Jack & Lucky Chapter 13, Part 3
Chapter 13, Part 3
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By the time Lucky came out the meat was heating and the potatoes were sizzling in the pan. She was feeding Ellen in between other operations and was only half done when he arrived.
He was dressed in clean fatigue pants with an old blue denim shirt hanging out loose, still barefoot. His hair was wet and pulled back tight against his head.
“You’re dressed ready to kill.” Mary Jane commented on his clean clothes.
“I’m goin’ go out later for some beer. Maybe play some pool. You got any problem with that? There’s only one beer in the house. What did you do, throw a party today?”
“My sister Anne came over with Margaret and we all had just one beer. I didn’t have a way to get to town to shop. The car wouldn’t start. You haven’t fixed the spark plug or timing or whatever you have to do. Damn I wish you would get that car fixed or I’m goin’ have it towed in to the mechanic’s. You fix everybody else’s car, why can’t you keep our car goin’?”
“I’ll get to it on Saturday,” he said, somewhat pacified by the mild rebuke. Lucky watched Mary Jane as she moved around the kitchen with a natural competence. He turned to the baby and picked up the little baby spoon clumsily in his hand with his thick fingers. He scooped too much food onto it and moved it too fast toward Ellen’s mouth. She instinctively put her hand up and hit the spoon and it spilled in a blob onto the floor.
“The bitch won’t even eat,” Lucky blurted out with frustration.
“God, don’t swear around her. She doesn’t deserve that. I’ll feed her, just leave her alone.”
Lucky put down the spoon in disgust. “I have to borrow your dad’s timing light. It’s not as easy as you think. Most assholes can’t even do that stuff. You should thank me; I save all the fix up money. That old Plymouth Fury could cost us a lot of money. I wish you would have never sold off that Mustang. That thing was a sweet machine and easy to fix. This Plymouth is a gas hog and never does run right no matter how many times I fix it. Something else is always going bad. Damn 383.”
Lucky had done enough favors for his father-in-law so they were finally on good terms, not great, but good enough for him to borrow his tools. He was the best father Lucky ever had and Lucky tried to spoil him to win his approval. Lucky had become part of a family for the first time, the best family he had ever known.
“You know that Mustang wasn’t mine. Daddy sold it when we got married to pay for all the wedding and dress and stuff. So give it up. Get a plate and I’ll dish up your dinner–if you say please.”
“Fuck you. How’s that? Why should I have to say please in my own house?”
“I was just trying to make a joke. Don’t get all bent out of shape again over nothing.”
“You fuckin’ think you own me. And you give all my beer to your stupid friends.”
“They only come about once a month. God is that too much to ask? I get so lonely here by myself all cooped up inside this dump.”
“If you don’t like this house go out and get a job yourself. You went to school and all. You should be able to get a better job than me. You bitch about everything I give you. If it ain’t the car it’s the fuckin’ house. If it ain’t about having a new dress, you’re bitch’n ’cause I stay out too late on Friday night. You’re never fuckin’ satisfied.”
“Here, feed your face and maybe that will make you happier. You must have a low blood sugar level. You’re such a grouch!”
Lucky took the plate with the meat loaf and potatoes. “You got any ketchup or cottage cheese?”
“No ketchup, it ran out this morning and I couldn’t go out to get any. There’s just enough cheese left for Ellen to have a little.”
“Fuck. I’ll eat in by the TV. Wrestling’ is goin’ start. Why don’t you join me.” He softened a little at the sight of the huge pile of food.
“I gotta finish with Ellen and clean up. You want some bread?”
“Ya, sure. Can you bring me some? My hands are full.” He still had his beer and then the plate and fork as he shuffled into the living room and sat down in front of the last of the weather report.
Mary Jane brought two slices of buttered bread.
“Thanks. You’re still my special girl.” Lucky said these words mechanically just to put her off guard.
“Ya, and you’re an asshole too,” she said half smiling.
Even though his words sounded insincere it cured her mood a little. It even made him feel better. They talked tough, but underneath they still shared some affection from time to time. But not tonight.
The wrestling was just starting with the roar of the crowd and the announcer introducing the contestants as Mary Jane went about her chores. Lucky was captivated by the action as he slurped and gobbled down his plateful of food. There wasn’t much variety but there was plenty of it and he ate slowly and filled himself completely. He was swinging and pushing his arm with the movement of the wrestlers as he ate. Gradually he finished and leaned back. By the time he finished his beer he was relaxed. Before long he was asleep and never made it out for more beer and pool.
Mary Jane came in to cover him with the bright red, pink and green afghan his aunt had given them for a wedding gift. She gazed at his serene, perfectly formed features. He tried to be a raging tyrant full of fury, but when he was asleep he was literally a sleeping, masculine, beauty.
Jack’s journal continues:
I also suggested to myself a book on wars. `The ultimate presence in nature and the psychological characteristics in man which lead to war.’ I would write a brief `History of wars from pre-existence to present time.’ That would be something. For me this is a result of my dislike of the idea of wars and fighting in general. I feel that, just like it is immature for two men to physically dispute a question, it is immature for society to permit wars to continue. But it seems that these have always existed, and there is no sign that these will desist. I have just been reading about analytical analysis of personality and by using this I hope sometime to show the characteristic of man that allows wars to be perpetuated. Maybe there can even be a solution approached. But that seems almost fantastic, at least idealistic.
The misery, stupidity, and fearsome horror of the war in Vietnam was having a significant impact on his thinking even though he was not participating directly or indirectly in it. He was touched by it in a significant way because he was avoiding it. He was feeling the early consequences of the “Survivor Syndrome.” The Mormon religion does not permit its members to claim any Conscientious Objector status. They are encouraged to obey the laws of the land and participate in whatever bellicose activity that implies. Jack was certainly aware of that, and didn’t renounce his religion in favor of another more pacifist faith even though he was at heart a non-combatant.
Beyond that, Jack was turning into a rock. He could work harder than three missionaries in the hottest, sweltering weather. He could force himself to stand hour after hour and confront people with a message he doubted himself. He could get up early, day after day for no good purpose, just to conquer a challenge. And most significant, he could write a letter to his strongest companion and sever the relationship to ease her suffering and relieve her from the necessity of making what had become an inevitable first move.
He could control his emotions so well that for a time he suffered from the illusion that he didn’t have any. He wondered whether he was even sensitive to people’s feelings, when in fact he was acutely sensitive and perceptive. He ended his journal for a while and returned to his struggle to live, nurturing the growing intellectual tree of his irreligious ideas in the fertile soil of his subconscious mind.
Last Monday I played tennis after a long walk and some running. Things went okay except I lost miserably. I went to the beach again but it was too windy to enjoy. I’ve been reading a lot naturally but have been trying to take it a little lighter to keep my nerves in a balance. I get grouchy if I read too much.
He was spending considerable time meditating on the structure of his future.
This week I haven’t done hardly any tracting. What we have done has been teaching and not too much of that. Our baptism date has been called off or at least postponed. I might get transferred. I hope to go to Firenze, but one never knows.
The President never did contact Jack after the one month commitment period. The only change came after Springer said goodbye and left, without ceremony or fanfare.
August 6th and still hot:
I moved from the apartment and now live in the church. Springer left Thursday; that’s when I moved in. I’ve been working mostly with Elder Cox as my Senior. He is different, weird. He thinks himself short and ugly, and he’s right. He makes me make most of the decisions. He has simply abdicated his title to me. We get along well enough. We’ve had a few meetings, but we are usually either tracting or sitting in the piazza, enjoying the sun, reading or some such thing. We have been cooking here too but nothing special. We are going to start street meetings sometime but haven’t yet.
Sunday, our meetings were poor. No one showed up at the church except one boy, Tonino. We had gone to a movie on Saturday with him after playing tennis again. After the movie, which wasn’t good, I went with him to a party. The kids there were young and danced. I didn’t but wished I had. But I wouldn’t have enjoyed it since I have taken an oath against fraternizing with women. I don’t feel a part of their society.
Jack was avoiding the main issue in his life.
I received a letter from Julie finally and she isn’t waiting for me anymore. It’s official. I don’t feel too bad, although I have enjoyed her support and will miss it. I wish she would have made a better showing of herself in dismissing me.
Of course he was hurt, but he was keeping the proverbial stiff upper lip. He had already written goodbye and good luck, but he missed the idea of her terribly.
It must have been even more difficult for Julie. She had already been abandoned once when he left. Then she was expected to keep herself for an apostate guy who had changed so much she could no longer recognize him from his letters. She had found another person to help her forget the double hurt she felt.
Her own father had occasionally had problems living closely with The Church and she didn’t want to get caught with someone who had the same problem. She never gave Jack an explanation or told him about Brother Wayne Conklin. Why put salt on the wound?
She is the victim in this scene, if there is one. The support and sacrifices she made to help Jack in their shared work came to not as he became less faithful. As he became unfaithful to the religion, he was being unfaithful to her as well because of the nature of the commitments they had made to each other. Now it was over.
When Julie’s final letter came, Jack was alternately angry, depressed, sad and confused. During one of his angry phases he rummaged through his possessions and accumulated what he called “Julie paraphernalia” into one location. He still had his original, blue Alitalia bag. The shoulder strap was no longer attached, one corner had ripped open, the zipper had pulled away from its stitching and it was scuffed and scratched. In that, he put her nicely framed portrait, the saved letters he had reread frequently, and the other stuff he related to her for further disposition.
This action of defeated passion and house cleaning consumed his anger and he was left with the plump bag lying on the bed staring listlessly back. After a confused period of wondering how best to destroy or otherwise dispose of it, he equivocated. He put in on the floor under his bed and left it overnight.
Jack recalled how Al Will had thrown a diamond engagement ring valued at probably in excess of $1,000 into the River Arno in Firenze. There wasn’t anything of similar value among this collection but there was the same kind of emotional attachment to it when it was all in one place.
Jack thought, in the best tradition of Al Will: “That would be wrong twice: First: I am not the same passion-crazed person.” Instead, he was thoroughly and often ruthlessly pragmatic. Secondly: “I loved her and don’t blame her.” So he didn’t wish to do anything to hurt her feelings or that might seem abusive. This double logic prevailed in the end.
The next day Jack found a suitable box, enclosed the tattered Alitalia bag, wrapped it and sent it to her parcel post. That would take about two months to arrive. He included a short note suggesting she might do the same, thank you very much, only send his stuff to his mother’s address in Oregon, please. That effort discharged both his anger and confusion. Subsequently he was left to deal with the remaining emotions of sadness, depression and of course disappointment.
We’ve been playing tennis for sometime now, four times. I’m getting better; I even win. I finished a psychology book, and I’m studying Greek mythology. It’s interesting. We’ve had English classes lately as part of our missionary work. I’ve been stuck with teaching; I have six students. I’m not that bad a teacher, but I wouldn’t want it for a profession.
This suggests that he was still doing whatever he could think of to avoid the reality of his own situation.
August 11. Since I’ve written last, nothing much has happened exciting. I’ve read a couple of books, western stories and another for diversion. I’m all out of books. I threw away all the war stories. I don’t like these. War to me is a depressing circumstance. I do not hallow the memory of the same or reverence the weapons used as monuments throughout Italy. I don’t hallow a whole lot of anything really, but that’s another story.
My companion, Elder Cox, and I do one block of tracting each morning and then go to a piazza to read and contact people. I do mostly reading.
It was about 11:00 on a bright sunny morning. “You had enough for one morning?” Jack made the necessary note in the tracting book to indicate the last door bell had gone unanswered. “N”
“`Spose so,” Elder Cox drawled.
“We can check out the park to see if there are any likely prospects.”
“That sounds okay.”
“If we sit here long enough, someone is bound to come along. The chance of meeting someone who is interested, I figure, is about the same as knocking on doors. If all the other benches in the park become full someone will sit down beside us; then you can teach them. Okay?”
“What do you calculate the odds of that happening are?”
“Yesterday the benches got nearly full, so I think with the good weather there is a one third chance you’ll have an investigator.”
“You’re right; that is better odds than knocking on doors. Let’s wait and see.”
They lost on the odds. No one came and the park didn’t fill that morning. The religious Musketeer is never defeated until he is killed. But, when he is not engaged, he is such a pathetic creature. He is all capable for battle with no foe to challenge.
Today being Sunday we had our meetings. Our attendance is very low and our meetings have little significance. I taught Sunday School and passed the Sacrament. I slept this afternoon and read. I feel real restless. I might go for a long bike ride. I got my bike from Pisa yesterday and got it fixed. Not much else that needs to be said.
Part of the lack of attendance was due to the summer vacation schedules of members.
Jack left the security, and indeed ritual, of being with his companion, and went for a 20 mile ride in the country, alone. He pushed himself beyond the point of exhaustion, alternately crying, yelling and racing. He was like a crazed wolf crashing through the woods, howling. It was on this ride when he overcame much of the depression and sadness associated with losing Julie. This is an essential effort in any healthy grieving process, and by the time he approached the city he was riding with no hands, his arms extended as if flying and relishing the warm air blowing in his hair and face.
August 13, 1968. I take pen now to write some thoughts that have been tumbling around in my mind for some time. In doing so I hope that I might be rid of them. They aren’t so unpleasant as they are boring. Thinking about the same things over and over becomes boring. Maybe it is that I lack capacity to maintain a variety of thought? But I don’t think that’s true. I think of many things, but in doing so, I logically hit on some of those things over again. So now I’ll attempt a house cleaning measure, as it might seem. I have a short list of topics, I will begin:
There seem to be certain things in life that are inevitable. Many people are caused much worry by some of these things. I have developed a viewpoint that allows me to disregard, to a degree, some of the less pleasant aspects of life and thus continue living and enjoying the good things without these being discolored by the unpleasant. One of the major things that causes people discomfort is Pain. Thus Pain becomes the topic of this brief explanation.
Now, pain is incurred in several different ways. For convenience I’ll arrange these into two categories, exogenous and endogenous. The exogenous category includes pain inflicted by other people both physical and mental. Pain comes from objects, such as brick walls, nails in the feet and graves [death], which is, as can be seen, both physical and mental. Then those endogenous should include organic malfunctions (which can on occasion be induced from outside sources but have a real chronic, organic existence) and mental stress.
Now the pain I am particularly concerned with in this analysis is that which is physical in nature, excluding that which is caused by organic malfunctions, endogenously induced. That leaves us now with physical pain exogenously induced, which in my opinion is the principle type of pain for normal people. (My mind wonders somewhat to a discussion of what is a normal person, that is interesting enough to pursue, but for now I’ll leave it be, it involves too much conjecture for our present considerations.)
The reason why I have given thought to this pain is precisely its inevitability. It seems that in the normal course of events one encounters some type of pain each day. More specifically my thoughts originated the last time I went to the dentist, which was two years ago. When one puts himself under the care of a dentist, he is aware that no matter how kind the fellow may be, no matter what precautions he takes, he always manages to touch one nerve that causes a sharp sensation of pain. So having put myself under the care of this dentist I began to wonder if there might be any way I could get rid of this pain. I don’t like pain; I’ll admit that right off. The thought came to me that if I don’t recognize the pain I might be able to overlook it, but that idea only works when the pain isn’t present. As soon as it comes, it is next to impossible to render it non-existent by mere thought.
This discussion of trivial physical pain was an imposter for the mental pain he had experienced “exogenously induced” by Julie when she dumped him. He was unprepared to discuss in detail or deal directly with this non-trivial form of pain except by a frivolous surrogate.
So finally I touched on a way to utilize pain to my advantage. The way you approach the subject is like this: you think first how great life is, the trees, birds, etc. And one of the good things about life is the ability we have to touch things. Now what is touch if it is not the beginning of pain. Or to say it somewhat differently, what is pain if it is not intense feeling. There is what is called the threshold of pain. This indeterminable limit between touch and pain differs between people. I say indeterminable because I don’t think there is a way of defining such a threshold. The tender pinch of an obnoxious person can become quite painful, while the anxious thump on the back by a good friend can be enjoyable. So what do we have? We have pain as a subjective evaluation of touch or feeling.
With all this in mind, we can learn to appreciate the intense feeling we experience with the nerves in the mouth when the dentist is busy drilling away. We can accept all such pain philosophically and consider it as merely intense feeling, and thus tolerate the inevitability of it. Even in such cases as tired feet when they become painful or a sore neck caused by anxiety, these are the physical feelings of accomplishment and can be appreciated as such. It may be difficult at first to make use of this idea, but gradually with application, one becomes a master at such trickery. Pain is hereby used as another means to appreciate the life we feel. It becomes an intense sensation of life; life then becomes more meaningful in total. Every way we can appreciate life contributes to our total appreciation. Pain can be part of this if considered in the correct perspective, rather than detracting from life as we fear it might.
Musketeers can take excruciating pain and not wince.
Jack could reject his sense of spirituality the same way he devised to reject the discomfort of pain. He did not acknowledge the possibility that those subtle emotional rhythms could contribute to his enhanced appreciation of life the way pain simply made him intensely aware of life. Can it be said that feeling alive is to pain as spirituality is to religious emotion?
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