Love and Other Mysteries

Mysteries: Love, Sexuality, Spirituality and Life

Unraveling — Part 129

“And what happened between you and your father at dinner that night,” Libby’s therapist asked when she’d grown quiet after sharing her recollection.

“I omitted the truth; I lied. When my father asked me why I had agreed to marry Paul, I told him I was in love with Paul; we both knew that was false, but he didn’t question the deception, he merely pressed further, asking what foundation for marriage I could possibly have with him.”

He finished with, “Love, even if that were your truth, isn’t enough to make a marriage between two people as different as you and Paul.”

Libby looked up and said, “I’ve never forgotten that moment.” 

“Libby,” Alyson began gently, I’ve been your therapist for a long time, and you’ve worked through some very painful things, but the regret you feel for marrying Paul has never been fully resolved; is that regret for you, or for him?”

“I don’t honestly don’t know if I know. He got a whole world he didn’t know he could have. I got a husband who I believed adored me, and five incredible children – but I also lost myself, who I was born to be.”

“Should you have listened to your father, and I suspect others, when they gave you sound advice about your decision to marry Paul?” Alyson asked pointedly.

“I was twenty three years old and terrified of my sexuality – I did what I had to do.”

“So why can’t you finish your story, Libby?”

“I can’t finish my story without facing the truth about Paul.”

Alyson gently took Libby’s hand, “and which truth is that?”

Libby closed her eyes tightly then spoke, 

“The truth that I didn’t know him any better than he knew me.” 

Unraveling — Part 128

“Yes, dad, I’ll be there; I love you, too.” 

Libby returned the phone to the cradle, and let the tears spill – there was no one there to see. 

She gazed purposely at left hand, her grandmother’s engagement ring now adorned her finger; flawless white diamond in platinum, Tiffany & Co – her grandfather’s taste had always been impeccable. 

Paul’s proposal had come suddenly, but Libby wasn’t surprised – their months apart had been difficult for him. The ring he’d given her was, however, unexpected – and it meant Paul had consulted her father.

Her father, the concern in his voice so evident in their conversation the past three evenings, and now he wanted to see her prior to the weekend – she closed her eyes and silently wished for strength.

Her beloved father, Ryan, was a reserved man possessed of enviable self-control, discipline and restraint. He commanded respect, thrived on hard work, and always acted in accordance with what he believed.  He’d been a Rhodes Scholar, was an accomplished lawyer and yachtsman, a fine son and nearly perfect father.  At twenty-three, Libby still thought he could slay dragons and walk on water. 

But she wasn’t looking forward to having dinner with him in … she glanced at her watch, two hours. 

He’d always been indulgent, but strict. To his mind, childhood had a clear purpose – to figure out who you were and discover your place in this world. His expectations of her were high, but he’d never asked anything of her he hadn’t prepared her to give.  Seldom, if ever, truly punitive, he had made her live with the consequences of her actions – always, never shielding or diminishing; he’d been tough but more than fair.  And he had inspired and mentored her to one accomplishment followed by the next; he believed in her, and somehow that was all she’d really needed. 

She had never lied to him, not even as a teenager – he’d never given her cause; she could be herself with him, and she trusted him implicitly. They had an understanding, “If I can say yes, I will, and I will never say no without explaining why.” She’d accepted this easily, realizing how remarkable it was that he had so much confidence in her maturity; as long as she understood and acted upon his final authority, he would treat her as an adult in all things – she found this priceless. Their relationship was unique and wholly wonderful, for both of them.

And now, as an adult, she was sure her ability to say she’d never lied to her father was about to change …

She was sure he was going to ask her why she had agreed to marry Paul …

And she wasn’t prepared to divulge that secret to anyone, not even her father.

Unraveling – Part 127

The Evening of Easter Sunday, 2017

“Why isn’t Love and Other Mysteries up to date?” John asked, removing his glasses and setting aside his book.  

Libby looked up from her laptop, and spoke softly

“It’s difficult to remember, and I haven’t yet processed or reconciled everything that happened.  The enigma that was Paul, the double life he led – I will never know how deep was that well, or how I feel about him in any conclusive way.  It’s hard to write when you don’t know so much of the story.” 

John considered Libby’s words for a moment before offering his reply.

Beautiful girl, this isn’t Paul’s story, and it never has been. Everything that happened happened innocently – you did not intentionally hurt Paul, you simply made the decision to know yourself, which was your birthright. Paul’s reaction to that resolve has nothing to do with you.  His behavior complicated the way you feel about him, but that could be said, to one degree or other, of anyone you know well enough to allow inside your heart – and you don’t give their role in your life’s story more contemplation or importance than you should. You don’t have to protect Paul, and you certainly don’t owe him one iota of deference here.  And, even if you honestly feel you do, you cannot change the narrative. Write for you, for your catharsis, just as you always have. Tell your story, even if you don’t think it is finished.”

John looked directly at Libby, then gently added

“But please understand — not wanting to face and accept a bitter and painful final truth is not the same as not yet knowing that truth.”

Libby looked at John with admiration and love, then said

  “I write in fragments about Paul; my journals are full of stops and starts, and I’m unable to sustain certain thought processes – certain memories, long enough to conclude or resolve.  It’s not only painful, but I feel like a fool for not seeing him as he may have been – as he was, then.  Once I set it to ink and paper, it is done – for good and all that will be who Paul was, and who I was, once.”

John walked over to Libby, then knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his

“This journey has always been yours. I will, as always, hold your hand and light your way, but I can’t give you answers that aren’t mine to give. Whoever you were then – whoever Paul was, you cannot have been foolish, nor he entirely dark and unimaginable – your lives were too stable once, too full of real and affectionate love for each other.  I believe that, Libby, and I want you to find that –  to remember that, yourself.  You’re afraid of the facing darkness, but I think you’re going to find resplendent light on the other side …”

Libby looked a John for a long moment, then asked

What if there is no conclusion, or light?”

John put his hand gently on her cheek, then tenderly kissed her forehead

Then you write for the ability to accept, and let go.” 

 

Unraveling – Part 126

It was unusually cool for May in the Mediterranean, and Libby and Paul were enjoying a fragrant and gentle sea breeze as they strolled along the Spiaggia Grande hand-in-hand.  It occurred to Libby that to the casual observer she and Paul were probably  mistaken for lovers; beautiful Americans on a romantic interlude abroad.  The thought gave her pause …

They had never been lovers – Paul may have believed otherwise, but she never had.   Even when things were right and good between them, sex was never part of what worked as it should.  It was never easy for her, and it never satisfied. She couldn’t recall ever feeling more alone than she did after sex with Paul.  

Was she comparing Paul to John?  Or had she always been deeply dissatisfied and in mourning for what might have been – what should have been?  It was the latter, of course, but it took Libby several distracted minutes to reason and conclude …

“You’re thinking of John, Lib”  Paul said quietly, his voice tinged with pain.  

She looked at him sadly, ashamed of her thoughts.  “I’m sorry, I am, but every moment feels false; it’s still very difficult for me.” 

“Even now, with him back in your life, I – we, feel less than genuine to you?”

“The girl you fell in love with is an illusion, Paul, and so is the woman she became.  I’m so, so sorry.” 

He hugged her gently, “I know, I’m sorry, too.  Sorry I wasn’t there for you when you could no longer suppress your desire, sorry I hurt you, sorry I can’t be the man you need me to be.” 

She closed her eyes and the tears came, but his embrace was warm and comforting and she did not break away.  For the first time since the nightmare began, she realized Paul’s remorse was heartfelt – his words spoken in honest feeling and emotion, and in full self-control.  He was becoming her friend again, and she was allowing him to.

Paul, my trip to Stockholm next month … John will be there.” 

He softly let her go and looked into her eyes to absorb what he heard.

It’s OK if you see him, you know that,” Paul said gently.

“I won’t keep secrets from you, I owe you the truth.  We didn’t plan to attend the conference together, but I’ve known of the coincidence for several months.  I feel ashame …”

Paul cut her off, “Lib, I was falling apart, and worse, when you discovered that you’d both be in Stockholm, or you would have told me – I know that.  I’m not sick anymore, you can be honest with me without fear.”

He held her again … 

And she was once again aware that he would never let her go.  

Unraveling — Part 125

Libby lay quietly, John’s arms folded softly around her – she was exhausted from sex and the sensual, romantic spanking that had come just before. She was also at peace; in these serene moments, her life made sense.  The rain was still falling, but it was gentle now – warm and fragrant as Spring rain ought to be.  She could hear the sea waves crashing near the shore just outside their bedroom window, and John softly breathing – his heart beating beneath her cheek as she lay on top of him … 

The bedside clock read 2:18 am when John softly whispered, “Are you awake?”  

She nodded softly into his chest, her movement barely perceptible, “I didn’t want to wake you …” 

“Are you hungry?”  He asked

Without thought, she slowly sat up making John groan with unexpected pleasure as she began to move rhythmically, grinding against him … 

“Are you hungry?” She teased, her voice dark and sultry – baiting, inviting, seducing

With an urgency no longer foreign to her, John lifted her from him and turned her face down onto the bed; his fingers found her wet and ready and he stroked expertly until she gave herself to him in wave after wave of ecstasy 

“On your knees, Beautiful – I’m going to ride you like the powerful animal you are”

She obeyed without hesitation, knowing her body would respond to his despite her exhaustion and well sated state; she was aware that a lesser man, a lesser lover, could never reach her now.

He entered her hard, in one motion – unapologetic; his need was raw, primal and determined to have its way.  He simply took what he wanted … 

“Come for me, Libby …” His voice was silky, but his command clear

In a desperate shudder she obeyed – from a place deep inside her, a place she hadn’t known until that moment, her body, mind and spirit complied with his whim, his will … 

His pleasure followed her’s – with an intensity she knew only from this man, he came in a rapturous burst – a long, hot moment of ecstasy and ethereal pleasure.  

They returned to earth slowly lying side by side listening to the waves break just beyond their window … 

John gently stroked Libby’s cheek with the back of his fingers, “You are a magnificent lover, Elizabeth …” 

She smiled, “I didn’t know life could be like this” 

Looking deep into her eyes he replied, “Neither did I.”  

Unraveling — Part 124

Rain was falling with ferocity as Libby and John sat near the picture window of his beach house sipping iced tea and gazing out at a dark and angry sea.  Humidity hung heavy in the air, and the temperature outside was close to ninety degrees Fahrenheit – the calendar said Spring, but it felt like Summer!  Summer in the American South – heat, humidity, rain and the occasional hurricane; Libby loved the island, and this house, but southern weather was another thing altogether! 

John looked at her, then gently swept back a wisp of hair that had worked its way out of the chignon she wore whenever the weather was sticky.  His smile was warm; she was wearing a light summer dress in emerald green, no make-up, and she was barefoot – this was not the surgeon whose skill he so admired, this was the woman who belonged to him, the woman he loved more than life itself.  

Libby spoke softly, “How did my mother look when you saw her last week?”  

“Radiant, as ever.  She was energetic and feeling well, but she worries endlessly about you – she’s made peace with dying for herself, but not with leaving her daughter …”  

“I spoke to her oncologist day before yesterday; she’s holding holding own, no progression or further metastasis – I’m cautiously hopeful, for now.”  

“She has so much regret where you are concerned, Sweetheart.  So much she’d change if she could; she told me how she spoke to you the day your father died …”

Libby closed her eyes tightly, not wanting to remember; “She did and said what she felt she had to – I understand that now.”  

“Do you?”  

“I was three thousand miles away, she didn’t want me to spend hours on a plane, alone, with no hope.  It wasn’t an unforgivable lie.”  

“The lie doesn’t haunt her, Libby – but telling you to say goodbye to him, and demanding that you not cry in the hospital, that you keep yourself together, remain stoic and accept in that immediate, icy, terrible moment that your father was gone with no emotional response what-so-ever, fills her with shame …”  

“It was classic Kate, John.  I was never permitted to show the world how I felt – she got landed with an emotional child, one she didn’t understand or know how to reach, and my emotions and sensibilities were too much for her, they embarrassed her – I embarrassed her.  I’d like to say she did the best she could, but I won’t lie to you.  She coped by living abroad much of the time, ignoring the fact that she was a mother.  When he died, and she demanded complete self-control from me, she was protecting herself from having to cope with  my feelings …” 

John looked at Libby, eyes glossy with tears that did not spill;  “No, she was protecting you – and only you.  Your father wasn’t just your rock, he was your touchstone – you depended on him for unconditional love, support and strength, but you were capable of living without him; she knew that – you did not.  If you had been allowed to fall apart there, in that terrible place in time, you’d have been forever changed.  You had to know from your first moment on earth without him that you could be all he taught you to be, all he expected you to be – and you could do it on your own, alone. You had to leave him behind and remain whole.”  

Libby was crying now, unashamed; “I didn’t know why …”

“She feels like she should have been able to do what she did kindly, and with compassion, but she didn’t know how; all she knew was she couldn’t allow you to believe, even for a second, that you were unable to cope with the pain of his loss, or live without him.  She wanted to hold you, comfort you – as any mother would in that moment, but she’d never been that mother to you, Libby, she’d been Kate, the Ice Queen … 

Libby lost herself in John’s words, and his embrace for several minutes, then pulled away

“Can we go to dinner a little later than planned?  I need to call my mother.”  

 As she was walking up the stairs to retrieve her phone,  John asked

Paul doesn’t know anything about what happened between you and your mother the day your father died, does he?”  

She gently shook her head from side to side

My heart breaks for how alone you have been …

but I promise you will never be alone again.”  

Unraveling — Part 123

Paul handed Libby a glass of wine, then sat beside her in front of a softly glowing fire; the room was dark and the shadow of the flame flickered and danced … 

Will you be alright while I’m away next week?”  She asked Paul, gently touching his hand.

I’ll manage,” he replied with no discernible emotion.

“Paul, you know I have to go, you understand that, don’t you?”  

Paul nodded silently

Neither spoke for several minutes, the Paul began

Do you remember Scott Bascombe?” 

The name was familiar, but Libby could not assign it a face; “Not really, why?”

“He was a year ahead of us at school, he was on scholarship, too; he was never accepted by kids like you, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember him.”

Libby cringed at, “kids like you,” but said nothing …

Paul continued, “He died last month, not sure how, but there was no mention of him in the monthly alumni letter; no memorial, no tribute, no obituary, no senior picture side-by-side with one taken recently.  Nothing, it was like he didn’t exist.”  

“Paul,”  Libby began cautiously, “I’m so sorry, but exclusion from the newsletter had to have been nothing more than oversight, which I’m sure the committee will rectify next month.”

If it had been you, or any other member of a prominent family, there would have been no oversight.”  Paul’s words were clipped, his tone heavy and angry.

This point of contention had stood between them since the beginning of their friendship; it had followed them into marriage, felt resolved when Paul became successful and wealthy in his own right – but it had returned with a vengeance in the days surrounding her affair.  Libby now realized it had never been resolved,  Paul had merely stopped dwelling on it for a time – had stopped hating her for having been born privileged.  

With the softness reserved for comforting an upset child, Libby said, “I thought we were past all of this.  You are successful, accomplished and financially secure …”

Paul did not allow her to finish before he began, “but that isn’t enough.  I will never be enough, I will never be like you.”

His restless, troubled mind tormented her; how much of his pain and anguish could be laid at her doorstep?  Their once peaceful life together had become so tumultuous, so complicated …

Libby was torn, cast on a sea of conflicting emotion; sometimes grief stricken for the pain she was causing Paul, other times frustrated by his inability to maintain perspective, let go of what he could not change, and be happy with who and what he was.  

And no emotion was as strong as her love for John – her waking thoughts always with him, always counting the seconds until she’d once again be in his arms …

but that love, wondrous and right as it was, filled her with guilt and shame … 

She wanted him desperately, but the cost of her desire was high.

Unraveling – Part 122 Con’t …

Libby sat on her bed trembling, still recovering from the panic she had felt when Paul suggested sex, but even more so from the intensity of her own reaction.  An inability to keep her emotional responses in check was foreign to her; she was always so controlled, so contained within herself – she struggled to believe she actually said the things she had said.

But she had said them, and they were a true indicator of how she felt – those feelings weren’t going to just go away, but she couldn’t address them with Paul, especially in the way that she had, and she knew this:

Paul could not remember all that he had said and done at the height of his illness; he had vague recollections, but nothing detailed or definitive, and at this point in recovery it was not in his best interest to be suddenly reminded of his worst moments …

She needed to check on Paul, but she didn’t know what to say or do.  He was stable, but still vulnerable and fragile.  She felt upset by this, and possibly even resentful – she did not like herself in this moment …

She found him in the music room, absently plunking out a tune she did not recognize on her piano.  He hadn’t bothered to turn on a light, but the fire flickered and the shadow of his silhouette glowed in the sheen of the parquet de Versailles floor as he sadly attempted to coax the song into life …

“Paul,” Libby said quietly, not wanting to startle him; she continued when he looked up “What are you playing?”

“I don’t know.  I used to, but I don’t anymore”  he said casually, a great deal of uncertainty now in his voice.

Libby stood behind him, and gently placed one hand on either shoulder, “You will find your way again, you won’t be lost forever” She said gently.

He sighed a little, then began “I don’t want to remember everything I did, Lib – I don’t want to be the monster who hurt you”  He turned to face her, then added, “I want to be the man you want and need for me to be.”

Kneeling in front of him, she took his hands and gently said, “I want and need for you to be who you are, nothing more.  I miss the man who was my best friend, I don’t need for you to be something or someone you are not — I never needed that, I never wanted you to change.  This was about my getting what I need without damaging you – I know that isn’t what happened, and I’m sorry I caused you pain, but you cannot be someone you are not.”

He looked at her in adoration, then gently touched her cheek and said, “You’re sorry?  Lib,  you aren’t responsible for what happened to me; I was going to have a break down – if our marital issues hadn’t been the catalyst, something else would have been.  I was an abused child, I have Bipolar Disorder that went undiagnosed while we treated for only Depression, and that was when I actually took my meds; I have PTSD from all the things I saw my father do to my mother, and lived through his doing to me.  I have an anxiety disorder and a fear of abandonment, none of which is your fault; I was a walking time-bomb… I was going to get sick, and it was going to be ugly, with our without what was happening to you.  I’m sorry I couldn’t maintain my position – I truly did, and do, want you to have what you need – although I will always wish I could be the one who gives it to you …”

He stopped there and softly kissed Libby’s cheek

She sat in his lap and embraced him for the first time in many months. 

Unraveling – Part 122

“Libby, can we talk about John?”  Paul asked softly, a hint of trepidation in his voice.

Seated across the table from him, she put down her fork and reached for her wine before nodding gently

“You look at him in the way I have always wished you would look at me”  Paul said in obvious pain, pain Libby loathed herself for causing; she struggled to find the right words – the right truthful words

“You are different people, you mean different things to me”  Libby knew her response was inadequate, and not what Paul needed to hear; she was failing.

“I have never been your lover, Lib, but I want to be.  I was so wrong to tell you I couldn’t give you what you need – I should have tried.  I want the chance to try now.”

Libby’s head was spinning, and it felt as though all the oxygen had been sucked from the air.  She tried to breathe, tried to take slow breaths in and out as she often instructed her trauma patients, but it wasn’t yet working; her heart was racing, she felt chilled and yet she was sweating – she realized she was having a panic attack just before Paul knelt in front of her in concern …

“What can I do, Lib?”  His voice was kind and afraid

She shook her head gently and held up her hand to indicate she didn’t need assistance – taking slow deep breaths, she tried reminding herself that she was safe – Paul was stable and she didn’t have to do anything she wasn’t ready for.  She didn’t have to sleep with him, and she didn’t have to play whatever sexual game he had in mind …

The flashbacks to the night he hurt her came in snippets, as though she were looking at photos of the scene one by one in rapid succession.  She tried to find new pictures, desperately searching her mind for pleasant memories to replace the horror that threatened to pull her into itself and never release her.

She had tucked that night away inside her – not running from it, but not facing it either.  She remembered  what John said about dark memories, especially dark memories that had not been sorted through and resolved, and their ability to resurface during heavy and intense sexual scenes – but all Paul had done was suggest the possibility of sex …

In the moment her breathing eased, she realized that terrible night, and what Paul did, was part of her now.  She would never again be who she was before.  Paul had taken something from her he could not give back, and not even his being ill when it happened mattered in this context.  Why didn’t matter now, couldn’t matter.  This was her pain and her reality and it had nothing to do with Paul’s God Damned illness!  She was left broken, and that mattered at least as much as did the fact that he was sick when he hurt her.

He was still kneeling in front of her, still looking scared – she wasn’t sure he yet realized she’d finally caught her breath, but all that was about to change

Slowly, she lifted her eyes to meet his – it took him less than a second to register her intensity

“You will never be my lover, Paul.  If that was ever on your horizon, you altered course the night you RAPED ME. ”  Paul lowered his head in shame, daring not to look into her eyes now …

“You called John a monster; said he was sick and depraved … but he didn’t bring this horror to my life, YOU DID!”

Paul said nothing, but he was trembling slightly and Libby heard a faint whimper when she asked, “What is a man, Paul?”

All he could do was shake his head from side to side …

She asked again, demanding this time; “What is a man?”

Still he could not reply

“A man, Paul, is honorable.  He is strong and full of integrity, he is possessed of self-control and restraint.  He is powerful, he is true to himself.  He is patient – tranquil, but is passionate and adamantine in determination.  He is loving, caring and gentle.  He is courageous.  He is confident.”

Libby stood and walked to the doorway from the dining room to the hall, but paused just long enough to ask …

“Who is the monster, and who is the man?”

 

Unraveling – Part 121

Libby was absently folding John’s shirts and placing them into his suitcase, but her thoughts were busy trying to reconcile all that had happened in the six days since he had arrived. 

John’s brother was being discharged to a rehabilitation facility later in the afternoon.  His mind was alert and he was left with only minimal left side paralysis, which physical therapy would address and minimize further.  His outcome could not have been better.

Paul seemed determined to adjust to her relationship with John, but Libby still felt unsettled; being John’s lover and girlfriend was the easy part, being Paul’s wife – whatever that meant now – was what she didn’t know how to do.

She had John back, and that made her ridiculously happy, but her marriage was in a state of ruin. Home was not the comfortable oasis it should be, and once was, it was a place of pretense and emotional deception …

Suddenly John, fresh from a shower, was behind her – she smiled when he wrapped his arms around her, and she allowed herself to relax completely as she fell against him for support. “I’m so glad Matthew’s prognosis is favorable, but I wish you weren’t leaving today” She said quietly.

Gently he turned her to face him, “I will be back in two weeks, you are going with me to Baltimore for the awards ceremony next month, and in June we have Stockholm – and I was hoping you’d be able to sneak in a few days with me on the island before you and Paul leave for your cruise in May.”

Libby nodded, “That all sounds wonderful, but that’s the easy part. There is so much wrong with my marriage, I don’t even know how to begin …”

“You begin repairing one thread at a time – you can’t look at the whole picture now that will only overwhelm you. Might I suggest a place to start, Libby?”

She nodded, and he continued

“You have to decide whether or not your marriage is worth repair.”

Libby closed her eyes for several seconds, and when she opened them, replied

“You once, very wisely, told me I wasn’t ready to leave Paul until I could leave and feel nothing – and you then pointed out that I do love him. That love has never been passionate, but it was real and valid for a very long time. I will, in one form or another, always love Paul, and I will always regret the pain my sexual awakening caused him, but he will never be, nor has he ever been, the right man for me. I want to repair the damage we have done to each other, I want to recover at least some measure of the friendship we once shared, and I want to find a way to take care of our children in love and understanding just as we always have …” she stopped and wiped the tears from her eyes before adding

“But I don’t think our marriage can be repaired.”