Masks of Morality

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Chapter 10

The Golden Gate Grind is a trendy café nestled near the bottom of the hill a short distance from Caryssa’s house—offering astounding views of the great orange-red bridge and contrasting hills, ocean, and sky. On rainy or cool days, the play date parents started meeting there as a reprieve from the park or the inevitable mess that could accumulate at their houses.

Today was one of those cool spring days. This time they met while the kids were at school, a way of making the most of the three hours or less they might have to themselves during the course of a day.

“Do you know what’s wrong with you true born and bred Californians?” Caryssa asked, stirring her latte.

“Yeah, we make you Bostonians feel inferior because we’re self-aware and mellow,” Stan joked.

Brenda snorted. “Omigod Stan, I have to admit you have a point there. I’ve been to Boston. I’ve seen those people get all bent out of shape about nothing. It’s weird. One time during a business trip, a guy backed up in the airport parking lot and slammed into my rental car. Good thing I bought the insurance. He got out and screamed at me. I was all …’dude, Chill. You backed into me’. Seriously. I took half the responsibility, no problem, but there are calmer ways of handling life’s little accidents. I wanted to teach him to meditate or something. I felt bad for the man. Dude was off the charts stressed!”

“Wait a minute…why did you take any responsibility? He hit you, right?” asked Stan.

“Well yeah, but my rental…I was in a tiny Euro-style car stopped too close behind his Hummer. I was waiting for a spot on the other side. I’m pretty sure he couldn’t see my car when he turned around to back up. So yeah. It was both of us to blame. I had no problem at all taking partial responsibility. It’s the way he handled it. Practically grabbed my purse out of my hand. ‘Whea yore fuckin’ money?! Look at the damage to my Humma! I have two kids ta sen ta college! I can’t afford good insurance! I’m gunna be out two thousand dollahs just fuh the deductible!’ Poor guy. I learned more about his personal life within twenty minutes than I have about Boston’s violent history in my entire life!” joked Brenda.

“That’s why God invented alcohol,” Caryssa laughed. “It seems their antidote to every calamity.”

“We Californians do our fair share of drinking our concerns away too. We have wine country!” Stan retorted.

“Well, I’m doomed then, as both an original Bostonian and now a Californian. Anyway. Back to what I was saying,” Caryssa said. “Perhaps all the earthquakes, mudslides, and fires made you native Californians a bit soft. I mean its sixty degrees out and you say it’s too cold to go to the park!”

“Our kids are at school right now, isn’t that why we go to the park to play?” reasoned Brenda. “Besides, this is one trendy little café! It’s a nice break from our routine, don’t you think?”

“Well, yeah, I agree, Brenda. But we do have little Kieran here, and my girlfriend Donna is going to show with her little one too. This place could get pretty boring for two three-year-olds,” Caryssa said. “Plus…sixty degrees? What a buncha wusses!”

As if on cue, Donna Hodges walked in with her three-year-old son Miles. Her daughter, now in kindergarten, was at school. She sat, with Miles in her lap. Looking around she caught the server’s eye and waved him over.

“Mocha for me, please. Miles honey…would you like some orange juice?”

Miles nodded. “And some orange juice, in a plastic glass, with a straw.”

The server wrote her order on his pad and looked around at the rest of the group. “Anything else for you folks?”

“How about a plate of biscotti for the table? On me,” Stan suggested. “Any takers?”

Everybody nodded, among murmurs of “yum” and “that would be so nice.”

“Okay,” Stan said. “A plate of biscotti please?”

“Sure thing, sir,” the server said. “Coming right up.”

Brenda leaned in close to Caryssa’s ear. “What do you think he really does?” she whispered. “Grad student? Artist? Actor?”

“I know…” Caryssa responded. “It’s so hard for these young people to make their way in this world right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a grad student. We should ask him.”

Brenda frowned. “Nah…too personal. Unless you want to ask him. I wouldn’t put it past you. And I bet you’d inspire him too.”

Caryssa leaned hard against Brenda’s shoulder. “Goofball!” she laughed. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

After brief introductions around the table, Donna fell into the conversation with the simple ease so typical of Caryssa’s community of parents.

“So Donna. How do you and Caryssa know each other?” Brenda asked.

“Well, I guess from skiing, right Caryssa?” Donna responded.

“Oh, yeah,” Caryssa said. “I’ve known Donna’s husband Ned for…what…fourteen years? We met him first at the ski house in Tahoe. And then we met Donna through him. Those guys are part of our ‘Squawlywood’ friends.”

The waiter returned to the group and set a platter of fresh-baked biscotti in the center of the table. “Enjoy! And then turned to Donna. “Oh, and ma’am…your latte and orange juice will be out soon.”

Donna smiled her appreciation to him, reaching for a biscotti. “Yeah we love going to the ski house. What a great community. Dunno if any of you are skiers, but you would be so welcome. Anyway…wow it’s so nice to pull myself away from my computer and come out here to enjoy the conversation, a latte, and this delicious banana pecan biscotti.”

“Are you one of those archetypal supermoms that combine the career thing with parenting?” asked Brenda. “I tried that route before…it didn’t work with trying to take care of my twins.”

“Oh, no. I totally get you. No, with two young kids? I can’t see going out to work. I don’t know how I’d do it. I help manage my husband’s properties from home. It’s not a paid job. But it fulfills my need to feel productive, and I can be my own boss, make my own schedule. And of course it does help with the family finances, because I’m doing the grunt work he doesn’t have time to do. And doesn’t have to pay a contractor. Big wheeler and dealer, right Caryssa?” She winked at Caryssa.

“Oh yeah…” Caryssa laughed. “Your guy is a total wheeler and dealer. And not too shabby on the expert slopes either.”

“I know!” Donna laughed” But truth is? He couldn’t do it without me. Or keep up with me on the ski slopes!”

Caryssa and Donna high-fived across the table.

“Truth!” Caryssa said. “And we need them, too. It’s a total team thing.”

“Yup,” Donna said. “It so is.”

Miles began squirming in Donna’s lap. “Mama…down!”

“Okay sweetie, down we go. Let’s go explore.” She turned an apologetic face to the group. “Sorry you guys. He can’t stay still for too long.” Everyone smiled. They knew exactly what she was talking about.

“Go on,” Stan said. “Take your time! We’ll still be here when the young man is ready to come back to the table. But I can’t promise the biscotti will be!”

Kieran and Miles, the two toddlers, were playing quietly at the next table, fixated on Kieran’s transformer toy that changed from a truck into some supernatural being of great power.

“Well I guess I was wrong that two three-year-old boys can’t sit and play quietly,” Caryssa observed.

Brenda brought the conversation back to careers and motherhood. “I recall years of us fighting for gender equality, and winning. The equal pay for equal job thing. Now, it seems like there is once again a shift in women’s roles, going back to the realization that maintaining a high-powered career while taking care of young children can be impossible. At least without costs to the family, to the children.”

Caryssa took a sip of her vanilla latte, enjoying the classical music in the background. She glanced out the window at the Golden Gate Bridge, its orangey-red glow flickering off the bright greenish-blue bay beyond Alcatraz Island. Palm trees swayed in the cool breeze, and a light fog was rolling in over the Marin headlands. The therapeutic scent of eucalyptus trees wafted in the open window on the breeze, fresh with recent rains. The bay was full of sailboats and windsurfers. Hard to believe Tahoe was only three hours away, with snow and skiing. She could not imagine living anywhere else could be as wonderful.

“I remember a woman at Unabridged Networks made a comment to me after I got yet another promotion,” Caryssa took her eyes off the bay. “She said something like ‘You are lucky you have so much extra time to devote to your career, Caryssa. I have to leave here at five sharp every day to pick up my children from after-school activities, be sure they do homework, stay in touch with their daily lives, work out the usual pre-teen and teen years growing pains, cook them dinner and all.’ At the time I couldn’t relate to her at all.”

“Well, she was right! So what did you say to that comment?” Stan asked.

“Well…I realize now my response to her comment was rather oblivious. I didn’t have kids. I had no idea what her life was like. How could I? I told her I earned the promotion from working damn hard. I put in an average 60-80 hours a week.”

“Well, you did work hard! Don’t you feel that you earned those promotions?” Brenda argued. “I mean damn if someone doesn’t get promoted through hard work! It’s the least the company could have done for you. You were a top performer!”

“Oh sure, I don’t think management would have doled out a couple fifteen thousand dollar raises, had I not been so productive. But I realize I was working so many hours, simply because—I could! I had no higher level of responsibility waiting for me at home in the name of a flesh and blood child. I had more time on my hands. And I guess…well…it seems now that merely working those hours is not a reason for management to promote one person over the other…workaholic habits should not be rewarded so much.”

“Now you realize that woman was working the 24/7 primary job of Manager of Motherhood, plus doing that full time job at the internetworking company?” added Stan.

“Maybe so,” Brenda argued further. “But regardless, I don’t agree that if someone puts in so much effort they should not be rewarded. Especially if those big hours bring big results.”

“Of course!” Caryssa countered. “I agree, Brenda. Yet we can’t let corporate America turn people into corporate robots!”

“I don’t think Caryssa is negating the need to be rewarded for a job well done…she’s saying that not all employees are ruled by school schedules, ball games, keeping their kids alive, etc.” Donna reasoned. “We shouldn’t lose sight of what is really important in life.”

“Think of those people that do both…the nine to five every day plus the craziness of their kids’ schedules!” Stan said. “I couldn’t do it…which is why I don’t.”

“I hearya, Stan. And I’m convinced nobody can,” Donna said. “Not well, anyway. Something has to give, and usually it’s at the expense of the kids. Now that’s what I can’t do.”

“Well, that’s what I mean. Anyone with small kids can choose to be in an office forty-fifty plus hours a week. Just throw them into daycare all day or put them with a grandparent or nanny. But would we want towould we want our kids raised with other people’s values, morals, and methods of discipline?” Stan responded.

“Seriously, I wonder now how the hell she did it,” Caryssa said. “She was at senior analyst level with me. Omg that position was a tough grind! And come to think of it, she was very efficient at it, more so than I. She had been a systems engineer before that, so she didn’t have to meet with all the product managers to understand the technicalities. She understood it, because she had helped design it. Anyway, I had the prissy attitude ’well you only work nine to five each day.’ But now, as a parent? I know she worked way harder and way longer than I did. She had two jobs!”

“Well, I don’t think anyone realizes what it takes to be a parent, until or unless they become one,” Donna said. “Even if they have ten nieces and nephews and take them ten hours a day every day, they have no idea!”

“Hey, not to change the subject, but did you guys hear that Anna Beauvais’s case was reopened?” Brenda asked.

“I didn’t know anything about a case to begin with,” Stan said. Two seconds later, recognition dawned. “Oh, are you talking about her daughter Bianca’s hit and run?”

“Yeah,” Brenda responded. “It was a cold case for years. All they had to go on was a blue Honda Civic, no license plate. There are quite a few of those around. Anyway, I guess the neighbor seems to remember the license plate, after seeing the car again.”

“What I wonder is how someone just… ‘remembers’ a license plate, when the incident was something like five years ago?” Caryssa asked.

“I guess the woman suffers from some type of memory loss, and rumor has it she is a bit of a drinker,” Brenda said. “Anyway, she was at a yard sale and she saw a blue Honda Civic parked in a garage. The license plate flashed into her memory of that night…it had some kind of symbolic meaning to her. The police ran the plate she gave them, and they have contacted the owner. He confessed!”

“How does that work, if he confessed? Will there be a trial?” Stan asked.

“Yes,” Brenda responded. “According to Anna, they want to go forward with a trial. But what is not certain is if this guy even hit Bianca, despite his confession. There is reason to believe his son was driving the car, and he is covering for him. You know, Caryssa, Anna mentioned she is planning to call you again for a playdate. She has been taking Jared more often these days.”

“Actually she already did...and maybe I’ll beat her to it and call her first this time around,” Caryssa said, remembering her vow to squeeze in time with Anna and Jared whenever possible.

“You guys have way too exciting a life for me!” Donna said. “This sounds like something from CSI, not real mothers’ lives. A hit and run, little girl killed, mysterious closed case reopened, cops now going after the fugitive defendant.”

“Brenda, what about the son, have they questioned him yet?” Caryssa asked. “I just saw Anna last week. She told me a lot but not all these details.”

“I guess he is at UCLA. The police have plans to go there and talk to him,” Brenda responded. “Get this…Anna told me that her lawyer is talking punitive damages of possibly ten million dollars! He says that this fatal accident caused the whole spiraling effect on Anna’s family, and wants to go after the defendant in a big way.”

“If he is at UCLA, he must be quite young. He would have been really young when the accident happened,” Donna glanced at her own son.

“I know, sad. Have you seen the papers today? This case is front-page news. Made big headlines, as the kid’s dad is high profile in the community. At one point he founded a highly successful dotcom. He has been likened to a Steve Jobs type dude. The kid is reported to be a great student, well-behaved, well liked, in med school, top ten percent of his class,” Brenda said. “There was mention he might be a trust fund kid.”

“When I saw her last week she distinctly told me she does not want to press charges, she does not want this kid to even go to trial!” Caryssa said.

Stan, who had been either silent or chasing Kieran away from the front door during the discussion, piped up. “Wow, I almost find myself hoping this kid does gets off…I mean he must have been at most sixteen at the time. He has his whole life in front of him, an inspiring one at that.”

“I know,” Brenda interjected more loudly than she had intended, face red with sudden anger. “But this is Anna’s daughter we ya’ll talking about…her whole family was torn apart! I reckon we can’t let people get away with reckless driving just because they are teenagers! Our five-year-olds know right from wrong!”

Oh no, southern drawl slipping in, which means Brenda is mad. Caryssa took a deep breath and glanced out at the Golden Gate Bridge, always a source of serenity.

Heads turned in the café. Miles and Kieran, playing with small trucks nearby, started crashing into each other playfully “Oh no, I am driving too fast, I’m gonna crash into you…Oh no, watch where you are going, don’t drive so fast, you are a bad guy and I’ll get you, I’ll kill you!”

“Oh my,” Stan reasoned. “I didn’t mean to push your buttons, Brenda. Maybe we need to calm down a bit here. It is a hot-button issue and it touches all of us right where we live. Both the victim and the driver could have been ours. Either way, tragedy. So let’s take a step back. The problem with the case seems to be there would be too many unknowns at this point…we don’t even know if the kid was speeding or drunk, or even driving recklessly at all.”

“But he fled the scene of the accident!” Brenda argued, leaning forward across the table as if to accentuate her words. “Its five years later and he hides out at school with no remorse for his actions? Come on Stan! I don’t think we can let that one go, no matter what!”

Why was Caryssa shaking? Her hands were trembling underneath the table. Then it hit her.

She thinks about this all the time…one day, Tyler will be a teenager driving…

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