Shades of Gray

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This was not how Cal wanted to start his day.

Last Tuesday, his son, Jack had been involved in a physical altercation with another student and had earned his second suspension of the school year. As a consideration to Cal’s standing in the community and his job as a state trooper, the school’s dean of discipline had not given Jack the five day suspension he should have. Mr. Mc Cray had simply called the police barracks, explained the situation; that Jack would be suspended again for three school days and would not be allowed back in school until a meeting was held with the school superintendent, Jack and both of his parents and asked that Cal come and get Jack. As Cal was still on duty, he arrived at the school in uniform and had to take his son home in the patrol car.

“Why Jack,” Cal had asked in the car. “What are trying to prove?

“Thanks for the freak show Dad! Bad enough you came in uniform. Did you have to drive up in this?” Jack turned away from his father and stared out the window of the marked cruiser. End of conversation.

Much as Cal wanted to find absolution in the notion that fist fights were part of a teen aged boy’s transition from little boy to man, Cal knew that Jack’s recent behavior had less to do with growing up than it did with the fact that his son could not accept that his parents’ divorce had been finalized. It had been a difficult year. Cal and his wife had tried to work through their differences. When counseling failed to produce any progress, the couple had formally separated. There had been scattered attempts at reconciliation but after over a year of trying, they were forced to face the facts. Prolonging the inevitable was only going to make this worse. Cal knew that Jack was in pain and that he wanted his father to hurt the same way he did. What Jack couldn’t know is that Cal did hurt as much as his son. Hurting Jack and Stephanie was something he wasn’t sure he could ever forgive him self, but it seem that the harder he tried not to, the more hurt he brought down on all of them. The best thing for all of them was to cut their losses and start to heal. When they arrived at the house, Jack’s mother Stephanie was waiting on the porch steps. She stood, positioning herself to block his retreat to the house as her son stormed towards her and held out her hands to stop him.

“Don’t,” Jack growled moving to avoid any contact with his mother. “Leave me alone.” He jumped the porch steps and disappeared into the house slamming the front door behind him.

“Jesus Cal,” Stephanie hissed in exasperation as she stomped down the walkway.

Robbed of the opportunity to confront her son about his behavior, it seemed Stephanie was determined to confront who she obviously believed was the cause of Jack’s latest misbehavior.

“What did you do? Go to school and arrest him?”

Cal had waited by the patrol car to give Jack time to get to the house with some sense of dignity. He met her on the walk before she had a chance to reach him. Hands on his hips, and exasperated he confronted her. He knew she was going to blame him any way for this; arguing had become their primary means of communication for a long time now. What good would it do him to try and be calm about things? The bell sounded and the latest bout in the fight that had beaten their marriage to death began.

“I was at work Steph. The school called. What was I supposed to do? Clock out, go home, change and then get him?”

As Stephanie raged about the way he had been failing to deal with their son’s obvious problems, Cal looked past her, towards the house’s second story. He saw the curtain move and knew that from the upstairs window, Jack was watching them argue, again, on the front walk. He also knew that this is what Jack wanted; even though they weren’t talking about not going through with the divorce, at least they were talking.

Six days later, Cal sat in his dark blue S 10, waiting for his family in the parking lot of the high school. He hadn’t been waiting long when his ex-wife’s green Volvo sedan turned into the parking lot. Stephanie and Jack pulled into the parking space next to Cal’s pick up truck. He got out and waited dutifully for them.

“Go on a head Jack,” Stephanie said. “I want to talk to your father.” As soon as Jack was out of earshot, Stephanie turned to face Cal. “Thanks for coming in street clothes,” she offered nervously. “I know you’re supposed to be on duty.”

“It’s no big deal,” Cal shifted uncomfortably. It bothered him that they couldn’t be at ease around each other anymore. “What are we going to do about this? This isn’t Jack. We both know that and we both know why he’s doing this; even if he doesn’t. Eventually the school is going to stop cutting Jack breaks.”

Stephanie sighed. “I talked to the guidance office after you left the house Tuesday. The school psychologist is going to see Jack three times a week until school gets out. I don’t know what to do with him any more Cal. He was doing better until he found the final divorce decree. He was at my desk, doing Internet research for a paper for school. He found it in some papers I was going to file and read it before I had chance to stop him.”

Cal stiffened. He did not want think about his son reading the equivalent of his parents’ marriage’s death certificate. Instinctively, Cal reached for his wife. She stiffened a little at first and then just allowed herself to let him pull her close but only for a moment. Quickly, Stephanie pulled away uncomfortable at her momentary lapse of weakness. This was the way things had always been for them; Stephanie playing the wounded quail and Cal, the gallant knight, riding to the rescue. She could always count on Cal to do the “right thing.” It was one of the things that made her love him so deeply that it hurt. Cal had never been one of those men who pretended to be sensitive and kind, only to turn away when the need to really connect emotionally or take responsibility came. It was how they began and it was how they ended. She knew there was no falsity in his gesture. She knew that his concern for her was genuine.

But both of them had always wanted things they couldn’t have. There was a time when she would have welcomed this opportunity to feel this way again, connected, safe, but that time had passed. Clouds gathered overhead and the sky shifted from the promise of a warm spring day to a kind of gray uncertainty. Stephanie regained her composure and turned to walk away from Cal, toward the administration building where Jack waited for them under the breezeway.

“We had better get going. You are probably eager to get to work.”

Cal wasn’t sure what to do or say, but he didn’t want things to continue the way they had been. In that moment it didn’t matter what had happened to bring them to this point. A million things ran through his mind at that moment. His mind drowned in the flood of things that he wanted to say, needed to say, but he couldn’t get anything to come out of his mouth but her name.


“Let’s just do what we both know we need to.” And fighting every instinct of her being, she turned and continued to move away from her ex-husband.

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