy planning a wedding.

Finally, spring break arrived and I picked up Liz once again at the St. Louis Airport. Driving back to Matanzas, Liz continued the panicked obsession with wedding plans. When we arrived on campus, I pulled into the parking lot behind the Alpha company barracks because I had a check waiting for me in my mailbox. Sarah was walking out of the dorm with a backpack slung over a shoulder, just as Liz and I walked towards the building.  Sarah smiled; my pulse raced as I saw the two women size each other up.

“Liz, this is Sarah,” I said when she came down the stairs to the parking lot.

“Hi, Sarah,” Liz said.

“Good to meet you,” Sarah answered. “Anthony’s talked a lot about you. Congratulations on your wedding.”

“Thank you,” Liz said. The two stood facing each other for a moment and I worried that they were sizing each other up.

“Well, I need to get moving. Great to meet you, Liz. Have fun planning your wedding,” she said.

“She’s pretty,” Liz said watching Sarah got into her car.

“I guess so,” I answered.

If Liz suspected anything between Sarah and I, she didn’t let on and for the rest of spring break, nothing else mattered but us. We stayed at the Way Inn to appease Scott, and spent almost every day meeting caterers, photographers, and disc jockeys from Matanzas and nearby towns. Up at seven each morning like a military general, Liz reviewed her to do list which kept us busy until late afternoon when she had us working out for an hour to tone our ‘wedding bodies’. After dinner, we walked around campus and imagined what all of our friends and relatives would think of Matanzas and the military school.

By break’s end, our wedding plans were just about complete, the necessary deposits and information given to the necessary people and necessary businesses. Liz would send the invitations out eight weeks in advance, as custom dictated and would handle any further issues as they arose. I had done little but sit alongside her and nod my head in agreement as she made decisions.

In the early spring dawn of a Sunday morning, we drove to the airport, Liz’s high spirits felt like electricity as we said goodbye for the final time.

“Anthony, our wedding is going to be beautiful!” Liz said. “Everything is happening just like it’s supposed to; isn’t it? In three and a half months, we’ll be married.”

“That’s the plan,” I answered.

Pulling away from my embrace, she snapped her fingers, her mind racing to another idea. “I need to start thinking of a job,” Liz announced, biting her front teeth into her lip.

“Sarah’s leaving,” I answered. “You’re so qualified for her job.”

“I didn’t take out all these loans and go to school to become a housemother,” Liz said. “Besides, I don’t want to be where Sarah was. I didn’t really like her.”

“Why not?” I asked. “She’s a nice enough person.”

“She just gave me a weird feeling. She left in a hurry, like she had something to hide,” Liz said.

“She did run away from a bad relationship,” I said. “She told me she felt safe here with all these men around.”

“That might be it, but she seemed so insecure,” Liz said. “Just promise me you’ll stay away from her for the rest of the year.”
“I promise,” I said. “But think about the positon; it’s not forever, and you’ll be allowed to teach a couple classes too.”

“I’ve been watching kids for three years.  I need something else.” She squeezed my hand before she started planning again. “Your school gets out a week after I graduate. You’ll fly up for my graduation; then fly back to finish school. You drive up here with the car… no, it’ll be faster if I just fly down; I’ll mail everything I need.”

Back on campus without Liz, I became restless. Used to the strict regime she had us on, I wrote a to-do list before working out, ironed my uniforms, and revised my week’s lesson plans.  I looked out my window and watched several robins on the lawn. The spring day called, and I took a walk around the Alamo.

For my sixth graders, I needed an activity to reinforce the use of strong descriptive words. I looked at the Alamo’s basement windows and remembered that the downstairs had been used as a machine shop. Sure I would find odd bits of machinery, old gears and levers the kids wouldn’t recognize, I unlocked the door to the basement with the idea of having my students describe the ancient bric-a-brac and whirligigs I would find down there. My kids would then brainstorm potential uses for these old rusty odds and ends which would serve as a terrific introduction to the power of creativity and group thinking.

I went back inside, and from my desk, took the ring of keys given to me by Col. Thomas. Using an old brass key with a cursive B etched on it, I opened the old door down the end of my hallway. The smell of must, dirt, and oil ascended the tiled stairs.   Shafts of dusty light from the caked windows afforded soft lighting. Walking down the creaky stairway, I flicked on the flourescents that led into the quiet sobriety of the old shop. The room, large and cramped, held several heavy gray canvas drop clothes, probably covering the large band saws, grinders, lathes, and milling machines.

Thick steel shelving held hundreds of brittle yellowed files and faded paint cans. Rust chewed lawn tools hung from dusty pegboards. Thick wooden shop tables held assorted cardboard boxes, and scraps of ceiling fans, piles of brick, darkened railroad ties, and discolored ceiling tiles crammed the floor’s corners.

Venturing to the cellar’s far end, I peered under canvas tarps and into brittle and browned cardboard boxes. I found a great deal of dust, mouse droppings, and dead cockroaches, but little in the way of interesting objects until I bent down to look into a water stained Clean-Brite box on a bent bottom shelf. Lifting its lid, I found a yellowed metro section of the Columbia Daily Tribune dated August 24th, 1960.

I read of a nursing home fire killing eleven people, the governor moving to stricter city inspection laws, and of some heiress forced to sell her estate; interesting, but of little value to my brainstorming lesson.

As I placed the newspaper back, I found an odd assortment of tins, pocked marked, dented, faded, and forgotten by time. The ruddy fuzz of rust spots covered most labels, but a couple of the containers, emblazoned with heavy red skull and crossbones, indicated the boxes held toxins and poisons. The names on these ampules sounded right out of science fiction, Metacide, Esteron 44, Sodium TCA 90%, and Puritan Moth Killer.

I did, however, recognize one dangerous chemical, potassium cyanide, written in blood red letters on the side of a small tin, a black rat with X’s for eyes enameled underneath.   Simple, austere advertising but not really what I needed for this assignment. I covered the box of poisons with its newspaper and went back upstairs.

The spring semester ended with Greenan’s formal closing ceremonies, two weeks of dress balls, military parades, academic ceremonies, and sporting events. Parents, relatives, girlfriends, and journalists walked the campus, all caught up in the century old customs of the Academy.

I flew up for Liz’s graduation, a three-hour ceremony in the Providence Civic Center and then flew back for my end-of-the year meetings and party while Liz spent her last week in New England with the Peaks, packing her belongings and mailing them to me in several large, heavy boxes. On Sunday, Liz flew to St. Louis, and with our wedding a little more than a month away, Col. Thomas asked Liz to housesit while he and his wife spent June in California so that we could eliminate any concerns of impropriety.

“Dom helped me write my resume,” Liz said. “I’m going to start looking for a job this week.”

“You have all the time you need to find something. Why don’t you start after the wedding?”

“I need to get moving as quickly as possible.” Liz said in the distant tone she used when she was working through something. “Columbia holds the best opportunities for me…I just don’t know what I’m looking for.”

“Maybe you could start teaching aerobics at Matanzas’s rec center?”

“That’s not a career,” Liz answered.