Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Someone To Talk To--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, April 10

     I’m getting divorced today! I set my alarm for five-thirty but woke at five. I let the dogs out, fed them, meditated, scanned the Zohar, showered, and put on a happy outfit. I’d selected it last night: black sweater, bright pink tulip skirt, black stiletto ankle boots, and black leather jacket. Pia was meeting me downtown for tea service at The Drake to celebrate afterward. Then I was going to the "Trends in Publishing" talk.
     It was cold and rainy. I parked my car in the commuter lot and ran to the train. I hopped on the 7:22 and arrived downtown at 8:30. I took a cab to the Dailey Center and found a Starbucks before going to court. Tina, Katherine’s assistant, was waiting for me. She was going to handle the proceeding. She showed me the questions she’d be asking me.
     The judge called his first case. A husband and wife stood in front of the judge with their shared lawyer. The wife had been awarded an injury settlement in an earlier case and was giving part of it to her husband in the divorce.
     “You want to do that?” the judge asked.
     “Yes,” the woman said.
     “You’re okay with that?” the judge asked.
     “Yeah, I’m okay with it.”
     “This is what you want to do?”
     “You’re sure?”
     “Yes, I’m sure.”
      “When’s the last time you had sex with your husband?”
     The woman stared at the judge.
     “Have you had sex with your husband since the separation?”
     The judge granted their divorce. He grilled the second couple on money issues before divorcing them, too.
     A short, swarthy, middle eastern man appearing alone told the judge he and his wife separated a couple of months after they were married and had been living apart for two years. After grilling him about money, the man said his wife was living on disability checks.
     “What’s wrong with her?” the judge asked.
     “She’s mentally ill.”
     “How do I know your wife knew what she was signing?” the judge asked. “Bring her in here. I need to see her.”
     I was called next. The judge had a calculator sitting in front of him. He flipped through my settlement agreement and started tapping away on his calculator.
     “I need to see this guy,” he said. “Bring him in here.”
     “But we’ve gone over this extensively,” Tina argued. “He signed these papers.”
     “Bring him in here,” the judge repeated.
     I walked out of the courtroom stunned. I sat on a bench. Katherine said the judge would ask a few routine questions and I’d be divorced in ten or fifteen minutes. Katherine hadn’t even bothered to show up. While Tina shuffled papers at the front of the courtroom, I emailed Katherine.

     “I am very upset. The divorce did not go through and you were not here to argue on my behalf. If JB had been present, we would be divorced right now.”

     “Its’ (sic) not required that he appear!” Katherine emailed. “I will speak with Tina.”

     I emailed JB.

     “The judge wants you to be present. The divorce didn’t go through. I wish you had been here today. Tina will be contacting you.”

     “I’m pissed!” I told Tina angrily.
     “I’m shocked,” Tina said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. The way he handled everyone. He’s a new judge. I can’t believe it. He’s creating litigation.”
     I walked away from her, climbed the stairs to the main floor of the Dailey Center and sat on a bench staring out the glass wall at the Picasso sculpture outside. My friends were calling and texting congratulations. I texted everyone the same: “Upset. Judge didn’t let divorce go through without JB present.”
     Jason called. “Are you okay?”
     “I’ll be okay.”
     “There has to be a good reason things happened this way,” he said.
     “The universe has reasons, but I don’t feel like picking through what they might be at the moment.”
     I took a cab to Water Tower Place where I’d arranged to meet Pia. I bought a cup of tea and sat at a little table on the mezzanine.
     “There you are,” Pia said and sat down. “Wow. You look like you just walked off a page in a fashion magazine.”
     “I wanted to look good scraping JB off my shoe. Maybe I looked too good.”
     Forty-mile-an-hour wind gusts blasted as we walked to The Drake.
     “What a shit day,” I grumbled.
     A hostess sat us at a lovely table by the fountain and our waiter brought us a three-tiered china plate holder brimming with scones, banana bread, finger sandwiches, dessert cakes, and tarts. I ate a small scone and three tiny sandwiches.
     “I’m sorry,” I told Pia. “I’m the worst company today.”
     “I just wish I could cheer you up,” she said, looking sad.
     “I wish you could, too. I just feel like crying.”
     “Why don’t you go to the bathroom and just let it go?”
     “I’m going to a panel discussion and don’t want to look like a wreck.”
     We sat at the Drake for a couple of hours sipping tea.
     “Let’s go to the Museum of Contemporary Art,” I said. “I know I’ll feel better there. You can tell your friends back home I dance like a weirdo and make you look at whacky art.”
     Pia snickered.
     I was right, the art—especially the dark disturbing stuff—made me feel better and I was myself by the time we left. We caught a cab and the driver pulled in front of the building where the publishing talk was being held. I handed Pia money for the taxi.
     “Thanks for spending the day with me,” I said. “When I got out of court, I wished you weren’t coming. But I’m glad you did.”
     “That’s what friends are for.”
     I hopped the train after the talk and slid my ticket under the clip on top of the seat back. The conductor stopped and punched it.
     “I love your clothes," he said. "You have great fashion sense. Girls today don’t know how to dress. I appreciate a woman who dresses well. You look beautiful.”
     “You just made my day," I said, beaming. "And let me tell you, it’s been a rough one.”
     He tipped his hat, walked on, and I began scrolling through email.

     “I just spoke with Tina,” JB wrote. “We'll find a date soon. I'm feeling very sad, lonely, and frightened right now, and I could use someone to talk to. I want to see someone and promised Blake I would, but I can't afford it. I hope you are feeling hopeful about what's ahead for you. I know money will be tight for you, too, but I firmly believe you are going to thrive on your own. And I really do wish nothing but the best for you.”

     I jogged through the wind and rain, stilettos clicking, to my car. I sat for a while shivering, exhausted.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Vibrations Within--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, April 6

     My friend Muriel invited some of our twelve-step friends over for dinner and put on a fabulous Mexican spread. She introduced me to Katherine, a child of drunks but not one herself.
     “There’s a list of classic traits we all have,” Katherine said. “People pleasers, avoiding confrontation at all costs, emotionally shut down. The group I'm in is helping me break the cycle.”
     “It’s helping me, too,” Muriel said. “You should come Brenda.”
     “I don’t avoid confrontation. I’m not emotionally shut down. JB is, but he’s on his own now.” I sighed. “I don't know, maybe I’ll recommend your meeting.”
     I left and picked up Pia and Tanya and drove downtown to the "Give Peace a Dance" event. A few days ago, Tanya sent me a website link to this thing. Her pagan drum teacher had sent it to her. Offerings would include a ritual drum circle, fire spinning, projected videos, and a DJ. Reiki, shamanic energy, and harmonic sound healers would be there, too.
     “I spin one-world, life-positive, body-temple dance music,” the DJ wrote.
     “To give voice to and release your energy,” the harmonic sound healer explained.
     Another guy would give tarot card readings with AngeLynx cards he created.
     “Words are spelled because they are castings of spells,” he explained. “AngeLynx explores the spells we cast on ourselves and our world.”
     And there would be a Didgeridoo Choir.
     “ROAR,” the website announced. “Right Of Admittance Refusal for any reason, especially aggressiveness, intoxication, meat-market energy, or if we are not comfortable with you at our celebration.”
     I had to check it out. I sent Pia the link. She’s studying animal communication and reiki—practices I’m skeptical of—figuring she could find like-minded connections.
     I pulled up and parked in an industrial area that was eerily deserted. Several people were outside a building drumming around a fire. Rain was drizzling. A woman was spinning around with flags. We walked inside, paid ten bucks, and began wandering. Down one hallway were small rooms where healers had set up. People were lounging in the dance room where videos of costumed men doing water ballet were playing. Laser beams swept the room. The bleach-blond DJ sporting a curly fur jacket looked like Pan.
     Pia, from a small rural town, was trying to act like this was any other day at the farm. But her rigid body and darting eyes said different. We walked down the healing hall and saw the AngeLynx guy's dance card was already full.
     “He’s really good,” a woman waiting to see him said. “You have to get here really early and sign up if you want to see him.”
     Tanya pointed to a sign on a door. “This one looks interesting to me,” she said and popped into the room of the harmonic sound healer. Pia shrugged and signed her name to go next.
     “I’m going for reiki,” I told Pia.
     I walked into a reiki room and laid down on a padded table. I closed my eyes. The practitioner’s hands hovered over the crown of my head. My scalp began to tingle. I could hear the drumming circle in the next room. I sensed the practitioner’s hands hovering over my forehead. It felt like weight was pushing down, pressurizing my sinuses. Then it felt like a string was being pulled out of my forehead. Some of the pressure was releasing. The practitioner’s hands hovered over my chest. My lungs felt heavy. Breathing became labored. My chest began to tingle. The practitioner worked her way down my entire body and placed crystals on my chakras. When she finished, I felt relaxed, spacey, happy, buzzed. I floated out of the room and glided down the hall. Tanya popped in front of me. She looked wide-eyed and weird.
     “I didn’t see Pia when I got out of the sound healer,” she panted. “I was looking for her. I wanted to warn her. She must have gone in while I wasn't looking. Oh my God. Brenda, that woman was howling over me like a coyote. She had me lay down and she bent over me and growled and grunted. Then she hopped up on this chair and did this high-pitched opera singing thing. She was doing primal sounds on top of me. She told me it was coming from vibrations within me. She was making screeching hawk noises, weird scary woods noises. Somehow that was supposed to bring me peace and harmony?”
     “She was drawing out the creepy shit inside of you,” I laughed. “You should have gone for reiki. I feel high.”
     “You look high.”
     “I am.” 
     Tanya kept looking over her shoulder toward the sound healer’s room. She started laughing. “I can’t wait for Pia to get out.”
     Pia appeared. Her expression was odd. Something between "I’m-staying-open-to-this" and "What-the-hell?"
     “That was really interesting,” she slowly said.
     Tanya doubled over laughing. “I wanted to warn you before you went in there. Was she howling over you? Did she do this?” Tanya let out a high-pitched warble.
     “Well, she made some sounds over me,” Pia said. “But I think there was something to it.”
     Tanya looked at me, at Pia, and back at me. She shrugged. We walked off to the dance floor and Pia sat on cushions while Tanya and I flailed around. Pia watched us with the same "I’m-staying-open-to-this" and "What-the-hell?" expression.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Must Be Hell--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, April 5

     I had a golf lesson with Don, a pro at the golf store where Blake works as Blake has been after me to take a lesson with him. I walked toward the golf simulators and looked for an athletic-looking guy. A short man, early sixties, wearing a black angora V-neck sweater, a heavy gold chain, and an obvious toupe, was standing in a cloud of cologne texting.
     “I have a lesson with Don,” I said.
     “That’s me.”
     I hit some balls and Don shot video. He compared my swing with the swings of professional women golfers. He told me I needed to stand more upright and brought my arms and club straight down under me. I started hitting better. Don’s friend, Vinnie, watched from a director’s chair.
     “You should do this squatting exercise,” Vinnie said getting up, holding his arms straight overhead, and doing a few squats.
     I did a few, guessing he just wanted to see me do them. I didn’t care. Humoring men tended to work in my favor.
     I thanked them and looked at Don. “Do I pay you?”
     Don’s eyes darted around the store. He jerked his head toward the front door a couple of times and said, “Follow me.” I followed him out of the store.
     “I’m not going to charge you,” he said.
     “Really? You sure?”
     “Yeah. You know Vinnie in there? Guy’s crazy. Don’t know what he was trying to show you with those exercises, but we had fun watching you do them. He knows golf, though. Used to be a great player. Back in the day he was a hustler. Made big big money. He and I go way back. He went his way, I went mine. I used to work for the ATF. Now I do this. And I’m a sports agent. Hockey mostly. I work for the Wolves. Want to go to a Wolves game?”
     “Uh, sure.”
     “I’ll get you tickets. Give me your email address so I can send you your golf video.”
     “You sure I can’t pay you?”
     “I’m sure.”
     “Well, thanks. I’m going to the driving range to practice what you showed me.”
     “Let me know how that goes,” Don said, handing me his card and hugging me. His musky cologne clung to my clothes and I breathed it in as I drove to the range and hit a bucket of balls. I hit pretty well, for me. I thought about calling Don to thank him, but decided not to.
     Tom came home from school and I got him ready for JB, who showed up at the door looking sad and saggy. They left and I met Pia and Jody at a new restaurant in town. It was First Friday when all the shops were open late plying visitors with appetizers and wine.
     “You mind if we hit the hair salon?” I asked my friends. “I need to make an appointment.”
We walked over and my friends drank wine and ate cheese while I talked to the receptionist.
     “I can get you in next Wednesday,” Randi said.
     “Okay, put me down.”
     “Alright, that’s the tenth.”
     “Uh, aren’t you going to be busy the tenth?” Jody asked.
     “Yes!” I said. “I’m getting divorced! We have to pick another day.”
     “Congratulations!” Randi said.
     “I’ve been getting divorced for two years and we’re not even close. We’ve run out of money for the lawyers. I don’t care. I have five kids. As long as the checks keep coming and the kids and I stay in the house, I’m fine. Why are you getting divorced?”
     “He was cheating.”
     “Mine, too. Look at you. You’re beautiful.”
     “Look at you. Beautiful.”
     “How are your kids doing?”
     “My oldest isn’t talking to him right now.”
     “Two of my daughters aren’t talking to my husband either.”
     We looked at each other sadly.
     “There are always three sides to a story, his side, her side, and the truth,” Jody said when we sat at a bar a couple doors down. “I know her husband. I don’t think he cheated. He left because he couldn’t take living with her anymore. She didn’t trust him. She was always accusing him of looking at other women and wanting other women. They’d go to parties and she’d have a fit every time.”
     “Must have been a reason for her behavior.”
     “I think he cheated a long time ago.”
     “That would do it. Staying with someone you know cheats must be hell.”
     Jody slowly nodded. A small woman with a brown bob and glasses wedged herself between my stool and Jody’s. She leaned her back against the bar and stared into my eyes. “Hi Brenda!” she shouted.
     “Ann,” I said, recognizing she was Blake’s and Tom’s beloved old Sunday school teacher, one of the most upbeat friendly people I’d ever met. “How are you?”
     Ann half closed her eyes. Her lips, in a wide Cheshire Cat grin, moved silently before she shouted, “Divorced!” Vinegary white wine sloshed out of her plastic cup as she lifted it toward me. “I got this at Serendipity. That’s the place to go for wine. They don’t know I brought this in.” She looked over her shoulder at the bartender and put a finger to her lips. “Shh.”
     “I’m getting divorced, too,” I said.
     “I got divorced in November!” Ann shouted. She narrowed her eyes and screwed her mouth over to one side. “Divorced after 30 years of marriage. My husband had three affairs. I finally left after the third one. The first affair happened right after my son was killed in a motorcycle accident. My husband bought him that motorcycle even though I was against it. When I asked him why he had the affair he told me our marriage was stale. Shame on him. Shame on me for staying.”
     “I’ve been having homicidal thoughts about JB. You have them?”
     “Oh, I’ve had them. And suicidal ones. Mainly suicide.”
     “Don’t go there,” I said. “Don’t take your life over that bastard.” 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Golf Guy--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, April Fools

     I went to the bank and got the ball rolling on setting up a new mortgage. Factoring in the money JB stole from our 401K and the buyout money he lied about, hid, and spent, we agreed I’d get the house. When I got home from the bank, I laid in bed and binge watched Sons of Anarchy. I’d planned to write, do yoga, see my horse. But all I could do was lay like a lump and watch Sons of Anarchy until Tom came home from school and I had to cook dinner.
     I pulled myself together (thank God I have Tom and need to do that) and we ate. I called Golf Guy, the pro who’d given me golf tips and offered to give me more instruction.
     “Hi. This is Brenda, the yoga instructor/bad golfer from the driving range.”
     “Oh, yeah, hi,” he said, his voice brightening.
     “You offered to give me more golf tips and told me to call, so I’m calling.”
     He asked if I had been practicing and I told him no.
     “My son was on spring break last week,” I said. “He’s twelve and doesn’t like to golf, even though he’s pretty good at it.”
     “I have a twelve-year-old, too,” Golf Guy said. “It’s not his passion, either. You never know. It could happen later.”
     Golf Guy was flying with clients to Florida for a PGA tournament and was returning next Tuesday. He said he’d call me when he got back.
     I called my mother and told her about Golf Guy.
     “Be careful,” she said. “For all you know, he could be married.”
     “No one could be warier than me right now.” A text popped up on my phone. “Wow. He just texted.”

     “Hi Brenda. Good to hear from you. Can you give me your email? Thanks.”

     “Be careful,” my mother said.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

We Have A Court Date--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, March 29

     “My almost ex dropped off our son this morning after taking him to a Green Day concert,” I emailed Yosef. “JB had a depressed, wretched look on his face. I could see he was hurting. I found satisfaction in that. Not proud of it. After JB left, I wanted to focus on Tom, what he was telling me about the concert, but my mind was jumping insanely. I’ve been wanting to damage JB. It feels horrible. I want to stop it.”

     JB eyed me up and down when he dropped off Tom. I hadn’t showered and was wearing what I’d slept in: tie-dye yoga pants and a clingy thermal under shirt. He looked pathetic.
     “I shot concert footage,” Tom said. “Look.”
     “Hey, you know what would be great?” I said. “If you posted them on YouTube with your dorky Clyde Winstonberger alter ego commenting on them.”
     Tom’s face lit up and he nodded.
     “Did you dance at the show?” I joked.
     “Did Dad?”
     “No,” Tom snickered.
     “Did he sit like a bump on a log pretending to be cool?”
     “Pretty much,” Tom said.
     I shouldn’t have, but I said it.
     Tom and I picked up Ruby and Mikey. We drove through Wauconda to eat lunch at a diner Ruby has been raving about.
     “Text Lily and see if she’s driving to Lake Lawn Lodge to meet us,” Ruby told Mikey. Lily was Mikey’s half sister. They shared the same dad. Lily was Blake’s age and had recently dropped out of college. Ruby was worried sick about her. She was convinced Lily was doing drugs. “Do you know the address off the top of your head to Lake Lawn Lodge?” she asked me.
     “The resort we’re staying at.”
     “Is that where you’re staying? That’s not where we’re staying.”
     “You’re not staying at Lake Lawn Lodge?” Ruby asked panicky.
     “No. We’re staying at The Abbey. Didn’t you buy the Groupon deal I sent you?”
     “Oh my God, what did I buy on Groupon?”
     “I sent you the link twice.”
     “Well, I was having trouble with the link,” Ruby groaned. “I’ll look at it when we stop at the restaurant. If I bought the wrong one, you can take us back and we’ll drive separately so you don’t have to shuttle back and forth. Oh shoot.”
     We got out of the car and Ruby looked at the Groupon she’d printed out. “Thank God, it’s The Abbey,” she said. “You should have seen the look on your face when I told you we were going somewhere else. You looked like you wanted to kill me. I’ve never seen that face before.”
     I ordered homemade creamy asparagus soup and chocolate pie. Ruby was right, the diner was great. We drove to Lake Geneva and as I unpacked, my phone rang. It was my lawyer’s assistant letting me know she’d sent JB a letter telling him about our court date.
     “I’ll give him a heads-up and let him know he doesn’t have to attend if he doesn’t want to,” I said. “Hope he blows it off.”

     “Our divorce papers have been filed and we have a court date April 10, 9:30,” I emailed JB. “The attorney mailed you a notice yesterday. You don't need to be in court but go if you want to. All that will happen is a judge will sign the papers and we'll be divorced.
     “Before the court date was set, I was going to ask you to pick up Tom after school that day. Lawyers for the Creative Arts is giving a Trends in Publishing presentation. I have to appear in court because I filed for the divorce and I'm planning on staying downtown for the presentation. Let me know if you want to appear or not and if you can pick up Tom.”

     “I'm happy to take Tom that Wednesday instead of Thursday,” JB replied. “Regarding the court appearance, if I am not required to appear and there will be no issues to discuss then I'll probably choose not to appear. if (sic) there is any reason it's in my interest to be there, I'm sure you would let me know. I will want a copy of the final order and assume I will be sent one. I hope you are all having a nice time up there. By the way, I mean (sic) to tell you I like your new glasses.” 

     “Thanks for taking Tom Wednesday. You'll of course get copies of everything. I'll probably be in and out of court in 10 minutes. That’s what the lawyer says.”

      Ruby and I dropped the boys at the pool and went for a walk around the lake. It was beautiful, sunny, and fifty-five-degrees.
     “You’re so lucky you’re getting divorced,” Ruby said. “I’m so jealous. Todd would make it as difficult and horrible as possible. He told me so. He’s doing what JB did. He’s screwing around. I’m sure of it. And I don’t care. I won’t sleep with him. He’s gross. He makes me sick. The smell of his bath towel, the sour yeasty smell of him that comes off of it, I can’t stand the smell of him.”
     “I couldn’t stand the smell of JB either. That’s probably a bad sign.”
     “I bet studies have been done about people not liking the smell of people they’re not compatible with,” Ruby said. “I don’t know why people are afraid of being old and alone. I want to be alone. Who wants to be shackled to someone who’s old and have to take care of them, have to answer to them. We’re all going to die alone anyway.
     “The cops I work with, they’re all cheating. Even the fat gross ones. Women like cops. Any guy who can cheat will cheat.”
     We walked back to the hotel. The boys were playing video games. After dinner, Ruby and I went off to our rooms. Tom watched TV with Mikey and Ruby while I booked B&Bs in Ireland. Eventually Tom wandered into our room and went to bed. I laid in the dark not knowing how to feel.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

My Middle Finger--"Thank You Ashely Madison" excerpt

Thursday, March 28

     Rachel and I let Tom and Sean roam the shopping mall while we looked at diamonds-by-the-yard necklaces at Tiffany's.
     I’d visited a jeweler to see about enlarging my five-diamond anniversary band to wear on my middle finger—seemed apropos—and the jeweler said the diamonds needed a new setting and quoted me a high price. Rachel, who'd been in the jewelry business, suggested I put the diamonds in a Tiffany-style diamonds-by-the-yard necklace thinking it would cost less than creating a new ring. The necklaces were beautiful. I handed Rachel my ring to get a quote from her jeweler friend.
     I dropped Tom at JB’s on our way home. They were going to see Green Day. I picked up dinner, took it to my mother’s, and we began planning our Ireland trip. We decided to spend the first night in Dublin, the next two in Antrim, the next two in Galway, and the last in Kilkenny. I’d brought my dogs with and left them with my mother. Tom and I are spending his last weekend of spring break with Ruby and Mikey at a resort I’d found a deal on in Lake Geneva.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Surfing Weirdness--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, March 27

     My attorney sent me an email saying she filed our marital settlement agreement. Our day in court is April tenth. I feel off-kilter, strange, and grateful all at once. My lawyer said JB doesn’t have to appear in court. I never thought I’d get divorced. This is surreal.
     I went for my ultrasound and mammogram. Apparently, I have two teeny-tiny cysts in my left breast which were there last year but no one told me. The radiologist said I have nothing to worry about.
     I’m surfing weirdness.