“You are a hidden God.”
-St. John of the Cross
The old-acquainted pair had long ago fallen into uneasy silence before the rushing clamor startled them from their separate concerns. The clock had chimed four on their empty tea cups before Zach burst into the library. Mary and Father stood in expectation.
“They just left the Federal Building!”
Nearly simultaneously, the older man and woman exclaimed, “Oh, thank God,” and “Oh, dear.”
They had waited the long hours, barely anything to keep their worries in check, ever since Bennie sent word he had seen Catherine and her friend enter the F.B.I. headquarters around nine. The day dragged. They all had thought she would emerge by noon or, at the latest, one or two o’clock, let go for lunch’s sake, but as the hours stacked one on another past each hoped-for number on the clock, nervousness and silence took the place of anticipation.
“Is Jamie with them?”
The youth nodded. “Uh huh. Juan and Amanda are ready to meet them at the Landmarks building.”
Mary couldn’t help but add, “Oh, but it’ll be rush hour.”
“It will be all right, Mary,” Father countered, calculating in his mind the frequencies of trains and the crowds on the subway. “The passage to the station should hide them. They will be en route before they are expected, and once they are off at 68th Street, Fredrick and Dominic will be waiting to make certain they aren’t followed. Zach, can you see they get the message?”
“Got it! I’m on it, Father.” The boy ran with the urgency of a young man given a very important, grown-up job to do. Not two minutes later, Father’s instructions, interpreted through Pascal’s rapid and precise tappings, traveled through the pipe system.
Father eased back into his seat and breathed out his relief, trying to let go of some of the pent-up tension of the long day.
Two weeks prior, Vincent and Catherine had stood in the same room before the assembled members of the council—Mary, Pascal, Jim, Sara. Catherine spoke of her need to go Above, to answer the authorities’ questions about her abduction. She enumerated and emphasized the many lies she would tell to keep Vincent…and all of them…safe.
After they left, Sara had asked the obvious.
“How can she do this, Father? She is so closed off, even from us. How can she speak to strangers, people she will have to keep so many secrets from, about…that…when she won’t talk with us, the people who love her?“
It was true; Catherine had volunteered little of what had gone on in the months she’d been missing. She spoke in the most general terms, even through the many days she’d kept Father company, when Vincent had reluctantly left her and the child to work in Tunnels too distant and dangerous for them to venture.
She and her son were good companions. Catherine had proved an organizer of the best sort, who never questioned Father’s acquisitions, simply uncovered them, catalogued volume after volume, and tried to find a logical place for them. It was consuming work, good work, where they had the opportunity to talk, but as the weeks went on, as they came closer to when she would have to leave them, she fell inward, her manner and countenance taking on the sad, quiet air of inevitable loss.
Only once did she delve any deeper.
“So, you must return Above?” he questioned, attempting to sound casual. Over the table, Father handed Catherine a just-recorded book for the cleared shelf.
If she would not speak of the past, then, perhaps, he should try the future.
She did not, at first, acknowledge his question, quietly gazing at his namesake. The child, hidden in the carrier, struck his grandfather as still more a part of her than a true individual yet—a sleeping part, at the moment. It would be hard for her to leave him.
Finally, she noticed the book in her hands. She ran the dusting cloth over the cover and placed it between them. “Yup,” she said finally, pushing the word away. “Like some battered wife, going back for more punishment.”
He cringed at her answer, at the casualness of her self-contempt; he couldn’t help it, and she couldn’t help but see his concern.
Appalled at her own candor, she hurried to placate. “I’m sure it will be fine, Father,” she said, trying to soothe him. “I want to finish this, and then…”
She stopped abruptly, as if she couldn’t continue.
Of course she can’t. How can a broken heart see the future?
He had observed her drifting through the Tunnels, unanchored and unsettled. Yet, at times, he was astounded by her happiness. When she was with Vincent and their child, the joy was nearly palpable, but without Vincent, she seemed to dwindle. Akin to a tree, lightning-struck, blackened limbs weighing down living ones, her worries, her memories, unbalanced her. Vincent said nothing, but Father knew it frightened him to think she might not be meant for a life here. What could she imagine for herself and the baby’s future life? If she could, would she go back, leave them, or could she grow new roots?
Her ability to break Vincent’s heart still terrified the father in him, and yet she had shown her loyalty time and again. Perhaps he could be of help to her.
“You know St. John of the Cross?” he asked, motioning to the volume on the table.
She looked back at the book and silently shook her head.
“He was a Spanish monk, poet, mystic—oh, late 1500’s, I believe.” The elder took off his reading glasses. “He was revolutionary in his philosophy, slightly heretical…very passionate.” Father twisted his glasses in his fingers, then set them down beside the book. “He’s a great favorite of Vincent’s. We’ve had hours of discussion on his works.”
She said nothing, silently stroking the baby’s back.
The crux, the press…
“St. John was persecuted by the other monks of his order…his own people. He was thrown in a dungeon, tortured daily…and yet he wrote, ‘Faith is a dark night for man, but in this very way it gives him light.’ He was saddened, hurt…angry at God, even…yet he never gave up his faith.”
Jacob Wells had no empathetic power past simple perception, but no magical gift was needed. Unease, skepticism bordering on resentment, radiated from her frown and through hunched shoulders. She was holding on and holding back, but barely.
“You’ve come this far, Catherine. You survived,” he said, nodding to the child in her arms, adding, “You’ve accomplished so much. You mustn’t give up your faith.”
“I didn’t,” she asserted. “I never gave up hope that Vincent would find me…that we would somehow escape…”
This was usually as far as they ventured into that time. Yet the older man sensed she might say more and did not want to lose the opportunity.
She sighed and astonished him by continuing. “They kept me locked up in this little room, guarded night and day. There was nothing I could do, nothing but beg, which they didn’t seem to even hear.” She shook her head. “If I tried anything else…”
Dear God, she had tried.
If Jacob Wells knew anything of his son’s beloved, of course she had tried. And as certain as he was of this, he also saw in her frozen countenance, heard in everything she did and did not say, that they had punished her for it…a pregnant woman…
May the Lord forgive me, but they did deserve death…
“I didn’t find faith, Father…I don’t know…I don’t think God was there.” She confessed, hesitating, as if she must share an ugly truth. “I know I lost parts of myself I didn’t think I could.” Her voice, bitter and weighted, “I lost…” she trailed away.
He didn’t want to know, yet he had to.
“What did you lose, my dear?”
“My belief in my world.” Her voice faltered, rising. “I thought I knew…how bad it could get, but the world is so cold. I thought I was jaded before…”
But how could she know, he thought, cared for and sheltered most of her life?
Oh, Catherine…you did not realize you had so far to fall.
She was a woman of strong emotion. He had seen her angry and fierce, protective and sad, but she was right, this was something new. The loss turned her eyes to stone.
“I hate what they did to me.”
The round, metallic taste of I was right all along—the old and bitter cynic that lived in him wanting to yell—Did I not tell you, time and again the consequences of your relationship? Of someone learning of you and my son? But he swallowed that voice, those regrets. That time was past. Proving right held little consolation, and she was the last person who needed a lecture on the costs of loving.
“They took your trust,” he reflected, and Catherine nodded.
“I hate Moreno for leaving me there. I started to lose myself in that room—my heart, my mind—but I could never let go completely. I…I think part of me wanted to,” she admitted, her cold countenance breaking at the admission, “but I couldn’t. Someone I love relied on me.” Her fingers traced the babe in his carrier, and Father couldn’t help but imagine an isolated and lonely place where she discovered her unborn son with the same touch.
“He’s ours,” she asserted, and the miracle of it, the honor she found in that fact, amplified her voice, although tears began to fall. She wiped them before they could disturb the child. “Jacob is Vincent’s and mine…but that isn’t really the way it is, is it? We’re his. I’m his mother. He needed me. I couldn’t let go because I had to be his hope, his faith that we would be safe.” She stopped, pulling back the sadness and freeing the defiant. “I don’t think you can find God…when you have to be someone else’s.”
Her words trailed off, but in that moment he glimpsed the flint in her that could spark the flame. He saw her certainty that no man, holy or not, could understand this ordeal, but the acrimony was short-lived. For someone’s sake, either Vincent’s, the child’s, or his own, she breathed the anger away and added in deprecation, “I’m not making sense.”
Jacob Wells, Father, Grandfather, took her hand to acknowledge and concede what was sadly and uniquely hers.
“You are making perfect sense, my dear.”
He let go after a moment.
She stroked the baby’s head for a while longer before she spoke again.
“And now…” she began.
“We’re going to finish this, Father,” she repeated with conviction. “Somehow. And when we come up for air…”
Dread—just a split-second of shameful doubt—but he couldn’t fight against his own experience.
She’ll leave. Women leave—whether by choice, or by fate, and the men who love them are left behind to gather up the pieces of broken lives.
Would she want to go back? He tried to shake off his misgivings. Surely not her. He had been witness to their vows. Could she?
She bit her lip, as if she was afraid to say. He tried to wait, but the suspense goaded. He was about to ask her exactly what she thought of returning Above, but she spoke before he could.
“When this is over I don’t know who I’ll be.”
That wasn’t what he expected.
After her attack she had forged her own course—working for justice in their courts—and regardless of his skepticism, she had stuck to that road despite its difficulties. She had been so sure then. To see her uncertain was…novel, to say the least.
Now you must ask without asking, steer without seeming to—a fine line.
“Vincent has told me many times of your work, how good you were at the law. Would you wish to return to it?”
“It’s what was I raised for,” she said, shrugging. “And I do miss it…the challenges…knowing I was needed, but…”
Suddenly, she looked up the stairway and down the hall as if she heard someone, although the older man heard nothing. Did she sense Vincent coming?
Their bond was extraordinary and, Father had to admit, fascinating, but now that she was here with them every day, Vincent’s wife, it seemed a horrible breach to ask after it. Did she perceive Vincent far off, his heartbeat perhaps, or did she sense his feelings within her own? Father knew no one was near, but her voice fell, almost guiltily, as if Vincent might hear them nonetheless.
“That life seems a million miles away now…” She pulled the book on the table to her. “And almost as pointless as the firm did after I was attacked.” She twisted the cloth-covered volume, inching it around to read the title.
The Dark Night of the Soul
“Vincent knew me…you knew me…in a certain way—up there, Above, working, living—a helper who brought you the things you needed.”
Yes, she had done that and more, although it took him years to acknowledge it. There was the time before her—the drawing in—his dreams of community quietly dying. Instead of reaching out, he’d begun to withhold, to hoard, for Vincent, for himself. She had been the unknowing catalyst of change. Because of her, they were forced to forge new ties—merging with the western tunnel population when they excavated her entrance. And, because of her, they’d strengthened old friendships as well. Peter, after years of scant contact, became their best hope for future medical supplies as their numbers rose. Slowly but surely, knowledge, help, and goods flowed between the worlds again.
Vincent had protested she had opened the world for him.
Not only you, my son.
“I wish I could bring back that woman,” she continued, “the one Vincent fell in love with, but I don’t know how. I can’t remember how to be her, Father. That’s who I lost,” she said, as if realizing the fact for the first time.
Candor dat viribus alas.[i]
At least she is beginning to see, to understand. But she shouldn’t have to struggle with this alone.
“Catherine, what does Vincent say about this?”
“He doesn’t.” With forlorn air, she dropped her gaze. “He hasn’t talked to me about it…but I sense this guilt from him sometimes, this sadness, Father,” she whispered.
For a moment, he was speechless in the face of the confession, in how much she trusted him with her heart’s worry.
Please don’t let me fail her.
“That woman I was before, she was smart, brave, confident, but in the end, because I was her, I was locked away.”
She stopped, and before she spoke again, Father saw what he could only describe as a deepening in her, as though her thoughts tossed her onto darker shores than she had ever known.
“I could have died. Our baby could have died. I know Vincent and I did good, that I was good at my job, but was it enough, Father? Did it make enough of a difference? I don’t know if that life was worth the risk.” She had been unconsciously stroking the baby’s back, and now she looked at him again. “It certainly isn’t now.”
Dear God, the fear they’ve instilled in her…
“I miss her. I miss being her, but I think that woman who worked for the D.A….died in that building.”
She feels like she must give up who she was before, deny that part of her to be with us. Is it so? Part of this woman is dead, but, with help, can the other parts flourish, taking the place of what is lost?
Hold her here. She looks tired, defeated, but she can be strong. Give her a place. You have for others, and she is your daughter now.
He took her hand from the book and kissed it. “Then, my dear Catherine…let her die. Let her die, at least for now, so the rest of you may live.” He lowered closer. “Vincent was dead too…when you were gone.”
Acknowledging tears for her husband’s pain welled at the edges of her eyes.
“It took your safe return for him to begin to live again,” he said, pointing to the Tunnels entire, “to tend to his life here once more…and take on all those bridges.” He chuckled through his own tears, although she did not.
He would need to try another tack.
“The Egyptians saw the underground as a place of rebirth. This can be that place for you, as well.” He tried to catch her eyes. “Vincent will always love you; of that, Catherine, I am certain. Even if you don’t know yet who to be, then simply be.” He gestured towards the baby. “For a time, you can focus on your new work…being a wife and mother. You may find parts of yourself you never knew existed.”
She nodded, but silent tears coursed down her face.
This wouldn’t do.
“Catherine, I, too, have experienced unexpected twists in the road. I know what it is to lose the work that brought, maybe not happiness, but satisfaction.” He walked away from the table and placed a hand on the iron railing of the stairs. “After I left the World Above, I was consumed with anger. The bitterness…” he said, remembering the seasons that seemed marked with only loss and more loss. “It nearly destroyed me, but like you…like Vincent…” He bowed towards the baby. “I soon had a family to focus my energies on.”
Her tears hadn’t ceased, but she sniffed and nodded. She was listening—longer than Vincent usually did, bless her. Perhaps he could lighten the sermon.
“Like you, I tried to do ‘good’ for the world, although, I believe I was perhaps…a bit more arrogant?” He winked. “Self-important, maybe? You see, I was never supposed to be a family doctor,” he said, shaking his head in feigned distaste, and added with puffed self-importance, “I was a research scientist!”
She smiled. It was a polite one, but enough to encourage him.
“And while I expected to have a few children, I didn’t think I’d be Father to quite so many.” He waved his hand with exaggerated zeal, and finally, she laughed too, a little.
She still laughed. She still loved. She hadn’t lost everything, and for that, to God and all his saints, Jacob Wells was truly thankful.
He stepped towards her. “…life gives us something that we could hardly imagine.” [ii] He gently cupped her face with both hands as a parent might with his sad child. Finally she met his eyes.
“If you love your work then we will find a way. The path may not be clear…But know this: our lives transform and we evolve; aspects of us die that others may live. As the Spirit said to St. John, ‘die to all that is not us.’ I promise you, we will help you find your way.” She rested in his embrace as much as the baby in the carrier would allow her. “Be reborn, Catherine. Vincent will love you, as we all love you.”
Father held her for only a moment more. Without warning, she pulled away and hurriedly wiped her tears, as if she were guilty they had fallen.
“What are you talking of, Father?”
Vincent loomed in the doorway, his voice on the edge of accusation, his work companions, Mouse and Matthew, barely visible behind his imposing frame.
Father turned back to Catherine and she silently told him, please, say nothing. At this point, the concerns were hers alone to share, even if he knew Vincent would almost certainly understand.
“Talking of? Mmm? Well, St. John of the Cross, for one,” Father covered as Vincent and Matthew said their quick goodbyes at the entry.
Once Matthew was gone, Mouse and the powerful man strode down the stairs. Vincent settled his bag of tools next to the table. Mouse looked about the room whose shelves and stacks seemed in a greater state of chaos than before they’d started.
“Big mess, Father.” Mouse stated the obvious.
“Well, yes, Mouse. We are in the middle, and that can be a very messy place to be.” He couldn’t help but glance at the entangled woman. “Catherine and I were gauging how much space would be needed for the spiritualists and theologians.”
Without so much as a glance around the chamber, Vincent inquired, “And how much of the Great Hall are you willing to commit?” His wit thrown about almost unconsciously, he waited for Catherine to speak. When she didn’t, only offering a fleeting smile, Vincent, with silent sigh, as something practiced, relinquished his curiosity. He rubbed any remaining work dust from his hands and reached for the child. At his unspoken request, Catherine drew the infant up and out of the carrier.
Vincent took his son, hands under head and body, bringing him close. The baby yawned, blinked sleep away, then looked at his father. They stayed there for a moment, simply contemplating one another. Staring into the child’s wide eyes, Vincent intoned, “to just be close to creatures who are so full of knowing, so full of love that they do not—chat…” He paused, still intent on the blinking infant. “They just gaze with their marvelous understanding.”[iii]
He nuzzled the baby with his nose. The child cooed while his uncoordinated arms flapped around Vincent’s face, striving to find anything to grasp.
Father’s attention returned to Catherine as he gestured to Vincent. “I told you Saint John was a favorite.”
Catherine took off the carrier, sat in one of the cracked leather chairs, and readied herself to feed the child.
“I’m not convinced yet, Father.” She gestured to the book. “I think Vincent could quote almost any poet, favorite or not.”
Her voice had returned to its usual even tone, impressively, and without a hint of her former tears.
She was a match for Vincent … and the world, Father hoped, despite her fears.
Vincent’s attention pivoted from baby to wife. The couple each had a smile for one another—hers one of reassurance, and his of fulfilled happiness in her presence—the love between them shone, a glow of connection.
She might be afraid of change, but she had already transformed his son.
Since leaving childhood behind, rarely was Vincent’s laughter for himself alone. His happiness had been for the happiness of others, theoretical and second-hand. Catherine, loyal and loving, had opened ways for Vincent, some frightening and fraught, others wondrous as the child in his arms. She denied sorrow and would never allow heartbreak to define them for long. With her help, they had created a realm of personal joy.
She is his joy. For that alone, she must have all my love.
Father startled Mary as he stood from the table a little too quickly, wobbling and grabbing his cane. He slipped on the uneven floor, gaining his balance at the last moment, falling into a step towards the stairs.
“Father, where are you going?” Mary asked.
“I’m going to make sure Cullen can watch for them on the subway as well. We simply cannot allow anything to happen to her.”
[i] Latin – Sincerity gives wings to strength
[ii] Marcel Proust
[iii] “A Rabbit Noticed My Condition” – St. John of the Cross