Author's note: Again inspired by the cliché-busting thread at Jello-forever. In this one I bust at least one cliché, possibly two depending on how you look at it. Not a fluffy story.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Mentalist or anything associated with it.
Late night reflections
Everybody has cases that stay with them. Much as most of us would love to forget, certain ones get under your skin. It doesn't matter if you solve them, if you save the day in the nick of time, still they stick with you. And on nights when you can't sleep they come back to haunt you. At least that's what happens to me. I once had a partner who scornfully told me it's because I care too much. So the solution to my problem was what? To not give a damn about the victims? Needless to say that partnership didn't last long. I try not to take too much glee in the fact that Jenkins was eventually forced out of the CBI and is now a deputy in a small town upstate.
Even though I think I prefer the odd sleepless night to losing my ability to feel, it doesn't make them any easier to deal with when they do happen. And tonight it's the Christine Tanner case that's swirling around in my head. The verdict of Mr. Curtick's trial for statutory rape was delivered today. Just as I expected, no jail time. At least I didn't have to tell her father. As such I managed to avoid another slightly tragic conversation with the poor man. The last one was what was currently keeping me up at night.
"My father was a good man, just like you are. And after my mother died he was a self-pitying drunk just like you are. He killed himself, damn near killed me and my brothers too. Get some help. Your kids deserve it, so do you."
My father was a good man. A very good man.
When I was young my father was my hero. I thought he could do anything. He coached my baseball team; heck he was the one who taught me how to play in the first place. When I crashed my bike he was the one who fixed the wobbling front wheel. When I had trouble with my homework he was the one who showed me the secret to long division. And when I was being bullied in school he was the one who taught me the trick of holding my head up high to look taller and unafraid.
As I grew up my adoration dropped off a little bit, but we were still close. I never realized how close my family actually was until I started working in law enforcement and saw far too many examples of the other extreme. I mean we weren't the Brady Bunch or anything, but we'd watch hockey together, and we usually had meals together. Sometimes we had games nights and we usually went on some kind of family outing every couple of months or so.
My two younger brothers teased me, but I'm pretty sure that's the job of a younger brother. No one has to teach them, it's somehow hardwired into their brains when they're born. Besides if they got too annoying I just had to raise enough of a fuss until dad overheard and came to deal with them. Most of the time we got along well enough and woe to anyone else who dared to tease Brian or Geoffrey Lisbon. Because let's face it, even if they're hard-wired to bug you, as a big sister you're hard-wired to try and protect them.
But when a drunk driver in a red pickup truck slammed into my mother's little compact car everything changed.
First came the funeral, which was surreal. Despite being in my last year of high school I barely remember it. If I try I can see snatches, but I admit I rarely try. I remember stupidly thinking at the time that my mother wouldn't be able to help me pick out a prom dress. Because that should have been my chief concern. My father managed to hold it together pretty well for the funeral at least. My aunt had come to stay with us for a while to help make the arrangements. I tried to do what I could for my brothers, but I don't think any of it really sunk in, for any of us.
It was after the funeral that things started to fall apart. Not at first of course. My aunt left; she had her own life after all, but she did tell us to call if we needed her. My father had the best intentions; I know he did. He tried to fill the void my mother had left. We wrote out a schedule of the chores so that all of us could pick up the slack. He even bought a couple of cookbooks along with a book about tips for single fathers. For about a week we had almost convinced ourselves that things would be alright. We could handle the chores, and the work, and the lower income.
What we couldn't handle were the emotions, the grief.
Unless there are glaring indications to the contrary I think all children take for granted that their parents love each other. I know I did. But I think they also view it as almost platonic. Certainly no one wants to picture their parents passionately in love with each other. It's just… weird. And I certainly didn't equate my parent's relationship to the ones I'd seen in books and movies where one member of the couple in question would die without the other. Of course my parents loved each other, but I couldn't see my father standing outside my mother's bedroom window serenading her to win her heart.
I knew she had been a big part of my life, but what I didn't realize at the time was how big a part she had been of his.
Without her he just didn't seem to work.
He tried to hide it from us of course. We all tried to mask the grief, well except Geoff, who wasn't old enough to think that being sad would make him a wuss. Brian was stoic because he thought it was expected. I was trying not to think about it because I wanted to be strong for my brothers just as I suspect my father was trying to hide it for our sakes. To this day I wonder if things might have been different if we'd ever just talked about it.
We still watched hockey games together, but somehow the fun had gone out of them without Mom, which was odd since she'd never even liked hockey. Family game night was quickly discontinued after one near-disastrous attempt at Monopoly (Mom had always been the banker and had hoarded the money like Scrooge McDuck, accent included. Poor Brian's Scottish brogue was a valiant effort, but in the end a poor substitute). It occurred to me that maybe we should start some sort of new family tradition, but I couldn't think of anything, and everyone was getting so busy. I was finishing up my final exams, applying for summer jobs and getting ready for college. I'd gone prom-dress shopping with my aunt, and tried to have fun at the dance, but it wasn't much of a success. Brian had been on the school hockey team and now had exams of his own and Geoff was just excited for summer vacation, his last before he started high school. So we just never got around to it.
And by that time my father had started drinking. He'd always drunk some of course, the odd glass of wine at dinner, a couple bottles of beer on the weekend, but that started to slowly increase. I didn't notice for a while, until I went to take the recycling out one day and found the cases of empty beer bottles sitting beside it. I was worried of course, but to start it was only at night. He wasn't having any trouble at work and he was never visibly drunk, just a little quiet sometimes. Wordlessly Brian and I tried to hide it from Geoff. I guess we both figured the poor kid deserved at least one more relatively innocent summer.
I got a job at a local diner. I'd gotten into a college out of state on a track and field scholarship but I knew I'd need to take care of all my other expenses myself. The hours were long and unpredictable and I wasn't home as much as I had been. Brian had a job mowing lawns and weeding so he was busy too. I think that was partly responsible for us not seeing the change in Dad. Partly, but not completely. We didn't want to see it, at least I didn't.
He started drinking more. He had a beer in his hand almost as soon as he got home. We tried to hide it from people, and pick up the slack. Brian and I started doing more of the chores, more of the cooking. My aunt and uncle were suspicious I think, but not suspicious enough to step in. I started thinking that maybe I should put off college or go somewhere nearby. Everything was starting to get harder to hide. I didn't know what Brian and Geoff would do without me. I really couldn't see another choice, but if I didn't go to college what then? That would raise questions as well.
Then my father took the decision out of my hands. I was at work when I got the call from my aunt. No details just "Teresa come home. It's an emergency. It's about your father." I rushed home as fast as I could. Had he hurt himself? Fallen down the stairs? Lost his job? When I finally got home I realized things were much, much worse. Apparently while both Brian and I were at work and Geoff was at a friend's house he'd downed a bottle of painkillers and half a case of beer. Thank heavens my uncle had decided to drop in on him, and he'd been the one to find the body, not Geoff.
He'd even considerately left a note:
Dear Teresa, Brian and Geoff,
I love you all more than you know and I always will, but it's just too hard. I know I'm just a burden for the rest of you. I'm not so out of it that I can't see how worried you all were, especially Teresa. I won't allow any of you to sacrifice your futures for me, so I decided to take myself out of the equation. Your aunt and uncle are your legal guardians and I know they'll take good care of you. I haven't left you much, but it should be enough, at least until you can support yourselves.
Your mother and I will always be watching out for you.
"I'm so sorry Teresa. He was a good man," my aunt told me lamely when I was finished.
"He was never the same after she died." I said woodenly. None of us had been of course, but we'd been trying. He'd just given up. She wouldn't have given up I was sure. She would have worked with us, tried harder. He'd tried of course, but in the end it hadn't been enough. We hadn't been enough. Without her our family wasn't enough to save him.
He'd tried to dull the pain with alcohol and then when that didn't work decided that if he killed himself it would be for our own good. For our own good. Like growing up without a mother or a father would somehow be better for the rest of us. He'd managed to summon up the strength to kill himself but he hadn't been able to find it in himself to live for his children, who'd needed him. Not only had I lost my father, but any remaining illusions about the hero of my youth had been destroyed as well.
We'd all excused the drinking. He was grieving. He'd needed time. He would come around eventually. It wasn't like he was a violent drunk, or embarrassing, or loud. He never hurt us or lashed out or broke things. He was just depressed and quiet. And he still cared about us, still tried to make sure there were groceries around, and that the beer bottles were kept in the garage, still held down a job. Still tried to take care of us, at least right up until the end.
Yes, my father was a good man. He just wasn't a strong man.
And in the end we weren't enough of a reason to get over her. The rest of us were able, at least enough to function, but not him.
My brothers went to live with my aunt and uncle. They didn't have any children of their own and were more than happy to have them (my father had been right about that at least). I stayed there in the summers when I wasn't away at college. No one would hear of me staying home and throwing away my future, so even though I was sick at heart I went. I tried to hide in work, became even more driven. I even made a few new friends, and I visited my brothers whenever I could. We've tried to stay close, though it's harder now that we live on opposite sides of the country.
On the anniversary of my mother's death I got good and drunk. My roommate finally got the whole story out of me. I'd told her the basics but never any of the details. When I finally got to the end she very succinctly gave her opinion.
We'd toasted to that. And I felt better for telling someone. We still keep in touch even if, like my brothers and I, we don't see each other often. I shared her opinion at the time, but I'm not so sure anymore. Time hasn't quite healed all wounds, but it has given me some much-needed perspective. Will I ever completely forgive my father? Probably not. Even if he had the best intentions I'll never forgive him for making me feel like I wasn't enough. For not trying. For destroying the last of my illusions about my childhood.
But I can see now that my father was a good man. He wasn't perfect, he wasn't a hero, he was human, and he missed my mother. And even though he wanted to, he couldn't get past it. He tried to do what he thought was best, even if it was selfish. He was just so wrapped up in his own pain that he couldn't see that we needed him.
He'd also taught me never to depend on any one person too much for my happiness. Jury's still out on whether or not that was a good thing. And even if I still try to make things right when I can, I've learned not to get too involved with people who can't or won't help themselves.
Of course then Jane was thrust on me.
It's really spectacularly unfair when you think about it. He basically embodies everything I've been trying to avoid for over a decade now.
And before I could stop it and almost without realizing it, I've started to care.
"Can't you see there's people who care about you, who need you? You're being selfish and childish and I want you to stop it!"
And with that I was right back where I started almost 15 years ago. Either he won't or can't improve his situation. Sure he isn't getting drunk , but he isn't really living either.
I've told myself it's none of my business, as long as it doesn't affect my team. That I can't save Jane. That he's made his bed and he has to sleep in it. That I'm not going to kill myself trying to save an irrevocably broken man. That isn't my job. I certainly don't owe him anything and even if I did, he doesn't want it anyways. He's made that abundantly clear more times than I can count.
Still old habits die hard, especially after a year of mothering two younger brothers followed by countless years of protecting a team. I've found myself trying to do little things to improve his life just a little. Making sure he slept, making sure he ate. But I know I can't get too close, it isn't worth it. I'm not going to sacrifice my sanity for his sake, much as I like him. I can't.
But every so often I see him, the real him, the real Jane, broken though he is. There's a spark left over and then I wonder if he can be fixed. And every so often he sees the real me despite my best efforts. We're beginning to build some sort of bond, what kind I'm not sure.
And even though I know it isn't my job to fix him, and I didn't want to want to try I'm beginning to wonder if maybe it is possible.
But then another part of me will ruthlessly shut that down. My brothers and I hadn't been enough the last time when we'd been the man's own children. What made me think I could possibly be enough this time? What was I to Jane really? His boss that he teased sometimes? A friend he respected? Maybe. Someone he doesn't want to see harmed? I hope so. But when it comes right down to it probably not all that much.
I'm certainly not equal to the task of saving him.
And even though I sometimes wish it was possible I'm not naïve enough to try anymore. No one can save Jane but himself. He might have chosen to save my life, but I'm not so sure he'd choose to save his own. He has to find his own reason to live. One can't be thrust upon him, even if the one doing the thrusting was a boss who's used to having her orders followed.
So there's was nothing I can do but try not to let him get killed on my watch and try to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. Oh, and try not to get too close, which he makes difficult. Luckily I've had lots of practice at hiding things. And this time I really need to protect myself as much as possible. Protect myself from fate's cruel joke.
Because for some reason I've been given a strong inclination to protect and to guard, but it's my destiny to watch the men around me slowly drown in a fog of self-pity and selfishness.
Forget Glinda the good witch, she showed people the safe way home. Hail Teresa Lisbon, chosen to watch helplessly as people gave up on the world.
But hey, none of that kind of thinking. Not even at three in the morning. Where there's life there's hope. It is still possible Jane could still turn his life around…
Alright, so I'm not sure how much I like the second half of this. I'm considering a re-write, but I can't decide. I'd love to hear people's opinions.