The episode in which Clint pulls a grenade.

Clint and I were sitting in the living room as he unloaded everything that had been going on in the past month. I was surprised and unsurprised at the same time. It was one of those things where you have to sort of re-orient yourself to a new surrounding and a new reality. Eight years earlier, I had been congratulated by a friend on my impending engagement and I had to inform him that not only was no engagement forthcoming but that Julie and I had gone our separate ways. The framework changes from one of a future to a thing of the past. Reality changes and we’re left to re-orient. When we planned this trip, I thought I was going to be helping Clint strategize his proposal. Instead, he was telling me of the destruction of everything and we were sitting there, talking and looking around an apartment that was soon to be entirely dismantled. A strange feeling to be somewhere that soon was no longer going to even exist.

Six months before all this he had told me of his plans to propose. Almost two years before that, he had been expected to propose but had not. It had become a sore point. A weight under which it was extremely difficult to put any of it right without it seeming anything more than an effort to shed a burden. There. I proposed. I did it. Happy? Or was that not what you had in mind? That’s why I can’t propose today. Or tomorrow. Or until this burden lifts. What do you mean this burden won’t lift without a proposal? That puts us in quite the pickle, doesn’t it?

About two weeks before our conference in the condemned apartment, he sent me a somewhat mysterious email telling me that there was a lot going on and that he wished it could be a good thing. A month before that, Margaret had tried to contact Dave and I about the two of us going to Shaston to surprise him. I emailed Dave and told him that we needed to put any plans on ice for now. Though Clint’s relationship with Margaret had previously been reported happy (albeit burdened), I had run through it in my mind and determined taht there was no other “not good thing” he could be referring to. His job already wasn’t very good, but he’d learned to accept that. His financial situation wasn’t very good, but he’d learned to accept that (and it was on an upward tick at any rate). The only good thing that being something other than good would be news was his relationship with Margaret.

About a week before the conference, we made some plans for me to take a trip down there. The timing wasn’t ideal with all that was going on at work, but it was obvious that there were some things he needed to chat about.

The day before we sat talking in the soon-to-be dismantled apartment, he called me three times. I couldn’t answer because my cell phone was in a test harness at work. He called me a fourth time after the phone had been taken out. I could tell by his voice what he was going to say.

“I’m sorry to do this, man, but I’m going to have to cancel our plans this weekend.”

I waited for him to tell me what was going on, but he didn’t. “I’m guessing no explanation is forthcoming?” I asked. Yes, I really talk like that sometimes.

He paused. “No.”

That the plans were cancelled was one thing. That he wouldn’t tell me why was another. But what stood out most was the tone of his voice. Clint does things that trigger drama, for sure, but he is not on the whole a dramatic person. He is actually anti-drama. If he were to find out about a girlfriend cheating on him, his response is “How can I make this go away? This doesn’t mean our relationship is over, does it?” instead of making a big show about the betrayal and his victimhood and how is he ever going to be able to trust her again. That he was so obviously affected told me that something was very, very wrong. And completely out of his control. She was leaving him. Not in the gradual sense that one realizes that a relationship is not going to work out, but rather that she was leaving him right that minute. Or was kicking him out. Something was happening to him that meant that I couldn’t come down to Shaston. I shot him an email telling him that I heard his distress and that if he needed me down there I would go down there even if it meant driving straight back or getting a hotel for the night.

In the late morning of the day of the conference in the pre-dismantled apartment, he called me back and sent me an email telling me that if I could come down he would greatly appreciate it. I told him that I needed four hours and that I would be there. There was some pretty monstrous traffic that made it take longer than expected. When I walked in, he informed me that Margaret had gone to a hotel for the night. He was wearing a Parallax Productions shirt and some pajama pants. When we have something to talk about, we usually small talk for a little bit to oxygenize the atmosphere before getting to the heavy stuff. Not this time. He immediately told me the story of one of the worst days of his life. The previous day when he had called me in distress to tell me not to come down.

It started a month or so prior. He met Kirby. The rest of it unfolded, one aching detail at a time, how I knew it would the second the presence of a third party was mentioned. Infidelity, remorse, the promise never to do it again, repeat loop. But her presence was both on-point and beside the point. Affairs come in two varieties, cause and effect. A causal affair is one that ruins something great. An effectious affair is the crowning acknowledgement of one party of how far from great a relationship is. This was the latter.

Thoughts drifted back to my meeting Evangeline. How even prior to meeting Evangeline I’d had the growing sense of unease with Julie. But Eva had become the point. Meeting her and feeling how I did about her brought everything into focus. It provided the startling contrast between what I was capable of feeling and what I did not feel towards Julie. Evangeline made it impossible for my relationship with Julie to be repaired. Impossible for me to view it the same ever again. Re-orientation.

Kirby did the same for Clint. Kirby embraced those parts of him for which Margaret made him feel ashamed. Kirby brought out those feelings and sensations in him whose absense had made him feel so isolated and the length of said absense so long that he had forgotten that they were missing. Re-orientation.

The main difference being that he had betrayed Margaret physically rather than emotionally. I had managed to end things with Julie in time for that to happen. But the existence of Kirby was secondary. She merely filled a particular void. I regreted how things imploded with Evangeline shortly after I took the leap away from Julie, but even in Evangeline’s absense I never for a moment felt that leaving Julie was the wrong decision. I knew that the same would be true of Clint. You can’t re-forget what has just awoken from a long, sustained sleep.

Regardless of what happened, the apartment was going to be dismantled. Their possessions split. Their lives apart. But what happened was that Margaret realized what was going on and unearthed the proof. She had done so the day before. The long, heartfelt conversation that he had envisioned with him telling her that things were coming to an end were replaced with a never-ending string of expletives hurled at him by a woman scorned. A conversation so deeply unpleasant that you want nothing more than to escape it. Yet a lecture so deserved that you have no choice but to endure it.

And after the explosion she left. He was torn between the feeling that he should tell her not to go and helping her pack her things because he knew that one of them needed to. Why it was her I do not know since these situations usually involve him being kicked out. Into a doghouse, preferably, or an outhouse, ideally. Most likely, her leaving assured her that he would not end up at Kirby’s place.

Though she wasn’t there, Margaret was less than pleased with my presence in their apartment. She had visions of my reassuring Clint that he had done nothing wrong and that everything would be okay. But neither temporary occupant in the apartment whose dismantling was pending pretended that Clint had done nothing wrong or that anything would be okay. My presence there saved her from the much more grotesque reality that if I hadn’t been there, Kirby likely would be. He had no one else to turn to. But that was assuredly of little comfort since while my presence there excluded hers and was not based on forgiveness for his transgressions, it was a cold strategization session for getting him out of that relationship with as much of the remainder of his life in check as possible.

It’s not uncommon in sitcoms for a guest character to become a member of the cast by throwing that person into the main character’s life in some unexpected way. Such as, for instance, getting a job where the main character works. Kirby had gotten a job at the shop where Clint worked and was technically a subordinate since Clint was of managerial status. So we strategized how to prevent him from losing his job. We strategized how to prevent him from losing a weekly gig at a local bar that was one of his few ties to the outside world (and that, despite his having met Kirby there, his resignation from would not help save his relationship with Margaret even if Clint were hopeful of doing so).

There was all manner of havoc that Margaret could wreak and would be largely justified in doing so. But it would be destructive and would not achieve Margaret’s desire for reconciliation nor ultimately make her feel better. So it was planning and strategy in the pre-dismantled apartment on that Saturday afternoon while she laid in a hotel bed and melted across town.

Among Margaret’s other fears of my presence there, she was afraid that he and I would just be laughing it up while she cried. The injustice of that was palpable. There was laughter, but the dark sort that has the main purpose of allowing one to forget about their pain, however temporarily. Clint forgetting the pain, even temporarily, is certainly not what Margaret wanted or deserved. But what she needed was frankly of secondary importance. He couldn’t give her what she wanted and any effort on Clint’s part to sacrifice everything to give her just a little of what she wanted quite simply wasn’t going to happen.

One of the comments she made during the never-ending parade of expletives on the day before that I did not come down was that the Clint she knew would never do what Clint had done. I’m not going to air too much dirty laundry at this point and I am certainly not going to defend Clint’s actions, but put in the situation that he was in (a situation more than partly of his own making), there was really not much else he would have done. That she didn’t know him well enough to know this about him was relevent, both in terms of how well she knew him and how honest he was with her about himself. The impressive part was that he held out as long as he did. The damning part was not that he slept with someone else, but that he did so prior to the inevitable separation. The difference between what Clint did and what most people would have done, in that situation (if they got into it in the first place) was largely one of timing.

It’s human nature, I guess, to look for a sense of justice in times of personal torment. It’s why, though logic would dictate otherwise, being left for someone else is more personally offensive than being left for no one. Because when you’re left for someone else, you know that while you are alone and miserable and crying in a bed that they have rebounded in ways that they do not deserve. Whatever guilt they feel is tempered by the human contact that you lack. In essence, Clint had been rewarded with a pillow to break his fall by his own willingness to partake in infidelity. She had hit the concrete because her moral structure makes infidelity unthinkable. She had suffered for her morality and he had been rewarded for the lapse of his.

It’s the impossibility of fully grasping the injustice of that which makes people avoid it at all costs. When there is no way a wrong can be made right, the inclination is not to try. There is nothing Clint can do to make the situation right. The best thing that he could do is to grovel and try to repair things, but she had him doing that well before any transgression on his part. He can tell her that he realizes that he is not a good enough man for her, but she had him feeling that way before. He can try to repair the relationship to where it was before, but it was already broken. She never forgave him for his failure to propose two years earlier. She was never going to forgive him for this.

There comes a point where you simply have to accept the injustice of the situation. Not so much on the part of the sinner who needs to feel enough pain never to commit that particular sin again, but particularly on the part of the sinned against whose first order of business is to let go of the anger and bitterness as quickly as possible. In both cases, the sharp pains of reality are sufficient to keep the learned lessons learned. This type of two-penny wisdom is always easiest for those that are not in pain to spout.

Margaret was to return the next day at noon. At which point, I was to make a hasty exit. It was obvious that our rally conference was not going to be concluded in time. So much of “What happens now” depended on what kind of mindset she returned with. If she decided that he was the only thing that she had in her life, he would need to find a way to dislodge that notion from her mind. We kept hoping that she would come back and tell him that he needed to leave and that she never wanted to speak to him again. Few sinners are ever so fortunate as to achieve perfect exile.

She arrive half-an-hour ahead of schedule and unfortunately I wasn’t packed yet. She made a beeline to the balcony and just sat there, looking out into oblivion. Clint helped me scramble and gather my things as quickly as possible.

He mouthed to me, “I don’t know if I should go out there and talked to her.”

I shrugged. “Wait until I leave,” I mouthed back, as much for my sake as anybody’s.

For my part, I didn’t know whether to say goodbye to her. I was never going to see her or talk to her again. I knew that much. Given the situation, there was no “right” thing for me to do. There was only the insult of failing to say goodbye after all she’d been through competing against the slight of self-importance of the guy that thinks that I factor into her thoughts worth enough a damn for her to give an excrement that I was leaving.

I decided that I would take self-importance. I told her that I was leaving. She graciously thanked me for stopping by. I left as quickly as I could.

Category: Coffeehouse

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4 Responses to They’ll Need a Crane

  1. john says:

    Will, I haven’t been reading your blog for all that long but I am consistently impressed by your ability to meticulously extract the poignant details from your interpersonal history. When I think back, I can never get beyond the pangs of shame, guilt, and regret.

    I hope that you recognize your gift for empathic precision and concentrate it into a literary form. The emotive power of your words surpasses most of what passes for modren literature these days.

  2. trumwill says:

    Thanks for the kind words, John. As it happens, I am an aspiring novelist. Not inspired enough to actually try to get something published (yet), but enough to have written four of them in varying degrees of editorial disrepair. One of these days I will try to take it to the next level.

  3. Andrew says:

    Hi, I’m just a random person on the internet, but I somehow ran into your blog (maybe from and thought that your writing is WONDERFUL.

    “A conversation so deeply unpleasant that you want nothing more than to escape it. Yet a lecture so deserved that you have no choice but to endure it.”

  4. trumwill says:

    Thanks for the kind words, Andrew.

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