These are the stories of Peter K.
an aging American male person coming to the
realization that there is no such thing.
“What’s this supposed to be?” Ambassador Quenton Adkins asked, as he read from the sheet of paper Peter had just handed him.
The year was 1973, late in the winter. Peter K. Wensleydale and Ambassador Adkins were meeting alone in the Ambassador’s office on the third floor of the American Embassy in Gazinga, as they had done on a daily basis in the year or so since Peter had joined the Embassy staff as Administrative Officer. The agenda for this meeting was unlike any other that had preceded it, however, and as a result, Peter was more than just a little uncomfortable. And Ambassador Adkins was making no effort to alleviate Peter’s discomfort.
Peter had not looked forward to this session one bit, and now, standing on the plush carpet, facing his boss glaring at him from behind the huge, government-issue mahogany desk, Peter could tell it was not going to unfold any more pleasantly than he had anticipated.
“It’s a letter of resignation, sir,” Peter replied, adding, as gingerly as if he were handling a stick of dynamite, “mine.”
From his expression and tone of voice, it was apparent Ambassador Adkins was not pleased, in large part because Peter had clearly caught the man by surprise, and Ambassador Adkins did not like surprises.
“I can see that,” he growled. “What I’m asking is, what’s the meaning of it?”
The meaning of it was that, after seven years as a US Foreign Service Officer, Peter was quitting. And, truth to tell, Peter K. Wensleydale was every bit as surprised by that as Ambassador Quenton Adkins seemed to be. Not that Peter didn’t want to quit, mind you. Resigning his commission, Peter has now come to realize, albeit thirty-plus years later, was an action he had been wanting to take for some time; but until the circumstances surrounding this encounter, he never thought of it as something he could do. Of course, as an administrative officer, he had processed the paperwork of others who had done it, so he knew it could be done, but he did not think that he could do it.
Peter had been raised to meet the expectations of others, or better said, to meet what he perceived to be the expectations of others. Thus, although he never did so consciously, Peter made decisions based not on what he wanted to do, but on what he thought other people wanted him to do. Clearly, this is a crippling, not to say insane, way to live, but, for all Peter knew, it was all there was. Of course, no one ever actually said as much to him, but it must have been the mold they used, for it was who he had become.
A particularly complicating symptom of this condition is an inability to respond in the negative to any sentence which begins with the words “Will you” or “Would you”. An absurd example will make the point: When Peter and Anna arrived at their first overseas post, his new boss, by way of introducing them to the local diplomatic community, invited the Wensleydales to a bridge party. Thus, she said to Peter, “Would you and your wife like to …?” Naturally, Peter immediately accepted; never mind that he didn’t know how to play bridge!
Quitting can be a way of saying ‘no’ (or ‘no more’), and so Peter didn’t think he could do it. At least, not until one fateful evening not long before this meeting with Ambassador Adkins. Outside, it had been cold and dark, two adjectives which perfectly describe Gazinga’s long winters. Peter had just come home from work to the comfortable house he and Anna rented in a residential neighborhood a few minutes’ drive from the Embassy. It had not been a happy day, and as was his custom then, he chose to soak it off in a hot bathtub, a cigarette in one hand, and a very large, very dry double martini on the rocks in the other. Anna had perched herself on the edge of the tub, there to watch him dissolve into the water. By then, they had been married about ten years, during which time they had become each other’s best friend.
“What’d he do today?” Anna asked, for she could tell.
“Nothing,” Peter lied.
Peter used to lie about himself a lot, about his problems and his needs; sometimes to others, but mostly to himself. Not big lies, you understand, just stupid lies, and too often well enough that even he believed them. Of course, he was not unique. In those days, and perhaps still, men did not easily admit to having needs, much less problems, and certainly not to the women to whom they had sworn to be perfect, at least not without a lot of preliminary, painful backing and forthing. It was, quite simply, not something men knew how to do. Their fathers didn’t do it, so they had no models, and their mothers didn’t teach them. Also, – and this is a condition Peter did not even realize to be a “board certified, government approved” syndrome until not too long ago, when, while preparing lunch one day in the Wensleydale’s home in the Maine woods, Peter happened to hear himself being perfectly described by a panel of Ph.d’s on one of the daytime television talk shows, described so precisely that as he listened to it, he sank to the floor in tears, tears which were the happy expression of surprised relief at the realization that not only was his “condition” normal, but it was decipherable and repairable; to wit, Peter was a so-called ACOA, the adult child of alcohol-dependent parents, which meant, cutting quickly to the chase, that he felt personally responsible for the health, happiness, and general wellbeing of everyone and everything on the planet, that if anything was wrong anywhere it was his fault, if not for having caused it, then for not having fixed it yet, and therefore the very last thing he could ever do was admit to having needs or unresolved problems himself.
Anyway, eventually, under pressure, Peter agreed to talk, although, true to type, he cushioned his reply with “Okay, but it’s no big deal,” which in ACOA-talk means, “Although it might appear the sky is collapsing, I can have it back up and in place before I return to work in the morning, so there is no need for you to worry, the eternal peace and sublime harmony of your life remain safe and assured in my hands.”
“The Ambassador is in an uproar,” Peter finally explained.
“What is it now?” Anna asked, listening attentively. By now, these stories had become a form of entertainment between them, particularly as English-language television was not available in Gazinga.
“It’s about your Brit,” Peter said, “Mrs. what’s-her-name, the woman you had here for tea the other day.”
Over the preceding week, there had been visiting Gazinga, giving public lectures and such, a gentle, very practical looking, elderly English woman who enjoyed a solid reputation as a psychic healer. By coincidence, she was personally known to the Wensleydale’s landlady, a lovely person who is fascinated by anything supernatural – (the day the Wensleydales met her, while they were looking at her house with an idea of renting it, she exuberantly announced that, the previous night, Peter and Anna and their two Persian cats had appeared to her in a dream, which she took to be unmistakable evidence that they were destined to be her tenants, as in fact it did evolve) – and as Anna too had a healthy interest in the so-called occult, a social visit at the Wensleydale’s was arranged for the British healer.
“What about her?” Anna asked.
Peter replied, “Apparently, yesterday evening, Ambassador Adkins and the Soviet ambassador were guests at the same cocktail party, during which the Russian made some crack about American diplomats consulting English psychics.”
“He was talking about you,” Anna said, as much a statement as a question, adding, “and my tea party. How could the Russians know about that, Peter? There wasn’t anyone here.”
“The man’s probably KGB,” Peter said, only half joking. “Anyway, at this morning’s staff meeting, Ambassador Adkins went through the roof, and he hasn’t come down since. First, of course, he wanted to know which of us it was. Looking around the room, I could see that no one else had any idea what he was talking about, so I had no choice but to own up. At that, he lit into me for putting him in ’an untenable position.’ Then he announced to all present that from that moment forward, no one on his staff, and no member of their families, was to entertain, consult, visit, meet, or in any other way, intentionally or accidentally, consort with psychics, spiritualists, or anyone of that kind, anywhere anytime under any conditions. He didn’t approve of such people, he said, and he wouldn’t tolerate it. Period.”
“You’re kidding,” Anna observed; but she knew he wasn’t.
Later, at dinner, through dinner, and after dinner, they talked about it. In the years since, when others have asked Peter why he resigned from the diplomatic service, he has recalled this event. But it is important to understand that it was not this incident alone which prompted his decision, although it was certainly an important element in the equation, and definitely of the last straw variety.
“Honestly, Anna, I don’t know what to do about this,” Peter finally admitted. “If it were just this incident, or just this ambassador, I’d hold my breath. But we’ve seen stuff like this before, and what if there’s another like him at our next post? I don’t want to spend the rest of my life endlessly wishing I were somewhere else.”
“Why don’t you quit?” Anna asked, simply.
“I suppose I could,” he replied, “but, what for? Again, we might just be trading one problem post for another.”
“Not transfer,” she said. “Quit.”
“Quit?” Peter repeated. “You mean, quit the Foreign Service? Resign?”
“I can’t resign,” Peter said, immediately.
“Why not?” she asked, simply. “You joined, you can quit.”
By then, they had moved into the living room. Peter was seated in a large, stuffed chair, and Anna was on a couch across from him. This was the first time in their conversations about his work that the word quit had genuinely taken on the meaning of resign, and for a long moment, Peter said nothing. In a way, it was as if Anna had spoken to him in a language he did not quite understand.
“Resign?” he repeated, finally, as much to himself as to her. Again, she nodded. There was no denying the logic of it. He had joined, so why couldn’t he quit. Still, the Foreign Service hadn’t been just a whim. It was about following in his father’s footsteps, fulfilling the promise of his education, making a career commitment. All very serious stuff.
Peter thought out loud, “What would we do?”
“Who knows,” Anna replied. “We’re both college graduates, intelligent, healthy, hard working. And besides, you’ve made a lot of good contacts the last few years. We’ll find something.”
All true enough. Peter had done well in college and graduate school, and as a naval officer, and now in the Foreign Service. Why not somewhere else, too?
For a long time, they sat there, not speaking, letting sink in all that had been said, and all that hadn’t needed saying. For his part, Peter could hardly believe what he was thinking; but there was no getting around it, he was thinking it.
After a bit, Peter noticed he was crying, that there were tears running down his cheeks. (For the record, a lot of Mediterranean blood flows in Peter’s veins, so he cries easily.) These were tears of joy, joy arising from somewhere deep within, an awareness that he was about to take the great leap. Of course, that evening in that living room, neither Peter nor Anna fully appreciated, or even understood, all the implications of the decision they were in the process of making. Certainly, as far as Peter was concerned at the time, he thought that, at most, he was considering going from his present job to another different, but similar job in another different, but similar Washington bureaucracy. At no conscious level did he then realize or even suspect that a much larger ship than that was getting underway, and that, in fact, he and Anna were embarking on a spiritual quest which would, in a matter of a few months, take them far beyond the boundaries of Washington, DC, real and metaphorical, deep into the Maine woods, where they would clear land themselves, build a house, and craft a homestead, from which over the next three decades, they would be transported into realms and realities, depths and heights of conciousness, whose dimensions, and even whose existence, neither had ever imagined in their wildest dreams or fantasies.
Finally, Peter rose from his chair, walked across the room, and sat down next to Anna on the couch. “Enough’s enough,” he affirmed. “I’m submitting my resignation.”
“And that, Mr. Ambassador,” Peter said to the man to whom he is and will remain eternally grateful for having been the last straw, “is the meaning of it.”
Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven.” Genesis 28:16-17
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“A Continuing Fiction” is fiction.
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