Wednesday, December 6, 2017

There Might Have Been Drool--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt.

Monday, March 18


     I rode BlackJack, ran three miles on a gym “dreadmill,” and unrolled my yoga mat in an empty aerobics room separated from the rest of the gym by a glass wall. I warmed up with sun salutations then laid flat on my back to stretch my hamstrings and hips. I bent my right knee, wrapped my pointer and middle fingers around my right big toe, and extending my leg straight into the air. I lowered it ninety degrees to the right, released my inner thigh muscles, then moved onto my left leg. As I curled my torso up from the floor to grab my left big toe, I saw an old man sitting on an exercise machine with his eyes laser focused on my crotch. His mouth was agape. There might have been drool. I was about to give him the finger but started laughing hysterically. He quickly averted his gaze. I thought, “Some poor woman is married to that.” Then I laughed harder realizing, “I’m that woman, but not for long.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I'm Going To Smash This--"Thank You Ashely Madison" excerpt

Sunday, March 17

     I checked Power School. More missing work. The assignments Tom handed in were slopped together. He had more U’s. I grounded him from band practice until May and told him he couldn’t be in the battle of the bands. Tom started crying.
     “I’m so mad at you,” he hissed.
     “I warned you. You were aware of these consequences and you chose them.”
     “I know, but can’t you give me a break? I’ll do better. This won’t happen again.”
     “I’ve heard that too many times.”
     Tom and I argued and argued in this circle.
     “I’m not arguing anymore, we’re done,” I finally said.
     Tom stomped out of the living room. I walked into the kitchen and began unloading the dishwasher. Tom’s feet pounded down the stairs. He appeared in the kitchen with one of his electric guitars, holding it like an axe. His face was fierce.
     “I’m going to smash this,” he growled.
     “Go ahead.”
     Tom looked at me like I was crazy. Then he looked confused. Then he got his angry look back. “I’m going to do it,” he growled.
     “Go ahead.”
     Tom raised the guitar over his head and growled like a dog.
     “Do that outside,” I shouted.
     Tom lowered his guitar and looked at me like I was a madwoman.
     “You better not break anything in here or damage the floor. Go smash it on the sidewalk.”
     Tom stared at me then stormed upstairs. I sat on a kitchen stool and stared out the window.
     Tom was already missing today’s band practice. Terry wasn’t happy about it. He was going to be more unhappy about the latest detail. I got up and sent a group email to the band parents and included JB this time.

     “I'm sorry this is affecting you, but Tom will not be able to compete in the battle of the bands or jam through the end of April. This was a consequence for poor grades. I'm sorry. Maybe another guitar player can step in.”

     I called Terry to make sure he got it.
     “Yeah, I got it,” he said in a clipped, irritated voice. “We’re not bringing anyone new into the band. It’s business as usual. I’ll fill in for Tom until he can come back.”
     I grabbed my laptop and emailed JB.

     “I hope you will not undermine Tom’s grounding. Tom has been without electronics and screens this week, and that will continue the rest of the month. You got the email about him not jamming until May, not performing at the Cubby Bear. It's the first time he actually cared about a consequence. Maybe this will make a difference. He got mad at me but he’s been doing homework all day.”

     “I agree something had to be done given how this trimester has started, and I'm glad it appears to be working,” JB replied. “I give you my word that I will not undermine your decision.
     “Now, as his father I am entitled to a heads up at the very least. I should not be learning that Tom is grounded from Terry. I should not learn that he's banned from participating in the BOTB at the same time as everyone else. I hope you can appreciate my point of view here.
     “Lets please try to communicate better when it comes to Tom. I would really appreciate it.”

     There’s a lot I would have appreciated, too, JB.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Poke Him In The Eyes--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, March 15

     I emailed Terry that I’d grounded Tom and he wouldn’t be at band practice. I didn’t CC JB. My text alert dinged.

     “I need to look up our self-defense classes!!!” Tanya texted.

     Tanya and I had gone out for coffee after a recovery meeting this morning. She’d watched a self defense video on public access the night before.
     “I felt sorry for the padded up guy getting kicked in the crotch, Tanya laughed. “They were making these old ladies really nail him. They didn’t want those ladies to hesitate for a second. ‘Kick him! Knee him! Poke him in the eyes! Now! Do it now!’”
     “I want to do that!” I said. “I want to kick the shit out of a padded person. Might help me stop fantasizing about maiming JB.”

     “We didn’t get to gossip about Colleen this morning,” Tanya sent in a second text.

     Colleen had been at the recovery meeting this morning, too. She's a none-too-bright know-it-all--a lethal combination--and the last person I wanted to waste time on. Colleen had spread a rumor last spring that I was drinking again. It occurred after JB and I'd met with an attorney to draft a will. The attorney had asked me to name a durable power of attorney and I'd frozen, felt like vomiting. The attorney stared at me. JB'd nervously laughed and said, “You can name Blake if you want.” We left my part blank. JB drove to work and I sat in my car crying knowing JB would never fight for me and I didn’t want to be married to him. I'd driven to a recovery meeting looking like hell and run into Kat. She, again, told me being a single mom sucked. Later, while I was sitting in a Jiffy Lube getting my oil changed, my phone rang.
     “I have to ask you,” Kat said breathlessly. “Have you been drinking?”
     I started laughing.
     “Have you been drinking?” she repeated.
     “No. Are you serious? Why are you asking me that?”
     Kat sighed with relief. “I knew it, but I just had to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Colleen told me she thought you’d been drinking. She said one of her sponsees saw you at a meeting and said you didn’t look good and you smelled like alcohol.”
     I started laughing. “Probably after JB and I met with the lawyer.” Then I got angry. “I was broken that day. What a malicious thing to say!”
     “I figured it was something like that. I just needed to talk to you first before I called out Colleen for spreading that around.”
     “Give me Colleen’s number.”

     “I have not been, nor am I drinking,” I texted Colleen. “Malicious gossip.”

     Kat called me later. She’d lit into Colleen, Colleen had gotten angry, and they were no long speaking. Colleen approached me at a recovery meeting days later and asked if we could talk.
     “I’m listening,” I said.
     In her slow, I’m-combing-my-mind-for-words, breathy way, Colleen leaned in and condescendingly said, “Brenda, I only shared information with Kat out of concern for you…”
     “Interesting you didn't come to me directly,” I cut in. I turned and walked away.
     "Colleen has said, in meetings, that you're unforgiving and wouldn't accept her apology," Tanya told me days ago.
     I started laughing. “Colleen didn’t apologize. She began justifying herself.”
     “I can totally see that,” Tanya said. “I can totally hear it. I just love how she sits in meetings and pulls everything out of her huge purse, rattles her keys around, chugs out of her water bottle, says, ‘Uh huh,’ or ‘Yeah,’ or ‘Mmm hmm,’ to every comment being made. Her legs totally sticking out. Trust me, I have it down pat. She drives me insane. She is the worst behaved person in a meeting. And she has 25 years of sobriety!
     “I get very catty about Colleen with Kiki,” Tanya continued. “It's not right, but yes, we have Colleen down pat. You have to be around us when we imitate Colleen. ‘Oh, I know that,’ or ‘Oh, I did that too!!!’ You can say something like, I jumped off the Empire State building and did a 360 and she would say, ‘Oh I did that!’ Kiki and I are going to deliberately make things up to see if Colleen claims she did them, too. We're so mean.”

     “I don’t want to talk about Colleen,” I texted Tanya.

     “You’re no fun.”

     “Find us a self defense class.”

     “You’re no fun.”

     "Maybe you can pad up."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Old, Broke, And Full Of STDs--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, March 14

     I meditated this morning and was feeling peaceful, until JB emailed.

     “Just confirming I will be picking Tom up after school today and dropping him at school tomorrow am,” JB wrote.

     “Tom has track after school,” I wrote. “Pick him up at the house after dinner, 6/6:30. I'm guessing you wanted your deceitful, scummy life to continue? Me to stay ignorant so you could continue smearing filth on me?”

     “I will be there by 630 (sic),” JB wrote back. “Brenda, I have a lot I want to say, but you tend to dismiss everything I say as bullshit. I've told a lot of lies and have tried to spin other things so I deserve that.
     “I've been unsuccessful in apologizing to you in a way that you believe is sincere. I think you've locked in on the view that I am soulless and remorseless, and while that's frustrating and I don't agree, I do get it. Things usually aren't as black and white as we like to make them. 
     “The fact is I am sorry, on many levels. Yes, I am sorry that my actions have put me in this position. You and Blake, two people I love very much, hate me, and for good reason. I don't see Tom enough and I know he is hurting over this. I am a pariah to many people who I like and care about. I feel isolated. Whenever I run into someone I know I wonder how much they know about me. I'm trying not to let it kill me, but it's difficult.
     “I know how painful it must be to feel that a large part of your life was a lie. I don't think it's ever that simple. But there is no point in trying to convince you it wasn't at this stage. It is difficult to imagine how much this must hurt you. And I am very sorry to be the cause. 
     “I am sorry that my pathological irresponsibility with money has left us both less secure than we could be right now. 
     “I am sorry that I was so good at convincing myself I was a decent person, when I really wasn't. 
     “I am sorry for the missed opportunity for a good marriage with such a good woman. It was all right there, I just was too fucked up to embrace it. 
     “I am sorry that I am no longer my kids' hero. Kids need their dads to be their heroes and I blew it. Blake was always my best friend. I am not giving up on winning him back, but it will be hard. Sooner or later Tom will know everything and this whole mess may play out again with him. I'm dreading this and wondering what to do. 
     “I am sorry that I can't bring this family back together. I wish there was a way that I could. I miss my family. 
     “I am sorry that I became the kind of man I always looked down on, lying and cheating and incredibly undisciplined. I still have an opportunity to change and be a better person, but nothing will erase what I have done. 
     “The only thing I am glad of is that I no longer have to live with the stress of keeping so many secrets. That has been a relief. But it's a small benefit against so many other bad things. 
     “I don't want to go back to being so selfish, deceitful, keeping secrets, compartmentalizing. I would do anything for a chance to live the last decade of my life over again. I have lived differently since we separated, but it's clear to me I haven't changed enough or looked deeply enough at what I have done. 
     “I am going to start therapy again. I am going to be honest this time. I didn't want to spend the money, but I realize I need to do this. I am probably going to learn some interesting things, and I hope at some point we can talk about it.
     “That is what I am feeling right now, Brenda. I don't know how else to say it.
     “Also, can't I just pick Tom up from school when the track meeting is finished? That is kind of what we agreed to, and I had planned to cook something for both of us.”

     “I know you'd like to avoid seeing me,” I responded, “but I told Tom you'd be getting him after dinner. When I mentioned he'd be spending the night with you, he seemed a little bummed. He said he thought he'd just be hanging out with you on Thursdays.
     “I thank God every day that I didn't end up old, broke, and full of STDs. That’s what you were working towards. Maybe I was close enough.”

     “I will be there at 630,” JB wrote. “You might give Tom a heads up that my cable was knocked out of service again today. We can pick up some movies. 
     “We did agree that I would pick him up at school on opposite Thursdays and drop him at school on Fridays and that is what I would like to do going forward. It is about the extra time with him. 
     “If you have constructive suggestions on what I could be doing differently to improve the situation. I'm always open to that. I'll talk to him tonight. I've tried to make this a place he wants to come to. 
     “I am going to make a suggestion that I think would benefit all of us. 
     “We're in a cycle now of you coming at me with some tough questions, intense comments, etc. all around what a terrible person I am. OK, I deserve it. My responses don't seem to help, if anything they are making it worse. Or they don't matter. 
     “Feelings are intense now. You are justifiably outraged, or however you want to put it. 
     “It is true I don't look forward to seeing you right now. Not because I hate you. I don't. I never have, and I never will. It is because I have trouble looking you in the eye, and I feel yours burning a hole through me. It rattles me. And I don't like Tom seeing the tension. He definitely sensed it when I picked him up last week. I think we can put a cordial face on for five minutes.
     “Why don't we keep communications strictly to the logistical, as necessary, for a while. Strictly neutral. ‘I will pick up Tom at 6. Please bring me a check.’ That kind of thing. 
     “i (sic) don’t see how what's going on right now is helpful to anyone. 
     “Once things cool off a little, and perhaps after I've been through a few sessions, then we can meet and talk and you can say whatever you like. I'm not asking to be let off the hook or forgiven. I just think we need to step back for a while. 
     “Why don't you ask someone you trust what he or she thinks of this idea? Please give it some thought.”

     “I thank God every day that I didn't end up old, broke, and full of STDs,” I responded. “That’s what you were working towards. Maybe I was close enough.”

     “Brenda, Please stop.
     “I am giving you a divorce, I am not putting up very much of a fight about property. I agreed to share a lawyer, which clearly wasn't in my interest. Once I am out of your life I will respect your privacy, respect you and try to be the best father I can to Tom. As long as I am on two feet and making a single dollar I promise you I will pay you and on time. I will not put my needs ahead of yours or Tom's. 
     “I can't fix what I have done in the past, and I don't expect your forgiveness. 
     “Yes, I made some mistakes even since we split. I let things dribble out instead of getting it all out at once. I told fresh lies and I acted far too soon to try to meet someone new, and to make it worse I was careless about it. 
     “But despite all that I have been trying to apologize and take responsibility for what I have done. And despite what you think, I've meant it. I don't hate you. I still love you. I do understand how badly I've wronged you and it does trouble me greatly. I don't know how to make you believe this.
     “I am begging you to please stop sending me notes like this. Please. I think a little peace would be good for both of us.”

     Tom came home. He handed me consent forms for track. We ate dinner. JB texted that he was twenty minutes away. I told Tom and he put his backpack by the door and put his coat and shoes on. His robe was hanging out from under his coat.
     “Why are you wearing your robe?” I asked.
     “Because it’s cold at Dad’s house.”
     “Make sure you get all your homework done and handed in tomorrow.”
     “I will.”
     Tom and I hugged. We held each other awhile. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he kissed my cheek.
     “I hope you have fun at Dad’s house.”
     Tom smiled. He went upstairs to grab something. I walked into the living room and saw JB pull up and get out of the car.
     “Your dad is here,” I called up the stairs.
     Tom ran down.
     “Bye Mom,” he said and bolted out the door.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Power School--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, March 13

     I logged onto Power School to check Tom’s grades. I hate checking his grades. It always upsets me. Today was no exception.
     Our after-school routine goes something like this. I list Tom’s classes and ask if he’s got homework in each of them. He tells me what’s been assigned and shows me his homework when it’s done. I ask if he remembered to turn in that day’s assignments. He tells me yes.
     Once or twice a week I go on Power School crossing my fingers that Tom’s told me the truth, that his grades look good. My heart always sinks. It sank today. There were many missing assignments and U’s for Unsatisfactory—U is the new F. I started screaming at Tom. I’ve already banned him from the TV, the computer, taken away his video games, his phone. I’ve been threatening to ground him from his band, something I really don’t want to do, but resorted to today. I told Tom he couldn’t go to this week’s practice and if his grades didn’t improve, he wouldn’t be playing in the battle of the bands.
     Tom got wide-eyed. He started crying. He told me he’d do better. I can only hope.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lousy Friend--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Tuesday, March 12

     After months of playing phone tag, I left Hope a voicemail saying I was getting divorced and we arranged to meet for breakfast this morning. One of the first questions my friends ask—female friends—is, “Are you going to lose the house?” It comes right before or after, “How did you find out he was cheating?” The questions rarely feel like they’re being asked out of concern for me. I know. Not long ago, I was one of the women asking their friends if they were losing their homes because I was selfishly trying to assess if I’d lose mine if I left my unhappy marriage. Perhaps I should have been asking how they found out their husbands were cheating, too. It felt heartless now. I felt horrible for being a lousy friend.
     I braced myself as I walked into the restaurant.
     “So why are you getting divorced?” Hope asked.
     “JB’s been hooking up with married women on Ashley Madison the last five years.”
     Hope started laughing. “Come on,” she said, staring at me like I was messing with her.
     “Really.”
     “No! Come on.” Her mouth was hanging open.
     “Really.”
      “JB? No way. You’re kidding, right?”
     “No,” I snapped. “Really.”
     “No way. I can’t believe it.”
     “Take him out to lunch and ask him,” I said testily.
     Hope’s face fell. “You’re serious. I never would have thought in a million years. Oh my God. How did you find out?”
     “He got a urinary tract infection. Thought he gave me an STD. I’ve been tested for every STD. Thank God I’m healthy.”
     “He told you he had an STD?”
     “He told me I should see a doctor.”
     “Oh my God. When did he do it? Find time to cheat?”
     “When he was supposedly working. He had international clients. I didn’t think a thing of him emailing or texting at night. The company he works for is out of state and he’s in an office all by himself.”
     “Where’s his office?”
     “Why does that matter?” I snapped.
     “I don’t know.” Hope fidgeted and shrugged. “Just wondering if he saw anyone I know.”
     “You two should have lunch.”
     “I, well, I don’t know,” Hope stammered. “I just don’t know. It’s unbelievable. I just, wow. Are you going to be able to keep the house?”
     “That’s my plan.”
     “How are you going to be able to . . .”
     “I don’t know how things are going to go. All I know is I’m going to be fine.”
     “Okay.”
     “So we’re done with me. What about you?”
     “Sid was diagnosed with Asperger’s.”
     “What?” I said. “Sid?”
      Hope dropped her head and started sobbing. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s been so hard. You have no idea. I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.”
     “When was he diagnosed?”
     “In October. I got a call from his school. Sid doesn’t have any friends. It’s horrible for him. He posted on Instagram that no one likes him. He posted that he’s sad, that he wants to kill himself. He didn’t come home after school when he posted that. We were going crazy looking for him. He finally turned up.
     “Do you know how hard it is to get an appointment with a child psychiatrist? They’re loaded with patients. I called a friend and finally got Sid in with someone. Ray and I met with him, then Sid met with the doctor. After a few sessions, he showed Ray and me this book. He had us read sections in it and tell him if it sounded like Sid. It all sounded like him. The psychiatrist talks really quiet. He said something. Ray and I were like, ‘What?’ He said it a couple more times and we finally heard him say, ‘My diagnosis is Asperger’s.’”
     “What do you do for Asperger’s?”
     “He’s on a patch for ADHD. He’s taking theater classes. He loves those. That’s supposed to help. Roll playing is good.”
     Hope started crying hard.
     “A lot of brilliant people have Asperger’s,” I said.
     “I know,” she nodded, looking at her lap.
     Sid had been mean to Tom when they were little. I’d judged Hope harshly. I cringed. Hope had told me she and Sid lost friends because of his behavior. She’d cried and told me I had no idea what it was like being her. I’d been such a lousy friend.
     “Hope, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what I said. I’m so sorry for what I wrote in my book. Ugh. I’m so so sorry.”
     “It’s okay. You weren’t the only one. I got that a lot. It’s been really hard.”
     “I know. You told me. I just… I’m so sorry.” I started crying.
     We dabbed at our eyes, got up to leave, and hugged.
     “Look at us,” I said.
     We laughed and blew our snotty noses.
     Later, I drove to David’s for our yoga session. On my way home, I called Nicole. She’d left a voicemail about an abnormal pap smear. When Nicole answered, I could tell she was wasted. She began rambling about her estranged sister unfriending her on Facebook.
     “I have to go to the store,” Nicole slurred. “Have them figure out what’s wrong with my phone. I have four Facebook friends. I accidentally friended JB. I was just looking around and I accidentally hit something and he accepted my request. I told him, ‘Brenda is my best friend and I hope things work out for you.’” Nicole repeated herself a couple more times.
     I didn’t respond.
     “I didn’t, like, ask him to meet me or anything,” Nicole said.
     “I have to go,” I said. I pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store to buy dinner.
     “I didn’t, you know, it’s not like I want to meet him,” Nicole stammered.
     “You know, it’d be kind of great if you did,” I said and hung up. I started laughing. The idea of JB and Nicole hooking up, perfect.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

You Did It To Yourself--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, March 11

     I called Kat this morning. She’d left a voicemail a couple of days ago wanting to know what recovery meetings I was going to and if I wanted to meet for coffee.
     “How’s everything?” Kat asked.
     “Well, JB took $70,000 out of our IRA.”
     “Oh my God,” Kat gasped. “Well, you’re going to make a ton of money. Your book is going to be made into a movie and you’re not going to have to split it with him.”
     “You’re right. That’s what’s happening. I feel it. I know it. But damn, Kat. How long has JB been stealing, lying, cheating? Everything he says turns out to be a lie and I keep finding out new and worse things. I can't take much more.”
     “You knew something was very wrong,” Kat said. “You’ve been unhappy with JB the ten years I’ve known you. You need to accept and learn to be okay with the fact that you chose to stay in a relationship that made you uncomfortable that long. You did it to yourself. You had some admirable reasons to stay. You had children to raise. That was a good reason to try and make it work.”
     “I was afraid my boys would hate me. My friends told me being a single mom was horrible.”
     “If everyone told you to jump off a bridge would you?” Kat condescended.
     “A friend just told me to think long and hard before I divorce him.”
     “That friend is no friend,” Kat spat. “You need to get rid of her. You need to get rid of her now.”
     “We’ve been friends since high school. She’s had a hard life raising two children on her own. She’s coming from a place of lack. She thinks she’s looking out for me.”
     “Get rid of her! That relationship is harmful. You need to look at why you . . .”
     “You dissuaded me from divorce. You told me it was tough to be a single mom and I should try to make it work.”
     “Oh, that’s icky,” Kat said. “That’s slimy trying to blame me for your choice to stay in your bad marriage. I’m not taking that on! No way, I’m not taking that on at all.”
     “I’m pointing out that you both gave me the same advice and if I should write her off, I should write you off, too!”
     “You were blaming me,” Kat yelled. “I never told you to stay in your marriage after I knew he cheated like your sick friend did.”
     Kat ranted on and on and on. Soon she was screaming.
     “Good-bye Kat,” I said and hung up. I was shaking. Hours later, Kat called again. I saw her name on my phone, whipped it on the couch, and walked away. I waited a long time before listening to her voicemail.
     “Brenda I love you!” Kat said. “I know you’re in a lot of pain. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. If I could beat the living snot out of JB I would. You’re decision to stay married to a passive-aggressive man that made you so aggravated at times was your decision. All that time that you were married, I told you what my formula was. I went to therapy, marriage counseling for three years. I dotted my I’s and crossed my Ts. When it came to getting divorced, I did not know Tim was cheating on me 100 percent. I suspected it, it was enough. I wanted people to support me, too. I wanted people to be there for me, too. But I made that decision. It was really hard. That’s what I told you. It’s really hard to get divorced. You have to be comfortable with that decision. Knowing what I know now about JB cheating on you: catastrophic if you stayed married. That friend knew JB cheated on you and told you to stay married to him. She’s sick. The minute I found out he cheated on you, he’s a dog piece of crap. I don’t care how hard. I told you a million times how hard divorce is. I will support you any way I can while you go through this process. That’s what a friend says. You’re a terrific person going through a difficult time. I love you very much. Bye.”

     “My high school friend loves me, too, and believes she’s looking out for me,” I texted Kat. “That’s the point. Don’t go after me with your chainsaw mouth again. Your reaction was violent. It was the last thing I needed.”

     “Really, violent?” Kat texted. “I’m sorry. I felt really hurt, too. I truly hear you blaming me. Let’s talk in the future.”

      “Yes, violent. And I don’t blame you.”

     “You were passive aggressive with your remark. Saying that I was one of the people saying you should stay married. I didn’t yell and scream at you, you were screaming at me. I will not take responsibility for sharing my views about divorce, and you choosing to stay married.”

     “Kat, go away. I have had enough of this shit.”

     “Take care, peace.”

     Two hours later, Kat texted, “BTW, I’m sorry to have added chaos to your day. It is hard to talk to anyone about traumatic life events over the phone. You are in my thoughts and prayers. May my words add hope and love to your life. Hey, I heard this somewhere THIS TOO SHALL PASS! XOX”