Invisible Hand – Chapter Thirty-Eight: Natalie and D.W.

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In which Natalie tells her side and D.W., well… doesn’t.

Natalie was annoyed. Here she was trying her hardest to be open and accepting and tolerant and all those good things so she could start off on the right foot being a Payer and they treat her like this. Even before they got here the men, particularly Oscar and D.W., went all drooly over Leyden and practically ignored Natalie. Then when they get off the bus, Niall almost demands to hold her suitcase when she rebuffed him twice. Couldn’t he tell she didn’t want anybody touching her things? I mean, there she was wearing her white gloves and sitting in a seat all by herself. Wasn’t it obvious that she didn’t like being touched?

Anyway, now they were talking like they wanted everybody to confess their sins. They even bullied Wendy, poor thing, she’s suffered so much, into telling about her life when anyone can see that she’s shy too. And there were only four left who hadn’t told their stories. Maybe I can make up something that will put them off, Natalie thought. No, they’d catch me in some inconsistency or other and might even throw me out of the group altogether. But what can I tell them about. I can’t talk about what I did in business, that’s old, pre-transition stuff anyway. It isn’t really relevant. So I cut some corners. Everybody did it then. It’s not like I was some big criminal or something. I’ll bet D.W. cut a few corners in his day too. Oscar certainly did. Niall even hit somebody for practically no reason at all.

Oh there’s Niall and he’s coming this way. He’s beginning to show signs of being sweet on me. Do I want him to? I mean it’s flattering and all that but he’ll want to touch me. Maybe I should just go back to town and stay with one of the girls. Their children are old enough now that I wouldn’t have to change diapers or anything. Susie has a large enough house. She’d even save money on her rent.

“Hello Natalie. You’re early. I figured I’d be the first one here.”

“Hello Niall. I wasn’t feeling very hungry so I just had a salad at supper.”

“You know, I really liked the way you stood up for Wendy last night. I’m sure she wouldn’t have had the courage to go on without your support.”

‘Oh, great,’ Natalie thought, ‘now he’s going to blame me for forcing Wendy to spill her guts.’ “Come now, Wendy has all the courage in the world. Look what she’s done. She had nothing and made herself successful.”

“Well I thought you were magnificent.”

‘He is getting sweet on me. Now what do I do? There’s Leyden, maybe she can distract his attention.’ “Hi Leyden. Won’t you join us? Sit here by me.” ‘Better her sitting next to me than risk Niall sitting down here.’

“Hi. Natalie, Niall, do you think we’re going to go on with this confession thing? I’m not sure I want to myself.”

“Leyden I don’t think you have anything to worry about either way,” Niall said gallantly. “I certainly don’t think any of us are under any obligation to say anything at all about our pasts. Those of us who told our stories got more out of telling them than any of the rest of you got out of hearing them. I know I feel much better now. I’m pretty sure both Wendy and Oscar do too. But the time and circumstances have to be right for you before talking about your past can help. You’re the only one who can judge if you should go ahead. So I say it’s none of our business. Don’t you think so Natalie?

“Well sure. I mean I think you almost had to tell because of your probation situation and I think Oscar had so much guilt that he had to get it out. Something like the Ancient Mariner, you know? And Wendy, well she isn’t guilty of anything to my mind. Her guilt’s all in her imagination.”

“But she really feels it regardless of whether we think she did anything wrong or not,” Leyden said.

Niall said,” We don’t have to be guilty of something to tell our stories. It happens that those of us who have told our stories have all had guilt feelings and, perhaps, that’s why we feel so much better now. You’ll notice that Wendy smiles now, and she didn’t before. But, Leyden, your story wouldn’t have to show you were guilty of anything.”

“Oh, my story would sound trivial after the stories of you three. I’d be embarrassed to tell my story of wealth and privilege after the suffering we’ve heard about from you guys.”

“You’re feeling guilty about not having any guilt?” Niall laughed.

Natalie thought, ‘Now he’s falling into her lap trying to get her to tell her story. She’s so beautiful they just fawn all over her.’

Leyden smiled up at Niall standing before them, “No just embarrassed that my troubles sound… well, unimportant. I think you’d all be secretly laughing at me.”

“Leyden, we’d never laugh at you. We might laugh with you but not at you. We think the world of you.”

‘There he goes again. They all just fall for her. Why couldn’t anyone feel that way about me?’

“You’re just waiting until last hoping you won’t have to put yourself on the line,” D.W. said to Clayton as they came in the door.

“Hi, guys. Did you start without us? Oscar went back for a second helping of cobbler. So he’ll be about 30 seconds behind us.” Clayton said with a big grin.

“Well you put away quite a bit at supper tonight yourself.” Leyden said smiling back at him.

‘It’s always Leyden, never me.’ Natalie thought.

“Where’s Wendy?” Niall asked looking around.

“She was in the office talking on the phone to her daughter. No telling when she’ll get here,” Clayton said.

“I’d still like to hear your story, Clayton,” Leyden said with a shy grin .

“Mine’s a boring story. We’d better save me for when we’ve had an exciting day and we need to relax and get drowsy,” Clayton laughed. “We’d much rather hear about your exciting and romantic life.”

‘I’d better join them in asking her or they’ll think I’m jealous,’ Natalie thought. “Yes, come on, Leyden, it’s easy. You just tell about some time when you weren’t beautiful and glamorous and successful. You must have had at least one such experience in your long and eventful life.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t know what to say. I’d be too embarrassed. I’d get stage fright,” Leyden said waving her palms from side to side.

Oscar who had just come in as she said it countered with, “I can’t believe such a beautiful and well-educated woman as you could have stage fright. You must have been on the stage before.”

“Oh no, I’ve never been an actress. I haven’t really done all those things you seem to think I’ve done.”

“What?” Natalie retorted. "Not even one divorce? Why even I’ve had a divorce. You could tell us about one of yours. Of course, I’m sure each breakup was all the fault of whichever husband it was. I can’t imagine you in the role of the unfaithful wife or irresponsible mother.”

“But divorces are so common,” D.W. said. “The rest of us have never been a prisoner in a foreign country like Niall, nor been as poor as Wendy, and certainly none of us has been a TV star like Oscar, here. We can identify with a divorce. We can empathize with a divorcee.”

“Besides, there must have been something dramatic about at least one of your divorces,” Natalie said. “Even my divorce had its dramatic moments.”

“What would you call dramatic?” Leyden asked.

“Well, did any of your ex-husbands commit suicide when they couldn’t have you any more or did any of them try to kill you in a jealous rage? That sort of thing.” Natalie said.

“Did those things happen to you?” Leyden asked with incredulity.

“No it was more prosaic than that. Just the usual sex and money conflicts,” Natalie said shaking her head but sitting up straighter. ‘She thinks I’m too plain and bland to have ever truly aroused any man’s passions.’ “He didn’t actually try to kill me. At least I don’t think he intended to kill me.”

“My God,” Oscar said. “Your husband tried to kill you?”

“I don’t think so. At least, well, he was really angry and he easily could have killed me I suppose if he’d really wanted to.”

“What happened?” Niall asked with what looked like real concern on his face. “How could you marry a man who’d try to kill you?”

“When I thought of marrying him I had no idea he might actually try to kill me. He seemed really nice and he treated me very considerately.”

The men were drawing up chairs around her now and, though they still looked at Leyden from time to time, they seemed to be listening to her.

“You see, I met him when we were on a camping trip in the mountains. I was in graduate school at the University and some weekends we’d take off for some camping to relax and get a change of scenery. We were in the same political group, though we really hadn’t noticed each other before the camping trip. Around the campfire we would argue about politics. We were all libertarians so there were lots of things to disagree about. Anyway, he was impressed with what I had to say so we walked together the next day on the trail and got to know each other.

He had a good job selling optical supplies and I was impressed by his car and his camping gear. Anyway I finished my MBA and got a job with a building supply business in Albuquerque and we continued to date… but began getting more and more serious about each other. He finally asked me to marry him and I consented.

He’d been considerate in our relationship. He’d let me set the pace on intimacy and I respected him for that. I know that many men, especially those I had known when I was in the army, had gotten pretty angry when I wouldn’t do certain things and the last year or so I’d stopped dating altogether. Of course when I got out after serving my two years and went to MBA School I figured the graduate students would be better-behaved, and most of them were.” At this she brought her knees together and pursed her lips a little. “But I always rejected right away those who were demanding. I think I got rather adept at spotting those who wouldn’t let me be in control.”

At this point Wendy came into the room and quietly took a seat near the others but behind and between Clayton and D.W.

“But I’m getting off the subject,” Natalie said, smiling and nodding to Wendy. “Dirk was good to me for several years or so I thought. By the way that’s not his real name. Our businesses were going well and so we decided to have children. I had girls two years apart. They were beautiful and once we got a good nanny they were hardly any trouble at all. By the time they were school age they were riding quite well. They looked so cute on their little ponies. They were in Pony Club and we would take them to little shows and such. They won lots of ribbons and made me so proud.

Well, at one show, one that Dirk didn’t come to with us, my oldest rode really well. I don’t think she’d ever done that well before and her pony just jumped every thing she rode it at like it was nothing. There was this girl that was favored in the event, one who seemed to always take the blue ribbons. Well she had a knockdown and two refusals. Her mother was furious because we’d always placed far behind her daughter before. We had the bad luck to be parked right next to her rig and we were putting things away, getting ready to go when she kind of sidled over to me.

’Your girl was just lucky, you know. My Heather is really a better rider than your girl. It was just bad luck. I think somebody slipped something in her horse’s feed to make him refuse like that. I’d hate to think that somebody would do that just to get a win at a horse show. But then I guess a woman whose husband is playing around on her is desperate for success somewhere in her life.’” Natalie said with a pinched face and nasal, sneering tone. “I asked her what she meant about my husband and she said, ‘Well my friend whose name I won’t mention is having an affair with your husband and has been for weeks. I just assumed that you must have known. A wife can always tell unless she just closes her eyes to all the signs.’

It was really hard driving my rig back to the stable. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I felt sick to my stomach and I kept having to ask the girls what they’d said. It was horrible. But by the time we got home I knew I had to find out for sure. Even though I was sure she’d said those things for spite she made me think.

In looking back I was able to think of several things that could be indications that Dirk wasn’t being honest with me. He did travel quite a lot in his business. But he was almost always home on the weekends. It’s true that we hadn’t had sex relations as often after my second was born but I just assumed that he agreed with me that sex really wasn’t that important now that we had the two children we’d planned on.

So after I got the horses put away I got on the phone to a detective agency. They discovered that not only was he having an affair with another woman and had evidence that it had been going on for months, but that he wasn’t being faithful to her either. He didn’t actually have a woman in every town as they say, but there were three or four at least.

Naturally I confronted him with the evidence and after denying it at first he finally admitted what was rather obvious from the photographs and recordings. He swore that he loved only me and that the other women were just for sex and he really didn’t care about them. He even cried and got down on his knees in front of me. Fool that I was, I believed him. We even had sex more frequently, sometimes as often as once a week even though letting him touch me was usually difficult.

This was about the time of the oil shortage and the economy going bad so my company was hurting and they were laying people off and I was worried that they might let me go too. The company was run by some rather traditional men and I figured that they would rather keep the men in the company and fire the women. So I was inclined to want to believe Dirk since his business was still doing pretty well and we could keep the essentials even if I lost my income.

Within a year though, I saw more signs that maybe he was at it again so I went back to the detectives and they caught him again. They told me he hadn’t even changed mistresses. I was furious and this time, instead of confronting him, I decided to get a little revenge. I did some calculations and the afternoon before the bank holiday for Thanksgiving, I cleaned out all our joint accounts and took his credit cards to the discount club and bought about $20,000 worth of supplies and other things we’d be able to use, someday.”

D.W. and Oscar looker at each other at that one. Natalie wondered what they were thinking.

“Then I had the locks changed on the house and wouldn’t let him in. We had a fight right through the door with each of us yelling about how we’d been mistreated. I didn’t tell him about the money though. After a few days, he found out. I’d already been to a lawyer and started the wheels moving on the divorce so I thought I had everything under control. I forgot that little girls tend to love their daddy.

I came home after work and found him there with the girls, who had let him in. He had found what I had done to his clothes and his sports gear and his electronic gadgets. He was livid. He started screaming at me and I screamed right back. Finally he grabbed my arm and slung me across the room and I hit my back on the corner of the couch and the back of my head on the coffee table. I was rather groggy but I was able to get my knees up in front of my belly and cover my head with my arms so when he kicked me he mostly hit my legs. I think he could have killed me then. I think he wanted to in some ways but the girls being there kept him from doing it I suspect. Anyway he smashed a couple of things in the room and then stormed out of the house.”

“What about the girls?” Wendy broke in. “Did they see all this? Were they in the room?”

“Yes. They were terrified.” Natalie, who had been merely solemn-faced before, began to squint a little and blink her eyes rapidly as if holding back tears. “They came over to me after he left. They were both sobbing and asking me if I was all right. I kept telling them that it was no worse than falling off a horse and that I didn’t think anything was broken. We just lay there on the floor for a while and cried together. Then I managed to get up and get to the phone without fainting, though I was pretty woozy from banging my head.

I called 911 and got some medical help because I really couldn’t have driven if my life had depended on it. I was able to go to work again in a couple of days so I wasn’t badly hurt but I had some really impressive bruises on my legs and one on my arm for the photographs that my lawyer took.

The divorce was an expensive one in lots of ways. It cost me over $80,000 and I know Dirk must have spent something in that neighborhood.” Leyden was nodding her head knowingly at this. “By the time we were finished trying to savage each other in court there wasn’t much left to live on. I’m sure you all remember how inflation was making things almost impossible for a lot of people in those days. Well I got the house and one of the cars and some child support but things were really hard for us because I didn’t have an income any more.

Dirk had made some accusations against me in court that were lies but my company fired me anyway due to the publicity. Even though I had the goods on him for infidelity that didn’t seem to make any difference to his company nor his customers so he kept his job.”

Wendy said, “Ain’t that just like men. Always holding women to a higher standard.”

“But he kept refusing to send the child support money and I kept taking him to court and he would lie about his assets. By this time I couldn’t afford to hire detectives to prove he was lying so the court accepted his lies.”

At this, Leyden, who was sitting next to her on the couch, put her arm around Natalie and gave her shoulders a small hug.

“The girls and I were still living in the big house though we had closed off most of it so we wouldn’t have to heat it. Again and again I thanked my lucky stars that I had bought all that stuff at the discount club on his cards. I was able to trade some of it for things we needed and, of course, we ate a lot of the food ourselves. We got sick and tired of rice and beans but at least we had food. There were many who didn’t have it nearly as good as we did.”

She had Wendy nodding at this one. She could remember when a meal of rice and beans would have been more than welcome to her small family.

“By this time the fierce anger I had felt toward him had cooled somewhat. I still hated him and did what I could to keep him away from the girls for those years. I mean, when he saw them he would give them presents and food that we couldn’t afford but he wouldn’t let me have the money to support them. And he’d tell them I was holding out on them because he was giving me plenty of money and keeping it all for myself.”

“The bastard.” Wendy whispered.

”I guess my story has been told a million times by a million women but for me it was anything but routine. There were times when I didn’t think I could go on. After a while that sick feeling in your stomach seems permanent and becomes hard to distinguish from just being hungry. I guess it wouldn’t have seemed so bad if we hadn’t had plenty of money all the time before. But then, suddenly, over the course of just a few months, I went from well-off to worrying about our next meal.

It was too late in the year for gardening but the girls would sometimes get babysitting jobs and would get some variety in their diets from their employers’ refrigerators. That was one benefit of living in a rich neighborhood, I guess.”

Natalie gave a deep sigh and looked at her hands, safely covered by white gloves, twisted in her lap. She hadn’t expected to have those old feelings rush back on her from just talking about her divorce. ‘Of course’ she thought, ‘this is the first time I really told anyone the story. I was too ashamed of what happened to talk to anyone about it besides my lawyer before.’

"Then the transition came. I went back to doing what I had been doing before in the building supply field. My knowledge and my skills were still relevant. I had to work out of our home at first and for a while there I was afraid that we’d have to give it up. I didn’t realize that since I owned the house we could keep it even though it was far too big for us to have it as standard housing. Well you remember the construction boom that started with the transition. I was right in the middle of it for this whole area. I had a good idea of which builders were on the ball and which were just singing a brave song. Within two years we had horses and an even bigger rig for hauling the horses since now it was horses, because the girls had outgrown ponies.”

“Way to go kid,” Niall said quietly.

“My relationship with Dirk changed, too. Not that I ever really liked him again. But I came to realize that the girls loved him and he wouldn’t hurt them so I stopped trying to keep them away from him. Also, since there was no child support any more I had no reason to be angry at him for not paying it. I couldn’t and still can’t forgive him for what he did to me. But I’ve come to realize that by trying to hurt him by spending his money and breaking his things I was really being as bad in my way as he was being in his. I mean, his betrayal of me had already done all the damage it was going to do. I had been hurt and embarrassed by his infidelity but that wasn’t really a reflection on me at all. His behavior was his behavior and it really said nothing at all about me.”

“That’s right, honey,” said Wendy.

“I tried to explain that to my daughters several times but I don’t think I ever succeeded. They probably think he wouldn’t have been unfaithful if I’d been more of a woman. But I don’t think that was the case at all. I think he had to be unfaithful because of his own feelings of inadequacy. He just couldn’t believe that women could love him for himself so he had to keep chasing and proving over and over to himself that he could get women.”

Again, D.W. and Oscar looked at each other on that one.

“But I guess each generation of women has to learn about men from their own experience. They just won’t believe their mothers or learn from their harsh experience.”

“So true, so true,” Wendy said shaking her head from side to side with a grim look.

“Okay, I know I’m rambling and that this story needs a moral or at least a reason for being told. So here it is. Why am I becoming a Payer? My own experience with our society has shown me that my success in life is largely due to Payers. Not that I owe anything to Payers in general or any particular payer. Becoming a Payer was their choice and they did it for selfish reasons I’m sure. It was the life they wanted to live and they got their chance. But I’ve been in the competitive business world for over 30 years. I’ve been operating under pressure for all my adult life. That’s enough. I want to slow down and relax more. ‘Why not retire,’ you say. I don’t want to stop altogether. I just want the pressure off. This way I can still be involved but I don’t have to get that job done any more.

What does it cost me? I’ve thought about that. I’ve always had luxuries, even when I was first divorced and we were living hand-to-mouth I still had that big house and there was that big truck in the garage that I couldn’t afford to drive and I had leftover clothes and some toys like that camping gear. But in the last few years they really haven’t meant much to me. I still like riding but with the girls gone off to lead their own lives and my business taking so much of my time I haven’t been able to ride more than two or three times a month. That isn’t good for either the horse or the rider. The big house is just a lot of housework. Sure I like to eat out but it isn’t that important to me any more. I’ve been to the best vacation spots but I really don’t like travel that much. Right now the life of a Payer seems very sweet to me.”

“Natalie, if you’re finished I’d like to have a word to say to some of the men in our little group here.” Leyden had her feet tucked up under her and was turned sideways on the couch with her body facing Natalie. Her head was turned toward Oscar and D.W. as she spoke. “I saw you exchanging looks while Natalie talked. I know what you were thinking. You were thinking Dirk was quite justified in chasing other women because he wasn’t getting enough at home. Admit it. That’s what you were thinking.”

“No,” D.W. said. “I never thought that.” But of course he had thought exactly that.

“Well I must confess that I did have some sympathy for Dirk at that point in your story,” Oscar said with a little bit of sheepish grin showing.

“And you think it’s funny, too, don’t you Oscar. You think it’s always the wife’s fault when her husband philanders.” Leyden, despite her very kittenish and almost seductive pose was almost spitting at the two now.

“It’s not all like that Leyden,” Clayton said.” You have to remember that men are just different than women sexually. We’re designed to be attracted to many women. You’ve probably noticed, ever since you grew up, that there were lots of men attracted to you and it didn’t matter whether they were married or not.”

“But the good men, the men I could respect never went any further than to flirt a little. I always had contempt for those men who tried to get me into the sack even though they were married.”

“Leyden, what Dirk did to Natalie wasn’t funny at all,” Niall said. “There’s no excuse for what he did. He knew Natalie before he asked her to marry him. If he couldn’t accept her as she was he had no business proposing to her in the first place.”

At that Natalie’s head came up and she looked at Niall’s face as if searching for something.

“But, Niall, we have no idea how Natalie came across to Dirk.” D.W. said holding out his arms.

“Yes we do, D.W.” Niall said firmly. “Natalie has been completely consistent in how she has behaved toward us the whole time we’ve known her. Her dress, her body language, everything has told us that she is friendly but doesn’t want to be touched. I first noticed it when we were getting off the bus as we arrived here. You and Oscar were helping Leyden with her bags and I didn’t want to look like a doofus so I kind of pressured Natalie into allowing me to help her with her bags. I don’t think she wanted me to touch her bags. She has always been careful to avoid having any of us men sit next to her on a couch. She always is careful to go in or out the classroom door with plenty of room between her and the others. She’s been quite consistent and I can’t imagine any man who had gotten to know her well wouldn’t know that.”

Natalie’s eyes had at first gotten larger as Niall had spoken and then had quickly returned to looking at her hands. ‘He understands. He’s been noticing me and he understands!’

D.W., Oscar, and the rest were looking shocked at Niall’s comments.

“Darling, it must be so hard for you,” Wendy smiled kindly at her.

“Oh dear, I hope my hugging you didn’t…” Leyden said pulling back a little from Natalie.

“No, no. I didn’t mind. I rather liked the support. It wasn’t that bad.” Natalie held up her hands in a gesture of negation and shook her head.

“The point is, though, that you men are blaming the victim again,” Leyden continued. “Natalie gets abused and you blame her for her husband’s betrayal. You think just because Natalie’s not desperate for sex whenever her husband’s in the mood that he can sleep with anyone else he likes.”

“No. I think it’s sinful to even lust after another woman,” Oscar said, elbows on knees and hands clasped in an earnest attitude. “It’s just that a man really doesn’t have a choice sometimes and if a man has gone for a time without sexual release it becomes even harder. A man can’t always resist temptation. There are times when a man is weak. If he’s presented with opportunities to stray, over and over again, there’ll most likely come a time when he gives in. That’s just the way it is.”

D.W. was holding his hand up before his face and pointing at Leyden with his index finger even before Oscar finished. “You think his behavior justified what she did to him? He at least had the excuse of involuntary attractions. Biology was working against him. What excuse does Natalie have for what she did to him? She stole his money and she destroyed his property. It was vindictive is what it was.”

“You got real good control when you’re enraged, D.W.?” Wendy said. “You never do anything stupid when you’re angry?”

D.W. became flustered and stammered incoherently for a few seconds his face red.

“Say no more, D.W. I say you’ve done some pretty stupid things when you were angry,” Wendy finished firmly.

“Listen, D.W. it’s really none of our business. You don’t have to say a thing,” Clayton said grabbing his upper arm.

D.W. jerked his arm away and covered his face with his hands. After a moment he dropped them in front of his chest with fists clenched. His face alternately flushed and blanched as he felt anger and fear. His hands clenched or covered his face.

The others looked on with some concern. Even Wendy who had been so angry at him for his attitude toward Natalie’s situation became concerned and her heart softened toward him.

Some of the others asked what was wrong but he couldn’t tell them. Wendy apologized but all D.W. could do in response was nod his head.

Finally, Oscar said,” I think that what D.W. needs is some time to himself. He knows we’re all here for him on whatever terms he likes. Let’s turn in now because you all know what’s in store for us beginning tomorrow.”

Each of the group said something encouraging or offered help if he would accept it and Leyden even kissed him on the cheek. This would have made Natalie angry had it happened the day before or even an hour before. It would have made Oscar a little jealous and would have thrilled Darwin. As it was, after the others left the room to get ready for bed, Darwin put his hand on his cheek where the kiss still tingled.

After a few minutes, when his emotional firestorm had calmed somewhat, D.W. reached into his pocket and brought out an anachronism, an actual billfold. He opened it and removed something which he unfolded to reveal was several sheets of paper. He flattened the sheets and read several passages very quietly to himself.

“… I’m supposed to think about things, write down what happened, and why, and who was responsible and how much fault was mine and how much was theirs, and so on and so forth…

Dr. Rhys-Jones, is not trying to get me to ego-trip. No, not for a second. What I’ve got to understand is that for the most of my adult life, 35-40 years, I’ve basically been plowing ahead, to the next goal, or want, or whatever. And that was it, period. Whereas most normal people go to work, come home and kiss the wife and pet the dog, hug the kids and then settle in to rest the batteries for another day, I had no idea what that was about. I’d come home, but I’d be dragging this monster behind me called work, and I was always in its shadow or it was in mine, but we sure were a team. My wife told me last fall that she couldn’t remember a single night when I came home and even talked beyond the ‘hi, how are you?’ and ‘oh?’ and ‘um-hum,’ which you say when you’re not listening. Got to the point where she finally gave up, tried to give us good food, but ended up feeling more like a waitress in a diner than a mom and wife in her own kitchen…”

D.W. turned the page and his eye found another passage which he read.

“If my life was a long string of pictures in a museum gallery or something, and if you started, say, in college and came up to about three or four months ago, you would see an almost unbroken chain of me getting cheated, screwed, taken advantage of, whatever you want to call it. From an unfair fraternity election and some unfortunate property damage to more or less ruining the appearance of a $150,000 car and related compassionate sentencing (including Dr. Rhys-Jones, thank you very much), it has been this opportunity but, this job except for, that new position until. Every decent thing I could have had for my wife and family was sabotaged by this incredible succession of people whose main goal in life seemed to be messing me up, assuring me the short end of the stick, screwing me over to take the rewards I deserved.”

At this he shook his head but kept reading.

“And the worst part was the incredibly bad luck to have all of these people, one after another, in a never-ending line of co-workers whose main job seemed to be messing up mine, getting me to quit, or even asking me to leave. And with my temper, I was sent off more than once, but Dr. Rhys-Jones says not to dwell on that part. Temper is not something I am denying, but neither am I going to keep feeding it by constantly bringing it up. ‘This is a trait you need to starve, Mr. Wellman,’ she says, ‘just let it die away from lack of attention and energy. It will,’ she says. And know what? I believe her. I mean, she was right about The Dream and a ton of other stuff that won’t get mentioned here (or anywhere), so I’m doing my best on this one.

Remember the picture gallery analogy of my adult life represented in a string of photos? Well, the big news flash, again courtesy of Dr. Rhys-Jones is that the pictures are wrong. Simple, huh?”

“The pictures are wrong,” he whispered again, firmly.

“What she means is that the events happened, they sure did. But the way I looked at them was completely screwed up. ‘A view askew’ as my long-suffering wife would say. What brought them on was my inability to get along with anyone who crossed me over anything more important than plain or jelly doughnuts. My temper over my suggestions not being immediately taken brought them on. My refusal to work with anyone on a project that I was not heading brought them on, and so on and so on…”

Then further down he read a bit louder.

“She helped me to see one very strong, undeniable facet of my personality. It’s not that I want to boss people, or to squeeze the life out of their pet projects, or anything like that. But what is true is that I want the power to do that, if I chose. It’s complicated and definitely not going to change in my lifetime, with my limited capacity to see inwardly. I’ll never be Mother Teresa. But – and here’s where Dr. Rhys-Jones earns her fee in my eyes — I don’t have to be the evil Dr. Fu Manchu, either.

All along I have needed to find an outlet to let that aspect of my personality play its role without destroying me and the people around me. I know that because life is so much better for me now. Even I have enough insight…”

At that point Oscar came up the hallway and into the discussion area.

“D.W.? Are you all right? Is there anything I can do? I thought I heard you talking.”

D.W. quickly refolded the paper and put it back into his wallet. Then he looked up at Oscar, who had halted about 15 feet away across the room.

“Everybody’s been telling why they want to be a payer. So you want to know why I’m a payer trainee? It sure as hell ain’t from humanitarian grounds, as we both know, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be a good payer. My reason’s simple: I’ll have power as a payer. It’s just that simple. I’ll have power to say to anybody that their work is worth such and such because it has a positive effect on x number of people and there’s not a thing they can do about it.

And that’s just the beginning how neat this is – with all of the talk about boundaries and peer consequences that we’ve been studying so hard for the past few weeks. There’s no need to cheat or throw my weight around because I’ll know and the people I pay will know that it’s my decision and mine alone.

I think that I’ll be a damn good payer. I say this not because I have one thing or another that you guys don’t, but that the whole thing represents an incredibly liberating answer for me. All my life I’ve been the one put in the wrong. I’ve been the one being told what to do. My ideas have been ignored. This is my last realistic chance to be somebody. I don’t want it to go wrong, and I’m going to do all I can to make it work. And that, simple as it is, is why I think – no, make that I know – that I’ll be a damn good payer.”

Oscar had been walking toward D.W. while he spoke. Now he reached for D.W.’s hand. He started to shake it. Then he pulled D.W. up from his chair and gave him a big hug. “You’ll be the best payer. The rest of us just want to be Payers. You really need to be a payer.”

D.W. was a little uncomfortable with the hug at first. But as Oscar gripped his shoulders and shook him to emphasize his last sentence he felt a surge of confidence.

“Damn right, Oscar.” And he punched Oscar on the shoulder.

Together they turned toward the hallway and the trials that awaited them on the morrow.

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