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.

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