Masks of Morality

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Chapter 12

It was a hot spring day in late May. Tyler emerged from his bedroom with his baseball outfit on, glove in hand. “Hi Mommy! Where’s Dad? It’s time to go play some ball and celebrate the end of the league season!”

Caryssa looked up from the dishwasher, where she had been trying to find places to put the breakfast dishes before running a load. “I don’t know, honey. Last time I saw him he was heading out to the yard to pull weeds and put in the new plants he bought me for Mother’s Day. But you’re right. We need to get going soon! You go find him. I’m gonna get changed. It’s already hot out! Where’s the fog when you really need it?!”

Tyler laughed. “You’re silly, Mommy. You know we all like it hot. Fog fog go away! Don’t come again some other day!” He ran over and gave her a hug, and then headed out the door yelling “Dad! DAD? Daddy!!! Where are you?” Somewhere below at the far end of their property, George called back “Right here, son!”

Smiling to herself, Caryssa went into her bedroom, slipped out of her robe, pulled a bright turquoise tank top out of her dresser and a jean skirt off a hanger in her closet. As she put them on, she rummaged through a basket of baseball caps. She was looking for just the right one. Ah, there it was…emblazoned with the name of Tyler’s T-ball team. Perfect.

She grabbed a hair tie off the dresser and scooped her thick blond hair into a high ponytail, then put the cap on at a jaunty angle and pulled her ponytail through space at the back. She grabbed a lip gloss and swiped her lips. Surveying herself in her dresser mirror she thought “Yup. Good enough for a day at the park. Besides, who needs Ann Taylor when I have my beautiful boys?”

Back in the kitchen, Caryssa saw George had packed a picnic lunch and Tyler was dancing around him in excitement. She put her arms around George from behind as he stood at the counter about to close the basket. “Nice idea, honey. But you do know it’s the celebration party today, right? Which means lots of food already there?”

George turned around, pulled her into a bear hug and kissed her. “I do indeed…” “But I packed some special stuff just for you. I know how hard you worked on the celebration committee, to make the party perfect. You deserve a reward.”

“Really?” Caryssa playfully tried to reach her arms around George to open the basket. “What’s in it?”

“Ohhhh no you don’t!” he laughed, pinning her arm to his side. “No peeking. It’s a surprise!”

She gave up the struggle and gave George another kiss. “You take such good care of me! How did I land such a prince?!”

George smiled. He pulled her into a deeper hug and nuzzled her neck, murmuring “Only the best for my best girl.”

Meanwhile, Tyler was already heading out the door. “Hurry up, you guys! Hurry UP!!! No more mushy stuff! I don’t want to be late! It’s the last game of the season!”

Laughing, they said in unison “Okay little man! Here we come!” George grabbed the picnic basket off the counter and closed it, and then he and Caryssa followed their excited son out to the car.

When they arrived at the baseball field, the usual fun community faces were there. Caryssa had grown to love the families since the season had started. She always looked forward to these special times. They would gather around with their chairs, coolers, and conversations. She felt especially drawn to one family in particular. Bryan and Charlotte Garrity had twin five-year-old sons, Kevin and Keenan, both on Tyler’s team.

Bryan Garrity volunteered as an assistant coach for the team. An Irish-Italian Catholic originally from Connecticut, he had moved to San Francisco in the early nineties. There he had met Charlotte, they had married, and soon welcomed their twin boys into the world. After the twins were born, the family had moved to the East Bay.

As part of her mandatory parent volunteer hours, Caryssa had organized the end of season party with Charlotte. When they arrived at the field, Tyler took off to join his team and George followed Caryssa, carrying the folding chairs, picnic basket, and blanket. Charlotte saw them and waved to them to come over and join her.

“Hey, Caryssa!” Charlotte was setting up her own chairs and umbrella. “Great to see you guys! Looks like we have the turnout we hoped for!”

George set their stuff down, nodded to Charlotte in greeting, and then turned to Caryssa. “Honey, I’m going to go—”

“I know,” Caryssa said smiling at him, “take some videos.”

He laughed. “You know me too well.”

As George walked off towards the field, Caryssa pulled out her lawn chair, set it up, and sank into it with a sigh. “You’re right” She surveyed the scene. “Great turnout. I’m still exhausted.”

Charlotte laughed. “Me too. But it’s so worth it.”

“Yup,” Caryssa laid the picnic basket between them. “And my sweetie packed me a special basket as a reward. I’m sharing it with you.”

Charlotte started to respond but then noticed the game was starting. “Ooooh …” she said, pointing towards the field. “To be continued!”

The two women watched intently in silence for a while. George was walking around the periphery of the field with the camcorder, seemingly talking to himself while taping one of life’s most precious memories.

After the first inning, Caryssa opened the picnic basket. “Wow, Check it out!” As they began pulling the delicacies out for a well-earned feast, Caryssa asked “So explain what you do for work again? I know it has to do with the environment. I am so interested. I’m trying to move in that direction professionally.”

“I work in ecology. I’m sure you know what it entails.” Charlotte had her eyes on the delicious spread George packed for them.

“Sure,” Caryssa said. “Isn’t it the scientific study of relationships between organisms and their environment?”

“Exactly,” Charlotte placed a couple spring rolls on her plate. “I focus on environmental issues starting at the minutest level and reaching to the human. For instance, why frogs are mutating and disappearing. Three guesses why, and I’ll give you a hint: toxic waste! The studies I do show scientific proof of the detrimental effect modern civilization has on the environment, and how it is hurting humans as well. Over and over I see if we don’t improve the environment, human life on this planet might become unsustainable. And it’s frightening how most people don’t get it.”

“Geesh, humans becoming extinct like the dinosaurs once did!” joked a parent sitting nearby overhearing the conversation. “Makes me fear for our next generation!”

“Fascinating and frightening! Particularly alarming are the environmental effects on children,” Caryssa interjected. “Since becoming a parent, I have become so concerned about the future of our planet, our kids! I worked in the high tech arena for years and made good money. But if I can find work in this field, some way to contribute? I’d start at peanuts if it meant making a difference!”

Charlotte said “That’s a great attitude, Caryssa. And I believe the environmental sector will be the hot pot in the very near future. Good things are to come. And you have lots to offer, with your analytic and marketing background. Tons. I say go for it!”

“Oh…good hit Tyler! Run to first base! Run! RUN!” Caryssa shouted. “Oops sorry, Charlotte. I’m listening. But wow what a great hit! Especially for my kid, the master of striking out.”

Charlotte laughed. “Totally get it, girlfriend.” “Tyler is on fire today!”

“Thanks for understanding,” Caryssa pulled out the sparkling water, then poured two cups. “And, back on point. Our politicians talk as if they are concerned with the environment, but the next thing they do is approve offshore oil drilling, some senseless pipeline or ‘clean coal,’ which anybody paying attention knows simply doesn’t exist!”

“Oh, but we’re drilling for America’s future! Our jobbier future! All we have to do is ravage our National Parks,” Charlotte joked. “Until the shadowy criminal cabal known as ‘campers’ try to hoard those precious resources!”

“Hah! Tell me about it!” Caryssa laughed. “But seriously. On a more personal subject. You work full time, right? How the heck do you do it? I am always amazed when parents can work, but still remain involved daily with their kids. What’s your secret?”

“Well,” Charlotte responded. “I work from home, which isn’t as great as it sounds. I work thirty-five hours a week. We have an au pair. She’s great. But it is very expensive, and truth be told, I feel like I just work to pay her. By the time taxes are taken out and all. But it keeps me in the game, my mind working, and helps me stay sane in an otherwise insane world.”

“I can see. Staying sane is a good thing. Sometimes I feel like I am losing it. I’m so focused in on the great martyrdom of mommyhood. But then I get anxious thinking what the upcoming job, as part time as it will be, will do to my time with Tyler. I don’t want to lose that.” Caryssa sighed. “Believe it or not, I want to do an even better job at motherhood than I already am. Such mixed emotions!”

“Emotional turmoil seems to be a main ingredient of motherhood,” Charlotte replied. “I feel so anguished over having to work, not spending enough time with my boys. It kills me, especially knowing what we could have had from Bryan’s side of the family. Well, Wait. Bryan’s happiness is more important than getting entangled in family drama just for the money. But still, it would be so great to be able to save for college, and to spend more time with our boys.”

“So…what does Bryan do for work?” Caryssa inquired cautiously, curious about his family background but not wanting to step on any toes.

“Oh, he’s a landscape architect. He has his own business. He was doing well for a while there. But it’s very slow right now. Nobody wants to risk spending money. As a result, I have to work full time so we can make ends meet. We didn’t plan it this way. We wanted one of us to be home. But this is how it fell out. And, you know…” Charlotte hesitated. Then she took a deep breath and continued. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I always wonder how my family would have fared if my husband had not had a falling out with his father.”

“Really!” Caryssa said. “I’m intrigued! What happened?”

“Bryan is from a highly affluent family in Connecticut. Let me first tell you, I love Bryan with my whole heart and soul and am happy he is not following in the footsteps of his pompous ass of a father. Anyhow, he dropped out of Harvard after two years of law studies, then left the East Coast and his rich family. When he first arrived in California, he had no job and no skills.

“He pretty much bummed and thumbed his way across country on American Express and Carte Blanche. He even got arrested once for possession of pot. It seemed like he was on the fast track to nowhere. But after a while, he found himself. He figured out what he loved and what he wanted to do with his life, outside of the family expectations. He went to Cal Poly, almost as a protest, and studied landscape design. He was good at it. So after college he was able to make a good career. He did beautiful work for his clients. They loved him. The referrals poured in. By the time we were married with kids, everything looked like it was going to be one of those ‘happily ever after stories.’

Charlotte hesitated “And then the bottom fell out of the housing market.”

Caryssa groaned. “Yeah, I hearya. Seems to have affected everybody. But wow! What a great story! Like something out of the movies or a good book. Keep going! Although I just hafta say. Getting arrested for possession of pot is one area we can see how the USA has never been as free as we’ve been taught to believe. There are far worse crimes than merely carrying around an herb--- legal in some states and shown to have amazing medical benefits.”

“Oh, believe me, I am not teaching my sons to be so naïve as to think our country has all the freedom we rave about. I’m with you on that one! Anyhow, Bryan is so sweet…all he ever wanted was a comfortable, happy, simple life. He didn’t want to have his career path handed to him on a silver platter. Especially if such a life and career path, no matter how rich he would be, meant any of the shady things he witnessed firsthand as a little boy. His dad’s political career was…hmmm…how I shall put this—”

“You don’t have to,” Caryssa interjected. “I can imagine. And wow, how sad. No wonder he lost his way for a while.”

“Yeah. But it gets worse. His dad was emotionally abusive. And both parents neglected him horribly.”

Caryssa put two and two together. Charlotte answered her question without her needing to ask.

“His uncle was the one assassinated, remember? You wouldn’t believe! His uncle was once the lead candidate for US President, but was assassinated by a sniper before the general elections.”

“No kidding!? I do remember, and that was Bryan’s Uncle! You go, girl, married into such history!”

“Ha! History, of violence! His father, a US Senator from Connecticut, had been shot and nearly crippled during a primary campaign. As you can see, his family was so well liked people couldn’t wait to shoot them!”

“OMG, I just can’t believe this story. You could write a book! Caryssa had her eyes on the baseball field realizing they were not really watching much of the game closely. “I can’t believe his Uncle ran for President!”

“I know, right? Anyhow, rather than these tragedies bringing the family closer together, they drove Bryan away. He felt compelled to escape from the political mythology seemingly making the Garritys more than ordinary men or women. Like demigods, or demigoddesses, embodiments of virtue, goodwill, sacrifice. It was too pretentious for him. And he knew it was built on lies.”

“I’m getting a feeling for the direction this took,” Caryssa said. ”Let’s see. Bryan’s father wanted him to follow in his footsteps. Bryan didn’t. So they had a falling out. Am I close?”

“Oh… it gets even uglier. His father disowned his only son! Cut him off! He would have gained control of a thirty-five-million-plus trust fund. But he would have had to play the game and toe the line. The dirty game of politics depressed him too much. He had to choose happiness over the family legend. He decided he’d rather be happy with a moderate income he earned himself than filthy rich, miserable, and spoon fed by the Feds.”

“You know,” Caryssa responded, “I respect Bryan more. Most people think money is the most important thing in the world, to the point where they don’t care about or even want to recognize any detrimental effects their jobs may have on society or other people.”

Charlotte laughed. “I don’t know. We’re struggling in these tough economic times. At one point Bryan had ninety people working for him in the landscaping business. He’s had to cut to twenty, and still needs to cut back. Apart from creating enemies–nobody likes to be laid off–the financial burden is taking a toll on our family. We’re not broke. We’ve curtailed spending to match our income. But I have two sons to send to college and we can’t afford to save a dime even with both of us working.”

“Yup…us too. And especially with all the budget cuts in schools, we parents have more to worry about with respect to our children’s future.”

“Exactly. Education should be the last place the budget is cut in a recession. What future does our nation have without educating its young? You know frankly, I don’t want my in-laws’ thirty-five million of dirty money. I don’t want to feed from the fat cats sitting in Senate seats and taking money from pollution and war industries. Kind of goes against the grain of everything I stand for, in my career and as a mom. But…”

Caryssa completed her sentence. “But it would be nice to get a little financial support from the fat cat side of the family for your children’s sakes, in a nation making outlandish decisions to cut back at the expense of the children.”

“I could not have said it better myself. Sure, take some damn cash from the fat cats. Maybe I’ll be able to spend precious time with my kids then. Either way, it just kills me!”

“So tell me more about Bryan’s background. This is so fascinating,” Caryssa offered Charlotte some curried chicken salad from her picnic basket.

“Well, his adventures to California, as well as his overseas travels, put him on the front pages of newspapers on every continent for a while. That’s what happens with high-profile families. Anything the media can use to make a story. All the hoopla made him turn even further from family. He started taking big risks before heading to Cal Poly.”

“Risks? What kinds of risks?”

“Well, let’s see. Shooting rapids on the Colorado River. He capsized and nearly drowned. A full-on confrontation with a bull in one of Madrid’s rings. And my personal favorite, going on an African safari in an open jeep, and getting out, which was against rules mind you, then getting attacked by a rhinoceros!”

“Hey, I think I saw him in Jurassic Park!” Caryssa joked.

“Ha ha, let me tell you, his escape and radical departure from his political family was the stuff of endless magazine covers from People to Playboy and Vanity Fair. He became a national obsession, this simple, self-made man of mine. No wonder he got a bit off track for a short period of his life.”

“Yeah, there’s something to be said for being a wallflower. I’m partial to my privacy.” Caryssa sipped her Perrier while watching the boys play ball.

“The articles in the magazines and the twisted propaganda in the newspapers made him out to be a total loser who lacks ambition just because he didn’t wish to take his place in the political elite of his heritage. Funny, but those articles seemed to drive him to have less ambition for a while. Politics the way he witnessed it as a child infected him with a cynicism making him question the value of any achievement or attainment, inside or outside the political arena.”

That last statement hit Caryssa hard. Had the political environment of the high tech corporate environment—as well as what she sees in our corrupt politic overall, caused an equivalent feeling in her? She made a mental note to revisit the idea.

“Well it sounds like he found his calling, and look at him out there always smiling,” she observed. Caryssa nervously pushed her hair behind her ear. Politics, which impacts our daily lives, unnerves her. She laughs when people say they don’t care about politics. They basically are saying they don’t care about their life.

The two women took a moment to glance toward Bryan, coaching the young team at center field.

“Bryan loves spending time with his boys, takes great pride in coaching ball and playing with them in the backyard,” Charlotte agreed. “I just hope his calling in landscape architecture sees better times economically sometime in our kids’ lifetimes. He was making great money before the housing market crash. His landscape business is connected with that. And the housing crash has been going on since our kids were born!”

“You know,” Caryssa ventured after a pause, “it’s none of my business of course, but I think it would be good for Bryan and his dad to reconnect. Not just for the potential financial angle, but…you know…life is short! Those family relationships are important. And especially to your boys. I hate to see money and career choice cause rifts in families.”

“Well, it’s funny you should mention it, “Charlotte said. “Bryan and his dad have started speaking to each other again. Of course, it is still regarding money and not a touchy feely thing. Bryan’s business focuses on environmentally sustainable design. He is investing in all sustainable materials for his projects, how he differentiates himself on the market. People in the Bay Area love it. But to keep making it happen, he needs capital, lots of it…and…”

“And his dad helped him out?”

“Well, yeah. The Garrity family foundation made an eight-hundred-fifty-thousand-dollar grant to Bryan’s business to help get it back up and running the way he envisions it. A far cry from the thirty million trust fund … but it sure helped! There are still challenges with obtaining all sustainable sources. Especially in the area of renewable, clean energy. If our economic policy overall would stop the boom and bust cycles and stop continued asset stripping of our earth’s dwindling resources…”

“Yeah, dwindling dirty resources!” Caryssa interjected.

Out of the blue, Charlotte changed the subject. “Do you ever worry about how it would affect Tyler if you lose your husband?”

“Sure…it’s a huge concern. He needs the influence and love of his dad. And he especially will as a teenager, so I hope George lives that long! But truth be told, I fear as much—possibly more—the effect on Tyler if he lost me.”

“Mommy’s little boy?” Charlotte smiled.

“It depends what day of the week. He can be Daddy’s little boy too. But I am the nurturing one, the one who takes him to school and picks him up every day, oversees his homework, picks him up from daycare, organizes playdates, gets him on sports teams, makes sure he gets his bath or shower, helps him brush his teeth, takes him to the pediatrician, takes him to the dentist, does most of the nighttime reading, gets him to bed…well, you get the picture!”

“Oh, I know. I’m not sure if Bryan even knows where the boys’ pediatrician or dentist offices are!” laughed Charlotte. “And the one day I asked him to drop the boys off before work, he didn’t even know where to drop them!”

“Exactly! I’m frightened if something happened to me tomorrow, Tyler would not even get his basic needs met. Homework would fall to the wayside. Paperwork to sign up for sports, volunteer stuff for the school, or he’d be allowed to spend exorbitant amounts of time on the Internet!”

“Well, don’t forget they are going to grow up and start doing so much on their own. Sooner or later, Caryssa, you might have to let go a little. Especially all the community volunteer work you do!”

“I don’t agree we should ever let go. I’m frightened of losing touch with Tyler’s world when he’s a teenager. Charlotte, our boys will need us as much when they’re in high school as they do now. I mean, not for getting to and from places, doing their laundry, taking care of their personal and hygiene needs. But to step in where needed to be sure they don’t fall prey to the warped society we live in.”

“Oh believe me, you’re preaching to the choir. I don’t mean letting go that way, but finding something even part time, to feel you are contributing to Tyler’s future financially as well as emotionally. Anyhow, you have your family back East, right? I know it makes a big difference. At least I have my mother here. She helps me a lot with the kids.”

“Yes, it does make it more difficult not having family here. I love California and love living here. So beautiful. But none of it can take the place of my family. And my dad has been terminally ill for a while. I wish I could get back there more often to be there for him”

Charlotte didn’t respond with words, but leaned over, gave Caryssa’s shoulder a squeeze, and looked into her eyes for a moment to show she understood and empathized. Then, as if to lift both their spirits and redirect the afternoon to more positive things, she said “Oh look, Caryssa! Tyler is up at bat again!”

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