Shannon and I, oddly enough, went to New York that year for Thanksgiving. We were going to go the year before but because of the 9/11 attacks had put it off for a year. We had a good time going to the museums, catching a couple of shows, seeing all that New York has to offer. Part of the reason it was a good time was that we were away from Natalie but it was a very uncomfortable vacation. There was en elephant in the room or rather across the continent that was weighing in on us. Truth be told I was still very much in love with my wife but I was also in love with another girl and that couldn’t be held. The I love NY things everywhere certainly contributed to the tension.
We had a couple of arguments and even spent some time apart doing some things on our own. We were staying with her family and the tension at points was thick enough to where frankly speaking, they thought I was a jerk. There’s no way to spin that they were completely right, that Shannon was asking me to stop this stupid experiment and get back to real life, the one with her that I had committed to.
Shannon and Natalie’s friendship faded fast and quickly it became evident that this was not sustainable. But I was loathe to quit all that I was doing wrong, almost if not worse than a drug addict. Natalie was too hesitant in quitting as well, perhaps because she thought this was the only way to deal with her emotions for me. I pushed the point of no return when Shannon went to a dinner of the theology departments to represent me and found out that I had been with Natalie and not at anything of consequence. We had a gigantic fight in the car that night and I essentially dared her to leave. This was shortly after the Christmas break has started. We had just finished our finals and had no real commitments except work for almost a month.
When we got back to the house, Shannon called my bluff, got out of the car and walked away. I tried to walk after her but it became painfully obvious that for the time being, she was not going to be stopped. I called Natalie and explained to her the drama and she said she would be right over. As corny as it may sound, it was a dark and stormy night when she left. It was windy, rainy and about as miserable weather as you can imagine in Angwin, California. To cap off a perfect evening, the power even went out. In my mind, the utilities and the firmament were laughing at me.
I had laid down the gauntlet and Shannon would break it. She came in with Craig Philpott who kept insisting “he was only a guy holding a flashlight” though he told Natalie that she should go. Natalie had some lame answer to that. I wished the verbiage was a little more dramatic but I can’t remember any of it so it must not have been. They packed up some stuff and then they left. And then…Natalie and I were in the dark.
We talked for a while…wondered what Shannon would do…I asked Natalie to stay because I wanted her there…no, I just didn’t want to be alone…or maybe I wanted her there…I don’t know. She left nonetheless and in the biggest stupor of my life, amidst quiet, angry tears, I fell asleep.
At 3’o clock in the morning, I woke up, rather I was woken up. There was Craig again, with the flashlight and the same line and Shannon getting more stuff. I tried to get her to talk. She refused to engage me. Then she left. Again.
I went to sleep again. More confused and naively but full heartedly believing that when I woke up in the morning, like so many other times in life, it would be ok. I didn’t know how but this had to be a nightmare that I would wake up from…that magically perhaps Shannon might even be there in the morning…perhaps that they both would be…but at least her. She wasn’t. That was the last time I ever fully trusted someone.
The next few days were a blurry of activity. By sheer coincidence, Greg King, the chair of the theology department called me into his office the next morning. Apparently, he had found about what was going on the last few weeks and wanted to talk to me about it. I assumed, incorrectly, that it was because of the previous night’s activity. It turned out that someone else had somehow been suspicious (Natalie had been leaving my house oddly enough on many mornings) and had talked to Greg King. I spilled my guys to him about much of it and that may have been the most unguarded I ever was about it.
A few years before, Shannon’s parents had found some pictures of me in various states of undress in her home. They had been taken in college dorm room, the worst one being one of me from the back and going into the shower. This was beyond evidence to them that I was corrupting their daughter. They had sent the pictures to the theology department with a letter that I clearly had issues and that they should kick me out of the program. The theology department had convened and let me explain it as what it was, an idiot move by a college freshmen and told me to be smarter. This attempt to force someone’s hand had caused a big rift between Shannon and her family, a rift I was happy to feed because her family was against me. My egocentric selfishness made me have strong venom against those who were trying to point out my faults because I still wasn’t ready to deal with many of them. It had been a missed opportunity on my part, perhaps the department’s part, but mainly mine to deal with some of these issues that I’d struggled with since high school. Like before, I was the only one who knew all the connections and like before I thought ignoring them would make them go away. Obviously this had not been true. I wonder how much Greg King thought about that as we talked about this new Natalie episode. I certainly did.
Shannon caught a flight to her parents the day proving the old adage that home is where when you go, they have to let you in. For several days, she wouldn’t take my phone call at all and her parents, who were already not fans of me, made it clear I wasn’t to call their home anymore. I went over and talked to Natalie and her mother about it all. Natalie’s mother had also for the first time heard about all of the happenings and her main point was to press us to see if we were in a position to deny it. I was still so shaken up about everything that I was going on that I was spitting at the mouth.
The days were dark and I had no clue what to do with myself; people wisely advised me to stay away during pastoral duties. I was home alone in the cold and there were times I would go into a catatonic stare with occasional tears just streaming as I would just collapse. A friend of mine, Orlando, was so worried about me that he started sleeping on my couch with just a couple of weeks left till his wedding. He also hid all my knives because he was afraid I would hurt myself. While that thought never crossed my mind, I’m not sure I would have minded had I been hit by a bus around that time. I kept running then; after the initial three months before my marriage where I had lost all that weight, I had decided I would run 1000 consecutive days. I was at over 600 days when this was going and I kept running because it was the only thing that felt normal. In something that felt entirely appropriate, several of those nights were cold rain and one was a pounding hail. I kept running in it, letting it beat my face and body feeling extremely narcissistically that this was God showing his displeasure.