Kenneth Lay opened his eyes. He grabbed his chest because of the thud of pain that burned like a hot bass. He was lying next to his wife Linda who was breathing heavily and in a deep sleep. Linda had been taking sleeping pills lately due to all the events in their recent lives, and the pills always seemed to do the trick. Linda slept through the night, snoring as if she was drowning out bad dreams. Kenneth turned to the digital clock that sat on the night stand to his right. It was 1:07 AM.
The thud in his chest was growing worse, but he had had these pains before. Kenneth did not tell anyone. He assumed they were stress pains. But he was dealing with it like he dealt with everything. Quietly. But somehow this was different. The pain spread to his right arm which was burning sharply. He nudged Linda, but she did not stir, nor did her deep noisy breathing break its stride. Linda Lay remained firmly in the grip of Ambien, deep in her dreamless world.
Rather than be an alarmist, something he had always eschewed, Kenneth Lay was determined to bear this momentary crisis out. This too shall pass, he thought. So much had happened in his life, so many good things, so many bad things, tough times, easy times, and soaringly brilliant times. He never fancied himself brilliant, though. Kenneth always had to work to get to the top. He used charm and social skills, combined with a sense of optimism. Kenneth learned early on that optimism was a tool that worked wonders on people. Never seem pessimistic about anything. Never betray that you had doubts about success. Indeed, this tool had metastasized into a working philosophical attitude. Kenneth believed his own optimism. It worked on everyone, including himself, and fueled him through good times and bad times.
Kenneth's father, Omer Lay, was the supreme optimist. Omer Lay had hundreds of jobs in his life, hundreds of startup ideas, hundreds of notions of who he was and what he should be. Omer even thought of himself as a preacher, and even garnered small audiences in the dozens of towns that he and his family resided. Indeed, Omer and his wife, Ruth, moved often, always trying to find a new life because the present one never seemed to work out.
But as Kenneth Lay struggled with the pain in his arm on the bed in the Colorado Rockies next to his wife, he thought that his father's incessant search for something new and better was a mark of optimism, not of despair. Though his father eventually saw himself as a failure; because in truth, nothing ever did work out for Omer. But with Kenneth, things were a bit different. Kenneth kept moving too, but from one success to another.
Notwithstanding the pain in his chest and arm, Kenneth smiled at the thought of his first oil job with the Humble Oil and Refining Company. The name 'humble' amused Kenneth. His starting salary was $13,000 per year, an amount he could spend in a day on frivolous things his later years. But his time at Humble had given him a family. It was at Humble that he married his college girlfriend, Judith Ayers. And with Judith, Kenneth had two children, Mark and Elizabeth.
Kenneth thought of Mark and Elizabeth and how he had left their mother for another woman, Linda, who was lying dead to the world next to him in this mountain retreat. Kenneth Lay felt a pain in his stomach. It was unrelated to the pain in his chest and arm. It was an emotional pain. The pain of loss, of regret, of having hurt his children. He hurt his two and only children twice. First, when he left their mother. And second, now, with the predicament he was in. A criminal conviction and he was now waiting his sentence. Kenneth knew he was going to prison, and he thought of Mark and Elizabeth coming to visit him. He would be seeing his children in prison.
Kenneth's face started to contort with the thought of how he had hurt Judith, of how he had hurt his children. Afterall, he had hurt them all because of one thing: success. With his success came a lack of attention to Judith and family. When the money started pouring in, Kenneth Lay felt on some level that he wanted something more in his personal life. That he wanted a woman that could satisfy his new-found sense of himself. And he left Judith and the kids with optimism that everything would work out. Judith would find a new life. The kids would understand. Everyone would be optimistic.
And it did. And they were. Didn't it? Weren’t they? Linda was smart and beautiful, and at the moment snoring. Kenneth Lay started to cry. The pain in his chest was worse than it had ever been, and now both arms were getting very stiff with shooting sharp pains, like someone was squeezing his biceps and twisting his arms in an Indian wrist burn. Judith might not have been as beautiful as Linda, but she fell in love with Kenneth when he was a nobody. Kenneth thought of that. He kept thinking of that, of Judith, of having left her, and he kept hearing the snoring Linda next to him. The thoughts of Judith, the memories of Judith mixed up with the heavy wet breathing was clashing together in his brain. He wanted the noise to stop so he could think of Judith, so he could dream of Judith, or those times back at the Humble Oil and Refining Company.
With each deep noisy breath that Linda took, Kenneth Lay's chest and arm pains got worse. But he felt he would get through the night if he could only keep his mind focused on Judith. He would call her in the morning. He wanted to speak to her. He wanted to touch her again. Focus. Focus on the memory. Kenneth struggled with trying to focus. But the pain kept getting worse, and his wife's snoring kept getting louder and louder and louder. He thought he started to feel rain and see lightening. The thunder was Linda, but he tried to turn it into a thunderstorm memory he had with Judith, once when they were on a lake in a row boat. The row boat. Think of the row boat and the lake and Judith.
And then it came. The explosion of pain that made Kenneth Lay's left hand grab Linda so tight it woke her. But Kenneth did not notice that Linda had awoken. All he could think about was his left hand grabbing the side of the row boat, the boat shaking in the thunderstorm and Kenneth telling Judith that everything was going to be alright. Everything was going to be alright. That they would make it to shore. Kenneth smiled. Judith smiled. And the thunderstorm was over.