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    Diogenes
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About Carl - 11. Catharsis

After the confrontation with Carl, I returned to Ravenbridge and spent a few weeks in seclusion nursing my wounds. I emerged from my self-imposed isolation only to go to school and rehearsals for the play. I was devastated that Carl had dismissed me, and for a long time I alternated between anger at him for his callousness and regret for not having had the courage to act on my feelings for him years ago when we might have had a chance. Kim tried to cheer me up and checked in on me regularly. It was the play that finally drew me out.

The Kelso Players were staging a murder-mystery called I'll Be Back Before Midnight. Kim and I played Jan and Greg, a married couple who, in an attempt to fix their failing marriage, had moved to an isolated farmhouse to be alone. Jan was recovering from a nervous breakdown and had recently been released from a mental institution. Greg was outwardly a loving husband but was secretly trying to push Jan back into insanity so that he could continue an extra-marital affair.

I threw myself into the role and found, to my surprise, that I was able to channel my anger and guilt about Carl into Greg's character on stage. Kim and I really sparkled in the performances, and, after our successful three-night run, we celebrated at the wrap party at the director's house.

“Mark, you were amazing,” Kim said as we mingled with the cast over drinks.

“Thanks. You were pretty good yourself,” I said.

“There were times when I thought you really hated me. What was going on in your head?”

“To be honest, I was thinking about Carl most of the time. When I remembered what he said to me the last time we met, I dipped into this deep reservoir of anger. It just sort of flowed out in Greg's words, directed at you.”

“Well, it worked. And it was probably therapeutic to get all that out. Fuck him, anyway.” I laughed. Kim had a way of drawing me out of myself, and I appreciated that more than she realized.

Over the next few months, I tried hard, sometimes successfully, to make the hurt recede into the background of my life. I put new energy into my job, taking on new challenges at school. At the end of the academic year, the head of the Science Department retired. I successfully applied for the job and found myself with a host of new responsibilities and time commitments.

I also stepped up the renovations on the house. During school vacations, I tackled one project after another. I rebuilt the bathrooms, tore out the old kitchen, built stone retaining walls in the backyard, and fixed up the porch. Windows were replaced and woodwork was restored. I redid the electrical wiring and the plumbing. The old derelict house that I had purchased a few years earlier was starting to look pretty good, and most of the time I was too busy to wallow in self-pity.

I found myself thinking less and less about Carl. I went into a kind of emotional hibernation, keeping mostly to myself. Kim tried to fix me up with gay friends of hers, but I always declined. I wasn't ready to be out publicly at school or in the small town where I lived, and I still felt a little bruised from my experiences with Ian and, especially, Carl. My job was satisfying, and my house was coming together. I was happy. Why run the risk of changing anything?

I settled into a routine. The academic years drifted by: opening days, final exams, report cards, parent-teacher interviews, graduations. Students came and went. The same lessons got taught to new faces: parts of the atom, phases of mitosis, organs of the digestive system, electrical circuits, laws of motion. Birthdays and holidays were celebrated. I got older, my waistline expanded, and my hairline retreated. The emotional damage scarred over.

And yet, memories of Carl cropped up every now and then, sending a sharp stab of pain and an acute reminder of the absence of my friend. Something would remind me of him: a photograph of us together, a Springsteen song playing on the radio, or a plate of chicken wings like the ones we used to order at the Chestnut Inn. I got a Christmas card from him and his wife every year, usually with a photo of them and their young family. I could hardly bear looking at them.

I tried to write to him a few times, but I always stopped myself at the last minute. Usually these attempts happened in the winter, when I was housebound by bad weather, feeling morose and contemplative. Valentine’s Day was particularly hard; the whole world seemed like it was mocking me for being alone, unable to be with the man I loved. Once I wrote him a long letter about how much I loved him and wished we could find a way to be together. I put it in an envelope, addressed it to him at work and walked down the street to the post office to mail it. I lost my nerve at the last minute, went home and tore it up.

I would have gone on like that indefinitely but for an event that jolted me out of the complacent acceptance of my situation and forced me to take a hard look at myself. The unlikely trigger was going out with Kim to see a movie one cold December night in 2005. That seemingly mundane experience shook me out of my complacency and forced me to face some truths about myself.

Kim called me up over the Christmas vacation; she had broken up with another one of her boyfriends and wanted company. “Let's drive to Peterborough and see a movie,” she said over the phone.

“OK, what did you have in mind?” I said.

Brokeback Mountain is playing at the mall. It's getting a lot of Oscar buzz; I'd like to see it.”

“That's the gay-cowboy movie, right? I hear it's pretty good. I wouldn't mind seeing it.”

“Great. I'll pick you up at your house at 6:00; we can make the 7:30 show.”

I had read a few reviews of the film and heard the late-night, stand-up comic jokes about gay “cowpokes”, but nothing prepared me for the experience of seeing it. I settled into my seat in the darkened theatre and watched, mesmerized, as the story of the doomed lovers unfolded on the screen.

I had a deep and emotional reaction to the movie. Lines of dialogue between Jake Gyllenhaal's Jack Twist and Heath Ledger's Ennis del Mar hit me like physical blows. In a scene near the end of the movie, Jack and Ennis meet for the last time in the mountains of Wyoming as they had been doing for twenty years. Jack expresses his anger and regret that they couldn't have been together all that time. He turns on Ennis and says, “Sometimes I miss you so much I can hardly stand it. We coulda had a good life together. A fuckin' real good life. Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it, Ennis.” He turns away in sadness and says, “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Ennis, his face contorted in pain and grief, replies, “Then why don't you? Why don't you just let me be, huh? It's 'cause a you, Jack, that I'm like this. I'm nothing. I'm nowhere. I can't stand this anymore, Jack.”

The words stabbed at me. I was glad that, in the darkened theatre, Kim couldn't see what I was going through. My throat was tightening, and my eyes were watering. I barely kept it together. Then came the final scene, where Ennis is alone in his trailer-home years after Jack's death, and he opens the closet where Jack's shirt is hanging on a wire hanger, tucked inside Ennis's own shirt. He touches it gently and says, through clenched teeth, fighting back tears, “Jack, I swear ...”

Tears streamed down my face, and I had difficulty breathing. I struggled to maintain my composure in the crowded theatre. I remained seated as the credits rolled, trying to pull it together. When we finally stood up, I muttered something to Kim about using the washroom. I pushed my way through the crowd into the men's room and found an empty stall. I pulled the door closed behind me and leaned my forehead against the cold metal, wiping away tears with my sleeve.

I stayed there until the crowded washroom had emptied, then went to one of the sinks. I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my reflection, red-eyed and weepy, my nose running. I rinsed my face and dried it with a paper towel, but it didn't help much.

I went out to meet Kim in the lobby. She took a look at me and said, “Are you OK?”

“No,” I said. “Please, can you just take me home?”

It was snowing when we left the theatre. I sat silently in the car while Kim brushed off the windows. The forty-five minute drive back to Ravenbridge was awkward. Kim tried to make conversation, but I could only answer in monosyllables. Eventually, we lapsed into uncomfortable silence. When we got to my house, I said, “I'm not feeling well. I'll talk to you in the morning.”

Concerned, she looked at me and said, “Goodnight, Mark. I'll call you tomorrow.”

I didn't sleep that night. I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, Blanche curled up at my feet. The wind was blowing outside, and I could hear the snow hitting the windowpane.

Sometimes I miss you so much, I can hardly stand it.

I replayed in my mind the rare times that Carl and I had been together over the almost twenty years since we first met.

We coulda had a good life together.

Most of all, I thought about the years I had spent waiting for Carl, loving him from a distance, dreaming that we would be together despite the obstacles. Wrapping myself up in my work at school and in house renovations could almost make me forget him – almost.

A fuckin' real good life. Had us a place of our own. But you didn't want it.

I remembered my last meeting with Carl, when he told me that he didn't want to see me anymore. I thought about the anguish our relationship had caused us both and about Carl's unhappiness. I thought about decisions I had made that had closed off pathways to a more open and emotionally fulfilling life.

I wish I knew how to quit you.

As the cold, grey, dawn light began to seep into my bedroom, I thought about Ennis del Mar in the final scene, deliberately choosing a life of loneliness and isolation, forever mourning his lost lover, refusing to let go.

I'm nothing. I'm nowhere. I can't stand this anymore.

I got out of bed and went down the hall to the bathroom. I stared at myself in the mirror, noticing for perhaps the first time how much the passing years showed in my face. I was forty-two years old. Wrinkles were appearing around my eyes, and my hair was starting to turn grey. The lean athletic physique of my youth was getting soft, and a bald spot was developing on the back of my head. “My god, I look like my father,” I said to my reflection.

I let the dog out, then went into the kitchen to make coffee. I sat at the kitchen island for a long time, deep in thought, soaking up the warmth of the mug in my hands.

I can't stand this anymore.

I went into my office, turned on my computer and opened my email. Before I could change my mind, I wrote:

Carl:

It's been a long time, and I know you said we couldn't see each other anymore, but I need to talk to you. I'm coming to Ottawa on the weekend. Can we please meet somewhere?

Mark

I typed in his work email address and pressed send. My hand was trembling.

Jack, I swear ...

Later that day, Kim called. “Are you OK?” she asked. “You looked pretty shaken up last night.”

“It was that movie,” I said. “It really messed me up.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I don't know; I'm still a little raw. I didn't sleep last night.”

“What's going on?” she said.

“The whole story kind of – well, I guess I just saw my whole life laid out in front of me. You know, all those years waiting for someone I can't be with, spending my life alone; it all just came crashing in on me last night.”

“Do you want me to come over?”

“No, I just need some time alone. I've got some decisions to make and some things to take care of. Thanks for offering, though.”

“Are you going to be all right?” she said.

“I’ll be fine; just give me a few days. There’s something I have to do. I’ll call you later and explain it to you.”

“OK. Give me a call if you need to talk.”

The next day I got a response from Carl.

Mark:

Yes, let's meet. I have a lot to tell you.

Next Saturday at 2:00 – D'arcy McGee's again?

Carl

A week later I was back in Ottawa in the same pub, at the same table where, five years earlier, Carl had ended our relationship. He sat nervously across from me as we ordered lunch. He looked terrible; he had lost weight, his skin was pale, and he had dark circles under his eyes. The years had aged him considerably; his hair was thin and greying, and deep lines bracketed his dark brown eyes. He looked ill.

“I'm glad you came,” he said. “We have a lot to talk about, I guess.”

“Thanks for agreeing to see me, Carl,” I said. “You were pretty clear last time we talked that we couldn't see each other anymore.”

“I know, but it's a moot point, now, I suppose.”

I waited for him to continue.

“I guess I might as well just tell you: Lisa and I are divorced.”

My pulse raced a little. Divorced. Maybe there was some hope after all. Why hadn't he called me to let me know?

“I'm sorry, Carl. That couldn't have been easy to go through,” I said.

“Let's just say it wasn't an amicable split,” he said. “She hired a good lawyer. I had a good lawyer too, but all kinds of things came out in the hearings. She got full custody of the kids, and I had to move out. She took half of everything. Fortunately, she had to buy out my equity in the house, so I was able to get a small condo downtown.”

He stopped to take a drink, then continued.

“I was under such stress that my law practice suffered. The partners pulled me off the partnership track; I've been demoted to junior associate. I just wasn't able to put in the billable hours, and the clients were complaining. I'm on probation now; they were seriously talking about letting me go.”

“Carl, I'm so sorry,” I said.

“Don't be. It was all my fault.”

“Why would you say that?” I said.

He paused, then took a deep breath. “I had an affair. With a woman at work. Another associate. Her name is Jennifer. We got caught and someone told Lisa; she went ballistic.”

What the hell? Had I just heard him correctly? An affair? With another woman?

I sat there stunned.

“Jen's been great though,” he said. “I wouldn't have gotten through it without her. When the dust settled, she moved in with me. I'd love for you to meet her.”

You never had any intention of being with me. Ever.

I leaned my head on my hands and massaged my temples. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

You asshole. You fucking, goddam shit. How could you do this to me? All these years. You split with your wife and didn’t even tell me? It never crossed your mind that here was a chance for you and me to start over? All I ever was to you was a way for you to scratch some itch, a little walk on the wild side. Fuck. How could I have been so stupid?

“Mark, are you OK?” he said.

“What?”

“You don't look so good.”

“I'm fine,” I said. “What were you saying?”

“You said in your email that you wanted to talk to me about something. What was it?” he said.

I looked at him with a new sense of understanding. I had been wasting my time waiting for him for almost twenty years. I had planned to put all my cards on the table, to tell him I was gay and wanted to live a more open life – with him. I saw now that this was never going to happen. I couldn’t tell him the truth about why I had come to see him; it would crush me to hear him say, “No.”

I mumbled, “Oh, yeah. Well, I wanted you to know that I've decided to come out and live more openly as a gay man. I'm not bisexual; I'm gay. I came to that realization recently. I guess I – well, I just wanted you to know.”

“You didn't have to tell me that,” he said. “I suppose I knew already. I'm fine with it, you know. It doesn't change how I feel about you.”

How fucking magnanimous of you. How you feel about me? Shit. You haven’t talked to me in five years. You have no idea how long I've been hung up on you, waiting for you. Jesus. Can this be happening?

I couldn’t talk to him anymore. We finished our lunch in awkward silence, and I called for the bill. “Let me get this,” I offered. Inside, I was seething.

When we stood up to go, he said, “Are you driving back to Ravenbridge today?”

“No,” I said. “I've booked a room at the Lord Elgin Hotel around the corner. I thought I might do some Christmas shopping while I was here.”

We stepped out onto the sidewalk. I offered my hand to shake and said, “Well, good luck, Carl. I hope everything works out for you.” I managed to maintain some sense of civility even though I desperately wanted to get away from him.

He shook my hand. “Do you have to go so soon? Maybe we could go up to your hotel room and ... well ...”

Are you fucking kidding me?

“And what?” I said. I wanted to force him to say it, to hear it with my own ears.

“Well, you know,” he said. He seemed embarrassed and couldn’t look me in the eye. “We always were good together, you know, in bed. As long as we’re discreet and Jen doesn’t find out.”

Wow. You selfish prick.

I looked at him icily. “That's not going to happen, Carl – not anymore. I'm done.”

I turned and walked away. When I got to the corner, I looked back. He was still standing there, watching me. I crossed the street and got lost in the crowd of pedestrians.

The next morning, I drove back to Ravenbridge. It was a cold winter day, and snow was blowing across the highway. I reached into the console looking for a CD to listen to. I pulled out a copy of Emmylou Harris's album Wrecking Ball and popped it into the player. I had listened to it dozens of times before, but today the songs seemed especially sad and poignant. The song Goodbye came on, a beautiful, haunting cover of a tune by Steve Earle.

I remember holdin' on to you
All them long and lonely nights I put you through
Somewhere in there I'm sure I made you cry
But I can't remember if we said goodbye.

My eyes were filling with tears. I pulled over to the gravel shoulder of the highway.

I only miss you every now and then
Like the soft breeze blowin' up from the Caribbean
Most Novembers I break down and cry
‘Cause I can't remember if we said goodbye

“FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!” I yelled. I pounded the steering wheel with my fist. “God damn you, you son of a bitch!” I was sobbing.

The wave of anger and grief gradually subsided. My fingers were tightly clenched around the steering wheel, and cars were rushing past me on the highway. “Carl,” I whispered.

Carl, I swear ...

Thanks as always to rec for his advice and editing. Thanks also to Parker Owens for beta reading.

Copyright © 2016 Diogenes; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments

This is an awesome chapter. I may have said that once before, but I will say it again. This is a a fantastic piece of writing.

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On 12/29/2015 03:26 AM, Parker Owens said:

This is an awesome chapter. I may have said that once before, but I will say it again. This is a a fantastic piece of writing.

Thank you, Parker. That means a lot to me.

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Now that I've stopped crying, I have to review this chapter. It is so powerful and beautiful in the way a really bad thunderstorm is lovely. You have captured the flotsam and jetsam of Mark's life perfectly and the title is perfect. I remember watching that movie and breaking down because it could have been me. To think of those lives who did experience it is so emotional. Wonderfully moving.

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This reduced me to tears. It was beautifully written, but heart wrenching in its delivery. I felt, still feel so deeply for Mark..
Great chapter..

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On 12/29/2015 04:32 AM, Cole Matthews said:

Now that I've stopped crying, I have to review this chapter. It is so powerful and beautiful in the way a really bad thunderstorm is lovely. You have captured the flotsam and jetsam of Mark's life perfectly and the title is perfect. I remember watching that movie and breaking down because it could have been me. To think of those lives who did experience it is so emotional. Wonderfully moving.

Thanks for the review, Cole. I know a few people who reacted strongly to the movie like I did - I'm glad I was able to get that feeling across for you in this chapter.

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On 12/29/2015 05:53 AM, Defiance19 said:

This reduced me to tears. It was beautifully written, but heart wrenching in its delivery. I felt, still feel so deeply for Mark..

Great chapter..

I appreciate the comments - thank you.

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On 01/10/2016 03:44 AM, loveseeker said:

oh my gosh. I don't know what to say but that's one heartbreaking chapter.

Thank you. I'm glad it moved you.

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Hurray, Mark! Carl's attitudes are finally clear, and Mark can move on!
Tough chapter, but a great realization on Mark's part.
GREAT job!

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On 01/29/2016 05:54 AM, Robert Rex said:

Hurray, Mark! Carl's attitudes are finally clear, and Mark can move on!

Tough chapter, but a great realization on Mark's part.

GREAT job!

I enjoyed writing a chapter where Mark finally stands up for himself. It was a long time coming, I think.

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Had the scene not be set in Canada, I would have thought you were in the same theatre as me the first time I saw Brokeback Mountain. As I sat sobbing, I overheard a woman say to her perhaps too young child for that film "Oh, he's a gay man," referring to me in a kind way.
Your telling of feelings shows sensitivity and perception. I'd thank you, but I'm overwhelmed at the moment.

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On 01/30/2016 03:53 AM, RolandQ said:

Had the scene not be set in Canada, I would have thought you were in the same theatre as me the first time I saw Brokeback Mountain. As I sat sobbing, I overheard a woman say to her perhaps too young child for that film "Oh, he's a gay man," referring to me in a kind way.

Your telling of feelings shows sensitivity and perception. I'd thank you, but I'm overwhelmed at the moment.

I've met quite a few gay men who had similar reactions to that movie. It's a testimony to what a great film it is. I'm glad I was able to capture my own personal response to it effectively in Mark's words.

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