It's strange that I chose a profession that's all about resolving conflicts when my natural tendency is to avoid them. In my work I seem to be able to separate the emotion from situations, to get to the facts and use them to construct a picture that allows everyone involved to better understand each other.
This was different. I was living in the swamp into which we'd wandered. I had new empathy for my clients.
Constructing our shared story at least gave me the full arc of the journey to consider. The process reopened the cuts of my shame. Fed my disappointment as I recalled each occasion when Rick could have told me and decided that he wouldn't. Forced me to confront how I'd been unable or unwilling to see what was in front of me. Drove me to rage as I learned what had happened with Gale. Fucking Gale. Back to her in a bit.
Over a few lonely and difficult days I was gradually able to step back from the blinding intensity of these feelings and consider what had actually happened. Rick said, I was as much along for the ride as you. This wasn't completely true. It wasn't totally wrong either.
Stephanie told me, Daddy said you wouldn't understand. That was more true than I wanted to admit. My gentle cuddles with Caroline, my motherly guidance to Stephanie, even as these progressed to be more explicitly about physical pleasure. Just us girls, exploring and learning and loving each other in ways that flowed naturally from our closeness. But then Stephanie expertly jerking off her Daddy in the shower, their eyes locked in lovers' heated embrace, the look on Rick's face familiar to me, the face that I saw looking up at me when I rode his cock in our marital bed. These things are quite different to me. Perhaps that makes me a hypocrite. So be it.
Was I jealous? I suppose so. I'd led Caroline's hand to Rick's cock, but that was me, in the moment, willingly sharing, bringing us together. Stephanie naked with Rick in our bed, in my bed, holding his cock, my cock, he licking her, him not licking me. There were moments where I hated it, hated them, hated him, hated her.
Rick hadn't encouraged her. Not much. Not sexually. But he'd certainly fallen for her. He loved her in ways that I thought were reserved for me. I tried to hear the words in his letter, how he loves her because she's me, the echo of me from when we first loved. These words seemed true. I could understand. It still hurt like a motherfucker.
But for all that, these weren't the reasons I threw Rick out of our home. As my perspective cleared, I understood what he'd said so clearly in his letter, all pretence finally abandoned. He violated our trust. He didn't tell me, even when I was abjectly kneeling before him in my shame. He pretended to accept me and my horrific flaw rather than admit that he too was lost in the swamp. He made us separate when we should have been together. We could have come through it. It would have been very different. I think.
Rick doesn't like conflict either. He took the easy path until forced to do otherwise. He went with his instinct instead of his heart. He'd hoped to fool me, to trick me with clever words, to bring our narratives together without sharing the pain. Me the instigator, holding the blame for all of our sins, mine and his, he the beneficent granter of acceptance. He'd accept my depravity. With feigned reluctance he'd also accept blowjobs from our daughters, all from an enlightened sense of duty to family unity. Mommy's a pervert, but she's our pervert.
I chose the other path, the hard path. I wasn't sure how our paths would meet again.
I don't get it. It makes me mad. So I asked Mommy.
"You made Daddy go cuz him and Stephanie did sex?"
She looked like she didn't want to talk about it. I sat on her lap right on top of what she was reading. She still didn't talk for a while.
"Not exactly, Caroline. It's more complicated than that."
"He's not here. That's not complicated. It's stupid."
"Caroline. We don't use that word."
"Maybe we should when something's actually stupid."
"Daddy didn't tell me. He kept secrets. It's a way of lying, keeping secrets that matter. Families don't lie to each other."
I thought about that. "That's bad," I said.
"Yes, little one. It made me very sad. And angry."
I twisted around in her lap and held her neck. "I wish he didn't do that. The not telling."
"I guess it's hard to tell about it cuz you didn't tell either."
"How do you mean, sweatpea?"
"You didn't tell Daddy. About the bathtub. You didn't tell him til I said it. That day in the bathroom when everybody got mad."
She didn't say anything. She kissed me on the top of my head. We stayed that way a long time.
Caroline was right of course. She pretty much always is. It's annoying sometimes.
But it was different, she and I. What mother hasn't at some point sexually fondled her six-year-old daughter?
I had to laugh at myself. How many times had I heard something just like this?
Yes, your honor. I slapped my wife. I guess I slapped her pretty hard, since she had to go to the hospital. But I mean, who hasn't done that? You know how it is. She drives me crazy. It just happened.
I thought back on that day, in the bathroom. The facts spoke for themselves, as they often do. He was hard. I was wet. Knowing made him want to fuck me. Telling him made me want him to fuck me. And we fucked, odd as it was. It was an answer for us, in the moment. It was where our paths diverged. He didn't tell me, in the moment. At each moment after that, it was more difficult for him to tell me. He was afraid of how I would react. He was right to be scared. He was helpless before his feelings, as was I. He was still wrong to make us wander apart.
I couldn't let the Gale thing slide. Who the fuck did she think she was? I told myself that I'd handle it well.
The when and where of it wasn't easy. I wanted her on my turf but out of earshot of the girls. I sent her a text asking her to come over on a school afternoon when I was working from home.
We sat. She sensed that things had changed. "I haven't seen any of you at the club. Is everything okay?"
"No. I know. Everything."
She took a deep breath and nodded slowly. "Good," she said.
"Yes. Good that I know."
"Are you going to blow things up? If you are, I could use a referral to a good lawyer."
My astonishment at her ability to make light of the situation distracted me from my anger enough to allow some thought.
I measured my words. "When I meet a perpetrator, my inclination is to ask them, What's wrong with you? Why did you do that? I've learned that it's more helpful instead to ask, What happened to you? How did you come to be who you are? In your case, I guess I know."
"I had a similar conversation with Rick. It's pretty clear for me. How about you?"
"I'm not like you."
"You're not unlike me, either."
"You took advantage of my daughter. You exploited her feelings so that you could molest her."
"You created the feelings that drove her to want to confide in me. You failed to molest her when she was painfully aware that you were having special times with her sister. She thought you didn't love her. Rejected by her mother. In a very confused state about her relationship with her father. She needed someone to talk to. You weren't available. I understand rejection. I saw it in her face. It made me sad, and angry."
I had to stop myself from slapping her. "You're a predator."
"You're sexually attracted to your children. You acted on it. So am I. So did I."
"They're my children."
"That gives you the right to have sex with them. Is that your point?" She looked down. "Carol. Look. I've wrestled with these things my entire life. I know all the feelings, all the shame, all the doubts, more so than I hope you ever will. I am what I am, and I did what I did. Same with you. And like you, I never meant any harm to any member of your family. Quite the contrary. Can we get past the blaming?"
"I'm not sure that we can."
"You know what happened with my family."
"Yes. You exposed your abuse and the family was broken up."
"How easily you use that word, abuse. You know why I did that?"
"You felt abandoned by your father when it turned out he only wanted you when you were..."
"Yes. Do you think it's the same with Rick?"
Her question forced me to think about this. It wasn't the same. It gave me an odd sense of comfort, but I wouldn't give her the satisfaction.
"I don't want to talk about my family with you."
"What do you want to talk about, then? You did invite me."
"I want to know that you regret what you've done, and let you know that you're never to come near us again."
"I don't regret it. The other is your choice, of course. I feel better now that you know. You'll be sure that things are okay."
"I'm so glad that you feel better."
"Sarcasm becomes you. You're good at it. Your whole family is insanely good with language."
"You taught my daughter about oral sex. You encouraged her, with her father. You're trying to relive your trauma. You want to ruin us. Misery loves company."
"Very lawyerly of you. If I wanted to ruin you, I could have already. What's my motive, counselor? What's my modus operandi?"
"You want to see others suffer because you did."
"I want to see others not suffer, because I did. And perhaps in the process, heal myself."
"So fucking noble. Was that what you were thinking when you stripped Stephanie and licked her?"
She actually chuckled. "You hope to shock me with your language. Obscenity doesn't suit you. You prefer decorum, even now. Here's the shocking thing, Carol. What I did, you would have done. Probably still will do, sooner or later. Your head between her legs, your tongue wrapped around her clit. You watch her face when she cums. I know this. Get over yourself."
"Well then. I hope it pains you to know that you've broken this family too."
"Oh. Did you and Rick fight over this? Really?"
"He deceived me."
"So we're clear that it's not the sex that's the issue here. It's the lying. And that's because of me, somehow?"
I made myself not respond. I was grasping, hoping for someone to blame. After a moment, she went on.
"What are your choices, Carol? Pretend the whole thing never happened, go back to some semblance of your life before? Not likely. Go on without your husband? How does that make anything better for anyone? You're perfect for each other. You love each other. Your daughters adore you both, and you them. They're amazing, a testament to all of that. Find somebody else? Ha. They'd be in for a surprising education."
"I don't feel the need for family counseling from you."
"If your incredible family is broken, you need it from someone."
"Please go now."
She left. I scrubbed the cup she'd been holding until it shattered in my hands. I saw the blood but didn't feel the pain.
I went right to my room when I got home from school. The house is weird without Daddy and Mommy's mad at me even if she says she's not. I turned the music way up.
Here we go, on this crazy ride
Here we go, in this crazy life,
'Cause, 'cause don't you know?
We're all a little insane sometimes.
Even with it loud I heard the knock. "Go away," I said. A minute later another one. "Okaaaayyyyyyyy." Caroline stuck her head in.
"It's really loud."
"I like it that way."
"Hurts my ears."
"Finnnnnne." I turned it down.
She closed the door. Her eyes were all puppy. "W-what's gonna happen?"
"I don't know."
"It's your fault. That Daddy's gone."
"You should have told Mommy."
"You don't know anything."
"I know Daddy's not here."
"You think I don't know that?"
"No. Just. I'm s-scared." She wiped her nose on her hand.
She sat on the bed. "Mommy not mad about the... stuff. She's mad about the not telling."
"Daddy was gonna tell her. Just when it was okay."
"When is it okay to not tell?"
"I guess... when telling would be worse."
"I don't think it could be worse than this."
"Ya it could. Like if we told somebody else."
"You told somebody else."
"That's different. She understands."
"I hope so."
"I know so."
She kicked her feet. I knew what that meant. I made room. She laid next to me.
"Did she really do that?"
"The pool lady. You know. With her mouth."
"You let her?"
"That's so weird."
"Then Daddy did it?"
"Ya. He does it to Mommy. I mean... he did..."
"I w-want Daddy back. I don't want them to be mad."
"Me too. Me neither."
"It's not your fault."
"Maybe it is a little."
"Me too. Maybe a little."
Her face was wet. Mine was too. I kissed her. She kissed me back. We did that for a while.
"Take everything off," I said. She wiggled out of her stuff. I did too. Then we did hands for a while. She was pretty good at it by then. Still not like Daddy but. She said I wasn't like Mommy. I guess grownup just know more. I liked her fingers there anyway. It made me not think what else was going on.
"Do it harder," I said. She pinched my button and it made sparks go up my back. "Do what you do to Mommy. To her chest." She looked at me funny but she did it. Her mouth on my chest. It made them all crinkled points, tickling but not and it went all the way down right between my legs.
"I'm gonna do it," I said.
"The end part? I like that part."
"No. I'm gonna do it. To you. What she did. What Daddy did."
"Shut up. It's... just... tell me if you want me to stop."
She chewed her lip and nodded a little. I kissed down her tummy like Daddy did. And I kissed her there like Gale did. And I pretended I was making little licks like a kitten like Gale told me. And I pressed harder like Daddy did. It tasted kinda strange and my nose bumped her and it was so amazing how soft it is. Her legs went wider so I thought it must be okay and I pushed my tongue in a little but it's so small so I went back and put my mouth right on her button like Gale did and then she went all stiff and breathed funny and her face had that far away look and I knew that she liked it and I did too even if it was weird and we both forgot about other things for a little while.
After that we remembered. You can't just forget because it's still there after. We remembered the other things and we talked.
Six fifty-five AM. I opened my eyes. Blinked as my vision focused. Four soft brown eyes met mine.
"It's early," I said.
"We're lonesome," said Caroline.
Rick's side of the bed was empty and cold.
"I am too." Somehow it was easier to admit this to them than it was to myself.
They crawled in, one on each side.
"Is this a conspiracy?" I asked.
"What's that?" said my youngest.
"You're ganging up on me."
"Oh. Ya. Totally." Unashamed.
I tucked them each under an arm. As essential as my arms. Extensions of me. Echoes of me.
We just basked for a little while. The words were pent up, waiting for the calm cozy that lets them out. It was hard to find.
Stephanie finally did. "The not telling was bad. I was bad. Daddy was bad. I hated it. I think he did too. Mommy... I'm s-sorry."
I squeezed her. "I know, Stephanie."
She trembled. "I won't do it anymore. I promise."
I didn't want to torture her. But I did. "Won't do what?"
"I... won't do... whatever you don't w-want me to."
"I was bad too," added Caroline. Her words took longer to form and had to catch up. "I knew stuff but I didn't tell."
I was quiet. Stephanie sobbed. Caroline hid her face, but her voice rose above the muffle.
"Don't be mad forever, Mommy. Please. Not forever."
Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is good, and acceptable, and perfect.
I didn't know this from Bible study. It was carved in stone above the entrance to one of the buildings at Law School. What I learned later is that whoever put it there had changed the last bit of the verse, the part that would make it meaningful to a believer. The full conclusion reads: that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God. Convenient adaptation, interpreting what we see as we wish it were. As we all do, every day, all the time.
Good, and acceptable, and perfect. Perfect might be no more. That perfect might be gone forever was ice in my heart, frost in my lungs, a driving sleet in my brain.
I am not conformed to the world. My will, not God's, had transformed us. Not alone, but my part was essential.
Good, and acceptable. A little further trimming of the original sentiment.
"No. Not forever. Never forever."
We clung tight to each other until the alarm sent us back into the world to which we do not conform.
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