Saturday, August 18, 2018

Bling-Bling--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


     Tom and I got ready to drive into the city for the Printer’s Row Literary Festival where I’d post pictures and interviews from the Kabbalah Center’s bookstall on social media. As we were leaving, Serena texted and asked me to swing by a recovery meeting to okay fliers that Tony Bling-Bling printed promoting me as a speaker at one of his upcoming meetings. Uncomfortable about the fliers, I told her I couldn’t and asked Serena to get Bling-Bling to email me a copy of them. When Tom and I got home from the festival, Bling-Bling called saying he couldn’t email me the fliers.
     “I’ll meet you at a meeting tomorrow and look at them,” I told him. “What do they say?”
     “I copied the cover of your book, put some quotes on it, and said you were speaking. They’re out on the counter. I hung some up and left some for the women’s meetings.”
     “You distributed them already?”
     “Yeah, they’re out. We need to get attendance up at that Sunday meeting.”
     “You should have shown me first,” I said angrily and hung up.
     I didn’t want Bling Bling promoting my book at recovery meetings. People don’t showcase their endeavors there. It wasn’t cool. Playboy Pete started that meeting years ago and used to deliver what amounted to a comedy act before presenting each week’s speaker. He’d drawn large crowds and the collection baskets brimmed with much-needed money. But Playboy Pete was recently asked to step down because he offended women with his dicey jokes and sexual innuendos. Bling-Bling had taken it over and attendance had dropped. Bling-Bling’s ego took a hit, and now he’s put me in a bad spot.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Messed Up--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Thursday, June 6

     I refinanced my house. Yippee! I own my house—me and the bank. I left the bank feeling elated, relieved, but by the time I got home, sadness had moved in. Sadness about what could have been—a happy family living in that house. I want to love someone. I want to be loved. But you never really know another person, do you? It’s hard enough to know yourself. I’m far too messed up to be in a relationship now. I’m so messed up.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Smoke--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Tuesday, June 4

     I woke up feeling sad. Sad because I’m craving sex to feel desirable and loved—and it’s not a good indicator of either. Ever since my marriage blew up, it’s been full on.
     I got up and pulled weeds in the master gardener demo garden. It felt good to be outside, in the sunshine, volunteering. I taught yoga. I took Tom to his guitar lesson. While I waited for Tom, I bummed a smoke off of a guitar teacher because I’d just thrown away the pack of cigarettes I bought. I don’t want to start smoking again. But that cigarette was damn good.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Soulmate--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Monday, June 3

     Yosef explained a window in time Kabbalists say is supercharged with soulmate-finding power. It begins at sundown tonight and ends at sundown tomorrow. He’d emailed details before we spoke.

     “Who needs dating websites, secret love potions, and marriage counselors when you’ve got a kabbalist who is the chariot for soulmate energy?
     “Known as the ‘soulmate’ kabbalist, Yonatan Ben Uziel swore before he passed away that whoever will connect to his consciousness, gain affinity, and ask for his help will get his/her soulmate/soulmate energy in that year. The day that Yonatan Ben Uziel left the physical world takes place this year on Monday night June 3
rd until Tuesday June 4th  at sunset.
     “Yonatan Ben Uziel never got married, thinking instead that he’s (sic) married to the spiritual studies, and only shortly before he passed away he realized that you cannot do the 100% spiritual work without a partner, and therefore committed to be the chariot for that energy. It is said about him that his energy was so powerful, that if a bird would fly above his head at the time he studies or shares (sic) Kabbalah, the bird would spontaneously combust…
     “Asking for his support on that day can give us the energy we need for a complete unification, offering balanced cosmic support that is perfect for discovering soulmates and strengthening relationships.
     “In order to awaken this power and bring the harmony and love into YOUR life, I wanted to share with you this email along with my invitation for you to use the tools below:
     -       Scan from the Zohar – the portion of Lech-Lecha, volume 3 in the English Zohar, verses 346- 356, and the portion of Terumah, volume 11, verses 86-805, sending this Light to people whom you know need that energy.
     -       Meditate on the name #28 from the 72 Names of God to draw more soulmate energy (the picture attached is the place of burial of Rav Yonatan Ben Uziel. This place is the gate to connect to that energy.) 
     -       Think (and I invite you to act on it as well) how can you bring more Light and Kabbalah to someone else (the energy of Soulmates comes to you every time you think out of yourself). There is someone out there (that you might already know - and love) that needs this Light through the Zohar, the Living Kabbalah System, and other tools that can be for you the key to unlock your soulmate energy/bring more soulmate energy to your current relationship through caring and sharing, while you are the only channel for that person to connect.
     -       In addition, this is a very powerful day for actions of sharing, to draw down the energy of soulmates.  If you’d like to know more about it as well as doing a meditation along with the action of sharing, email or call me so we can schedule a time.

     “This is a powerful window,” Yosef explained. “At sunset, light a candle and let it burn for twenty-four hours. Candles connect the physical with the spiritual. They draw positive energy into life. Mention the name of the rav when you light it and look at pictures of his burial site. You will transcend to this place. Meditate and fly there after you light the candle.
     “Write down, refine, and understand your desire for a soulmate, who that person is. You should complete each other’s journeys in this lifetime. You want someone with whom you can grow spiritually, greater, shine on each other and others. You want something really meaningful with a lot of energy to fulfill you, him, and others. Write it down. This is what I want. Be exact, accurate, and very focused on what you want. The sooner you do it, the better. When you write down something, you manifest it from the upper to lower realm.
     “Scan the special sections of the Zohar for half an hour to an hour during this twenty-four hour period. Scanning is more powerful after midnight, between one and four a.m. Set your alarm and wake up. Wash your hands and face and sit down, not in bed. Go next to the candle and scan the Zohar there. Make it a special moment.
     “Meditate on the number twenty-eight name of God. Don’t be done with this after the twenty-four hours is up. Invest a lot of time and energy doing this until you find the guy. Use it again and again.
     “A special tool for blessing and sustenance is charity. Charity is the number one tool that can give you a totally new movie. You should give something that is beyond what you have—illogical giving—and it should be done with a lot of happiness and love. If you can give charity during this twenty-four hour period, you will get a huge benefit.
     “When I get into something, I’m all in,” Yosef continued. “When I started studying Kabbalah, I took out my savings, sold my car, and gave it all to the Zohar Project through the Kabbalah Center. The place you give should be where you expect to get transformations in your life. There is a specific meditation to do when you give charity. It’s the most powerful tool of all. The meditation is done with a teacher. Let me know if you want to do this.
     “Keep using your tools. Heighten your desire. Work with a lot of restriction. Restriction, restriction, restriction. Restrict your tendencies to want to receive for the self alone. Work with the light. ‘If this person is good for me, make the connection stronger. If he’s not, take him away.’ The right person should feel perfect on every dimension: physical, spiritual, and emotional.”
     So, the Kabbalah Center wants me to give it an amount of money that’s uncomfortable to give. I’m uncomfortable alright. I began looking at pictures of the rav’s gravesite, placed a large candle on my bedroom dresser, pulled the recommended Zohar volume off my bookshelf, put everything in place for sunset, and left to meet Kari for dinner.
     Kari and I’ve know each other for years through recovery, but neither of us showed an interest in hanging out with each other. I was surprised when she invited me to dinner and curiously accepted. I walked into the steakhouse and, minutes later, Kari swished in on stiletto heels and halted in front of me.
     “Come for a ride with me,” she said coquettishly. “We’ll come right back. I have to drop my son at an eighth-grade graduation party and we’re late.”
     I followed her out. Kari’s son was sitting in the front seat.
     “Get in back,” Kari told him. “This is Brenda.”
     Her son and I said hello and he got in the backseat. One minute later, Kari pulled in front of a restaurant doors down from the steakhouse. It made no sense that she didn’t drop him off first. Maybe she wanted me to see her new BMW?
     On our minute-long drive back I said, “I was surprised you invited me to dinner. What’s up?”
     “You published a book,” she said. “I haven’t read your book, sorry, but I want to pick your brain because I’m interested in helping two of my friends co-write and publish a book. Dinner is on me.”
     We were seated. I ordered salmon and black bean soup. Kari ordered the same.
     “I’m a very smart business woman,” Kari purred, lowering her head and fixing me with kittenish eyes. “My ex had the technical end, but I had all the business savvy. He made software and I made it big. So I can make this book big, but I don’t know anything about publishing.”
     “You want to self publish?” I asked.
     Kari nodded.
     “Hazelden published ‘Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife.’ I didn’t self publish.”
     “Oh,” Kari said, taken aback.
     “I can direct you to self-publishing vehicles. You know it’s a hard way to make a buck, right?”
     “Oh, this book is going to be big,” Kari said, looking at me seductively. “Two sexy southern society friends of mine married and divorced the same man. Everyone’s going to want to interview them.”
     “Have you read their book? Is it good?”
     “They haven’t actually written it. They keep talking about it and arguing about it. But they have a great story. They don’t need to write well. An editor will pull it together for them.”
     “Good luck with that,” I laughed. “If you want to self publish, you’re going to have to hire someone to rewrite it, edit it, design it, lay it out in e-book and print formats, promote it. I can give you recommendations once you have something to work with.”
     Kari nodded distractedly.
     “Have you and Kat patched things up?” I asked.
     Kari stopped speaking to Kat a year ago. Kat accused her of slutty behavior, a drug and alcohol relapse, and had gossiped these judgements to others. I knew about it because Kat called me frantically talking in circles attempting to justify her actions. Recently, Kat said she and Kari were friends again.
     “I see her here and there,” Kari said flatly.
     I told Kari how things went when Kat was at my house.
     “Kat’s just crazy,” Kari said. “She’s had run-ins with everyone. Being with Kat is like hearing the doorbell ring, opening the door, and getting punched in the face.” Kari and I laughed hard.
     “Kat has helped me see things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen,” I said. “I’ve purposely consulted her wanting her blunt unpolished viewpoints. But she’s a know-it-all. And I don’t like how she gossips and psychoanalyzes people.”
     “Like we’re doing now?” Kari asked.
     “No, I’m not speculating on her motives, judging them, thinking I’ve got her nailed inside and out, like she does with me, my ex, my friends. She talked about Kent, made horrible judgements about him.”
     Kari curled up in the booth, tucked her chin to her chest, and batted her eyes at me. “Kent has said some things to me. He’s gone to strip clubs. I don’t know if you consider that cheating on your wife or not, but believe me, the comments he’s made, the way he looks at me, if I gave him the green light, he’d sleep with me. Any guy would. They’re all the same. I’ve tested it.” Kari tilted her head toward the bar. “You and I could walk into that bar and get any guy to leave with us. I’ve done it just to see.”
     I stared at Kari.
     “Being divorced isn’t fun Brenda,” Kari said. “I’ve been at it for seven years. It’s depressing and lonely. You find someone, think there’s something there, but after six to eight months it falls apart. That’s the timeline. I’m not going to date anyone exclusively anymore, take myself off the market. It’s a waste.”
     I drove home feeling depressed. The sun had set half an hour ago and I’d missed the precise time I was supposed to light the soulmate candle and meditate. I went upstairs to my bedroom, lit the candle, beckoned the rav, meditated on his gravesite pictures, and asked him to connect Angie, Jody, Sharon, Lila, Golf Guy, Paul, and me to our soulmates. I want Golf Guy removed. Then I sat down and made a list of what I want in a man.

     —A man I love deeply who loves me deeply.
     —A man I bond with on a soul level.
     —A man who expands me, makes me better, and I do that for him.
     —A man who deepens my spiritual connection and I deepen his.
     —A man I light up around who lights up around me.
     —A man I sexually desire who sexually desires me.
     —A man who is full of joy and light.
     —A partner who will spread great amounts of light, joy, and fulfillment with me.
     —A man I laugh with.
     —A man who is faithful, honest, loyal, and trustworthy.
     —A man who would never purposely hurt me.
     —A man who is handsome.
     —A man who is financially wealthy. (Feeling shame here but don’t want to.)
     —A man who is humble, kind, compassionate, empathetic.
     —A man who is smart, savvy, wise.
     —A man I respect.
     —A man who loves God.
     —A man who will help me complete what I’m here to do, and I do that for him.
     —A man who is genuine, real, authentic.
     —A man who is a partner, an equal.
     —A man God picks for me.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Maybe--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Sunday, June 2

     Sonia gave me the artwork I'd had her frame at breakfast.
     “How are things with Golf Guy?” she asked.
     “Eh. He gave me a couple of golf lessons. I took him to dinner to thank him. He kissed me in the parking lot and texted later that he liked kissing me. He asked if I wanted to see him again, I said yes, and nothing since. He sends texts like, ‘How was your day?’ That’s about it. I feel strung along, toyed with.”
     Sonia nodded grimly. “You don’t need any of that. Those golf pros are notorious. After everything you’ve been through, stay away from that Brenda.”
     “On the other hand, he’s been a perfect gentleman. He kissed in a nice way. No dirty innuendos. I don’t know. He’s done nothing. But that’s the problem, he’s done nothing.”
      “Well then, say maybe. I’ve learned maybe is a really good word. You don’t have to decide or make up your mind about anything. You can just leave it hang and say maybe.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Like A Turtle--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Friday, May 31

     My next-door neighbors of sixteen years put their house up for sale today. They bought a farm in Wisconsin a few years ago, built a house, and today the for-sale sign went up. I wanted to cry. As I stared at their sign from my window, Judy called and asked if I wanted her horse magazines. She’d been subscribing for years, hoping to get a horse once they moved. A few minutes later, Judy was on my front porch with a stack of “Horse and Rider.”
     “Dennis told me about JB,” Judy said solemnly as I opened the door.
     Judy’s husband and I had been gardening and I told Dennis that JB and I were divorcing.
     “I read your book,” she said. “You’ve been through a lot. Changed a lot.”
     “I have.”
     “When I was in my yard and JB was in yours, I’d wave and he’d duck his head like a turtle. He wouldn’t say anything.”
     “He did that to you? I’ve seen that move of his. Ugh. Please don’t take it personally. It’s just him.”
     “Sully and Sammy were running up and down your side of the fence barking at Ernie and Ernie was running with them. I like that Ernie gets exercise that way.”
     “I like it, too.”
     “Sully stepped on Sammy and made him cry. JB came flying out of the house with an angry look on his face and demanded, ‘What happened to my dog?’ like I kicked Sammy or something. I told JB Sully stepped on Sammy, and JB walked back into the house with his tail between his legs.”
     “Other people have been telling me JB’s wasn’t nice to them, too. I’m just glad he’s gone.” I gave Judy a tearful hug. “I’m sad you and Dennis are leaving. You’re wonderful neighbors.”
     My phone dinged as Judy was leaving.

     “How are you?” Golf Guy texted.

     I didn’t answer.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Eighteen Holes--"Thank You Ashley Madison"


Thursday, May 30

     I pulled into the parking lot of the Schaumburg Golf Club, opened the rear hatch, put my golf shoes on, and Paul pulled up behind me in a golf cart and said, “Throw your stuff on and let’s go.”
     “You already checked in?”
     “Yeah. I put it all on my credit card. Pay me sixty bucks later.”
     I threw my bag on the cart, strapped it in, hopped on, and Paul made a beeline to the starter. I needed to pee but figured I could hold it nine holes. The starter paired us up with two young guys, one who looked like John Hamm from “Mad Men.” Paul drove toward the first tee and the cart died. He flagged down the starter.
     “I’m going to the bathroom,” I told Paul.
     “Go, and make it fast,” he said.
     I ran to the clubhouse and back to the cart. Paul and the two young guys were waiting.
     “Sorry,” I said.
     We drove to the first tee. The two young guys whacked their balls down the fairway. Paul hit a bad shot. I unstrapped my bag, having only walked nine holes a few times, then realized I should leave my bag on the cart, put it back, and pulled out my driver.
     “Just so you know,” I shouted over my shoulder at the young guys, “I’m new. You’re probably going to hate playing with me. It’s okay if you want to ditch us.”
     I teed up my ball, took a few practice swings, heard a big crash, and Paul laughing. I nailed the ball about one-hundred-and-fifty yards down the fairway.
     “Nice shot,” the guy who looked like Hamm said.
     “Thanks,” I said, hopping in the cart.
     “Just so you know, you can’t just throw your bag on the cart,” Paul laughed.  “You need to strap it in. Your clubs just went flying.”
     Paul’s ball was the furthest from the hole. He made another bad shot. I grabbed my hybrid, lined up my feet, positioned myself, and took a few practice swings.
     “You got quite a system there,” Paul said.
      I nailed the ball and sent it flying straight down the fairway another hundred feet. I hopped in the cart.
     “You probably want to take fewer practice swings,” Paul said. “Move things along faster.”
     “Okay,” I said.
     The first hole was a par five. I sunk my ball in seven. On the third hole, Paul got his swing down and started crushing it. The two young guys and I started chatting.
     “I just graduated from college,” the one who didn’t look like Hamm said. “My friend graduated last year. We played on our high school golf team.”
     “What’s your degree in?”
     “Marketing. I start a sales job tomorrow. Not what I went to school for. What do you do?”
     “I’m a writer,” I said. “I had a book published a couple of years ago. I’m working on another.”
     “Well, you’d never know you just started playing golf,” he said. “You’re playing really well.”
     “Really?”
     “Really. You’re doing good.”
     “I’m a writer, too,” Hamm said. “I cover high school sports for "The Daily Herald" part time. I have a sales job, too.”
     “A stringer,” I said.
     “Yeah. Do you have any advice for me to get ahead, make money in the writing business?”
     “Ha. Wish I did. I started out as a journalist. The business is all different now. Create a name for yourself, an identity, write well. That’s all I got.”
     We finished the eighth hole and I climbed into the cart and whacked my head hard on the roof.
     “Duck,” Paul laughed.
     “I’m not used to wearing a hat. Can’t see above the visor.”
     “We’re letting these guys play through on the ninth,” Paul said. “They just told me, ‘Uh, we have an appointment so we have to hurry the last nine.’”
     “I’m surprised they stuck with us this long. They waited for me a lot.”
     “Yeah, they did,” Paul laughed.
     The two guys teed off and waved good-bye.
     Paul and I smacked our balls down the fairway, hopped in the cart, and stopped near my ball. I grabbed my three wood, took a few steps away from the ball, lined up my feet, and started to take a practice swing. Paul began laughing.
     “If you weren’t you in that short little skirt, those guys would have wanted to fucking kill you,” he said. “You have no idea. You have no fucking clue. Before you hit every ball, you line up your feet, get your stance just right, practice your swing a few times. Any other person out here, anyone, and they’d have been screaming, ‘Hit the fucking ball! Hit it! Hit it now you fucker! What the fuck is your problem?’ But, no, they’re just standing there smiling and being nice.”
     I started laughing so hard I crossed my legs to stop from peeing myself.
     “I’m serious,” Paul laughed. “You’ve been getting away with murder.”
     “Now you're making me take even longer,” I laughed.
     “Seriously, you have to start walking up to the ball and just hitting it. Maybe take one practice swing and hit it. Some courses have clocks at each tee. They let you know on the score card how much time you’re allowed on each hole.”
     We finished nine and Paul parked the cart by the snack shack. “You want a hotdog?”
     “No,” I said, stuffing a handful of raw almonds into my mouth. “But I’ll hit the bathroom.”
     Four men in their seventies whizzed by in two carts and shot me big grins.
     “I think they like me,” I told Paul.
     “They were playing behind us,” he said. “They should be wanting to fucking kill you.”
     The last nine holes, my arms were tired, my shots weren’t good, I hit without lining up and taking practice swings, and picked up my ball a lot to be quicker.
     “See,” Paul said. “You can hit well without taking all that time.”
     “Uh, now the ball’s not going where I want it to.”
     We were on the fairway a good distance from the green. I smacked my ball onto the green and Paul smashed his into the trees. We hopped into the cart to look for it.
     “Well hell,” Paul drawled in his best hillbilly accent. “I shore don’t know what happened to that there ball.”
     “Hell, baby, it’s just ‘cause you’s so strong,” I drawled.
     It took Paul two shots to get out from under the trees and he wound up in the rough on the edge of the fairway.
     “C’mon Baby!” I rebel yelled from the green. “C’mon up here with me Baby. Hit one for Mama. Hit a nice one up here for Mama!”
     Paul’s shoulders were shaking with laughter. He shook his head and whacked his ball onto the green. Two men in a cart behind Paul were gawking at me like WTF?
     When Blake got home, I told him about my golfing.
     “See,” he laughed. “I kept telling you but you wouldn’t believe me. You do this.” He lined up his feet and bent over. “Then it looks like you’re going to take a couple of practice swings but you don’t. You’d do a few wrist breaks.” He flicked his wrists a few times.
     I doubled over laughing. “Oh my God.”

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Dynamite--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Wednesday, May 29

     The wheels are in motion for a mortgage in my name. Yippee! The bank sent an appraiser over, then I went to hit golf balls where Golf Guy teaches. I’m sick of playing the powerless female. The one waiting for the man to make all the moves so I can respond. I was groomed to behave that way. I’ve done it all my life. I feel like a ninny letting Golf Guy string me along, decide how this goes. We're going to move forward or he needs to go.

     “I’m going to hit balls where you teach. Say hi if you can,” I texted Golf Guy.

     I drove to the club, opened the back of my Tahoe, put my golf shoes on, and carried my clubs to the ball vending machine. The balls rumbled into a basket and a golf cart pulled up to the shelter. The sun was in my eyes, but I could make out a guy with a crew cut smiling at me. I pulled the ear buds out of my ears and gave a little wave.
     “Hi,” the guy said.
     “Hey,” I said walking closer and realizing it was Golf Guy. “I didn’t recognize you with your hair gone.” Golf Guy had long hair before.
     “It was time,” he said, pulling the cap off his head. “Feel it.”
     I ran my hand over the top of his head. “Always liked the feel of a crew cut.”
     Golf Guy looked over his shoulder. A couple of women in a golf cart were driving up. “They’re so needy,” he said. “I told them to wait but they had to come over. I gotta play nine holes with them.”
     “You better go then,” I said.
     “Text me and let me know how you hit.”
     “Okay.” I put my ear buds in, walked away, and hit badly.

     “Hope tomorrow is better,” I texted Golf Guy. “I’m playing 18 for the first time. Nice seeing you.”

     “Good to see you as well.”

     That was it. Dude’s gotta go.
     Tom and I ate dinner then checked his grades online. He had a D in social studies. I clicked on the D and a list of missing homework assignments popped up. The last one was a big project worth huge points.
     “What is this?” I asked.
     “That was a project I was supposed to do with a partner, but he did a bad job,” Tom said.
     “What do you mean he did a bad job?”
     “He just copied some stuff out of a book and pretended he did it.”
     “So he plagiarized.”
     “Yeah.”
     “And you contributed nothing.”
     “Yeah.”
     “You let him do everything and he wound up plagiarizing.”
     Tom swallowed and shrugged.
     “What is wrong with you?” I screamed. “If you’d done well on this you’d have a good grade. This is a fun class. Your teacher is voted ‘best teacher’ every year. Blake loved him.”
     Tom gave me a vacant Napoleon Dynamite stare from his favorite movie, “Napoleon Dynamite.” The slack-jawed, droopy-eyed, nobody-is-home expression, I wanted to slap it off his face. Another of Tom’s idols is Nathan Barnett, a balding, frizzy-haired, jackass who does stupid stunts on YouTube. Tom has been creating and posting videos like Barnett’s. I yanked the cable connecting the computer to the Internet.
     “You’re done watching Barnett! You want to be a guy my age who acts like guys your age?”
     “I don’t care,” Tom shrugged. “Yeah. I think it’s cool to be like Nathan Barnett. I want to be like him. Bad grades don’t bother me.”
     I shoved Tom’s shoulder. I actually growled like an animal. I made myself walk away before I did something I’d regret. I was going to take Tom out to watch the Hawks/Redwings game after he finished his homework, but I stalked out alone.
     I drove to a local bar. It was full. There was an open spot near the waitress stand and I grabbed an empty stool from a table and sat at the bar. I put my purse, club soda, and money on the bar in a wide semi-circle in front of me setting a boundary I wanted no one crossing. I watched the game and came up with a list of chores to occupy Tom’s summer hours. Pick up dog poop, clean the basement, clean the garage, weed. He’d have no time for his slacker heroes. A bartender walked up.
     “Are you okay?” he asked. He was in his early twenties. His face showed concern.
     “Yeah,” I said. I felt tears coming on. I choked them back and forced a smile. “I’m fine.”
     “Okay,” he said.
     I breathed deeply. My throat tightened. I hated what was going on with Tom. I hated Golf Guy. I hated JB. I bought a pack of cigarettes on my way home and smoked a couple. I’d given up smoking years ago, even though I bummed  one or two cigarettes a year. I looked at my phone and there were no texts from Golf Guy. I hated that I checked.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Demented--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Tuesday, May 28

     I had a conference call with two women from the Kabbalah Center about doing their social media. Funny I volunteered for that. I dislike doing social media.

     “Hi,” Golf Guy texted.

     “Hey.”

     “How are you?”

     “Good. Watching Sully freak out.”

     “Cause of the storm?”

     “Yep. He’s a baby. How’s Happy?”

     Golf Guy sent me a video of his dog running around his backyard. “She’s in my lap shaking cause of the thunder.”

     “Sammy, my Toy Fox Terrier, saw Happy’s video and started barking at her.”

     “ :) ”

     “Uh, Sammy just took a dump on my floor.”

     “Wow.”

     “Maybe Happy scared the shit out of him.”

     “That was funny for you.”

     “Want to see something else funny? Tom sent this video to a bully. The bully tattled and the school principal sent me a letter.” I sent Golf Guy the YouTube video “You Suck” by Scary Dave. “I made Tom show me the video. I started laughing. I tried not to, but I couldn’t help it. I’m demented.”

     “Me, too.”

     “Then watch it.”

     Why do I keep texting with Golf Guy? Because  I'm a bit attracted to him and if he takes me out I'll feel desirable? My self esteem is that shot?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lifelike Animals--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Monday, May 27

     It was a cold and rainy Memorial Day.
     “Want to go to the archery range?” I asked Tom.
     “Yeah.”
     Tom grabbed his bow and set up his station at the range. He began shooting lifelike animals made of foam: black bear, wolf, turkey, deer.

     “You having a good weekend?” I texted Golf Guy.

     “Yes, just got done playing our golf club in Kenosha with my partner and a couple of friends. Was fun but cold and rainy. How are you? Just drove by Libertyville. Waved to you.”

     “Really? Did you pass me driving?”

     “I was kidding. I was driving south.”

     “I was driving north. I’m at the archery range with Tom.”

     “That archery thing is awesome.”

     “Bought Tom a compound bow for Christmas and it’s a good size for me, too.”

     “That’s actually sexy.”

     “I’m not very good at it yet. You shoot?”

     “No. I grew up duck hunting.”

     “That’s a wet sport. Still do it?”

     “Not for a few years.”

     Tom and I took turns shooting then left to have dinner and watch the Blackhawks play the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I texted Blake to meet us at the sports bar.

     “How was shooting?” Golf Guy texted. “Are you watching the Blackhawks?”

     “Shot pretty well. Eating pizza and watching the game with my boys. I want the Hawks to win bad. But if they lose, I’ll cheer for Detroit, my second favorite team. It makes my sons angry. Haha.”

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Stones--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Sunday, May 26

     Serena flagged me over at a recovery meeting this morning and asked me to speak at a meeting she chairs on Saturday nights.
     “I think you should date my brother, Ronny,” she said. “He’s cute and rich. John told Ronny he should go out with you. John thinks your hot (John is Serena’s son). I think you and Ronny would really like each other. I just don’t want him to be your transition guy.”
     “Bring him on,” I laughed.
     Tony Bling-Bling, who was eavesdropping nearby and had just chaired the meeting we were at, inched over and said, “I’d like you to speak at this meeting the end of June. Will you?”
     “Sure,” I said.
     “I want to promote it, improve attendance.” Tony had recently taken the meeting over from Playboy Pete and attendance was down.
    I picked up Ruby in the evening and we drove to Buddy Guy’s Legends. Rumor has it the Rolling Stones, who are in town, are playing there tonight. Ruby, an FBI agent who'd gotten the tip from her office, swore me to secrecy.
     “Anything going on with the golf pro?” Ruby asked.
     “I don’t know,” I said. “All we do is text. It doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. A friend of mine wants to fix me up with her brother. She said he’s really good looking and rich.”
     “I want to be fixed up with him,” Ruby said. “Lucky.”
     We got to the club and a tall, young, handsome dude working the door looked me up and down. “Did we used to be together in a past life?” he asked me.
     “Quite possibly,” I laughed, flattered.
     We sat down with Ruby’s FBI friends at a large table next to the stage and ate dinner.  A bluesy jazz trio was playing.

     “How was your day?” Golf Guy texted.

     “Golf Guy just texted me,” I told Ruby. “Is it okay if I tell him and invite him?”
Ruby leaned over and asked one of her friends. The friend nodded. “Just tell him not to go on social media with it,” Ruby said.

     “I’m at Buddy Guy’s,” I texted. “Rumor has it the Stones are playing here tonight!”

     “Where is that? And really?”

     “700 Wabash. Come if you want. Don’t know for sure, but my friend got the tip.”

     “That would be amazing if they play.”

     “I know.”

     No yes or no from Golf Guy. Dangle Brenda. Maybe I’ll text you last minute to hit golf balls when I'm bored.
     The jazz trio wrapped up and Ruby checked with an agent who had the Stone’s schedule. The agent said the Stones had just gone out to dinner and if they played, it would be after the second band. The second band went on.

     “Well?” Golf Guy texted.

     “They’re supposed to go on around ten if they play,” I said. “I’ll send a picture if they do.”

     “Send me a picture of you in the meantime.”

     I leaned over to Ruby. “He wants me to send him a picture of me.”
     “Well send him one. Here, I’ll take it.”
     “I want you in it, too,” I said. “I feel weird sending a picture of me.”
     “I hate myself in pictures.”
     “You’re a hottie. Shut up. He’ll think, ‘Who’s her friend?’”
     Ruby asked one of her friends to take a picture of us.
     “See,” I said, showing Ruby the picture. “You look great.”
     “I guess,” she moaned.
     I sent the picture.

     “You look pretty,” Golf Guy texted.

     Ruby leaned over. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t have a good feeling about this. I don’t think they’re coming. It’ll be late. They’re old.”
     “Don’t they live in LA where it’s two hours behind?” I asked. “I don’t think they keep day hours.”
     Ruby checked with her Stones source. The Stones had finished dinner and were on their way to Buddy Guy’s. The bar was packed. We were definitely not the only people who’d heard the rumor. Suddenly, the singer stopped her set, spoke with a couple of guys, then started back up again. She sang a long time.
     “They’re not coming,” Ruby said.
     Half an hour later, the set ended, the lights went on, and the bouncers told everyone to leave.

     “Mick?” Golf Guy texted.

     “Nope. Bummer.”

     “Hopefully it was fun.”

     “Saw two bands that weren’t the Stones.”

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Happy Place--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Saturday, May 25

     I hopped on BlackJack, hit the trail, and my text alert went off.

     “You should come over and hit balls,” Golf Guy suggested.

     I photographed the trail between BlackJack’s ears and sent it. “On BlackJack,” I texted. “How long will you be there?”

     “Nice, five.”

     “I just got home,” I texted later. “Probably won’t get there today. If there’s another good day, let me know.”

     “Okay. How was riding?”

     “Great. Rode alone. Jack gets competitive, racy, tries to run other horses off the trail when we’re with others. He’s a pistol. How was teaching?”

     “Sounds like he is full of energy, like you.”

     “He’s taught me a lot. There’s a global meditation tonight from nine to ten. My friend is coming over and we’re going to do yoga and meditate.”

     “Nice. Find your happy place.”

     "What are you doing?"

     "Just chillin'."

     No future date. Golf Guy, please go away.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Texting Dance--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Friday, May 24

     Tom got out of school early for teachers’ institute and the boys and I played golf.

     “Did you hit balls today?” Golf Guy texted.

     “Yes! Just got home from nine holes with my boys. I hit well. It’s because of you. You’re awesome. Did you have a good day?”

     “That’s great. Nice job! I’m good. Have my boys tonight. We went out to dinner and now watching silly TV.”

     I’ve been praying, meditating, and scanning the Zohar for Angie, Paul, and Tanya to find their soulmates. I’ve now added Golf Guy to the list. Golf Guy only wants to text with me, and I don’t want to do this weird texting dance anymore. It’s messing with my head. 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Know-It-All--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Thursday, May 23

     Angie tied a red Kabbalah string around my left wrist at lunch. In the evening, Jody and I met up with some friends at a local bar. Suzy walked over.
     “I wasn’t surprised at all when you said you were getting divorced,” she announced.
     “Really?”
     “When you and JB were at our dinner party, I could see there was a disconnect. At your book release, JB was there, but he wasn’t with you. He was just standing around on the periphery hanging out like a visitor. I started talking to him about your book, about how big the night was for you. He was like, ‘eh.’”
     “It was hard for me to be around him," I said. "Apparently, it was hard for him to be around me, too.”
     “Well, you know he did what he did because he knew you couldn’t stand him,” Suzy said. “I’m not excusing what he did, but that’s why. Why did you stay married to him? Why did it take this to get you to leave?”
     I fantasized about punching Suzy in the face. Instead, I said, “I believed JB loved me and was faithful. I thought there was something wrong with me for being unhappy. I thought I was a bitch. If I’d walked out sooner, my mother would have sided with JB and my children would have hated me.”
     “But you knew there was something really wrong with him.”
     “I thought I was a bitch for not liking him. I took my mother’s advice and kept reminding myself of good qualities I thought he had. I tried to make things better. I figured JB was put on my path to make me more selfless, loving, helpful, so I worked hard at that.”
     “But you knew, you knew in your gut something was wrong for a long time.”
     “Yeah, but the first half of my marriage I was drunk,” I laughed. “The person I am today did not marry JB. The person who married him was a cynical sarcastic party girl who needed to prove how smart she was. JB was the same. Like attracts like. Later, I recognized how hollow that was and then I got sober.”
     “So what’s the take-away from this?” Suzy asked condescendingly. “You knew, even though no one else knew, yet you stayed. You need to listen to your instincts.”
     Punching Suzy probably would have felt good.

     “How was your day?” Golf Guy texted.

     “Pretty good. Just got home. Went out with friends to hear a band.”

     “Was it fun?”

     “Sort of. Went out with a bunch of divorced chicks. What did you do?”

     “We had our last night of the golf yoga program, then my partner and I went out to dinner.”

     “How’d the program go? How did you tie the two together?”

     “Lower body stability and upper body mobility, proper breathing and visualization and meditation.”

     “Sounds good.”

     I crawled into bed thinking about smug Suzy. Damned know-it-all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Barely Civil--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Wednesday, May 22

     “May your shoes be waterproof and the ball catch your vibe,” I texted Golf Guy. It was raining on his golf tournament.

     JB and I met at the DMV where it took an hour to have his name taken off the Tahoe and mine taken off the Cadillac.
     “Do you have fun plans for this weekend?” JB asked cheerfully.
     “Yes,” I answered.
     “Oh, well, you don’t, uh, have to tell me what they are or anything.” He looked at the floor then swerved toward the guy handling our paperwork.
     I began chatting with the DMV guy about his family photos and Matt called. Matt said he’d purchased a vacation house in New Buffalo and was spending a lot of time there away from his wife. JB, hearing Matt even though the phone was pressed to my ear, stood next to me trying to look nonchalant. When I got home, there was an email from JB.

     “Well, slowly but surely we're taking care of all the post-divorce details. As far as the 401K goes, the ball is in your court in terms of getting the court order. I'll handle it as quickly as I can once you get that done.
     “I miss Blake terribly and think about him every day. I want him to know this. I don't want to give the impression that I am blithely accepting his decision not to speak to me. I'm respecting his decision, with the hope that time and some effort on my part will allow us to reconcile at some point.
     “I have gone to a couple of ACOA meetings, but travel and Tom's extended stay with me caused a temporary interruption. I will start going again this Saturday with the meeting in Deerfield. I think over time they will help. 
     “I recognize things are just barely civil between us. I've accepted that things may never improve, though I hope they do. Please do know I care very much about you and the kids and I am trying to live up to my responsibilities as best I can.
      “I also ask that we keep an open communication about Tom, how he is doing, what he is feeling, etc. I've made some mistakes, but I hope you at least realize I am trying to be a better father to him.”

     “We got rained out after eleven holes,” Golf Guy texted. “Bummer. How are you?”

     “Are you finishing tomorrow? Were you playing well? Had to meet the ex at the DMV to change car titles.”

     “No extension. We had a weather delay and then had to get back to Deerfield so we had to leave. Bummer that you had to see dumbass.”

     “At least his name is off my car.”

     “Step in the right direction.”

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.”