Chapter Twenty Five
The days passed slowly.
Kate took the time to think and give herself space before the conference started.
Joan watched Ludo in the morning while she ate her breakfast and fed him at night while she ate dinner. She discovered that she greatly enjoyed the company of the goldfish and found that it reminded her of many calmer moments in her life.
Kate called Joan in the mornings.
Joan called Kate in the evenings.
Kate discovered that she felt an emptiness inside herself as she laid in bed alone at night, almost 1,000 kilometres away from the woman she loved dearly.
Joan found that she felt a great loss without the presence of Kate in her life. She decided that she missed Kate terribly as though it was actually a conscious decision rather than a feeling.
On Kate’s second night away Joan was buffing her shoes when she looked over to see Ludo floating in his bowl. She felt a flush of hot anger at the symbolism behind the death. He had been fine only 30 minutes before when she was eating her dinner.
Joan flushed the fish and immediately starting searching online where she could acquire a new fish that looked like Ludo within 24 hours. She wouldn’t tell Kate, no need.
“I lost my match tonight.” Joan felt more and more like she was losing in life as she sat on the phone with Kate the next night, her voice was low and steady and she calculated each word carefully before speaking them. “And the forensic psychologist insinuated to me this morning that I have a deficit of emotion. She said that a lack of effective empathy would make someone psychopathic.”
“You’re not a psychopath Joan,” Kate soothed gently over the phone. Kate knew it was a lie; she had consulted the DSM properly on her first day in Sydney, after the long drive as she sat stretched out on her king size bed with feather blankets. As she had gone through the psychopathy checklist she had found herself calculating a score for Joan that was far higher than was comfortable. She had also conferred with many medical professionals in the last two days, all of whom agreed with the psychologist. But she had made a decision that she would stand by Joan regardless. She believed that their love was stronger than any void Joan may have, and she persuaded herself that she herself had enough emotion and empathy for the both of them if necessary. Kate committed to carrying Joan through her emotional void.
“Maybe I’m just broken.” Joan felt like she was about to fall to pieces and the one person she wanted to hold her and catch all the broken bits was far, far away. She looked at the empty fish bowl on the side table and thought about what she had done to Ludo before flushing him. She knew she was broken.
“You’re not broken Joan, there is nothing wrong with you.” Kate just wanted to hold her, and throttle the psychologist for saying such things right to her face. Joan was more delicate and vulnerable than anyone would ever see, other than Kate, and she didn’t like that her lover was falling apart and she couldn’t be there right now to pick up the pieces. Kate felt useless.
“I don’t have emotions like other people do. My father always told me that emotion leads to mistakes. It changed me. I’m not normal.” Joan’s voice was quieter than usual, almost solemn as she admitted to her biggest faults and defects.
Kate heard the waiver in her voice and the restriction in her throat. She knew Joan was holding back tears. “Normal is over rated. You don’t need to be normal love; you just need to be you. I just need you to be you.” If hearts could literally break Kate knew hers would have been in pieces at that moment.
“The pregnant inmate apparently is having cravings for choc chip ice cream,” Joan changed the subject quickly as she wiped the wetness from her cheek, pulling herself back together and regaining control of the situation. She had shown enough weakness for one night.
Kate laughed. “Maybe you should show some compassion and take her some choc chip ice cream then.”
Joan smiled. “Maybe I will.” The only problem was the inmate reminded Joan of someone she had loved a long time ago. She had become emotional at that time, and made some huge mistakes, mistakes that could never be repaid or repaired. It wasn’t something she wanted to be thinking about. But later that night she returned to the prison with choc chip ice cream.
The fish was delivered the next day. The new Ludo appeared to be a split image of his predecessor and Joan was happy with the substitution. She also arranged for a new mattress for the pregnant inmate, to help her back.
“Hello love,” Kate answered the night time call from Joan.
“She has hepatitis.” The words came through the phone as an angry growl.
“What?” Kate was instantly lost and wondered what the hell was going on, she could hear Joan was pacing again; the echo of her heels on the hardwood floorboards carried through the phone and painted a picture for Kate. She could almost see Joan’s body shaking from the anger in her voice, the vein in her neck would be throbbing as it always did when the rage was begging for an outlet, and her fingers would tap incessantly on her thigh, or the bench top, or on the back of the phone in her hand.
“My deputy, she has hepatitis C and blames me for it!” Joan was furious and disgusted all at once. She was indeed pacing up and down in her lounge room as she tried not to yell down the phone. It wasn’t Kate’s fault, she didn’t want to take her anger out on the woman that she loved, but she needed someone to listen and understand. She needed to yell and throw things. She needed to hurt someone or something to make herself feel better; it was all she knew to quell the rising rage inside her.
“Slow down Joan, tell me what’s happened. From the beginning.” Kate sat on the outdoor lounge on her balcony with a packet of cigarettes and a bottle of wine on the table beside her. She wished she was home with Joan, holding her by her shoulders to bring her back to earth through her tantrum.
Joan took a few deep breaths and Kate could hear the control she was trying to regain over herself as the echo of footsteps stopped and the rhythmic breathing was heard. “I invited her around for dinner; I’d noticed odd behaviour from her, attitude towards me as though I was the one holding her back. We can’t operate as an effective team when there are emotional boundaries in the way so I invited her around for dinner so we could air out the issues. I didn’t offer it as a request when I spoke to her today, I realise now that I was callous and harsh, demanding that she attend so we can fix whatever it is that’s wrong between us.”
Kate heard the tone changes in Joan’s voice and knew she was fighting hard to keep control of herself with the anger coursing through her body. “Did she know about the allegations from the psychologist yesterday?” Kate asked, wondering how far the insinuations had spread.
“I don’t know but I was patient and polite with her, I told her how I feel about our working relationship and that I would like to be more than just a mentor to her, I believed in succession training. It was all very fluffy and I tried, I tried so hard to be a normal person with normal emotions, I opened up and I tried so hard to show empathy and compassion.” Joan had to break off before she broke into tears; pacing wasn’t helping, breathing wasn’t helping, not even yelling was helping her at that moment.
“Take a deep breath Joan. Sit down for me and take a deep breath.”
Joan complied and sat on the edge of the couch, one elbow on her knee with her hand on her forehead where her fingers tapped gently as she urgently tried to think, the other hand was holding the phone to her ear. She desperately yearned for Kate to be in front of her, it wasn’t enough to be on the phone hearing her voice; she needed to look into those bright green eyes and feel Kate’s pull as she anchored her racing emotions. “I tried so hard to be normal and she thinks I’m a monster, she thinks I threw her to a pack of dogs during the riot and she thinks it’s my fault she caught hep C because of it.”
Kate remembered the story. Joan had refused to negotiate while a gang of prisoners held a syringe of blood to the deputy’s throat. She had realised back then what a monstrous act it was for Joan not to have negotiated, any number of terrible things could have happened to the poor woman that was taken hostage simply because of her job, and now Joan’s inaction was coming back to bite her. Kate didn’t know what to say but she knew if she didn’t say something soon Joan’s anger would be turned onto her.
“What happened after she told you?” was all Kate could come up with. She wasn’t going to tell her lover that she wasn’t a monster for what she did; she needed to live with her actions and their consequence.
“When,” Joan cleared her throat and took a moment. “When she told me my, my hand was on hers.” Joan was embarrassed about the situation, how everything had happened and especially her reaction, it should never have happened the way it did and she was fighting with herself to remain in control. “I was trying to display emotion and affection because the debate at the time was heated and I wanted her to see that I do care about her as my deputy. And then, and then when she told me, I,” Joan couldn’t continue, she was too ashamed of her actions and she broke off as tears streamed silently down her cheeks.
“What did you do Joan?” Kate’s voice was abrupt and harsh as she already knew the answer, but she needed Joan to say it. She needed Joan to own her terrible behaviour and feel the sting of these emotions she was feeling, rather than burying them as she always did. Kate knew she was walking a fine line as she pushed Joan harder but it was the only way to make her truly feel the emotions that were inside her. It was the only way to teach her empathy.
The voice on the other end of the line was quiet, full of emotion that Joan didn’t know how to manage. “I pulled my hand away and picked up a napkin to clean my hand on because I had touched her. She watched the whole thing and I couldn’t stop myself. Then she walked out.”
“Oh Joan,” Kate shook her head on the phone as her voice softened again. “How are you going to fix this?”
“I don’t know.” Suddenly Joan broke into body shaking sobs.
Kate’s heart broke and she immediately knew what she had to do.