Chapter 14 – In the Tail of the Comet
When Tommy and Angel returned from a walk one night in mid-November, they found Jonathan standing in the front yard and staring up at the sky.
“Perfect conditions,” he announced as they walked up to him. “Last year it was too cloudy.”
“For what?” Tommy asked.
“Seeing the Leonids. Earth is passing through the debris trail of Tempel-Tuttle.”
Angel took him by the arm.
“Oh,” he said apologetically, “excuse me. That’s a comet. Tempel and Tuttle discovered it independently about a year apart – 1865 and 1866. The Leonids are a meteor shower of particles no larger than marbles hitting our upper atmosphere at over 100,000 miles per hour. They’re given off as a result of the comet passing by the sun. Earth passes through the tail of Tempel-Tuttle every year at about this time.”
Angel smirked, her face nearly invisible in the darkness. Jonathan had slipped back into professor mode, and his style of speaking had become less personal and more pedantic. They followed his example and gazed at the starlit sky. As they watched, a faint dash of light sped by over 60 miles above the ground. It persisted for less than a second.
“It’s friction that makes them glow and burn out, right?”
“Not exactly, Angel. At those speeds, the air in front compresses and heats up to temperatures greater than 3,000 degrees Farenheit. That’s what vaporizes the particles. The friction is actually between the compressed air molecules.”
It was Tommy’s turn to offer a comment.
“Comets are ancient, aren’t they? I read they’re as old as the solar system.”
“Leftovers from its formation,” Jonathan agreed. “Anyway, the view’s much better outside of town – less light pollution. We’re missing the fainter ones. Janice is inside making hot tea to take with us. The car’s packed, but we were waiting to see if you’d like to go along.”
“You might want to put on another layer or two if you have them. It gets cold sitting out there this time of night. Angel, Janice has some sweaters that will fit you. Thomas, I’m afraid we don’t have anything in your size.”
“I’ll throw on another shirt under my jacket,” the big man conceded. “I’ve been out in worse than this.”
Some ten or fifteen minutes later, the foursome drove north on Ash Street and turned left on Highland. Passing the baseball field, the YMCA, and some well-spaced houses, they continued until the road curved back to the north. After this, they took the first left onto a road that wound down a long hill, crossed a small bridge over the Marmaton River, and turned to gravel which rattled against the underside of the car. They were well into the country. Farther on, they made another left turn, passed the Flight Lake Conservation Area, and took a right beyond that. Jonathan, of course, had been calling their attention to the various landmarks as they encountered them.
Now the headlights illuminated a one-lane service road consisting of two gravel tracks for the wheels of trucks and other farm equipment. The lane ran between the fence lines of two fields. After reaching what he considered a good spot, Jonathan stopped the car and turned off the engine and lights. In short order, the trunk had been opened and the camping chairs set out in the middle of the road. Warm tea was poured from the thermos and into cups for those who wanted it. The older couple settled into the chairs while the younger elected to sit on the ground some ten feet in front of them. The air was still, clear, and cold.
Craning their necks, all in the party looked upward for the silent meteor shower. It was patient recreation. White, phosphorescent trails streaked intermittently across the night sky. They were brief yet transcendent in their duration. During one, longer-lasting slow burner, Janice glanced at her husband. In the weak flash of light, she thought she could see the trail of a tear down his cheek. Unaware of the acuity of Angel’s hearing, they engaged in whispered conversation.
“Nothing up there. Just those horrible dreams I had down here.”
“You didn’t really expect anything more, did you?”
“No, but I was hoping – you know, now that they’re both here.”
“What would the signs look like if you saw them?”
“I’m sure I don’t know. It’s just so good to have those two with us.”
“You know you have no control over the timing. They’ll be ready when they’re ready.”
“But I want to do more to help them. They’re so exceptional. His physical strength is matched only by her will, and that will is almost frightening. Is this what it would be like to host superheroes?”
Angel flinched in the darkness when she heard this. In that instant, she realized that her resolve had weakened. Her stay had been so pleasant, so comfortable, that she did not want to leave. In this frame of mind, she would be unable to return to her grim purpose. She swallowed her regret and set her jaw. It was time to go back to the alleys and gutters and do what she could to sweep them clean.
“Oh, did any of you see that?” Jonathan asked aloud. “That was a good one.”
The shower continued, and the four of them watched in silence. The tail of the comet was passing by, and Angel felt as if she were being dragged along behind it. Something recently born within her was dying. When they decided to pack everything into the trunk for the night, she thought regretfully of the contrast. On the drive out, she had felt a sense of belonging. On the way back, she sat next to Tommy in the back, feeling completely detached. She had tasted what was good only to admit that it was not for her.
The reluctant martyr came down to breakfast early the next morning. Everybody else was sleeping in after last night’s informal expedition. She was alone by design. It would be easier this way. Rummaging silently through the cupboards and drawers, she procured a bowl, a spoon, and some dry cereal. The noise of the refrigerator when she opened the door hummed in accusation. She feared that the sound of the cereal filling the bowl would waken the household. Her chewing was slow and careful, as if a microphone had been inserted into her mouth. As quietly as possible she rinsed the bowl and spoon and returned the cereal and milk to their proper places.
Footsteps could be heard softly coming down the stairs and then the hallway leading into the kitchen. The muffled sound of those slippers was unmistakable. Angel dropped her shoulders, looked briefly at the ceiling, and closed her eyes. Janice came into the room. She was alert, calm, and worried.
“Were you going to say goodbye?”
“I wasn’t planning to.”
Janice observed her face carefully.
“What’s wrong, dear? A change has come over you since last night.”
“Don’t think me ungrateful,” Angel replied evenly. “I was thinking of what to put in a note, but then you came in. You’ve been good to both of us, and I really appreciate that you and Jonathan weren’t too nice. That would have made me feel like I was under glass. It’s been good, but now I need to leave.”
“But you haven’t any money.”
“There’s a women’s shelter, and I looked up where it is not long after we came to stay with you. I can stay there and get a job until I have the necessary resources. I’ve never had trouble finding work.”
“Were you going to tell Tommy?”
“I can’t. He knew this would probably happen, and I want him to stay. He’ll try to follow me if he knows.”
“But why must you leave so soon?”
There was a hint of pain and disappointment in the voice asking that question.
“Janice, it’s been two months. If I stay any longer, I’ll have an even harder time going back.”
“Who says you have to go back at all?”
“I do. You’re a nice lady, but can’t keep me here and dress me up like some kind of doll.”
The harshness of these words was mitigated somewhat by the softness of their delivery. Janice noted that her younger friend was adopting a defensive, even defiant, posture. The strength of her will was almost intimidating. In near desperation, the older woman resorted to a more provocative question, but her manner remained gentle.
“Angel, are you afraid of recovering?”
“From what?” she asked with a sharpness in her voice that made her wish she could take it back.
“If I don’t speak now, you could be gone forever. If I say what needs to be said, that might still happen, but at least I’ll have tried. I think you’re afraid of getting better.”
“I’m not afraid of anything.”
“No, you don’t want to be, but you are of this.”
“Why should I be?”
“Because to get to that point, you’ll have to face what has happened to you – I mean, really face it. It might seem easier at present to see yourself as a tragic warrior rather than a victim who needs to learn emotional survival.”
Angel felt both insulted and alarmed. This kind woman was getting too close.
“I’m fine. I need to pack.”
Janice touched her arm very gently.
“Please, hear me out.”
Aware that her composure was wearing thin, the young woman tensed then relaxed slightly. Something inside her wanted to stay, and she faintly held onto hopes of discovering a justifiable alternative to her plans.
“Okay,” she said somewhat defiantly. “What do I need to recover from?”
“I think you already know. If I said you were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, you’d deny it with full conviction. You’re not dishonest. If I don’t know anything else, I know that, but look at the behavior you’ve described. You don’t cut yourself, but you continually place yourself in situations where you’re likely to be injured. You’re not suicidal, but you show almost no regard for your safety or your life. You haven’t shied away from men, and you haven’t become sexually active with abusive boyfriends. Both of those are opposite reactions to sexual trauma.”
“Like you said, I haven’t done either.”
“Yet you continually cross the paths of violent men, and you routinely suffer sexual abuse. You’re not hyperaware in a fearful way, but you notice everything that happens around you. Your knack for identifying circumstances where you’ll be attacked is uncanny. Angel, these are all signs of PTSD. In your case, the symptoms are dramatically amplified to the point of being disguised. Maybe that’s why you haven’t recognized them.”
The resulting silence was uneasy but healthy. Janice allowed time for her argument to sink in. She knew it was insufficient by itself.
“There is one more symptom, perhaps the most important of all. You haven’t become addicted to alcohol or drugs, but you’re an addict nonetheless. Your mission is your addiction. You’re using it to beat back the consequences of being violated.”
“How would you know?”
“Am I wrong?”
The younger woman was shocked by the honest vehemence of her answer.
“No! Alright? What I do helps me fight back. It keeps me from feeling helpless, but that’s not the point. I’m doing this for other women.”
“If you were to ask them, would they expect this of you?”
“At least some… if they knew what I’m capable of.”
“More importantly, how many survivors would tell you to continue enduring such mistreatment?”
Angel thought this over for a moment.
“Probably less, maybe more. I don’t know. Does it even matter what they think? It’s my responsibility to do what I can.”
“But is what you’re doing the best you can do? What if you’re neglecting something more important by doing this? What if you’re doing greater harm than you’re trying to correct?”
This stopped her.
“That’s kind of what Jonathan said the first night we were here,” she said resignedly. “I’m listening.”
“Can you identify your most important gift?”
“I haven’t thought about it.”
“It isn’t the toxin your skin produces. It isn’t even your immunity or your rate of regeneration. It’s your nervous system. Actually, more than that, it’s your mind. I doubt you’re aware of it, but your ability to heal and the production of that toxin are intimately tied to your will. You have an intelligent mind, and you can learn to think in new and better ways. This break from sexual trauma has already had emotional and intellectual benefits. Who knows the extent of any physical benefits you could achieve? I suspect you’re not yet at the height of your powers.”
“Your body might be able to recover even faster, or it could develop new capabilities.”
“Do you think it’s that simple – that I could heal my body by healing my mind? Don’t other people make that claim only to get sick and die?”
“In your own words, you’re not like other people. To some extent, though, mental health can promote physical well-being in anybody.”
“So why couldn’t I just take more time off between assaults?”
“Please don’t insist on thinking like that. I’m urging you to stop altogether. You can’t switch back and forth between contrasting patterns of thought. You’re too truthful, and you know better. Switching like that will set you at the default position to which you’ve become habituated. If you try to be positive at intervals, you’ll know you’re pretending because you intend to go back, and your nervous system will have a negative effect on the rest of your body. You’re suffering from a pernicious condition which, if it doesn’t improve, can only grow worse.”
Angel had been listening attentively. With this last pronouncement, she grew visibly worried and sat down on the edge of a chair at the kitchen table.
“I don’t know if I can go there,” she finally answered. “Without my purpose, I lose the one thing I’ve been using to protect myself. I’ve been keeping awful feelings at arm’s length by fighting back.”
Her confessor was stern but sensitive.
“It will be very difficult, but it’s necessary. The solution you adopted keeps you trapped in the past. Responding in kind to those terrible experiences allows them to define you. What you use to escape the ugliness brings you back to it. You can’t move forward while obsessed with looking back, and you can’t rely entirely on yourself.”
“I don’t want to feel weak.”
“It will make you stronger.”
For the first time in her difficult life, Angel allowed someone to see her cry. She did not bawl, simper, or convulse, but neither did she restrain her tears. She looked up pleadingly, and the injured child within reappeared after years of concealment.
“I was only sleeping. What made him think he could do that to me?”
“Perhaps he simply thought he could get away with it.”
“I know I signed up for most of those assaults, but not the first five. If there really is a God, why would he have let that happen?”
“I can’t explain that, but would it help if I could? This isn’t a defense for any system of belief. Would you strand yourself in the past by demanding answers you can’t find? The first man to harm you was wrong. They were all wrong. You can leave them behind. They’re all dead, Angel. Don’t resurrect them.”
“If I give up my old purpose, what will I do instead?”
“That doesn’t matter right now. First, you must concentrate on yourself. When you’re better, there will be time to address the other.”
The recipient of this advice returned to her accustomed steadiness of emotion, and her flow of tears diminished then stopped. Her breathing rate had remained relatively unaltered throughout the catharsis. She wiped her eyes with the back of her left hand and spoke assertively. Her right hand was clenched into a fist.
“Well, I never did shy away from a challenge. I guess hard, painful work isn’t anything to be afraid of. I’m used to it, anyway.”
“At least I didn’t need a counselor.”
Janice smiled back.
“I’m a retired counselor. Like I told you when you first came into my kitchen, I love growing things.”
Chapter 15 – Learning To Drive
The ensuing sessions were intense, difficult, and informal, and they lasted well into the summer. Janice used an approach previously unfamiliar to her: combining her professional knowledge with a more personal delivery. It was the only way she could justify what she was doing. Being this close to a client was professionally unacceptable, so she assumed the role that parents and friends have played throughout the ages. Relationally, she had earned the right to attempt this, but it was still a risky endeavor. More like a wise mother or aunt instead of a paid counselor, she received one ancillary benefit she had not considered. There was no paperwork to be filed.
Under Janice’s careful guidance, Angel revisited each violation, each resulting kill. She did it until the negative feelings were brought under control. Eventually they faded. Damaging information was re-processed, emotional responses modified. Fear and anger were replaced by boredom as these cognitive re-enactments became progressively more tedious. Writing everything down and reading the accounts aloud enhanced the effect. The details were all her assailants had been able to do, and the repertoire of these men had been pathetically limited. Going back to the sites of all the attacks was deemed impractical since there had been so many. One thing that could not hamper her recovery was the knowledge that any living, breathing man could relish the memory of what he had done to her. Over time, her countenance began to relax and brighten.
The little girl learned that there are adults who can be trusted. The adolescent received confirmation that she had in no way been complicit in the initial series of assaults against her person. The conscientious adult accepted that she was more important than any function as she sought more productive ways to combat evil. The independent loner experienced the relief of pouring her feelings into a safe and reliable ear, and the victim became a survivor.
At the onset of the counseling process, Janice asked Tommy to limit conversations with his friend to the dinner table so that she might concentrate on her therapy. Janice also requested that he refrain from asking Angel about these sessions so that she could take a break and concentrate on something else. Not wishing to disrupt the outcome for which he had formerly hoped against reason, he readily agreed to this. His friend was changing, and so were the rules of engagement.
The manchild with four parents was in need of recovery himself, for his life had been tumultuous and violent for so long that his emotions had yet to catch up with his intellect. Just as in Angel’s case, old neural pathways had to be abolished and new ones established. Janice had her hands full with Angel, so much so that sometimes she felt as if she were collapsing beneath the weight of such a strong and damaged personality. Tommy’s path to normalcy, as much as it could be achieved, would have to go through Jonathan for the time being. The physicist conferred with his wife by night, and carried out her instructions by day. The trick was to guide an exceptional intellect toward recovery without making it uncomfortably aware that this was happening. For either Tommy or his friend to be truly healthy, they both had to get better. This imposing, exceptional, young man was not yet receptive to asking for formal counseling, and that would have to come later.
Jonathan took a practical approach to his assignment. He and Tommy communicated as men often do – basically, while occupied with something else. The particular activity was unimportant as long as it was enjoyable and simple enough not to distract them from conversation. They played catch, and the older man took the younger to Walton Lake and taught him how to fish. Side by side, they would cast and retrieve while talking of many things and looking across the water toward the trees on the north side of the lake and the field of grazing cattle which was visible through these. They also worked on Jonathan’s car, bending over underneath the hood and tinkering with wrenches and other tools. And so, bit by bit, Two-Tone Tommy progressed through the childhood and youth he had been denied.
His further intellectual development, already well along, was provided for by trips to the upstairs library which were allocated so as not to coincide with Angel’s. Periodically, he and his mentor would discuss at length what he had read. Both guests continued taking their daily turns among the books, and earlier discussions with their elders often spilled out onto the dinner table. These were enjoyable occasions as the younger participants engaged in the cross-generational exchange of ideas. They all did well together, so much so that Tommy eventually felt compelled to remove one more barrier.
They were almost ready to clear the table one evening when he spoke up.
“You all might as well know. My legal name isn’t Tommy.”
“We know that,” replied Janice. “Neither one of you has been using your real name.”
“So it’s Adam – Adam Smith.”
“Yeah? That’s perfect. I’m Eve.”
Now they were all staring at her while trying to decide if she was being facetious.
“No, really. My first name is Evelyn.”
“And your last?” Adam inquired.
She laughed again.
“Morris, but does it even matter?”
“Then it’s settled” Jonathan proclaimed. “Now that we know your legal names, you can get valid learner’s permits. You both need to know how to drive.”
“I’ve wondered about this before,” Eve said, wiping her eyes. “When did you figure out that our names aren’t really Tommy and Angel?”
“When you told us they were.”
“Why haven’t you asked us since then?”
“Information needs time to mature,” he replied cryptically.
Janice interpreted for her husband.
“Because, until tonight, you didn’t want to tell us. Now don’t change the subject. You’re both going to start learning to drive, and that’s final.”
“Actually, I’m going to change the subject,” Jonathan stated. “I have another question. Why did you wait so long to tell us?”
“I’ll go first. I thought of Evelyn as abused and vulnerable. Angel was powerful, an instrument of justice.”
She lowered her head.
“It’s more honest to admit vulnerability. I’m tired of being so proud. It’s fatiguing, and I don’t want to waste any more time and energy.”
“What about you, Adam?”
He waffled for a moment and searched the ceiling.
“I always thought of my name as an alias.”
“And why would you think that?”
“My parents – all four of them – didn’t want me. I’ve always imagined I was named by some bureaucrat who just wanted to go to lunch. Whoever it was probably filled out the forms and threw me into the system without much thought.”
“You believe you received your name by accident.”
The statement felt more like a question.
“A name given like that doesn’t mean anything. At least, that was what I thought, but ‘Tommy’ doesn’t appeal to me, either. It was derogatory. I’m Adam Smith, and it’s not worth the trouble to change that. It’s on my Social Security card.”
“And it will be on your driver’s license,” Janice insisted.
“Anyway, I might as well use it. No matter how I got my name, I should make it mean something.”
“There’s something else,” Jonathan added. “Are the two of you insured?”
“Sure,” Evelyn answered. “It came in handy for things like birth control. I didn’t need it for much else until my jaw was broken.”
“I’m assuming you’re on Medicaid. Do you have a Missouri non-driver photo ID?”
“You sound like an administrator or something, but yeah. I carried that and my other paperwork with me whenever I moved.”
“What about you, Adam?”
“I just waited till I got better.”
“That’s risky. Neither of you make more than, say, eighteen-thousand a year, do you?”
They shook their heads.
“Then you’re well within the eligibility limits for Medicaid. Adam, we need to get you signed up. You can do it on-line, and I’ll help guide you through it if you wish.”
Eve challenged Jonathan.
“You recently looked all this up.”
“Yes, I did. I wanted to make sure. I was waiting for an opportunity to broach the subject, and now it’s appropriate.”
With a resigned look on his face, Adam addressed Eve.
“I guess it’s time to put on the collar. We’ve been out in the cold for too long.”
“Either you’re mixing your metaphors,” she chided, “or you think we’re a couple of strays.”
Adam and Eve took it upon themselves to get jobs at the Walmart supercenter. Adam’s appearance evidently made no difference there, either. By agreeing to work a later shift, they could be scheduled together. They wanted to earn some money of their own, and they wanted to help Janice and Jonathan defray expenses. Recognizing this as mature and honorable, their hosts acquiesced. Jonathan offered them rides to and from work, and they gave in to his insistence. They both knew that their moratorium on conversation away from the dinner table was still in effect and that benevolent supervision was inherent to the favors offered. Out of a sense of integrity, neither of them even considered violating the rule while they were at work.
They were making definite steps towards integrating into society. Working part-time gave them a low but steady income, and they opened bank accounts with what was left over after their contributions to the household finances. They got their learner’s permits from the Driver Examination Office on East Walnut Street. Adam and Jonathan collected the necessary documentation for enrollment in the Missouri Health Network. Adam’s birth certificate had to be obtained from Kansas City. His learner’s permit doubled as his photo I. D.
When it came to learning the art of driving, an adage from common wisdom proved true. Young men learn more effectively from their mothers, young women from their fathers. So it was with Eve and Jonathan, Adam and Janice. Intelligent and uncommonly coordinated, the novices learned quickly. Though they didn’t need the permits to apply for driver’s licenses due to their age, they did need them so they could learn and practice before applying. By early July, they were able to take and pass the test and receive their Class F licenses.
Evelyn’s counseling sessions with Janice continued. As has already been stated, a professional therapist would never have consented to such relational constancy with a client, especially one living under the same roof, but Eve was not a client. It was an unusual situation in multiple ways, and Janice was the only person from whom the young woman would consent to seek help. The concern that her charge might grow overly reliant on her grew daily in the retired counselor’s mind. Given Eve’s independent nature, there was a lower probability of this occurring, but the risk could not be ignored. Janice thought up an unorthodox solution to this dilemma by late July. It might not work. The benefits might only be temporary, but it was worth a try. The initiative began with a question after breakfast one day while the men were running an errand.
“I think we could both use a change in routine,” Janice suggested as they dried the dishes they had just washed.
“Sure. What do you have in mind?”
“Do you know how to crochet?”
Eve giggled as she always did when she was surprised and amused.
“No, I don’t. That’s pretty off-the-wall.”
“Would you like to learn?”
“I could try. It wouldn’t hurt.”
“Actually, I think it will help. We could both use an activity. I’m running out of professional tricks. I really think you should consider finishing this process with someone who has the necessary training and emotional distance.”
“You mean someone I don’t know.”
“Exactly. It’s more appropriate to the standards of my former profession.”
“But I don’t trust anyone else, Janice. I can talk to you because I know you. By the way you’ve treated me, you’ve earned it. I don’t want to undress myself emotionally in front of some stranger, especially a man.”
To pursue the argument any further would reconstruct barriers that had required a lot of time and effort to bring down. Besides, there was the issue of money. Eve didn’t have much, and she would never accept help in paying a counselor’s fees. Janice placed a reassuring hand on her back.
“You don’t have to do that, but I had to make the suggestion. You know I won’t pressure you. Could you get my crocheting materials while I put away the dishes?”
“Where are they?”
“In my bedroom closet, on a shelf above where the clothes are hanging. It’s a large, canvas bag. You’ll see some yarn peeking out over the top. Several sets of crocheting needles are in there, too.”
“Yes. You know where it is.”
“But I’ve never been in it…”
“It’s just another room in the house. There’s nothing in there I wouldn’t want you to see.”
Evelyn walked upstairs to find and retrieve the requested items. Entering the bedroom tentatively, she searched for the closet door. A picture on the dresser next to this objective caught her eye, and she examined it more closely. They were recognizable, younger versions of themselves: Janice and Jonathan on their wedding day. She stared at this photograph, trying to understand it, but it was foreign. It told a story she did not know how to interpret. Goodness and happiness were frozen into that shot, and she found herself holding the frame at various angles as if to see through a window and further to the right or left beyond it. The picture was too small, and no angle of observation would reveal more of its background. Whatever she was seeking eluded her, and she set the picture back in its place, pulled the large bag off the shelf in the closet, and skipped down the stairs gracefully.
Janice was clearing the coffee table in front of the couch in the living room so that they could have a work space in front of comfortable seating. She looked up when she heard Eve come in.
“There you are. I was wondering what happened to you.”
She took the bag and sat down to sort through its contents.
“I was looking at your wedding picture,” Eve apologized. “This must sound horrible, but it made me wish I could be you.”
The tactic had worked. Janice had anticipated her penchant for observation. The sight of the photograph was the necessary trigger to elicit a confession with which the older woman could work.
“It doesn’t sound horrible, but don’t let it turn into something unhealthy. You should be excited about being yourself, about discovering who you’ll become.”
Now came the hard part. She hesitated then looked straight at Eve’s face.
“I hope I’m doing the right thing by telling you this. In one way, you are me.”
A brief moment of understanding passed between them. Through her sessions with Janice, Evelyn had come to realize that she had a great capacity for empathy and that this was one of the motivations which had driven her dire decisions in the past. Now this empathetic nature was consumed by a sickening grief.
“You’re so together. How…”
“Did I become like I am? You have a unique ability to regenerate physically. I can regenerate emotionally. There is life after death.”
She put down her crochet needles and stood up.
“I think I’ll go make us some tea.”
A few minutes later, Eve followed. She found Janice standing by the kitchen sink, staring pensively out the window above the faucets. Quietly, she stole up from behind and hugged her. She rested her chin on the older woman’s shoulder, and they stood together for a few minutes in the morning light. Janice patted Evelyn’s forearms, which continued to embrace her. After a suitable while, she gently extricated herself and turned around.
“Remembering can be difficult. I told you as much.”
“Who was he?”
“My stepfather. It began when I was quite young.”
“Ohhh… Is that why I didn’t see any pictures of children?”
Janice inferred Eve’s meaning from the inflections in her voice. She chuckled.
“No, not at all.”
“Then you can…”
“We can, and we do. We’re like other married couples, but children were impossible. The abuse at that early age left my reproductive system damaged.”
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said any of that.”
“Don’t be. I wanted you to ask.”
Eve squinted half seriously, half playfully.
“You set me up.”
“Are you offended?”
“No. That was well-played.”
“I’m glad you think so. This seems to be going where I’d hoped. Ask me some more questions.”
“So we’re not just having an activity.”
“Not just. Please go ahead.”
“When you’re, you know, together, how do you handle that without flashing back?”
“By trusting the man I’m with, and by going through counseling when I was younger. There were adjustments, difficult adjustments, and it took time for me to make them. Once we were married, my husband was gentle and patient, and he treated me with respect. He’s almost reverent in the way he regards me, so being with him is different. Jonathan’s not my stepfather.”
Eve bit her lip.
“Your stepfather,” she repeated. “What happened to him?”
“He went to prison. He hadn’t counted on me growing older.”
“I forgave him, and he eventually was paroled. When I turned eighteen, I decided that I shouldn’t let what he’d done keep me from reconciling with my mother.”
“You mean she actually stayed with him?”
“She hadn’t known – or didn’t want to – and she didn’t believe me when I first reported him. Eventually, she did, but she waited for his release and lived with him until the day she died. He had such a hold over her. I went to stay with relatives until I graduated from high school and then college, but I went back to visit my mother when I could. It was safe. I’d won, and he was defeated and harmless.”
“Is that man still alive?”
“Oh, no. He died some years ago.”
“How could you forgive him?”
“It was the only way to free my emotions. Evelyn, everyone dies in the end. He became incapacitated and had to be put in a home. When Jonathan and I last went to talk to him …”
“You maintained contact?”
“Yes, and my husband supported me. I hadn’t done anything wrong, and I hoped that seeing Jonathan and me together would help my stepfather admit that he had. He was a human being, and he was worth saving. I regarded these visits as merciful confrontations.”
“Did it work?”
“Not that I’m aware. He never established eye contact, and our visits were always short. As I started to say, the last time Jonathan and I went to see him before he died, the nurses told us he had lapsed into senility. He was a pathetic, old man who tried to masturbate in his wheelchair when he thought the attendants weren’t looking, and he died isolated within that horrible state of mind. I escaped him, but he never escaped himself.”
She took hold of Eve’s hands.
“I wouldn’t tell all survivors to confront their abusers like I did, but it works for some. It helped me, somehow. You know, I’ve broken a primary rule of counseling by telling you all this, but ours is not a professional relationship.”
Eve’s cheeks flushed a little.
“I know it’s really none of my business, but may I ask you another personal question?”
“I think we’re past formality by now, dear.”
“Did – did Jonathan know this before you were, you know…”
“Married? Of course. Once I realized who he was, who he would continue to be, I told him. We’ve never hidden our problems from each other. I thought I had recovered, but having him on my side helped me to be even healthier. He’s a very compassionate man – and sensitive. He did exactly the right thing. He listened.”
Eve thought briefly of Adam. Janice looked steadily into her eyes.
“Have you forgiven them, Eve?”
“They don’t deserve it.”
“But you deserve to forgive them. If you don’t, you’re giving them permission to continue afflicting you.”
Evelyn’s eyes went distant.
“You forgave him even though he wasn’t sorry.”
“I had to, but I also wanted to once I realized how important it was. Men who do that to women are monsters. We can be more than that.”
“What about me, Janice? I’ve been living the ultimate revenge fantasy. Am I a monster?”
“No more than the rest of us. I can’t say for sure that I wouldn’t have done the same thing with that kind of power. Like everything else, self restraint must be learned.”
Eve thought this over carefully.
“You said something earlier about emotional regeneration. Can you teach me to do that?”
“You know I’ll do all I can to help you, so yes. That’s why we started this. But this morning, I’d like to teach you to crochet. There must be something you can make from recycled yarn, something reflective of your personality. Of course, first we’ll have to do some unraveling.”