Monday, April 15, 2013

A Bit of Cadmium


Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

And sociopaths, be our protection against sociopaths....

The small brown bottle stared at me challenging me to pick an emotion. I couldn't. I stood there swimming in a mixture of disbelief, exuberance and anger.

It all started about five years ago in the final months of my marriage to my ex-husband Geoff.

I made coffee in the morning, he made tea at night. No matter how annoyed or happy I might be, the coffee got made and brought to Geoff in bed. It was love as action, something tangible – you could put your hand on the mug and feel the warmth, the love. Presumably it was the same for him. He brought me chamomile mixed with mint or rose hips. Geoff even sent to his homeland, England, to get my favorite, chamomile with lime.

Something happened those last months – occasionally the tea tasted metallic. The difference was subtle but I knew what my tea was supposed to taste like. I told Geoff, he got defensive. There wasn't anything else to say. Maybe he forgot to use water from the Brita pitcher? “Yes, that must be it,” I thought.

That was also the time when Geoff suggested I get life insurance. I laughed at that because I was a Catholic chaplain making not very much money. “Surely the year and a half of my salary that comes with my employment would be enough?” He wasn't so sure.

Then there were the headaches. They were persistent and painful. They went away the day I temporarily moved in with my sister after finding a $2,000 phone bill to his “fiance” in England. They didn't return until a head injury brought me migraines.

The significance of the convergence of the metallic tasting tea, the life insurance and the headaches escaped me until after the sociopath I had married had been arrested for doing unspeakable things to two little girls. A few months after that I remembered the funny tasting tea and I wondered whether he actually could have been trying to poison me?

There were only a few people I mentioned this to since I thought it sounded paranoid and just a little crazy. I must admit none of the people I told treated it that way. They thought I just might be right but we would never know.

At least I didn't think so...

Many people think I should move out of the very old house in which I was raised. I love it. Throughout the entire nightmare that surrounded the events involving my ex-husband, my house and more importantly, my neighbors, provided comfort, lots of it.

So, I stayed.

I finally had a little money to take care of the wiring and the cabinets in my kitchen, both in dire need of replacing. One of my neighbors is an electrical contractor who like me, grew up in his house.

He was absolutely appalled at the state of the wiring. Geoff, who told me he was an electrical engineer before becoming a systems validation consultant, had done a lot of rewiring.

At one point my neighbor said, “This is so bad. It's like Geoff was trying to kill you.”

Funny you should say that,” I recounted my suspicions about the tea.

The next week my neighbor yelled up from the basement, “Carolee, put the water on … you're going to want a cup of tea.”

I had no clue what my dear neighbor could have meant. I went to the basement and there it was, a bottle of cadmium, a heavy metal – very, very toxic. It was hidden between the duct work and the ceiling. It would have stayed there, indefinitely, undetectable, had it not been for the work being done.

Immediately I shared this news with my other neighbor and another friend who had always believed Geoff had tampered with my tea.

Still, I wanted it somehow not to be true. My father worked in the labs in the research center of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. I immediately became as knowledgeable as I could about cadmium. They do use it in electroplating. I am convinced it was my father's cadmium. I am also equally convinced Geoff took it from my dad's messy workbench and decided to use it for his own purpose. There is no scenario that would explain my father hiding it. He had bottles of hydrochloric acid, a bag of asbestos, and other not-so-healthy components of his work on display for all to see.

I had to admire Geoff's ingenuity. The hiding spot was very conveniently located just about two feet from the stairs leading from the kitchen to the basement. “I'll just nip down and get a bit of cadmium,” I could hear him saying in his Birmingham accent.

Your guardian angel must have been watching over you,” someone said.

Yes,” I thought, but where were the guardian angels of the little girls so violated by the monster I had married?

As a chaplain, especially when I was working trauma, this question of why God allows evil to be wrought on the innocent was a constant companion to my ministry.

The question, never answered satisfactorily, has surfaced again, this time with very personal implications.

It is that whole free will phenomenon. The gift. The hope of a loving God that we will choose to love him.

The gift comes with many, many complications. To say we don't always choose good is to state the obvious. The choice not to do good sometimes creates dire consequences to the innocent.

If we are brave enough to look and accept a God so magnificent that he does the miraculous, we also are compelled to ask why he chooses not to help those suffering.

Why when facing this great dichotomy – the loving God vs, the cold unfeeling one – am I so convicted of God's love for each and every one of us?

That even though he didn't swoop down and stop Geoff before he damaged the little girls he abused, that I believe God cried with all of us at the carnage Geoff left in the wake of his narcissism.

Feeling vs. action, like the cup of coffee I brought to my husband every morning, is also apparent in my faith life. There are times when I feel loved by God – when I feel like I'm loving God. It happens sometimes during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, when God's very full presence fills me and I have no choice but to kneel in awe.

There are times when that doesn't happen but I stay adoring anyway because my faith tells me God is there whether I feel it or not. My actions tell God I love him, my feelings don't.

God's free will plan sometimes unleashes horrendous events, despicable actions.  That this time they happened in a very personal way by a monster who made choice after choice to do evil doesn't change my belief in a loving God.

Because he did not intercede when I thought he should does not diminish the miracles he has given us through his will alone and through the hands of those who love him.

I do believe all heaven eventually came together and aided the police in discovering Geoff. My prayers for him were heard when he was incarcerated for hopefully the rest of his life, where he can no longer sin against children.

It was God who gave the police and the district attorney the gifts they needed in order to prosecute Geoff.

God gave me a gift when it came time to testify against him. Waiting to go into the courtroom, I was literally sick. I prayed. I knew many were praying for me. When I entered the witness box, I felt those prayers, calm descended. I was able to identify the body of the man I had loved so much in the most vile of photographs.

God gave gifts of courage to people to be outraged and stand up against the evil.

God gave gifts of empathy and compassion to the counselors his victims will hopefully visit.

God gave us beauty to thumb its nose at the hideous images found in pedophiles' possessions.

When this terrible drama was playing out I think I would have succumbed to despair if it were not for the friends and family who I am convinced God helped me recognize as ambassadors of his love.

I have no answers when it comes to knowing how to prevent sociopaths from destroying lives. They are about manipulation, lies and deceit. Their purpose in life is to satisfy whatever pleasures them. If it hurts other people, tough.

I do know that each one of us is called to be holy, to love freely, to give of ourselves, to make God's world a better place, if only in little ways. When we call on God to join us, we together become a formidable force against the evil one. God will win!