(for disclaimer-type stuff, see pt 1)
* * *
The next afternoon begins like an episode of `The Twilight Zone',
with me playing the hapless schmuck who wanders upon a parallel
universe. I arrive in the security waiting area of the West Wing and
see Carlo, the regular afternoon guard, eyes fixed on the monitors
with dejected boredom all over his face.
The moment he sees me, he stares at me like he's never seen me
before, he can't figure out how I got here, and he's worried I might
possibly open fire on him if given half the chance. Now, Carlo and I
have known each other for well over six months, and have always,
*always*, exchanged hellos, goodbyes, and the occasional weather
reports, so this reaction takes me completely by surprise.
"Carlo, how's it going?" I ask evenly.
"Hello, Mr Seaborn. May I see your badge, please?" he says with an
important, Barney Fife-like nod.
"Um...sure." I whip my badge out of my pocket and flash it at him. He
stares at it unhappily, as if he wasn't expecting me to comply so
"If you can hold on, Mr Seaborn, I'll just give Mr McGarry a quick
call." He looks at me and adds hesitantly, "I mean, if--if you don't
I feel my mouth tighten in a line of impatience. "But I do mind,
Carlo. You don't have to call Mr McGarry to tell him a senior staffer
is in the building. As a matter of fact," I say, gathering
momentum, "you don't even have to see a senior staffer's badge upon
his entering the building."
Carlo shrugs uncomfortably. "I was just asked to..."
"Asked to what? Are you telling me Mr McGarry asked you to inform him
if I set foot in the building?"
"But what?" I practically scream. I'm running on a short fuse these
He ducks his head, looking like the 22-year-old kid that he is, and
mumbles, "I was taking initiative."
"You were what?" I don't quite believe my ears.
Carlo decides he's feeling a little bold and he meets my eyes
again. "I know you were asked to leave the West Wing, sir, and I know
it was under less than--*ideal* circumstances, so as a member of the
"All right, Barney, this is how you want to do it?" I bark, pointing
at the phone. "Fine. But don't go bothering Leo McGarry with bullshit
like this. Get me Josh Lyman on the phone."
The adrenaline pulsing through me is incredible. What the hell is
this? Some DCPD reject with one bullet in his pocket is telling me he
has to clear me through the West Wing? I mean, *What the hell is this?
I hear Carlo mumbling on the phone to Josh, explaining the situation
much more confidently than he explained it to me. Apparently Josh
starts to read him the riot act because Carlo begins spluttering
apologies, "...*very* sorry, I--I was just...Yes. Yes, I understand.
Again, I apologize, Miss Moss, but I was just--"
Okay, I have to grin at that. *Donna* is reading Carlo the riot act?
Okay, that's--that's just too damn funny. I bite my lower lip and
look at the ground, feeling my anger drain away. I sneak a glance up
at Carlo who has turned red and settled the phone back in the cradle.
He looks back at me.
"Mr Lyman is running late from a meeting on the hill. Miss Moss is on
And just like that, Donna is there, all long legs and purpose as she
strides toward us. I smile at her, but she just nods imperceptibly
and comes to a halt before Carlo's desk. "Carlo," she says in a low
voice, "I came down here because I wanted to personally see to it
that we don't have this problem in the future."
Carlo gazes at her in awe. "Yes, Miss Moss."
Then Donna softens, nodding kindly at him. "All right. We won't say
anymore about this, then."
Carlo seems to flare briefly to life again. "I was just taking
initiative, Miss Moss."
I watch as Donna turns master intimidator on him once more. "I'm
think Mr Lyman would see interrogating a senior staffer as taking
your life into your own hands, Carlo."
I'm so stunned I don't even come to Donna's aid. It's not like I need
to; the woman's channeling Josh in a rather freakish way. Carlo
mutters another apology, and then Donna turns to me and flashes me a
"Ready?" She slips her arm through mine and leads me away. "Josh is
expecting you, but he's late from his meeting with Jaworski."
"Oh God. Josh and Shallick's hatchet man in a room together?"
Donna laughs. "I talked to his aide, and she's under strict
instructions to make sure the door is open to any room they meet in."
As we continue through the hall, Donna chatters away, about anything
and everything that comes to mind. I know people think she has no
filter between her brain and her mouth, but the thing with Donna is
that she's just so full of life and vitality, and so eager to share
what she's learned, that she finds it difficult not to. But today I'm
getting the impression that this is about more than just making me a
more informed person, although it takes a minute for me to realize
just what she's doing.
She's distracting me. She's distracting me from the stares and the
whispers. I thought they were bad before I left, but now they've
doubled...quadrupled, maybe, unless I'm just being paranoid. No, I'm
not being paranoid. Hyper-aware, maybe, but not paranoid.
The prodigal has returned, you see, and this is subject for much
My spine stiffens as I walk through the mass of eyes following me.
Donna notices my discomfort and her arm tightens around my elbow.
"It'll be okay, Sam," she whispers.
I'd forgotten how much I miss this--A woman's touch, a woman's
presence. Not that I'm reacting to Donna the way--well, the way a man
might react to a woman, but you know...I'm a guy, and...Okay, I'm
going to have to say this, aren't I? Beyond the sex, beyond the
kissing, beyond the hormonal drive that propels all men, a woman's
touch just feels...*nice*. Soothing, even. A hell of a lot nicer than
a slap on the back from your buddy.
Dammit, I'm *lonely*.
"Thanks," is all I whisper back.
"Josh should be here any minute. I've ordered you guys Chinese, okay?"
Donna squeezes my arm again and leaves as I take a seat in Josh's
office. I've been sitting here for about sixty seconds when a very
familiar and very scary voice comes booming down the hall.
"Is he in the office? Did he dare set foot in the office without
telling *me*?" It's Cathy. For such a tiny woman, I've always said
she has an incredibly impressive voice.
She barrels into Josh's office, five-feet-three-inches of volatile
fury, and glares at me. I stand up and stare hopefully back. We
haven't spoken since the last day I was in the West Wing--the day I
wrote the speech for the GDC and neglected to apologize to her for my
blow-up the day before. I left without saying goodbye to her, and she
She folds her arms over her chest and begins to tap her foot. "Well?"
A slight pause, and then, "I'm willing to forgive you, Sam, but I am
not going to make the first move."
I swallow hard. She's right and we both know it. "Cathy, I--I'm so
"For what?" But there's a smile twitching at her lips as she says it.
Good question. How best to sum it all up? "I'm sorry for--for being a
And there it is--that big, Cathy smile. She shakes her head and
rushes forward to hug me. "You can't help it," she says, pulling
away. "Anyway, you're *my* jackass, and I'd be glad to beat the
living hell out of Lisa for messing with you."
That makes me laugh. "I may take you up on that."
Cathy looks me over from head to toe, like she's trying to figure out
what I'm not telling her. Then she says, "You're gonna be okay, Sam."
"'Course he's gonna be okay," Josh has arrived and is leaning against
the doorframe, smirk out in full force. "He's got me workin' for him,
"I won't touch that," Cathy snorts, flashing me one last smile before
I have a big, warm, fuzzy glow now, and I grin stupidly at Josh, who
stares back at me, amused.
"You two made up, didn't you?"
"I can tell because you've just got the most idiotic smile on your
"You're just a never-ending source of comfort, aren't you?"
"God knows I try. Have a seat, buddy." He closes the door behind him
and sits down at his desk, taking a moment to run his fingers through
his hair and draw in a deep, sharp breath for a moment, before
exhaling quickly. "Okay, where do we start?" His eyes are skittering
around the room, his fingers drumming up and down on the desktop. I
know these signs.
I push back the question I want to ask--*What are you helping Sabrina
with, and why isn't she asking me?*--and adopt a light-hearted
tone. "Let's play `Spot the Stressed-out Politician'."
Josh looks up at me in confused amusement. "What?"
"The subject is wearing a mustard-stained tie for what looks to be
the third day in a row and a gray suit which could probably stand up
by itself if given the chance. The subject's hair is currently
standing up at no fewer than ten different right angles; his eyes are
bloodshot, his lips are chapped, and he's doing that holding-his-
"Sam." Josh lifts an eyebrow. "What the hell are you talking
I tap the end of my nose with a forefinger. "I smell a State of the
Union speech in the air."
A chuckle escapes Josh's lips and he shakes his head. "Toby's a mess
without you here," he says, rubbing his eyes. "I mean, he'd be
stressing regardless, but with you gone, he's a frickin' heart attack
waiting to happen. He and Leo are working on the position shifts,
right? Swear to God, I have never heard any two people yell as much
as those two've been doing in the past three days."
"The state of the union is a big deal, Josh."
"Thanks, Sam, I wasn't aware of that till just now." Leaning back in
his chair, Josh kicks his feet up on his desk. "The president's
stressing too. `The speech of his political career', they're calling
"Josh, they say that every time the president makes a speech."
"And that helps me how? We're working to facilitate a re-election for
him, and all he can say is, `Just don't make me look stupid'."
"Tell him no add-libbing, and we'll take care of the rest."
"*And* I have to work the polling center. Do you know how frustrating
that can be?"
"I know how impatient *you* can be."
"I just can't handle it when I don't get my numbers. Anyway, I'm
dragging Donna with me. She has to be there to diffuse my, my--" He
waves his hand in the air futilely.
"Your inappropriate explosions of volcanic rage when things start to
hint at not going your way?"
He throws me a wry smile. "I was going to say `my mood swings', but
that about sums it up." We chuckle manfully. "So Donna tells me I've
got to go bitch-slap some skinny Mayberry reject down at security."
"Nah. I think she put the fear of God into him all on her own."
Josh looks incredibly proud as he grins at me. "Really?"
"A few carefully-chosen words and Carlo was quaking in his boots; I
"She did learn at the feet of the master."
The smile fades from Josh's face as he realizes the time and the
place and the circumstances. "Okay, enough snappy banter," he says.
He begins rifling through the piles of paper on his desk. "The case...
the case," he murmurs as he searches. "The file...the file...where is the
file?" He jumps to his feet and throws open his office
door. "*Donna*!" He ignores me as I wince and plug my ears with my
"*What*?" Her voice comes back with such force and intensity she may
as well be standing next to me with her lips to a bullhorn.
"*Where's the file Sabrina put together on Sam's case*?"
"*I filed it!*"
"*Funnily enough, in your file cabinet*!" Wow. Sarcasm is really
impressive at this volume.
"*Donnatella Moss, will you please come in here instead of shouting
at me*?" Josh yells so loud his face turns red and I think a vein is
about to pop out of his forehead. The bullpen doesn't so much as bat
a collective eye at this typical exchange.
Donna arrives a moment later, a pleasant smile on her face, hands
folded in front of her in geisha-girl mode. "Yes, Joshua?"
"I need the file," he says in wheedling tones.
"File cabinet. `S' for Seaborn. See how I did that, with the
alphabet? Isn't that nifty?" With a wicked smile, she spins on her
heel and departs once more.
Josh makes a face at her retreating back, slams the door shut again,
and then heads over to his file cabinet. A moment later he's back at
his desk with a thick folder in his hand. He spreads it open before
him and I crane my neck to see.
To be honest, there's probably not much in that file I don't already
know. I've been to law school, I've actually *practiced* law, unlike
Josh--which, strangely enough, still doesn't bother me--and I pretty
much know what he's about to tell me.
You see, a libel case is a pretty tough needle to thread, no two ways
about it. Well, actually there *are* two ways about it. There are
many ways about it. Many, many factors will go into deciding whether
or not I have a valid case against my wife--my ex-wife. Under four
circumstances, harmful statements are not going to count as libel or
slander in a court of law. If Lisa can find her way around any of the
four, my case is dead before it sees the light of day. If the courts
decide that I'm a public figure and therefore exempt from the laws
protecting private citizens, well then, I'm screwed. I know all this,
and I don't mind. I mean, I *mind*, but...
"Okay, so you know that there are a few ways Lisa can get around
this." Josh interrupts my thoughts as he skims over the pages before
"Right. If the statements in question were made to the person
mentioned in the statements, and not to anyone else."
"Yeah, she pretty much shot herself in the foot with that one;
although obviously part of her M.O. was to let the world know. So we
scratch that. Okay...the statements were not protected by any special
privilege: she wasn't on trial, there was no deposition, so that's
"She didn't have a moral duty to give an honest opinion; this was
completely unsolicited." We're working smoothly now, a nice, easy
game of verbal badminton. I like this. This feels good. This feels
"So we're left with the last one; the one that's going to be hard to
prove and even harder to disprove."
I nod, my jaw clenching and unclenching, and quote from a recent
article by Randall Kleinman I found on the internet, "'The statement
will not be libel or slander if it is actually true, and the person
making the statement makes the statement honestly and not
"Yeah," Josh whispers in a quick exhalation.
"Yeah," I echo, and then silence pervades for several excruciating
minutes, during which Josh's lunch hour steadily ticks away and heads
toward taxpayer's time.
"Did you ever hurt Lisa?"
I look up and catch his eyes and our gazes hold for what seems like
forever. There is no judgment in his eyes, no accusation, not even
any doubt. He's asking the question he has to ask, but it doesn't
stop the painful tightening in my chest from spreading. My breath
hitches for a moment, and the image of my sister's arms flashes in my
mind. "I think...I may have."
Another slow exhalation from Josh, his eyes closing for a second and
then flashing open. "The nightmares," he states flatly.
It doesn't surprise me that Sabrina told him. I just nod and
shrug. "Maybe. I don't know. I just think that it's possible. Lisa
used to wake me up. I could have grabbed her, maybe, or pushed her
away. God knows I could have hurt her. Three weeks ago I would have
said she'd never use it against me, but now..."
"Now it's different."
"If she's got proof, Sam, all of this is going to amount to nothing.
One photograph--one friend who saw a bruise--and it's all over. You
could be facing criminal charges."
"I know, Josh," I cut in over his vehemence. "I know all this. It's a
fucking tightrope, okay? I get that."
"Okay...okay," clearing his throat, Josh begins to flick through the
papers again and he tells me about the cases he and Sabrina have
pulled: Carol Burnett's suit against `The National Enquirer', which
may or may not work for me, depending on whether or not the courts
consider me a private or public figure; Jerry Falwell's suit
against `Hustler' magazine, which really doesn't count at all, since
that involved a parody of his character, not a direct slander.
"And I'm not that crazy about being linked with Jerry Falwell,
anyway," I comment, and Josh chuckles.
"Come on, you know you think Tinky-Winky's gay," he chides me.
"Well, that triangle is a dead give-away..."
Most libel and slander cases today involve trial by jury, and
punitive damages are possible, so the likelihood of this seeing a
courtroom is pretty good, but only in theory, because very few
actually get that far. If it does, it's going to be up to Josh to
prove that not only has Lisa defamed my character, but that my
reputation has suffered as a result. "*That* shouldn't be hard to
prove," I practically spit.
Josh grins, and I can tell he's about to say something totally
inappropriate that will most likely make me laugh. "Oh, I don't know.
You haven't been on Letterman's Top Ten List yet; I think you've
still got some leverage left in you."
"Yeah, that'll wow them on the Beltway."
"Josh?" Donna's soft voice comes from behind me and we both turn to
look at her. She smiles apologetically. "You're running ten minutes
over, and Leo needs you to meet with Oronato before senior staff."
"I should go," I say, rising to my feet and slipping back into my
jacket. I glance down at my sesame chicken with distaste. The fork is
swimming in the middle of a pile of brown, gooey sauce. I think I ate
three bites. Food just doesn't taste good anymore. "You coming over
tonight?" *What are you helping Sabrina with, and why isn't she
"Sam, have you talked to Sabrina?"
His eyes skim over my face, giving me that intense Josh stare, like
he's trying to read my mind. It's unsettling. "Talk to her," he
says. "There's something she needs to tell you and she's afraid to."
"Afraid to?" I'm incredulous. Sabrina is afraid to talk to me? "That
doesn't make any sense."
"Talk to her. You'd be surprised."
"Up all hours studying, research at the library, meetings with me,
checking in with Leo, running interference with your mom, trying not
to throw something every time she sees your face splattered across
some tabloid...? That's a hell of a lot to deal with, and you know,
she has a life beyond your problems."
I move past incredulous and head rapidly toward stunned. "We all have
a life beyond my problems, Josh--"
"Sam, you can't tell me you haven't noticed the effect this is having
on your sister."
I don't say anything, because the thing is, I haven't. She's quieter,
sure, and she worries about me more than usual, but she's still
there...still there when I call her at two in the morning because
I've had another nightmare; still there when I call in the middle of
the day because I can't take another episode of `Golden Girls' and I
think I'm going to scream if I hear our mother say the words 'my poor
baby boy' one more time. She brings me pizza when I don't want to
leave the house because the reporters are still out in full force,
and she calls me to see how I'm doing in the evenings, and no matter
where she is, or what she's doing, my baby sister has been there for
me since this whole thing began.
Oh God. Brilliant, Sam, just brilliant.
"Just go," Josh says kindly. "I'll be at your place tonight, usual
"Okay," I say. I can't think of anything else. Just when I think I've
had all the surprises I'm going to get, I get slapped with another
one. None of them have been easy to take. I head out the door, but
Josh's voice calls me and I turn back. "Yeah?"
"I just want you to know that..." his voice trails off. I think he
wants to say a million things, so I nod encouragingly to let him know
he doesn't have to say anything else. I don't need the words. He's my
friend and he's doing this for me, and he looks as if he's Sisyphus
prepared to roll the boulder up the mountain no matter how many times
it comes rolling back down at him, and that's good enough for me.
So I nod again, and he nods, and we're like those little dogs in car
windows, nodding back and forth at one another. We don't say anything
else, and I turn around again and leave the West Wing.
I hated being in my twenties. Yeah, I was young and single and living
a heady, carefree college existence, with my entire life stretching
before me, but my twenties really sucked on an emotional level. There
was the obvious awkwardness around womenit should surprise no one to
learn that I was something of a later bloomer in the relationship
arenabut there was more to it than that.
In my twenties, I was filled with questions, and most of them were
about myself and my place in the world. I wanted to be a lawyer, but
wanting it never seemed to be the same thing as knowing I was really
going to do it. I knew I wanted a family of my own, but the actual,
material concept of a wife and 2.5 children eluded me. I wasn't
always into imagery, you see; back then I was a very tactile person.
I liked things I could touch and hold and look at. I wanted something
to wrap my fingers around, something to cling to, something I could
keep in my pocket and take out when I needed to see it again. Because
when you're in your twenties, there's nothing scarier than the
Lisa, you see, was tangible. She came along at just the right moment
in my life, when I was scared beyond comprehension of being alone, of
not having something in my life that I could hold onto. She was
incredibly intelligent and she carried herself with style and grace,
and she was beautiful and she seemed to love me. It was reason enough
to fall in love with her, but when I did, that too was more than the
sum of its parts. It wasn't just about Lisa being the right sort of
person at the right time: I really loved her.
I remember looking at her as she lay asleep in my arms one night and
thinking how lucky I was that someone like Lisa Taylor was in love
with me. I neglected the obvious and I completely misinterpreted
everything about her. I remember thinking her ruthless ambition
meant she was dedicated and goal-oriented; that her relentless need
to know what I was doing every day, and with whom, meant that she
cared enough about me to want the details; that her sharp, incisive
taunting about my own beliefs was an assertion of her opinion, proof
that she had a mind of her own. I was so damn *proud* of her. And I
loved her. Because she was all these things, and more, and because
she was there. She was tangible.
I was twenty-five when I became involved with Lisa, and twenty-nine
when we got married. Twenty-nine and all I cared about was love that
I could put in my pocket and hold in my hands when I needed to.
If only I'd waited. If only I'd held back and gotten past those
terrifying last years of my twenties. Because it hit me then that
there was more to life than the things you could hold, and that
pursuing the impossible could fuel your fire in a way that even the
I remember my twenty-eighth birthday, with Lisa hovering over me as
our friends*her* friends, reallyswarmed through the house. There
was one guy there, a photographer named Jon who'd come with Lisa's
friend Ariel, and he was explaining to me the delicate procedures
that went into capturing the perfect moment on film.
"The right lighting," he'd said, stroking his sensitive-artist
goatee, "the right aperture, the right film, the right *moment*, man.
One wrong move I mean, you wait a *fraction* of a second too long,
and it's gone. Your picture's ruined."
I had laughed at him and asked, "Then why bother, Jon? I mean, I love
a beautiful photo as much as the next person, butif you're going for
a profession that scientific, why not *be* a scientist? It'd be a
hell of a lot more lucrative."
Jon had just looked at me, shaking his head in something akin to
pity. "It's not science, Sam, it's *art*. Writers agonize over every
word, sculptors tear their hair out every time the chisel smashes
the wrong piece of marble...Just because it's precise sometimes doesn't
mean it isn't art."
"But I don't understand," I'd said, setting down my glass of wine and
staring more intently into his patrician face. "If it's that much
agony, if the results hinge on so much circumstance, how can that be
fulfilling? Don't you want guaranteed results? Don't you want to know...
I mean, don't you want to know, `If I do this and this and that, then
I'll get what I want'?" I didn't understand, because I was a lawyer,
and I liked facts. Facts were concrete, facts were substantial. You
could argue with facts. You could point to them, they were
irrefutable; they were facts, dammit, and I liked that. I didn't
understand what the hell Jon was talking about, but I knew I wanted
"You don't get it, man," he'd replied, so intently that I ignored his
annoying habit of punctuating comments with `man'. A flash of white
teeth and then as carefully as if he were explaining the phases of
the moon, he'd said, "It's that moment, you know? That moment of
hope, man. That moment when you hit the shutter button, oror you add
*that* word to *that* sentence...and just for a minutethat minute
before you know for sure whether or not it worked, whether you've
produced a masterpiece or complete shit...there's that hope that you've
produced something amazing."
`Hope that you've produced something amazing'. I had never in my life
produced something amazing. Amazing results, maybe, because the law
is a beautiful thing when it works, but I would never consider the
law close to art. Jon's words got me thinking.
People have the wrong idea about me. They think that my ideals have
always been a part of me, that they're as natural to me as breathing.
That's where they're wrong. I grew into these ideals. Most people,
when they've been hurt by life, grow disillusioned; they throw away
their idyllic visions and succumb to a more fatalistic viewpoint. But
with me it was the opposite. After I married Lisa, and the first,
halcyonic months of marriage passed, I found that I had settled for
what was available rather than for what I wanted. I still loved Lisa,
but I was resigned to life, rather than inspired by it.
It would be a bit trite to say that my life changed after a few words
from a semi-pretentious hippie artist that I never saw again, but on
the other hand it would be fair to say that I had already begun to
wonder if things could be different. Only I married Lisa anyway.
I don't know why I'm thinking all this, except...except that I do know
why. It's later winter in DC and I'm walking through the slush and
the cold, and I'm wondering if this divorce isn't my fault after all.
Lisa stayed the same, but I kept changing, kept wanting more from her
and my life and our marriage. She was content and I couldn't stop
pushing. I wanted more than she was willing to give. I wanted to
serve my country and make my friends proud, and I pushed for more. I
pushed my ideals into this marriage, and maybe when I was through,
there was no place left for my wife.
I'm feeling pensive as I walk through a late winter afternoon, too
full of my thoughts to manuever a car or even amble down the sidewalk
in a straight line, and I'm delving deep inside, back to a time when
I changed and Lisa didn't, and neither of us realized it. She was
content with the way things were, and I was continually trying to
change them and make them better. That extended past our marriage and
into other aspects of my life, and suddenly I was uprooting us and
moving us to DC to work for a man whose ideals I believed in even
more than my own.
I liked myself then. These days, not so much. These days I just ache
for something I can hold again. I'd like to have something that's
mine; something that isn't fear or heartache or regret. I want
something to wrap my fingers around. Something I don't have to fight
for, something I can just reach out and take.
I'm losing my ideals. I'm losing my hope. My marriage crumbled and it
took my entire outlook on life crashing down with it. With every day
that passes, I'm losing that grip, that hold on life that makes me,
me. It sounds ridiculous doesn't it?
Because it's been a month since my wife left me, and every day is a
struggle. I'm walking through the gray slush and the cold wind, and
I'm trying to figure out just when I changed back into the man who
preferred the tangible over his ideals, and how I can get back to the
man I liked being.