The Three Door Problem
Christmas Eve, 1997
Lone Gunmen Headquarters
I am watching Langly out of the corner of my eye, spying on him
actually. I am still waiting for him to leave or at least to make
some indication of what he is planning on doing for the rest of
the evening. I should have better things to do with my time than
to watch over someone who is hell-bent on destroying his life, but
then I really don't have anything else in mind. So who *is* the
more pathetic one here?
I look down at my watch. 4:23PM. I do have somewhere I could be.
If Langly would just leave . . .
No, wait, I should just take him with me. Gets him out of
the office for the night, and I can find out how he plans on
spending the next day or two. Wait a minute; why should I have
to concern myself with his well-being? I've told myself - I've
told him - that I would not keep doing this. I won't be his
Jesus, Frohike, you know that you're never going to give up on
Let's get this over with. I cross the office and grab both our
jackets. "Come on, Langly, we're leaving. Now. I'm locking up,
and we're going home. It's Christmas Eve."
Langly makes a lame attempt to catch the jacket that I throw in
his direction and nearly lets it drop to the floor. "I don't
really want to go home."
"Good. Then you can tag along with me."
He looks at me over the rim of his glasses and through those
bangs. "And just where are you going?"
"Does it matter? Come on, it'll be fun."
Langly sighs under his breath. I know that he thinks that I am
leading him towards another little 'lesson', another showcase of
'this could be me'. But he is going with me anyway. He really
doesn't have a choice. Given the option of being alone or being
with me, he'll follow me through hell rather than sit there by
himself. It's definately not a good sign when you are so paranoid
that you can't even trust yourself.
x x x x x x x
The building that we occupy sits in the middle of a run-down area
of town, surrounded by similar looking warehouses. But less than
a few blocks away, the life of the Outside World begins to creep
in. Some stores, parking lots, a dance club, all make their mark.
The area is nearly deserted; it is, after all, nearly sunset on
Christmas Eve, where the regular people who have family waiting
for them are scurrying home to nestle with the warmth of the
hearth and the familiarity of togetherness. So here we are,
Langly and I, who have very little else in this world except this
mutual tug-of-war relationship, silently walking towards wherever.
We turn the corner and walk around several small gatherings on the
sidewalk. Children, grownups. All ages, all sizes. Music,
talking, singing - signs of civilization are ahead. Open wooden
doors decorated with wreaths through which travel a steady stream
of the general public.
I begin to climb the steps to the church. "This way."
Langly begins to back away. "Uh, uh. No way. Don't pull this
religion crap on me, Frohike. It's not going to work."
We are beginning to attract some unwanted attention, so I retreat
back down the stairs and tug on his jacket. "We're not here as
regulars, and we're not going to be converted. It's an open
service, see? The real service doesn't start until 11:30, and
we'll be long gone by then."
"I don't like this. I don't like any of it."
"No one is going to be doing any preaching at us. It's just a
nice quiet way to spend a Christmas Eve. Just trust me, OK?"
We enter the vestibule, Langly several steps behind me, and head
for the pews. I take a paper-folded program being offered by what
appeared to be members of the church youth group and motion for
Langly to do the same.
Langly watches me start walking down the closest aisle. "Isn't
there usually, like, water here?"
I shake my head. "This isn't a Catholic church. It's High
Episcopal. We don't do that."
"We?" Langly questioned.
I wave it off and signal for him to follow me into an empty side
pew. I head for the far end, away from the aisle and next to the
line of stain-glass windows. I take my time removing my jacket
and watch Langly follow me cautiously and looking around as if
somehow, just by setting foot in the place, he might be struck by
lightning at any moment.
One of the organists in the loft above was finishing up a
particularly robust rendition of 'Ode to Joy'. Only the really
talented have the knack for pulling this off. There should be no
pauses, no wrong notes hit, in this particular composition. It is
really a pity that too many try this piece without a lot of
practice, but this one is not too bad.
This is a large church, probably could hold 500 people easily.
There are a number of small children running up and down the aisles;
general mischief, no screaming or crying, but adding to the noise
factor. Several children's choirs occupy the front rows -
apparently they are next on the schedule as I look over the
program. They are usually the more entertaining.
Langly leaned over and whispered, "You still haven't answered my
"I grew up in the Episcopal Church. Altar boy and acolyte."
Langly actually broke into a smile and nearly choked trying not to
laugh out loud. "Altar boy? Melvin, the altar boy? Oh, please
tell me that your parents took pictures."
"It was the '50s and '60s. An age of innocence. And it was a
*long* time ago." I turn halfway to face Langly. "So, I take it
that you grew up Catholic. Your baptism must have been one hell
of a riot, Ringo."
"They still gave me a saint's name for a middle name. Their one
concession." Langly looked up at all the surrounding stain glass.
"Looks an awful lot like the church I used to go to."
"Episcopal is somewhat similar. Like they say: It's
Catholic-Lite. All of the pageantry with half the guilt."
Towards the front of the church, the children's choirs began to
assemble and burst into 'Away in a Manger'. Some of them had
gotten bold with the attention, some shied away to the back rows.
I make a motion to Langly to be quiet and settle back in the pew,
folding my arms across my chest and watching the children.
Christmas had long since ceased to be a meaningful holiday for me,
but one part of it had remained unblemished: the children.
Christmas wasn't for adults or the retail industry or for the
advertisers - it was for the children. How innocent they all are,
all seemed to be. Just let it last. Whatever god there may be
out there, just let it last a very long time for them.
I glance over at Langly during a pause in the singing. He has the
expression of someone who is confused as to where he is. Langly
is staring at the front part of the church, not at anything in
particular, but he's just staring. He begins to shiver, as if
cold. Is this withdrawal or just plain despair?
He has that look in his face, that same expression as when I went
back to his apartment the day after we bailed him out of jail. So
many promises were made that day, and I am so afraid that many of
them will be broken before the year is out. He kept calling me
'Melvin', something he has never done before - not even in jest.
And I hear him call Byers 'Jeff'. This is too weird. The fragile
gaze of his eyes, reddened by an evening's fitful sleep, was in
contrast with the lines that should have been on the face of a man
ten years older. It all looked too empty for him; his face
mirrored the hopelessness of his future as he promised, pleaded,
begged that following morning in that living room. 'Don't quit on
me yet', he had whispered, 'I need a reason to keep trying'.
Even now, sitting quietly beside me, Langly continues to worry me.
His right knee is nervously jumping up and down, like someone who
is absentmindedly doing it out of habit.
I lean over a bit. "Are you OK?"
Langly stares down at his beat-up Converses. "Frohike, how did
you . . . I mean, what made you . . ." He struggles to find the
right words. His right leg is shaking so bad that he has to place
one foot on top of the other to make it stop. "Why did you stop
him; why did you try to stop Marshall?"
A question I have asked myself several thousand times. I find
that I still have no answer and whisper, "I don't know."
"I mean, you could have been hurt. You could have been the one
shot . . . or killed." Langly looks over at me. "Why?"
"I don't know what happened. I saw the gun and thought 'There has
to be another way'." I slump further down in the pew. "Now, when
I see him, I know that I should not have interfered. What's
better for him and his family - being dead or locked up in some
insane asylum? I just don't know how someone gets to that point
of actually ending it." I close my eyes, trying to block out that
scene in that office and hang my head. "It's not important
anymore. I try not to think about it."
"Do you . . . did you . . . ever think about ending it?"
I suddenly awake and straighten up. I struggle to remain calm and
hope that I am not frightening Langly with my stare. Should I
answer truthfully or lie through my teeth? Perhaps a combination
would be best, under the circumstances. "Think about it? Yes.
Come anywhere close to doing anything about it? No."
"Why? Why stop? If things are so bad . . ."
"They are *never* that bad." The volume level of my reply nearly
matches that of the choir up front. I avoid the stares of those
few who have turned in the direction of the noise. "Langly, it
never gets *that* bad. Never. Do you hear me?"
"That's easy for you to say. You don't know . . ."
I interrupt him. "Oh, yeah, right. *I* don't know. Nobody but
*you* suffers in this world." I could let go with a few choice
words, but then I realize where I am and lower my voice. "Jesus
Christ, Langly, we all go through bad stretches of time. You do;
I do. Byers - Christ - Byers lost a kid and a wife. Beats my
demons by miles. You don't think that he hasn't considered
checking out? Well, I know that he has. But you know what kept
him going? Tonight. With Becca."
Langly looked up, puzzled.
I continue to explain. "Not Rebecca herself, but the knowledge
that there would be someone, someone like Rebecca, out there. Not
right away but in the future, there would be someone else for him.
And they found each other. And tonight, they're together and
somehow, I don't think that he regrets going on at all."
"And what worked for you?" Langly questioned.
He may be confused as hell and at a rock-bottom point in his life,
but he doesn't miss much, does he? "Fear," I reply. "Fear of the
unknown. Here, doing what we do; at least I have some control.
I know what my life is like - it ain't pretty, and sometimes, I
feel like I'm suffocating, but . . . I could not . . . will not
voluntarily . . . end it. If there is nothing after this life,
why bother? As long as I've got something to do, someplace to be
. . ." And someone who needs me. I can't leave now - who will
take care of you? I sigh and shake my head. "Everyone goes
through this to some degree. You are not the only one with
problems. You need to drink or think that you need to. Why you
do it, I don't know. I can't figure it out. But that's not my
problem. It's yours to deal with. I can't help you with this. I
can't give you any answers because my answers don't fit your
Langly leaned forward and placed his head in his hands. "It's
just so hard some days. I can't explain it. I panic, and then I
reach for the first thing . . . I don't know why . . ." He begins
to softly cry.
This refrain that he keeps singing sounds so familiar. And all I
can do is to reach out and rub his back. I know. I know exactly
what you're going through, Langly. We all play 'Let's Make a
Deal' with our subconscious imitating Monty Hall. Which door do
we choose? Should we keep what has been handed to us or try for
some unknown behind a variety of closed doors? What sort of
twisted mind created this game of video Russian Roulette? And does
anyone really win?
Langly suddenly sits upright, as if with some flash of insight, and
makes preparations to leave me. I have to ask what I should not but
can't prevent myself from wondering. But Langly beats me to the
punch, "I'm heading home now. I'll be OK."
"Don't you have a sister still in the area?" I ask. "Can I drop you
off at her place?"
"No," Langly replies, as he searches for his car keys. "She won't
be home on Christmas Eve. Never is. I'll call her tomorrow or
something." He stares back at me, as if anticipating the next round
of questions. "And I am going straight home. Bars are closed,
remember? And you and Byers did clean out my stashes."
Langly turns to leave and stops to look back at me. "I just want to
say . . . thanks . . . for not letting me give up so easily. You can
keep smacking me around, trying to knock some sense into me, just as
long as you don't forget to use that hand to help me back up again."
And he flashes that smirk I had forgotten used to permanently
reside on that face years ago.
I follow his slow exit down the pew and up the aisle. And I wonder if he
really is going to be all right. I look back up at the faces of the
children in the choir and repeat my earlier prayer. Just let them
stay innocent a while longer. And keep them all from harm.
Especially, dear lord, the child walking out these doors tonight.