May 1977
Jack Fenelli: A Broken Man Gives Up On Love
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Shutting out the pain means turning his back on Mary


Jack Fenelli’s mouth was clamped shut. Tight, sullen lines etched even deeper the furrows that scored his face whenever he quarrelled with his wife Mary. His fists clenched and unclenched as he mentally stoked the anger that always burned after one of their rows.

As he lay in his bed, Jack pulled the covers up around him, burying himself deeper into his pillow and his resentments. When he was in Riverside Hospital recovering from his auto injuries, Jack had disciplined his mind to overcome the pain that tore his body apart. He’d slip into a reverie, a floating trip that took him far away from suffering. But what he endured now was far worse and no amount of concentration could release him from his lonely torment. He would have gladly traded any amount of physical laceration for just one second of emotional calm.

But how could he heal himself? How could he sort out his problems? Everytime he relaxed, noisy Ryan chatter would filter up from the bar below, reminding him again that Mary was down there, pouring out the problems of their marriage to her family and being consoled. But who would console Jack? All he could hear was his conscience taunting him, “I told you so!” Besides, how could he be comforted when he opened his eyes and saw the sad, empty bed across from him where Mary should be now instead of running to her father. All Jack could do in the little cell-like bedroom was try to make sense of the tragedy his life had become.

Mary and Jack had fought each other from the day they met but somehow marriage had turned their sparrings into an excuse for lovemaking, so the bickering became exciting. But the auto accident changed all that. It damaged Jack’s body, but worse, it had begun to destroy his spirit. A prisoner of his wheelchair and his exhausted bank account, Jack grudgingly agreed to recuperate in his father-in-law’s home, a move he was convinced would drive him crazy.

Then the news of Mary’s pregnancy rocked their marriage almost to the breaking point and Jack began seeing plots against him everywhere. He was convinced the pregnancy was deliberate, that Mary had secretly abandoned birth control even though they’d quarrelled bitterly because he didn’t want children yet. But leave it to Johnny Ryan, whom Jack despised more vehemently with every passing day, to deliver the most crushing blow. Eavesdropping on his daughter and Jack as they battled over their unborn baby, the Ryans, and the whole range of disappointments that threatened their marriage, he could take it no longer. Bursting in, he yelled at Jack that he was selfish, ungrateful, completely self-centered and that he should be grateful Mary would have his baby—it was probably the only child he’d ever have!

Stunned, Jack demanded an explanation and, as Mary gently told him the truth about his impotence, his black mood increased. Convinced he’d been a laughing stock and demolished that he might never make love, Jack lashed out at Mary again. When she summoned Dr. Alex McLean to explain the possibilities of an operation to restore the blood supply to his lower abdomen and make sex possible, Jack believed the plot against him was thickening. What was once the rational mind of an ace reporter suddenly became a hotbed of suspicion and paranoia. He fantasized that Alex had saved his life with surgery more radical than was necessary.

His manhood gone, his pride soon followed and Jack’s accusatory outbursts echoed noisily through the apartment; When Mary sought out Alex again for advice, Jack intimated she had a physical interest in his old Vietnam War buddy. And when Mary and Alex were trapped in his backwoods farmhouse by an unforecasted blizzard, Jack imagined all sorts of romantic entanglements between them. Maeve’s mild chastisement calmed him at first but his hatefulness returned when he telephoned Mary at the snowbound farm and couldn’t get through because the lines were down. He became convinced the whole thing was a set-up.

It was Johnny Ryan who first mentioned annulment. He lost his temper again and urged them to put an end to the misery of their marriage. Over and over Mary begged Jack to hang on until surgery could correct his impotence. She pleaded with him to believe that if he accepted their child then love would follow but Jack could only hang his head. He called Father McShane to find out what the Church required to dissolve the marriage and instructed him to proceed on the very formidable grounds that the marriage was a fraud because he had never wanted children.

No entreaties could change Jack’s mind. Even when Mary crawled into bed with him and told him over and over again how much she loved him, Jack pulled away from her as he always did. Not even his old friend Jumbo whom he’d summoned to take him downtown to his own apartment could change his mind. Jack couldn’t trust his buddy, even though Jumbo always talked straight to Jack and told him loudly he was making a terrible mistake.

Alone, withdrawn from life, there is nothing left for Jack but self-hatred. Nobody ever taught Jack when he was growing up that it was okay to feel love and need and longing. Those were weaknesses that could give you pains that would last forever, so he turned his heart into a fortress. Loving Mary was the closest he’d ever come to truly feeling and it scared the hell out of him. She loved him in return, she wanted to share everything, especially her family, with him. But Jack wasn’t equipped for the Ryans who wore their emotions on their sleeves and bandied about anger and love and truth like Jack used words in news stories. Like a baby first venturing out on his own, Jack had to take tiny steps to emotional freedom, but Mary thought reassuring words were enough to do the trick. Jack knew it would take more. Much more. It would take a miracle. And Jack had given up on miracles, the very moment he’d given up on love.

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