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”

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Toxic Scene--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, March 10

     The boys and I met my mother for breakfast before Blake drove six hours back to school. As I watched him drive away, I felt both sad and glad. Sad because I was going to miss him. Glad that he was fleeing this toxic scene.
     Nicole called later.
     “Believe it or not Ripley, I found Shireen,” she slurred. “I’ve been talking to her most of the day. She’s beautiful. I’m amazed. She’s a lovely girl. But she’s a lot shorter than me. She told me she’s only five feet tall and I’m like, ‘What? Why are you so short? You weren’t that tiny as a baby. Oh boy.’”
     Idiot.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Prayer And Meditation Have Worn Off--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, March 9

     Most mornings I recite a Kabbalah meditation, scan the Zohar, chant “Om” three times, meditate over my intentions, and pray. My days feel better when I do. I ended my practice this morning and picked up my phone. There was a Facebook friend request from  Nicole and I accepted. Another friend request popped up immediately from someone named Shireen. Figuring she was a “Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife” reader, I accepted.

     “Hi, do you know who Nicole is???” Shireen messaged. “I was just wondering.”

      I looked at Shireen’s picture. She was young and pretty. She looked a lot like Nicole. Then I remembered her name.

     “I do,” I wrote. “Are you her daughter?”
     “Is she real?”
     “What do you mean by real?”
     “Like an actual person.”
     “That’s hard to answer. I’ve known her since we were in first grade. She was my best friend all through grade school. Your mom would jump in front of a train for me. I love her. But as you know, she’s pretty messed up.”
     “Since it looks like a fake account,” Shireen wrote.
     “She just friended me this morning,” I wrote. “I don’t think it’s fake.”
     “Can you answer a question for me though?” Shireen asked.
     “Ask.”
     “What high school did she go to?”
     “Broadview Academy and Taft. She didn’t graduate.”
     OMG, wow, you do know her! I’m sorry. It’s just hard for me to trust people when they say something but, yes, Taft. Wow.”
     “I’ve know her since she and I were six. I remember you as a baby. You liked to eat pickles.”
     “How old was I?”
     “I don’t remember exactly. Are you the daughter who went to California and was raised by Nicole’s biological mother?”
     “No. I’m Frank’s daughter.”
     “Sorry. She had a lot of kids. Her second child is the one who went to California. I don’t believe I’ve met you. I lose touch with her for a while then she reappears. She’s living in McHenry now.”
     “Oh, I’ve been looking for her and stuff. I think I answered the phone when she called once when I was little. I just don’t know what to do. :/”
     “This must be very hard. You look a lot like her.”
     “I look mostly like my dad, haha.”
     “You’re very pretty, and so is your mom.”
     “Thank-you, though. And yes, she is.”

     I hoped Nicole wouldn’t say weird stuff or be wasted if Shireen called her. But I was pretty sure she would. Tom’s voice teacher called.
     “The Cultural Center is closed today,” she said. “I’m really sorry for scheduling Tom’s makeup lesson on a closed day. How about the next three weeks he comes a half hour early for an hour lesson?”
     “Perfect,” I said and hung up. I stared at my phone. The last thing I wanted to do was communicate with JB.

     “Tom’s voice lesson is cancelled,” I texted JB.

     “OK thanks,” he texted.

     “How can you live with yourself?”

     “It’s a struggle.”

     “Oh right, you do that blocking thing. Do you actually believe your own bullshit?”

      He didn’t answer. I sent another text.

     “Is believing your lies prerequisite for continued breathing?”

     “Tom and Blake are what keep me breathing,” JB responded. “And the hope that eventually you'll forgive me. It is a slim hope but I still hold onto it. I don’t believe my lies any more than you do. I'm sorry, I really am. Lets end this for now, please. Heading out to do stuff with Tom.”

     “You’ve been a creep our entire marriage, haven’t you?”

      No response. I sent another text.

     “Blake was playing with your iPod touch when you first got it and was introduced to Ashley Madison. He said he stumbled across your dates’ pictures but didn’t get it at the time. And you tried to get me to be a swinger right after Tom was born.”

     “I'm with Tom,” JB texted. “I'll respond more later. I'm sorry you are so upset. Yes, I am a twisted fuck in many ways but it's not as bad as you seem to think it is.”

     “Right. I keep learning more shit about you because you're not that bad. When’s the first time you fucked someone else while we were married, beat off to phone and internet sex? How much did you spend on hookers, sex clubs?”

      No response. Forty minutes went by. I texted again.

     “How much of my adult life was shit going on in the background?”

      No response.

     “I deserve an honest answer,” I texted.

     “You do,” JB finally responded. “I will answer later, but you really do have the worst of it already.  Short answer is most of our marriage I wasn't doing sick shit, beyond in my fantasy life. I'll answer in more detail later, so please stop bombarding me with texts now. I agree you deserve answers.”

     My morning prayer and meditation have worn off.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Come On Champ--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, March 8

     “Tom has a makeup voice lesson this Saturday because he missed Wednesday for the Hawks game,” I emailed JB, who was picking up Tom for the weekend.

     I began getting ready to have dinner at a new sushi place with Jody. The doorbell rang. It was JB. I forced myself to look at him.
     “Hey Champ,” JB said crossing the threshold and stepping onto the rug at the front door. I stepped in front of him, blocking him from going any further. JB stopped.
     “You ready to go?” JB called out with forced cheeriness, looking over my shoulder at Tom.
     “No,” Tom said. “I still have to get my stuff.” Tom’s footsteps thundered upstairs.
     I stared at JB. JB stared at the floor. After a while he glanced at me. His eyes were pink and teary. I continued staring. He looked down at the floor. He raised his head and called over my shoulder, “Come on Tom, let’s go.” He glanced back at me with watery eyes.
     “How could you?” I asked.
     JB quickly looked at the floor. He slumped and didn’t speak. I continued staring at him.
     “Come on Champ,” he yelled pleadingly.
     Tom appeared and they left.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Blocking--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, March 7

     “Taking only the best to the Hawks game is a prerequisite of mine,” Paul texted.

     “I think he buys his own shit,” I texted back.

     Paul sent a selfie of him holding his hand in front of his face under the caption, “Blocking!!!!!!!!.”

     Tom got home from school and the boys and I drove downtown to see the Picasso exhibit at the Art Institute. We ate dinner in Greektown and between flaming saganaki and our entrees, Blake leaned across the table toward Tom and said, “I don’t know how you can stand being with Dad. He’s a disgusting jerk.”
     “Mom!” Tom said and looked at me pleadingly.
     “Blake, don’t,” I said. “Really. Leave him alone. He needs to spend time with Dad. He’s a lot younger than you.”
     “I know. But how can you stand staying with him, sleeping at his house with him pretending like everything’s just fine? How can you go with him this weekend?”
     “Mom!” Tom said.
     “Blake, leave him alone.”