Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My "Stephen King Exercise in Futility"

As I said in an earlier post, I have been reading Stephen King's book on Writing. It's called. oddly enough, "On Writing". It's a book that Friend TJ gave me last spring, yet I just got around to reading it this month. Anyway, there is one, (and only one), exercise in this book. In the set-up for this exercise, King tells you this story about an abusive relationship, where the woman finally divorces the man. As happens a lot in "real" life, the divorce, and subsequent restraining orders only serve to make the guy crazier and more vicious. After a particularly outrageous public attack on his wife, he is jailed. King goes on to outline a tale where the man escapes jail, and as the woman hears about the jail break on TV, she smells her husbands ever-present hair oil, and hears a footstep on her basement stairs.
So, having given us the set-up, SK then challenges us to change the genders of the two characters, and write the story in our own way.
Mr. King then goes on to ask us to submit our product for review to his website. Well, seeing as the book is 9 years old, I figured it would be impossible to submit, and that turned out to be true. Never one to dodge a challenge, I spent about 4 hours over a two day period writing the sad tale "My Way", which was the only manner in which I could figure out how to tell the story, and have it make sense. I never enjoy writing dialogue, unless I am using a real exchange I have taken part in, or witnessed, Thus my narration from the point-of-view as a travel writer who knew the characters in real life. What follows is my attempt at this exercise. Comments are appreciated, yet, kindness is requested too, so be brutally honest, but bear in mind that I'm an unstable personality, and very insecure about my writing skills ! LoL,....Here goes:>


A Sad turn to an "All-too-Common" Tale.
Exclusive for NYT by: Hurston P. Morgan III

While most readers of this piece may recognize my byline from my Travelogues and Trip Reports for this newspaper, let me warn you that this is unlike anything you have read from me before. This is a very common story these days. Sadly enough, you can scarcely read your daily paper, nor watch your local TV newscast, without hearing a story about an abusive relationship turned tragedy. This is such a story, and one I wouldn’t be writing if I didn’t know both the victim, and the perpetrator.

Jack and Diane met during their college years. They lived together their last two years of school, and married soon after graduation. "Typical Midwestern couple" you would think if you met them at Jack’s real estate office or at the local literacy coalition where Diane volunteered her time.
I knew them from college, attended their wedding with a mutual friend, and purchased my first house through Jack’s agency. Jack and Diane’s son, JR. was born within days of our first child, so we also saw them a lot at the Pediatrician’s office in those days. My wife knew them too, through the law offices where she worked.

For all the above reasons, we were beyond shocked when we heard last week that Jack was dead, and Diane was under arrest for his murder. "What had gone wrong?" We asked ourselves, for this absurd crime to have happened to people once known so well? It was then that I started asking neighbors and friends at the Police station about this incredible tragedy. Below is the story as best I can determine:

Shortly after JR’s birth, Diane began to resent her marriage, fell out of love with Jack, and began a series of affairs with the sort of "street people" and such, that she had come in contact with through her job at the Literacy program. Some of these men were recently released convicts. Most living in halfway houses and studying for their GED’s to comply with court ordered conditions of their parole. I think it’s safe to say that few-if-any of these men had ever had occasion to even meet a college educated woman of beauty and charm like they found in their new "tutor". Probably none of them had even dreamed of bedding such a woman either, so Lord knows what kind of thoughts passed through their minds when she let it be known she was available, and looking.

Such goings on don’t go undetected for too long in a small town like ours, and so it was only days before Jack found out about Diane’s activities, and confronted her with the facts. Friends of the couple say that Diane confessed to her sins, and agreed to go to a marriage counselor, as well as seeing a therapist on her own. Evidently, she had also become distant to her child, yet denied post-partum depression, or any other excuses for her neglect and indifference to the child.

For his part, Jack didn’t let the shame of his wife’s actions prevent him from grabbing hold of the situation, and becoming the nurturing parent in little JR’s life. Jack also kept up appearances at his business and his social roles in town. His golfing buddies say they were only a little bit surprised at the stoic way he ignored the gossip, and kept up a fa├žade of normalcy in his life.

The sessions with the marriage counselor hadn’t gone well, soon the therapist too was finding out that Diane had no interest in exploring her actions, and since she felt no remorse for her infidelity and promiscuity, she ended her appointments with the therapist too.

While seemingly keeping her promises to Jack to end her liasons with her pupils, Diane acted much like an reforming addict, in that she replaced the sexual exploits with a switch to alchohol, and was soon drinking every night. At his wits end, Jack gave her the ultimatum; either she commit herself to a course of treatment at a rehab center, and return to therapy afterward, or move out of the house, where their toddler son would not have to witness her behaviors.

Diane’s few remaining friends were as shocked as Jack’s family, when she voluntarily committed herself to a mental health facility in the neighboring town. It was in the confines of this hospital where Diane really began her decline. Faced with the end of her marriage, her shameful treatment of her child, and her ruined status in the community, she began to exhibit the symptoms of full-blown paranoid schizophrenia.
Suddenly, all the Doctors, the nurses, and especially the other patients in her group, were all part of a vast conspiracy to ruin her life, and claim her inherited fortune, a fortune that only existed in her troubled mind.

For Jack’s part, he continued to visit her, at first bringing the boy along too. Soon, Jack himself was becoming concerned that the treatment was more detrimental than her actions before hand had been. The Doctors went to great lengths to assure him that she would have had a psychotic episode, possibly a dangerous one, whether or not she was in their care.

As months dragged on, Jack continued to provide excellent loving care to his son, all the while maintaining his real estate business, and praying for his wife’s recovery. In her more lucid moments, Diane began to accuse Jack of having an affair with one of the girls in his office. She had even decided that it was the youngest one, a college girl named Connie, who had interned at the firm, and had worked there prior to that when she was the phone receptionist during high school.

Discouraged with Diane’s slow recovery and increasingly pessimistic about their future together, Jack began to think about divorce. He knew that no court would recognize Diane as capable of understanding her legal position, and unwilling to just abandon his wife to her illness, He nonetheless contacted his attorney, and told him to begin the paperwork for a dissolution.

After instructing the lawyer to work up a settlement that would give Diane a monthly stipend, and supervised visitation with their son on her release from treatment, Jack tried to broach the subject with Diane, with her Doctors present. It’s redundant for me to tell you about her reaction, yet it was much worse than you might expect. Exploding from her chair, screaming that she would kill him, his son, and everyone else, Diane exhibited that uncanny strength given only to the insane, grabbing a china teacup, she broke it on the conference table, and was slashing at Jack’s face before the Doctors and orderlies could restrain her. Bleeding from a horrible slash on his cheek, one that barely missed his right eye, Jack was able to stumble out of the room, and get clear of the fracas involving his once beautiful, dainty wife, and the 5 full-grown men it took to restrain her.

The next day, Jack told his lawyer to go ahead and file for the divorce. His trip by ambulance to the city hospital had been noted on the police blotter, and an enterprising reporter learned all the details, and told the story in the next morning’s newspaper. As with anything sensational, the local TV stations, and then the cable news channels picked it up, and soon Diane’s insane actions and Jack’s filing for divorce were all over the nation.

With the media jackals haunting his every move, Jack became a prisoner in his own home. He literally couldn’t show his face at work, had to change his home phone numbers, and was working overtime to keep little Jack Junior from realizing how crazy and chaotic their lives had become. In the third week of the media circus, Jack finally caught a break. One of JR’s little playmates was having a Birthday party, and the mother called, asking if JR could come, and offering to keep him overnight for a sleepover party.

Relieved to have his son involved in something fun for the day, Jack dropped by the office, where he found everything running pretty smoothly, and even a few new listings coming in. Feeling the need for some escape himself, he dropped into a local bookstore, looking for something fast-paced and exciting to read on his "night off" from parenting. The bookseller, a famous local gossip, was at great pains to restrain himself from the million questions he would have liked to ask, but did so out of sympathy for his long-time customer.

Arriving home with his paperback novel and some carry-out Chinese, Jack was pleased to find only a few persistent news vultures outside, and these he easily avoided by driving straight into the garage, closing the overhead door before they had time to besiege him. Walking into an unusually quiet house, something pinged in Jack’s brain , an eerie feeling crept up his spine. He quickly shunted his instincts aside, writing it off as the absence of a hyper little 4 year-old who was usually the rambunctious spirit of the home.

Making short work of the Chinese food, while perched on a stool at the kitchen’s bar, Jack and his Stephen King novel soon found their place in his favorite Lazy Boy chair. Turning on the TV in his den, Jack caught the end of a news alert, something about an escape in the next county. Turning the annoying box off, Jack found that his ill-at-ease feelings were still strong in the back of his mind, with something trying to get his attention. He was just figuring out what was out of whack. It was the smell of Diane’s perfume, strong in his nostrils, after months of her absence in their home.
He knew the scent well, it was Diane’s custom-made scent, one she had designed for her at a little Paris perfumery, on their honeymoon, and which he had ordered her bottles of each anniversary since. No sooner had he realized what was amiss, when he heard a footstep on the basement stairs. Before he could even get out of his recliner, there stood Diane, holding his Mossberg 12 gauge and pointing it right at him. "What in the world are you doing?" he gasped

"Some of the girls on the jail ward were breaking out, and it would have been rude not to come along" she replied,

"Where’s your little whore Connie at? And where is my son?"

"Connie is at work where she belongs, and JR is spending the night at the Ford’s, because it’s Tommy’s birthday" "What do you want here?" he added.

"I don’t want anything, I’m here to keep my promise to you" she growled.

"Why would you want to hurt me?" I’ve never done anything to harm you, never even been unkind to you, no matter what you’ve done".

"No, you’ve never done anything that would keep you from getting my money!"

"I don’t know what money you’re talking about. The only money you’ve brought into this marriage was from your Grandmother’s house she left you, and I sold that for a lot more than it was worth, and gave you every cent"

" Don’t try to fool me ‘cause you think I’m crazy, you know what money I want"
"No, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I wish you would put that gun down before something bad happens, and somebody gets hurt"

No sooner had the words come out of his mouth, when there was a loud knocking on the front door. "Mrs. Seymour, this is Captain Stout, State Police. We need you to come out now"

"Go Away" she screeched, then turning back to Jack, she caught him just as he was pitching forward to get out of his chair. The deputy watching through a window, says that she never hesitated, she fired the 12 gauge shotgun right into Jack’s chest, quickly worked the slide to chamber another round, and turned to fire towards the front door
.
It was at that point that the sniper on the neighbor’s roof fired at her, right through a big bay window, his round hitting her in the shoulder, and sending her cart-wheeling across the floor, loosing her grip on the shotgun, and being piled onto by several SWAT team members the second she landed.

So that’s how this sad story ends, another tragedy that no social service, court, or counsel could have averted. I’m not sure what we can learn from this tragedy. There is no clear point where Diane’s slide into madness could have been halted; nothing that any social services officer, nor law enforcement could have intervened.

The young son is the ultimate loser in this story, the only bright side of his fate being that Jack’s parents are still relatively young, and that Jack had two sisters who will also have a hand in JR’s upbringing. Even so, what will they tell the boy when he’s old enough to ask what happened to his parents? Another facet of his future that is in doubt,…how will the people raising him ever be able to watch as he matures, and not look for signs of the insanity that is in his genes, and wonder if he will someday snap like his Mother did?

The End!
 
 

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