One of the truths of life that most people come to realize is that life has consequences, sometimes not immediate and sometimes unperceived, but always existent in one form or another. The damage that I had inflicted on my marriage and on Shannon resulted in me losing balance and all the drama you’ve read about, but the truth is that I continued to damage both her and Natalie after that suspension. It wasn’t intentional harm; it was just dealing with my own confused emotions and pain but it was still wrong. We all continued to try to figure out what to do but while working from our tenderness we were still both hurting, and once Natalie found someone else, she decided that everything was entirely my fault. It is a pattern far too often in our relationships that when we find a replacement for someone who has hurt us, then we remember ourselves as meritorious and others as being the cause of the failure. Natalie would paint me to some of our mutual friends as manipulative and herself as just some victim. This was a hard sell to anyone as she consistently was the one who came to my house and called me just as often as I called her. Neither I nor these friends denied that there was plenty of faults on my side but Natalie’s ears were deaf to the fact that blame went both directions. There were times where she’d leave me multiple voicemails in one night thinking I was avoiding her when I simply hadn’t gotten any of them. She had always been a girl of intense emotions and once I was the recipient of her anger, it came with conviction. There was a time where her first therapist, a non school one, had decided that I should be brought in to do a therapy session. During that session, I was as honest as I could be about the fact that I did have feelings for her and perhaps always would but that I needed to be faithful to my wife. She tried to point out to me that this was about me worrying about my career, that she and I had a “deeper connection.” I didn’t acknowledge that but responded that I’d made a choice at that point and that my main problem was when I hadn’t been making choices. Shortly after that was when she met David and our conversations ceased very quickly.
Natalie held on to her anger and would try over the next few months to affect negative change in my life. At New Horizons, where she had worked before I did as a substitute, was the first of what I should have read as a warning sign. In one of those odd things, she was scheduled to substitute for me on a day I was supposed to leave early. She had not shown up and so I had to call her from work and she said she wasn’t coming in. I was able to find another sub but had to explain the management that she had not been able to come in. While I did my best, as perhaps I am doing here, to minimize any wrong doing on her part, it was hard to do without explaining all the history between us (which I did not do). She showed up the following business day with her mother and tried to make the case that they should fire me. My manager let her know at that meeting that she would no longer be needed as a sub. She then talked to me about the event afterward and said that she couldn’t understand why someone in the twenties would a) be bringing their mother with them to explain things and b) let their mother do all the talking. My manager very pointedly said “that girl has issues that I can’t figure out.”
Still that wasn’t the last time that we would continue to clash. Apparently, after Natalie had completed all of her degree requirements, she felt the need to let the school know that we had violated the agreement of not keeping in touch. As I’ve heard it told, there was a frenzy of activity among school officials about whether or not to let Shannon, Natalie, and I march. Natalie wanted to be allowed to march and have us not do so, making the argument she should be exempt because she had been forthcoming after the fact. The school didn’t buy that because the explicit understanding was that if we kept in contact, then we all could likely be expelled and they were wise enough to see that it was too convenient for her to come forth with no personal risk. I was completely unaware of it while it was all happening. Truth be told, I actually didn’t want to march; I’d lost any desire for the pomp and circumstance plus it would be a reminder that someone else was giving the Class President speech. I was marching because I was the first in my family to graduate from college and my mother had flown in to see it. However, when she saw me, she was less than pleased with my longer hair. Anyway, we graduated and despite all that had gone wrong, when they announced my name, I was still the student they spent the longest time on. The school had a habit of announcing your name and certain of your accomplishment. Because I had graduated with two degrees, multiple honor societies, with honors and suma cum laude, they had to give credit where it was due. Ironically, the person who had to do that was Ileana Douglas who had told me I should be expelled. It well may have been imagined but I was certain there was disdain in her voice and in all frankness, it was not imagined that there was some satisfaction in hearing her having to spend the time reciting accolades.
I missed again a great point of grace when several of the senior class officers and a few students who knew of all that had gone wrong stood up to clap when my name and accomplishments were announced, partly due to the fact that I was in a hurry to get off the stage. But the point of grace that I didn’t miss was that when Natalie’s name was announced, Shannon stood up and cheered more loudly than she did for anyone else in all of the graduations we’ve attended before or since. When I asked her why she had done it, she said that she really was happy that we’d all gotten here and that she hoped Natalie well.
My mother stayed a few days after graduation as we showed her around Napa Valley and around San Francisco and then she flew back home. The day she left everything started unraveling again. Dr. Paulson let me know that the school would be recommending to the Marshall Islands that I not be allowed to go. The mission trip where I was going to be allowed to speak at let me know that I would no longer be. The director, Steve Case, was incredibly generous about it but said that he had to defer to his staff. The invitation to speak at my old church in South Bay was rescinded. The emotions of rejection and anger and everything I’d started to work towards again all came flaring up again. All the progress I had made up until that point was erased and I was further back than I’d ever been.
I made the mistake of calling Natalie and left a message saying that I’d like to talk to her and settle this so we could both move on. A few hours later, I had a voicemail from her boyfriend David saying that she was pursuing a restraining order and that there was court set up a few days hence. In between that time and court, she apparently tried to get various faculty members and a few of our friends who had been involved in the situation to come to court but none of them would. In court, she claimed that the letter that I had made apologizing and that the phone call I had made a few days before asking to talk were threatening. In California, there are two different kinds of restraining orders; there is one that last three years and another that lasts for a lifetime. She further elaborated that I was so dangerous that I needed to be ordered to be kept away from her, her boyfriend, and all of her family for the rest of their lives. The judge ended up being a level headed fellow and asked the right question; could she produce any of these so called threatening letters? He appeared skeptical when she responded that she was so scared she had thrown them all away. When asked about the threatening voicemail, she said that they had erased it so as not to hear it again. Anyway, no restraining order was issued for any length of time with the judge telling me that with a record of a hearing at court, obviously I would be wise to never speak to Natalie or her family again unless I actually wanted a restraining order. I’ve felt horrible about all that happened and wished that I could offer an apology to Natalie but she’d made it clear she was happy to move on without one. That court session was the last time I saw her and it is an incredibly painful memory that someone who had been a friend and a lover had this kind of ending.
The summer continued to be a time of confusion but eventually the Marshall Islands decided they would allow me to come with or without the school’s blessing and because I had no job prospects and had raised several thousand dollars for this project, I thought we should continue with this plan. Truth was all the uncertainty and perplexity made me appreciate the opportunity to take some time away. Shannon and I could probably use the time to heal without jobs that were going to turn into careers and I was still open to the fact that maybe I should try to rebuild both my faith in my God and in my religion. This was becoming less likely in my view as I had at some level passed the buck on my failures on faith but I still missed God. The soundtrack concept had already begun and I heard a song then that I applied to God. It was Mariah Carey’s, “I still believe.” Like a teenage girl, I’d listen to it with angst in my heart and tears in my eyes:
I know it’s crazy, but you still can touch my heart
And after all this time you think that I wouldn’t feel the same
But time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed
I still believe
Someday you and me
Will find ourselves
In love again
Each day of my life, I’m filled with all the joy I could find
You know that I, I'm not the desperate type
If there’s one spark of hope left in my grasp,
I'm holding it with both hands
It’s worth the risk of burning, to have a second chance
Maybe the Marshall Islands would have that second chance.