Now and Then
As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.
I love to tell stories. I love to tell stories about my life and the lives of interesting people who are interesting and do interesting things. I tell stories that make people laugh, cry, or want to think deeper about life and love. I like it when my stories make them feel differently about who they are. I won’t bore you right now with who I am. After all, that’s not the more interesting story.
September 2, 2010
Grace Dumais worked six days a week and felt depressed every single one of them plus one. Her life was in shambles, and a wide gap was developing between her and her husband. Declan Dumais, her husband of 5 years, tried to take control of all the problems at home by building schedules and giving short “motivating speeches”, but those speeches and his faulty perspective on life placed tiny bandaids on large bullet wounds.
Declan’s confidence stood taller than his height. Wiry and short with a tiny nose, ears, and a tight Marine haircut, he looked like an athlete and his job as a PE teacher did nothing to dispel that myth.
Grace never quite did her hair or looked like she wanted to impress anyone anymore, but in college she twisted the heads of men faster than any praying mantis. She too was 5’8”, but seemed taller than her husband of the same height. Her hair was dark brown and bouncy, but her attitude had lost its former pep.
Each day felt like a blur as Declan went to work teaching at an elementary school and Grace watched the boys. After work, Declan came home and spent time with the kids, giving Grace a bit of sleep. Then she woke up around 10:00 pm and drove to work at a nearby gas station around 11:00 pm. The gas station was in a rough part of town near Great Brook Valley, a collection of housing projects in Worcester not far from their house in Shrewsbury.
Then Declan slept and she worked till 5:00 am. At 5:00 am, she drove home to start cooking Declan’s breakfast. He laid out the ingredients the night before to ensure she made the things he wanted to eat. He was a Phys. Ed. Teacher after all, and needed the appropriate body fuel.
Two days a week, Declan decided to go to the library to study after work. Simply being in his home office wasn’t enough. He told her she could hire a sitter if she wanted, but also mentioned funds were tight so she had to be careful spending too much. On those Tuesdays and Thursdays, if she didn’t hire a sitter, she watched the kids and worked for 36 hours straight with very little sleep.
When my wife, Marie, heard about this new schedule, she told Grace to bring the boys to our house, and hosted them on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Grace cried for an hour when Marie presented the offer. Marie asked me to mention this to Declan in hopes that his pride would get in the way of allowing us to watch the kids with that regularity, but when I did, he thanked me and said it was for a good cause.
Declan chose Tuesdays and Thursdays as his days to study because of a Flat Earth Group. His friend Adam held a “Flat Earth” private meeting at the Shrewsbury Library on those days, and he wanted to be a part of it. Declan wanted to hear what others had to say and more importantly, share with others what he was learning.
7 people joined the group every week, and Declan really enjoyed the discussions. Adam led the group, with his bright white hair and his resemblance to the professor on Gilligan’s Island. Every time he spoke it seemed like the wisest thing anyone said that day, so Declan wrote everything down. Others began to take notes too. His British accent didn’t hurt his eloquence.
Lou, or “Sweet Lou” as everyone affectionately called him, was the self professed “Lieutenant”that took the lead each time Adam could not make the group. Everyone liked Sweet Lou, but no one respected him the way they did Adam. He was bald with two patches of hair on either side of his head, and light strings crossing over the “bald head sea” from one side to the other. He had a pot belly and rosy cheeks and early on Declan hoped he played a Santa character during the holidays. He figured the handlebar mustache needed to be replaced by a beard though, for the sake of appearances.
One of two women in the group was Jenny Cruze. A “wicked cool name” Declan thought to himself the first time he was introduced to her, but the coolness did not extend to her appearance. Large and hairy, Jenny scared most people she encountered. When she actually spoke to them, however, they realized how nice she was. She donned the same outfit each meeting, a blue jean dress that may have doubled as a four person tent. She spoke in a deep southern drawl that made Declan wonder what made her move north. Each time she spoke his name, he laughed to himself.
“Is that what you think Dee-Eclan?”
“Dee-Eclan, please come over here and help me with this.”
There were also twin brothers who looked like they still lived with their mom. They either loved the polyester pants they received from their grandfather or they bought them at the goodwill store. Many people buy clothes from Goodwill and make a cool throwback style. This was not how Mike and Gary Barnsworth bought their clothing. They looked malnourished, hardly said a word, and Declan later learned they did still live with their mother.
The sixth character seemed a little out of place among the group of misfits. Amber Starr attended the group and intensely studied and talked about every area of the Flat Earth Theory. Mostly “scientific types” inhabited these kinds of meetings but Amber, 5’3″ and in Declan’s mind, a twin of Shania Twain, participated as much as anyone else. At 25, the group designated her the “baby” but when she spoke, every eye fixated on her.
Declan’s attitude toward her was not indifferent, as he found himself smitten by her confidence. When the group dismissed for the evening, he longed for her to stick around and talk to him about the theory and whatever else was on her mind. He couldn’t tell whether or not she had an interest in him. She knew he was married, but he had been hit on enough by the moms at his school to know that didn’t always matter.
After a few months, Declan wanted to make a move on Amber, smitten by infatuation, yet he understood the consequences to be endured if he stepped into such a relationship. He believed in God, and even claimed to love him, but Grace was going crazy and in the last year, the connection with Amber felt so strong, he tricked himself into believing that God wanted them together. If he took that step however, and it was not reciprocated, it could end up making things awkward at the group and ruin some good friendships. To say nothing of what would happen if Grace found out.
So he decided to do nothing. That option left him unfulfilled and longing, but in the end it kept him safe from making an unwise decision. He continued wanting her, and doing nothing about those desires. This routine worked everywhere except the shower.
I guess it’s wrong to say he did nothing because he did throw himself into his Flat Earth “studies”. He went to the library every Tuesday after work, met with the group at 7:00, then studied until closing at 10. He had to be home by at least 10:35 so Grace could get to work. On the nights he wasn’t at the library he usually stayed in his home office or played with the boys. Communication froze between them as she continued to struggle. He knew the remedy, but she never listened.
He liked to stick with what he could control, and today’s topic was figuring out why the United Nations had a vested interest in keeping people from knowing the truth about the shape of the earth. In 1959, seven nations placed flags down on Antarctica and resources on the continent made a fight over the land a real possibility. America and the Soviet Union, the two superpowers at the time, decided to agree on a peace treaty, called the Antarctica Treaty.
Declan wondered why the two worked together for a treaty as the Cold War raged on in the late 50’s. Conflict was a major concern. And all of a sudden the two countries became friends on this topic and spearheaded the push to fight for the treaty to be enacted and enforced, which occurred on June 23, 1961.
The three major tenants of the treaty were: The countries would ensure that the legal status of the continent’s independence remained unchanged; that scientific cooperation continued; and that all exploration done in Antarctica was for peaceful purposes only.
Declan knew people traveled to Antarctica all the time. Cruises and tours helped people breathe the fresh Antarctic air if they had $10,000 or so to drop for a vacation. People regularly responded to new flat earthers for arguing that the UN kept people from visiting the 7th continent. This was a silly debate and many in his group often wondered who spread these types of idiotic points when it came to arguing for truth.
Adam started a few groups in the local Massachusetts area, and he loved to spread the “plane truth” about how the world really worked, but he believed the “Flat Earth Society” was a government planted organization that spouted off “idiot science” to make flat earthers look crazy. When Declan studied, he made sure to always look at credible and scientific sources.
For instance, he knew that even though people can go to Antarctica on guided tours, those tours regularly only traveled to around 60 degrees latitude, or essentially the coastal areas of the continent. To go beyond that was to be part of the scientific community, and even then it would be easier to be chosen as a Chick Fil A owner/operator than be approved for a research project on Antarctica.
First, you must fill out a State Form DS 4131, and that form must be approved. Then the EPA must verify that the tour complies with a 40 CFR. Then finally the NEPA must prepare an Environment Impact Statement. That statement, Declan found out, would cost him or anyone who wanted to research the tundra, $250,000 to $2,000,000. So NO, Antarctica is not exactly an open country for anyone wanting to investigate. Not to mention, no one except government scientists had ever been issued a research approval beyond 90 degrees latitude.
Also, should one try to navigate their way towards the interior, they will be arrested. UN troops ensure the security of the interior, and US Marshals on hand arrest anyone caught on the continent who doesn’t have government approval.
Grace’s eyes wanted to shut. They were in fact shutting as she drove the boys to the mall one afternoon while Declan worked or studied or whatever he did during whatever time it was right now. She didn’t want to go to the mall, but the kids had been rambunctious and staying at the house felt like more of a problem than a benefit. Why couldn’t he just come home? She thought to herself. Why couldn’t things be like they were before? When he wanted her and she craved his body touching hers? Now she hated when he touched her. Every few days or so he came home and tried to control her like some whore. He did his thing, and then went into that damn office to study.
But now she felt tired and lonely. The mall wasn’t the place she needed to be right now, but it was where she was going. A few weeks before she had ordered new credit cards. Grace figured she could use them to get some new clothes and start feeling more confident about herself. The walk into the room where every guy shifted their eyes from their girlfriend to her no longer existed. It wasn’t that she gained much weight over the years. In fact, in some ways she was smaller than her college days, but the soul has ways of exposing the lack of confidence as much as the body does.
She parked in the same lot she parked the last time she visited the Solomon Pond Mall, four years ago, but this time much closer to the door. When she decided to go to the mall earlier that day in the chaos of the kids at home, she forgot about her last visit and the balding, bearded man smoking outside of the mall entrance. As she walked in she could see him again with her mind’s eye, and she hated him. She hated his stench. She wondered if he tried it with anyone else.
For a moment she thought about going to a different mall, but it had been a while and this was the most convenient. She breathed a sigh of relief when she stared through the TGIFriday window and her old friend wasn’t there. She couldn’t remember his name, but she silently thanked him for paying attention enough to save her from what could have potentially been disastrous.
In the middle of the mall, she stopped her two sons, and called for Luke to come over to her. Now four years old, she held him tight and thanked him for being alive and for being her son. Luke didn’t know what he did to deserve the affection, but gladly accepted it from the favorite woman in his life. She stood up and kissed the younger one on the forehead. He sat in his stroller approving her actions.
She visited several stores that afternoon and tried on what she thought of as a lot of clothes. She only brought home half of them however, and she wouldn’t tell Declan they were new, or how she paid for them. The total bill rang to about $500, a small amount compared to what she tried on that night. She commended herself for her self control.
Most of the clothes had long sleeves. The more down she got on herself, the more she continued scratching and cutting her arms. She didn’t know why she did it. She only knew that she couldn’t feel anything. Nothing mattered anymore. Her husband didn’t care about her. Her mother spent all her time with her new church friends, and Grace chose to not share any of what was happening in her life with her church friends. Declan was not going to allow the imperfections of his family life to be visible.
They arrived back home around 8:00 pm. Three hours until Declan returned. She told the boys to go to their toy room and play for a few minutes. Recently Grace told her doctor she felt low and thought she was depressed. After running through a list of questions that doctors like to ask, she prescribed Prozac for Grace. Grace stood in front of the mirror sobbing, wondering where her life was headed, and hoping the boys didn’t hurt themselves while she napped before she had to work that evening.
Around the same time, Declan’s Flat Earth Group dismissed for the day after a lively discussion on how the sun and moon rotated around the earth’s table top frame. There was disagreement around the track of the celestial titans, but in the end, everyone agreed the earth was not currently moving at 67,000 mph as scientists suggest.
Afterwards, Declan moved toward his favorite study room in the back of the library. Recently he and Amber talked about Flat Earth theories, but also more personal topics. He didn’t know if they were talking tonight, but when he saw her leave, he knew the disappointment he felt was problematic. He pushed away that feeling and got into study mode, but he struggled getting her out of his mind. Men can be funny sometimes. We hunt what we don’t have, then when we get it, we stop wanting it, but instead want to control it. That control leads to either resentment or getting rid of what we once desired so bad. Then, having not learned our lesson, we hunt after something else we think we want.
Which is why the feeling of disappointment vanished instantly the moment he saw Amber knock sheepishly on the windowed door.
“Come in, come in,” Declan said, a few times out loud and then repeated the expression a few times under his breath. Old habits die hard, and not constantly taking control of every situation proved to be very difficult for him.
Amber opened the door and walked in as if it were her home. He felt breathless as she smiled. For months his mind played the “what ifs” in their relationship, and now he so badly wanted to find out what she felt about him that he worried about what he might say.
“I know you’re studying, but I had a question. Do you have a minute?” She said with a smile that didn’t help his internal struggle.
“Of course. All the time in the world.” He responded, chiding himself for his answer. He needed to maintain control.
“We’ve been talking in the last few months and you’re such a great guy. I’ve enjoyed our conversations. I know you’re a church guy, and I wanted to pick your brain about some things I’ve been going through on a deeper level. Maybe from a different perspective than I usually get from some of my other friends?”
Ok, she brought up the church thing. I have to tread carefully here, Declan thought to himself, and then answered.
“Yeah, sure. I don’t have all the wisdom in the world, but I know a few things, and what I don’t know, I will try to find out.”
“Ok, I graduated a few years ago from Worcester State, and have been working and pouring a lot of my time into the group and our theories. My friends, the few I’ve kept since school, want to go out every night and so I do that a lot, and at first it was fun. I met people and I dated a few guys.” Declan couldn’t help but hear the slight hesitancy in her voice.
“I guess I thought life would turn out different after I graduated. I don’t know how, but it seems like life should be more than this. I hope you’re not offended, but the highlight of my week has been at the Flat Earth Group and my conversations with you. They seem real and authentic, ya know?”
“I know what you mean. But my life isn’t perfect either. I have struggles too. I think in the end, it’s how you deal with those struggles. I choose to give them over to God, and see where that takes me.” Declan knew in his heart he was a hypocrite. Most men know that when they are saying something spiritual to a woman while wanting to get in their pants.
“That’s what I mean, Declan…” She paused and touched his arm. He liked how she said his name. “You’re always so in control. Most men wouldn’t ‘give all their stuff’ to God. But you’re even proud about it. Your wife must be so proud of you.”
She looked down when she said it. He couldn’t tell if she made the statement because she wanted to hear his response or if she genuinely meant it.
“My wife. My wife and I are going through some stuff right now, so I don’t know if I’d say she was proud of me,” he said glancing down, appearing ashamed of himself. “Since we’ve had the boys, she hasn’t been the same and nothing I do seems to make her happy.”
“I’m sorry, Declan. I had no idea,” Amber replied, even though her statement was already obvious. He never told her and made sure to keep his two worlds separate, so there was no way she could have known, other than his constant flirtation.
“No, no of course you didn’t,” He responded. “But just you being there and talking with me has been huge in this season of my life. I don’t know how to say this but my conversations with you have been the highlight of my last few months. So…Thank you.”
Amber blushed. She turned to face him directly, playing with her jet black hair. She didn’t quite know what to say, but tried to come up with the words.
“Sometimes, I feel so lonely…” She paused to think about her next sentence. She put her hand up on the library table next to his. Their fingers touched gently without ever crossing. She continued slowly. “…and you. Have helped. Me. Get through some of that deep, deep loneliness. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I love talking to you and being with you.” Declan said more confidently because of Amber’s words.
“Wait. I’m not done. I love talking and being with you too. Which is why we can talk any more.” Her eyes glazed over. “It is definitely for the best and will be better for your marriage that we stay away from each other.”
Amber stood up and walked out, crying from the hard decision she made. Declan cried too, though he didn’t know if his tears were because “they” were done before they even started or seeing her heartbreak. He sat in the study room, staring at the table until 10:00 pm, then packed his backpack, and drove home so Grace could go to work. That night, sleep evaded him.