Best of Both Worlds
Thomas Calabrese — Bill Gault was an Oceanside Police Officer and a single father. His wife, Katie passed away unexpectedly in 2012 from a pulmonary embolism. Usually there are symptoms associated with this medical condition like indigestion, leg pain or shortness of breath, but Katie experienced none of these. She had attended a Pilates class that afternoon and felt unusually fatigued and laid down on the couch when she got home. When her 10-year son, John Travis or J.T. as he was called, returned from school, he found his mother dead.
Five years later, Sergeant Bill Gault was on patrol when he received a radio call that there was a 215 (bank robbery) at the Wells Fargo branch on West Vista Way in Oceanside. He responded. “Two Bravo Ten, responding to 215.”
The three heavily armed robbers had entered through the front door, each one was wearing body armor and carrying an automatic weapon. They had an inside contact at the Wells Fargo main office who told them about a shipment of three million dollars in various denominations that was being transferred to the bank. It was being held for an unknown billionaire who requested the money for personal use. That use was for a high stakes poker game on a super-yacht off the coast of Oceanside.
Bill was the first police officer to arrive on site and his car was riddled with armor piercing bullets. Although critically wounded, Bill Gault still found the strength to engage the robbers until reinforcements and a SWAT team arrived. After a violent gun battle in which two more police officers were wounded and six police cruisers were destroyed, the three robbers were killed. Bill Gault was rushed to Tri-City Medical Center where he died on the operating table.
J.T. was fifteen at the time of his father’s death. If a Police Officer is killed in the line of duty, the surviving spouse or surviving handicapped child if there is no surviving spouse may elect to receive a benefit of 662/3 % of the member’s regular salary at the time of death. Since J.T. wasn’t handicapped, he wasn’t eligible for his father’s pension, but police officers are provided employer-sponsored life insurance policies with a death benefit of 3 to 4 times their annual income.
The Gault home was located in the Vista San Luis Rey housing area near El Camino High School. Bill Gault had recently re-financed the property to make some renovations and there was a mortgage of $150,000. The Tunnel 2 Towers Charity paid off the mortgage. Being a minor, J.T. was not legally allowed to live alone. His Uncle Mike, on his father’s side lived in Durham, North Carolina and J.T. did not want to move across country. His father’s parents lived in a senior community in Coral Gables, Florida, both were not in the best of health so that was not an option either.
Katie’s parents and brother lived in San Mateo, in the Bay Area and their progressive politics and liberal point of view were in direct conflict with Bill Gault, a dedicated law enforcement officer. In fact when Katie visited her parents. Bill stayed behind to avoid a heated confrontation. When J.T. went with his mother on one occasion, his Uncle Leland went into an alcohol- induced rant about the failures and unfairness of the current legal system and the defective training of the police that got much too personal for the boy.
J.T. did his best to control his temper, but felt compelled to respond. “I say this with no respect and just a minimum of courtesy, Uncle Leland, you’re not just an idiot, but an arrogant idiot. My father does more to help people in one day on the job than you have done in your entire life. When people are in trouble, who are they going to call?…you…yeah right. I’m proud of my dad and when you insult when he does…you’re insulting me. I’m outta’ here.”
The visit was cut short and J.T. and Katie never spoke to her brother again. She only communicated with her parents by phone on holidays and special occasions. There was no way that J.T. would ever go live with them, even if they would take him. They did not even attend the funeral of Bill Gault who was buried at Eternal Hills Cemetery.
There had to be a solution for J.T. to stay in the home that he was raised in. After the burial, his father’s fellow officers took turns staying at the house, but something more permanent was required.
Captain Jim Malloy was scheduled to stay at Gault house with his wife Angie. While they were having dinner, Jim said. “What do you think of Officer Tan and his wife?”
“I like them…why?” J.T. asked.
Jim started off with this warning. “This is between you and me, so promise not to say anything?”
“Officer Tan was renting a house and the landlord is selling it and they have to move.” Jim said. “I was thinking that they need a place to live and you’re too young to live alone. You would be helping each other out. What do you think?”
J.T. thought for a moment. “Sounds good…what do you need me to do?”
“Nothing…I’ll discuss it with him and come up with a reasonable price for rent. “
“I don’t want to charge him anything…that doesn’t seem right,” J.T. protested.
“Officer Tan isn’t looking for charity. You’re going to have expenses and taxes if you stay here. A lot of landlords have bank accounts to take care of their properties,” Jim said
“I already have money…I don’t need any more,” J.T. replied.
“You ever heard the saying ‘If I had known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of my money?’ That money is for your future and you need to be responsible with it. Your father and I discussed various options if something happened to him. I gave him my word that I would do my best to look out for you …don’t make a liar out of me.”
Victor Tan and his wife moved into the Gault home and the paperwork was filed with the county for them to become J.T. legal guardians. They were more than happy to pay $1500 dollars in rent for the spacious four-bedroom home in a quiet neighborhood.
Oceanside had relaxed some building requirements for the construction of an accessory dwelling or ‘granny flat’ as they were often called for property owners because of the high price of rent and limited availability of rental units in the area. A 900 square building was constructed in the back of the Gault home and J.T .moved in, allowing the Tan family to have the main house. This gave them both some privacy. The Tan family were excellent surrogate parents to the young teenager and provided a stable and supportive home environment. J.T. grew into a responsible young man with a strong character and an awareness of who he was and what he wanted to be in his life.
After graduation from El Camino High School, John Travis Gault enlisted in the Marine Corps. After finishing his training to become a Military Police Officer, J.T. was stationed at Camp Pendleton for his first year in the Marines. During his second deployment to Afghanistan, Sergeant Gault was at a checkpoint in the Helmand Province when they were attacked by Taliban fighters. The Marines were outnumbered four to one and were about to be overrun.
Bullets riddled their position and there was only one option. J.T. turned to Corporal Jerry Mondello. “Get out of here…I’ll cover you.” When Corporal Mondello hesitated, J.T. was much more forceful. “That’s an order …move!”
The three Marines jumped in the Humvee and raced out of harm’s way. J.T. provided cover fire until he was out of ammunition. He was taken captive and badly beaten by the Taliban fighters. For three years, J.T. was held in a cave complex in the Hindu Kush Mountain Range area. He was only kept alive because the Taliban thought he could be used as a bargaining chip. The isolation was as tough on him mentally as the lack of proper nutrition was on him physically. When J.T. didn’t think he could make it, he thought of his father and what he would do if he was in the same situation and that gave him strength to face another day.
A team of Delta Force operatives happened to be conducting a mission in the area, unaware that Sergeant Gault was being held nearby. After a firefight with the Taliban, Delta operatives entered the cave complex looking for actionable Intel and found the Marine locked inside a cage.
One of the Delta Force operatives asked. “Who are you?”
J.T. identified himself and he was taken out of the cage. A medic quickly examined him and treated some of J.T.’s minor wounds and commented. “That’s the best I can do for now….can you walk?”
J.T. replied. “They gave a little exercise every so often. I’m a little unsteady, but if you lead, I’ll do my best to keep up. Like they say, happiness will be this place in my rearview mirror.”
The team of Delta Force operatives engaged another group of Taliban fighters on the way back to the extraction point. J.T. turned to one of his rescuers and said. “The good news is that you found me… the bad news is that I caught one.” J.T. had taken a round to the right side of his chest. A medic was responded and superb combat medical skills saved J.T.’s life.
It was good to be back in sunny California, J.T. thought. The Marine Corps gave him a medical discharge and he began receiving treatment at the Veteran Administration Clinic on Rancho Del Oro. His primary care physician, Doctor Phillip Ashby recommended counseling.
“I’m fine…I don’t need it.” J.T. replied.
Doctor Ashby smiled. “Catch 22 is when anybody requesting a psychological evaluation demonstrates his own sanity in creating the request and thus cannot be declared insane. In your case, you may have Catch -23, which means that the fact that you don’t want counseling may be the reason that you might need it.”
“How can I argue with that…sign me up.”
Michelle Kim had a Master’s Degree in Psychology with an emphasis on counseling. She had only been working for the Veteran Administration for nine months. She was an Asia-American woman and just turned 26 years old, the same age as J.T. She was attractive, athletic, charismatic and empathetic. Michelle’s father and brother both served in the Armed Forces and that was one of the reasons that she applied to be a counselor with the Veterans Administration.
The first three sessions between Michelle and J.T. were very formal. Michelle asked a series of standard questions and J.T. answered in short and concise sentences. He never volunteered any information and was very guarded about his feelings.
Michelle asked. “Have you ever heard about a sensory deprivation tank?”
“Can’t say that I have,” J.T. answered.
“A sensory deprivation tank, also known as a flotation tank or isolation tank, provides restricted environmental stimulation therapy (REST). A person experiences minimal sensory stimulation when inside the tank, allowing them to relax. The tank contains enough water for the person entering it to float on their back in a type of suspended animation. Would you be interested in trying it?”
Two days later, J.T. entered the tank filled with salt water to a depth of 16 inches and with the temperature of 98 degrees and pulled the lid down. It was completely dark and there was no sound. As J.T. floated on his back, he began to hallucinate. He was back in Afghanistan and locked away in the cage.
Michelle walked in and said, “So this is where they kept you. Now I have a better idea what you went through.”
“How did you get here?”
Michelle replied, “This is a hallucination …anything is possible.”
“Yours or mine?” J.T. asked.
“Both.” Michelle answered.
At the precise time that J.T. opened up the lid from the tank, Michelle realized that she had dozed off at her desk.
At their next meeting, J.T. and Michelle knew something was different. Every time they made eye contact, they quickly turned away. Michelle finally asked. “Did the tank help?”
J.T. quickly replied, “Absolutely…can I get some more sessions? If the VA won’t pay for them, I will.”
“I’ll request five more sessions and we’ll evaluate after that.”
Doing the next session, J.T. and Michelle were rock climbing side by side up a sheer mountainside. Michelle commented, “I always wanted to do this…thanks for coming with me.”
J.T. smiled. “My pleasure.”
When they reached the top of the mountain, they were above the clouds. Michelle dove off the edge and disappeared. J.T. frantically looked around for a couple seconds before Michelle poked her head out from the cloud. “It’s a hallucination…let’s go!”
J.T. did a triple somersault off the mountaintop and landed next to Michelle. They dived to earth and skimmed over the treetops, jubilant and joyful and bursting with unbridled freedom.
During his next session in the tank, J.T. and Michelle were swimming side by side with the dolphins, leaping out of the water and diving beneath the surface to an underwater paradise. Their next shared dream was in Africa and running with the cheetahs across the Serengeti Plains.
Things calmed down during their next hallucination. They were sharing a moonlight dinner on the deck of a superyacht cruising off the coast of Southern France. Shooting stars illuminated the skies. Michelle proposed a toast. “To a great evening.”
J.T. responded. “How long can we keep meeting like this?”
“Forever if I had my way.”
“The thing about dreams is that reality seldom measures up to them,” J.T. philosophized.
Michelle brought up the subject that both of them had been avoiding. “We’re due to meet next Tuesday…should we discuss this at that time?”
“You’re the counselor, I’m the patient, it’s your call,” J.T. said.
Michelle leaned over and kissed J.T. and fireworks filled the sky.
J.T. was sitting at the table in his small house with the door open when Amy Tan walked up and asked. “You’re not busy, are you?”
J.T. smiled. “Never too busy for you…what’s up?”
“Victor and I haven’t seen much of you lately…are you alright?” Amy asked.
“Never better… I’m sorry if it seems like I’ve been ignoring you, it hasn’t been intentional. I’ll try to be aware in the future. I guess I’ve had other things on my mind,” J.T. replied.
“Just remember that we care about you. Join us for dinner when you feel like it. We miss your company.” Amy said.
“I will…thanks for everything.” J.T said.
J.T. and Michelle were jet skiing off the coast of Oceanside and after they finished, they went to the Carte Blanche Bistro for a late lunch.
J.T. commented. “Are you having a good time?”
“Spectacular!” Michelle responded, “I’ve never been happier in my entire life.”
“Should we take the chance that we won’t enjoy each other’s company in real life as much as when we’re hallucinating together?” J.T. asked.
“What happens if it destroys what we have right now? We have a very strange relationship and who knows how fragile it is. I don’t know if I have the courage to take that risk,” Michelle was obviously apprehensive.
J.T. picked up a sharp knife off the table and poked his finger so that it began to bleed. “Put your hand out.” Michelle complied and J.T. poked her finger and when it began to bleed, he put his finger against hers. “Now we share blood as well.”
At their next counseling session, they just sat there in silence, their eyes locked in on each other.
Three months later, J.T. and Michelle were having dinner with Victor and Amy Tan in the main house. Amy had prepared shrimp stir fry with a dessert of pineapple upside down cake. The mood was lighthearted and festive, and when they were finished, J.T. and Michelle had a short walk to the guest house in the backyard. There was another small structure next to it. The couple walked inside and opened the lids to their individual sensory deprivation tanks.
Michelle commented with a sly grin. “Let’s Rendezvous in our dream.”
“Until we meet again.” J.T. replied.
When they saw each other again, they were kitesurfing over Diani Beach on the Indian Ocean. This area is located 25 miles south of Mombasa, Kenya and is considered the best beach in Africa, and among the best in the world. From their aerial view, J.T. and Michelle could see the magnificent multi-colored coral reef beneath the crystal clear water. Off to the left, distinctively colored black-and-white monkeys were swinging through the trees on the Shimba Hills National Wildlife Reserve which was next to the white sands.
J.T. and Michelle had taken a significant risk at losing what they had by choosing to see if the intensity and excitement of their joint fantasy would transcend to reality. Their love and courage was rewarded with the best of both worlds.
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance
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