Posted on Sunday, 16 November 2003, at 2:14 p.m.
This is a companion piece to 'The Rat Race', and is basically the BioWorld story from Bingley's point of view. Enjoy! Tam :)
'Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom.' General George S. Patton.
Whenever I think of my friends, I think of Buzz and Woody singing. You know, that song from the movie? Really shows my education level, doesn't it? I mean, no Shakespeare, Byron or even Ralph Waldo Emerson! Just plain old Buzz and Woody. But I suppose it says something about how I see the world.
To me, things are simple. Not black-and-white exactly, but a clear, bright hue, like the blue of the summer sky, or the gold of the savannah at sunset. If William were to read this, he would say my analogies speak volumes about my personality. No, he's not some new-age psychologist, however much of a chronic over-analyst he is. He's the Woody to my Buzz. Or the Buzz to my Woody. Or maybe he's my Mr Potato Head?
Forget it, it's just too confusing for my little brain. So let me go back and start again.
My name is Charles Bingley and I'm an accountant. And no, that's not meant to be like a confession, merely a statement of my profession. And my Buzz, or Woody, or Mr Potato Head, or whatever, is my best mate William Darcy. (I have yet to figure out why he, of all people, inspires renditions of kids' songs, but whenever I do, I'll let you know.)
I suppose this story starts when I went to work for him. We had been friends long before that, since our university days, but this story only picks up when I joined his staff. He founded a company called BioWorld, which basically caters to the equipment needs of the medical community. I won't go into details of how I came to work for him, since we really don't want to be here all day, it's enough to say that I did. And likewise I'll limit the pre-BioWorld history to this: I started an accounting firm with my sister Caroline, which was moderately successful until Caroline started becoming elitist with the clients we took on. Eventually I became thoroughly fed-up with her nonsense, and I told her it was time we parted ways. So when Will asked me if I would be willing to move to BioWorld, I was ready and waiting.
And it was then that the drama began. It really all started innocently enough. Will had hired Elizabeth Bennet, a trained ICU nurse with a business degree, to run the financial side of things. With her sister Jane, BioWorld's Public Relations Officer, they whipped the business into shape in no time. Well, Will and I did have a little bit to do with our resounding success, but most of the credit goes to the ladies (just don't tell Will I said that!) Suddenly we were becoming successful.
And not only were we becoming successful, but we were having fun doing it. Those dreary 'executive' meetings became a blast. Jane would bake cookies, Elizabeth would make salad, and Will and I would supply pizza or pasta, depending on who was buying (if it was me, it was pasta for Jane, and if it was Will, it was pizza for Elizabeth.) We would spend meetings throwing little bits of paper at each other (with the result that we emerged looking as if we had been in a snowstorm, but never mind.) Just for the heck of it, we produced splints in psychedelic colours, and wheelchairs with hand-painted backs. And we just laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
I suppose the majority of the reason we were having fun was because we were so well suited. Almost from the minute I walked into that office, I knew Jane was the one. As I say, in my mind things are simple, however different it is in reality.
From the moment I met her, I knew Jane and I were destined for each other. I won't say it was 'love-at-first-sight', because even I think that's nonsense, but I can claim that from the beginning I was besotted. I hadn't even completed my first day at the office and I was already planning our wedding and mentally naming our children. In other words, I fell in head-first. Sounds overly romantic, doesn't it, but it took a long time for me to really be convinced that I really needed her in my life.
My dear Jane, however, is not like that at all. She puts a toe in, and smiles sweetly, then stands in the shallows, and smiles sweetly, gets in waist deep, and smiles sweetly, and only when she's absolutely sure that she wants to swim does she go for it, smiling sweetly all the while. Once she's in, she's in, but she tends to err on the side of caution. So we went on a few dates, but they tended to be with her sister tagging along, and nothing too serious. And just when things were finally starting to look as if I was getting somewhere, Will went and pulled a funny.
I say he pulled a funny, but it really was not amusing. I suppose it is, at least in part, my fault. Will is, to put it lightly, driven and motivated. He tends to need a bit of outside supervision at times, to make sure he doesn't get too serious. That's usually my job, which I plainly wasn't doing at the time. When Elizabeth joined BioWorld, everything changed. First of all, Will changed. I suppose that, as his best mate, I should have seen that he was very attracted to Elizabeth, but I was so busy being attracted to Jane that it, and many other crucial details, just passed me by.
More importantly, or more relevant at least, we became very successful. I mentioned that before, but it's worth saying again. From being a ridiculous little start-up we became a viable, thriving company. After three years of trying and getting no-where, Will had become a bit disillusioned. So when he saw that it was possible for us to succeed, he just grabbed the ball and ran. Which is great, in normal people.
Will, however, is not normal in any way. He became totally obsessed with success. He did eventually recognise it, but only with quite a lot of very decisive help from Lizzy. It started innocently enough, with him asking us to stay late a couple of nights a week. Then it became later and later, extending to weekends. Eventually he decided that the cross-country branch, which was in actual fact a room with a million useless piles of paper, was viable, and sent me off to get that into order, separating me from Jane. When I pointed out to him that we were finally progressing, he said that he was sure that she didn't care for me. How did he know? She didn't show her feelings; on the contrary, she had been messing me around for months.
At first I was suspicious of this reasoning, because she was just so sweet and gentle, and did not seems to have a deceptive bone in her body. But Will had always been a more astute judge of character than me (I never denied that my simplicity made me quite naive), so I accepted his word and boarded the plane with as much grace as I could muster. Which, as it turned out, was not very much.
I spent the next couple of weeks pining. Pining for home, pining for my old friend Will, pining for Jane. I seem to have got some work done, because the branch did begin to function, although Will later told me that when he took his turn to pine cross-country, there was a fortune still to do. Honestly, all I did in those couple of weeks was eat, sleep and think of Jane, and mope around the office during and between those activities.
Then, just as suddenly as he had told be to take the trip, Will told me to terminate it. This time I did not question his wisdom, although I did question his motive. His reply was that his 'eyes had been opened', and he had 'seen the error of his ways.' Now when Will starts talking in euphemistic clichés, I know there's a problem. It took about an hour on the phone, but he eventually spilled, albeit in confusingly brief terms, what caused his sudden change of heart. Elizabeth had shown him how success had twisted his perceptions. Not that he would admit it at the time, but I knew that Will was in love. Will had never had trouble attracting women, so to be put down by the woman he had finally fallen in love with was a big shock to his system. I only found out all the details later, at 3 am the night before our wedding, but it made sense enough at the time. Either way, all that mattered was that I was going back to Jane.
Which, as it turned out, was an ambiguous pleasure. While it was a joy to see her every day, all I never managed to talk about anything save work. Let alone ask her out. I was absolutely petrified of her. Of what about her I was scared, I still couldn't tell you, although she seems to think that it was a combination of concern that I had hurt her and doubt that Will might have been right. Like I said, I don't like to analyse things too much, although I have to agree with my dear wife's assessment of my state of mind. See, we were always meant to be together!
Anyhow, it took a good few calls from Will for me to get my act together, which fortunately I eventually did. It started with my venturing to ask her how her weekend was, followed by my account of my weekend. Eventually I gathered the courage to tell her I wanted to spend my weekends with her. I suppose I expected to pick up where we left off before I was shipped out. Was I ever wrong!
Jane basically said she didn't want to have anything to do with me outside of work. Naturally, this was a huge blow to my ego. I had spent all this time psyching myself up to approach her, only to find that she wasn't interested anymore. I spent at least three days brooding on this fact before I even considered her words.
Jane had said that she wasn't interested in anyone who 'toyed with her affection.' This struck me as a little strange once I contemplated it a bit. Firstly, that's not Jane's language. She would never, ever be so blunt and harsh. Secondly, that's not Jane's attitude. She is inclined to think the best of everyone, always judging favourably. This wasn't the Jane that I knew.
But then maybe the Jane that I thought I knew didn't really exist? Maybe I had just created this fantasy picture of what I wanted her to be? Maybe I had been deceiving myself all along? I just couldn't stop doubting myself. I have to say it was one of my lowest times. I became convinced that there was no hope at all, that she wanted no part of me, that my hopes were futile.
Once again, I sank into a little, black hole. I went in to BioWorld, but I hid in my office. I saw Caroline, but I sat mum the whole way through dinner. I listened to my messages, but I ignored Will's calls.
I should have known that Will would figure me out. After all, he has known me for practically ever. He could predict when I was hungry, when I was bored, and when I was most vulnerable. So, being the wonderful friend that he is, he took advantage of that and attacked me when I was weak.
Will called me at 4 am, knowing that I usually get up to get some water at about that time. I hate to think what time he must have woken up, or stayed up till, to make that call, but I am forever indebted to him for doing so. When I get up, I'm still half-asleep, not fully cognisant of what I am saying or doing. So he made sure I was just awake enough to be coherent, and he let loose his barrage of questions.
'Charles, what on earth is going on?' If I had not been mentally impaired, I would have picked up on the fact that he used my first name (he never does that; it's always 'Bingley' or 'Bing' at most.)
'Ummm. Hi.' Yawn. 'Is that you, Will?' Yawn again. Not the best way to deflect a projected attack, you will agree.
'Yes, it's me. And I want to know why you've been avoiding my calls for the last week! What's going on?'
And, unable to stop myself, I spilled everything, including my conversation with Jane, and my glass of water. Once I slowly began to gain control of my mental faculties, I cursed myself for letting it out. But once I started, I just couldn't stop. As it turned out, it was possibly the best thing I ever did.
After I finished speaking, there was a pregnant pause on the other end, as if Will was gathering his forces for the attack. Indeed he was, and what brilliant effort it was. Fortunately, by this time I was awake enough to note the undertones, and return the supportive effort.
'Charles, listen to me and listen well. Do you know what success is?'
'I know what it is, but for some reason I doubt it matches your current definition.'
'You're right, it doesn't. You know what success is? The great General George S Patton says, "Success is how high you bounce when you hit the bottom." It's not how much money you make. It's not being an executive in a successful company. It's not exceeding all standards in your field. It's not getting so wrapped up in your own image of success that you forget everyone else. It's not getting the woman of your dreams on your first shot.
'Success is how you manage to rise again after landing face-down in the sludge. It's about giving the money you make back to help raise others. It's about making the company a success through your hard work and dedication. It's about making sure others rise to the standards you set and maintaining them. It's about stepping out of yourself and really caring for others. And it's about getting the girl of your dreams by proving yourself, even after she blew you off. And all that goes for both of us.'
It was the most I had ever heard Will say in one go.
And it was the most perspective-altering prose I ever heard.
The rest of the conversation was basically planning our strategy. Will had been intending to come back anyway, yet now we were in this together. We analysed Jane's words, and between his bursts of hysterical laughter, Will concluded that they had, in fact, come from Elizabeth. Well, surprise, surprise! I knew that wasn't my Jane talking (it really didn't take long for me to begin thinking of her as 'my Jane' again.) And he knew that had to have come from his Elizabeth.
But, much as I wanted this with all my heart, it took me three whole days to pluck up the courage to approach Jane. Three days too long, as it turns out. Because in those three days, the girls found out that their sister, Lydia, was in jail with Wickham, the guy who had put BioWorld in it's predicament in the first place. My Jane was heart-broken, but there was nothing I could do to help. So I just sat there, watching her tears.
This went on for about a week. Jane would come in to the office with Lizzy, her aunt or father would call, she would sit quietly on the phone for a few moments, and the second the replaced the receiver she would start to cry again. And like I said, there was absolutely nothing I could do to help her.
Or was there? On about the fourth morning, as I saw Jane pick up the phone, I remembered what Will had said. That success wasn't only about reaching your own goals, it was about helping other people. That it was about proving yourself to the girl you had fallen in love with. I didn't think about my actions, although Heaven knows I dissected my thought patterns afterwards, Will-style. I just followed my instincts and went over to her.
I took her hand in mine, and just gently held it. She spoke for a few minutes more (and I promise I did try to avoid overhearing), and then ended the call. No tears this time. She looked at me and smiled. And finally, it was like the last few months hadn't happened. I knew I had a lot of work to do in order to fully earn her trust, but this was a start.
After work we went to the park and she explained the situation to me. I didn't interject, I didn't try to cheer her up, I didn't say it would all be fine. I just listened. And that was all I needed to do. Janie had spent the whole week being strong for everyone else, but she had no one to lean on. So, for the evening, I was a rock, a fortress, a pillar. When I dropped her home, she was calm and smiling, no mean feat for a girl who had spent the entire last week in tears.
The following morning we received the news that Lydia was out of jail, and was being dealt with. Jane and I spent every evening that week together, going to movies, walking in the park while it was still warm enough, cooking dinner at her and Lizzy's apartment. Before, I had been labouring under the misimpression that Jane and I would do well together. That week convinced me that it was more than that; Jane is the other half of me, without her my soul is incomplete. It was a wondrous revelation.
Then the next week Lizzy and Will came back, which was an interesting scenario in itself. Janie and I figured that they would eventually get it together, but assumed that with two people that stubborn, it would take time. So you can imagine our surprise when, the very first evening they were both back, they strolled into the café, obviously together, both looking quite happy and content. Of course they joined us, and it seemed as if that little group was just made to be together.
From then on it was basically smooth sailing for all of us. Obviously, I saw Janie every night. Some of the time we were with Will and Lizzy, some of the time not. It made no difference. Before long we settled into what I called the 'old married routine', doing dinner at Will and Georgiana's house, renting movies on weekends, doing shopping trips to 'buy the boys clothes'. And once we were in that routine, all that was left was to make it official. Six weeks after Janie and I started dating again, I asked her to marry me, and she consented. Will followed suit with Lizzy soon after.
Will and I sat up talking into the early hours of the morning before our wedding, reminiscing, confiding, just chatting. I finally got all the details of Lizzy's rejection, and we discussed my pursuit of Jane. We talked about the company, the girls, and the new families we were creating. We talked about the joys that would bring, and the sadness.
And life did bring joys and sadness, as it always does. I never forgot Will's definition of success. At every setback, every roadblock, every seemingly insurmountable mountain, I remembered the wise General's words.
Janie painted that quote on a cushion, which lies on our bed. I had to ask Will for the quote about three times before I eventually remembered it. And whenever I am tempted to forget again, I look at my beautiful wife.
Janie is a breast cancer survivor. She is the strongest, most courageous woman I could ever hope to meet. Every time I was tempted to give up, to throw in the towel, she would remind me that (a) we have four beautiful children who desperately need us, and (b) with a smile on her face, that she is the one on chemotherapy, not me.
How can you not love that spirit? Now that is success!