NOTE: MOPP is the military abbreviation for “Mission Oriented Protective Posture.”
Thursday, July 7, 2011 • 1615 hours/ 4:15 p.m.
My mind was racing, replaying my father’s voice telling me about my unworthiness over and over again.
Claudine had once told me that every human being had a “default setting”—an attitude about himself or herself that was the first place an individual “went” whenever anything went wrong in his or her life. For most people, that “default setting” was formed due to parental behavior. If a child felt loved and cherished, he or she would generally feel an initial sense of positivity—of hope—when met with a problem. My own “default setting” was to feel unworthy and to blame myself for any problems. Claudine said that, through his mental cruelty, my father had put that sense into me—that sense that I was “nothing” or that the world would somehow be better off without me. She said that my challenge would always be fighting against this negative notion. I would have to, in other words, recognize my “default setting” when I was hit with its bile so that I could slowly, but surely, change the narrative of a situation.
Sadly, there wasn’t really a cure for my “default setting”—nothing to make it go away entirely—because it had been so thoroughly ingrained into me as a child. There would only ever be learning to confront it each time it occurred.
This time, however, I couldn’t find my way out of the feeling that I wasn’t worthy—the feeling that I didn’t deserve happiness. I’d also found that I couldn’t simply go “cold” to that feeling as I had successfully done in the past. Even when Pam was taken by her father or when Bill died, I’d been able to push my emotions away. Appius had told me that they made me weak anyway.
Claudine had helped me to begin to understand that emotion wasn’t a weakness. It could be a great strength, in fact. And she’d helped me to understand a lot about myself and my father’s role in forming me the way that I was. I had felt that I was beginning to “change the narrative” a little—as Claudine called it.
But sitting on the bed, wondering what I should do, I could only hear Appius.
“You don’t deserve love.”
“You are a disappointment.”
“You are unworthy.”
“The world would have been a better place if you’d never been born.”
“Get out of my sight.”
I knew I had to leave the farmhouse—leave Sookie and Jason to themselves. I knew I needed to stop hurting them. But I just didn’t know how to get to my feet and do it.
So I continued to sit as I heard Sookie enter Jason’s room and begin to comfort her child in the aftermath of his nightmare. I should have turned off the child monitor, but I couldn’t stop myself from listening to them.
I’d listened before—while I’d been packing my things and putting clean sheets onto the bed in what had once been my room. I’d listened as Sookie read to Jason from the book they were working through together. It was A Swiss Family Robinson, a classic by Johann David Wyss, which I had read when I was a child. Indeed, I’d read it more than once.
It was about a family—a couple and their four sons—that became shipwrecked on a deserted island. I’d been fascinated by the behavior of the father. Like my father might have done, he’d been quick to gather all of his potential assets from the wreck of the ship. But—unlike my father—he’d always seen his sons as his greatest assets. Oh—he’d been hard on them at times as he’d taught them how to survive. But he’d also recognized the importance of them developing their own interests—their own identities. He’d loved them.
Their default settings would not have been to think of themselves as useless.
They wouldn’t have thought of themselves as unwanted—as a curse on others.
On the contrary, they’d each seen themselves as strong and loved.
I wanted that so much for Jason that my heart ached for it. I wanted his “default setting” to be full of hope and the certain knowledge that he was loved—no matter what.
If I hurt him now, would I take that away from him?
I heard Sookie humming lightly as she soothed Jason. My eyes went to the monitor as if I could see them through it.
Jason whimpered a little.
“Shhh, baby,” Sookie soothed. “You remember how the pain medication can give you bad dreams. You took it for your lip—remember? But you’re awake now, and you’re okay.”
Jason let out a little sob.
“Was it real bad?” Sookie asked.
I heard nothing, but in my mind’s eye, I could imagine Jason nodding.
“Wanna tell me about it, Sweetie?” Sookie asked.
For a moment, there was silence, and I found myself holding my breath.
“Was it one of your old nightmares?” she asked, clearly trying to encourage him to speak.
Jason’s “old nightmares” generally included being trapped in the car, reliving little pieces of the accident. They often included Sookie dying. Sometimes, he dreamed that it was Bill in the vehicle with them—dying in it instead of Alcide. Sometimes, he dreamed that his grandparents, William and Sophie-Anne Compton, had died—just like Jackson Herveaux and Gran had.
Finally, Jason spoke. “Uncle Eric died,” he whimpered.
I frowned as I looked at the monitor.
“Oh, sweetie,” Sookie comforted. “He’s fine. He’s right upstairs.”
“In my dream, he died like Daddy did. Like both of them did.”
“Are you afraid because he’ll be going away for a while?” Sookie asked. “You know that he’s gonna try to stay in safe places—right? He’s not going to do any fighting.”
“I know,” Jason said so softly that I could barely hear him. “But—in my dream—he didn’t die in a battle. He died because of you,” he added, his voice louder and taking on some anger toward his mother.
“Because of me?” Sookie asked, clearly confused and upset.
“You love him,” Jason accused.
“Yes, Sweetie. I do love him,” Sookie confirmed.
“And you’re gonna make him my dad!” he said.
“Oh—Jase, we just decided to have a relationship. It’s way too early for talk of anything else.”
“No!” Jason said harshly. “I can tell. You’re gonna wanna marry him—just like you married Alcide. Then, Uncle Eric will be my dad—just like Alcide! And dads die! Uncle Erics don’t die! But dads do! You’re gonna make him my dad, and then he’s gonna die!” Jason was breathing loudly and erratically, and I worried that he might hyperventilate, even as his words left me frozen.
“Oh, Sweetie. Is that what has you upset?” Sookie asked him softly after helping him calm down for a minute.
“Yes! Why can’t you just let him stay Uncle Eric?” he whimpered. “He’d be safe!”
“Sweetie, even if he and I are together, nothing has to change with you and him. He’ll always be Uncle Eric to you—if that’s what you want.”
“No!” Jason denied. “I already made a mistake a few weeks ago. I accidentally called him ‘Dad’ when I was talking to Jessica! And then—the next day—he said he was goin’ to Afghanistan. Don’t you see, Mommy? If he’s my daddy, he’ll be taken away! He’ll die—just like my other dads!”
“Honey, that’s not true.”
“It is true!” Jason insisted. “And—if you are with him and he dies—I’ll never forgive you. I hate you!”
Hearing Jason say that to his mother and hearing her sob a response, I couldn’t simply sit there any longer. I reached out to turn off the monitor.
I finally understood Jason’s concern, but I couldn’t think of a way to stop it. However, I could make sure that he and Sookie’s relationship remained intact. I quickly took out the little notebook that I kept in my knapsack and wrote out one note to Jason and another to Sookie.
And then I picked up my belongings, quietly went downstairs, left the notes on the kitchen table, and slipped out the door, making sure that it was locked behind me.
1700 hours / 5:00 p.m.
I hadn’t heard Eric leaving, but I somehow knew that he was gone when I finally left Jason asleep. The house was just different—less—without him.
Eric was too considerate of a man to leave without a word, so I wasn’t surprised to find the two notes on the kitchen table.
In Eric’s neat script, I saw “Jason” written on one note and “Sookie” on the other. I picked up mine and then carried it with me to the couch. I couldn’t face my room yet, not when I knew that the evidence of Eric and my lovemaking would be there in the presence of a tussle of sheets we’d not had time to fix before Jase had come home. I’d intended to do it while they were at swimming practice, but I’d gotten caught up in a problem with a delivery to Merlotte’s that Arlene called me about that morning.
And then I’d had to begin lunch right after I’d finished troubleshooting.
And then Eric and I had talked to Jase about us.
And then all hell had broken loose, breaking what seemed to be three hearts with it.
And I couldn’t help but to wonder why any of them had needed to break.
“Probably because we’re all scared shitless,” I muttered to myself.
I opened my letter, taking a deep breath before I read it.
It was wrong of me, but I listened as you were in with Jason just now. I heard what he said, and I cannot allow myself to be the cause of problems between you and him. I don’t know what is best to do, but I will always regret entering your life and causing pain. That was never my intention.
The last two days have been the best of my life. I will treasure them always and hope that Jason will, one day, have a change of heart about us being together. And—if he does—I hope that you can give me another chance to live up to you—even though I now feel certain that you would be better off with someone else.
As for now, I can only pray that Jason will allow me to continue having some interaction with him and that you will forgive me for not having the tools required to fix what is happening.
In Jason’s letter, I have asked him to let me know if it is acceptable for me to pick him up Friday at 11:00 a.m.—tomorrow—as usual. I will understand if he chooses not to have me in his life for the time being or permanently.
Earlier, I heard you comforting him about not being able to swim in the pool for a while. However, when he is able, I want you to be comforted that his instructor, Jade Flower, is very competent. I know that, given how your parents died, you were concerned about him swimming safely. Miss Flower will not allow anything to happen to him. And—if you wish to have an extra safety net—I have learned that Jeff, the Comptons’ new gardener, used to be a lifeguard. I have already asked him to be an extra set of eyes during Jason’s lessons—especially if I am not in attendance.
I will also understand if you decide—once and for all—that it is best that I am no longer in your life or his life. If that is your decision, you need not give him my note. Just know that I will always treasure you both and I am sorry for being too little in this big moment.
I find that I don’t know what else to say to you, beyond ‘I love you.’ I have since the moment I saw you in the hospital—the moment I was in your presence for the first time. And I will love you until my last moment—no matter what occurs.
Despite knowing it might be wrong to do so, I went to the kitchen to read Jase’s letter. Somehow, I knew that Eric wouldn’t mind.
It saddens me that I have hurt you today. I did not intend to do that. I love you, and I love your mother too. But now I understand why you don’t want your mother and me to be together.
Please do not blame your mother for having feelings for me. Her love would never be the cause of harm to anyone. Her love is not what killed your father or Alcide. I’m sure it only made them better people.
Being your father is also not what caused them to die, Jason. Being your dad was the greatest thing to your father. I know this because he told me once. And I’m sure Alcide felt the same way.
I have been honored to have a place as your friend—as your uncle Eric. For many years, being your uncle has been the most important and wonderful thing in my life. I hope that you will let me continue to be that. I will pick you up as usual tomorrow morning—if you still want me to. You need only text to confirm. Indeed, I will be there for you whenever you need me.
I brushed away a tear. I knew that Eric was willing to give up his own happiness for Jase. And I also knew that he was trying to do the best thing for me.
And—yes—hearing Jase tell me that he hated me had been difficult.
But I wasn’t willing to give up Eric. I knew that Jase would come around. I sighed as I put Jase’s letter back onto the table where Eric had left it.
And then I went to lie down on the couch, already missing the man who’d truly shared my home for the last couple of days.
Bill had never really been comfortable in the old farmhouse. He’d called it “creaky and quaint” more than once. I’d not really blamed him. After all, he was used to much nicer things, and he had a lot of them. In fact, even as a kid, he seemed to be able to get anything he wanted, from toys to games to computers. One time, when Bill and I were thirteen, he’d even gone through a phase when he’d wanted to learn how to ride a horse. So Sophie-Anne had arranged for the old stables on the property to be fixed up. Several horses were bought, and a professional riding instructor and grooms were hired. Bill had asked me if I wanted to learn with him, and I’d jumped at the chance. I’d loved riding. Bill had not. After only five months, he’d told his mother that he wasn’t really “into riding.” The horses had been sold not long after.
The next summer, the pool, which had been another thing that Bill had wanted, had been put in.
It was no wonder that Bill’s attitude was that he wanted to “take me away” from what he called my “more modest upbringing.” But, though I’d loved Bill, I’d never thought that I needed to be taken away from the life I’d lived.
Gran’s purse strings weren’t long, but we’d never suffered for the essentials—or for love—in the old farmhouse, despite the fact that it sometimes went a little too long without things like fresh coats of paint or a new roof.
Alcide had liked the farmhouse well enough, but he’d always planned for us to move to Shreveport as soon as Gran passed away. Oh—he’d never said that out loud, but I’d known it. Alcide had kept his Shreveport home, after all, renting it on only short-term leases. I’d been upset about that at first. But Gran had talked me down.
She’d reminded me that Alcide treated her like a queen and clearly wasn’t anxious for her to “keel over”—as Gran put it. Plus, he had moved into the farmhouse with no complaint at all. Some men wouldn’t have agreed to help look after the aging grandparent of his bride-to-be by moving into her home, especially given the fact that it gave him a much longer commute to work each day.
Still—Alcide had never really treated the farmhouse like it was his permanent home, despite the fact that he’d been responsible for most of the updates on the second floor of the dwelling. I understood that the changes—including making Alcide and me a larger master bedroom and bathroom—were made to increase the short-term comfort and long-term salability of the property.
And—God help me—I would have sold the place and moved to Shreveport for Alcide, even though it would have broken my heart a little.
Speaking of broken hearts, I thought of the man who was responsible for my currently bruised organ. Of course, Eric didn’t want to hurt me. In fact, a part of me already knew that things would work out—despite the sorrow in his letter to me.
Still, I would ache for him until we could get things figured out with Jase.
And the house would ache for Eric too, for it, too, seemed to have chosen him to “belong there,” just as Jase and I had chosen him—each of us in our own way.
I found myself wishing that I’d just acknowledged that I loved Eric months before. I shook my head. No. It was best that things had worked out on their current timeline. After all, though I’d been giving my heart to Eric for a while, I’d still been mourning for Alcide.
Part of me always would be. But, as Gran had taught me after my parents had died—when I’d thought that it would be best never to love again—the heart always seemed able to fit in more love, even when it seemed to have been broken.
I’d just forgotten that lesson for a while—or I’d been too scared to think about it.
Sadly, no one had ever taught Eric that lesson. Indeed, no one had ever made him feel like he deserved to belong in someone else’s heart to begin with. I had done my best to teach him that he did, but I knew that it would have to be Jase that helped Eric to understand that love—once real and true—didn’t simply go away.
Not even when there was conflict.
I closed my eyes and said a quick prayer that my child would come around quickly—for the sake of us all.
A/N: A funny story about this chapter is the amount of frustration I felt towards Sookie, Jase, and Eric as I was writing it. I wanted Eric to see his worth, to run into Jase’s room, and to help him to understand that changing him to “dad” wasn’t going to be a bad thing. But then I remembered that Jase is only 11, and he likely has PTSD as well as issues with the loss of his leg. Because of Sookie and Eric, he is very well-adjusted, but—then again—this is the first thing to “go wrong” for him since Eric has been in the day-to-day picture. So—yeah—he gets a pass. I’m giving Eric a pass too—poor guy. He thinks that—if Jason resents Sookie—then he will grow up with a bad “default setting.” Eric cannot even fathom that it’s Eric’s care for him that is helping Jason to be so well-adjusted (despite everything). As for Sookie, I wanted her to do something at the end of this chapter—something other than wait for Jase to come around. Ultimately, though, I see the wisdom of her not forcing either of the males in her life to see the whole picture. And—of course—as she says, they are all “scared shitless.”
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please comment if you have the time and inclination. I appreciated all the comments and speculations from the last one. I think Jase’s reaction surprised some of you.