Nathan first met Excalibur (“Exie”) on Christmas morning, as happens a lot with a boy and a dog. Nathan was 9 then, and Exie had enjoyed all of 65 days on this planet. Exie celebrated the moment by peeing on the living room carpet to my consternation, and the amusement of Nathan’s father, Mark, who had frequented the shelter for weeks, searching for the perfect companion.
Exie was brown, and pudgy with two black ears. Nathan said his fur reminded him of cotton candy, and felt like dense fleece. He wanted to name the puppy, Fluffy, but his dad would have nothing to do with such a cutesy name, and as always, Mark got his way. That’s how it was in our family. Mark always got his way. By the time Exie joined us, both Nathan and I understood this well, and had fallen into a pattern of passive acceptance. It saved a lot of grief. So “Excalibur”, a strong and masculine name, it was.
Right off Exie and Nathan bonded. It was total and exclusive. They careened together like opposite electrical charges, and were inseparable from the moment their eyes met. I still smile when I remember them rolling and playing amongst the discarded Christmas wrappings and boxes that filled the den. It’s a mystery what makes two beings like that. Has never happened for me, and I envy Nathan. Mark on the other hand couldn’t stand it that the dog he’d chosen, and paid for, not only failed to become his best Bud, but actually shunned him. I could tell the puppy was afraid of him, which irritated Mark, who had neither the patience nor inclination to accept this reality. He was the forceful one, a bit of a bull, and when he made up his mind to make something happen, it usually did. Like I said, Mark almost always got his way – but not this time. Exie sensed something in Mark, and ran from him, pee’d and ran, in the direction of Nathan. This pissed Mark off, and caused him to storm out of the house, slamming the door as he left; so much for the family Christmas dinner. He didn’t come home until the next day. This was just the start of a new trend.
You have probably guessed by now, this is a story about Mark, and Nathan and Exie. You can decide what kind of tale it is yourself. I’m not much of a writer, but I have to do something with all the spare time I have nowadays. Let me introduce the characters.
Mark was a cop. We met in a bar at a time when we were each looking for sex, nothing more. Instead we got our little surprise, Nathan. That was 12 years ago, and the sex wasn’t all that great, although I speak only for myself.
Let me tell you something about cops. They’re just people doing a lousy job, but a job they believe is real important. They tend to be macho, but have feelings like anyone else. They see things ordinary folks don’t, and this affects them; they suffer and they cover up. Often they medicate. Sometimes they find ways to release the pressure. Sometimes they don’t, and there’s an explosion. Mark was a good cop, but a lousy dad.
Mark was 24 when we met. He’s the kind of guy you immediately lock onto when he enters a bar; at least I did. Mark was six-two, and a hard 190, with wavy blond hair, and hazel eyes that seemed to oscillate from brown to green depending on which way they turned. He could enchant with a look, but kill you with a stare. We were never in love, probably never would have been, but pregnancy made sure about that. He did the right thing; at least that’s how he put it when he suggested we get married. Not exactly the most romantic proposal. But who needed romance?
We did okay. I was adaptable. When Mark demanded that I be a homemaker, it was his pride talking. If I went to work it meant he couldn’t be THE provider. I stopped teaching, which would of happened sooner or later, what with Nathan growing inside. That was a hard adjustment, let me tell you. I’m not the homey type. Loneliness is like termites, slowly, silently eating away at your insides, until one day the mind just collapses. I couldn’t have made it this far without Nathan. He is my rock, my island.
After the baby arrived our roles sharpened. I raised the kid, and Mark occasionally took an interest, like a guy checking his bank account to make sure it was solvent. Of course, he told us where, when and how we were doing everything; that is, everything that affected him or he cared about, like vacations, the food I brought home, and who our friends were. It was his idea that Nathan needed to have a new puppy. But c’mon, you don’t get a Rottweiler-mix for a 9 year old. I know the dog was really for him.
Funny thing, even now I can’t remember much about Nathan’s early years. The way I figure it, the whole stay-at-home-and-take-care-of-the-boy thing, must have compressed all those years into a flat, one-dimensional memory moment. It wasn’t until the boy reached the age when a real personality started to form that events took on unique and imprinted characteristics.
We lived in two worlds, Nathan and I. After Mark left for work each day, all was fine. We journeyed through the day, pleasantly in the morning, but with growing trepidation as the afternoons wore on, and arrived inescapably at our Acheron, our river of woe, anticipating Charon’s return, and the nightly crossing once again into hell. Often we waited there for hours, tension building, ready to burst. It didn’t help that we never knew when he’d come home.
What made it like “hell”? After all, we were not beaten, at least not in those days, or physically abused. It’s hard to say. He always seemed to be on the prowl, ready to pounce. If you saw Life of Pi, imagine the difference the experience would have been like without the tiger. When Mark was home, we lived on his edge. I think it was the job; it drove him into a place where anger simmered just beneath a fragile veneer of control. I could only guess what demons lurked down there, just a blink away.
Things didn’t get better when Exie joined us.
Mark’s relationship with Exie, if you can call it that, went quickly from frustration to anger, even before dinner that Christmas day. In the ensuing weeks, whenever Mark got near, the puppy cowered, pee’d and ran to Nathan; Mark’s feelings turned to disgust and scorn. As time went by, on the surface it seemed like Mark eventually settled into a manageable level contempt for this timid animal. That’s what I thought. I was wrong.
At some point he launched a campaign to get rid of the dog. I didn’t like it, but could understand. We had a vile cat when I was a little girl that terrorized me. Yep, a cat can do that. I would have tossed that beast off a cliff in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself. Happily, it got run over one day. It was when he started including Nathan in his sick ideas that I got really worried. I mean, he wanted to send Nathan away, too. What was he thinking? At first I thought he was joking, or being momentarily irrational, you know, saying something he didn’t really mean in the heat of the moment. But like I said, down in the deep waters of his feelings there lurked a monster. I saw it in those eyes; he meant what he was saying.
Our arguments about Nathan and Exie had gone on for months, and grown more heated. There was no hiding it from Nathan, who retreated farther into the shadows as the fights became more veracious. He was a reserved kid anyway, but now he’d go into a shell, and never ever spoke when Mark was around, like he was trying to make himself invisible. That only aggravated Mark more. Every day he got more belligerent, even to the point of shouting at me one night, “I can’t even see the damn kid, he doesn’t exist for me.” Can you believe that? I was stunned. That wasn’t the end of it; it got worse.
I’ve already mentioned that cops regularly come into contact with the scum of the earth. This filth becomes a part of their world, and it’s hard sometimes for them to distinguish the good from evil. It’s a fine line and they get mixed up. Mark was no exception.
One day he brought one of those guys to the apartment, He announced that this Dr. Repulski had offered to help us with our Nathan problem. My first thought was he’d brought this “doctor” to kidnap Nathan. I wouldn’t have put it past Mark by this time. What self-respecting doctor is named Repulski? I kind of got a bit hysterical, but any mother who thought her child was threatened would have reacted emotionally. How those feelings might translate into action depends on the individual. In my case, after telling Nathan to go to his room, I wound up screaming and throwing things. Looking back I see this didn’t help matters. In fact, this outburst signaled the next phase in the process that has led to where we are now.
After Mark and the doctor left that night, and I’d calmed down to the point where I could think coherently, I came to the realization that I had to do something. I couldn’t allow Mark to do this anymore.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, lost in my thoughts, crying, when I heard Nathan and Exie come into the room. They quietly sat down, Nathan across the table and Exie at his side, and waited. I could see they sensed something, a realization that a switch had been flipped. They were right. A plan began to take form in my mind. I knew what I had to do. It was a matter of self-defense, and providing protection for my son. It was the right thing to do.
Too bad the judge didn’t see it that way.
Mark had guns, no surprise. He kept them in a special safe that had a combination lock. He loved to hunt and owned a number of rifles and a shotgun. I know what you’re thinking. No, he never told me the combination, but a mother who is protecting her child can be very clever. Birds fake injury to draw predators away from the nest. I’m smarter than a bird.
It took time.
The first step was to put Mark at ease, to put him off guard. This meant the conflict over Nathan and Exie had to end. I became repentant, and implemented things to shelter the pair from Mark’s presence. I made new rules. I fed them dinner earlier and sent them to Nathan’s room each night before Mark got home. It seemed to please him to see only two place settings at the table, and I avoided discussing what we did during the day. His mood lightened almost at once. On the third day of this new approach we had sex. Really. It was the first time in more than a year, and the best ever.
All this accomplished the objective, and Mark relaxed his attitude. This opened the door to what I really needed – the combination.
I had to wait until late September, the time of year that Mark starts getting ready for the hunting season, when he and his buddies head off to Colorado to kill elk, I think. This takes the form of much cleaning and polishing, a ritual I never paid much attention to before, except that it seemed to distract him from his concerns about Nathan. Curiously, he never seemed to be interested in sharing this love of the wild with his son. Most outdoorsy dad’s I know indoctrinate the next generation as soon as they can walk. But not Mark, who continued to act as if the kid didn’t exist.
I watched. I watched like a hawk, like a predator. Every time he went to the safe, I was there and day-by-day, bit-by-bit was able to register the moves, and observe the numbers. I can’t tell you what a feeling of empowerment took hold once I had the combination. I never understood the phrase, “walking on clouds” until then, but I felt like I was floating, liberated. I could have ended my project right then. But I had to think of Nathan.
My plan was simple, yet cunning.
Our “new” relationship made it possible. I pretended to show interest in Mark’s hobby. I started to ask questions about this hunting thing, like what does it feel like when you make a kill. He took a little exception to this characterization. “The love of hunting doesn’t mean the love of killing,” he claimed. I was skeptical then, not now though. I still don’t believe hunting is about the experience of being in the outdoors, the pursuit of wild game, and the ability to provide the family with food required for survival. Bullshit. It’s about killing. Anyway, psychology aside, I got him to show me his guns, something that really made him happy (and led to more sex, BTW). He went to extremes to teach me a bit about them, including gun safety. Never load a weapon until you intend to use it; see how all his were empty?
So here’s how I did it.
Note: my lawyer says I shouldn’t write this, but what-the-hey, Nathan and I agree if I’m telling the story, it should be the whole story.
It was all an accident. Somehow his favorite gun, the camouflage-finished Benelli 12 gauge, semi automatic shotgun that he used only on the rare occassions he went duck hunting, got stored in the safe with a shell still in the chamber. Mark, of course had no idea, and why would he? After all he was very careful with his toys. I told the police that I had no idea either. Neither of us expected it to fire. I can still remember the ringing in my ears and the electric pain that shot through my shoulder and down my arm when the gun ripped into me. Most of all, I remember the blood, it was everywhere, and Mark’s face, well it looked like hamburger. I passed out.
When I came to, Nathan was there, with Exie at his side. He was smiling, really. It was like he knew things would be very different from then on. And they have been.
Here’s the problem, though – I am not a criminal. At least I don’t think like one. Living with a cop all those years, you’d think I’d know better. It came down to fingerprints. Mine were all over the combination dial, and inside the safe, including the box of shells. Duh! This pretty much blew the accident story, and I was arrested.
The trial, which I was informed was a hearing, was surreal, to say the least. My self-defense argument was dismissed outright thanks to the fingerprints. Melvin Rosenberg, my lawyer weakly suggested that this was circumstantial, but he was arguing uphill. It didn’t help that when I was first interrogated, I swore I never touched the safe – not ever.
The big surprise at the hearing was when Melvin called the creepy guy that Mark had brought to the house. I was amazed to find out that Dr. Repulski is a real doctor, well, a PhD, a shrink. Somewhere behind that sharp-featured, doe-eyed and deeply stupid face there was a diploma-capable brain, which says little about the state of psychiatry today. He testified, recalling my little spasm of anger, and swore he never saw Nathan or Exie – such a liar. Some of the things he said were ridiculous, obviously made up to substantiate his own fantasies. He surmised absurd psychological issues surrounding my relationship with Mark. Well, that was probably true about Mark, what with his hang-ups over Nathan and Exie. He also said things like I was genetically susceptible, which opened the door to delusions, and guessed there might be a traumatic event, a great loss or other emotional crisis, that pushed me through. Now how would he know that? Furthermore, he smugly declared, it was clear that I suffered hallucinations, which contributed to an increasing social isolation. Blah, blah, for god’s sake, really! Melvin made a feeble attempt to explain he was only trying to help. Maybe Melvin’s right. I mean, I’m not in prison.
Here’s what the judge said; I’ve got the decision so I’ll just quote. It pretty much describes what they think.
Based on the evidence presented, including dangerous behavior toward self and others, and grave disability, the Court finds that the respondent is a person in need of treatment at this time, and hereby orders that respondent be remanded to a state facility for emergency detention for a period of six months, during which time respondent shall be observed and treated as required. If at the end of that period the treating psychiatrist recommends continued involuntary treatment, application for further extension of civil commitment may be made.
So here we are, Nathan, Exie and me, in the nuthouse. We have a nice room and all the other residents, some are pretty loony, seem pleasant. Many have made friends with Nathan, and even share dog-walking duties. I think it makes them feel better.
Of course the medical morons try to tell me there is no Nathan, and fabricate stories about an accident, a car crash, but its all bullshit.