b Papa Dog's Blog: 2. The Mission

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Monday, December 26, 2005

2. The Mission

For my circle of friends and acquaintences, the coming of the holiday season tends to increase the velocity of the shit flying towards the fan. I won't bore you with the personal crisis that has been consuming much of my energy since Thanksgiving. I'll simply note that I'm not immune, in fact, most people I know have been living in some degree of personal hell while the canned music in each and every store is instructing us to have a "holly, jolly" time.

There was neither holly nor joy at the bar on the Sunday before Christmas when I sat with the Director and his new girlfriend Haley. We were sipping scotch and gulping beer, commiserating on a recent trip the two took to the set of his most recent movie. They were jubilant with the memory of the trip and with the overwhelming reality of their new infatuation, but the elephant in the room was just a ferry ride away, on the shore of New Jersey. He announced his presence with the chirping of her cel phone. She regarded the box with dread, her demeanor changing from the young woman with the shining eyes and a smile large as the morning sun, to a frightened young wraith, suddenly overcome by existential nausea. The Director's demeanor also changed in an eyeblink, from happy suitor to fierce protector. Haley fliped the phone open and clicked a button to read the text message. "Fuuuck," she said. She showed the message first to the Director and then to me. "I fucking hate u," it read.

Haley is just one of the many people in my circle of friends who is undergoing a profound life change right now. I've met her only recently, the result of the Director's profound change -- his emancipation from a destructive marriage. I've known the man for a decade now, and in that time he's become a brother. We've shared many days and many more nights in a conversation that has yet to abate. In the months since the marriage dissolved, I've watched him shed ten years, witnessed a gleam come into his eyes that was only present in the bursts of creative euphoria. To witness a friend come back to life -- to shed the gray, ashen sorrow worn in beaten down circumstances, to become a vital, virile, happy force -- this is one of the great pleasures a human can have. Within a few months of his new bachelorhood, he met Haley, an enchanting woman two decades his junior, who possesses a ferocious intelligence, enormous charm, and joy of living that serves him very well.

But nothing's easy. When he met Haley she was living in a dying relationship in an apartment overlooking Manhattan from the edge of New Jersey. This girl, she is no suburban creature, and she is most at home in the heart of the city, surrounded by capable people achieving great things in fields of creative endeavor. It was inevitable that she'd hit it off with the Director, but more importantly, it was inevitable that she would not last in a relationship with a partner whose ambition was to settle down, hatch children, and find a sterile house somewhere in the burbs where there would be barbecues and celebratory dinners at the Outback Steakhouse. He took poorly to the change in their status, and instead of allowing a painful, but gentlemanly break-up, he behaved as an unmanly worm. The details don't matter, and they're not mine to share anyway, but I can tell you that when I watched the blood drain from her face, when I heard the fear in her voice, when I heard the phone chirp incessantly with a new angry message every few minutes, I too became her protector.

For days we had all been urging her to make the break final. To retrieve her things, to free herself. But fear is an irrational force, it will turn the poised to helpless children. She could not go alone, but she feared for the safety of those who went with her. With text messages saying, "Some1 is going 2 get hurt and it's NOT going 2 B me," it's hard to blame her. Fear, however, is a loser's game. That night, when the Director joined a friend for a cigarette, I turned to her and spoke clearly, but directly, that she had to get out, she had to do it immediately, and she had me to help her. It was a conversation we'd had before, but something in the tenor of events must have persuaded her that I was right, because with a pained, but confident nod, she agreed. We settled it. The next day she, her other friend at the bar, and I would meet at the Director's apartment. We'd meet at 2:00 and head over to retrieve her things at three. I excused myself from the bar and took a cab home, knowing I'd need to be rested to meet whatever challenges lay ahead.

It was the right thing to do. I didn't know this person, this non-man who threatens women. I didn't know all the details, but I could see that she was in trouble. And if there was to be a confrontation, it was not right to let her see it alone. My brother's girlfriend was in trouble, and I know, deep down, that if friendship means a thing, it is that one must stand up when the chips are down. It's not machismo, it's the right thing to do.

The following day I showed up sharp on time, putting in an early day at the office so I could be out of there with enough time to do the work that had to be done. She was a mess when I got off the elevator and stepped into the Director's pad. Pale, red eyes raw from crying, hands shaking beneath a sweater and a jacket, clutching cigarette after cigarette. There were prop guns splayed out all over the living room, evidence of a late drinking night that apparently ended with the other man in the mission, her friend from the bar, passed out at 4 AM with an uzi replica resting in his lap. She and the Director updated me on the situation since the past night. The text messages continued, there were constant angry voicemails. She had to turn off her phone because at one point her ex would start another call as soon as her voice mail picked up. His tone had gotten more violent and threatening and Haley was worried for our safety if he should be at the apartment. After this update, the Director said, "Charles," paused, "I think I already know the answer to this, but if you don't want to go through with this, you can back out now." I shot him a dismissive glare. "Feh," I said. "I knew you would say that," he said, "But I had to put the qualifier in so you wouldn't deck me." We shared a laugh and lit a round of smokes and waited for the next man in the mission.

An hour ticked by slowly, and the third man, who mere hours ago was passed out on the chair I now sat on, was derelict. We brainstormed, looking for another party. There was no way the Director could go, because he is the rival and would escalate the situation with his very presence. I am a very calm, analytical man, and was right for the mission because I am possessed with the ability to defuse conflict rationally. Failing that, I'm large, and have had to take some punches in my time. We needed a number two, someone to keep the situation properly numbered to mitigate the potential of physical conflict. Haley called all of her friends and the Director some of his. While Haley spoke to many people, all were otherwise engaged, and probably not persuaded by her sell job that she was in "minor crisis mode." The Director, meanwhile, reached his editor, a man possessed with the manner of Dionysus, but who has also managed a lot of ugliness in his life. The editor, Dionysus, was in immediately. It was, again, the code of brotherhood, the call of friendship. When a friend asks for help, you make yourself available.

Dionysus pulled up after work, a large, bearded man with bum hips, but a solidity in his features and disposition. He drove us through the tunnel and into New Jersey, listening to her detail the situation. Dionysus, as you would expect, has seen a lot of life, and offered a very kind, but rational ear. Rolling out of traffic, she asked us, should she call him, see if he's at the apartment. She feared that he would immediately react violently. Start destroying her things, or else prepare for a fight. Sage Dionysus said she had to call him, but when we were about ten minutes away. "This is very hard for both of you, and you need to acknowledge that," he instructed. "Tell him that you're coming over to pick up some things and that you know that you both need to talk, but now is not the time, because your passions are both so strong. Ask him to take a walk, and promise him that you'll call him soon to talk this over, when both heads are cooler." We drove on in silence, until I heard a deep breath from her seat behind me and heard her on the phone. I could tell that she was breaking up inside, but she spoke with professional calm, even as I heard him screaming into the phone from the front seat. He was on his way home from Pennsylvania, and he'd be there in an hour. "Don't fucking go in there," he warned. "You're gonna sit there, and you're gonna fucking wait for me and we're gonna have this out." She said she wouldn't do that, promised to call him later, but said that this is what she had to do now. Angrier words were spoken through the telephone and he abruptly hung up. She did not answer when he began calling her back. I told her to turn off the phone as we approached the apartment building.

It was one of those many storied monstrosities with a doorman. Dionysus waited in the car while Haley and I commandeered a luggage cart from the lobby and took the elevator to the apartment. She opened the door and I put the cart inside. "Okay," I said, "You're going to tell me what to pack, and I'll get it done. But I need you to show me what to take." We worked fast and efficiently, unloading drawers of papers, stuffing boxes with journals kept for so long that they are evidence of her intellectual development, taking books from shelves, and clothes from hangers and rapidly getting them inside. She became frazzled, as anyone would when their threatening ex is driving closer and they're packing as much of their life as they can haul on a cart in thirty minutes. She started to hyperventilate, tear up, shake. I instructed her to take three deep breaths, which she did, and then told her I needed to know what was to be packed next. With military efficiency we were out of there in a half hour, leaving everything on the curb outside Dionysus' car. I had her wait inside the running car, while I stood at her door, smoked a cigarette and waited for the car service, which, of course, was running late.

Standing there in the chill New Jersey air, I regarded her life packed up at my feet. Books and sweaters, papers and a framed poster from a Broadway production signed by cast and crew. Obviously hers was a cerebral life, a life of words and art and performance. The suburbs were not her destiny, this much was clear. I leaned against her door, keeping watch for the minivan that would take us back to Manhattan, and also for a car carrying a frantic, fast-driving man. I steeled myself for whatever the situation would be. Naturally reason would be the first approach. I would represent myself as an attorney specializing in domestic violence situations and who befriended Haley. I would advise him that a violent move would not be wise, and then would attempt to talk him down. Should that not work, I knew that Dionysus would stand up from the driver's seat, draw himself to his full 6'1", gripping the cane at his side and glaring with solid eyes. He would deliver the goods from his wealth of emotional wisdom. I am a rational intelligence, and Dionysus emotionally intelligent, and between us I was confident that conflict could be averted without Haley ever stepping out of the car.

Inside the car, I could see her brave face. She moved so efficiently in the apartment, took direction well, knew that calm and rapid effort was the path to freedom. But I could also see her shaking hands, her frightened eyes behind her courageous mask. The minutes crawled by and I rang the Director, telling him to get the car service on the line, get them here, tell them they were running late and we needed them stat. He did so. And by 7:15, the time when the ex claimed he'd be there, the minivan pulled up and Dionysus drove away. Haley got into the front seat while the driver and I quickly loaded her life into the cargo area. When we finished, I jumped in the back seat and we pulled away. I rang the Director. "Mission accomplished," I said.

When we got back to the loft, Haley got out of the car and crumpled into the Director's arms. We got her things upstairs and she fell into a chair, then dissolved into wailing tears. I excused myself from the room, knowing that a person in pain does not need an additional spectator. I disappeared into the Director's office and consulted the internet. The transit strike was on, and it turned out that my afternoon mission was to become an extended stay in the loft. I left to buy some clothes to wait out the strike. When I returned, Haley had pulled herself together. We walked a block to an Italian restaurant. She was numb and I was tired and the three of us sat drinking scotch. The Director wore a grin. She was free.

Later that night, after Haley was put to bed, the Director and I sat up drinking beer. The exhaustion had set in for both of us, and now we were letting the alcohol wash over our weary nerves. "She'll tell you this herself, but she said you were really great tonight," he told me.

"So was she," I said. "She was the one who was taking the real damage, and she was so unbelievably strong. She impressed me very much. I was just doing what I thought was right, but she was the one with the real courage."

"Yeah, but you didn't know what you were walking into. The guy's a maniac, he's always threatening her. For all you knew you'd be walking into an apartment where some guy with a knife or worse was waiting." There was a beat as the Director took a pull from his beer then said, "I can't thank you enough for this, man. This really meant a lot to me and I'll never forget it."

"Don't worry about it," I said. "Look, you're my brother. That's just what we do."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It truely pains me that I can not be there to stand by her side and act as "body guard" as I have done in the past, but I am at the same time very relived to know there are people filling in for me. Thank you so much. She is truely a muse and an amazing thing to behold in ones life. Thanks so much.


6:05 PM  

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