9/18/2010

The Suicide Seat, Part 1

This is the first part of my entry in the current Tenth Daughter of Memory, where the challenge is "Suicide Seat."   Part 2 will be aired on Tuesday, 9/21. Set your DVRs.  (Oh, wait, that's right, cyberspace doesn't do DVRs.)

The Suicide Seat, Part 1


As he packs for the trip, Paul thinks to himself that this may be the last time he shares an adventure with Benjamin, let alone something as exciting as this trip in Maine.  In fact, even under normal circumstances, it’s unlikely they’d be doing anything like this, despite the fact that Ben has been talking about it for years.

“Come on, Dad.  It would be so cool. The lodge is way up there in Maine on Matagamon Lake.  They fly you in to the lake in a sea plane and you land on the water!. And we can fish and hike, and there’s even whitewater rafting! It’d be so much fun!  Please?

It did sound great, but it was also a big deal, and he’d been putting Benjamin off for years. But now Paul knows his time to put things off is running out.  This trip will give him plenty of opportunity to talk to Ben, to try to prepare him a little for what is coming.

He tucks the last of his toiletries into the battered brown suitcase and buckles the lid closed.

***

The flight from Bangor is amazing, the seaplane’s floats tickling the treetops of the Maine wilderness.  Paul is amazed how there can be so much of nothing below, just miles and miles of nature.  They pass over a few small towns and can pick out roads winding through the trees,  but mostly, what they see are many small lakes and acres and acres of trees.  

As the plane dips down over the endless green wilderness and heads toward the lake ahead, Paul has to admit Ben was right. This is pretty cool.  

***

Benjamin spins around to look at his father.  “What do you mean, you’re going away?” he exclaims in disbelief.  “Going where?”

His swift turn toward his father threatens to overturn the small canoe they are sitting in.  Ripples break the mirror-smooth surface of the lake and run away from its hull in surprise, making for the shore.

Paul sighs.  He had known this would be difficult.  After Liz lost the battle to breast cancer ten years ago, it was just he and Ben, helping each other through the grief of  their sudden loss.  But that was ten years ago, and Ben was heading off to Yale in the fall. 

“I’m moving to South America, Ben.  Buenas Aires.  I leave right after you do.”  Paul hopes his matter-of-fact tone will forestall the emotional reaction he fears is coming.

What??!!!  What do you mean? You can’t do that!  What about me?”  

You’ll be fine. You’re starting your own life now.  You’ll still have the condo, which has no mortgage, and I’ve prepaid your tuition at school.”

Ben stares at him, his jaw hanging in the expression of surprise he’s used all his life.  He looks totally gob-smacked.  As I knew he would, Paul thinks.

“But why?  I don’t understand.” Paul asks, looking now like he might burst into tears at any moment.

Paul reels in his line (the fish aren’t biting anyway), stows his rod in the bottom of the canoe, and begins to tell Ben just how badly he has screwed up his life.  Both of their lives, really.

***

When Liz died, Paul was overwhelmed: overwhelmed with grief, overwhelmed with the thought of raising an eight-year-old boy alone.  It might have been a little better had there been family to fall back on, but there was no one.  He and Liz were both only children, and their parents had been gone for awhile now.  He and Ben were all that was left of the Richardson family.

Forced to take care of business first, he held himself together long enough to do what was necessary.  After the services, the first thing he did was look for a housekeeper.  After more interviews than he ever thought would be necessary, he finally found Marie, a former nun and retired school teacher, who provided a heaven-made solution (so to speak).  She seemed like an intelligent and kindly woman, she was available, and she was willing to move into the living quarters he’d set up in the former family room off the kitchen.  Marie said she’d lost her own mother when she was very young, and  she expressed real compassion for Ben.  She was perfect.  Paul couldn’t believe his luck.

Once he was confident Ben was well taken care of, he allowed himself to give in to the grief.  Ironically, his partner was willing to pickup the slack in their real estate office, allowing Paul time to get his life back together, when in reality it was falling apart.  He began drinking. When Ben left for school each day, Paul left, too, and drove around aimlessly until the bars opened.

It took a couple of months, during which time his partner was much more patient than Paul had any right to expect, but eventually Paul felt able to return to work. He didn’t stop drinking, though.  Every night, he sat in front of the TV and anesthetized himself with vodka.

It seems to Paul that once he loosened his grip on self-control, his slide into perdition was like a runaway train.

He managed to continue working, though many days he took a pounding headache to work with him along with his briefcase.  Thank heavens he handled the office management and accounting aspects of the business and wasn’t required to meet with customers.  But before long, he was leaving the office earlier and earlier, telling his partner he wanted to be home when Ben came home from school, and would work from there.

He’d had every good intention, but none of the self-discipline needed to go with it.  Soon he was ending the afternoon in a bar.  After a few years of watching both Paul and the business sink deeper into the muck, his partner came to him.  He said he knew Paul was having hard go of it, but he couldn’t allow him to take the business along for the ride.  He offered to buy him out.  Feeling totally incapable of cleaning up his act, Paul accepted his offer and cashed out.  And that’s when the train really picked up speed.

At his favorite watering hole, he met a guy who knew a guy who really knew the ponies.  He placed a few conservative bets and did well.  His bets got bigger, and though he lost some, he also won often enough to convince himself that he had Luck on his side.  Now that he’s sober, he recognizes that for what it was: a booze-driven delusion.

He began betting big money.  He had realized that Angelo, the guy who “knew the ponies,” was a bookie and Paul became one of his better customers. When the horses went stale for him, he started betting on other events.  He seasoned the array of choices on Angelo’s buffet of gambling delights with occasional trips to Vegas. In short, he was totally out of control.

And then one day, he awakened in the ICU at the local hospital with Benjamin sitting at his side.  He had suffered a heart attack, and probably wouldn’t have survived had Marie not found him and called an ambulance so quickly.

It was the wake-up call he needed.  He joined AA and GA, and with the help of some terrific people and his son, he cleaned himself up.  What he was unable to clean up was the enormous gambling debt he had with Angelo.  Reminders became threats and threats became attacks.  The last time Angelo sent his goons, they had beaten him pretty badly and told him he was out of time. Next time was the last time, they warned.  He knew they weren’t kidding.  It was time to get out of Dodge.

***

(to be continued)


15 comments:

  1. oo la la...nice...running from the bookies...quite the interesting journey you have started for us patti....waiting patiently..

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  2. Brian: Patiently? Noooo, you're supposed to be biting your nails and pacing the floor!

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  3. a friend near
    to save his life,
    how dear.
    lovely plot,
    beautiful journey!

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  4. I can't wait to read more.

    YOU are a lovely writer.

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  5. Hah!

    Between the title and that cliffhanger, I'm waiting in anticipation.

    Happy ending? Or sad? Hmm...

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  6. wow. some really good imagery here alongside the story.

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  7. The Dead Line to Vote is Sunday or today,
    http://jingleyanqiu.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/the-celebrate-blogger-of-august-awards-announcements/

    u r nominated, u win 1 vote automatically,
    if you vote for other bloggers, u win another vote…
    have fun!

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  8. I come up against 'disconnects' here as I did in your previous entry. You tug at many heart-strings, but don't allow others in his life to have a rational response. You paint his son as deaf and blind.

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  9. Jingle: Thank you, my friend.

    Lou: You warm my heart. Thank you.

    Jeff: Stay tuned...

    Tom: Thank you. It makes me happy to hear that.

    Janice: Excellent!

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  10. Julie: Touché. My intent was to paint Ben as a teenager (key point, that) being raised by a housekeeper since the age of eight. But you are right. I could add more to flesh out the relationship between Ben and his Dad leading up to the fishing trip and Paul's bombshell. Thanks for your input.

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  11. I haven't read Part 2 yet, but re teenagers. They are sensitive to emotional turmoil if not nuance. This is what makes them such a pain in the neck!!

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  12. Looking forward to Buenos Aires!

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  13. this story builds really nicely --- great pacing - can't wait to see what's next

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  14. There is a sense of heaviness...beacuse of the title I feel like I know what is coming...and I cant wait to read part 2...

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Thoughts? I would love to hear from you.