Tuesday, August 24, 2010

124.) Paternal Mess

Soundtrack Song - Yellowcard, Light Up the Sky

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. Kris was obviously in so much emotional pain, and I wanted to take that away—but I didn’t know how. Even though I had listened to their entire conversation, Kris and Marlene spoke in French. For all I knew, Kris could have been telling the truth, but Marlene doted on her son too much to think of him as the reason her life didn’t turn out the way she had originally planned.

“Kris, you are not the reason your parents broke up. Your father was.”

“How do you know?” he bit back at me. “You have no idea what she just said.”

I did my best to ignore that. Kris was hurting in a way that I had never seen before, and a wound that deep would cause anyone—even someone like Kris—to lash out unwarrantedly. “I see the way she looks at you, does everything for you. She loves you more than anyone, more than herself, more than your father, more than whatever other lifestyle she could have had without you. You are her entire world. If she resented you, she wouldn’t have gone through all this. She’s your mother.”

“So? You say that like it means something.”

“It does,” I replied, cocking my head to the side and looking at him carefully. “Mothers love their children no matter what.”

“Like your mother?”

His words stung me. Again, I knew that he didn’t mean to hurt me like that. “My mom’s different. She abandoned me... but your mother, she saved you.”

“You say she saved me, but according to her, you’d think we didn’t need saving. She defends him as a good guy, but he’s not. How could he be? We wouldn’t have had to leave if he was the man she makes him out to be. It doesn’t fucking make any sense. She’s lying about him. She has to be.”

“Why would she lie?”

“She said that she doesn’t want me to hate him, never wanted me to hate him. She’s making it all up so he doesn’t come out looking that bad.” He inhaled and exhaled slowly. His hands balled into fists, and I could see his bicep muscles bunching under the sleeves of his tee shirt, like he was getting ready to fight. “But I hate him. I do. Everything he put her through, and she still defends him.”

I wiggled my toes underneath his thick thigh. There was so much dissonance about whatever it is that his mother told him, which was what was bothering him so much. He didn’t know what to believe, because he couldn’t piece this new information together with what his preconceived notions had been. My voice was soft as I tried to reason aloud. “Well, he is your dad and her ex-husband. I think that she wants you to know that she wouldn’t purposely get involved with someone she didn’t love or trust, and wouldn’t bring someone into your life that wasn’t worthy. She thought things would work out and you guys would be a happy family. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. She doesn’t want to think of him as anything other than a good guy, and you don’t want to think of him as anything other than bad.”

He didn’t like that explanation, I guess, because he didn’t even try to work with it. “Why do you keep defending her anyway? I thought you didn’t like her.”

“Kris, she’s your mom. She practically raised you singlehandedly. She did an amazing job of that. And I respect her for leaving your father. She probably should have left sooner, but you know, some women never leave. Some women think that it’s better to stay, even if that means subjecting themselves and their children to that kind of life. They’re scared of how tough it’s going to be to start over, but your mom did it for you.”

“Well, she should have done it for herself.”

“Does it really matter why? What happened has happened. That’s the past, and you can’t dwell on it. Kris, move forward.”

“I can’t. Not when my past is coming back to haunt me.”

“Just let it go. Put it behind you, and stop looking back.”

“Like you did?” he asked, not bothering to look over at me. “You’re practically estranged from your family. You don’t have any ties to them like I have with mine. You don’t understand what I’m going through right now.”

My lower lip jutted out in a pout. I was getting frustrated with him, but I was trying to be even-keeled and understanding. “Our circumstances are different.”

“You can say that again. Your dad started drinking because he lost a son. Mine started because he got one.”

Kris shook his head, his hair falling down around his face. His eyes were glistening with tears yet flashing with red-hot anger, and his jaw was ticking from clenching it shut so tightly. It broke my heart to see how much this was upsetting him. I knew this wouldn’t be easy for him because this was so personal, but I hadn’t expected it to affect him this much. I reached over to hug him or hold him, whatever he’d let me do to comfort him. He put his big hands on my shoulders; he wasn’t forceful and he didn’t push me, but he kept me from being able to put my arms around him. Kris kept me at bay. “Don’t.”

“No,” I told him firmly, grabbing his hands and moving them so he couldn’t hold me back. I wasn’t going to let him stop me from comforting him. Repositioning myself, I straddled his lap and cradled his face. “Don’t fight me.” I kissed his nose, his cheeks, and his forehead. When I kissed his closed eyes, I felt as the tears spilled down his cheeks and into his thick, dark beard. Kris hid his face in the crook of my neck and wrapped his arms tightly around me and held on for dear life as his body shook.

Marlene was standing at the front door, watching us and checking up on her son; I saw her as I rocked Kris back and forth and rubbed his back. The pain on her face was unmistakable, and I knew that she wanted to be the one who was soothing Kris and calming him down. Before, when Kris had stormed out of the living room, Marlene had started crying as soon as the screen door slammed shut. I had gone over to her and placed my hand on her shoulder—Kris was upset, but I think that he didn’t see how upset she was, too.

When I had squeezed her shoulder, she told me between her sobs, “He’s my son. My only son. My beautiful boy. I forget that he is twenty-three. He is a man, living on his own, far away. But to me, he will always be my little boy who needs protecting and sheltering.”

I remembered her words from mere minutes ago as I was the one who comforted Kris, like that right and privileged had been bequeathed to me. Marlene was choosing to hang back and let me be the one that Kris turned to in his time of need. It was like this deep, meaningful passing on of responsibility, a ceremony without all the hullaballoo. So I smiled sadly at her, to let her know that I was handling this as best as I possibly could. She nodded and dabbed her eyes with a tissue before she disappeared into the house.

I whispered things in Kris’s ear, over and over. “It wasn’t your fault. Shh. It’s okay. Let it out. That’s it. You didn’t do anything wrong. Let it all out, babe. It’s okay. You’re okay.” I wish that there was more that I could say to reassure him, but I didn’t know what else to tell him. He didn’t know what to believe or if any of it was true; his mother could have been telling the truth, or she could have been sugarcoating it so Kris wouldn’t have as much of a reason to hate Marcel. I didn’t know the full story and I probably never would, and I doubted Kris would either.

When he calmed down some more, I kissed his face again. I could taste the salt from his tears. “I mean it. It wasn’t your fault. You were three, and you didn’t do anything wrong. What happened between your parents was their issue that had nothing to do with you. I think sometimes we forget that parents are adults with their own problems that involve their kids but don’t, too, you know? Yours, and mine, too. Those problems get more complicated when kids are factored into the equation. And you know your mom loves you, don’t you?”

Kris nodded and sniffed, answering sheepishly, like he was embarrassed at his outburst. “Yeah. I know.”

Gently, I wiped his cheeks; by diffusing the streams of tears, it was like he had never been crying. As sensitive as Kris was, he didn’t cry often—only when he was confronted with unpleasant emotions from his past. “I love you, too, Kris,” I said, softly placing my lips over his. Just in case he needed that reminder. “Because you’re such a good man.”

He sighed. “Apparently, so was he.”

That made me sad. Kris was always comparing himself to his father—truth was, though, that Kris didn’t really know his father. What can a three year old know? What Kris knew was just like a cardboard cut-out of his father, something one dimensional and flat. When you’re that young, everything’s black and white. People are evil or good, and there’s no in between. But as adults, we know, or at least most of us do, that it’s not as simple as that. Things are multifaceted and gray, different hues and tints and shades, and never ever just black or only white.

Not only was he comparing himself to the shadow of his father, but he was automatically assuming the blame for things he had no hand in. His conception may have been a stressor on his parents’ relationship, but there was no way he was a cause. He was just another kid, caught up in the middle of his parents’ break up, feeling like he was the one to blame. That was exacerbated by Kris’s nature to take on the responsibility for other people’s happiness.

He saw himself as some kind of Great Protector, in charge of all the people around him: his team, the fans, his mom and grandmother, and me, too. When something bad happened, he wanted to fix it. If he couldn’t fix it, he then thought that something was wrong with him for not being able to fix it.

Which is why we were back to square one. Even though he had not been the cause of his parents’ split—and he was only three—he still wished that there was something he could have done to prevent that from happening. Maybe be a better son that his father loved so much that he wouldn’t have ever touched a drop of alcohol. Have “papa” be his first word. Anything that would have been impossible for a three year old to do, because a toddler doesn’t know any better.

“Your mom loved him. There had to have been some good in him. Don’t you think?”

Kris gave me a glaring look that screamed, you’ve got to be kidding me. I pushed on. “Don’t you think that there was a reason your mom fell in love with him?”

“She said he was handsome. Charming. Obviously manipulative, if he was able to wrangle her into marrying him.”

I sighed and hugged Kris again. If I was getting so frustrated, maybe it was because I couldn’t quite see his point of view. After all, his father did nothing to me. In fact, I was kind of grateful to him for helping to shape Kris into the person he was—as horrible as that has to sound, it’s true. If Kris wanted to be hurt and offended, I could support that, even if I wanted him to be the bigger man. Sometimes, we need to take time to be hurt and steep in the pain for a while before we can be mentally prepared to put it behind us. I’d been there for almost two years; I could afford to cut Kris some slack and let him idle in this mood of his.

A door slam pulled us out of our embrace. We both turned toward the source of the noise, which was the neighbor’s house. The same girl who I had seen returning home yesterday was heading out. She flipped her shiny, dirty blonde hair over her shoulder, inadvertently glancing at Kris’s porch and us. The neighbor girl wiggled her fingers as she waved. “Hé, Kristopher.” She kept walking down the driveway toward her car, but she paused after a few steps and called back to him, “Bonne chance demain.”

Kris nodded at her, but didn’t otherwise respond. I did my best to remind myself that she was just his neighbor and that she was just being friendly. Kris didn’t notice anything amiss, of course, because he was oblivious on the best of days, and right now there was so much on his mind that demanded all his mental capacity. He had no clue that she was flirting with him while he had another girl—his girlfriend—in his lap.

For a few more minutes, I stayed there and rubbed his back and shoulders. Kris slipped one of his strong arms underneath me and swept my legs to one side as he moved me, so I was sitting beside him with my legs in his lap. At first, I was a little concerned that he didn’t want me to be close to him anymore, but his hands lingered on my legs.

It took him a while to articulate what was on his mind. “I don’t want my mother to be a liar, but I want her to be lying about this.”

I put my elbow on the back of the bench and then rested my head against his hand. “I really don’t want you to blame this on your mother. You just said that he was manipulative, so it wasn’t her fault.”

“What if it’s the truth?” he asked, once again ignoring what I had to say. He was trying to work it all out in his head though, so I didn’t get offended. “What if everything she just said is the truth?”

“Would it really be that bad if it was?”

“Yes. Even if I can accept what happened, Mom said that she wanted him to come after her—after us. But he didn’t. She went to Mamie’s knowing that he’d know that that’s where we were.” I had a little trouble following his sentence. The deeper in thought he got, the faster he spoke; the faster he spoke, the thicker his accent was. “He never came for us. He never cared enough to come to Mamie’s. He didn’t want us back. He didn’t want his family.”

“Then his family is better off without him. You said that your parents didn’t want to have kids yet. But look at your mom. She got ready. She prepared herself because she had to, and she turned out to be a really great mother for you because she wanted to. Your father didn’t because he wouldn’t, not because he couldn’t. I’ve seen enough episodes of Teen Mom to know the difference,” I told him, reaching over to tuck his hair behind his ears.

“You watch too much TV,” he quipped. Kris turned his head, nuzzling into my hand. I cupped his cheek and rubbed it with my thumb. That’s when he leaned over to kiss me. For him to make a sweet gesture toward me was very reassuring to me that he was slowly getting over the shock of this huge paternal mess. I made him lean all the way over in order to press his lips to mine.

When we separated, I tried one more time to reason with him. “It doesn’t matter, Kris. I want you to know that. This whole thing sucks, it does, and I’m not saying that it doesn’t, but what I am saying is that it doesn’t fucking matter. It doesn’t matter why your mom left or what kind of person your father was, because what happened, happened, and we can’t change it. You’re who you are because of it, and who you are is wonderful. I love you.”

With his forehead pressed against mine, he replied. “Mmm. I love you, too.” He kissed me softly again, keeping it chaste. Then he hit me with a bombshell. “So... what do I do? What do I do tomorrow at the Bell Centre if he’s there again? And I run into him again?”

I asked him carefully, “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t want it to happen at all.” Kris closed his eyes. “There’s so much going on right now. I can’t deal with this right now. It’s the Finals.”

Nodding, I thought out my own game plan. “Then you go out there and you play your game. You focus hard because it’s game four of the Stanley Cup Finals, and your team is relying on you and I want to watch you play your heart out like you did last time. Hell, maybe even score another goal.”

He smiled briefly. “Okay, yeah, but what if he’s there again? What if I see him again?”

“He may be there watching your game. He may not. He may be there waiting for you afterward. He may not. But what he does or where he is shouldn’t affect you or your game. He doesn’t matter, and he never did. If he wasn’t able to be the kind of father who could be there for you or the kind of husband who could be there for his wife, then fuck him. If he’s there, you tell him to fuck off. If you don’t want him in your life, tell him that.”

Kris sat there quietly for a while, mulling that thought and mentally chewing and digesting it. “Okay, so, what do I do in the meantime?”

“I think you should go give your mother hug. I think she really needs it.”

He smiled at me, and it was the sweetest sight I’d ever seen. I felt warm inside, relieved even. If I’d have gone blind at that very moment, that would have been all right with me. “It’s like you’ve become her biggest champion.”

I shrugged and stood, holding out my hands to help him up, too. “Come on. Let’s go back inside.” Kris took my hands, but I didn’t help him get to his feet; even if I had tried with all my might, I wouldn’t have been able to get him to budge anyway. He stood and put an arm around my waist, leading me toward the front door.


  1. Sigh. That was soooo sweet. It was good of Jo not to let those few cutting remarks Kris made towards her cause her to forget the tas at hand in helping him get throught this.

  2. Aww I am glad they worked through it!!:]

  3. Wow, I've actually been thinking about the last chapter and how Kris was risking pushing Jo away with all his anger and bitterness. But as anon #1 commented, Jo rose above and really worked hard to comfort Kris. Because he was pretty mean to her, he cut right to the worst parts of her family life.

    So Marlene comes through in what may be a breakthrough for her relationship with Jo. I knew she was a good person!

    Sometimes I think that they are a great couple, and sometimes I wonder if certain things are going to split them up: Jo's jealousy and Kris's need to blame everything on himself, which in some ways is a little egotistical.

    Okay, I'm ready for the next game now!

  4. I agree with @MelTing's comments completely...also, I think it was a huge sacrifice for Marlene to let Jo comfort Kris, I think she knew that Jo could do a better job at the time than she would be able to (if that makes any sense!)

    Excellent chapter, excellent writing, and I can't wait for the next one!

  5. Don't have enough time to tell you how amazing this whole written mess is but I have to say, Marlene and Jo were champs in this update. I always knew it would need to be a serious show of their love for Kris and their respect for the other as part of that which would eventually drive the bitterness away and I really hope that something positive stems from this messy situation. It must be hard being confronted with someone and some major part of your life like your unknown father and finding out the situation never really was what it seemed like. It doesn't make Marcel a better guy or make his decisions any less painful, but it makes him more real, a little less brutal and that also must be tough. Poor Kris is just inundated with stress coming from every angle, his mom and Jo getting along, Marcel showing up, the Finals in his home province... I really am anxious to see the impact this has on his game. I'm hoping hockey can continue to be a positive thing in his life.

    Jo is incredible as always taking Kris' harsh comments and understanding and just trying ot be there for him. She certainly has a good example in Kris for how to deal with the shit someone gives you when you are trying to help them.

    I love this stuff, can't get enough. well done.

  6. Such a great post. Emotions running high. Please post again soon (before I loose my internet access, lol!!).

  7. i am really loving this story just started reading it and told a bunch of my friends to read it as well. Anyways the dynamic of this relationship is like they are taking turns with taking care of eachother!!!


  8. I love this story. Exceptional writing, seriously. I love the character development and the twists and turns of this story. Excellent job and keep them coming! New post soon?! :)