Wednesday, March 21, 2018

We Need To Get This Done--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, April 24

     I’ve been scanning the Zohar during the recommended most powerful time, between midnight and dawn. I often go to bed, watch “Sons of Anarchy,” and start scanning at midnight. Smacks of the time I came home from a yoga workshop and watched boxing matches. But hey, it works for me. When I’m finished, I sleep with the Zohar on my bed so its purported magic can seep into me.
     Last night, I scanned like crazy, slid a copy of JB’s and my marital settlement agreement into the Zohar, and placed it in a tote bag to take to divorce court with me.
     I dressed in a gray pantsuit and heels—no bright pink skirt today—grabbed the tote, and rode the train into the city. I slid the Zohar out of the bag. I asked The Great Divine to engineer the best outcome, to bless JB, our sons, and me.
     I walked through security at the Daley Center and saw Tina waiting for me in the hallway outside the courtroom. Katherine appeared moments later.
     “Is JB in there?” Tina asked, pointing through the glass doors.
     I looked into the courtroom. “Yeah, he’s sitting in that row,” I pointed.
     Tina gave me a synopsis of the questions she’d be asking in front of the judge. “Should we brief JB?” she asked.
     “I think that would be a good idea,” I said.
     “Are you okay being part of the conversation?” Katherine asked. “Do you want us to talk to him separately?”
     “I’m fine,” I said. “I’ll go get him.” I walked into the courtroom and leaned over the bench where JB was sitting. “The lawyers want to talk to you, give you a heads-up on how things are going to go.”
     JB followed me out and got briefed. We reentered the courtroom. After hearing two cases, Judge Kelley called us up.
     “Your honor, we appeared two weeks ago,” Tina began. “We got to the maintenance and child support and you requested that we bring in the respondent and here he is.” She motioned toward JB. “We’d like to pick up where we left off.”
     “Wait a minute,” Judge Kelley said. “Is this the case where the maintenance and child support was sixty-eight percent of this guy’s salary?”
     “It’s sixty percent your honor.”
     “Did you bring in a FIN plan?”
     “Yes, let me get that for you.” Tina started digging through her file.
     “This is going to take a long time,” Kelley said. “You’re going to have to come back another day. I’m going to need time to go over this. Where’s the order I gave you?”
     “Here,” Tina said, handing him the order. “You asked us to bring the respondent here today to go over the maintenance and child support, which is sixty percent, not sixty-eight, and here he is.”
     “Well I’m going to need time to go over this. You’re going to need to come back.”
     I stared at the judge. “No!” I said. I turned to Katherine. “We need to get this done today. We’re here today.” I stared at the judge.
     “Your honor, you asked us to bring the respondent in and we brought him in,” Katherine said. “We’ve done what you asked. We need to be heard today. I don’t know when we can get the respondent back.”
     The judge looked at my face. He wavered. “Well, if you want to come back to my courtroom this afternoon . . .”
     “Your honor, that will be difficult . . .” Katherine began.
     “Or you could wait till the end of the call,” Kelley said.
     “We’ll wait,” Katherine said.
     Katherine and Tina went back to their bench at the front of the courtroom. JB and I sat in back. I placed my purse and Zohar between JB and me. After half an hour, Katherine and Tina began to whisper to each other. Tina got up and motioned for me to follow her.
     “This is ridiculous,” she said. “The judge is new. They rotate judges in and out of different courts. I don’t know where he came from, but he’s going on our list of judges to avoid. I’m going upstairs to ask for a new judge. Hopefully we’ll get your case moved to a new courtroom.”
     I went back in and sat down. JB uncomfortably checked his watch. I told him what Tina said. The judge looked at Katherine, who was texting. He shifted uncomfortably. He suddenly stopped grilling people and began whipping through his cases. Katherine shifted uneasily and kept looking over her shoulder for Tina, who had all the paperwork. Katherine got up and left the courtroom. She returned and started texting. Tina reentered the courtroom. The moment she sat down, the judge called our case. Katherine looked over her shoulder and motioned for JB and me to come up.
     “Start from the beginning instead of hopping in where we left off,” Kelley said.
     Tina began asking me standard questions. “What’s your name?”
     I gave my name in a quivery voice clamping the Zohar to my side.
      “What year did you get married?” she asked.
      “What’s your occupation?”
     “Stay-at-home mom.”
     The judge’s expression softened.
     “You filed for divorce on grounds of adultery, is that correct?” the judge asked.
     “How do you know he committed adultery?” Kelly asked.
     “He told me.”
     “Is this true?” Kelly asked JB.
     “Yes,” JB said and stared at the floor.
     “Where’s the FIN plan?” Kelley asked.
     “Here it is,” Tina said, handing him a piece of paper with a short list of numbers on it. “Our office uses different software than FIN, but it’s the same.”
     Kelley looked it over, took out his calculator, and started tapping.
     “This is actually less than sixty percent,” Kelley said. “I don’t know why I thought sixty-eight percent.” Kelley took his time reading the agreement. He stopped at the buyout.
     “You spent most of this money?” Kelly asked JB.
     “Yes,” JB said and stared at the floor.
      Kelly finished reading the agreement. He looked at JB and asked, “You’re okay with what’s in here?”
     “Just want to make sure. Once this is done it’s done. There’s no coming back. No buyer’s remorse. You agreed to this?”
     “Yes,” JB answered.
     “I don’t want to see you back here. There’s no changing your mind. You’re definitely good with this?”
     “Yes,” JB said.
     Kelley granted our divorce and signed the paperwork. He looked at me. “I’m sorry about all this,” he said. “I wanted to make sure this was done right, that there’s no going back.”
     “Thank-you,” I said.
     Tina began filing our paperwork with the clerk.
     “I’m going to go now,” JB said. “I’ll talk to you later.”
     Outside the courtroom, Katherine said, “I’ve never seen a judge act like that. He was acting like a lawyer, not a judge.”
     “He’s creating litigation,” Tina said. “That’s not right. I’m glad you were here this time Katherine. I could tell you didn’t believe me when I told you what happened.”
     “I’m glad I saw it for myself,” Katherine said shaking her head. “I didn’t get it, but now I do.” She turned to me. “You feeling okay?”
     “Yeah. Great. Thank-you. It’s such a relief.”
     “You were a good looking couple,” Katherine said. “It’s a shame. Between us girls, we would never do to them what they do to us. Give yourself a year to heal. Don’t jump into another relationship. You’re beautiful. You’ll find someone really nice who is good to you. I did. It took me ten years, but I found him.” She took out her phone and showed me her wedding picture.
     “You look gorgeous,” I said. “He’s really great?”
     “Yeah, he’s really great.”
     We parted ways. I sat on a marble bench on the main floor of the Daley Center and looked out the glass wall at the Picasso sculpture. I began texting, “I’m divorced!!!” to my friends. I walked out happy and free.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Bullet In My Head--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, April 20

     I had lunch with Melanie and Marcia, two old friends who waitressed with me and helped me boost my boobs and cinch my waist at the Playboy Club. Melanie and I’d run into each other at the doctor’s office two weeks ago and I mentioned I was getting divorced.
     “You and your husband were going to Spain last time I saw you,” Melanie said. “You couldn’t go to Vegas with us. Everything seemed fine.”
     “I found out he was cheating on me the last five years.”
     Melanie looked horrified. “You, Marcia, and I need to get together. I’ll be in touch.”
     My Playboy friends and I had seen each other last at dinner last fall. Ruthie'd flown in from New York, pounded drinks, and when she and I had a smoke outside, she told me she’d had an affair with an east coast blue blood who’d dumped her the second she told him her husband knew. Ruthie’s husband, Pete, was staying, but their marriage felt ugly. Ruthie stubbed out her cigarette with her Jimmy Choo shoe and smoothed her Versace dress, clothing she borrowed from Marcia. We walked back into the restaurant, ordered dessert, and Ruthie leaned over and whispered that Marcia and her real estate mogul husband were having problems.
     I arrived for lunch and Melanie and Marcia were already there.
     “You’re getting divorced,” Marcia said. “What happened?”
     I filled her in.
     “Ashley Madison has popped up on Ivan’s computer,” Marcia said. “For ten years I’ve been looking for evidence that he’s cheating. That’s what I’ve been reduced to. Spying. I made Ivan give me his credit card statements. There are a lot to go through. I recently noticed months are missing. I know he’s cheating. I know it but I can’t prove it. He spends nine-thousand, ten-thousand dollars a month on God knows what. Cash is gone from our accounts. He comes up with excuses that don’t add up. I’ve confronted him and he denies it and tries to make me feel crazy. And he’s constantly after me for sex, just like JB was after you.”
     “Make him wear a condom,” I said. “Seriously.”
     “Oh come on,” Melanie said. “They wouldn’t be that stupid. They’d protect themselves.”
     “Yes they would be that stupid,” Marcia said. “They're just thinking about their dicks and where to stick them.”
     “Only reason I found out was because JB thought he gave me something. I’ve been tested for everything.”
     “I’ve been tested, too,” Marcia admitted. “I told Ivan and he got angry. Accused me of going to the doctor because I was screwing around on him.” She shook her head.
     “My friend,” she continued, “her husband claimed he developed a Madonna complex after they had children. He stopped having sex with her because he was screwing a lot of hookers and got STDs. He got help and things got better for awhile, but he went back to it, gave her STDs. He’s a developer, too. Very wealthy. My girlfriend drops twenty-thousand dollars shopping without batting an eye, so she’s staying with him.”
     “I’d rather have a bullet in my head,” I said.
     “I still love Ivan,” Marcia said. “And I don’t want to lose, lose to some young girl. I just want Ivan to be nice to me. How sad is that? I’m spying on him and I just want him to be nice to me. At our office Christmas party, it was apparent Ivan and his receptionist were having an affair. They were standing across the room from each other and Ivan kept shaking his head like, don’t do it, don’t do it. She was staring at him with her arms folded across her chest. I know she wanted to confront me.”
     “You deserve better,” I said.
     I drove home, fed the dogs, and met Paul for dinner. Paul and I were seeing Carl Palmer, formerly of Emerson Lake and Palmer, at a small theater. We ordered an appetizer and Paul started giving me knowing nods and looks like we were finally getting together, I just didn’t know it.
     “I watched an episode of ‘Louis,’” I told Paul. “Louis C.K. had a crush on a friend. She knew he wanted more and told him, ‘That stuff down there, it’s all shut down.’” I waved my hand over my crotch like she had. "That stuff down there, it's all shut down Paul."
     Paul winked. “For now it is baby.”
     Paul has been one of my best friends for thirty years. Thirty years ago I told him we were just going to be friends. I don’t want to have that conversation again. I don’t want to hurt him. I don’t want to see that hurt look on his face. I love Paul. Just not like that.
     “You know what I’m going to order, don’t you?” Paul asked. “Lamb. That’s what you order at a Greek restaurant. What else would you order?”
     I ordered the whole grilled sea bass and had the waiter fillet it for me at the table.
     “That fish is really fresh,” Paul said. “See how the bones are coming out of that? They wouldn’t be coming out that clean if it wasn’t fresh. That fish is really fresh.”
     “It’s fresh,” I said irritably.
     “And you’re all shut down down there,” Paul said. “Today, my cousin said, ‘You’re going to have fun after dinner and a show like that.’ I’ll have to tell him you’re all shut down down there.” Paul laughed loudly.
     We went to the show and it was fabulous. Afterward, Palmer sold and signed drumheads for fans. I wanted one for Tom and Paul quickly threw down cash for one. We got in line, a very long one, and I started thinking about my dogs and the hour-long drive I had.
     “I’m going to see if the guy selling merchandise will swap this head for the signed one on display,” I said.
     I walked up to the counter. The merchant swapped heads with me and I gave Paul the let’s-go motion.
     “You sure know how to pour on the charm when you want something,” Paul sneered nastily.
     I snorted,  kissed Paul’s cheek, and drove away.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Scan The Zohar--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, April 18

     It rained five inches yesterday and I spent the morning in the basement sweeping rainwater seepage into the floor drain. Midday I pulled myself away for a scheduled call with my Kabbalah teacher. In his Israeli accent and limited English, Yosef told me sweeping rainwater was cleansing, that the fresh rainwater was cleaning out my physical and metaphysical basements. Actually, that’s what it felt like.
     I asked Yosef if he would pray, or send light, or do whatever he did when I went to court. Yosef reminded me that we don’t pray for outcomes, that God doesn’t rig things for us.
     “I know,” I said. “I ask the Great Divine to manage and direct situations for the greater good. I’ve been asking the Light to handle my divorce. But I’m scared. This is my life. It’s the roof over my head, the food in my mouth. I want to be okay. I do want a certain outcome.”
     “We have to get out of the way and let the Light handle it,” Yosef said. “Scan the Zohar asking the Light for the best outcome. It’s easy to do when the stakes aren’t high. It’s hard when they are. This is how we exercise and get stronger. Scan the Zohar every night and bring it to court with you.”

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Loving The Sinner--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Tuesday, April 16

     I pulled a double shift on the Master Gardener hotline today and during my morning shift, I let my partner, Evelyn, grab most of the calls as JB, my lawyer, and I emailed back and forth getting our divorce agreement ironed out.
     “We go to court in eight days,” I told Evelyn. She looked at me quizzically. “He was on Ashley Madison for five years.”
     Evelyn’s eyes misted over. She looked like she’d seen a ghost. “My father disappeared,” she said. “I’ve worked on forgiveness a lot. Forgiveness is more for you than the other person. You don’t want your life ruined. Were you having sex with your husband?”
     That was icky. I get that icky question a lot. Maybe women want to believe screwing their husbands makes them infidelity-proof? It’s a question that leaves me feeling defensive and wounded.
     “I was having sex with him,” I said, hating myself for telling her.
     “You can understand when a guy isn’t getting any, or has a sick spouse. And the sick spouse thing is yucky, but you can understand it.”
     I stared at Evelyn, repulsed. 
     “I’m very Catholic,” Evelyn continued. “My mother had trouble divorcing my father even though he abandoned her. She had to wrap her mind around the belief that he actually got the divorce by doing what he did. My brother is a big grudge holder and won’t speak to our father. He doesn’t speak to me now, either, because I started talking to our dad.
     “I went to see my father and forgave him,” she continued. “I’m practicing hating the sin but loving the sinner. I feel sorry for him. He lost all. He’s living in a dinky apartment in Florida cut off from his family. My mother resents that I reached out to him, that I have a relationship with him now.
     “He just disappeared one day. He was retired and taught Tai Chi. He met friends every day for coffee. He had a huge social network. No one knew if he was alive or dead. No one knew what had happened until he sent me a postcard saying he was in Florida. Eventually it came out that my mother’s best friend, who had moved to Florida a year and a half earlier to live with her wealthy mother, was having an affair with my father. He moved there to be with her. My mother told me my father is impotent, so it’s an odd situation. They live separately.  Is JB sorry, remorseful?”
     “Sorry and remorseful for his consequences.”
     “There is something very wrong with him,” Evelyn said, staring at me like I should hang in there and fix him.
     “He can fix himself if he wants to,” I said. “I don’t have special powers to change other people.”
     Evelyn’s expression darkened and she dropped her head, deep in thought. Thank God our shift ended. Evelyn left and Dina walked in. I checked my email and researched gardening answers for Dina.
     “Sorry,” I said, explaining my situation.
     “My friend got divorced after spending most of her life with her husband, too,” Dina said. “He’d been having an affair for years.”
     “I used to believe partners knew, on some level, that their spouse was unfaithful,” I said. “Those who didn’t were deniers or stupid. I got that idea in my twenties watching an Oprah rerun late at night after boozing it up with my friends.” I started laughing. “I had no clue JB was cheating. So I’ve been wracking my brain trying to see if I did on some subconscious level.”
     “My husband travels a lot,” Dina said, looking troubled. “He always tells me I’m na├»ve, that I have no idea what goes on in hotels at conferences. Before I had kids I traveled for work. Guys would hit on me. I’d tell them I was married and they’d ask, ‘Happily?’”
     “I got that, too,” I said.
     We looked at each other like we’d tasted something bad.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

So Gross--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, April 15

      Liv met me for sushi. We ran into each other last week after our lives had drifted in other directions for years. I’d mentioned JB and I were getting divorced and given her a synopsis.
      “I told Reed and he couldn’t believe it,” Liv said, laying down her chopsticks. “He was shocked. He’s on the Internet looking at weird stuff all the time but never heard of Ashley Madison. He felt a little uninformed. He couldn’t believe JB actually used it. JB’s so gross Brenda. So gross. All those years you were miserable. Now you know you weren’t crazy. There were real reasons you felt that way.
      “Reed got on the computer and googled Ashley Madison. It’s prostitution Brenda. Women don’t have to pay anything but men pay $250 when they want to get connected with a woman. It’s expensive. Reed kept saying, ‘Why would he do that? Why wouldn’t he just go to a bar and pick someone up? He’s pathetic.’”
      “Because no one would tell,” I said. “He didn’t want a divorce. He wanted to live that way. When NBC sent a camera crew to my house to shoot footage of me at home for the TODAY show, JB refused to be on camera and I thought it was odd. I thought he’d have been all over it. Refused to be on the set when Ann Curry interviewed me, too. Now I know why. He didn’t want Ashley Madison prospects recognizing him.”
      “He’s so gross Brenda, so gross.”

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Deal--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, April 14

     JB outlined an acceptable plan that reduces his monthly payments and extends maintenance. We have a deal.

Half Crazy--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, April 12

     “You are not going to like this email, and I don't like writing it, especially after your kindness to me this week about my problems,” JB wrote. “I really appreciated that and it made writing this note more difficult.
     “I have been giving our agreement a lot of thought since the aborted hearing this week. I feel I have no choice but to ask that we renegotiate the maintenance portion. I know I have already signed it and understandably you consider this a done deal. However, the judge has asked that I testify to my ability to afford the maintenance I have agreed to pay. If I were to answer him honestly right now I would have to say no, I cannot afford it, alt (sic) least not without getting a second job. I could be wrong but my guess is without my cooperation he will ask for changes to the agreement and the divorce will be further delayed.
     “Post-divorce I will have few meaningful assets (old car, very little cash, a small share of a crumbling cottage, a diminished retirement account). I am only minimally contributing to my 401K at this stage. I need another $1,000 per month to be able to meet my monthly financial obligations, buy groceries and have some modest amount left over for miscellaneous expenses, like Tom's activities, or taking him bowling or out for pizza when we are together. Or getting my car fixed. I don't want him to dread coming here because we can never afford to do anything. I don't want to have to tell you I can't afford to pay for Tom's voice lessons or medical bills.
     “If you agree to this, I am willing extend (sic) the maintenance period to 6 years. That makes it close to a wash in total dollar terms. . . I think it's in our common interest for us to work something out now so that on the April 24 date I can tell the judge everything is OK. Right now I am not willing to do that.”

     I was frozen with nausea. JB sent a second email.

     “Later I will email you my monthly budget. When I get home Weds. I will email copy (sic) of recent pay stubs and my bills. I hope we can see this from each others' POV and work out a more fair agreement while making the fewest possible changes to the existing deal.”

     JB robbed our 401K. He stole our buyout money. He ran up large amounts of secret debt. He’s a liar. He’s a cheat. I have no idea if I’m going to land on my feet or ass. I’ve unintentionally lost 10 pounds. People keep telling me I’m too skinny. I probably look half crazy. I feel half crazy. Jason is right. There are reasons the divorce didn’t go through. I don’t know what they are, but I’m going to do the next right thing that gets put in front of me to do and trust that all will be well. The Universe has this. I’m staying out of its way.