THE BIONIC WOMAN
A Man Alone
by the lurker
The clink of the melting ice against the side of the glass pulls my attention away from the brief I'm supposed to be reading. The truth is that I can't really bear to read another document on foreign policy, or the latest development that's meant to save the world. The thought of either makes my chest tighten. My eyes wander again to the glass near my hand. The rich color of the amber liquid against the pale desk light is somewhat incongruous to me. But then, it's the end of a long day, and everything seems dissonant.
I can hear the wind gusting outside, howling against the windows, the leaves of the trees whipping through the air aimlessly. It reminds me of what goes on in this building day in and day out, and I wonder when life became so vicious. It's every man for himself in politics, no matter how inconsequential the spoils. Such a way of operating is as unfamilar to me as the people I pass everyday in the halls; but I realize I take it all in with the same outward blandness that I'm expected to display, no matter what kind of intrigue circles around me.
But beneath my carefully cultivated expression is an angry man.
The blank stare belies the passion buried in my beleaguered heart. Emotions that I sometimes think may completely overtake all reason bubble up inside me, and yet, I manage to keep them at bay. I would never have believed that my lifelong service to my country would eventually take my soul. But that is exactly what it has taken, no more, no less. I am a man, alone.
When did it happen to me, this loss of my own humanity? I don't remember. First there was Naval Intelligence, then the Department of Defense, and finally, the O.S.I. And through it all, I saw intrigue and blind ambition. I have always tried to remember what public service means to me, and that's not numbers, it's people. And yet I know I am not impervious to the charm and seduction of power; I cannot help but wonder how much of this misery I brought upon myself, by the choices I've made.
As I've grown older, it's been harder to fight against those who can't see past statistics. They are the same people who wouldn't know big picture thinking if it bit them on the ass. Rudy tells me that I let too much of it get to me, that I work too hard; he says I should find ways to take small breaks, to get away. But no matter how often I have thought about it, the same issues continue to haunt me. There is always more work to do. One more file to read. One more call to make. One more mission to assign. And even if I did take time off, where would I go and with whom?
I have no family left, save for the few people close to me at the O.S.I. There is no wife waiting for me at home, no children bringing grandkids by for a Saturday excursion to the park. There is nothing except for an empty apartment and the quiet company of an aged scotch. Sadness grips me like an assailant in the dark of night, and my heart grows cold. What use are feelings anyway? Nothing productive will come from these thoughts and emotions. I can't go back in time to make different choices, and even if I could, would I?
That realization strikes me like a blow. I can no longer hold back the tears which have been threatening to come for so long. The pressure for me to be the man people know as Oscar Goldman is eating me alive. They expect so much, and I feel as if I can give so little. So many people, grabbing at what they want with no regard for those around them. This petty world of government is base, and it's ugly. Watching the barbarism makes me physically ill. I have no more patience for it, nor it for me. And yet I cannot leave. Going would mean leaving behind those closest to me. Jamie, Steve, Rudy and Callahan...they're the only family I'll ever have.
The sob that chokes me wrenches my throat, tightening it so much that I almost can't breathe. I feel the soft hand lightly stroke the back of my head, and I suffer a twinge of uncertainty; I heard no one come in. But a moment later, as she pulls me into her, holding me closer than anyone else would dare, I know who it is, and lean into the embrace.
Her voice is low and velvety, Oscar, hey...what's wrong, babe? What happened?
I can't find my voice, so instead, I wrap my arms tighter around her, hoping that she will just hold me. No more words are spoken, she knows it's unnecessary. Her warm lips kiss my forehead, and follow her hand to my neck. I lean into her affection, starved for this kind of closeness and intimacy. She seems to sense how desperate I am to have her near, and for a long time, she simply holds me, softly rubbing my back, waiting for me to recover. I finally feel calm enough to push slightly away, although I realize that my arms are unwilling to let go of the woman I'm holding. It's not lost on Jamie. She looks deeply into my eyes, her dark hazel ones gazing at me with no small concern. Gently she brushes her hand down the side of my face, then continues in my hair.
Her voice is barely above a whisper, You okay?
I nod, still unable to say a word. And even if I could, what would I possibly say? Would I tell her that I have been second guessing my entire life as I've lived it? No. I look into the steadiness of the eyes staring into mine. There is a raw strength in them, a determination that reflects what used to be in my own. But that kind of courage and dedication is long gone in me, having left only the shell of what used to be. My confidence and grace have abandoned me in favor of younger, smarter men, as have many of my allies. But not Jamie. She is still with me, and I can see in her eyes that she still sees me as I once was - strong and sure of myself, full of the kind of leadership that could command many.
My heart feels as if it might burst with pride in the young woman I was responsible for training; the woman who became one of the O.S.I's top agents. There is pride, and something else. It's the something else that has always been between us that haunts me more in this moment. Her trusting eyes continue to hold mine, a slight smile lighting her lips. I put my hands on her face, and gently pull her closer, lightly touching her lips with mine, if only for a second. Then I kiss her cheek and put my arms around her, holding her close to me. She is like a daughter, and yet, she is not.
Slowly, Jamie pulls away from me, stands, and holds her hand out to me. I can see from her easy look, that she is never going to ask me about this night, nor will she ever share it with anyone else. I take her hand, and squeeze it gently, smiling slightly at her.
Come on, Oscar. It's time for you to call it a night, you look beat. I'll take you home.
As I stand, I pull the hand in mine toward me, putting my arm around her. Without a word she cuddles into me, and walks with me to the door. We leave the sadness of my world in silence for another day.