For Better or Worse
Written by Rachel
A look at Nick and Diana Salinger's sometimes turbulent marriage. This story contains some strong language and violent situations.
Diana looked up at the clock on the kitchen wall. It was one a.m. and he wasn't home yet. He had promised that things were going to change, but here it was one in the morning and he wasn't home. She looked up at the clock again. 1:01. She sighed and got up from the table. As she did the front door slammed. She shook her head and walked into the hallway. Why did she wait up for him? She wished there was some way she could get upstairs without seeing him.
"Di?" he called out from the entry.
"Yeah," she answered. She walked up to the bench where he sat trying to get his boot off. She knelt down in front of him and pulled it off. She could smell the alcohol. It exuded from every pore like he had dumped it on himself. She stood up and backed away.
"Why don't you go upstairs and go to bed?" she asked in a low voice.
"You aren't mad, are you?" he responded, his words slurring slightly.
"No, Nick. Why would I be mad?" she asked. She turned to walk away, but he grabbed her arm and pulled her back.
"You aren't going to be a bitch about this are you?" he asked, pulling her into him. She tried to pull away, but he reeled her in closer.
"Stop it Nick, you're hurting me!"
"Just stop being a bitch and let's go to bed," he retorted, pulling her toward the steps. Diana stopped struggling and followed him up the steps. She trailed him into the room hoping this might be the end of it. She sat on the bed. He reached over and touched her hair. She pulled away.
"Don't Nick. It's late and I'm really not in the mood."
"Di, you're never in the mood. When the hell do I get to have my marital relations?"
"Nick, you're drunk and I'm going to bed." She got up off the bed and moved toward the door. Before she could get there, he reached up and grabbed her. His hand pulled at her arm hurting her. "Stop it, Nick," she shouted, pulling away from him. His grasp had left a red mark on her arm. She pulled the door open and stormed into the hall. She slammed the bathroom door closed. She sat on the toilet, trying to stop shaking. Nick was often drunk, but not very often violent, not like this. She looked up as he started banging on the door. She sat there for a moment and then opened the door.
"What the hell are you doing, Nick? You're going to wake up Charlie." She looked down the hall where the door to their six year old's room remained closed. "This is nuts. You aren't going to hurt me. Just go to sleep. We'll talk about this in the morning." She walked past him back toward their room.
"It's not that easy, Di," he said, pulling on her again. They both stopped as the door opened. The little boy stood in the doorway in his feeted pajamas, his brown hair standing on end.
"Why are you so mad?" he asked, his young voice filled with sleep.
"Charlie, go back to bed," Diana said, moving toward her son.
"Mama, you're crying. Why are you crying?" he asked.
"Just go back to bed, Charlie," his dad said.
"You're hurting her, Daddy. Stop it!" the little boy cried.
"By, God, I told you to go back to bed!" Nick shouted, his voice growing with anger.
Charlie moved in between his parents, trying to shield his mother from his father's anger. Nick tried to push him out of the way. Before either adult realized what was happening, the little boy was hurtling down the steps.
"My God, Nick. What the hell have you done?" she asked, turning to run down the steps. He followed behind her. She turned back to him, her eyes filled with anger.
"Get the hell away from him. I don't care where you go, but I don't ever want to see you," she said. She turned back to where Charlie lay on the landing. He was breathing, but was unconscious. She pushed past Nick to call the ambulance.
Diana sat by her son's bedside. He had a mild concussion and a broken right femur. It could have been much worse. The doctor in the emergency room had asked what had happened. She said Charlie had woken up and fallen down the steps. Even in her anger she couldn't tell them that Nick had done this. She looked up to see her husband standing in the doorway. She got up and walked out the door. He followed her into the hall.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I wanted to make sure Charlie was okay, that you are okay," he said, his face filled with concern.
"We're fine. You can leave," she answered, turning to go back into the room. He reached up and touched her shoulder.
"I'm sorry. For all of it. I feel really bad about what . . ."
"I'm sorry, Nick, but that isn't good enough," she said, interrupting him. "You have a problem, that's pretty apparent. It was one thing when it was hurting us, but hurting Charlie . . . that's too much. Either you go get help, right now or we're done." With that said, she turned and walked back into the room. Nick watched the door close behind her and then turned and walked away.
"So, are you ready to go buddy?" Joe asked as he pushed the wheelchair into Charlie's hospital room.
"Where's Daddy?" the little boy asked. Diana and Joe exchanged a look over his head.
"Your dad's awfully busy at the restaurant today, Sport. But, he'll be here as soon as he can," Joe said helping Charlie into the chair. He had stayed in the hospital for four days while his leg began to heal. He was a little boy and the fracture would heal quickly. Diana jerked her head toward the door. He nodded and they walked out into the hall.
"So, where is he?" she asked. "Drunk?"
"No. This really scared him, Di. I don't think he realized he could hurt people other than himself. He went to rehab. It's a 28-day program, down the Coast. I have the number, if you want to call him," Joe responded, reaching into his pocket. She raised her hand and stopped him.
"No. You tell him I'm glad and if he makes it through, then he should come and see us. If he doesn't finish, then he should call the lawyer. I can't do this again. Either he stops or it's over." With that she turned and walked back into her son's room.
The twenty-eight days came and went. Charlie was discharged from the hospital and returned home. He and Diana settled into a routine of school, the park and quiet time at home. The little boy didn't ask for his father. She wasn't sure if that was good or bad. It was unnatural for him not to wonder where his father was, but she wasn't sure what she would say if he did ask.
The cast stayed on for eight weeks. The leg looked thin when it was extracted from the plaster shell, but Charlie got up off the table and walked on it easily. Diana smiled as she watched him skip out of the doctor's office and across the lot to their car. Without the physical reminder of the horrible evening, she felt like it was finally possible for them to maybe put it behind them. Only one thing remained. She would have to talk to Nick.
Diana pushed the door open, letting the cool night air into the restaurant. She had told Nick so many times to lock the door while he tallied up the day's receipts, but he would never change. Would he ever change? That was what she needed to find out. She peered into the bar. He wasn't there. She peered around the corner into the dining room. There he was, tie loosened, shirt sleeves rolled up. The table was filled with receipts and the old calculator he refused to part with.
"Hi," she said, pulling the chair out across from him and sitting down.
"Hey," he answered, setting his pencil down. He drank a slow long drink from the coffee mug sitting on the table. He wiped a drip of the coffee away from his chin with the back of his hand. "Where's Charlie?"
"At home. Jennifer is staying with him. I thought we should talk. Nick, we need to talk about this."
He took another drink from the mug. Setting it down, he looked into her eyes. She hadn't changed at all from the day he met her on the beach in Bolinas. She had been staying with a friend from Stanford whose family had a house out there. He had driven up for the day with friends from the restaurant he worked at in North Beach. It was a cliche, but he knew at the first moment he saw her that she would be the one. Her long dark hair, the gentle laugh that made everything right. She was a complete package.
But things had changed. As time went by he drank less for enjoyment and more because of the emptiness he felt. Even as he and Diana became closer, married the emptiness remained. After Charlie was born, it only got worse. How could he explain that to her? He cleared his throat, trying to force the words to come out.
"God you're beautiful," he said, reaching to take her hand. She slid it into his, then slowly retracted it.
"That has never been the problem with us. I love you, Nick and I still believe that you love me, that you love Charlie. What I need to know is if we have a future. Can I count on you to be there for him, for us?" Her voice broke with tears.
"I will always love you. I could never stop. You have to know that. I can't believe the things that I have done, the ways that I've hurt you, hurt Charlie. I can never say how sorry I am for those things." Nick looked away, it hurt to even look at her face. She used to look at him with love, now she only looked at him with pity. She pitied him. It was almost worse than her hating him.
"How do I know that? How do I know it will be different this time?" she asked.
"I don't know. All I know is it's been 57 days and I haven't had a drink. I can't say there are moments when I haven't wanted to, but so far so good. I want this to work, Di. I want you and Charlie to be a part of my life. But, I want to be with you because we can do it together. If there is a chance that I could ever hurt you again like I did, then I'll stay away. I love you too much."
She was stunned. She had anticipated that he would beg and plead for her to take him back. This was a different person. There had been a lot of years before the drinking got bad, but she had never been with Nick when he was completely sober. How would she know this man? Did she love him? Could she ever trust him again?
"I want you to do something. Before you decide about us. Will you go see someone? Her name is Maria Jimenez. She's a therapist. I've been seeing her since I got back from Farwell Center. We've talked about you and I think it would help both of us."
"You've seen a therapist?" Diana asked, surprised. She had asked Nick to see someone before, but he had always been so resistant.
"It was part of the aftercare. It was hard at first, but I think we've made some big discoveries. I don't want to be the kind of person who hurts those he loves. I want to make this better."
"We both want that," Diana answered. She stood up and started putting on her coat. "Give me her name, I'll give her a call."
Nick reached out to touch her arm. "Thank you."
Diana pushed open the door. The office was filled with light, plants in the windows. The air was muted, a woman with her small daughter sitting in the corner. She approached the reception desk.
"Diana Salinger to see Maria Jimenez." The receptionist nodded and indicated for her to wait in the chairs. She had barely had a chance to browse one of the magazines when a dark haired woman appeared at the door.
"Diana?" she asked. Diana got up and followed her into the hallway. They quickly reached a small, but comfortable office with a desk and two comfortable chairs in the corner.
"I always thought these places had couches," Diana said.
"I've found chairs more comfortable," Maria said, sitting in the chair facing the window. Diana sat in the other chair. There was something about the woman's voice or her body language that immediately put her at ease.
"So, Nick has given me permission to talk to you about the things we discuss in his sessions. I felt it was important for us to talk about some of the things that have happened over the past few years so I can get a better picture of how I can help all of you."
"Has he talked much about us?" Diana asked.
"He has talked about how much he loves you and Charlie. How he feels he's failed you. I think he is very mindful of how abandoned you felt when your father left and he doesn't want Charlie to feel the same way."
"No, I would never want him to have what I had."
"How old were you, when your father left?" Maria asked.
"I don't know, eight or nine years old. He was gone and then back and then finally just never came back. My mother told me it was nobody's fault, but I never really believed that. I hate to think that Charlie would feel that way."
"You've said that twice. Do you think your fear about that has kept you in your relationship with Nick?"
"I love Nick," Diana responded quickly.
"Yes, you love him, but he is an alcoholic, he hurt you and he hurt Charlie. Why are you still with him?" Maria asked firmly.
Diana sat, silent, looking down at her hands. She slowly twisted her rings back and forth on her left hand. Finally she looked up at the therapist. "I love him. He's nothing like my dad. I want him in my life. I want him well and I want him in this family."
"Good. That's the first step."
Diana continued her sessions with Maria. After several weeks she and Nick started attending together. They were finally able to talk about the things that had troubled their relationship. Despite the love they felt, Nick had not been able to verbalize how empty he felt. He was constantly afraid of failing her.
"But, when have you ever failed me? Other than drinking, you have never done anything to hurt us," she said.
"I don't know. I just knew what had happened when you were a little girl. It was okay when it was just us, but after Charlie, I don't know. It just got harder. I felt more pressure."
"So, you blame Charlie?" she asked.
"No, this is my fault. I just got scared. I didn't know how to be the kind of father, the kind of husband you wanted. The restaurant was just starting and going well, but that could have changed at any moment. I just got scared."
"But there is no reason for you to be scared, Nick. I love you. You're a good father. Can you trust yourself? Can you trust me?" she asked reaching out to take his hand. Maria sat in the third chair, watching silently.
"Yes. I think I can," he answered.
"Then come home with me. Come home to Charlie and me." She pulled him closer into her arms. They stood up, embracing.
It had been six months since Nick came home again. Things were going well. Charlie had been a bit skittish at first, but with time they had renewed their relationship. Other changes happened as well.
"Nick," Diana said, crawling back into bed with her husband.
"What?" he asked, rolling over to face her. "What time is it?"
"It's about nine a.m. You had a late night last night."
"Yeah, the Rosenbach's fortieth anniversary. Joe and I thought we would never get out of there. Good business, though."
"We've had a little run of good business here as well," she responded, her voice filling with laughter.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"The doctor called. What are your plans in about seven months?"
"Seven months? What do you mean?" he asked, now sitting up.
"I guess it's time for us to make our arrangements for a four top."
"Are you serious?" he asked, pulling her into his arms and kissing her. "Salinger, party of four. That's about the best news I've heard in a long time."