When Words Wander
Once Jonathan left the room, Laura's gaze pinned Susan like a honey-coated prisoner on an ant hill. "You ought to know the reason I decided I couldn't continue to represent you. My personal feelings won't let me! This agreement is, in my legal opinion, much better than what you'd get in any court. By that I mean that if we got the best judge on his best day, he'd never give you as much as I've negotiated for you. It is my legal opinion that you should sign before it's withdrawn. That's my last piece of legal advice to you.
"I'm going to ask Mark to leave in a second. Since I will no longer be your lawyer, I'd like your permission to speak to you woman to woman. I'd like Mark to witness that you agree to stay and hear what I have to say. I want it very clear that nothing I'm going to say could possibly be considered legal advice, even if we talk about your divorce. If you and he will agree, some of things I'd like to say to you in private might help you. I know they'll make me feel better. Our agreement already protects you from anything said here being used in court. Will you agree?"
Susan nodded and once Mark had left the office she turned to Laura. Her voice had a strained quality as she tried to keep the anger out of her tone. "You're a woman, why can't your see my side? Can't you help us get back together? Maybe recommend a good marriage conselor?"
Laura sighed dramatically. "The only person in this whole process who thinks you should stay married is you. That includes your children; even little Nancy told me that, and I quote, 'it's not fair that daddy has to live in the basement because mommy has a new boyfriend.'" Laura fixed Susan with a practiced glare that had made one opposing male attorney lose control of his bladder during a divorce trial before a jury. "I meant what I said about the settlement. You'd better grab it. Jonathan is being more noble than I'd be. If I had Jonathan as a client and drew Judge Judy Martin, who helped form the local NOW chapter way back when, you wouldn't believe what Jonathan would get. Not only would he own every piece of clothing in your closet, you'd be paying him alimony to make up for his support of you for the last four years! It wouldn't matter if you were living in a cardboard box!"
Susan's faces showed her shock, "No woman would do that to me..."
"I helped Judy form NOW and I'd do it to you. I'm as liberal as they come. I hate it when I hear that asshole Rush talks about liberals not caring about results but only about intentions. I hate it when he says that liberals are more concerned about the reasons for an act someone does that what the act is. What makes me furious is when he can point to women like you as a real life example! Good God woman, what kind of mush filled your skull?
"It's women like you that give women's rights a bad name. You never even made an attempt to carry your own weight, even after your kids were in school. I'm not one of those women who looks down on women who choose the mommy track. I respect a woman who makes it her job to raise a family. That's a big job in this day and age, but that's not what you did. You didn't use your spare time to work for your family, to volunteer to make your city a better place for your kids. No, when keeping one house wasn't enough to keep you busy, you didn't do anything for anyone but yourself. You went out and found another man to be a housewife for. That's the kind of housewife that makes the real housewives look bad.
"You keep telling me that you're a strong woman. Strong women accomplish great things. Can you tell me anything you've accomplished that a weak woman wouldn't? You've told me repeatedly that you want Jonathan to be strong enough to accept you, yet have you accepted him the way he is, the way he shows love?
Laura's eyes blazed, "I quote from your journal: ' I knew in my heart, from what he said, and how he acted, he never loved me enough to want to know why. He never loved me enough to want to understand. He had never asked me why, because why did not matter. Only making love to another man mattered.
'Had he ever loved me or had he only loved having me? Was it now that I was tainted goods, that another man had taken his property, was that all that had meaning to him?... I slowly cried myself to sleep, knowing, feeling that he had never loved me, never would or could love me. I felt, I realized, I had been open to involving herself with Rich, because intuitively I had known that Jonathan had not truly loved me. Ours hadn't been a marriage of love, it had been a marriage of convenience-- for him. He had never given me his true love.'"
Laura looked up from the paper. "You'd just decided that your first attempt to explain your cheating hadn't gone well because you got mad. This time Jonathan told you that you'd changed the marriage contract without consulting him. He told you he hated you that because you'd ruined his family, and you concluded that he had never loved you. Do I have that right?"
Susan relaxed, and nodded, 'that's what I felt.'
Laura gave her a look of incredulity. "What does it take to get through to you? You told me that Jonathan wasn't big on words, did he ever tell you he loved you out of bed?"
"Sure, not very often, and he never elaborated much; it was just something he said because he thought he was supposed to. He never spent anything like the time that Rich did talking about love and what loving me meant to him. Rich would look in my eyes and his words would make me shiver at his need for me."
"Did Rich ever pay your bills?"
"NO! GOD! He wouldn't think of it, he loved me; he never thought of me as a whore! I took Jonathan to task for making that kind of comment."
Laura steely expression didn't change, "I know, I read that. Let me rephrase my question. Besides words and sex, how did Rich show you that he loved you? Did he give you little gifts? Take you to nice places?"
Susan shrugged, "I know he would have, but I couldn't take the risk that Jonathan might find the gift or hear from someone who had seen us someplace, and not understand our relationship. I was right, too, Jonathan didn't love me enough to even ask me why?"
"If he'd asked you why, I'm sure you would have given him other examples of how he failed you as a man. Of how your lover was more of a man than he was, how Rich could better meet your needs because he was..."
Susan interrupted, "No," she paused in thought for a second. "No, it wasn't that much better, really; it was more different than better. Rich provided me things that Jonathan didn't, couldn't. They were different types of men. Rich was..."
Looking even more formidable Laura jumped back in, "I think you said: 'Rich was kind, gentle, compassionate and caring, open and understanding.' Jonathan was only 'strong, stable and solid... ' You make Jonathan sound more like a chair or perhaps a good carpet."
"No" Susan stretched out the word this time, giving it a you-don't-understand inflection. "Jonathan just didn't respond to me the way Rich did. Honestly, he wasn't doing much of anything..."
"If I remember correctly, he didn't do much more than fish every now and then, sit in front of the TV and drink beer. He'd given up most of his friends... became dull, right?"
Susan cocked her head, trying to figure out what the tone Laura used had meant. "Yes, that's true. He's put on some weight too, and he just didn't seem interesting; he didn't talk to me. He didn't want to know how I was feeling."
"I don't suppose working sixty hours a week, fifty-one weeks a year so you could have that half-million dollar house might have had much to do with that? Never mind. What were you doing to find out what was going on in his life? To take care of him? I think he carried his lunch to work to save money. Did you make that for him?"
"Sometimes, getting everyone off in the morning was the most hectic time of the day."
Laura shook her head, and then continued, "Since you did most of the cooking, did you watch his diet, help him get involved in exercise? I seem to remember that you resented that he didn't want to go to the parties that you wanted to attend. Did you try to find activities he might enjoy? Just talking to you both, I know that you are much better at organizing social activities than Jonathan; as a "strong woman," did you take the lead in that area, or was too much of your time taken up doing housework for Rich?"
Susan flinched, Laura's tone was definitely hostile. "If he loved me, he was supposed to put me first, to..."
"Doesn't that mean you were supposed to put HIM first too? Can you give me any examples where you did put him first? Did you put him first when you walked out of the house to go make love to Rich after you eviscerated your husband by telling him he wasn't a good lover? You actually expected him to support you emotionally while you were tearing his whole world apart, along with everything that was important to him, didn't you? I think you wrote that the reason you thought you were entitled to his support while destroying him, was that castrating your husband was emotionally stressful for you. Instead of holding his balls up for your knife, he un-characteristically said some bad word!"
Chastened, Susan said quietly, "I said that I understood that I didn't handle that first night very well, but it wasn't as bad as you're making it sound. I'm..."
"You realized you might have 'expressed your feelings better' two days later, when you were in the afterglow of your lover's ardor. Even then, all you really regretted was that you lost your temper and weren't able to manipulate him into understanding that you were really the victim in the tragedy that you'd created."
Susan bristled, "I'm a strong woman, and I have to make sure I don't let him take advantage of me. If I didn't...
Susan saw Laura's face turn red, and for a second she thought Laura might lose it. Then in one of those deceptively soft voices Laura continued. "Do you think I'm a strong woman? I'd one of the highest percentage of 'wins' of any lawyer in this state. I was elected three times before I retired as a district judge; I've got two great kids and the three greatest grandkids in the history of mankind, with a fourth on the way. What do you think?"
"Sure, I knew you were a strong woman when I saw the pictures of you and those famous people all over your wall."
"Thank you, I've always thought of myself as strong woman, I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear you confirm it. Weak women bring out the..."
Susan frowned, Laura's tone had turned hard again. Then Laura softened and continued. "I've been married to my husband for almost 38 years now. When we were first married he was already a pilot with a major airline but based here in Austin. He was making tons of money and I had just gotten out of law school with tons of student loan debts and other money I owed. I didn't seem to be able to keep track of my expenses. We married and we decided to have our kids before I started my career. Jim put me on a strict budget.
"Then right after then youngest started school and I'd gotten a good job with a firm in Austin, I continued to turn over every penny I made. Not long after that we had a major crisis in our marriage. A drunk hit Jim while he was parked and suddenly he couldn't pass a flight physical. He decided that if he couldn't fly he'd teach math and science to high school kids. Perhaps help them soar someday. So what do you think happened to our budget, now that I was making the big bucks and Jim was pulling in peanuts?"
"You took over, of course, you had the power..."
"No! Nothing changed. I was still a total klutz with my check book. Money just dribbles through my fingers. Jim doesn't like keeping accounts either; he was raised in a household where his mom did all the bookkeeping. But we're a team; where one is weak, the other tries to step up. Jim didn't take care of the money to 'control' me but to allow me have the money to support the causes important to me. That's what partners do.
"Let me give you another example. Jim is an incredible driver. He has fighter pilot reflexes, depth perception and peripheral vision. He's never been in an accident, but he drives like a fighter pilot! So, when we're in the same car, I drive. I'm not as good a driver as he is, but riding with me doesn't scare him, like it does me when he drives.
"The first time I heard him teased by other pilots about letting his wife wear the pants in the family and drive, I wanted to tear into them. It didn't bother him at all. He's strong enough to be teased because my peace of mind is more important to him.
"We're both strong people. We're strong enough to not need to get into ego battles over what stereotypes say our roles should be or shouldn't be. That's true for the old gender stereotypes or the new ones!
"My God, woman, did you have any understanding of your husband at all? What sort of man did you think you'd married? I read your journal and I have to say I don't think I've ever met the sort of man you expected him to be. I expect my husband to treat me as his equal. I'd rip him a new one if he didn't treat me with the respect I'm due."
Laura leaned forward and lowered her voice to make her words carry force, "And I expect him to treat me the same way. He's my equal too! One of the things that makes my blood boil are feminists who want to replace the old male superiority with female superiority, or putting down men. Jim and I are different, but different doesn't mean superior or inferior, it just means different. We're like a beautiful picture that has two halves. If that picture had been cut cleanly down the center there would be nothing to hold us together. Instead we're like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I have indentation and protrusions where he has protrusions and indentations. It is our strengths and weakness that make our picture hold together.
"I give my husband what he needs and I don't count the cost. My picture, my world is incomplete without him. What did you give Jonathan? I could give you example after example using your own words where he gave to you everything he had, but nowhere in your journal did I see you give him anything. Hell, you moan and groan about what he isn't giving you, but you didn't even give him your full attention. You didn't give him the sexual excitement you knew he wanted and that you were willing to give Rich. You didn't give him emotional support, and instead of getting a part-time job so he wasn't working himself to death to give you the comfortable life you wanted, you took a lover so you could give to another what you weren't willing to give to Jonathan.
"I don't know if you are hearing me. This isn't legal advice; it's one woman speaking to another. You owe Jonathan. It's clear from your writing that you never put Jonathan more than fourth in your life. You came first, I hope your kids came second, Rich came third. If you have any character, you'll do your best to try to ease his pain, or at the very least do what you can to stop piling more pain on him."
"How?" Susan pleaded, "He won't talk to me and, living like we are is starting to hurt the girls."
"Susan, if you were Jonathan, would you want a woman like you in your life?"
Jonathan tried to keep the apprehension out of his expression as Mark was seating himself behind his desk. Mark looked at Jonathan, shook his head and said, "Why the hell did you ever marry a woman like that, much less make kids with her and stay married for all those years? Sorry, don't try to answer that. Her journal really got to me. I got into family law to right the wrongs of the world. It took more than a score of years to understand that I was creating as many wrongs as I was fixing under the court system. My instinct is to go for the jugular, but when there are kids, leaving someone bleeding on the courtroom floor doesn't end it.
"Part of this collaborative process is that I don't have to act like a normal lawyer. I have to protect your rights, but generally I spend a most of my time tying to help you understand what's in the best interest of everyone long term. Squeezing every last possible dine out of the settlement makes for a lousy divorce.
"Take it from a reformed shark. The partner who gets screwed keeps coming back like one of those zombies in The Night of the Living Dead for one more shot until the only ones with anything in the bank are the lawyers. That's a lawyer's job, the way the court system is set up, but I knew I was killing good people by making them into something evil. That's not what my church teaches, and it was killing my soul. With this process we try to find the best divorce possible even if my client probably could have gotten a better initial settlement in some people's eyes. I've been doing this for almost ten years now, and I'm proud to say that I've only had three couples go back to court after our agreement. What's more, the settlements stood up in each case."
Jonathan was confused, "What does that mean for me? Since her lawyer is quitting..."
Jonathan paused and had to steel himself to not leap into a fighting stance as he saw Mark's face break into a grin... no it wasn't a grin, it was showing his teeth and they were very dangerous-looking teeth. Those teeth still looked menacing as Mark began, "After Laura gets finished with her Dutch aunt talk, I suspect your soon-to-be ex-wife will feel lower than whale droppings, but I don't think she'll want to delay anything or go to court. In addition to letting her know how the cow ate the cabbage, she's explaining the legal facts of life to her. I just wish there were some way I could represent you in court if she's stupid enough to go there."
Mark took a deep breath and Jonathan watched the gladiator slowly recede back under Mark's urbane exterior. After a few seconds Mark resumed. "I read in a book recently that some of the plains Indians 'honored' their captured enemies by 'letting' them demonstrate their bravery' by torturing them to death. If the enemy took it like a warrior, they not only gave him an honorable burial but wrote songs to his valor.
"What I'd like to do to your wife would make their treatment of captives look like the Geneva Convention. I can only imagine what you'd like to do."
Mark sighed, although it was close to a snort. "Still, as good as that would feel, it wouldn't last. The problem is you've got three kids. For the rest of your life you're bound to that woman. Even after the kids are grown you can't get her out of your life without getting the kids out of your life too."
Mark held up his hand before Jonathan could respond. "Oh, the kids will probably choose you right now, but that won't last. Since their mother hasn't been a monster to them, they'll get over it and miss her. As the years go by they're going to want their mother at special events. When the grandkids come, it's going to be even worse. Our challenge, yours and mine, is to figure out how to force ourselves to settle for less than we can get."
Jonathan felt the anger boiling up from his gut, his muscles tensing. His breathing quickened and some portion of his brain was looking for something or someone to hit. Mark's voice froze him. "What would you do if saw a man with a knife about to rape one of your girls? He's got her pinned and you're alone, unarmed, what are you gonna do?"
Jonathan could almost see it happening. Without a second's hesitation he said "I'd stop him."
"He's got a knife and you know you're going to get hurt..."
"I wouldn't go in half cocked; getting killed wouldn't stop him, but if that's all I could do I'd buy all the time I could... maybe she could get away."
Mark nodded his head, "Some men might just say the words, but the tone of your voice and your body language would convince all but the fools. Frankly, that's what ninety-nine out of a hundred fathers would do. It's what men do to protect their loved ones. It's why good men go to war, to put their bodies between harm and their family. Well, there's a war raging around your family and the question is, are you man enough to protect your girls from it, or are you going to put your desires for revenge first?"
Jonathan gritted his teeth so hard he popped a filling. He spat it into his hand and gritted even harder. The muscles in his arms and legs became steel-hard as his very fiber begged for a target to unleash his fury. His eyes blazed but his brain never quite glazed over into berserker rage. Real men had more ways to fight than just with their fists. Jonathan knew no one would ever give him a Phi Beta Kappa key, but he was more than smart enough to know this wasn't a problem he could hammer to a solution with fists or a sledge.
For over three minutes Jonathan let his inner savage rail at the unfairness of civilization. When he regained control he gave Mark a tiny nod. Mark's eyes widened, and with a tight smile he returned a comradely nod. "One of the reasons I'm glad I'm a Christian is that I still see too many bastards or bitches get away with worse than murder in divorces. I think there's a special corner of hell with their name on the reservation card. I take that passage in Romans that says "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" as a personal contract between God and me. It lets me sleep at night.
"Here's the situation you're in. You can get pretty much anything you want right now, but it won't last. It won't take Susan long to find a sugar daddy of some sort to drag you back into court if she doesn't think she's 'won' in the divorce battle. I suggest we give her the appearance of winning but keep you in control. We give you full full custody while giving her unlimited access. We'll get you title to the house but let her live there as the housekeeper while you work on the rigs. You'll provide an efficiency for her to live in while you're home. That'll be in lieu of any monetary support. In two years, or when she marries if that's sooner. She'll need to find a way to support herself and you can get her out of your house. I assume you don't want to work off-shore more than two years. Of course she'll still have unlimited access to the kids."
Jonathan smiled, "Doing the right thing by my kids hurts, but I'll bet it won't hurt long. That woman will find someone to marry her in two shakes of a lamb's tail."
A week later Susan drove to Rich's new house in Hillsboro. Despite the truck traffic, the two-hour trip up I-35 had given her time to think for the first time since that talk with Laura. She'd been in shock, and was still surprised at just how fast everything had happened since then. She'd signed the final agreement without any changes two days ago, and now they were just waiting for the courts to make it official. The girls were spending the next two weeks with Jonathan until he left for the offshore rig.
Based on what Laura told her, the settlement was more than fair. Her biggest problem was that she while she had a place to live she needed to find a job to pay for food, clothes and sundries. All that required more money than the jobs she'd been able to find. Realizing that her life with Jonathan was indeed over, Susan decided that she should go back to Rich.
When Rich met her at the door he was more reserved than she'd expected. Pushing herself into his arms she said, "I really need you; it's final, Jonathan and I are done. I love him, and I guess I always will. I wanted to grow old with him, but I guess it's for the best. He was never able to understand me the way you do. We need to make plans. I've let Jonathan have our house, and custody.
"I know you haven't lived here long, but we need to move back so that we can be close to the girls even when Jonathan's in town. I know I said I'd never leave Jonathan, but I guess I always thought he'd love me enough to not leave me."