Saturday, June 23, 2018

Only The Best--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Monday, May 20

     Pia showed up at the barn while I was grooming BlackJack. My plan was to saddle BlackJack and let him graze in the outdoor arena while I took my scheduled call with Yosef then ride. Pia saddled Jimbo and followed me out to the arena.
     “I have a call with my Kabbalah teacher in a few minutes,” I told her, hoping she'd begin riding.
     Pia let Jimbo graze, too, and listened while I dialed Yosef and began discussing soulmates.
     “If the person isn’t the right one for me,” I told Yosef, “I don’t want to bother. I don’t want to spend time or emotions on someone who’s wrong, you know?”
     “Only the best,” Yosef agreed. “Why waste your time? Ask the Light to come into this.”
     Yosef told me to scan a section of the Zohar known for helping people find their soulmates.
     “About the red string,” I said. “Why should I wear it if I already believe the Light is protecting me? It feels superstitious.”
     “It’s just another tool. It’s a powerful one. You are protected by the Light, but if you have a good tool that would reinforce that protection, why wouldn’t you use it? It’s not superstitious.
     “It’s like the mizuza,” Yosef continued. “The mizuzas are very powerful forms of protection. You should have one on every door to your house. First on the outside doors to protect you from negative forces, then for your bedroom doors to protect you and your children while you sleep. You should really do this. I will email your contact information to the woman who provides the mizuzas if you want. I think it’s a very good idea. They’re expensive, but the people who make them fast for twenty-four hours and spend all day focused on writing scrolls they insert into the mizuzas. They don’t talk, they don’t eat, they focus all energy on the scrolls.”
    I told Yosef I wanted two.
    After our Give Peace a Dance adventure and listening to this conversation, Pia probably thinks I’m nuts. We got on our horses and Nicole called.  I didn’t answer and listened to her voicemail later.

     “Hello Brenda, this is Nicole (pause). I guess you don’t want to hear from me (pause). I don’t know what I did. I wish you’d give me a phone call back (pause). Tonight (pause). It would mean a lot (pause). You have a nice great day (pause). With the kids and everything (pause). Love you always. Hope to talk to you but if I don’t, remember I always loved you. Bye-bye.”

     I texted Nicole. “I love you. Always will. You know I don’t talk to you when you’re messed up. Call me when you’re sober.”

     “How are you?” Golf Guy texted.

     “I’m good, how are you?”

     “I’m good. Just finished coaching a baseball game. It’s kinda like Bad News Bears.”

     “I went to the driving range and did well—for me.”

     “Nice job! Do you want to get together sometime?”

     “Yes.”

     “Me, too.”

     That's it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Rats--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Saturday, May 18

     Blake and I washed dishes, hitched the boat to my Tahoe and launched it, then laundered all the cabin linens.

     “Meals for today: pork sausage, Italian sausage, pork loin,” I texted Golf Guy. “Will need to detox.”

     I’d gone to the store last night for drinking water as the cabin water isn’t drinkable and the only non-alcoholic beverages the guys had were one carton of orange juice and a few cans of coke. Blake and I joined John, Steve, and John’s son-in-law out on the patio. Everyone except Blake, John, and me had been drinking since morning.
     “We don’t drink water when we’re up here for maintenance weekend,” Steve said raising a beer.
     “I don’t drink much anymore,” John said. “I’m usually the only guy up here not drinking. I stopped liking it.”
     “I quit ten years ago,” I said. “I liked it too much.”
     We laughed and traded drinking stories.
     “My friends and I used to get drunk and go to the loading docks and shoot dog-sized rats,” Steve said. “I’d only seen rats that size when I was slopping pigs on my grandfather’s farm. After shooting them a few times on the docks, the rats turned on us and chased us into our cars. They’re really smart.”
     John puffed on his cigar. “I was a medic in Vietnam,” he said. “One time we were drunk and sitting at a table eating pizza. A guy puked on the table and one of the helicopter pilots started picking pepperoni out of it and eating it. They did shit like that all the time to prove they were bad asses.”
     Steve helped me wash dishes after dinner. “I’m sorry about your divorce,” he said. “A lot of guys cheat. I never have. My first wife cheated on me. I left her after the third time.”
     “I got two great kids out of it. You have kids?”
     “No,” he frowned. “My wife, the one I’m married to now, failed to mention she didn’t want children before we got married.”
     “That’s not fair.”
     “It bothers me, but I still wouldn’t cheat on her. And women are really aggressive now. A twenty-four-year-old bartender told me all the good men are taken and asked if I wanted to go out with her. It was tempting, but I didn’t do it.”
     “Glad to know there are guys like you.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Maintenance Weekend--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Friday, May 17

     Blake and I drove to our cabin in Minocqua for maintenance weekend. My sister and I became owners after our father died, entering a joint venture with seven other parters.
     The bi-annual maintenance weekends were for guys, until I showed up. My dad had said the weekends were gambling and strip-club fests. He’d passed on them and worked on the place during his vacation weeks instead. JB, who couldn’t hang a towel rod straight, went up a few times after my dad died, then began scheduling work trips so he wouldn’t have to go. He complained about the strip clubs, but it was his lack of handyman skills that made him uncomfortable.
     One of the partners, Elwood, had built the cabin with his brother. They couldn’t afford it and sold shares to partners. Elwood appointed himself manager and went on petty witch hunts if someone left a piece of tissue in a trash can, if dog hair was detected on the couch, if a smudge was on the jet ski. He’d had a fit when a partner replaced a saggy old mattress with a comfortable new one because Elwood hadn’t okayed it.
     Elwood complained to me that JB hadn’t helped enough and hinted that I should start paying more money than the other partners or spend my entire vacation weeks doing chores. I told Elwood that Blake and I were attending maintenance weekend. Elwood hadn’t counted on that.
     Blake and I arrived. Everyone seemed happy to see us, except Elwood. We went to dinner at The Black Bear. My phone dinged.

     “BTW, I like kissing you,” Golf Guy texted.

     “I liked kissing you.”

     “I bet you love it in Minocqua.”

     “It’s pretty excellent.”

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Giddy--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Thursday, May 16

     “Hope the boys did all the heavy lifting,” I emailed Dick. “The desk and table are beautiful. Thanks for the great deal. Your furniture will always remind me of a lovely day spent barely answering phones with a talented master gardener. Hope you grow to love Montana as much as Jan. Peace and happiness.”

     “Enjoy, and remember to keep your head down, eyes open, and move through the swing. Your friend, The Montanan.”

     I dropped my dogs at my mother’s before meeting Golf Guy. I was giddy, wired, and feeling weird. My phone rang.
     “Hey,” Golf Guy said. “I got done coaching a little early and I’m at the restaurant. I thought I’d call in case you were killing time and could come.”
     “It will take me 15, 20 minutes.”
     I looked at my mom.
     “Just be careful,” she said.
     “I feel like I’m sixteen leaving the house I grew up in to go on a date.”
     My mom and I laughed.
     I drove off playing Arctic Monkeys loud to annihilate my thoughts and deaden my nerves. I pulled into the parking lot and walked to the hostess stand.
     “I’m meeting someone,” I began telling the hostess then saw Golf Guy in the bar. I walked to Golf Guy's table, peeled off my leather jacket, and hung it on the back of a stool.
     “Like I said, this is my own personal Cheers,” Golf Guy said. “I rented a place and lived within walking distance from here when I got divorced. I ate here a lot. I was nervous coming here tonight because I know a lot of people. No one’s here, though.”
     I was kind of flattered.
     Golf Guy told me his ex was a wealthy trust fund baby whose family had a plane and a ski house in Colorado. He and his ex had lived in an expensive house in an expensive neighborhood and whenever they needed money, she dipped into her fund.
     “It was like play money,” he said.
     “Must have been hard to walk away from. Your relationship must have gotten bad.”
     Golf Guy shrugged. “She wouldn’t fight. Wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. When I asked what was bothering her she’d just say, ‘nothing.’ We told the kids we were getting divorced and I had to do all the talking. She just sat there. She married a guy who’s younger. Had a baby five months ago. Never told me she was pregnant. My friends would say, ‘Looks like Bitsy’s putting on some weight.’ Her husband is thirty-five. She’s forty-four. I’m forty-four. She’s going to be in her sixties when her daughter graduates high school.”
     “I’m older than you. I’m forty-nine.”
     “So what. Why’d you get divorced? You said we’d swap stories one day and yours would top mine.”
     I sighed and made a face.
     “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
     “No, I’ll tell you.”
     “He actually did that?” Golf Guy said, his mouth hanging open. “I could see where it would be tempting, but to actually hook up with someone from a cheating website?”
     Golf Guy’s phone vibrated on the table and a woman’s name popped up.
     “She’s just a friend,” he said. “I used to date her, but just like the girlfriend I mentioned who has a horse, she’s a girl and a friend.”
     A photo of a boy playing baseball glowed behind the woman’s name.
     “Is that your youngest son?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” he said and showed me several shots of his son. A waitress brought our food.
     “I’m paying for this,” Golf Guy said.
     “No you’re not. This is for golf lessons. I’m getting off cheap.”
     I snatched the check when it was placed on the table. I pulled my reading glasses out of my purse.
     “I need these,” I laughed.
     Golf Guy snickered. “I need to get my dog home,” he said. “She’s been in the car all day. Want to meet my dog?”
     We walked to Golf Guy’s car and he let his young Pit/Lab mix out.
     “What’s her name?”
     “Happy.”
     I put my hand out for Happy to sniff. I crouched down and pet her.
     “I’ll walk you to your car,” Golf Guy said.
     I opened my car door and turned towards Golf Guy. He put his arms around me and kissed me softly. My heavy handbag dangled in my hand. I put my left arm around Golf Guy and kissed him back. He slipped his tongue into my mouth. When we stopped kissing, I threw my handbag in the car, put both arms around him, and we kissed again. I pressed in harder, wanting to feel something, some magic, anything. I felt a little tingle when he put his tongue in my mouth, but that was it. Golf Guy squeezed me into him.
     “I came up to you because of your perfect ass,” he laughed.
     I laughed and said goodbye.
     Blake was watching TV when I got home. We talked for a while then I went upstairs and flopped on my bed. I felt numb.

     “Thank-you for tonight,” Chris texted.

     “You’re welcome.” I texted back with a happy face.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Looks Good--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Wednesday, May 15

     Blake and his friend Chad picked up the desk that matches the table Blake broke. It’s gorgeous. And the unbroken half of the table looks good, too.

     “Hi,” Golf Guy texted in the evening.

     “Hi. You finally got good teaching weather.”

     “Yep. Busy day. How are you?”

     “BlackJack has a cut where the girth goes. Will check him tomorrow. Hope to get on. Bet you’re exhausted after teaching all day.”

     “It was good. Taught all day and then coached baseball game.”

     “Did they win?”

     “Nope. But Cody played great.”

     “Took Tom to his voice lesson. He’s been in a rock band since second grade. They’re pretty good. He plays guitar.”

     “That’s really cool.”

     “They played the Lake County Fair last summer, and they play Libertyville Days every year.”

     “That’s awesome. Looking forward to tomorrow night.”

     “Me, too. See you at eight.”

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cheers--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Tuesday, May 14

     “Are you okay with me writing a divorce memoir?” I asked Blake.
     Two thumbs up from Blake. “You have my total support.”
     I hugged him and kissed his cheek. “I love you.”
     “I love you, too.”
     “Remember, Tom’s going to dad’s and you and I are driving to Minocqua Friday for cabin maintenance weekend.”
     “Yep.”
     I texted Golf Guy.

     “Just arranged to drop my dogs at my mom’s Thursday. Don’t know where your son is playing, but dinner could be on my way home?”

     “I’ll check, it’s either in Northfield or Kenilworth.”

     “K. Pick a restaurant.”

     “We could meet at my personal ‘Cheers,’ Happ Inn in Northfield.”

     While I was living in Chicago and pregnant with Blake, I went to the beach one morning and dug a hole in the sand for my enormous belly. I missed laying on my stomach. It felt wonderful to lay front side down again. Afterward, I sat at the bar and  got a bowl of vegetarian chili at Heartland Café. A woman about my age was eating nachos to my right, her hair a glossy brown pageboy.
     “That looks good,” I commented.
     “It is,” she said. “When are you due?”
     “Beginning of October.”
     “I’ll probably never have a baby. I’m gay.”
     “You could still have one.”
     “But I probably won’t. This bar is my personal ‘Cheers.’”
     “Really.”
     “I come here all the time. They know my name.”
     “That’s nice.”
     “I brought my girlfriend here. Introduced her to everyone. She’s an actress. She goes to Columbia. She stopped returning my phone calls. I went to see a play she’s in. She was a whore! She was on stage wearing a slip and coming onto a guy.”
     “She was acting.”
     The woman glared at me. “She was a whore! I couldn’t believe it. I brought one white rose with me. After the show, I walked up to her and gave her the rose. I didn’t say one word. I just stared at her and gave it to her. She didn’t say anything either. I walked away. I’ve been calling her for days, leaving her messages. She hasn’t returned my calls.” The woman popped a nacho in her mouth and crunched away. “This place is my own personal Cheers.”
     I looked at Golf Guy’s text and cringed.

     “That’s the name of it? Happ Inn? What time?”

     “Probably won’t be able to get there till around eight, is that okay?”

     I Googled the restaurant. “That’s fine. It’s Carlos’ place. Cool.”

     “You know Carlos?”

     “I’ve eaten his food. Took a cooking class from him years ago. Still make his crème brulee.”

     “I’ve never had that. I have consistency issues.”

     “Explain.”

     “Squishy stuff.”

     “It’s creamy with a crunchy sugar glass on top. It’s way better than pudding. And fun to make. Get to use a blowtorch.”

     “Wow, aggressive.”

     “What about chocolate pudding? Does that fall under squishy?”

     “I’ve never had it.”

     “No way.”

     “Cuz it’s squishy.”

     “Hahaha you are funny. Yogurt?”

     “Never have. Never will.”

     “I am laughing very hard right now.”

     “I’m all about Melba toast.”

     “Well then, I’m not your girl. I’m a girl with a blowtorch.”

     “I’m pretty sure there is a blowtorch involved with Melba toast preparation.”

     “You may be right. Do you really like Melba Toast?”

     No answer.

     “I’ll take that silence as a yes. I will not make fun of your affection for Melba Toast (much).”

     “Haven’t had it since I was a kid. But I liked it a lot.”

     “I will have fun eating with you. And I’m not being mean. I’m looking forward to it.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Gooood-Baaaah--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Monday, May 13  

     I told Kat I was going to Ireland and she said she wanted to have me over for Irish oatmeal and hear all about my plans. We ran into each other at a meeting this morning and I invited her over to do just that. We sat down to steel-cut oatmeal, maple syrup, honey, butter, walnuts, blueberries, yogurt, and a pot of strong tea. I told Kat I'd blown up at Blake about the broken table and was still feeling horrible about it.
     “What do you think Blake’s intention was bringing the table in all by himself?” Kat condescended.
     “I know he was trying to be helpful,” I snapped. “Therefore, I’m still feeling shitty about it.”
     “You need to tell him how great he is, how wonderful he is, how much you love him.”
     Kat, a divorced single mother, has told me horrific stories about how she’s raged at her two children over the years. Her high-school-aged daughter no longer lives with her. She moved in with her friend’s parents.
     I told Kat about Tom lying to JB, saying I'd punched him three times, my sending him to his Dad’s house for two weeks, then Tom feigning leg paralysis.
     “Oh, that’s typical,” Kat said. “You’re going to get more behavior like that, trust me. You’re not done.”
     “I’m worried. I don’t know if Tom wants to spend time with his dad or not.” I read Kat the text I'd written JB. The one he responded to saying I was calling him every name in the book.
     Kat leaned across the dining room table and got in my face. “You don’t reduce yourself to those kinds of texts,” she hissed. “No. You don’t text things like that. He is a piece of dog poop. You don’t get down on his level. He’s dead. He is dead to you! You act as if he’s dead. And I don’t care what you’re court ordered to do. You protect that boy from him. JB is dead and Tom doesn’t go there anymore. You sign Tom up for camps, lots of activities, so he has no time to go over to JB’s. That’s what you do.”
    I changed the subject. “My friend, Nicole, sent me this text at two-thirty a.m. I’m not sure how to respond." 

     “It is no wonder I have such vivid hideous nightmares, they are based upon reality!” Nicole texted. “I hate everything. I have been trying to just let it go but I can’t. I HATE EVERYTHING! HELP! NICOLE (I STILL LOVE U)”

     “Then she texted me this.”

     “Brenda, could, would, you help me rectify some things in Cali to set Wanda straight? Please.”

     “There’s always a hook,” I told Kat. “Nicole always wants me to tell someone a story she’s concocted. Wanda is Nichole’s biological mother. She found Wanda when we were teenagers. She began bouncing back and forth between her two mothers when things weren’t going her way. Nicole had her first baby at seventeen and the father, who could have been arrested for statutory rape, got custody. Wanda got custody of Nicole’s second child by another man. I don't know where her other kids are. Then she sent me this.

     “Brenda, I am considering suicide,” Nicole texted. “Is that the right way? I need help! Help me or not!”

     “Then she left a voicemail completely wasted asking me to call her back.” Just then my phone rang. “Damn, it’s Nichole,” I told Kat, not answering. “She’s threatened suicide countless times. Countless times. I used to jump in the car and run to her, but I haven’t in years. This is going to sound terrible, but maybe Nicole would be better off dead.”
     “You need to get rid of her,” Kat said, karate chopping the table. “You need to chop her out of your life.”
     “As messed up as she is I love her. If a train were about to hit me, she’d jump in front of it and push me out of the way. There aren’t many people I can say that about. Chopping her out of my life wouldn’t help her. I’m her only friend. I won’t talk to her when she’s messed up on drugs or booze and she knows that because I’ve told her. I love her.”
     Kat stared at me. Then she switched the subject to JB.
     “I suspected JB was cheating on you all along,” she said.
     “Well, you’re the only one. Everyone else was shocked.”
     “That episode at the beach,” Kat said. “Him being so passive aggressive. I figured he was getting it somewhere else to get back at you.”
     Kat was referring to a nine-year-old incident when JB, the boys, and I were at our beach house in Michigan. The cottage had been Theres’s and JB’s brother and two sisters owed it, too. There was always something that needed fixing and this time it was a leaky roof. Before walking to the beach one morning, I’d asked JB to visit the couple who managed the property for us.
     “Find out when the roof is getting fixed and if we need to write them a check,” I’d said. “Don’t ignore it and wait for your brother or sisters to do it. Take care of things for once.”
     JB’s pattern: don’t lift a finger unless asked then grouse about it. The boys and I walked to the beach. Twenty minutes later, JB showed up. He slammed his butt into a beach chair, snatched a magazine, and didn’t get up for the next five hours. It was ninety-eight degrees and the sun was blazing. He didn’t jump in the lake. He didn’t play with the boys. He didn’t even urinate. He sat pouting and occasionally emitting loud irritated breaths.
     “Fuck you,” I thought. I’d watched JB pull his baby act for years and stopped asking, “What’s wrong?” a long time ago.
     Blake and I jumped in the water.
     “What’s wrong with Dad?” Blake asked.
     “I don’t know. Look at him pouting. Don’t ever let that be you. If you have a problem, say so.”
     Blake studied his father while bobbing in the waves. He nodded his head.
     The four of us walked back to the cottage for dinner and as we stacked our beach chairs on the front porch, I turned to JB, whose skin was lobster red with white stripes running across his belly where skin folds hadn’t allowed the sun.
     “Hope you had a great day,” I laughed.
     JB slammed his beach chair into a wall and shouted, “Do you know why I’m angry? Do you?” It was one of maybe four times JB ever raised his voice to me.
     “You never said,” I answered sarcastically.
     “You ordered me, ordered me, to go to Thelma and Eugene’s!” he howled. “I would never speak to you like you speak to me!”
     “You never lift a finger unless you’re asked! You don’t do things that need to be done! You wait for someone else to do the work!”
     “You have no respect for me,” JB bellowed. “I would never treat you the way you treat me.”
     “Because I don’t act like you.”

     I looked at Kat. “That was nine years ago. JB said he started cheating five years ago.”
     Kat searched my face not knowing what to say then recovered.  “The last time we spoke at Marytown I knew,” she said. “But I suspected for years before that.”
     Kat was referring to the time we spoke after JB and I had met with an attorney to draft a will. The lawyer had asked each of us who we wanted to appoint as medical power of attorney and I’d felt like vomiting and couldn’t speak because I couldn’t name JB.
     “I think JB wanted out of the marriage as much as you did,” Kat said.
     I laughed. “Not according to all the texts and emails he’s been sending me.”
     “You need to delete those. Get rid of them. Do it now.”
     “I’m not deleting them. I’m writing a book.”
     Kat got wide-eyed and gasped. “You should not write that book. What about your children? They will read that. You totally emasculated JB in your last book. I felt sorry for him. How do you think your kids felt about your first book?”
     “They’re proud of my book. They flew to New York and saw me on the Today Show. They know that book is helping people. Tom and his friend sold books at one of my book release parties. Blake has been recommending my book to friends who have drinking problems.”
     Kat looked deflated then puffed up again. “But this book will be different. This one will be about their father.”
     “And it will help people. What happened in my marriage takes people down. But I see it as a huge growth opportunity and I’m going to pass that on.”
     “You can’t even set boundaries with Nicole and Audrey,” Kat spat. “You need to cut both of them out of your life. Get rid of them. And you won’t. I don’t think anybody needs your help. This will devastate your children. You should ask them what they think before it’s published.”
     “Count on it. I believe we choose how we come into this world and how we go out and my children chose me and their father. We’re who they signed up for. And this is what I do.”
     Kat clamped her mouth shut. Briefly. “I don’t like Kent,” she said, changing the subject. “He keeps drinking. He doesn’t talk about what’s going on with him. He quotes books and makes himself sound like he’s got all the answers.”
     “I’ve heard Kent own up to plenty. He’s hurting and worried.”
     “He should be worried. And him being your former sponsor? Men aren’t supposed to sponsor women and vice versa. He should never have done that. Now he doesn’t even have a sponsor. He sees a priest. And that priest doesn’t know about addiction.”
     “Who are you to judge? How do you know what the priest does and doesn’t know? Kent was a great sponsor. He helped me a lot.”
     “Well, how do you think him sponsoring you made his wife feel? She’s a lovely person and he’s cheating on her.”
     “He’s cheating on her?”
     Kat clamped her mouth shut and didn’t speak for a moment. Then she said, “Well, how do you think that made her feel, him sponsoring you?”
     “Kent always spoke highly of her. I always thought their marriage was solid. I have to work to do now.” I got up, walked to the door, opened it, and showed Kat out.
     Kat’s right. I don’t have good boundaries. I sat there and let her attack me before I got rid of her. I went for a three-mile run hoping to clear her icky residue. When I got back, I took a piece of Kat’s advice and texted Blake.

     “You’re thoughtful, kind, supportive, strong, caring, loving, wise, and you have a huge heart. I love you. XO”

     “Thought I was in trouble for a minute there,” Blake texted. “Love you, too, Mom! XOXO”

     “How are you?” Golf Guy texted in the evening.

     “Hey, good. How was baseball and golf?”

     “No baseball today, just lessons. Day was good. How is the writing?”

     “Coming along. You good for Thursday?”

     “I coach baseball till 7:30 on Thursday so could probably meet you somewhere after that.”

     “Works for me.”

     Nichole had left two voicemails while Kat was trying to chop me into little pieces. I listened to them.

     “Hi Brenda, it’s Nichole.” (Thirty seconds of gibberish I couldn’t understand.) “Oh God, I’m going to commit suicide.”

     “Hi Brenda,” she left twenty minutes later. “It’s Nichole (pause). Geez, I feel like committing suicide (pause). But I’m too much of a coward (pause). Give me a call if you can. I love you. Gooood-baaaah.”