The Carrot and the Mule
By Joseph Foti, Esq.
The icy December rain pelted my eyes as I tried to keep my 500 foot yacht from slamming into the jagged Nantucket rocks. Despite my efforts, the howling night winds, raging sea, and dense fog made steering almost impossible. This was by far the worst storm I had encountered in thirteen years of sailing. Standing at the helm, forced to endure Maurice's mocking glances, I watched helplessly as twenty foot waves crashed continually around the yacht. One good hit would surely plunge us into watery graves.
"This is all your fault, Maurice," I screamed, grabbing him by the head and flinging him into the sea.
"What have I become?" I yelled. I could not believe what I had just done. Maurice was my trusted confidant. He was an eight-inchtall toy cow, a present from my deceased grandmother and the only childhood toy I had ever received. When I pressed his stomach, he would moo three times.
Standing there soaked and battered, it dawned upon me that I had become what I despised, a scapegoater.
"No more!" I yelled, howling at the heavens. "I will not lose my Inner Peace."
The waves kept tossing the yacht in the air and throwing it back at the dark blue sea, completely disregarding its value. My yacht was the fruit of years of suffering. The abusive childhood, the years of manual labor in a dank warehouse. I will never forget those seemingly endless hours spent dragging heavy boxes and stocking filthy bins with ballet shoes, my lungs filling with soot from the sealed vents, while my hands mingled in blood and dirt at the age of ten. Yet, none of that mattered now as the sea prepared to cancel all bets.
My yacht was my sanctuary. It was the only place on Earth where I felt truly safe. It had cost me nearly five million dollars to build and every detail was to my specifications. The bow was that of a nineteenth century cutter ship. It was sleek and sharp, enabling it to glide through the waves with almost mocking simplicity. The cabin was designed to resemble the banquet room of a seventeenth century French chateau, sabers and all. The bathroom had a marble tub with
gold fixtures and was showered in fresh cut lilies and red roses. Even the dinghy had golden oars and diamond engravings. However, none of this mattered now as God prepared to once again destroy my only source of joy.
The waves pounded the deck, tore apart the waterproof doors, and rushed into the hull. Leaving the wheel, I started up the pumps and ran down into the cabin, searching for something to block the doorway with.
It was a situation of my own making. I should have hired a crew, but I had let my distrust of humanity get the better of me. At worst I thought they would kill me in my sleep and sell the yacht, at best I figured they would defecate in my breakfast. No, I had bought Inner
Peace to escape them, bringing them along would have defeated the purpose. Nonetheless, right now I could have used them. "No, matter," I told myself. "Self-reliance has always been my forte."
I was determined not to lose the yacht. After losing my darling Sara, I vowed to never again care about something to the extent that God's taking it from me would have any effect on me. Nevertheless, having taken Sara, God was after my final pleasure, my yacht which I named Inner Peace. The sky thundered ominously, each hot flash a reminder of God's absolute control.
The cold black sea poured into the cabin, quickly shorting out the engines and flooding the pumps. With the power totally gone, I realized the yacht was doomed. As the water started to fill the cabin, I blindly waded around searching for the armoire. Nearly cracking my head on it, I rummaged through the top draw, grabbing some old photos and letters from Sara. I had told myself I was over Sara, naively believing that the greatest betrayal of my life could be forgotten. Unfortunately, with each pounding wave it all came roaring back to me. My yacht, my plane, my beautiful estates; White Acre, Black Acre, Green Acre, and Blue Acre. They had all been designed to make me forget.
Emerging from the cabin, I put the photos and letters in a pouch on my life vest, climbed into the dinghy and started up the motor. As it pulled away, I watched the ocean pummel Inner Peace, tossing it up into the air one final time before slamming it down in an explosion
of wind and water. Enraged, the waves knocked me to the side of the dinghy, like a spoiled child playing in the tub. When I looked up Inner Peace was no more. The motor of the dinghy quickly flooded and died leaving me to God's fury.
The lightning lit the sky an eerie crimson as I reached into mylife jacket and pulled out a photo of my long lost Sara. Gazing upon it, I realized that the sea could no longer shield me from my misery. Throughout my life, the sea had always been my protector. I could swim freely or go to the bow of Inner Peace and look up into the purple and orange sky as the wind washed through my hair, seemingly cleansing my soul.
Now the sea was no longer peaceful and every wave battered me with her memory. Suddenly it dawned on me how both the sea and Sara were alike. They were both part of God's ultimate game and I had been too stupid to realize it. There was a time when Sara had made me feel as happy and carefree as the ocean breeze in my hair. Just being in her presence or hearing her voice filled me with pure euphoria. That is true love. That is an experience most people will never have and could never understand. Sadly, just like the sea, that sweet gentle breathtaking woman had turned on me with just as much fury and far less of a warning.
Chapter Two : The Meeting
Nearly a quarter century has passed since our first meeting, yet I still remember it as if it were yesterday. One look into those hazel eyes electrified me with that same jolt of ecstasy I felt when that first blast of cold sea air had hit my hair so many years before. No one else would ever lift my heart to such heights.
I was born Roger Williams, the first son and second child to a sanitation worker in Queens, New York. My father was a devout Catholic and child abuser. He would beat me before church, sit down for the hour mass and then beat me afterwards. My mother, although physically there, had long been gone. In her mind she had a happy loving family and nothing bad ever happened. While being the first son in many families brings love and admiration, in mine it brought hatred. I was a symbol of opportunity lost. A daily reminder of every dream this bitter man had been too gutless to follow. I was his scapegoat, hence beating me was like beating the world. My childhood was thus a long and miserable one, although it was at this time that I first fell in love with the sea.
With my mother in another world, my only protector was my grandmother. During one of her visits the truth came out, as she watched in shock as my father burst through the door with his belt drawn and started viciously beating my face with the heavy metal belt buckle. His face went from bright red to dark purple, the hate raging in his eyes as he furiously tried to cut my eyes out with his buckle.
"Get off him, you psycho," my grandmother screamed, knocking him off me with her cane. "He's five years old. He didn't do anything. He was just coloring in his book."
"You bitch," he howled, charging at her like a mad bull, only to be knocked to the floor by a well-placed shot to the knees from her cane.
"Mom!" my mother yelled, walking in on the madness. "What did you do?" she shouted as she ran to tend to my attacker. "He was trying to kill Roger," she protested.
"Oh, you're exaggerating," my mother scoffed as she helped him to his chair.
"He's your son, what the hell were you thinking?" my grandmother screamed, adrenaline still rushing through her.
"Don't buy his innocent act. He's no angel," my father bellowed.
"He thinks he's better than me. Anyway, he's my son, I'll beat him whenever I feel like it. That's all he's good for anyway!" he barked.
"There, there," my mother soothingly stated. "Eat your dinner before it gets cold," she chirped, placing a gigantic bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in front of his face. "See, Mom," she countered cheerfully as he immediately began scarfing it down like some crazed animal. "No need to make something out of nothing. Just fill his plate and he'll calm right down."
Horrified, my grandmother was faced with a difficult decision. Either report him, thereby subjecting her daughter to legal ramifications or spend the rest of her life raising a child. She chose the latter. Hence, whenever I didn't have school, I stayed with her. My grandparents had come to this country fleeing poverty and political oppression, just to be greeted with bigotry and hatred. Wisely my grandmother paid little credence to both those bigots who claimed to hate her as well as those who claimed to love her simply because of her roots. My grandfather on the other hand failed to follow her lead. He was determined to prove his naysayers wrong, while rewarding those who supposedly had faith in him. Sadly in his attempt to expose them as frauds, he let them choose his destiny. He spent every waking hour of his life working in his hardware store, not wanting to be viewed as a failure. In order to save the five dollar delivery charge, he would carry sinks and cabinets on his back through the streets to his customers, all by himself. Sadly, treating his body like a mule in order to save that five dollars cost him his life.
One night while carrying an entire living room set on his back, he suffered a massive heart attack and collapsed on the curb. This tragedy brought the bigots together as they literally tore the clothes from his back, robbing him of his last dime and leaving him to die alone like a dog in the night.
My grandmother learned from his death and never trusted anyone again. She repeatedly warned me to be wary of those that profess their love too quickly. She taught me never to let the clamoring of the masses determine what I would become. On a happier note it was she who introduced me to the sea.
At the age of five while most children played with their toys, I drew the sea. My grandmother would take me down to the seaport and sit there knitting, as I spent hours drawing everything I saw. The sea enchanted me with both its vast beauty and deep complexity. Its ultimate lesson being that greatness lies below the surface. Those who understood this and respected it were shown great beauty and power, while those who mocked it suffered the same fate as the H.M.S. Titanic.
My first experience with its splendor came courtesy of a twentyfive cent ride on the Staten Island ferry. I remember running to the bow and being greeted by that first gust of crisp sea air in my hair. It was there at the age of five that I first experienced the feeling of pure happiness and not until I met Sara, eighteen years later, would a person ever equal that purity.
Unfortunately, my grandmother, a woman who never smoked or drank, would succumb to cancer, thus leaving me to face the world alone at the age of nine. The victim of an unscrupulous doctor, whose fervor for pharmaceutical kickbacks superseded his duty to warn his patients that the hormone replacement therapy he prescribed for menopausal hot flashes was a known carcinogen.
Immediately following the funeral, my mother found me a job as a box boy, thus initiating me into the wonderful world of manual labor. Although I hated treating my body like a mule, the job did have its benefits. It kept me away from my father and ultimately provided me with the means to flee that world. At age eighteen my hard work paid off, as I escaped to a small New England University where I earned my degree. From there I went on to law school, where I met Sara.
After finishing college, I was accepted into one of the best law schools in New England and I should have been thrilled; however, I was not. Those around me, supposed friends and well wishers, talked about it as some great achievement and of course tried to take credit for it. To me, however, it meant nothing. My childhood had taught me three lessons. Never trust anyone, every choice has a cost, and never celebrate before a task is done. The ultimate goal was graduating, passing the bar and becoming rich and powerful. None of these steps had been completed yet so there was nothing to celebrate.
This is one of humanity's problems. People always spend the profits before they have them and then cry like children and expect help and pity when things fall apart. I never expected anything from anyone and thus blamed only myself for my failures or successes. I had met Sara at the beginning of my first year of law school, nearly a quarter century ago, at an orientation dinner. Most people use these occasions to assess who they deem usable or "network," as it's called. I was there for the free food only although nothing is really free. The price I expected to pay for this meal was a night spent with lying vultures, casting their false smiles while secretly plotting to use me for anything they could get out of me. To my surprise at this gathering of vultures I would find an angel. She stood in the center of the room and was surrounded by every male there, from the delivery boys to the drooling retired professors. All with one goal and one goal only. I went over of course to see what could compel these highly touted legal minds to act like drooling mongrels. Sadly, I had always been disappointed because although I usually found some toothpick like goddess in a tight dress, one look in her eyes always ruined it for me. While they saw a trophy to obtain, I found a shallow pathetic creature who's supposed beauty did nothing for me. I unfortunately could see the woman beneath the facade and it always disgusted me.
I'm not saying that in the past I had not chased creatures like this. After all this is what society tells you to want. In the past I had tolerated shallow girls like this mostly to be the envy of my supposed friends, yet the intended goal brought little joy. Many a time I would lie awake in bed while one of these supposed goddesses slept at my side. Ironically instead of an afterglow I would feel nauseous. My sole want would be for morning to come and take with it this wretched creature. None of these empty conquests could ever compare to the pleasure I felt that morning when I was five years old and the ocean wind blew through my hair as I stood at the bow of the ferry. All this changed, that late September night, almost twenty-five years ago. As I made my way through the masses, my eyes fell upon what I expected to be just another shell of a woman. Alas to my amazement, I found something I had never come across before or since then.
Physically she was petite and stunning just like all the rest. However, when I looked into those hazel eyes, I felt the rush of the sea in my hair. She smiled at me just like everyone else, although the greeting I gave her was something she did not expect. While every degenerate there insulted her intelligence with transparent come ons, I refused to sully my soul for the chance at a mere dalliance. I simply asked her name, introduced myself as Roger and quickly withdrew to the window to get some air. The experience had knocked the breath out of me and I wanted to clear my head; however, she would not allow it. Spotting me at the window, she brushed away the rabid dogs chasing her and came over. We went outside to escape the ever growing mob, stood in the pouring rain, and talked the entire night away; shielded from the horny toads that dared not risk their precious clothes.
"So, taking a break?" She laughed.
"Won't your minions miss you?" I replied.
"Oh, please," she said with a sigh. "I thought law school would be different, but it's not. They're supposed to be wiser but they're just as selfish as everyone else. I came here tonight hoping to enjoy stimulating conversation with some great legal minds, only to find a bunch of horny old men, spouting pathetic come ons. What's worse is that the few female lawyers here are avoiding me like the plague because of them."
"Well, that's what you get for having expectations," I answered slyly.
"It's refreshing to finally meet someone who'd rather risk ruining a perfectly good suit than miss out on a rainstorm. What are you a 'the'?"
"A what?" I said quite confused.
"A 'the,' she replied. "You know, like Charles the second or Henry the third. Someone who's here on daddy's dollar. Are you Roger 'the' anything?" she said with a smile.
"No, I'm not a 'the,'" I replied a bit annoyed. "I'm here because I earned it. My father wouldn't pay for high school, never mind law school. Not that it's any of your business," I stated frankly. "What about you? Are you daddy's little princess?" I countered coyly. "Hardly," she said with a smile. "I had to work for it, just like you. So, then; who are you?"
"I'm just a guy who likes the rain," I replied.
"Well, I guess that makes us kindred spirits," she chirped.
At the end of the evening, I walked her home and said goodnight. I was so taken I didn't even ask for her number. This was a first for her. No guy had ever spent time with her and not hit on her. This seeming indifference unwittingly made me appear strange and exciting to her, hence setting in motion the most painful betrayal of my life.
I didn't see Sara again for over a month and tried to convince myself that she wasn't different. That she was just like everyone else. I might have been successful had she not forced the issue. Usually if I wanted someone out of my life I just ignored them for a couple of weeks and they were gone. This was not the case with Sara. About a month after our meeting I received a call from her late one November night.
When I asked how she got my number, she just smirked and said, "I have my ways."
Over the next couple of months we talked often, as each conversation made the attempt to classify her as just another user and write her off, more and more impossible.
After one of her calls, I turned to Maurice who was sitting on my desk and asked, "What do you think of her?"
I picked him up and pressed his belly, hearing three moos. "No, don't worry, Maurice," I assured him, "she's not like the others. Sara is like no other woman I have ever met," I told him. "Most women fall under two categories. Either they are very emotional and kind or heartless and strong. The emotional while kind and good-natured are often swallowed whole by the vultures in our society. This is due to the fact that they lack the strength and vindictiveness it takes to defend themselves. On the other hand the strong often lose their heart and everything becomes, 'What can you do for me now.'
"While the strong are definitely survivors, there is nothing inside them. When I look into their eyes, I see a cold and bitter person who sickens me, thus I want nothing to do with them. Sara is neither of these women," I stated happily.
"Moo, moo, moo," I heard.
"You don't believe me, do you, Maurice?" I said with a smile. "I understand your doubt. I was skeptical at first too, but now I know better.
"Sara possesses a warm and loving nature, hence she's capable of caring deeply about others without having an ulterior motive. It's perhaps her greatest quality and the reason I love her. Nevertheless, Sara is also very strong and can eat the users up and spit them out when she wants to. Many people consider her to be cold and aloof; however, they are usually the same sardonic twits whose facades she had seen through," I argued to my cow.
"Her ability to see through the lies of the masses just adds to the pile of traits we share. Even when she is in her strong defensive lawyer mode, her kind and loving nature is still in her eyes and it's her eyes that hold me at her will," I explained. "No one has ever been able to control me like she can. All it takes is one look into those eyes and I am at her mercy, Maurice." I then sat Maurice back on the desk.
If you're wondering, no, I'm not insane. I didn't believe that Maurice was actually alive. Talking to him was just my way of dispelling any doubts. It was a form of therapy. Instead of hitting a punching bag, I talked to a toy cow. This latest exercise had succeeded in its goal. I now trusted Sara.
By the end of our first school year, we were almost inseparable. We would go out to dinner, afterwards taking in a movie or a show. That summer we both found jobs in our intended profession. She as an intern in a real estate firm and I as an intern in the district attorney's office. Ironically I was placed in their child abuse department. One late August night, near the end of our first summer together, I finally had the honor of meeting the Ravenports. Sara had been their live-in nanny since college and continued to do so during law school in order to get free room and board. They were from the baby boomer generation and had been big drug abusers during the 1960s. Luckily for them, they didn't have to worry about making money. Mr. Ravenport had come from a long line of extremely wealthy men. His great grandfather had come to this country practically penniless, yet by the end of his life with hard work and dedication, he amassed a fortune in the shipbuilding industry. His grandfather parlayed that fortune into the steel and railroad industries and his father became a giant in the meat industry. Thus the Ravenports could have lived seven lifetimes without money becoming an issue.
Sadly, money won't shield you from your own stupidity. Their drug abuse had basically fried their brains, causing them to forget how to do the most simple tasks. They would go for weeks without bathing and often forgot to lock the door or where they had put the car. This obviously made raising a child difficult and thus where Sara had come in.
Sara despised the Ravenports. Although they had put a roof over her head and food in her mouth, it was simply payment for raising their child. What upset her the most was their constant onslaught of mind games. They would pretend to care about her and often treated her like a member of the family one moment, just to treat her like a servant the next. Although she would never admit this to anyone including me, this constant yanking of her proverbial emotional chain devastated her. She would complain about it but then deny why it really bothered her.
That August night, as I was about to meet the couple who had given her so much financially and taken so much emotionally, I felt both pity and rage. One part of me said put on your happy face and greet them nicely, while the other wanted to rip off their heads and use them as bowling balls with the oncoming traffic. As I walked up the steps of their million dollar brownstone, I tried to ready myself for the users I was about to meet. Growing up in an abusive environment, I had met many strange characters, yet nothing could prepare me for what I was about to encounter.