The Sureness of Horses, Chapters 32, 33, and 34
Click to see: Summary of Preceding Chapters
The days went by in a blur. In addition to worrying about Eva and any relationship I had left with Diana, I had to screen my calls for reporters. A story, “Police Investigating Possible Murder Suicide,” was printed on page three of the paper the next day, but my name wasn’t in the article, thank God. Like one of those politicians gone wrong, I was determined not to answer the phone for a reporter, no matter what.
I would have loved to take Eva to the park, but Diana had stopped returning my phone calls. I missed Diana, too.
Ray was at some kind of finance meeting in Reno, so I was able to go into the office, lie low, and stay in touch with customers. The Chicago installation was running into cost overruns. To keep that problem in check, I made some phone calls and convinced subcontractors to bring the cost down by about half of the overrun.
That evening, I looked to poetry for consolation and wisdom, but modern poems didn’t speak to me. I was drawn to John Keats’s odes. He died so young. Twenty-six. I marked “Ode to a Nightingale” to read to Diana.
My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk . . .
Keats the beagle, though, couldn’t help me now. In the evening, when he brought me the rope toy in his mouth, I just couldn’t play. I put him in the garage until bedtime.
Diana finally returned my phone calls late that night. She quietly described how things were going with Eva. Sleeping alone in the guest room scared her, so she had moved in with Beth’s. Eva had asked to see me, Diana told me, and so Diana invited me to dinner. “Robbie will be with his father, so it’ll just be you and me and Beth and Eva.” Diana ended the conversation with three crystal clear words: “Only for dinner.”
I arrived at Diana’s on Friday night with the plastic horse Beth had given Eva under my arm. After I’d made three phone calls setting up a visit to Jorge’s house, the police had escorted me in. I had found Eva’s horse in Jorge’s family room and explained that it was Eva’s favorite toy. The police at first refused to let me have it, but relented.
Diana, Beth, and Eva met me at the door. Eva’s eyes lit up at the sight of the horse. She looked more like her mother than I remembered, but scared. I’d never once seen Marita scared. Don’t think about Marita now.
Eva, either forgetting or not fully understanding the horse had come from Beth, shyly showed the horse to Diana and Beth. I handed the flowers to Diana, who nodded and went into the kitchen to find a vase.
I said to Eva, “It’s good to see you smile.”
“Thank you Uncle Wade.” She asked Beth if she could take the horse back to the bedroom. Beth took her hand and they walked down the hall.
Diana came back with the flowers in water and led me into the family room. “Dinner’s almost ready.”
We made awkward small talk, in which we used the word fine so many times that we finally laughed about it. “Jolene’s fine?”
“Yes, Billy’s fine too,” Diana said, shrugging through a laugh.
The laughter was refreshing.
As we seated ourselves in the family room, I had hopes that the poetry that had comforted me would make Diana feel better, too. “I hope you’ll like it—it’s some of the best poetry in the English language.” As I pulled the poem from my pocket, though, she didn’t seem very enthusiastic. Still, I stuck to my plan and began the last three longish stanzas of “Ode to a Nightingale.”
“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears among the alien corn—”
“Please stop, Wade,” she interrupted.
I folded the poem and, perhaps with more ceremony than I should have shown, returned it to my pocket.
“I don’t want to hear some guy from two hundred years ago,” she said. “What’s going on with you? Don’t talk about what happened to Jorge, or anything about that night or Marita, none of that. How about the rest of your life—how about Wade Middleton? What’s going on with him?”
“I’m not sure I even know who Wade is, Diana. There’s nothing but Marita and Jorge right now. I saw him yesterday at the hospital. He even said a few words.”
“Billy says if Jorge recovers, he’ll go to jail.”
“Even with that hanging over his head, I sure hope he lives,” I said. “It was a terrible accident.” As soon as I said the word, I realized how appallingly I’d been lying to myself; accident was way too forgiving a word.
Diana nodded. “I’ve spent most of my last two weeks in prayer—I even went to church two mornings last week. Little Eva must have been put in my life for a reason. God doesn’t let things just happen.”
I nodded passively, but my mind raced. If she was right, what was God’s plan for Jorge or . . . for me?
“They’re even helping at the law firm. Billy’s sorting through the legalities,” she told me. “If he dies, assuming it’s before a trial or anything, he’ll get something like eighty thousand in insurance from Enersystems, so that will at least get a good start on Eva’s education expenses. So much depends on whether Jorge makes it through.” Diana looked up at me. “Billy’s working the insurance angle. He’s pretty effective.”
“I believe that.”
Diana raised an eyebrow. After a time she continued, “So, anyway, I’m doing all I can to keep myself going. I try not to think about that night.”
“I’m sorry, Diana. Will you let me explain?”
“Maybe someday. Now all I want to do is get through the day and take care of myself and my kids. And Eva. That takes up all there is of me.”
“How about next week? I have to deal with this. What if I took you to dinner next week?”
“I don’t think so. What would be the purpose?”
“Diana, you’re taking responsibility for Eva in a way that no one would have expected. I’ve done some things wrong that I want to explain to you. How about the Village Pub? You know, where you took me for my birthday. It wouldn’t be a date, I promise.”
She laughed too. “I see, you’d take me to my favorite restaurant and it wouldn’t be a date.”
“I feel like I’m holding everything inside of me. I need to talk to you.”
“Tell you what, Wade. I won’t say yes, but I won’t say no either. I’ll give it prayerful consideration.”
Now I laughed. Even if we weren’t as intimate as we’d once been, at some level we were still communicating.
Once Diana said yes to dinner I agonized over what to tell her about Marita, going over one imaginary conversation after another, and finally decided to simply trust my instincts.
When I picked her up, Diana wore a French blue summer dress and white sweater that brought out the red in her hair. When we drove up to Woodside, which is more rural than Palo Alto, she said, “You didn’t need to take me someplace so fancy,” but she seemed happy to be with me.
“I have fond memories of you taking me there for my birthday,” I said.
She smiled. “There was no need, but I appreciate it.”
Once we were seated at the restaurant, she asked whether or not I really wanted to ride in the opening meet, which was only three days away.
“Sure. I look forward to those wide open spaces on Artemis, and I like your friends. I can’t wait to canter uphill again.”
She smiled. “Good.”
When we’d ordered and glasses of wine sat on the table in front of us, I said, “I want to apologize about that day with the boar.”
“That’s okay. I’ve had some quiet discussions with the Hunt Committee. There’s an outside chance of changing procedures. At least they’re aware of my concerns.”
I reached across the table and touched her hand. She’d listened. Maybe this night was going to go fine. A few moments later I said, “I want to clear the air about that night with Jorge and Marita.”
“Why go over that?” She frowned as she slowly twirled her wineglass. “You have to look forward now. We both do.” She put down her glass. “But there is something I need to say to you. You’ve lost that old spring in your step. Don’t let this rule your life, Wade. Put that night behind you. I’m not saying you should lean on the Bible, but you know that’s how I get through things.”
Lean on the Bible. I took a sip of wine. “There are some weird passages in the Bible, Diana. Sometimes, reading it, I wonder if some passages were slipped in as it was being copied. Or lost in translation.”
She shook her head dismissively. “God wouldn’t give us a book people couldn’t trust. He loves us.”
Her simple faith surprised me. The Bible was fallible, something you had to pick and choose from—didn’t everybody think that? But . . . .who could argue with whatever prompted and empowered her to take Eva in and treat her like her own?
Still, I couldn’t imagine having confidence in every word of the Bible. “Do I need such a faith to have a place in your life?” I blurted out.
“Your beliefs have to be your own. I wanted to show you how I get through times like you’re going through. God is real to me.” She got a faraway look in her eye. “I think of a bird taking flight and soaring.” With her free hand, she gestured upward.
Should I ask her to make this clearer? This reminded me of other conversations with people of faith, of their surety. Unfortunately, it didn’t make me feel close to her. I wished it did.
I still didn’t know where I stood with her, so throughout dinner I argued with myself about whether I should bring up Jorge and Marita again. I couldn’t think of any way to put this behind me without discussing it. I had prepared my answers for her probable questions; I was sure she’d ask if I had previously thought Jorge was capable of such violence or if I’d been in love with Marita, something like that. After we ordered dessert, I screwed up my courage and blurted out, “Diana, the main reason I wanted to take you to dinner was to clear the air about that night. Don’t you have questions?”
The waiter rolled a cart next to our table and started serving cream puffs filled with ice cream, profiteroles. He placed them on two plates and ladled on hot chocolate sauce. The cold of the ice cream surprised me as it met the warm chocolate on my first bite.
Diana took a spoonful. “Delicious.” She paused. “Okay, if you insist, I’ll ask the obvious question. That night, did you sleep with Marita? You know, intercourse?”
This shouldn’t have thrown me, but it did. I repeated her question aloud to gain time to think, and thought of all sorts of clever answers, but I didn’t say any of them. Almost imperceptibly, or so I hoped, I nodded.
“So, it’s no wonder you’ve been acting so guilty.” She shook her head.
She played with her dessert, scooting and poking the cream puffs with her fork until she pushed the plate away from her. She looked as if she might cry. Then she stiffened. “That changes everything.”
“What went on between me and Marita wasn’t about you in any way. You and I hadn’t been intimate for months.”
She searched my face. “More like six weeks. At any rate, it was wrong.”
“Do you think I did wrong by Marita?”
Diana looked away and then directly at me. “I can’t comment on Marita. But . . . Jorge.”
I couldn’t defend myself there. “You always told me I worried too much about him.”
“He trusted you, Wade. Anyone could see that.” She drew a deep breath. “I find myself feeling sorry for him, which I never did before.”
“Me too,” I said. “I probably think of him a hundred times a day.”
She put her fork down. “Wade, as much as I care for you, I can’t be romantically involved with you anymore.” She wiped her eyes. “I do hope, though, that you’ll keep seeing Eva. It’s not just that you’re her godfather—she needs a male influence in her life. But you and I can’t date. Why did you take me to this nice dinner to tell me what you’d done? I specifically told you I didn’t want to know.”
“Yes, I screwed up. I’ve been feeling so guilty, Diana. I couldn’t go on without telling you.” Feeling my own eyes water now, I grabbed her hand. “I don’t want to lose you.”
She pulled back. “It’s trust, Wade. I always thought I could trust you.”
Since I’d insisted on diving into things, I should have expected I’d come up dripping wet, I thought as we left the restaurant. When we went up in the elevator at her condominium, she maintained her distance. At her front door, without touching, we said goodbye. “Isn’t there anything I can do?” I asked.
She shook her head and looked down as she shut the door behind her.
It was still light out when I left Diana’s—the end of a long summer day. She had been right—Jorge had trusted me and I had abused that trust. I needed to see him, desperately. Even if he was in a coma, perhaps he could hear my apology. The nurse, Belinda, even thought I might bring him out of it. I pushed myself away from the wheel and started the car. As I drove, I tried to translate Mea culpa—Mea maxima culpa into words that would resonate with Jorge. I’d promise him I’d take care of Eva as if she were my own child, something I’d already promised to God and myself. But it was Jorge to whom I had to say this.
When I got to the nursing station, I asked the tall woman behind the desk for Belinda.
“She’s still in L. A.” She looked at me as if I’d ask another question, but I reminded myself it was easier to gain forgiveness than permission. “Okay, I’ll go on back.”
The whiff of unclean smells and cleaners that I encountered when I opened the door to Intensive Care seemed so familiar that they were almost pleasant. It was much quieter than last time, almost deserted. I looked down the hall to the police desk, which was—unmanned. Except for a custodian mopping the floor, the hallway was empty. Rehearsing the words of my apology, I headed down toward Jorge’s room. No matter how he responds, I reminded myself, I’ll be glad to have gotten this off my chest.
When I stopped in Jorge’s door, the room was empty, the mattress folded over. I turned and walked up to the young man with the mop. I pointed to Jorge’s room. “Where is he?”
“No se.” He shrugged.
I headed back to the nursing station. When the tall nurse looked up, I said, “Could you tell me where Jorge Calderon has been transferred?” I gave her his room number.
She asked me if I was a family member. After a slight hesitation I nodded yes.
“Yes?” she asked.
In for a dime, in for a dollar. “I’m his Uncle,” I said, not feeling very convincing.
“I’m sorry to inform you that your nephew passed away at 2:26 this afternoon. It appears he died of a massive stroke. If you have any questions regarding the disposition of Mr. Calderon’s body, please contact the business office.”
Feeling like I’d been hit, I found my way to a chair across the way and sat down. My left hand started shaking on its own, something that had never happened before. Life had handed me more than I could bear. The only other time I’d felt that way was when Liz left me, but I definitely felt even more alone right now. I wanted to run out of the hospital and drive—just keep driving. Even then I wouldn’t be free, a guilty guy with no home. I held myself together enough to walk back to the desk and say, “Thank you very much.”
I returned to the chair and reflected on Jorge’s life. I thought of the way he was jealous of the Mexican gardeners outside of Steve Job’s house; how happy he’d been to get the job and the house; his talk about the Sacratomatoes; how I’d tried to help him and failed. And then betrayed him. I’d slept with his wife, and she died because of it! Garnering what strength I could, I wandered back down to his room. The desk where the policeman had sat seemed like an abandoned military post from a battle no longer being fought.
I stared at the folded mattress, probably some kind of hospital ritual. I would never be able to look into his eyes again, never get a chance to even begin to apologize, much less make up for the harm I’d done.
At home I found William Blake’s poem “The Sick Rose.” While he’d composed the poem more than two hundred years earlier, around the time of John Keats, it seemed written directly to me.
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
The night after I found Jorge’s room empty was the one time in my life I considered suicide. I’ve always remonstrated against people who do that because they so badly hurt those they leave behind. Indeed, they sometimes seem to have targeted their loved ones.
I had no one to blame, no one to get back at. Marita or Jorge? No. Certainly not Diana.
Then I moved to thoughts of those left behind: Amelia, Eva, Keats, and others. Instead of moving me toward taking a handful of pills, my thoughts moved in the opposite direction. I put the idea of suicide out of my head and never seriously considered it again.
Over the land half-freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed,
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as a flower of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.
— Edward Thomas
The first of many nightmares, a dream I had shortly before dawn one Tuesday morning, hit me harder than any of the subsequent ones:
Marita enters the garage through a side door and unzips her jacket. She can’t hear me or see me. Jorge opens the door from the kitchen and stands on a cement step. He’s in his pajamas, carrying a baseball bat. “I thought it was a burglar,” he says. Marita ignores him and hangs up her jacket.
“Why is your skirt open, with your shirt sticking out?” he asks. She moves toward him. When he raises his bat, she crouches in fear and her foot falls off the top step. She falls, bashing her head on the cement with a bang that could be heard down the street. He reaches down and holds her as she fades away.
I woke up sweating.
I hugged Keats, took a bath in the dark, then went back to bed. When I got up again hours later, I did another thing I’ve never done before: I called in sick when I wasn’t. In and out of bed, at noon I was still under the covers. Jorge’s guilt in the dream was, like my own, unpardonable. What was he thinking, what was I thinking. What had happened to all of us that night?
I saw Diana only on Saturday mornings, when I picked up Eva. I’d take my goddaughter out for ice cream or to see the horses at Jasper Ridge Ranch. A couple of times we went to children’s readings at the library on Middlefield. I felt like a twice-divorced dad, but the regularity of our visits made me feel good. The first times were awkward, but eventually we got on well; the mornings were more gratifying than my memory of similar jaunts with Amelia years earlier. There was no doubt Eva needed me, if only as a male presence. She counted on me, so that was the one appointment to which I was never late.
On those first mornings when I brought Eva back to Diana’s, I often watched Diana, wondering if there was any way to rekindle the old feelings. A new formality had set in, one I couldn’t ignore. I had to conform to it.
One Saturday Eva asked if I would be at her back-to-school night. I ducked the question, and when I was alone with Diana, I asked if I could go along.
“It’s okay. I’ve got it covered,” she said, but I kept asking, and in the end we both went, though in separate cars.
The soft-spoken young teacher, who seemed born to teach first grade, had us sit at the children’s small desks. She walked us through a typical classroom day as we fidgeted in the tiny chairs. After her talk, she came around and discussed each student privately. When she got to Diana and me, she showed us Eva’s penmanship and artwork, which looked a little sloppy. One printing assignment seemed to have ended prematurely. I looked around the room at the others; unlike most of them, Eva hadn’t finished.
Diana asked, “Is she able to keep up with the class?”
“Her mind wanders,” the teacher said. “Sometimes it seems like Eva’s in her own world. All kids are at this age, but it’s harder to bring Eva back. I understand she’s seeing a psychiatrist.”
Diana nodded. “Yes, the school nurse put me in touch with her.”
The teacher shrugged. “It sounds like you’re doing all the right things. Underneath Eva’s shyness, I think she’s quite bright. She’s still suffering, but there’s a definite improvement.”
Neither Diana nor I said a word. We listened and thanked the teacher, and before long I walked Diana to her car. “Tough session,” I said.
“I’m not sure what could have been worse.” Her face was drawn tight as we approached her car. “That was hard.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Her world was destroyed. We can’t expect her to just snap out of it.”
She pressed a button on her car key that turned on her lights and unlocked her SUV.
I opened the door for her. “Can I buy you a goodnight cup of coffee or something?”
“I’d better get home and relieve Beth so she can get to her homework. I really should get back.”
“I ran into Jack in the feed store, where I went to buy Artemis some treats. He’s a master through and through,” I said. “I hear you guys had fun at opening meet.”
“Yes. People asked about you.”
I started to ask more, but her expression didn’t invite any further inquiry.
When I got home, I took a stiff drink before I went to bed, which didn’t keep the nightmares away.
When Jorge appears that night he calls Marita a slut and a whore. He says he’d thought Wade—me!—was better than that, better than Billy . . . Jorge moves toward her and she falls off the top step again.
The loud bang in the dream woke me up. I started a poem about drinking at night. At the start, Jorge and Marita were in the poem, but as I went on they weren’t. I wanted them out of there. There’s a push to eliminate the “I” from modern poetry, to remove the personal, so I tried to distance the poem with the second person. I came up with a first line:
You are not good enough, the voice says.
Once I had that line I went to bed with Keats at my feet. Thankfully, no nightmares followed that night.
That fall the economy fell into a recession, a downhill spiral. Everyone worked harder to make ends meet, and increased gas prices became a frequent subject. SnyderSound’s sales dropped precipitously, leaving only some residuals from deals I’d made in the spring. After one of my weekly sales updates in his office, Ray told me he was being forced into another layoff, this one even deeper. “And tomorrow morning I’ll be announcing that Lydia will manage all customer interactions after the sale. She says she can do the job with twenty percent fewer people—that’s the order of savings we need.”
Ray told me this before berating me about cost overruns in Chicago—a double whammy. “We might actually lose money there.” His eyes probed mine.
“Don’t give up on me yet,” I said. “It’s been a challenge to manage that project from two thousand miles away. The subcontractors really—”
“This is a small company,” Ray interjected. “We have to make our margins, period.”
“I know. I spent three hours on the phone to Chicago last Saturday. I even got the customer to call some of the subcontractors; they don’t like to see us jacked around, either.”
Ray nodded. He had his game face on. “In the report you just gave me, I didn’t see you pulling in one dollar of new business.”
“Nobody’s spending a dime right now.”
“That’s pretty negative, Wade. It doesn’t sound like you. As bad as things are, Lydia manages to stay upbeat. You need to make some sales and soon.” Ray let his words hang in the air as he opened the door for me to leave his office. My concerns moved from having to report to Lydia to losing my job entirely.
One time the dream starts the same, but Jorge violently bashes Marita’s head with the bat. As usual I’m a helpless observer, invisible and impotent. Why hadn’t I seen that Jorge was a violent person? Once again I have to watch her die in his arms. Jorge cries, mumbling through his tears that he didn’t mean to kill her. I sit up in bed, wide-awake, sweating with tears in my own eyes.
I compiled lists of sales prospects. I called the customers I knew first off, but no luck. The Andersons, who had gotten Jorge fired, had moved to Cabo San Lucas in Baja and wouldn’t return my calls.
I intended to phone every name on the list, but once I’d started, it was tough. Most of the people I talked to were worried about their own jobs. The very thought of asking their organizations to spend money frightened them. After a hundred rejections, I’d flash back to the garage—Jorge raises his bat, Marita falls, he holds her while she dies. I’d cross some names off without phoning. Work made the days long, and I was afraid to fall asleep at night.
My duress must have shown because people I knew casually came up to me and asked if I was taking care of myself. I’d lost some weight, but no more than ten or twelve pounds, so how did they know?
Early in December Amelia called. “It looks like I’ll be coming out sometime over Christmas vacation after all. I can’t stay long, but I have some things I want to talk over with you.”
“That’d be great. I feel so far away from you,” I said. “Your mom said your professor wants you to go on for a master’s next year?”
“At Yale no less, but I’m not sure. I want to discuss all that. I’ll fly out from Mom’s after Christmas. A girlfriend invited me to some big family get-together in Boston on New Year’s, so I’ll only be out a few days. But I want to see you.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” I said. “I’ll fix up your room.”
“One last thing, Dad. Remember in sixth grade when I had that awful fight with Melinda, the tall girl with the red braids?”
I searched my memory and came up empty. “A little.”
“You didn’t seem to listen or even care. This time I really need you.”
“Okay.” I kept her conversation in my mind as a reminder of what I needed to do.
Once I got the words Jorge and Marita out of my new poem, I managed to get it together.
You are not good enough, the voice says,
you are not good
enough, you are not,
from deep within you.
And you go through the day
trying to be good, or maybe
you obey the voice: you cheat
someone here, yourself there.
At night, after any last lines are written,
while a woman you love sleeps
across town alone, you go to the
kitchen and down two stiff drinks.
You do this to help you sleep,
and it works until around four
when you hear: you are not
good enough, you are not.