Mr. Jazz Musician Creates Enouement

Énouement: the bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.

— Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Chapter 50: A crowded, ugly year

After the writing seminar, my book hit book stores. Payment on publication relieved some financial pressure. For the first time in over thirty years a reporter interviewed me as an “author.” It was difficult to readjust to home life under Chloe’s supervision. A summer of classes among serious writers, of untrammeled internet access to seductive women, had changed me. But the institution of my marriage was unchanged. I told my shrink this must be how prisoners feel when parole is revoked.

I was working on the second book under contract when my son married his long-time girlfriend in a big wedding at her family’s fundamentalist church. I regretted it; there went his boyhood dream of guiding for big game in Alaska. Surrounded by people I didn’t know, I watched Chloe and the bride’s mother enact odd rites with candles. I finally met the divorced mother of my son’s best man, who damn-near lived with us in their teen years; I had joked he was a foster son. She said I had been a better role model than her ex, dominated by “the evil stepmother” her son hated.

Her son was (of course) prime suspect in festooning a travel trailer loaned for the newlyweds’ honeymoon with inflated condoms. In the church parking, the father of the bride ripped them off before the holy rollers assembled. At the parish-hall cake-cutting, he nervously asked me to recheck. Sure enough, totally bedecked again. I popped condoms under my dress-up Justin boots. And I caught holy hell from my daughter, the actual ringleader of her brother’s pals. She called me a wuss for kowtowing to Bible-thumpers, and had a point.

My mother wanted my children raised Episcopal to inoculate them from fundamentalist hypocrisy. But when Chloe tried to enroll them, an asshole priest hurt her feelings by lecturing she must personally follow church doctrine, not her thing. Always her advocate, I told my mother forget it. So no apostolic indoctrination for our kids. The visible end result was Bible-thumper hyperventilating about a wedding prank.

My shrink already had defined my marital role as passive “institutional man.” Mulling my revoked-parole comment, she recommended couples counseling with a jazz musician-turned-psychologist. He breezily summarized the online time Chloe resented as “an affair with DotCom” indicative of what he called my hypomania. I resented it. My shrink said be patient, he was just getting started. And she was right. But those sessions turned the year ugly in ways I could never have foreseen.

Unca Barry’s criminal conviction for pedophilia surfaced early. One of those bitter arguments to which there can be no resolution. Found guilty and jailed, Chloe still defended him as she had our whole marriage. She said “alleged” child victims were coached by police; the small-town judge knuckled under to pressure to convict from the church where he babysat. So forth and so on. Mr. Jazz Musician called a halt, declaring he needed a one-on-one with my wife.

I suspected he meant to plot with Chloe how to fix “hypomanic” me. She expected him to take her side about Barry. We were both wrong. I have no clue how her behavior pinged his radar. But he extracted her admission Barry abused her when she was a little girl. Her first admission released a nightmare flood of revelations. I read what she wrote for the therapist — wrote, because she still could not voice it — about lying naked, five years old, afraid to move while a grown neighbor fingered her, stirring erotic sensations for which she had no words.

Unca Barry had groomed her and handed her off. And what did her sainted mother say? Told her not to tell dad, and keep the twenty-dollar gold piece the neighbor gave her because she earned it!

The starkness of the fingering image catapulted me back to our first year of marriage in the old man’s steel bed on the Beaches. When my devoted determination to plumb the depths of her sensual pleasure froze her into something like paralysis. When she said she “lost her soul” in a darkness that terrified her. Somehow I gentled her out of it, and our lovemaking survived and intensified.

A single incident almost forgotten, never understood. The saddest thing she ever told me was about lying awake at eight years old, after her dad died in a logging accident, thinking if she could just be a good-enough little girl he would come home. Heartbreaking now I knew the context of her pledge.

But there was no time to mourn her. The ugly kept coming.

Mr. Jazz Musician said pedophiles molest non-family children only after family children grow out of their target age. If she was a victim, so were her sisters — and their children. And ours. So much for our sensual beach weekends, leaving our children in the loving care of Unca Barry, her babysitter of choice.

Fight-or-flight chemicals battered my brain, already slowed and dulled by medication for clinical depression. My instinct after Barry’s egregious non-sexual trespasses had been to bury him in a mountain grave they’d never find. If only I had. He was beyond reach now, in the penitentiary. And writing to Chloe as if just away at college. I never read her mail, but made an exception for a letter with his cell number as return address. I wanted to see if he mentioned our kids. A denial. A mea culpa.

But the letter was from Barry’s cell mate — a reply to her letter, he said. Simpering with innuendo, he promised her a good time when he took her dancing to celebrate his release, because Barry said she was a fun date.

So, no remorse from Unca Barry. He was pimping her out to his cellmate, likely another sexual predator since conventional wisdom was even hardened cons detested child molesters. And from what the letter said she was writing to him. I destroyed the letter.

Marriage-counseling sessions after that were surreal. Mr. Jazz Musician entreated me to forgive her for putting our young children at Barry’s mercy. He said her abusers so utterly destroyed her sense of self-worth she had no ability to shield our children. Chloe said she only left our daughter and our son with Unca Barry. As if a small boy who doted on his little sister could protect her from a monster. I thought my son’s youthful rages that came out of nowhere might now be explained: Unca Barry’s poisoned well.

The ugly joke was on me. As a state employee, with approval of my chief, I had worked as volunteer president for a church charity offering group homes for abused girls, horrified by ugly child incest in the urban underbelly. Grateful my onerous commute at least ensured my kids grew up in small-town safety.

The matriarch said it always makes the devil laugh to see a bitter bit, evidently misquoting an old saw about biters being bitten. My bitter bit was that my secure little plateau family had been a lie I was too stupid to see. I had thought Chloe’s insistence on Barry’s “free” babysitting just more penny-pinching.

Knowing I blamed the messenger, I resented Mr. Jazz Musician being in his glory. Soon he was managing group therapy for female in-laws, the sisters and nieces. He had lanced a nasty wound. The puss flowed like a river. My grown daughter flatly refused to go. She said her childhood was a gray blur — and she preferred to leave it like that. Mother-daughter estrangement continued.

Sessions with my shrink and the marriage counselor dragged into winter. I was utterly immobilized. Mr. Jazz Musician found Chloe her own shrink, who diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. And said her oppressive marriage-administrator behavior was an attempt to control her surroundings caused by childhood abuse. Frankly, as Rhett told Scarlet, I no longer gave a damn.

My son finally asked me what was up with secretive group-therapy for his female cousins. When I told him, his matter-of-fact reply chilled me: What makes them think it was only the girls? What he described next was pretty much the final straw. Again the fight-or-flight chemicals battered my medicated brain.

My lonely father unwittingly offered me an out when he invited me to Kentucky for a Christmas visit. I had book money in the bank. I didn’t bother to clear it with my compromised marriage administrator. Flight it would be.

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Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.