Blood Crumbs: Chapter 17Mature

    The X Wifes Place is a bar on the outskirts of downtown Salt Lake City. It’s just far enough removed from the bigger clubs to be off the radar. The location is small and neither dirty nor especially clean. You don’t go to X Wifes to find yourself a date for the night. It’s the kind of place you go with a group of friends to shoot pool or throw darts or have a quiet conversation and a drink without having to worry about eavesdroppers. To the back is an outdoor area that provides a delightful view of daunting brick walls on all sides. They serve no food beyond a vending machine sitting beside the front entrance, but across the street is a Big Daddy’s Pizzeria that keeps late hours and offers cheap and satisfying pizza to inebriated patrons. The staff of X Wifes doesn’t mind anyone bringing in a few boxes of the cheesy goodness with them.

    Laura was in the back corner of the bar when I walked inside. She saw me and lifted a hand in acknowledgement as I made eye contact. I walked over to the bar and bought a whiskey sour, then weaved through the pool tables to Laura’s booth.

     She slid out of her seat and tugged at her shirt. She was wearing tight jeans and a light blue sweatshirt with fabric that, to me, looked similar to cashmere. I doubted its authenticity, however, as I am fully aware of Laura’s frugal nature. Laura was my age but the years had been much more kind to her. Her hair was blond with a slight redish tint to it which was compacted into a tight bun on her head and she moved with a professional grace that always seemed to speak of wisdom well beyond her years. She gave me a quick hug and as I felt the wonderful curves of her body press against me, a familiar heat rose in my collar. Silently I cursed myself for letting her have this effect on me, but she had been my first love and one never forgets the passion of youth. Even almost thirty years down the line.

    “You look good,” I said truthfully as I sat across from her.

    “Thanks.” She gave a half smile and sipped at her beer.

    A somewhat pained silence crept over the table as old hurts surfaced in our minds. We both sat and quietly drank away the sharp edges. Secretly, I wondered if there was a point where would could drink away the three elephants in the room. Somehow, I doubted it.

    “So,” Laura started, “what did you need?”

    “You first.”

    She let out an exasperated sigh. Same old George, it said.

    “Mine didn’t really need a face to face. I mean, I guess it would be better to actually talk to you about it, but I could’ve left a message.”

    “Little late to be doing that.” I said.

    “Yeah, well, it’s not a big deal. I just don’t know the procedure of telling ex-husbands about life-altering changes or whatnot. I wanted to let you know that I have gotten a new job.”

    “Uh, a new job? But you have your own practice. How do you go up from there?”

    “Well, you don’t.” She said

    “So, you’re leaving your field?”

    “No, nothing like that,” She said, “I don’t think I’d be qualified to do much else…”

    She frowned and slowly shook her head from side to side. Apparently the idea of leaving the field of psychology hadn’t ever crossed her mind.

    “So…” I prodded.

    “Oh, right,” She said coming back to the conversation. “It’s not official yet but there’s a facility being built in Texas and they’ve offered me a position. It would be a great opportunity so I’m going to take it.”

    “Texas?”

    “Yeah I can’t talk too much about it. Right now I’m consulting with them so I’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement.”

    I coughed and decided not to push. Considering where my end of the conversation might lead us, I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable with revealing anything yet.

    “So, you’ll be closing up shop and moving out of state.” I said surprised at the sense of loss that began to gnaw at me. Laura and I had failed as lovers (twice, in fact) but there was still a bond between us. I loved her and had come to terms with the fact that I always would, despite my best efforts. It was shocking to realize how much I took her presence in my life for granted.

    She looked down at her hands. “The facility won’t be done until late spring of next year, but yes, I promised my expertise if they needed it.”

    Once again silence clouded the table. I fiddled in my pocket and picked at my bottle of antacids. I freed two of the tablets and popped them into my mouth causing Laura to smile.

    “You know what works better than antacids to combat ulcers?” She said, “Relaxation.”

    I took a swallow of my drink to drown the chalky taste. “Are you telling me I should avoid stressful situations like dead bodies, and ex-wives?”

    “Exactly. Along with a healthier diet of course.”

    “Man. Looks like I’m zero for three,” I said, “Thank the Lord they bottle an alternative for the rest of us.”

    “They’re not supposed to be used as an alternative,” She started but threw up her hands, “What’s the point? You won’t listen to a word anyone says.”

    I tapped my glass against hers. “Looks like you’re finally getting it.”

    “So, what did you want to talk about.” She said shaking her head.

    I twirled my glass between my hands and avoided her gaze. I would have to approach this conversation very carefully. Tact was the word of the hour.

    “I need to know about Isaac,” I said, “about his sessions.”

    All the good humor drained from her face. She leaned back, folded her arms across her chest and glared at me. “Screw you, George.”

    Perfect.

    After the Jeremy Graham incident, Brian and Sharon Weston had gone to Laura about treating Isaac for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She’d been his therapist for the last eight years.

    “Look, Laura, I know-“

    “No George, you don’t know.” Laura said leaning close to me and talking in a very hushed, very angry whisper. “You’re going to sit there with a straight face and act like you understand the idea of doctor/patient confidentiality, but we both know you’ll just be spewing heaping helpings of bullshit. If you truly had any clue about it. You would never ask me anything that would breach a confidence. Never.”

    “You know what, you’re right.” I said, chastised, “I don’t get it. I’ve seen too many negative ramifications from such confidences and never many positives. I’ve been there as people have died and murdered and subverted the law all in the guise of doctor/patient confidentiality. I have no respect for the idea, none whatsoever. I probably never will. What I do have respect for is you. I respect the hell out of you, Laura, which is why in the eight years that you’ve treated Isaac; three of which were while we were married, I have not once asked about him. Despite the fact that you used me as part of his therapy.”

    “I never used you-“ She tried to cut in.

    “Look, it doesn’t matter. What matters here is that you need to trust me, Laura. I would not ask you unless I truly believed it was important.” I said. I wasn’t as confident in my gut feeling as I wanted her to believe, but it would have to do.

    She stared at me for a long time.

    “Look,” I said, “tell me this. Hypothetically, if you were asked to treat a kid with PTSD after an incident-“

    Laura held up her hand to stop me. She pulled a pencil out of her hair and the bun came loose, letting her hair fall down to her shoulders. She ran her fingers through it and I think my heart might have skipped a beat.

    She took a deep breath and looked away with a nod. “Look, not every child that goes through a tragedy will experience PTSD.”

    I frowned, unable to hide my surprise. If Isaac didn’t have PTSD then why in God’s name had she been treating him for the last eight years? I sat forward, waiting for her to go on. She remained silent for a full minute, then finally nodded and continued.

    “Alright, let me give you a hypothetical that might line up more to your predicament. Let’s say you have a man. He’s someone with aspirations for a great career in the public eye. He’s also a real narcissist. I mean, today we use the term loosely, but I’m talking a true categorical narcissist. Doesn’t give a shit about anyone other than himself.”

    My brain spun its wheels fruitlessly for a moment as I tried to comprehend what she was trying to tell me about Isaac. Then it clicked. She wasn’t talking about Isaac; she was talking about Brian Weston.

    “A public figure like a politician?” I asked.

    She shot me a warning look that said don’t push it. “Anyway, because this man’s life occurs under the scrutiny of others, he realizes he needs to get married. He’s still unable to love anyone besides himself, but with wealth and ambition like his, he can fake it. Or he could just find a woman that looks beyond love. Maybe she just pretends he loves her; whatever the reason, she marries him.”

    “If things didn’t live up to her expectations,” I added thinking of the nearly catatonic Sharon Weston, “she could always use her newfound money and influence to keep a steady stock of prescription happiness.”

    Laura nodded. “A predictable response for a woman in such a situation. Anyway, having a wife doesn’t build quite the perfect picture for our narcissist. Our guy needs to be a family man, not just a loving husband. So he has a kid.

    “Now, it’s hard to believe that there are some people out there," She continued, "that have no maternal instinct. We all like to think that it comes with the birth of a child. Some deep, parental, connection. With our guy there’s nothing. When this child is born, he’s nothing more than an expensive and inconvenient prop to his father. His mother’s love is filtered from a haze of drugs and he is raised in a sort of cardboard façade. In the papers and articles and photos this child sees his family described as perfect.

    “Children are much more perceptive than we give them credit for. He begins to feel that he is flawed. He begins to believe that the public image is true and the fault lies only with himself. He feels no love for his parents because they offer none, but he has been programmed to think that they do, believing he just misses it when it’s given. He deems himself broken, that the problem lies entirely within his own psyche.”

    It was strange to hear all this verbalized. I suppose I had been aware of the Weston family dynamic for a time now, but just not understood the why.

    “Well our boy lives in his own internal Hell for twelve years before something happens.” Laura continued.

    “Jeremy Graham,” I said.

    “No,” she said sitting forward and dropping all pretense of hypothetical for the moment, “You.”

    She let this sink in for a moment before going on. “Jeremy Graham is only important in as much as he created the situation. The situation that ended with you restoring a piece of Isaac’s humanity.”

    “What?” I had been following along surprisingly well until now. My grasp of the narrative was slipping.

    “I told you at the start that not every child that goes through a traumatic experience will show symptoms of PTSD, but that phrasing wasn’t exactly accurate. Isaac had no signs of post traumatic stress because, to him, the event wasn’t traumatic. In fact, it was almost the opposite.

    “Yes, seeing a man shot in front of him is shocking for anyone, especially someone his age. However, this didn’t overshadow the fact that a life was ended for the sole purpose of saving his own. Isaac had felt himself empty and inhuman. He was being used like a worthless prop. You put his life, not on equal footing with Jeremy Graham, but above it. Through a child’s logic, by killing Jeremy to save Isaac, you made it clear that Isaac’s life was worth more than Jeremy’s.”

    I nodded slowly as my brain wrapped itself around this. My mind jumped back to that day as I carried him out to the EMTs.

    “You killed him.”
    “Yes I did.”
    “Why?”
    “Because he wanted to kill you.”
    “Well I knew that.”


     “So yes, Isaac latched to you as a father figure in his life. He had never felt love and this was as close as he got. That’s why I encouraged a relationship between you two because I knew it would be healthy for him.” She said then moved closer. “For both of you.”

    Now it was my turn to give the ‘don’t push it’ look.

    “Anyway, if I were the doctor in this hypothetical situation as I just described. I would tell the parents it was PTSD and medicate the child for mild depression. Try to help him in whatever way that I could.”

    “I never knew he was on medications.” I said

    “Well that’s not something people like to broadcast to the world. Besides, it was pretty mild stuff. The point was to try to take the sting of self-resentment away while finally allowing him to experience happier emotions. Anything too strong blocks all emotions good and bad.” She said as she sipped at her beer. “And after eight years people get listless. Want to stop drugs and therapy to understand if they can truly cope with life.”

    “And in this particular case, would it be with your blessing?” I asked as I felt a prickle at the base of my spine.

    “Not entirely. I would understand giving up the drugs but would want the sessions to continue. A step down approach would leave him a lot less vulnerable.”

    “You feel he’s vulnerable?”

    She tilted her head to the side and thought about it. “Probably more so than I would like, less so, than would call for action.”

    “Well, what if, during this vulnerable time, he read a book. I biography of the man who died so that he could live?” How do you think he would react?” I prodded.

    Laura’s left hand came to her chin. Her palm covered her mouth and her index finger rubbed the bridge of her nose. It was a little habit she had when she was doing some deep thinking.

    “It wouldn’t be a good thing,” she settled, “That book has a lot of information in it that Isaac isn’t ready to deal with on his own. Put some things into perspective that he might not be ready to understand.”

    “He might start to feel some real resentment towards his father?” I said thinking back to the question Isaac had asked me earlier tonight.

    “Well, no.” She moved her hand from her face and clasped her fingers around her mug as she chewed at her lower lip. “I think I mentioned a little how Isaac internalized everything. He feels that the mistakes of others reflect poorly on himself because he feels that he is to blame. I don’t know how to describe it better than that. Basically Isaac will always blame himself for bad things that happen, no matter how irrational his thought process might have to be. He would blame himself for every situation leading up to Jeremy Graham. He doesn't handle guilt well, either.”

    The hairs on my arms raised and my head started to pound. The slight buzz of alcohol was vaporized by white hot guilt.

    “What is it?”

    “And after reading this book. What if Isaac came to me? What if he asked me a question?” I felt pain rising in my gut. “What if I basically told him point blank that his father was a corrupt son of a bitch?”

    Laura’s jaw fell open and she closed her eyes. She waited a long pause before she could speak, but even then, all she could manage to say was:

    “Oh God, George. Tell me you didn’t.”

The End

64 comments about this story Feed