This should be our national anthem!
(Courtesy of the Arrogant Worms).
Happy Canada Day, everyone!
This should be our national anthem!
(Courtesy of the Arrogant Worms).
Happy Canada Day, everyone!
I heard from Mickey Kingsley in early February. Colin had told me that as far as he knew his father was in the Middle East on a photojournalism contract; the court order allowed Mickey contact with his children by post or email, but he was not a good correspondent and they sometimes went for months without hearing from him. He had gone out to Iraq shortly after the first wave of British troops, and he had only returned to England for brief visits since then.
It was early evening in the middle of the week; Emma had gone down to the hospital to visit Sarah, and I had just started working at my desk when the telephone rang. I picked it up and said, “Tom and Emma’s house”.
“Mickey Kingsley here”.
I sat up in surprise; “Mickey! I thought you were in Iraq?”
“Just got back a couple of days ago; I’m in the country for two weeks. It’s been a long time; how are you?”
“I’m fine; how did you know I was here?”
“I get copies of all Colin’s report cards, you know”.
“So you recognised my name?”
“Yeah, and I e-mailed Colin last night to find out if you were the same Tom Masefield I knew long ago. Sounds like you’ve made quite an impression on him. Just as a matter of interest, what are you doing back in England?”
“My Dad’s got lymphoma”.
“That’s a sort of cancer, right?”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Of course, you two never did get along very well, did you?”
“We’re doing a little better now, I’m glad to say”.
“Oh, well, in that case, my sympathies. Is it terminal?”
“I’m afraid so”.
“How long has he got?”
“It’s hard to say; he was diagnosed almost a year ago, and at the time they gave him two years at the most. Watching him lately, I don’t think he’ll make it to two years”.
“I see”. He paused for a moment, and then said, “Have you been seeing much of Wendy since you’ve been here?”
“We’ve met a few times; why do you ask?”
“So you know about Lisa, do you?”
I saw immediately where this conversation was going. “I’ve met Lisa and talked with her a little”, I replied carefully, “and Wendy’s told me she’s had some struggles with her, but that’s about it; why?”
“Typical! Wendy hasn’t lost her talent for deception and manipulation, I see!”
“What do you mean?”
“Lisa’s not my daughter, you know, Tom; she’s yours. She’s the product of that little one-night stand you and Wendy had not long before you left the country”.
“I know that, Mickey”.
“I thought you said you hadn’t talked about her?”
“I’ve got access to school files with dates of birth in them, and I can count”.
“Ah! So you’ve been doing a bit of espionage, have you? I take it that Wendy doesn’t know that you know?”
I was silent for a moment; I knew that I felt uncomfortable talking with Mickey about Wendy behind her back, but I also felt instinctively that it would be wrong to simply give him the cold shoulder altogether.
“I don’t really want to talk about Wendy behind her back like this”, I said.
“What exactly is going on between the two of you that you don’t want me to know about?” he asked.
“Nothing; we’ve met, we’ve talked, we’ve played music together – that’s it”.
“She’s told you all about me, no doubt?”
“I know that you went to jail for assaulting her”.
“That’s the British justice system for you!”
“You’re saying you weren’t guilty?”
“The stories were exaggerated; Wendy had a good lawyer”.
“Presumably the court had access to the medical reports from the time you put her and Lisa in hospital?”
There was a long silence on the other end of the line; I waited, listening to the sound of Mickey’s breathing. Eventually he said, “I may not be allowed to see Colin, but I’m still his father, Tom. Don’t forget that”.
“Of course not; why would I forget it?”
“I just wanted to clarify the situation. How long do you plan to keep your little secret from Wendy?”
“I think I’ll choose not to answer that one”.
“Why are you being so hostile?”
“I’m not being hostile at all; I just don’t want to talk with you about stuff that concerns Wendy before I’ve had a chance to talk with her about it”.
“Sounds like you two are getting pretty cosy”.
I didn’t respond, letting the silence hang between us. Eventually he said, “Okay, I get the message. I’ll say goodbye, then, and don’t forget what I’ve said about Colin”.
I heard the click as he hung up. I put my own phone down and stared for a moment at my computer screen; then I picked up the phone again and rang Owen’s number.
“Hey, it’s me”.
“Tom; what’s up?”
“I just had a phone call from Mickey”.
“Mickey? How on earth did he come to be phoning you?”
I gave him a summary of my conversation with Mickey; when I was finished he was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “This changes things a bit, doesn’t it?”
“I think so”.
“Are you afraid he’s going to talk to Lisa and Colin about you being Lisa’s father?”
“Mickey’s always been volatile; there’s no knowing what he might or might not do”.
“Does this mean you’re going to tell Wendy what you know?”
“I think I have to; I had hoped to leave it and let her decide when she wanted to tell me the truth, but I don’t think that’ll work any more”.
“He hasn’t lost his talent for causing chaos, has he?”
“I’m afraid not”.
“Are you worried about your own safety?”
“I don’t think so. Wendy says that for the most part he’s been pretty good about observing the court order”.
“But you aren’t part of the court order; that’s why he could call you the way he did”.
“I guess so”.
“And it sounds to me as if he was giving you a threat about Colin”.
“I think that word’s a bit too strong”.
“I don’t. Take my advice, Tom, and talk to the police about your situation; he’s done jail time for assault, and if he’s making a threat, even a veiled one, you have to take it seriously”.
“If he makes a threat I’ll certainly take it seriously, but I don’t think what he said tonight was a threat”.
“Well, you have to make your own decision about it, but if I was in your shoes, I’d be talking to the police”.
“I think before I do that I’m going to talk to Wendy”.
I went downstairs to get a glass of water, trying to decide how to broach the subject of Lisa in conversation with Wendy. As I was on my way back upstairs the phone started to ring again; I went back into the office, sat down at my desk and picked up the cordless receiver; “Tom and Emma’s house”.
“Tom, it’s Wendy”.
I guessed immediately that Mickey had called her as soon as he finished talking to me. “Hello Wendy – is everything alright?”
“Actually, Tom, I really need to talk to you about something, and it’s rather urgent. You aren’t by any chance free right now are you?”
“I can be”.
“Are you alone?”
I glanced at my watch; it was about seven forty-five. “I’m expecting Emma back from the hospital in about an hour”.
“Right – that doesn’t leave much time. Is there a place near you that we could meet?”
“There’s a quiet little pub on Marston Road not far from here; do you want to meet there?”
“That might work; can you give me directions?”
We met at the pub about fifteen minutes later; it was a tiny place on a street corner, with the traditional polished wood floor and oak beamed ceiling. A couple of customers were seated at the bar when Wendy and I walked in; we found ourselves a table in the corner of a small side room, and I left her there while I went to get drinks. When I returned to the table I handed Wendy her pint of cider and sat down opposite her. She had removed her coat; I saw that she was wearing a thick sweater, and her hair was tied back in a loose pony tail. “Cheers”, I said, raising my glass to hers. “So – what’s up?”
She took a sip of her drink, put it down on the table and looked at me; “I had a telephone call from Mickey tonight”.
“I thought he wasn’t supposed to call?”
“He’s not; he’s supposed to use post or e-mail with the children, and in an emergency he’s supposed to contact me through Rees, not directly like this”.
“Was this an emergency?”
“Not really”. She looked away for a moment, and I waited, knowing what was coming.
“Tom, there’s something I need to say to you”, she said, meeting my eyes again. “There’s something I haven’t been telling you the truth about, and now Mickey’s forcing my hand about it”.
I didn’t answer, but I nodded slowly, continuing to meet her gaze steadily. Something in my expression must have given me away, because after a moment I saw understanding dawning in her eyes. “You know, don’t you?” she whispered.
“Yes, I do”.
“You know that you’re Lisa’s real father?”
“My God, Tom! How long have you known?”
“About six weeks”.
“How did you find out?”
“I’ve got access to school records, and they include birthdays”.
She gave a sudden frown; “Why would you go searching Lisa’s school records? She’s not one of your pupils”.
“It wasn’t just a whim of curiosity, Wendy. After our dinner at Merton before Christmas, Emma and I were talking about Lisa. I happened to mention what you’d told me about her age, and Emma corrected me; Colin had been talking to her, and he’d told her that Lisa’s twenty-first birthday was coming up in February. So the next day I went to the school files and checked”.
“And you found out that I hadn’t told you the truth”.
“Why didn’t you say anything to me?”
“I was going to at first, but then right after Christmas Rick and Sarah had their accident, and I got a little preoccupied. And then I decided that since you obviously had a reason to want to keep this secret from me, I’d leave it to you to make your mind up about when you’d tell me the truth”.
She looked away, and for several minutes she said nothing. Behind me I could hear other people coming into the pub; someone greeted the bartender in a loud and cheerful voice, and he responded in the same way. In the background I heard the voice of Sting singing ‘How Fragile We Are’.
Eventually she looked up at me, and I saw the nervousness in her eyes. “I suppose you’re really angry with me now, are you?” she asked.
“I was at first, but the last few weeks have changed things for me”. I paused, and then said “For a few months that spring you were my closest friend after Owen; I know it must have been difficult for you to decide what to do after you found out you were pregnant”.
She took a sip of her cider and then put the glass down on the table again, a faraway look in her eyes. “Do you remember the last time we met before you went to Canada?” she asked.
“Yes, it was at Owen’s house, wasn’t it, the week before I left?”
“That’s right. I’d already begun to suspect that I might be pregnant when I saw you that night. I wanted to take you aside and talk to you about it, but another part of me realized that I had no right to assume we could be a couple at all; I’d withdrawn from you, and it would have seemed very shabby for me to come back and ask for your help after I’d basically rejected you for the past few weeks.
“Then you left for Canada, and about a week later I had a pregnancy test. So then I knew; I was pregnant, and I was going to have to find a way to deal with it. For some reason it never occurred to me to try to get an abortion; I didn’t have any really strong religious convictions by then, as you know, but I couldn’t bring myself to think of my unborn child as anything other than a human being, and it seemed unthinkable to me that I would do away with that human being because the circumstances were difficult.
“I thought about trying to get in touch with you in Canada, but I was afraid, Tom; I knew I’d turned you away, and I couldn’t bring myself to – well, I thought perhaps I’d hurt you too much to – I mean…”
“I understand, Wendy”.
She gave a nervous laugh; “A fine English lecturer I’m turning out to be; I can’t even put two coherent sentences together tonight!”
“That’s all right”.
“Well, what I’m trying to say is, I was afraid I’d hurt you too much, and that you wouldn’t be able to get past that. And of course I knew what had just happened between you and your Dad, and I was pretty sure that you wouldn’t want to come back to England, at least for the foreseeable future. I knew that you’d moved to a small town, far away from any university, and one thing I knew for certain was that sooner or later I’d want to do my doctorate. And, to be honest, I didn’t have your sense of adventure, either; I couldn’t see myself moving to a strange country and starting all over again out there. So, for all those reasons, I decided not to contact you. But I also knew that I couldn’t imagine trying to bring up a child by myself, without any help at all; the thought of even attempting to do that was just too overwhelming to contemplate.
“So I had to find a solution that didn’t include you. My family – well, again, I knew I’d taken a different path from my Dad and Mum; not that they would ever have rejected me, I know that now, but at the time I had a rather superior attitude toward their simple-minded faith – that’s the way I would have described it in those days – and I couldn’t bring myself to ask for their help. And my brother Rees had recently been ordained and he was going through a time when he was the most god-awful self-righteous prig on the planet!” We both laughed, and she continued, “Poor Rees! He’s been such a help to me since my marriage broke up, and I’m sure I misjudged him in those days, just like I misjudged everyone else. But I really didn’t want to end up as an illustration in one of his sermons, so I decided Mickey was my only option”.
She shook her head; “I was so pathetically stupid”, she whispered, looking down at her half-empty glass. “I was a classic case; I wanted to believe that Mickey and I could work things out, and I succeeded in convincing myself. Mickey was living in London, of course, and I knew the city well from my undergrad days; I knew I could study there, and get work there too. And, after all, Mickey and I had been a couple for seven years, and it hadn’t all been grief; we’d had a lot of good times, and there was a lot of feeling for him left in me still.
“So I went to London and talked to him. I told him the absolute truth; I told him that I was pregnant, that you were the father, that you had gone to Canada and that I didn’t want to follow you there, because despite the night we’d spent together, I didn’t think that you and I were a couple. I told him that I wasn’t sure how I felt about him, but that I was in a tight corner and if he still wanted me, I was willing to give it a try again.
She shook her head. “When I look back on it now, I find it hard to recognize myself; what I was actually doing was throwing myself on him, in exactly the shameless way that I refused to contemplate doing with you, or with my own family, and I couldn’t see how stupid I was being”.
“Don’t be so hard on yourself”, I said; “it was a tough situation and you didn’t have many options”.
“No, but I was brilliant enough to choose the worse one, wasn’t I?”
“How did he react?”
“He was angry when he heard that you and I had slept together; I could see that. Of course, he hadn’t exactly been Mr. Purity himself since moving to London – denying himself an attractive roll in the hay wasn’t something Mickey was ever very good at, I’m afraid. But I didn’t know anything about that then. He shouted at me a bit – we were at his flat, not in a public place – and for a while I started to think it wasn’t going to work out the way I wanted. But deep down inside, I was fairly sure that in the end he would say yes. I knew instinctively that I had the winning card; I knew that Mickey still wanted me, and that in the end his desire would overrule everything else. And of course I was right. It didn’t occur to me that basing the security of the rest of my life on Mickey’s lust was a rather risky policy; I can’t believe how short sighted I was”.
“So that’s when you moved in together?”
“Yes, and I spent that autumn studying at UCL. Then of course, Lisa was born in February, and Mickey and I were married the following summer”.
“How did the abuse start?”
She frowned. “There was a subtle difference in our relationship when we got back together. I didn’t notice it at first; in fact, I don’t think it became really clear until after we were married. But he was more directive with me; he seemed to like ordering me around more. Of course, he’d been directive when we first started going out, but I was the sheltered vicarage girl and he was the man of the world with a motor bike and a reputation, so it had seemed only natural that he should take the lead. Later on, though, after we started playing and singing together, our relationship was much more equal, and he seemed to be alright with that. But after I went to London and we moved in together, we seemed to revert back to our old style.
“Anyway, it was after Lisa was born that I first started to notice he was losing his temper with me more often. At first I didn’t think anything of it; I was rather strong-willed myself, too, and we’d always had arguments. But after a couple of years he started to really shout at me and say demeaning and insulting things when he was angry. And then, not long after that, he hit me for the first time”.
She was silent for a minute, and I waited, knowing by the expression on her face that she was reliving the experience as she recounted it for me.
“It was during a reunion of friends from my UCL undergrad days. We went to a nice club, and one of the people who came was a man who’d been an occasional study partner of mine. We shared a couple of drinks, caught up with each other’s news, and danced a couple of numbers together. I never thought anything of it, and I certainly didn’t mean anything by it. But afterwards, when we got home, Mickey lost his temper and accused me of shaming him in front of all our old friends. I got very angry with him; I told him that it wasn’t my job to pander to his childish immaturity all the time. The next thing I knew, he was hitting me across the side of the face, three times, with the palm of his hand.
“I can remember it as if it were yesterday. He hit me hard enough to bruise, but at first I didn’t notice the pain; I was too shocked. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me; abuse was something that happened to other people, not me. And then I cut that thought off; I told myself that this was not abuse, this was just a momentary lapse. We’d get over it.
“The next day he was profusely apologetic, he said he couldn’t believe what had got into him, and he promised me it would never happen again. So we had an emotional reunion and gushed over each other for several days. I didn’t know then, of course, that this is a common cycle in abusive relationships: deterioration, abuse, repentance, deterioration, abuse, repentance, and so on. I lived in that cycle for the next twelve years”.
“I’m so sorry, Wendy”, I said. “It was wrong of me to ask you to relive this all tonight”.
She looked at me and shook her head slowly; “No – you had a right to ask, and I’m not sorry I’ve told you. And I need to add that even though it’s still very painful for me to think about it, I’ve done a lot of healing since I moved to Oxford – especially since Stephen came to our college chapel. He got the story out of me after a while, and then he put me in touch with a group for survivors of abuse which was really, really helpful. And moving away from London was tremendously important for the children and me. For the most part, we feel safe now. Rees calls regularly to check up on us; he’s turned out to be one of the truest friends I’ve had through the years, and of course I’ve got other friends at the college and in the chapel community. I’ve discovered that I’m stronger than I thought I was, and I’ve realized that other people have pain too, lots of them worse pain than mine. I’m grateful for your concern, Tom, but please don’t think that I spend a lot of time paralyzed by memories of the past. I don’t. Every now and again I have nightmares, but I’ve learned how to deal with them; I get up, I make myself a cup of tea, I read a good book or pray the psalms, and eventually the fear passes and I can go back to sleep again. For the most part, I’m coping well; I really am”.
I shook my head in admiration; “You’re an amazing person, Wendy”.
“No, really, I’m not. This sort of thing is common with survivors of abuse; I could introduce you to at least five or six others in the academic community in Oxford who have been through the same thing I’ve been through, and have dealt with it in the same way I’ve dealt with it. It’s not an uncommon story – sad to say, but it really isn’t”.
“I still think it’s amazing”. I pointed at her empty glass; “Would you like another pint?”
“A two-pint night? Isn’t that a bit adventurous?” She shook her head; “I’d better not, Tom; not when I have to go to work tomorrow. I’ll tell you what, though; if you ask for a pot of tea, I’ll help you drink it”.
“Okay; excuse me for just a minute”.
I got up, went out to the bar and ordered a pot of tea. The pub was fuller now; there were six or eight people standing or sitting at the bar, and a few others seated around the tables. A couple of cigarettes were burning, and in the background, an old Benny Goodman tune was playing. One of the things I liked about this pub was the landlord’s taste in music.
When I returned to our table in the side room, I sat down and said, “Just out of curiosity, what did you tell Lisa?”
“About her parentage, you mean?”
“Yes. I mean, she must know she was born before you and Mickey were married”.
“Lots of children are born before their parents are married, Tom”.
“I realize that, but did you tell her that Mickey was her Dad?”
“Did you put Mickey’s name on the birth certificate?”
“Of course not – that would have been foolish, in case of medical complications later on. Her birth certificate doesn’t list a father”.
“How did you explain that to her?”
“She didn’t actually see her birth certificate until a couple of years ago, when she applied for a passport before going to Russia. I told her it had just been an oversight when she was born. By that time, of course, she already hated Mickey so much that she thought it was rather ironic and funny”.
“I notice she goes by ‘Howard’ now, not ‘Kingsley’”.
“Yes. Mickey had legally adopted her after she was born, so she went by ‘Kingsley’ when she was young, but when she turned sixteen she had her name changed to ‘Howard’ again”.
“Please tell me you’re not going to ask her to change it to ‘Masefield’ any time soon”.
I frowned; “Of course not, Wendy; the last thing I want to do is to barge into her life. I think it would be better to take things slowly, at her pace, don’t you?”
She nodded; “Sorry, Tom; I shouldn’t have been so defensive”.
“Not at all”. I looked across at her and said, “You must have been nervous when you found out I was back in Oxford”.
“Yes, I got quite a shock when Colin first mentioned your name, but then I thought, ‘There must be lots of Masefields in England; it must be a coincidence’, and so I put it out of my mind. But then he told me that you’d just moved back from Canada; that’s when I began to think it really must be you, and I mentioned to Colin that I thought I knew you from my student days. Later, of course, when you went to the Habitat building site with him and told him that you knew me – well, at that point I knew I had a problem.
“I knew that sooner or later you would want to meet me, and I wanted that, too, actually. But I was afraid about what would happen if you found out about Lisa. I tried to put myself in your shoes, finding out that you’d had a child for over twenty years, and knowing that the truth had been concealed from you; it was really hard for me to imagine you reacting in any other way but anger”.
At that moment the landlord appeared at our table; I smiled my thanks as he put the tea tray down. “Let me know if you need more hot water”, he said as he turned and went back to the bar.
Wendy took the lid off the teapot and stirred the bags around for a moment. “You probably noticed that I tried to avoid meeting you”, she said. “It was hard, because I really did want to see you and talk to you, especially after we’d had that meeting at the school and I’d met Emma. But I couldn’t risk you finding out about Lisa, and so when you e-mailed me about getting together I put you off”.
She poured milk into the bottom of the cups, filled them both with thick black tea, and handed one of them to me. “I did my best to avoid you, but then after we’d had such a good time together at Emma’s party, I realized that I still liked you and I didn’t want to jeopardize any chance we might have of being friends again, so I continued to hide the truth from you, because I was afraid that once you found out, our friendship would be over. I know it was wrong of me to do that, and I’m certainly not proud of what I did, but there it is”. She looked across at me; “I’m so sorry, Tom”, she said in a small voice; “Please forgive me”.
“There’s really nothing for me to forgive; I’m only glad that we’ve finally been able to talk about it together”.
“So am I”.
I hesitated, then reached out and put my hand on hers. “I’m not angry, Wendy; please believe me. There’s nothing for you to be afraid of”.
She turned her face away for a moment, and when she looked back at me, I saw the tears in her eyes. “Thank you, Tom”, she whispered.
“No – thank you, Wendy, for being so open with me”.
She took a deep breath, smiled at me through her tears, and said, “So, what are we going to do now?”
“Well, I should tell you now that Mickey rang me tonight as well”.
“Mickey rang you?”
“I’m afraid so”.
“I’m sorry, Tom; was he very obnoxious?”
“Not really”. I recounted my conversation with Mickey to her, concluding by saying, “I think we have to take seriously the possibility that he might blurt it all out in an email to Lisa or Colin”.
“So I’m going to have to tell them, before they get it from him”.
“I think it might be better for them to get it from you”.
“Yes, of course. And what about you; before the story comes out, who do you need to tell?”
“Emma first, then Becca”.
“Are you afraid of how Emma will respond?”
“I am a little. Owen thinks I’ve got nothing to fear; he thinks Emma and I have a strong enough relationship that we can get through this. He and I first talked about it the morning I found Lisa’s birth date in the school files; I remember telling him I was afraid this news would break Emma’s heart, but he disagreed. I’d like to be sure he’s right, but I have to admit I’m worried about it”.
“Of course you are; it’s not hard to see how special Emma is to you”.
“Yeah, she’s – she’s all I’ve got left, you know…” I stared into my teacup for a moment, then looked up at her and said, “What about you? Are you worried about how Lisa and Colin will take it?”
“I’m worried about how Lisa will take it. Not that there’s any love lost between her and Mickey; she hates him. But I’m sure she’ll quietly hold it against me as one more example of how I’ve failed to protect her. After all, if I’d chosen to go to you instead of to Mickey, she would never have had to go through that day when Mickey assaulted her”.
“Would you rather I talked to her?”
She smiled at me. “Thanks, but I know I’ve got to do it. Can she ring you up afterwards, if she wants to?”
“Of course. Are you going to tell her tonight?”
“I can’t really – she’s at Christ Church, you see. I’ll probably ring her tonight and ask if we can have lunch tomorrow; we try to do that once a week anyway. What about you; will you talk to Emma tonight?”
“Probably, if she’s not too tired. She’s been working all day, and then she went in to see Sarah tonight. I wish I could get her to take a break; she’s exhausted, but she insists on going to see Sarah whenever she has free time, and she often gets together with Eric and Anna as well”.
Wendy finished her tea, put the cup down on the saucer, and said, “Would you and Emma like to go to Essex with Colin and me next weekend, Tom?”
“This’ll be your weekend to go down there this month, will it?”
“Yes; we usually go right after school on Friday and come back Sunday evening. I’ve got this great big Volvo that’s ridiculously expensive to put petrol in, but I’ve had it for fifteen years and it just won’t fall apart on me! Anyway, there would be lots of room in the car if you and Emma would like to come. I know you like to walk in the country, and if we’re lucky and the weather’s good, there are some nice walks near Chelmsford. Rees and his family live in an absolutely enormous vicarage; I’m sure there’d be no problem about you staying. You wouldn’t have to do a lot of socializing with my family; once we got there, I could let you have the car and you and Emma could go exploring. I might even be able to come walking with you for part of Saturday”. She shrugged her shoulders; “I just thought it might be a nice break for you, and for Emma too if you can talk her into it”.
“I like the sound of that. I’ll talk to her about it”.
“Of course, you’d have to put up with Rees’ church on Sunday; they’re very charismatic down there”.
“Very. They’re rather fond of hugs, too; I’m usually lucky to get out of there without being hugged by a dozen people”.
“I’m all in favour of hugs, personally”.
“Are Mennonites big huggers?”
“Not German Mennonites; for the most part, they’re pretty reserved. But the Reimers are great huggers. Kelly’s Dad has a thick Grizzly Adams beard and a bear hug you’re lucky to survive”.
She laughed; “He sounds delightful!”
“He’s a very special guy”. I glanced at my watch and said, “Well, I’d better get going if I’m going to talk to Emma tonight”.
I got to my feet and went to the bar to pay our bill, and then Wendy followed me out into the night air; a mist from the river was slowly rolling in, and I felt the chill in my bones as we walked across the parking lot to our cars.
“Thanks for coming out, Tom; I’m sorry if I put you behind on your schoolwork”.
“Can’t be helped, and I’m really, really glad we talked about this stuff, even if Mickey backed us into it”.
“So am I”. She leaned forward and gave me a gentle hug. “Good night”, she said.
“Good night. Ring me when you’ve talked to Lisa”.
I think Ralph McTell is one of our greatest living songwriters. Here’s one of his more recent songs:
(…because sometimes I just have to feed my inner socialist…)
Mark Blyth: Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea
Conservatives today have succeeded in casting government spending as useless profligacy that has made the economy worse, centering the policy debate in the wake of the financial crisis on draconian budget cuts. We are told that we need to live in an age of austerity since we have all lived beyond our means and now need to tighten out belts. This view conveniently forgets where all that debt came from. Not from an orgy of government spending, but as the direct result of bailing out, recapitalizing, and adding liquidity to the broken banking system. Through these actions private debt was rechristened as government debt while those responsible for generating it walked away scot free, placing the blame on the state, and the burden on the taxpayer. That burden now takes the form of a global turn to austerity, the policy of reducing domestic wages and prices to restore competitiveness and balance the budget. The problem, according to political economist Mark Blyth, is that austerity is a very dangerous idea. First of all, it doesn’t work. As the past two years of trying and countless other historical examples show, while it makes sense for any one state to try and cut its way to growth, it simply cannot work when all states try it simultaneously: all we do is shrink the economy. Second, it relies upon those who didn’t make the mess to clean it up, which is always bad politics. Third, it rests upon a tenuous and thin body of evidence and argumentation that acts more to prop up dead economic ideas and preserve astonishingly skewed income and wealth distributions than to restore prosperity for all. In Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, Blyth demolishes the conventional wisdom, marshaling an army of facts to demand that we recognize austerity for what it is, and what it costs us.
And I have to say, as one for whom economics is a foreign language, that I can understand Mark Blyth quite well.
If you want a six minute summary, here it is:
I talked to Simon Bennett about Rick a couple of weeks later. We were meeting for a late afternoon coffee at the Queen’s Lane Coffee House; the place was crowded, and we were lucky to squeeze ourselves into a table in the corner. After our customary conversation about Colin, Simon asked after my family, and I brought him up to date about our three patients. My father had been able to go home a couple of days before, but he was still very weak, and it had been determined that he would need regular blood transfusions from this point on. He was glad to be home, of course, but I knew that his move back to Northwood was going to make it more difficult for Emma and me to visit him, as he was now ten miles away instead of just down the road from us at the hospital.
Sarah was now in traction to help her pelvis heal. The immediate effect of this had been to immobilize her even further, and she had sunk into a deep depression. Emma was spending even more time at the hospital with her, and I was getting really concerned about her wearing herself out, as she had just begun to work full-time as well.
When I told Simon about Rick’s struggles with alcoholism, his comment was “Sounds like you need a recovering alcoholic who also happens to be a lawyer”.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it probably wouldn’t work for me to try to help – not at this stage, anyway. You Masefields were brought up to be snobs, weren’t you? He probably wouldn’t be able to see any further than my working-class accent and my shabby clothes and the fact that I’m teaching a bunch of kids who consistently fail their exams”.
“Okay, I see what you mean”.
“I can find you a lawyer if you want; there’s one in my AA group. Your brother might even know him; these lawyers seem to be thick as thieves, don’t they?”
“Tell me more”.
“His name’s Jack, he’s a bit older than you, I think, and he’s had the same sort of life as me – drank for years, lost a marriage and all that. He’s been a bit luckier than me since he sobered up, though – he got remarried a couple of years ago. I’ve never met his wife, but he seems quite happy. He’s been sober for about six years, I think. I don’t know much about his legal practice, I think he’s into corporate law. He’s probably a filthy capitalist at heart!”
I laughed; “Sounds like he and Rick might have something in common!”
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Why put up barriers if you don’t need to? The more they have in common, the easier it’ll be”.
“Simon, if you don’t mind me asking, what motivated you to want to sober up?”
“Losing my marriage. At first I was just mad at Julie for stealing my girls and leaving me, but then I looked at myself in the mirror one morning after a night of drinking and thought, ‘Look at yourself, Simon! Honestly, can you blame her?’ Honesty hadn’t been my strong suit until then; that’s another characteristic of us drunks. We’re very good at denying the obvious and blaming the whole world for our problems”.
“So you got into AA right away?”
“Almost. I checked into a treatment program and they got me into AA. In the long run, AA was more important; the treatment centre was a bit shy about talking about the Higher Power, whereas in AA the whole program’s built around him”.
“So it’s a spiritual program?”
“I suppose you could call it that, but I don’t really like that word; it doesn’t sound like a word that gets dirt under its fingernails, if you know what I mean? Mind you, it’s used in our Big Book; it talks about having a ‘spiritual awakening’. But I think that’s a bit misleading sometimes; it sounds a bit too grandiose. ‘Conscious contact with God as we understand him’ – that’s the phrase from the Big Book I like”.
“I like that, too”.
He grinned; “Thought you would; you’re not one of those bloody hypocrites who goes to church and then stabs you in the back when you go to work the next day”.
“Not all churchgoers are hypocrites, Simon”.
“I know that, but we drunks tend to bring out the worst in them. I haven’t had a lot of sympathy from religious people over the years. Not for me to judge, of course, but in some cases I wonder if they’ve got that ‘conscious contact with God’ part”.
Simon introduced me to his friend Jack the following week. We met in the early evening at Simon’s house, a small terraced home in the Jericho area of Oxford, not far from the canal. “Good place for developing self-control”, Simon had once explained to me with a grin; “More pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the city!”
This was the first time I had been to Simon’s home, and it was much as I had expected; two days’ worth of dishes in the kitchen sink, newspapers and books lying around everywhere, and a strong smell of cigarette smoke. He met me at the door with a smile. “Before you say anything, I know: I live like a pig. Go on through into the living room; Jack’s already there. I’ll get you a coffee if you want”.
“That’ll be fine”.
The door into the living room was on my left as Simon went down the hall to the kitchen. When I went through into the room I saw a tall, wiry-looking man in a grey suit and tie, sitting with his legs crossed in a battered armchair by the gas fire smoking a comfortable-looking pipe, a cup of coffee at his elbow. He got to his feet and held out his hand to me. “Jack Scovill”, he said in a refined upper-class accent; “I’m delighted to meet you”.
“Tom Masefield”, I replied, shaking his hand firmly.
“Masefield?” he said as we sat down again; “Your brother wouldn’t be Richard Masefield of Masefield and Marlowe by any chance, would he?”
“Do you know Rick?”
“Not intimately, but we’ve worked together, and sometimes we’ve been on opposite sides of a courtroom. It tends to happen in corporate law; we fight like cats and dogs in court, and then go out for a drink together afterwards. At least, I used to go out for a drink with Rick; haven’t done that for a few years now”.
Simon came back into the room and handed me my coffee. “I take it you two have introduced yourselves?” he said.
“As it happens, I’m acquainted with Tom’s brother”, Jack explained to him. “Not that we’re close friends or anything, but we’ve shared the odd drink after a trial and all that”.
“Didn’t used to get plastered together, by any chance?”
“Not that I recall, but who knows – there’s a lot I don’t recall about those days!”
We all laughed as Simon took his seat on the chesterfield across from me. “So, Tom, perhaps you’d better fill Jack in on the details”, he suggested.
I told Jack what I knew about Rick’s drinking and the effect it was having on his family and friends; he listened without interrupting, puffing contentedly on his pipe. I then recounted the accident and its aftermath, explaining about the rift between Rick and Alyson, the black mood my brother had been in for the last two or three weeks, and the charges he would be facing when he got out of hospital.
When I was finished, Jack took his pipe out of his mouth and said, “Do you know how long he’s been drinking?”
I shook my head. “I was living in Canada, you see, and my visits here were pretty rare. Of course, he used to drink casually when we were teenagers and young adults, and he probably had a few binges when he was up at university. But I first noticed it being a real problem when I was in England for a holiday six and a half years ago; I noticed that he was drinking a lot at mealtimes, and he sometimes made inappropriate comments – that sort of thing. But my sister Becca tells me the problem goes back quite a bit further than that. I don’t know the whole story, and as far as I know Becca doesn’t either. She’s a lot younger than Rick and me”.
“And you’ve been visiting him regularly since he went into hospital?”
“Three or four times a week”.
“He’s depressed, you say? So he’s not in denial?”
“Oh no – far from it. The day after the accident, when I visited him, he freely confessed to me that the first thing on his mind was the fact that he needed a drink. No, if anything he’s got the opposite problem – his situation seems to be overwhelming him. He’s got absolutely no hope that things can ever change. He’s convinced that it’s too late for him”.
“Is he suicidal?”
I frowned and thought for a moment. “It’s funny you should ask that”, I replied. “I thought about that too when the accident happened. I mean, if I was in his place – if my daughter had been given a permanent spinal cord injury because of my drinking – I think the remorse would be absolutely overpowering”.
“We probably need to be open to the possibility that he’s suicidal. Who’s his doctor?”
“I don’t know; why do you ask?”
“Sometimes if a doctor knows about AA, that can be helpful for us”, Simon explained. He turned to Jack and said, “Tom’s sister’s a doctor too, and she’s quite knowledgable about alcoholism”.
“So what exactly do you fellows have in mind?” I asked.
“Well, the object is to motivate Rick to look for help”, Jack replied. “But he’s got to believe it’s possible, and at the moment he obviously doesn’t. So the strategy would be to share my own story with him, in the hope that he’ll see that I was in desperate circumstances of my own, and the program helped me to recover”.
“Have you done this sort of thing before?”
They both nodded, and Simon added, “It’s part of our program, Tom. Step Twelve says, ‘Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other alcoholics’.
“You know, I can’t believe that I’ve been ignorant about A.A. for all these years”.
“You and millions of other people”, Jack replied.
“So – when do we go to see Rick?”
“Actually”, said Jack, leaning forward in his chair, “I think it would be a lot better if I went by myself”.
“Well, if I tagged along with you, it would look suspiciously as if you’d brought me in as an expert to ‘fix him up’ – which of course is exactly what you would be doing, but we want to avoid giving him that impression until I’ve managed to sneak under his defenses with my story. On the other hand, it’s not inconceivable that I should go to visit him by myself; after all, we are acquainted and, as I said, we were drinking pals a few years ago. If he asks me later on if you and I cooked this plan up together, of course I’ll tell him the truth, but hopefully he won’t ask that question right away”.
“But won’t it seem a bit suspicious if you just appear out of nowhere, after he’s been in hospital for three or four weeks?”
“Possibly. If he raises that issue, I can simply say that I’ve only just heard about his accident – which, strictly speaking, is quite true, isn’t it?”
I saw immediately the wisdom of the approach Jack was proposing. “Okay; when do you think you might be able to go and see him?”
“I could go tomorrow; when do you think I’d have the best chance of being alone with him?”
I considered this for a moment. “I think early afternoon”, I replied. “When visiting hours start, the rest of the family seems to visit Sarah first, so if you go right at the beginning of visiting hours, that would probably be best. But then, I don’t know how free your afternoons are”.
“As it happens, I’m fairly flexible tomorrow afternoon; I’ll go over to visit him right after lunch”.
“And you’ll let me know how it goes?”
“I will, and if you want to say a few words on my behalf to the Higher Power after lunch tomorrow – well, that would probably be a good idea, too!”
Jack called me at home the following evening as I was preparing supper. As soon as I recognised his voice, I asked, “How did it go?”
“Not bad”, he replied. “He was rather surprised to see me, but he wasn’t annoyed or anything. I fished around for a while, but he wasn’t taking my bait, and so eventually I opted for the straightforward question. I told him I’d heard he’d been driving under the influence when the accident happened, and I asked him if he had a problem with drinking. He was a bit hesitant to reply to that one, so I told him I’d had that problem myself, and I asked if I could tell him my story. He didn’t object, so I talked a bit about my struggles, and pretty soon we were swapping drunk stories like old soldiers – it happens every time, and it’s absolutely the best way to build bridges. Then eventually I told him about losing my marriage and my family, and he got very quiet at that point. I told him how I’d got into A.A., and how it had worked for me. At first he was still really quiet, but after I talked about it for a bit he started to ask some questions. Then after a while someone else came in to visit him, and I asked him if I could come back again. He said I could if I liked. So I think all in all it went pretty well”.
“What happens now? Do you think he’ll go into A.A.?”
“Hard to say at this point; he’s definitely sniffing at the bait, but we’ll have to be very careful how we reel him in, so to speak. If we try to pull him in too quickly and vigorously, he might just jump off the line altogether”.
“You didn’t say anything to him about us having met and talked about him beforehand?”
“No, and I wouldn’t raise it with him if I were you – not unless he brings up the subject. I’ll go and see him again in a couple of days, when he’s had a chance to chew over the things we talked about”.
I went to visit Rick the following evening. He had been moved from the trauma unit into a private ward; his leg was still in traction, but his other injuries were healing nicely, and his doctor had mentioned the possibility of him going home in a week or so. Rick was in two minds about this, of course; the thought of going home was welcome, but the police had already laid charges against him, and leaving hospital was one step closer to his day in court.
He was reading a newspaper when I entered his room; he looked up at the sound of my greeting, and to my surprise an expression of annoyance flashed across his face.
“You’ve got a nerve!” he exclaimed.
“What do you mean?”
“You know bloody well what I mean! I suppose it was you that sent Jack Scovill down here yesterday afternoon?”
“I only met Jack a couple of days ago”, I replied; “We were introduced by a mutual friend who’s also an AA member”.
“You’d been talking about me, I take it?”
“You’re a rather big part of my life right now, Rick; when my friends ask me how things are going, it’s a bit hard to avoid the topic of you and Sarah”.
“So you told one of my legal colleagues the entire story of my present misfortunes, did you?”
“Not the entire story, no; just the broad outline”.
“And what makes you think you have the right to do that?”
I felt the anger flaring up inside, and I paused for a moment before replying. “Rick”, I said, “if I’ve trespassed on your privacy then I’m truly sorry; I did it because I was concerned for you and because I want to help you, not because I want to gloat or feel superior or anything like that”.
“What makes you think I need your help?” he demanded.
“I thought we’d got past this; I thought you’d come to a place where you were looking for some help to make some changes in your life. Obviously I was wrong”.
“I know I’ve got to do something about my drinking”, he said, “but that doesn’t mean I need your help or anyone else’s help to do it”.
“Don’t be silly, Rick! Millions of people around the world have sat where you’re sitting right now, and very, very few of them have been able to sober up without some kind of help!”
“Oh, so you’re suddenly an expert on drinking problems, are you?”
“Of course I’m not”. I paused and looked away, letting the silence hang between us for a few minutes. “Look, Rick”, I said eventually;“Let’s not fight. If I made a mistake, then I apologise. I don’t think I did, but it’s not up to me to decide that”.
“You’re damn right it’s not!”
I got to my feet. “There’s obviously not a great deal of point in us trying to visit tonight”, I said; “I’ll go down and join Emma in Sarah’s room. I’ll come and see you again on Sunday evening after we come back from Mum and Dad’s; I hope that’s alright. I also hope you’ll let Jack come and see you again; I think he’s got a lot of experience to share and a lot of help to give. Good night, Rick”.
He didn’t reply, but he took the hand I held out and shook it halfheartedly without meeting my eyes. “You take care”, I said, and then turned and left the room.
“It didn’t go quite as well as you thought, Jack”, I said. I was speaking into the cordless phone while I warmed up the water for late night hot chocolate; Emma was upstairs getting ready for bed.
I recounted my conversation with Rick. When I was finished there was silence on the line for a brief moment, and then he said, “I’m not particularly surprised, and I’m not unduly alarmed. My one mistake seems to have been not being open about the fact that you and I had talked. He had obviously thought that through himself, and then spent a lot of time stewing on it. But it’s not unusual or unexpected that someone in his situation should react as he did tonight”.
“But he can’t stop drinking without help, can he?”
“Of course not; if he could, he would have done it before now”.
“Then what do we do?”
“The best thing for you to do is to avoid the subject altogether with him. Obviously your personal history makes it very difficult for him to receive your help in a positive manner”.
“But then how are we going to help him?”
“I didn’t say we were going to withdraw help altogether. He hasn’t actually thrown me out of his room yet, and to tell you the truth I doubt if he will. I’ll keep visiting him, and I’ll keep talking and listening. Don’t despair, Tom; leave some room for the Higher Power to work. You’re a religious man, I’m told?”
I laughed; “Touché!” I said. “Okay, I’ll leave well alone. Just keep me posted, all right?”
“By all means”.
The following day was a Friday, and Emma and I drove out to my parents’ home after school. Becca had taken the afternoon off, and she had obviously helped my mother prepare supper. My father was looking better, but his spirits seemed very low. Emma attempted to engage him in conversation several times during the meal, but his replies were as brief as possible, and so soft as to be almost inaudible. After supper he excused himself as soon as he could, asking my mother if she could help him get ready for bed. When Emma offered to read to him, he gave a sad smile and said, “Thank you, my dear, but I’m a little too tired tonight”.
Becca and I cleared up and loaded the dishwasher while my parents went upstairs and Emma sat and read in the living room. “He’s pretty low, isn’t he?” I observed.
“He’s depressed, and that’s not unexpected”.
“You’re not worried?”
She was bending over the dishwasher loading plates; she straightened up, looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t like seeing him like this any more than you do, Tommy, but there’s not a lot of point in trying to snap him out of it, if you know what I mean? It’s a stage on the journey, and he’ll get through it in his own time if we let him”.
“What does it mean?”
“I suspect he’s realized that he can’t deny his own mortality any more”.
“You mean he’s accepted the fact that he’s going to die?”
“I doubt if he’s accepted it consciously, but deep down inside he knows it”.
We finished loading the dishwasher and moved over to wash the pots and pans. She was silent for a few minutes as she bent over the sink; I dried a couple of pans for her, then glanced at her and asked, “Are you okay?”
“You seem a little preoccupied”.
She turned and looked at me. “Well, I’ve got some news”, she said.
“What is it?”
She gave me a sudden smile of gladness; “Mike and I had lunch together this week”, she said.
I stared at her in surprise; “Well, by the expression on your face I can tell that it wasn’t a total failure!”
“No, it wasn’t”, she replied; “We talked, and I apologized, and he apologized too, and we agreed to go out for supper next week and talk again”.
“And you’re happy about this?”
“I’m almost afraid to let myself be happy, Tommy!”
“So are you two…?”
“It’s too early to say, but at least we’re talking, and that’s a big improvement over what went before”.
I put my arm around her shoulders; “I’m glad for you”.
She grinned at me; “Please don’t let me mess up again, Tommy”, she said. “If you catch me short-changing him, please scold me, and remind me what’s at stake, will you? I know full well I’ve been given another chance, and I really don’t want to mess up”.
I kissed her on the forehead. “You won’t”, I replied; “You’re older and wiser now, and you’ve got a lot to give”.
“I hope so”.
“Shall we go into the living room and tell Emma? She’ll be thrilled!”
“Actually, do you mind if we don’t? You can tell her later if you like, but I’m almost afraid to talk about it until I see where it leads; do you know what I mean?”
“I think so; would you rather I not talk to Emma, then?”
“I don’t mind you talking to her; just don’t do it until after you go home, alright? I don’t want her to ask me anything about it”
“Okay; I understand”.
Nowadays there’s been a commendable emphasis on the Christian faith as practice, not just as a set of beliefs. However, it’s often been observed that pendulums tend to swing to opposite extremes, and it would be a pity if the entire Church of Jesus Christ adopted the view that it basically doesn’t matter what we believe as long as we’re all nice to each other. After all, if 9/11 taught us nothing else, it taught us that just believing in God isn’t enough; the things you believe about God are important, too, and make a lot of difference to the way you live.
The service of ordination of a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada includes a strong emphasis on the Christian beliefs that are required of those about to be ordained. The bishop asks the ordinand,
Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them?… (Book of Alternative Services, p. 645).
The ordinand’s reply makes it clear where we think that doctrine, discipline, and worship is chiefly to be found:
I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly promise to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Anglican Church of Canada.
This makes it clear that the Anglican Church of Canada teaches that the ‘doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ’ is chiefly to be found in the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, which are the word of God containing all things necessary to salvation.
‘The word of God’; what does that mean? In the Old Testament, this phrase is often used to describe the prophetic message: ‘Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying…’ (Jeremiah 1:4); ‘The word of the Lord that came to Hosea…’ (Hosea 1:1). This might give the impression that the prophets were simply automatons speaking words they had no control over, but a glance at their books indicates that this was not so; their writings have obviously been well thought out and carefully constructed. The Word of the Lord obviously came in the words of human beings, and both parts of this statement are important.
In the New Testament book of Acts, ‘the Word of God’ is often another way of saying ‘the Christian message’ or ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’, or even ‘the church of Jesus Christ that is produced by the gospel’. ‘The word of God continued to spread’ (Acts 6:7); ‘But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents’ (Acts 12:24). So ‘the Word of God’ is not identified strictly with words written in a book, but rather with the Christian message proclaimed by the authors of that book.
In the Gospel of John and in the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus Christ is said to be the Word of God in its highest form. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory’ (John 1:1, 14). Jesus is God’s highest revelation to us of what he is like and of what he requires of us. The Old Testament scriptures tell the story that leads up to him, and the New Testament explores the mystery of Christ and his Gospel and applies it to the varied situations the early Christians find themselves in.
Anglicans tend not to be inerrantists, believing that every word of the scriptures is literally true according to modern standards of truth. On the other hand, neither can we be satisfied with simply relegating the Bible to the status of a historical document, the best that human beings could guess about God and God’s will. We believe that in the story told by the Old and New Testaments God has revealed himself to us, and supremely in the person of Jesus his Son.
We are not therefore free to make up the Christian faith as we go along. Our beliefs and practices must stand in obvious continuity with the message proclaimed by the prophets and apostles, and embodied most clearly in the life and teaching of Jesus. This deposit of faith is handed down to us (and is literally handed over to the newly ordained priest when he or she receives a copy of the Holy Scriptures from the hand of the Bishop). We are not then called to make up any sort of message that tickles our fancy or harmonizes easily with the preferences of our hearers. We are called to proclaim the message that the Scriptures contain, and to apply it afresh to the very different world situations we find ourselves in today. This will take every ounce of energy we can give to prayerful study and honest wrestling with the message God has entrusted to us.
This is demanding, and only those who have tried to do it know just how difficult it can be. I know a retired teacher who regularly kids me about how easy we clergy have it; we can spend all week preparing one fifteen minute talk, whereas he and his fellow teachers had to be on deck for hours and hours every week.
Well, I have no desire to belittle the excellent work done by teachers. But I would suggest that the work involved in listening carefully and prayerfully to a biblical text in order to discern what God might be saying to a community of faith in this exact moment of its life is a very different thing than presenting a lesson to a classroom. Yes, we may take a lot longer to prepare a much shorter lesson. But that’s because we aren’t actually presenting a lesson at all: we’re announcing a call from God to the people in our congregations, and we want to make absolutely sure that we’re getting it right. If anyone thinks that’s easy, I challenge them to sit down in the presence of God, read a passage from the Bible, and answer three questions: ‘What does it say? What does it mean? What does it mean to me?’ Those are the fundamental questions that preachers are called to answer week by week. The last one is perhaps the most challenging: how is God addressing us in this text today? Unlike a school curriculum, this is hard to pin down; it’s not just a matter of presenting academic information, but of passing on God’s specific message to this community, and the individuals in it, at this point in their lives.
That’s it for today. When I come back to the ordination service, I’ll address the phrase ‘all things necessary to salvation’.