Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Coastal Drive (6/8)

A French philosopher once wrote that the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. He was probably addressing some weighty matter, like the validity of religious faith in the pursuit of truth, but his words equally apply to romantic passion. After all, what is it that motivates Maryanne to fall in love with John, only to have her heart so carelessly broken, and yet continue to have affection for such a dubious character?  And since we’re on the subject of blind passion, why did Cal deliver his heart and body over to Dan so fully despite the warning signs early on in the relationship? Why do we make ourselves so vulnerable? And how can it be that two entirely different people find each other at a deep emotional level after a tragic event?  The heart must have its reasons.
Maryanne arrived at the busy coffeehouse at 5:50. Mark, with a book in hand and sporting a Seattle Seahawks cap as ever, was sitting in a comfy chair next to the faux fireplace.  He stood up when he saw her.
“Maryanne!” he called out above the din of the espresso machine and a few tabletop conversations.
The Flaherty Saw Mill CafĂ©.  Maryanne knew the place well.  She used to go there to study for her BSN degree once the kids were in high school, and before she and Carla fell into Margaret’s kaffeeklatsch at the Bed and Breakfast Inn across the street.  The coffeehouse was so named because it was the site of the sawmill until the late Sixties, though the owner, known simply as Mary Jane by the locals, transplanted the premises three miles to its current location during Flaherty’s aforementioned urban renewal.  Old photos of the lumber industry in Flaherty and environs decorated the pastel-colored walls.  Maryanne particularly enjoyed a 1912 photo of a bearded, German-looking lumberjack in overalls posing with his two prepubescent daughters.
“It was a crazy day at work, my first since the accident.”  Maryanne started to get into the politics of Siebeck hospital before she caught herself.  “Oh, well, more than you need to know, right?  Sorry I’m late.”
“Not a problem at all,” responded Mark.  Maryanne read his face, and he responded with a reassuring expression.  “Really,” he added.
“Okay then.”
“Will this do?”  Mark gestured to a small table in the corner that had just opened up.
“That’s great.  Can I get something for you?”
“Nothing. I’m good.”
“Come now!”
“I’ll take a tea…whatever you’re having.”
“Really? You’ll get what I’m getting?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Fair enough.  Save our spot and I’ll be right back!”  Mark’s eyes followed her to the counter.  He watched every movement of her body as she ordered their drinks.  She spoke to the owner and a mutual friend who was also waiting in line.  By the time she returned to their table, Mark’s nose was again in his book.
“I got us lattes.  Does that work for you? They’ll call us when they’re ready.”
“Works great, thanks.”
“What are you reading there?”
Mark looked at his book, as if he were surprised to see it in his hand. “Oh this? It’s a book.”
“Right. What book?”
Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
“A classic. Never read it, but I hear it’s good. I’d figure you more as a Tom Clancy reader.”
“Because of your military background…”
“Yes, of course. Right. No. My sister teaches American literature at a college in Washington and keeps me on a steady diet of novels she thinks I’d like, or that she likes anyway.”
“Wow! You’re a reader. I need to read more. No time, you know?”
“Believe me, I know. It’s a hobby I took up after retiring from the Army.”  Mark wasn’t being totally honest about his retirement, and the book-reading came about for a particular reason that he likewise chose not to reveal.

“I could have read more while I was hospitalized, but I just vegetated and talked with friends who were concerned about me.”

Mark’s tone suddenly turned quieter and serious.  “Look, I don’t mean to pry into your life.  I have no business asking you about…”
“About what I told you on that day?”
“Do you now remember what you said to me?”
“Honestly, no.  But I don’t deny that…that…”
Seeing her struggle, Mark intervened.  “I need to know that you’re okay.”
“I’m okay, Mark.  I mean, I take medication for my leg and I’m still seeing a physical therapist about my arm…”
“Good, and I wanted to ask you about your health, but I need to know that you’re okay…emotionally.”
The barista called out their drinks.  Two large skim lattes!
“Allow me to get our drinks,” said Mark.  “You want anything with it?”
“A pinch of cinnamon, if you don’t mind.”
Maryanne would take these seconds to gather her thoughts.  Was she really here, talking to the man who snatched her from death, a death that she sought only four months earlier?
“Latte with cinnamon!”  Mark handed her the cup.
“Have you had a latte before?”
“Yes.  What?  I can’t have had a latte before?”  Mark grinned.  “I might have been in the military, but I don’t just drink coffee black.”
“Before we talk about what we’ve come here to talk about,” said Maryanne, “let’s talk about something else.  Please”
“I need more conversation to develop before I can go there.”
Mark said nothing.
“Do you think that’s weird?”
“No,” Mark lied.
“Okay.  So ask me anything, anything besides…you know, and I’ll answer.  Then I get to ask you something.  Okay?”
“Okay.  Ah…”  Mark was fishing for something, anything.  “What’s your maiden name?”
“That’s your question?”
“It’s all I could come up with on the fly.  It’s just for conversation’s sake, right?”
“G-R-A-V-I-K,” she spelled it out.  “It’s Czech.”
“I’m from Ohio originally.”
Maryanne proceeded to tell Mark about her parents, her grandmother, and the circumstances that brought her to Oregon, including a bad marriage.  She omitted more recent information, such as her relationship with John.
“You’ve met my sister and brother-in-law.  They moved to Eugene because of Gavin’s job.  Knowing I was having trouble with Chuck, my Ex, Jen arranged for the move.”  Maryanne suddenly became self-conscious.  “Well, you didn’t ask about all of this, but the answer to your question needed some context.”
“Thanks for giving me the context.”
“Are you making fun of me?”
“No!  I’m serious.  Thanks.”
“See what happens when you ask about my maiden name?  Now it’s my turn.”
“Ask away.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, but ask anyway.”
“Why do you always wear that cap?  A bad haircut?  Going bald?”
“I didn’t see that coming, but I should have.”
“Well?  What’s the story?”
“A bald spot.”
“I knew it!  It can’t be that bad.  Can you take your hat off, for me?”
“I’m a self-conscious guy, narcissistic if you will. So, no.  Maybe some other time.”
“Wow.  Okay.  Let’s move on.”  Maryanne knew she wasn’t getting the real answer.  There was something about Mark’s demeanor that told her it wasn’t about a bald spot.
“So,” started Maryanne with the business at hand, “I guess I wanted to kill myself, but I don’t remember now.”
“You don’t?”
“This is hard for me, and I don’t know why I’m telling you…I was at a dark place in my life months ago. I was in a relationship, and it suddenly went in a direction that I never dreamed it would. But before you judge me, my depression wasn’t just because of a relationship gone bad…”
“I know.  You were on medication.”
Maryanne looked at him with a surprised look, only to recall that Jenny or Gavin told him.
“Yes, I wanted out.  I wanted to be done.  I’m so ashamed to admit it.”
“Don’t be,” Mark tried to reassure her.
“Don’t be?  Are you serious?  How irresponsible and selfish can a person be?  I was so full of self-pity that I didn’t care about my children, let alone anyone else!”
Mark let her go on without interruption.  Any attempts to soothe her conscience wouldn’t help.  She needed to talk things through.
“So there it is, Mark.”  Maryanne sighed.  “So are you sorry you saved me?”
“That’s not funny.”
“I know.”
“And for the record, I didn’t save you.  My van did.”

“What?”  It took Maryanne a moment to catch Mark’s wit. They laughed heartily.
“Oh, it feels good to laugh,” said Maryanne.  .  “But I, we, shouldn’t be laughing about that.  I’ve caused so much grief because of my decisions.”
“Call me Annie.”
“Okay. Annie. I owe you an answer.”
“About what?”
“About my hat.”
“Your bald spot.”
“I lied about that.  Brace yourself.”
Mark removed his cap.

Captain Denison walked down the tarmac of Bagram Airbase with his men in full battle rattle. Before they entered the Chinook, he paused to take a look at the forbidding, ice-capped Hindu Kush Mountains surrounding them. It didn’t matter if he were in Afghanistan or Iraq, he thought to himself, for he was meeting his destiny.
It was early March, and the Taliban were getting ready for their spring offensive. Higher-ups wanted to take the fight to the enemy before they got very far. This mission was different, though. Intelligence reports confirmed the location of a senior commander. Mark’s men were to provide a backup force for Special Forces who were going after the inveterate fighter in a secret operation.
What Mark could not have known was that he just spoke to his wife for the last time. Like any soldier about to enter an unknown hostile environment, he was scared. But also like any combat soldier, he knew how to bridle his fear and put on a brave face. This was probably easier than otherwise, for Mark had a strange feeling about his conversation with Kelsey and this feeling preoccupied his mind as much if not more than the destiny awaiting him in the mountains.