Anger and Intolerance
Anger and intolerance are the twin enemies of understanding.
IT HAD been just about one of the worst days of Logan Crane’s life.
At work, he had volunteered for the hot, dusty job of unloading a bulk delivery of mulch, knowing that it was usually considered a one-man job and he would have three or four hours of toiling in blissful solitude. Unfortunately for Logan, not one but three trucks of wood chips had been ordered by the garden center manager, who was gearing up for the spring rush.
So instead of the peaceful afternoon he’d anticipated, Logan was stuck working with Petey and José, two very young, very loud colleagues who talked non-stop over the radio they had blasting hip-hop music. The constant yammering and grating music competed with the bright sunshine for the privilege of drilling a gash of pain into Logan’s brain.
As he clocked out, Logan grumbled to himself that for all the help Petey and José had been, he might as well have worked alone. Maybe if they’d keep their shirts on and pull up their goddamned pants, they could get some work done. The sight of sweaty, bronzed flesh and the constant flashes of clinging underwear had jangled Logan’s nerves as badly as had the accompanying racket. He dismissed the sensation as annoyance at having to work with these “wild city kids.”
Calling them city kids was a slight stretch since North Braddock, Pennsylvania, was not technically in Pittsburgh, though it was part of the greater metropolitan area. At any rate, it was certainly more urban than his old hometown of Elco had been. Turning his bright blue Ford 150 towards home, Logan swallowed down the longing for the days when he had earned his living quietly fixing cars in his small, run-down shop in Elco. Thirteen months earlier, Logan had moved his family forty miles north to take a job in the motor gang at the Edgar Thomson Steel Works. A job that his brother-in-law had arranged at great trouble, a job that had lasted only twelve weeks.
Willing away that gloomy memory, Logan trudged up the steps to apartment D3, situated towards the back of the bustling Palisade Manor complex. As he slouched down the hallway, he did his best to ignore the growing Saturday evening bustle emanating from the neighboring units; right then, Logan craved only some cold beer and a quiet dinner.
His wife, Linda, greeted him at the door, though evidently not offering either of the two things he wanted. She pecked her husband on the cheek, observing, “You’re late.”
“Took some overtime to finish up the job I was doin’.”
“Thank God—we sure can use the money.”
“Yeah,” Logan mumbled as he headed for the kitchen.
“Where’re you goin’?”
“Gonna warsh my hands and get me a Iron City; relax a little before dinner.”
“You don’t have time,” Linda said, frowning at his grimy shirt and jeans. “Just go ahead and jump right in the shower.”
“Right now? What for?”
“The Trimbles’re having a party tonight an’ we’re invited.”
“You didn’t say nothin’ ’bout a party this mornin’.”
“It’s a last minute thing; Kim just called a few hours ago. Come on, hon,” Linda wheedled. “It’ll be a night out for the two of us and it won’t cost anything.”
“How ’bout a babysitter?”
“Oh, we don’t need one for this. Krista can keep an eye on Meghan for a few hours—bet you did more than that when you were twelve. Anyway, we’ll be right across the parkin’ lot.”
“I ain’t up for no party, you jus’ go on without me.”
“Don’t be like this, Logan. At least we can take advantage of havin’ people around who like to have a little fun now an’ then.”
“We just saw the Trimbles last Sunday when I replaced Don’s goddamn water pump, ’member?”
“That’s one of the reasons they invited us—to thank you.”
“If they really wanted to thank me, they would’ve dropped off a case of beer. Neighbors here can’t leave ya in peace. All they wanta do is pry and gossip. I had a rough day and I ain’t—”
“Oh no—you ain’t pullin’ that shit on me, mister. I work just as hard as you, and I need this.”
Logan’s rising annoyance caused an equivalent rise of several decibels in his answer. “So? I said go ’head.”
Linda didn’t shrink from matching his tone or volume. “I already went to two parties without you—folks here’re gonna start thinkin’ there’s somethin’ wrong with you.”
That phrase twisted the invisible band around Logan’s head even tighter, and in response he raged, “What the fuck does that mean?”
“It means you’re goin’ to this party,” Linda shouted back.
Logan was preparing to vent his fury at his mulish wife when he saw the pale, worried face of his elder daughter peeking around the doorway. Knowing his girls, he guessed that her ten-year-old sister was probably right behind her. The kids had evidently been summoned by their parents’ irate voices—though heated arguments had become an all-too-common occurrence during their time in Braddock.
Logan’s anger swiftly died, extinguished by a blanket of guilt. Without another word, he headed for the bathroom to prepare himself for an evening promising only unwelcome noise and unwanted companionship.
Later, at the party, Logan tried to inoculate himself against the misery of the night by indulging in more than his share of the cheap whiskey on offer while completely ignoring the soda and greasy pizza his hosts had provided.
Always a man who prided himself on holding his liquor, Logan showed only the slightest signs of inebriation as he and Linda prepared for bed later that night. The cut-rate booze had done nothing good for his mood while only aggravating his headache; he yearned for oblivion as he sat on the edge of the bed and pulled off his work boots.
Unfortunately, when Linda joined him in their small master bedroom moments later, she was not yet ready to let the evening go. “Did you hear what Joann was tellin’ me? They’re takin’ their kids to Disney World for spring break.” Linda’s tone slid from innocent to accusatory as she continued. “Sure would be nice if we could do somethin’ like that for our girls.”
Logan knew immediately that Linda was working her way towards yet another “discussion” of their shaky financial situation. He hated the way these conversations ended up as stereo in his ears—his wife’s nagging doubling the drumbeat of his own guilty conscience.
In a vain attempt to head her off, he said, “You know I’m lookin’ for something better.” Squinting wearily into the glare of the yellow light coming from the bedside table, he added, “There just don’t seem to be too many mechanic jobs to be had right now.”
Not mollified in the least, Linda crossed her arms and snapped, “Even if there was, it ain’t like it’d pay as good as the mill did.”
Prodded by the emergence of a stinging subject, the embers of Logan’s anger flared back to life hotter than ever. He jumped to his feet and strode around the bed to face his accuser directly. “Fuck! Do you wanna fight about this again?”
“I’m not looking to start a fight; it’s just that Marie says—”
“I know what your sister says, and she doesn’t know anything about it. Let it go, Linda.” He turned away, heading back to his side of the room to finish undressing.
Linda stayed him by grabbing at his sleeve while insisting, “It isn’t just Marie. Bob thinks you could maybe get back in the mill, too. They need another mechanic on swing shift, he says. If you’d jus’ go to Chuck and apologize—”
“I’m tellin’ you,” Logan growled, biting each word off, “for the last time. I ain’t crawlin’ back to that fuckin’ foreman!”
“You stubborn bastard. First good job you ever got, and you gotta go an’ ruin it. Bob warned you that the guy was an asshole when they hired you on—all you had to do was ignore him.”
By now the couple was standing toe-to-toe, breathing fire at each other while their angry voices ricocheted through the small apartment and across the complex. Logan leaned down into his wife’s equally red face, snarling, “Chuck deserved that beating—deserved worse. Son of a bitch called me a cocksucker!”
“So what? Is that the end of the world? Big, bad Logan can’t take a little bit of name-calling?”
“Shut up!” Logan grabbed Linda by the shoulders and backed her towards the dresser, warning her. “Shut the fuck up. I’ve had enough of your mouth tonight.” He gave her body a quick shake, as if to punctuate his command.
Unfazed and defiant, Linda screamed back, “Too bad! I’ve had enough of scraping by. After twelve years we finally had a chance at a good life—and you blew it. My momma always said a man who can’t provide for his family ain’t no man at all.” She poked him in the chest with each word that followed. “That’s you. No man at all!”
For months Logan would claim to remember little of what happened next: not violently hurling his tiny wife into the dresser, not hearing the ancient wood splinter and collapse around her, nor watching the waterfall of shattered mirror shards slice into her unconscious form.
He had never meant to hurt her, he told the cops, and then later, the judge.
He had just wanted—no, needed—for the jeering, nagging, jagged voice to stop. But in the awful quiet that descended as Logan gaped in horror at the bloody devastation he had wrought, only one voice was silenced. The other howled on, louder than ever.
IT WAS shaping up to be a bad day for Nick Zales.
Nick parted the front room curtains and searched the street; although the bright July sun allowed him to see all the way to the corner, there was no sign of Polly Brill’s Dodge Neon. It figures she’d pick today to be late. It was now 7:55 a.m., and Nick faced the choice of being late for a Monday morning meeting with his boss or leaving his mom home alone.
Sometimes Agnes Zales seemed lucid enough to be left on her own for the short time it would probably take for the healthcare aide to show up. However, Nick begrudgingly admitted to himself that today was apparently not one of those times. His mom had already asked him three times if they were “going home today,” even though Nick’s small house in the Observatory Hill section of Pittsburgh had been her home for the past six years. This particular delusion had meant that his first job of the day had been to convince his mom to unpack her suitcase.
He had just flipped open his cell phone to call Trudy and let her know he was going to be late for their meeting when he heard the scrape of Polly’s key in the front door.
The short, spry woman, hair a shade of red not to be found in nature, smiled guiltily when she spied Nick standing in the hall. “Oh hon, you’re still here.”
“Yeah, it didn’t seem like a good day to leave Mom alone. I’m glad you’re here, I gotta run.”
But Polly, oblivious as ever, compounded her offense by delaying Nick even further with a long-winded excuse for her tardiness. “You won’t believe what I did. I woke up this mornin’ thinking it was Sunday. There I was, sitting in my kitchen, drinking my tea and listening to the birds—so pretty this time of year, aren’t they? Anyway, all of a sudden I noticed there wasn’t that usual racket coming from St. Benedict’s up the street. You know how that bunch is—real noisy….”
As Nick edged out the door, he thought, not for the first time, that when you hired someone to watch a demented person, it would behoove you to ensure that the watcher was more than just a little less demented than the watchee. So why didn’t he get rid of her? The answer came immediately on the heels of that silent question—because of the way his mom’s face had lit up at the sight of Polly. The two women were of roughly the same age and background and had formed a quirky, codependent sort of friendship.
Finally escaping the house, Nick hopped into his slightly battered black Jeep Cherokee and sped away. Luckily, if he pushed it, he could usually make it to North Hills in less than twenty minutes, so he had an outside chance of being on time for his 8:30 meeting.
Twenty-two minutes later Nick pulled up to an unmarked iron gate on a quiet suburban street and waved his badge at the key reader. Allegheny Crisis Center, where Nick plied his trade as a counselor, kept a deliberately low profile; there were no identifying signs visible from the road, and the location was divulged on a need-to-know basis only. The center’s resident clients, victims of domestic abuse, depended on ACC to be a secure haven where their abusers couldn’t find them, exposing them to the possibility of harassment—or worse.
The computer system swiftly confirmed Nick’s access and opened the gate; he moved slowly up the driveway. Considering his time crunch, he would have preferred some speed, but Nick knew that was both unwise and unsafe as there were likely to be children playing on the grounds.
Briefly stopping by his cramped, cluttered office to grab a pad, pen, and some folders, Nick skidded into Trudy Gerard’s presence at 8:40, only to find her on the phone. She motioned him into a chair at the small table in the corner of her sunny space; Nick sank into it and composed himself to wait, Trudy’s time always being in great demand.
Trudy Gerard had been head of counseling services at ACC for twelve years as well as spearheading the community outreach and education program. Despite her having recently passed the half-century mark, her wavy black hair, invariably pulled into a neat bun, showed only a few streaks of gray, and her cocoa-colored skin was nearly unmarred by wrinkles.
Though her brown eyes were as warm as her smile, the impeccable posture and effortless air of command she possessed prevented any but the densest of individuals from ever trifling with Trudy. Nick smiled to himself as he listened to his boss rattle off a list of commands to someone who, it appeared, might have broken that last rule.
“I said today, what part of that word didn’t you understand? No, I’m not going to tell you how, that’s your job. If you were better at it, I wouldn’t need to tell you that.”
After she’d rapped the phone down smartly and joined him at the table, Nick asked, “Do I even want to know who that was? Please don’t tell me it was the Assistant District Attorney.”
“Of course it was. I’ve got Cindy Lane all geared up to give her testimony, and it’s going to happen today—come hell or high water.”
“She’s going to testify against her husband?” At Trudy’s brisk nod, Nick asked, “How’d you manage that?”
“Because I’m good at my job,” Trudy replied tartly. “Now, let’s talk about how you’re doing at yours. Let’s start with why you were late.”
Despite Trudy’s harsh wording, Nick felt no real concern. For one thing, he knew that his boss prided herself on her bluntness. For another, she had been one of his greatest advocates in the seven years since he’d shown up at ACC, a green-as-grass intern from the psych program at Pitt. “Sorry about that. The aide was late today, and my mom…. Well, let’s just say I thought it best to wait for Polly.”
“Yep.” Nick sighed, adding, “It seems like there’s still more bad ones than good.”
Trudy leaned forward and, in a much softer tone, asked, “You’re not still hoping to see some improvement after all these years, are you?”
“It’s not impossible. With her type of head injury—” Nick stopped abruptly and swallowed several times before continuing. “But we’ve been over this…. And you’re not my counselor, anyway.” Pulling out a folder, he said briskly, “Here’s my update on ‘Life Skills’.”
The Life Skills program at ACC was Nick’s brainchild. One of the biggest impediments to domestic abuse survivors building an independent existence was usually their lack of even the most basic aptitudes. Many times their abusers had them so cowed and controlled that they spent years forbidden to even use a phone, let alone drive a car, handle money, or get a job.
Nick had divided the program into several modules: finance, home upkeep and repairs, employment, and literacy/GED. He covered the first two while volunteers taught the rest. He hoped to add two more modules in the near future, but he needed more volunteers to teach them since he was flat-out with his current caseload and his tiny budget wouldn’t stretch to cover paid help.
While Trudy was reading his progress report, she looked over the edge of her glasses and announced, “By the way, I have someone in mind for the ‘Automotive Basics’ module you want to add.”
There was just enough tension in Trudy’s deceptively casual tone to put Nick on alert; however, he was used to her unorthodox suggestions, so he merely asked, “A volunteer?”
“Yeah.” She paused and amended mirthfully, “Well… more like a volun-told.” When Nick refused to take the bait, she continued, “He’s a client of mine.”
Nick was momentarily nonplussed. “Oh. I didn’t know we had a new male client—since I usually get them, I mean.” Before Trudy could answer, he added in a rush, “Not that I’m saying that a gay man is the only one who can counsel our gay clients, but—”
“I didn’t say he was gay—”
“Oh, sorry,” Nick interrupted. “It’s been a while since we had a straight male victim—”
“And,” Trudy continued firmly, “I didn’t say he was a victim.”
“So he’s a….”
“Grr-eaat. And you think I’m going to turn over my girls to the care of some wife-beater?”
“First of all, we don’t use that term anymore and you know it. Secondly—your girls? How paternalistic is that?”
“Oh, cut the bullshit, Trudy. You know that my current group is all in their twenties; you call them girls all the time. And I might’ve heard you use the word ‘wife-beater’ once or twice.”
“I’m old enough to call them girls. Besides, it isn’t the words so much as the intent behind them.” Trudy drew herself up to her full seated height before introducing a phrase that always indicated a hard truth coming. “No harm intended,” she used a slight pause to great effect before continuing, “but you’ve got to get past this prejudice of yours.”
“Oh, I’m sorry if I have this insane prejudice against men who beat, abuse, maim, and/or kill their partners.” Nick’s sarcasm was meant as much for the sting of conscience echoing Trudy’s point as for Trudy herself. He immediately changed the subject by saying, “And you’re aiming to bring this guy here—”
Trudy cocked an eyebrow and drawled, “Yes—I’ve forgotten one of the first rules of this place—that I run—and plan to bring an abuser to the center. In fact I was thinking of throwing it open to all of them.”
Suitably abashed, Nick asked, “So where…?”
“Larry knows a guy who’ll let us use his garage.”
A rueful smile broke across his face as Nick affirmed, “Of course he does.”
Trudy’s husband Larry ran one of the best and busiest diners on the South Side, and it seemed to Nick that he knew everyone in Pittsburgh, from the Steelers’ defensive coordinator to the blind man who sang for change on Forbes Avenue.
“Nick, I care about these women just as much as you; I’m not going to expose them to danger. I wouldn’t suggest this if I wasn’t absolutely sure about this guy—you know that. ”
That statement admitted no argument, so Nick simply asked, “So what’s his story?”
“He’s a mechanic.”
“Well, I sorta figured….”
“And he was referred to me by Sister Ciera—”
“Oh, I should have known. He’s one of Sister Bleeding Heart’s lost causes.”
“Do you call her that when she teaches one of your girls to read or helps one get her GED?”
Nick had no immediate answer, since the nun was a great help, and moreover, he actually sort of liked the determined little religious who volunteered at ACC and also ran a “Literacy Behind Bars” program. They simply had a basic disagreement about what constituted a “victim” and about the worth of counseling abusers.
Along that line of thought, Nick asked Trudy, “Are you counseling this mechanic and his wife?”
“Not yet, but I hope to. Right now, I’m working with him alone; seeing me is part of his probation. Look, I know what you—and the rest of the world—think about couples counseling. I’m sure we’ll continue that debate over a beer sometime, but I can tell you this guy doesn’t fit the classic abuser profile.”
“Meaning what? The abuse was a one-time event?”
“Not only that, but he also has definite anger control issues. And he’s instigated physical disputes with men—at work, in a bar—”
“Wait a minute. Something’s not adding up. He’s on probation for smacking his wife once?”
Trudy betrayed slight nervousness by licking her lips before admitting, “She was injured rather badly—”
“Uh huh. Has he admitted he’s at fault?”
“Not really. He claims it was an accident—”
“Of course,” Nick snorted.
“Okay, Nick, I admit it. I’m not really getting anywhere with him. He’s angry, morose, and depressed. He’s separated from his wife and children, which isn’t helping, but I can’t testify that he’s ready to go back. I need something to both shake him up a little and make him feel better about himself… and I think teaching basic automotives for us might do it. Now, are you going to help me out or not?”
Nick’s resolve faltered when Trudy made it a plea rather than a command. A half-minute of silent consideration allowed him to say, “Okay. But I’m going to be there during the whole class. I want to keep an eye on your friend, ‘Mr. Good-and-Angry Wrench’.”
“How are you going to find time for that? I’ll do it.”
“You? You’re busier than me,” Nick laughed. “Besides, Life Skills is my baby; I’ll find the time. And I’m warning you, if there’s the slightest bit of trouble with this guy, I’m pulling the plug. Immediately.”
Evidently recognizing a final offer when she heard it, Trudy said, “Okay, fine—on both counts. I’ll tell Logan he has a gig.”
“Logan? Is that his first or last name?”
“First. Last name is Crane.”
NICK split his drive home between worrying about this unconventional volunteer he’d taken on and the fact that he was over an hour late and very likely Polly had already left for the day. In a way, he didn’t blame her. No one knew better than Nick how tiring ten hours with his mom could be, but a “nutty morning” usually presaged a nuttier evening and was always worse when she’d been left alone on such a day.
His mom didn’t disappoint. Nick found her sitting expectantly with her repacked suitcase at her feet and a coat on despite the warm night.
“Ma, what are you doing?” He gently helped her up, saying, “Come on, get that coat off; you’re going to get heatstroke.”
“No, I need to go get Nicky.”
Nick turned his mom to face him while insisting calmly, “I am Nick, Mom.”
Agnes reluctantly removed her coat as she shook her head in bemusement. “Nick is twelve years old. I left him in Kittanning.”
A weary sigh escaped him as he led her up the stairs, repeating a familiar litany. “I was twelve—twenty years ago, when we both left Kittanning. Do you hear me, Mom? We left Kittanning a long, long time ago.”
As Nick watched his mom unpack for the second time that day, he thought: Yeah, we left Kittanning, but it sure ain’t left us. He couldn’t help but wonder if it ever would.