Free Souls, Chapter 23

Free Souls

by KAH

(Produced ca. 1983, revised 2013 & 2014, all rights reserved)

Chapter 23

Sandy got up from the sofa, and after a moment of hesitation, walked over to the bookcase. Its shelves were full of the books she had acquired in architecture school and after. Mumford. Ruskin. Arnheim. Ortega y Gasset. But the book she wanted wasn’t there.

Maybe in the bedroom? She began to rummage in a box in her closet. “It’s in here somewhere, I thought . . . where is it?”

In the end, she gave up. “Damn, I guess I sold it when I left Boston.”

The volume she was seeking was her old Psychology text. Before her third year, Dr. Forsythe and the architecture school governing board decided that all the juniors should take a course on psychology. “So we could deal better with clients and contractors and all,” she laughed. “Psychology for Architects,” it was called, but in reality it was the same old “Intro to Psych I” course the liberal arts majors took in their freshman year. It was badly taught by a bored graduate student, styled by habit “Professor” Mason, and most of the Architecture students, including Sandy, found it to be a colossal waste of time. She barely pulled a B- in the course when she took it in the second semester: design projects on top of dealing with her father’s death and bailing Marvin out of his difficulties gave her a good excuse to skip attending as much as possible.

But there had been one lesson, some time after Spring Break, that hit home. “Maybe it wasn’t in the book anyway . . . ” The subject of alcoholism had come up, and somebody, not Professor Mason, had mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous, and how they’d observed that the people who said they loved the drunk the most were often his worst enemies when it came to his recovery. “And somebody else said they’d heard that people who live with addicts and drunks often get their satisfaction in life out of taking care of them and secretly don’t want it to stop . . . And Prof. Mason said yes, you can be addicted to the addict’s addiction, and if the addict gets better you might be devastated, because he no longer needs you and you need to feel needed . . . and to be in control . . . ”

With the light of revelation that late March day Sandy had realized that was exactly what she had been doing with her former boyfriend. “God help me . . . why should I behave like that? . . . Did I think he was all I deserved, after Jeff?

“And isn’t it supposed to be people who had bad childhoods, whose parents didn’t love them, who fall into that trap?” Back in the living room, her eyes once more were drawn to the portrait of Roderick and Karen Beichten. She winced. “Oh, God, they did love me, my mother still loves me, they trusted me, they raised me to do what was right, to know better. . . and I betrayed them!”

It didn’t matter that they had never been aware of her passion for Jeff. It was still a betrayal. “And Marvin, Daddy never thought he was good enough for me, and I blew off his feelings. ‘All fathers feel that way,’ that’s what I thought, and I pitied him for it!”

“But he was right and I knew it. I was worthy of better– then.” But she’d kept on seeing the guy. “Oh, yeah, I could be Marvin’s ‘old lady’ and still be so far above him! I was so proud of the way I could stay detached when his hands were roaming all over my body. His low opinion of art and academics, how I pitied him for it!  Oh, no, he couldn’t shake my principles, I was too damn superior!” But the truth was that in his company she’d grown coarser, more careless, more apt to compromise, less and less like her true self.

“Or maybe I was discovering my true self,” she said to herself, bitterly.

That was too harsh, and she knew it. Nevertheless, “I became that kind of girl. I failed my father when he never failed me.”

And she had failed him when he had needed her most.

She remembered the phone call from her mother, the beginning of December her junior year. It came just as she was heading out of the house to go dancing with Marvin.

“Sandy,” Mrs. Beichten said, “I’m worried about your father. He tells me he’s having chest pains, but he won’t go see the doctor.”

“Oh, Mom, don’t worry. He was fine at Thanksgiving, wasn’t he? He’s had these things before, he’ll be all right.” Of course he would be all right, she had rationalized. Wouldn’t her dad always be there for her?

“Sandy, I’m not sure. It seems different this time.”

“Different how?”

“I don’t know. I can’t describe it.”

“Well, then, it’s probably nothing. Thanks for telling me about it, but I’m sure he’ll be okay.” She had held back a sigh of impatience. “Mom, um, I gotta go. I’ve got stuff to do.” And she’d let her mother think that that “stuff” was something to do with her Architecture course. “Tell Daddy to take care of himself for me! Love you, bye!”

The fact was that that weekend had been the last she’d be able to get out and have fun before Finals, and no way was she getting all tangled up with family issues and missing it. She had enough on her plate without encouraging her mother’s inclination to worry. Daddy would be fine.

And she had gone out with Marvin and danced till the club closed. The next day, which was a Sunday, she’d thrown herself into completing the final design project for the year and studying for her exams. She’d felt very virtuous about it. “They didn’t approve of Marvin, but they couldn’t say I was neglecting my work!”

On the Monday a week later, she had just let herself into the house when the phone in the entry began to ring.

“Hi, Sandy here.”

“Sandy, it’s Mom.” Her voice had sounded anxious.

“Hi, Mom. Is everything all right?”

“No, it isn’t. Your dad’s had a heart attack.”

“A heart attack!” Sandy had been truly alarmed. “How bad was it? How is he?”

“It could have been worse, thank God. He’s awake and they’ve got him back in a regular room.”

She’d relaxed a little. “That’s good. He’ll be okay, then.”

“Sandy, I don’t know. I hope so.” With a pang she remembered the deep breath her mother took before saying, “Sandy, I want you to get on the bus and come home now.”

“Mom, I can’t! I just submitted my final project, I pulled an all-nighter! I’m exhausted!”

“You can sleep on the bus. You need to come see your father.”

“Mom, I can’t!” she’d said again. “I’ve got finals Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. I can’t miss them!”

“They’ll let you reschedule. Tell them it’s a family emergency.”

“Oh, Mom, stop worrying! You said Daddy was getting better. My final on Friday is in the morning. I’ll get the bus that afternoon. . . . I, I was planning on coming home for Christmas then anyway.”

This hadn’t been true. She had actually intended to spend that weekend out celebrating with Marvin and then come home on the Monday. But her mother hadn’t needed to know that.

“Sandy, please come. It will make your father feel better.”

“Mom,” she had said with the condescending superiority of youth, “Daddy will feel better if I take my tests and get good grades. If I miss those finals, it’ll mess everything up for second semester. He’ll understand. Give him a kiss for me and tell him I’ll see him Friday night. OK? Love you both!”

“Why was I so cruel, to them both?” she wondered now. “Why did I throw my academic career in their face? ‘Hey, look, I’m doing what you wanted, now keep out of it when I do what you don’t want!’ . . . Oh, God, it was what I wanted, too! So why–? I don’t know! I just don’t know!”

What she did know was that the following Friday evening had been too late. For by 10:00 AM that morning, when Sandy was halfway through her Environmental Technology final, Roderick Beichten lay in his hospital room, dead.

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