The finished letter lay on the desktop. Finally. He looked closely at it, realizing that it was splotched in places with errant tears that had refused to obey his command not to form or fall on the pages. He had spilled his inner most thoughts and feelings to the letter recipient, not caring what he wrote, swearing that he would never send it, but feeling relieved that he put all of his thoughts and emotions down on paper. He reached over and took another deep slug of the amber liquid in the glass on the desk. It had helped to let go; to let the liquor control his thoughts and actions, and finally...finally...let the command façade disappear. The recipient of the letter was the only person other than his wife who had seen him as he was - the person he really was. The one who hid behind the stubborn intransigency, the cool commander under fire, the daring ONI agent, and who put everyone before himself.
…and all I did, all it got me, was hurt in the worst way than I could ever imagine. I did the best that I could, to protect them all, and instead, I lost it all… all of it...because I couldn’t protect you, I lost you!
He took another slug of the liquid, and relished the burning warmth as it flowed into his body. He knew, knew well, that by the time that he finished the glass, he would be able to find some rest in the benumbed state that would enable him to stumble the few steps to the terribly empty bed, and slip into the welcoming arms of the black siren that beckoned, offering him escape from what he perceived as the emptiness of his life.
He stared at the picture on the desk, the piercing green eyes, alight with light and life, staring back at him, in a way, chastising him for the way he was feeling. He held the glass in a slightly tipsy toast, speaking to the picture in a slightly slurred voice.
Damnit! You know, Cats, this really sucks!
He lifted the picture, running long fingers over the outline of her face.…
Three years today, Cats! Three god-damned lonely years without you. They told me it would ‘get better’…well, it hasn’t! That it would ‘get easier’… It doesn’t. All it is, is one day after another, without you. When Robert's with Mom and I come home here, alone, all I want is to have you here, with me. To walk up the stairs, hand in hand, to our bedroom. I want to close the door, and take you to bed, and love you…and I can’t… and it’s all my fault. You died because of me. Oh, I know what the Admiral, and Chip, and Jamie have said. And Anne, well, you know all about her now, don’t you? She’s a special lady and a good person. I love her but not like I love you. And for some unknown reason to me, she loves me. It's funny, but, in a way, she’s one of my best friends. She knows it all. I can go to her, talk to her. She doesn’t judge, doesn’t make me feel like I’m saying or doing something wrong. And I can love her, and she loves me back, and I’m me. I’m ‘allowed’ to be me with her, like I was with you. Was with you…Oh, God, I hate this!!!! I really hate you being my past when I want you to be is my present and future. And I hate God for this. I hate Him as much as anyone can. He allowed it to happen. Allowed you to be stolen from me. And you, I miss you in the morning, at night, in the dark of the morning… on the boat, in my office, here, at home. I miss you where ever I am. Robert doesn’t know… and I hate that too… He never had the chance to know you …to love you…all he’ll ever know of you is from me and Mom. And the family we have here. But he won’t remember you, know you.'
His eyes rose and slowly scanned the empty room.
I told Anne, the worst of this is that I'm so damn lonely. Everyone here, but I’m alone in the middle of the crowd. So alone. You know, I never really realized that there was a difference between being alone and being lonely, but I know it now. Karen even tried to explain it to me, but I guess I just didn't want to listen to her. Now, I finally understand what she was saying.
He sat back in the chair and fingered the glass in his hand.
I miss all the things that we did, that we didn’t do, but most of all, the things we took for granted. Cats, you know how you would tease me about my hair, especially after I’d shower…how it curled, and what a fight I had to get it the way I wanted it? And you remember how you used to fuss at the knot of the tie, just to get it right, before I left for the office or the boat? And so many times, how you would tease me about the boat, ‘my first love’. God, Cats, I miss all that… and so much more. I miss you singing to Robert in the middle of the night, when he couldn’t sleep… I’d lay there in bed, listening to you with him. Part of me wanted to be with the two of you, but I also wanted him to know you, alone, in that special way that a child knows their mother. Now I wish I was with you more when the two of you were together like that. I try and spend time with him, like that, when he can’t sleep. But Lord knows, I can’t sing. You know I’m tone deaf, and while it’s a wonderful time with him, I’m not you and no one can replace that.’
He shook his head, blearily looking at the papers on the desk beneath the letter. The news paper showed pictures of Cathy and him and the story of her death. He closed his eyes and he was once again in the ER of the Hospital, holding Robert, and then standing with Cathy, as she lay beneath the sheets. He could smell the flowers that overwhelmed the funeral home and the church. He could see the candles, smell the incense, and see the sea of faces that passed by him in the funeral home and the church. It was all a blur. He remembered bits and pieces of it, but his mind, now numbed by the liquor, pushed the memories back into deeper recesses. He picked up the picture from the desk, once again and began to shake, slightly. He slammed one fist down on the desk, and the hand holding the picture steadied.
Cathy Connors, I love you… I will always love you… and I will spend the rest of my days missing you in my life. No one can ever replace you, what we had, what we gave each other. Anne is my friend, I’ve told her all about you. I had to write to her tonight, to talk to her about you… about how I feel about you. I still feel about you…you are my love, my heart, you were my life…I know that Robert is here, and I love him, my son, our son. But he isn’t you… I lost you three years ago. There's a void in my life…Cats, if only you could come back.
He shook his head sadly, and slowly put the picture down. He rose somewhat unsteadily from the chair. Leaning over the desk, he took the letter, and put it in a folder, along with the newspaper clippings. Going to the file in his closet, he opened the drawer and put the folder in the far back of it. He closed the drawer, and shut the lights in the room, leaving only the desk light still burning. He went back to the desk, and tossed down the last of the drink, setting the glass on the blotter. He moved over to his bed, the queen sized bed that he had not changed since Cathy had married him. He stood beside it, shaking his head sadly. Finally, he drew off his robe, turned down the spread and sheet, and threw himself down on the bed. He rolled onto his side and lay quietly, tears streaming down his face, his sense of loss no less strong than they had been three years ago this night, until he finally fell asleep.
Many years later..........
Caitlin Davis Crane looked at the pile of ‘stuff’ in the middle of the den of her home. She was still reacquainting herself with her life after her encounter with William Ashcroft Judd. She had been hurt, terribly hurt, by the man who had wormed his way into the Institute in the guise of a businessman seeking Nelson’s help. He had attacked her, nearly raped her, and shot Lee.
She had reacted to the attack by reverting to childhood and it was several months before she had begun to heal, emotionally. It was almost four months before she was able to come back home. While she had been recovering, Lee had remodeled several rooms in the house, ones, including their bedroom, where the attack had taken place. The remodeling had been planned before the incident, but Lee had had it done while she was ‘away’ in order to ease her homecoming. It had been emotional and draining, but they were rebuilding their lives, and part of that was cleaning up the things that had been moved into the den from their room. Lee had several file cabinets in their closet with literally decades of personal papers that he gave her the unenviable job of cleaning out…
So here she sat, amidst the papers that comprised a good part of her husband’s life. There were papers from as long ago as his years at the Academy, carefully filed, numbered and put in place according to year and subject. Caitlin decided to keep them, for Robert, and whatever children that their son would have. These were the things that made Lee Crane the man he was…his grandchildren, whoever they may be, had a right to know him thru these papers. These and others that she continued to find. Caitlin carefully went through folder after folder of papers, finding the wedding invitation to Lee and Cathy Connors wedding, the birth announcement for Robert, and the invitation to R.C.’s Christening. Opening another folder, newspaper articles spread themselves before her. The articles about Cathy Connors Crane death fell from the folder. As Caitlin picked them off the floor, she also found something else… two sheets of a letter.
A letter, written in Lee’s handwriting, to someone named Anne. The edges of the paper were yellowed and some of the ink was blurred with what looked like tears. Linked as it was by the presence in the folder with the newspaper, Caitlin surmised it had something to do with Lee’s grieving about his loss of his first wife, but the question was...who was Anne? She searched her memories and could not remember anyone ever by that name in Lee’s life. She’d been at the Institute since she was 17 and she thought she knew pretty much everything about him and who he knew. But not in the almost 25 years she had been in Santa Barbara had he ever mentioned an Ann. She turned the letter over several times, and knowing that she wasn’t seeing something that Lee wanted to keep hidden, she moved to the chair, sat down to read the letter. Carefully, Caitlin took the two sheets and set them on her lap, took a deep breath and raised them to read...
I’m sitting here, at my desk, all alone and tonight, of all nights, I wish you lived closer to me, closer than halfway across the country. I know I could call, but I don’t want to bother you or your family. Yet, I need to talk to someone, I need to talk to you, so I’m going to write this down, and decide later if I want to send it to you.
So, Anne, only you really know and understand how I feel. You’ve been privy to all of my life, since that first stationing of mine on the Nautilus. That time feels like a lifetime ago, and in a real sense it is. Today… today my life ended. Three years ago today, the light in my life died.
Anne, I don’t’ want to deal with it any more… I don’t want to be alone, I don’t want to raise my son alone, I don’t want to make all the decisions about his life and mine, alone. I don’t want this!!! And I want the pain to stop. I don’t want to turn a corner and hope to see her, or have something happen, and go to call her to tell her about it, and then realize she isn’t there. I don’t want to be the odd man at a dinner that I ‘have’ to go to, or have my friends change the subject suddenly when I enter a conversation. Three years later, and I still feel that way. I still feel alone in a room of people. I still feel like I didn’t do anything to help Cathy. I was pompous, arrogant and so full of my self that I thought that I could do anything. Anything… I believed in the legend of Lee Crane, the myth that he was untouchable, that he could do anything,, that everyone around him was safe, because they were part of Lee Crane’s life. And what happened to Cathy proved that what I thought Lee Crane was, was a fraud. And three years later, I still am. Oh, Anne, I put on a good show, but I know what I am…
Me, the great Lee Crane couldn’t keep his wife safe. She died because I couldn’t’ keep those animals from killing her, and they killed her because of me…
I love her so much, I still do… I want her, here with me, all the time. The only time that I don’t want Cathy is when I’m too drunk to even think. That doesn’t happen a lot, trust me, and when it does, Robert is with my mother and there’s no one here. Like tonight. They’re in Providence, with Mom’s family. She’s been taking him back east for the last year, every couple of months. I think she wants him to know the places that she loves, and that’s fine with me. Gil flies them out and back, and stays nearby in case she needs him. It gives him a chance to see some of our family in Boston. He’ll never know his Mother, Anne. He’ll never know or remember how she loved him, how she cared for him. He won’t remember how she sang to him.
God, Anne, I hate this. I hate it so much! I’m doing all the things I ‘have’ to, because I have to do them, but I don’t want to. No one understands that. All I want to do, all I’ve wanted to do since she died is to lock myself up in a room, not get out of bed, and stay there and try to forget her, and I can’t do that. And I don’t see anyway that it’s going to change.
I know one thing, and that’s I’m not ever going to let that happen again. I’m done with love and loving. I have Robert, I’ll do my best for him, and I do love him, but that’s it. I have my friends here, and I have you, my friend. I’m not willing to give myself to anyone again. I’m not able to allow this kind of pain ever, ever again. I won’t allow it. As much as I hate being alone, it’s more being alone without Cathy that I hate. I was alone before her, I’ll be alone again without her in my life. I’m not going to let anyone in. Robert is here, my mother, you, those close to me… but I’m never going to give my heart to anyone again.
There, I’ve said it, and now that it’s in front of me in black and white, it looks like the right thing for me.
I’m sorry, my friend. I don’t want to burden you with my problems. I know that you have a life of your own. And you don’t need Lee Crane to interfere once again, as I’ve done so many times in the past. Thanks, Anne for being my friend. Thanks for putting up with me, and listening to me.
Caitlin put the letter back on her lap. Her heart was breaking for the man that wrote the letter. She remembered so vividly when Cathy had died and they all had known how badly hurt Lee was by her death. How he had become a man who cared nothing about himself, how the only person that he had shown any real feelings for was his son. Yet to read the intimate thoughts of her husband, written so long ago, simply tore at her soul.
She also knew the hard time she had had making him realize how she felt about him, the years that it took to make him look at her and see her as a woman in love with him, not as Harriman Nelson’s stepdaughter, who was ‘untouchable’ in his eyes. In spite of all their talks over the years, to read this gave her a new insight into her husband. And it also explained why he had been so upset, and so removed at times, since they had come back to the house. This man, that she loved beyond all things, was beating himself up again, because of Judd’s attack. He was blaming himself for not keeping her safe.
She sighed. It wasn't his fault. Why can't he see that?
And then she wondered. Who was this Anne person?
Lee Crane entered the house from the garage. He took his keys, hung them on the rack on the wall, and dropped his briefcase next to the door, and let his cover fall onto it. He heard the soft jazz playing on the stereo in the Great Room, and walked into it, seeking his wife.
“Caitlin?” He immediately became concerned, but then calmed himself. If she was in another part of the house, she might not hear him.
“Caitlin?” he called again, slightly louder.
“I'm in here, Lee.” He heard her response and followed her voice, “I’m here in the den.”
He walked through the foyer to the back of the house to the den/office that they maintained for both of their work. At the present, however, it was more used as a room for storage of items, found and unused since the renovation of the foyer, Great Room, and their bedroom. Caitlin had taken on the job of sifting through the things stored there since she had not been cleared to return to work. She wanted something to do. She wasn’t one to simply stay home and do nothing because to do so would drive her 'crazy', as she had pronounced to him.
Lee entered the room and found her sitting in the Queen Anne chair between the windows and piles of papers. The look on her face was unreadable. He moved to her, bent down and kissed her. She returned the kiss warmly, ending it with a gentle brushing of his face. He was puzzled.
Leaning against the desk, he crossed his arms on his chest, and asked, in a careful tone, “Well, what have you been doing in the midst of this pile of ‘stuff’? Should we go out and get an industrial shredder? I am, if you haven’t learned after all these years, a pack rat.”
She smiled softly at him. In his work khakis, leaning against the desk, he still looked the same to her as he had when she and her mother had moved into their apartment, in the Institute apartment building, 25 years ago. Oh, he was greyer, and now sported a well trimmed beard, but he was still the tall, slender Captain of the boat that she had fallen in love with. The warmth in those wonderful amber-hazel eyes of his spoke volumes of how he felt about her. She had to hope that she wasn’t about to damage it with the question she was about to ask him.
She held the letter in her hand and held it out to him. Softly, "This was in a folder, along with the newspaper articles about Cathy.”
He took the letter, recognizing it almost immediately. The color of his eyes changed and became dark, and guarded. She recognized his ‘duck and cover’ mode.
“I forgot about this." He sighed. "That wasn’t a good night. Mom had taken Robert to Providence for the weekend. She knew it was the anniversary of Cathy’s death and asked if she minded if she took Robert. I didn’t. At that point, I was grateful that she was going to be gone. So after listening to all the sympathies and ‘how are you doings?’ at work, I came home and got, to put it politely, lousy drunk. I was tired of it all. I was missing Cathy more then, I think than when she had just died. In one of my more ‘cognitive’ moments, I wrote this letter. I knew I would never mail it, but I didn’t want to destroy it, either. So I put it in the file cabinet and forgot about it. Honestly, the next morning, I couldn’t tell you what I had done the night before, much less remember that I had even written it. I guess I should have destroyed it, but I really did forget about it.”
“Lee,” Caitlin paused, “Who’s Anne?”
He sighed again, this time a bit heavily. “A friend. A long time friend. She…she, ah, listened to me a lot in the early days. I’ve known her since I was stationed on the Nautilus. We dated for a while but we knew that we each had our own lives to pursue. We stayed friends. The last time I talked to her was right after you and I started to see one another… after I had recovered from the shooting. I called her to tell her all about you,” and he grinned at her, “and about how stupid I'd been for too many years not to recognize how much you loved me, and how much I loved you. She, ah, actually chastised me about it. Said that it was obvious from the way I talked about you that I was in love with you. That if I felt that way, then I needed to get off my butt and do something about it. Anyway, that was the last time we talked.” He bent down, and pulled her into a close embrace, dropping the letter to the floor. “I love you, Little Girl. Only you. Don't ever doubt that for a second.”
Caitlin drew herself closer to his body. She felt the beating of his heart, listened to his breathing, felt his arms enfold and embrace her and decided to let the questions she still had about Anne lie. She was the one who held Lee’s heart, and certain of that, there was no need for her to open old wounds, and find new hurt. They had both been hurt enough. There was no need for more. No, Anne and the letter could stay in the file or be thrown away. It was up to Lee. She wouldn’t bring it up again.
Later during the night, Lee went back into the den around 2 am. Caitlin was asleep but he had been unable to find the key to sleep. He came down here, looking for the letter. It had brought back a lot of memories of that time, the time before and the times after. He realized now how selfish he had been in his grief and how single-minded in his dealings with it. Caitlin had helped him realize that, and he was thankful for her presence in his life everyday. He’d almost lost her in the attack by Judd, and since they had both recovered, and were recovering still in some ways, one of the things he had decided to do was to put the past in the past.
He picked up the letter and reread it, recognizing the person that had written it but not wanting to be him ever again. That Lee Crane was very different from the Lee Crane reading this letter now. He still had Anne’s phone number and address, she still sent him Cards at Christmas, with the pictures of her family, and a note to say she hoped he was having a good life. He never answered, but he knew she didn’t expect that. She was happy. She had been a good friend, their lovemaking had been something both had found satisfaction in, but the both of them had known that they were not meant to be together. He had almost called her when Caitlin had been so ill, so far from him, but he didn’t, knowing that it would not be good for either one of them. He had been able to answer Caitlin in complete truth - that the last time they’d spoken was when he had first started seeing Caitlin. Perhaps, someday, he would again. Not in the near future, however. His future was with Caitlin. Anne was his past. She would stay there, along with Cathy, and all the others that had come through his life. The past would remain in the past because that’s where it belonged.
He took the letter, crumpled it, and tossed it into the waste basket. He walked out of the room, up the stairs to the bedroom where his wife was. He had way too much to live for in the present and future. The past definitely belonged there. Caitlin was his here and now…
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