She stood at the sink trying to wash the dishes and not being very successful, lost in thought over the conversation she had just tried to have with him. She knew something was going on inside, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what. She had tried everything she could think of to reach him and every time a wall went up. She could tell every time it happened, too, and it was maddeningly frustrating. What was it that he was doing that was causing him to act this way? Why wouldn't he open up? Didn't he know how much she loved him? There were too many questions and no answers to be found. She had tried confronting him directly and he had adroitly deflected every time.
She was torn about what to do. Perhaps she was making something out of nothing. Perhaps it was just his way of dealing with the issues and pressures that life thrust upon everyone. Maybe just letting things slide and take their normal course was the best thing she could do. She certainly had enough on her own plate to worry about. Talking to someone else about it seemed to be over reacting. Besides, who would she talk to? It was at times like this that she thought it unfortunate that each of us didn't come with an instruction manual. In the end she decided to trust her instincts and just let it slide. After all, it probably was nothing serious. That, and she would try to continue to let him know that she loved him and cared for him.
He sat in the family room watching television, or more accurately just staring at it. Thoughts of self-recrimination ran through his head in an endless cycle that followed a well-worn path. Covering up with the lies and half truths had become second nature to him. While it was something that now came easily to him, the way it made him feel was beyond words. He had come to hate and despise himself in a way that seemed to put him beyond any hope of redemption from his friends and loved ones. There was something amazingly, frighteningly powerful going on here. He could sense it, and didn't know what to do about it.
He reflected on the conversation he had just had with her. She had said all the right words, well, most of them anyhow. He analyzed them, parsed the sentences out, and tallied up the score. He came to the conclusion that she truly did care about him, but he knew it wasn't enough. It couldn't be, nothing could. If she knew the truth, if she knew everything, she couldn't possibly feel the same way. He knew deep in his heart that anyone who knew everything about him would agree that he was unworthy, unlovable, unreachable. No, his only recourse was to continue pretending. God, did he feel so alone.
Eventually the moment passed for both of them. They sat down with the rest of the family to dinner. This wasn't a nightly occurrence like the 'old days'. The family only seemed to get together for a meal once a week, sometimes twice if they were lucky. The conversation flowed. He partook in some of it, enough not to draw any attention to himself by being overly quiet, but not so much as to make himself a center of attention. It was a calculated move on his part. Just about everything he did interacting with his family was, but he was sure none of them knew that.
She thought the meal pleasant. The food was simple and it was always nice to get the family together for a meal. She wished it could happen more often. She studied him throughout the meal. To all appearances everything was normal with him. He was calm and pleasant. So much so that she began to wonder, again, if she had been making more of this than she should. Just as the meal was ending, though, and dishes were being taken to the kitchen she saw a look cross his face briefly when he was sure no one was watching, and then it was gone. It was a look of complete despair. She had never seen anything quite so troubling in her life.
An Unguarded Glance
The meal went ok. He talked enough, but not too much. He blended in. His voice was noticeable enough to be heard but not enough to get into the spotlight. Too much attention was not a good thing. Too much attention and people tended to notice details. If they looked too closely they might see some evidence of the truth. He knew this would actually be a good thing and part of him welcomed it, but most of him did not. Most of him would do whatever necessary to protect anyone seeing the truth. It really was easy, too. It was easy because most people simply didn't care enough than to do little more than glance in his direction and see a picture that was fairly normal, be satisfied, then turn away. Sure, people might see him as introspective, a bit of a loner, they might even see him as depressed at times. They might wonder what was going on, but it would end there. It would end because they didn't care enough. No one did. No attention was just as bad, perhaps worse. After a while people would notice him by his absence of participation and then an even greater amount of attention would come his way. It was for this reason that he had a practiced calmness, a dry wit that knew when to insert the right remark into the conversation, make people smile, and then fade back into the background of the group.
Somewhere during the meal, though, he felt things starting again. Too soon, he thought to himself, much too soon. It had only been how long since the last time? A brief look of despair crossed his face. He bit his lip and quickly recovered, hoping no one saw. He resisted the pull. He resisted even as he knew this was not a matter of discipline. No one was strong enough to have perfect discipline twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Eventually every one relaxed, and let their guard down. When they did, when he did, he would succumb and once again he would have entered into that realm that at once violently repulsed him and called him with a voice he had never quite been able to resist. When it was over and done with he would hate himself just a little more, if that were possible.
He smiled as he got up from the table even as he was screaming on the inside, screaming in pain as he tried to escape from the terrors that relentlessly pursued him that he was running to embrace. She spoke to him, asking him what he was going to do now. He thought she had looked worried about him lately, concerned. She ought to be, he thought to himself, if she only knew the truth. Looking her in the eye, giving her a casual smile he replied he was going to go for a bit of a run. Every bit of it was a lie and he was sure she didn't have a clue. The run part was true, though. He was going to run until exhaustion so he could fall into bed asleep with nothing else happing. Just one more day please.
She watched him walk away, not sure what she had just witnessed. She had either just witnessed an absolutely brilliant performance of someone pretending to be and feel something he wasn't, or she was the one who was messed up. She sat down in the kitchen chair and thought for several long moments. There really wasn't much to go on here, an unguarded glance, a troubled look. He was introspective by nature and a loner. He looked sad lately, but that hardly seemed out of the norm. Most of the time he actually seemed dangerously close to normal. She shook her head, not really sure what to think. The truth was she wasn't sure if she was up to this right now. Her job, keeping this family running at a basic level of sustenance, seemed to take all the energy she had. All she wanted to do at night was eat dinner, take a nice long bath, and go to bed. If something was going on here what would she do?
What Was He Running From?
He got into his running togs as quickly as he could. He was trying not to stop and take any time to think, because to think was to fall, to stop and consider could be fatal. As he got into his clothes, his mood changed and he became genuinely happy, excited even. He took quick strides out of his room and down the hall way to the front door. It was late fall and rather cool outside this time of night, but he was still wearing just a racing singlet and shorts. He knew the route he planned on taking and the pace he was going to be running at; he wouldn't have to worry about getting cold. She was sitting in the living room and he smiled at her and said he would be back, "in a bit and not to worry." The smile was genuine. He was completely engaged in the activity ahead of him. He was fighting back. He was exercising discipline and that was the key, wasn't it! With enough discipline he would overcome. This might even be the turning point, he thought to himself, tonight, this run. He opened the door and walked out.
She had gone to the living room and picked up a book pretending to read. The only reason she had come here was to watch him before he left to go running. She knew he would go. He did every night after dinner. He was far more disciplined than she was. He was never gone less than forty five minutes, and many times for close to two hours. She knew he was running because he always came back drenched in his sweat. He really was in very good shape from all the running too. This had never struck her as odd, either. She had always liked the way he took care of his body, but in light of the experiences today the question came into her mind, "What is he running from?" As she was pondering this, she heard him walking down the hall. She looked up as he came into view, heard his words about not worrying and saw him walking out the door. The whole exchange was completely normal, maddeningly so because she suspected something very bad was happening to him, but there just weren't any tangible clues to go on. It was funny, too, because she knew her question was a good one, "What was he running from?" She shook her head, completely overwhelmed with the whole situation.
He walked down the steps into the driveway and onto the street. One hand touched the buttons on his watch and he heard the third and final beep as he crossed the line separating his driveway from the street. He glanced down at his watch just to be sure it had started. He never left anything to chance. He checked everything at least twice. Nothing happened in his life that wasn't planned. Well, almost nothing he thought to himself. He banished that thought from his mind as he settled into his seven minute thirty second a mile pace. He wanted to run faster, but he knew that he had to keep this pace so he could last. Normally he would do his seven mile circuit and be done in under an hour; tonight, though, he would do fourteen, two loops. He wanted to be completely exhausted when he went to bed. His mind was in control of his body tonight and this distance would be covered.
He fell into the zone, thrilling to the feeling of exerting his muscles, the eventual rush of endorphins, and the inevitable oncoming fatigue. At each phase he was in control; his mind pushed his body to keep up the pace. Each mile that passed was marked on the pavement, something he had done some time ago. Each mile he glanced down at his watch to note the time, and touched a button to record the split. When he got back home, perhaps tomorrow at the latest, he would upload the data into his computer. That was all secondary really though. He knew his PR times for each split and so far he was six seconds up. A smile came to his face. He was winning. He was strong enough to beat this.
Mile fourteen came at precisely one hour forty five minutes and ten seconds. That was almost fifteen seconds under his last PR. He smiled in exhaustion. This was a nice way to end the day -- no, this was a terrific way to end the day. He had turned things around. This time it would work. He could feel it. Fifteen minutes later he was in bed falling asleep.
His alarm went off promptly at 5:45 am and he turned it off after the first beep. Truth was he had been lying in bed waiting for it to go off. He slid soundlessly out of bed and walked out of his room. He made a brief stop in the bathroom and then walked down the hallway into the family room. There he sat on the floor stretching while reading his scriptures. This he did for exactly ten minutes. He had just started the New Testament and was reading in Matthew, the sermon on the mount. He came to the part that read, "Be ye therefore perfect," and nodded his head up and down. Yes, that was it, wasn't it? That was the answer. That was what he was striving for. When he had finally achieved the proper level of perfection in his personal discipline all his problems would melt away, wouldn't they? He knew this was true because elsewhere in the bible it said that God didn't give commandments that men could not keep. He knew if he were disciplined enough and humble enough things would work out. He thought he was getting close, too. Last night was a perfect example wasn't it? He had exercised supreme self-discipline and brought himself back from the edge.
He smiled, feeling confidence that this time he would be successful. He glanced at his watch and saw the time, 5:58. He rose and slipped into his running shorts and shirt and shoes, which he had brought, from his bedroom. At 6:00 he was crossing the driveway and stepping on the street beginning his morning run. His body ached from the long run he had taken the night before. He could feel the pain and mentally pushed it to the back of his mind, taking some satisfaction at the level of personal discipline he had gained.
His morning run was always a quick one. He was on his five mile route, which would give him just enough time when he got back to shower and get ready for work and school. He had to push himself rather hard to keep up the pace that would put him back in his driveway at 6:35. He came in at 6:35:13 with a bit of a grimace on his face at missing his time. He was thirteen seconds over and was breathing hard with an ache in his side.
He went inside, showered and got ready, taking the time to pack his lunch and walking out the door at 6:58 with two minutes to spare and a smile on his face. No one else in the house was even up yet. He got in the car and began the drive to the office. He was in a pretty good mood today. He gave himself a seven on a scale of one to ten, ten being absolutely awesome. There never had been a ten day because, well, that was the ideal, that was perfection. He would know it when it happened though.
She woke later and after she had gotten herself ready for her day and had some breakfast and sent everyone else off, she went into his room. She hated herself for doing it too. It was such an invasion of privacy, but she had to know. She wasn't even sure what exactly she was looking for. She looked for about ten minutes at which time she had to be off herself. She found nothing out of the ordinary. That should have made her feel better but it didn't. In fact she was more troubled than before. He was the most disciplined person she knew. His room reflected that. It stood to reason, she thought to herself, that there would be nothing here that he hadn't considered. Wouldn't he even unconsciously leave some clue to what was going on, though? Everything was in place and textbook normal. Almost as an afterthought she wrote a brief note and slipped it under his door after she had walked out and closed it behind her.
The morning at work was bad from the start. Everyone wanted a piece of him. It wasn't anything he couldn't handle, and certainly wasn't due to any incompetence on his part. It was just a morning full of incessant demands by people caught up in their own problems they were trying to solve. He thought it interesting that it seemed to be human nature not to care about anyone but yourself. He dealt with it all, but it took its toll on him. By the time he left at noon he was drained. Gone was the optimism of the morning. Gone was the strong feeling of discipline he took from his running. Truth was, he wanted nothing more than to go to the park, eat a nice lunch, and relax for an hour or so. Alas, that was not in the cards. He got in his car instead and raced for the campus. He had just enough time to get there, hope he was lucky enough to find a parking place, and make it to his first class that started at 12:30.
He drove like a mad man, completely focused on just getting there. He was never late to anything. He was making good time today but it was taking all his attention. This was when it started.
He never even noticed it either, not until later when he was sitting down in class listening to the lecture and taking notes. By then it was too late. The ritual had started and grabbed him yet again when he was least prepared. All of his strength and discipline was gone. He was drained emotionally and mentally. He resisted the thoughts even as part of him, most of him wanted to embrace them. Some where on the way to his second class, he meekly relinquished. For the rest of the day he was imagining how exquisite it would be when he finally got the time. At this point he no longer cared, no longer was capable of feeling any pains of guilt over what he was going to do, and how very wrong it was. The pain of the morning, the extreme loneliness that was his constant companion was for the moment gone.
Later in the afternoon, some time after five, he walked into his room. He dropped his bag on the floor by his desk and sat on his bed. He looked around and saw things slightly out of place and knew she had been there. He spoke out loud to the empty room, "You didn't find anything, did you." There was nothing to find. He knew that. He didn't care either. He was filled with self-loathing over what he had just done, over what he now did on an increasingly frequent basis, and was unable to stop. Why was he so weak? God, how he hated himself. Tears came to his eyes as he thought about the worthless piece of shit he had become. He glanced over and saw the piece of paper on the floor. He knew it was a note she had put there. He walked over and picked it up and read it. "Hope your day was good, I love you honey." Again he spoke to the room, "Yeah it was just fucking great."
-- To be continued ...