Saturday, May 19, 2018

Shithead--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Friday, May 10

     Tom started moaning the moment I woke him for school.
     “I can’t move,” he panted and screwed up his face. “It hurts too bad.”
     I pulled the covers off him. “I believe you can sit up.”
     Tom made a feeble attempt to sit and failed.
     “Give me your hand,” I said.
     Tom slowly reached his arm toward me and I pulled him up to sitting. He groaned.
     “Swing your legs off the bed.”
     Tom gingerly pivoted. I took him by the arm and hoisted him to standing. Tom’s knees buckled and he fell to the floor.
     “Get up Tom. I’m not buying it.”
     “But it really hurts Mom.”
     “I hurt every day. Every single day. If I let aches and pains stop me I’d never do anything. Get up.”
     “I need help,” Tom said, reaching out his hand.
     I took Tom’s hand and lifted him up.  He teetered unsteadily. He grabbed the handrail near the top of the stairs. He inched forward slowly, shuffling his feet toward the top of the staircase.
     “I’m putting your breakfast on the table,” I said over my shoulder as I went down past him.
     Tom slowly thumped behind me. He sat at the table and moaned.
     “I’ll give you an Aleve after breakfast—if you need one,” I said.
     Tom shot me a pathetic look. “I need one.”
     Getting Tom dressed was slow and tedious, but we eventually walked out of the house.  Tom stopped behind the car.
     “I can’t walk anymore,” he said. “You’ll need to carry me.”
     “You’re kidding me, right?”
     Tom shook his head slowly. “I don’t know how I’ll be able to get out of the car or walk into school.”
     I sighed. “Get back in the house and go to bed. You better stay there all day. I have to meet someone right now. You better be in bed when I get back.”
     “Where are you going?”
     “Starbucks. I’m getting my Lewis Black tickets from Tanya. But I’ll be back soon.”
     Tom quickly limped into the house.
     I ordered coffee and told Tanya about Tom.
     “I could always tell the night before that Joss wasn’t going to school,” Tanya said. “She did really bad the year Larry died. Her teachers just wanted her to get through the year. They said the next year would be better. She’s taking honors classes in high school now. She wants to go to college in London.”
     “I don’t want Tom to develop bad work habits. We need to do our jobs when things suck, when we don’t feel like it.”
      “He needs to know it’s okay to feel bad, to feel sad, to take a day off,” Tanya said. “Just do something fun with him and forget about school for today.”
     “Thanks. You’re right.”
     Tom was upstairs sitting at the computer when I got home.
     “Come into my room,” I said.
     Tom looked at me warily. He followed me into my room. I flopped down on my bed and patted it. Tom sat down.
     “This divorce has been hard on me,” I said, tearing up. “I try to be strong for you, not show how bad I feel, but there’ve been days when I dropped you off at school, crawled back into bed, and cried. I’ve taken days off. You’re feeling like that now, aren’t you? Your legs are fine but you can’t deal with going to school, right?”
     Tom nodded. We both started crying.
     “I’ve had angry days, too,” I said. “Your father is lucky he didn’t walk in front of my car those days. I think I would have run him over. I took a walk in the woods, found a dead tree, picked up a broken limb, and bashed the hell out of that dead tree. I screamed. I swore. I cried until I was exhausted. Then I felt better. Sometimes we need to do stuff like that. If you ever need to go for a walk in the woods, let me know. I’ll let you do what you need to do.”
     Tom hugged me hard.
     “Screw school,” I said. “You don’t have to do anything today. Want to watch a movie?”
     “Yeah.” Tom wiped his tears and smiled.
     Tom and I watched “Orange County.” Not an age-appropriate movie, but I didn’t care.

     “Doctor who saw Tom called me,” JB texted. “Blood work all normal. Celiac test not available until next week. She will call you.”

     “She called and I told her Tom’s symptoms are divorce related,” I texted. “Tom stayed home today and I shared how bad I’ve been feeling, how I’ve dealt with my emotions. He admitted he’s been faking. Seeing what you’ve become, how you’re living, it’s hard on Tom. Tom feels like he has to prop up poor shithead dad in his shithole.”

     “Why don’t we do this. Stop sending me these kinds of texts. I can only be called a shithead so many times. Let’s meet for coffee when I get back and try to have a reasonable conversation. Truth is I looked at a lot of places. I thought it was important that Tom has (sic) a room of his own. I will put some more effort into fixing this place up. If you think I was not thinking of him when I rented this place you are wrong. Maybe I made the wrong choice. After my lease is up I will try to find something nicer. And please, we have to get past the name-calling. We have to have rational conversations about Tom. We can’t when I am being called every name in the book.”

     Every name in the book? I haven’t called him a name other than Shithead this one time. In my head and to other people I’ve called him every name in the book. But to him, no. Maybe he’s hearing voices.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Growing Pains--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Thursday, May 9

     “Tom isn’t doing very well,” JB texted this morning. “Now he is complaining about pain in his legs. That started last night. He is walking very gingerly and I had to help him up a few times. I keep telling him he can’t afford to miss more school. He might be playing it up but I don’t think he’s faking.”

     “Take him to the doctor. Mention he’s been running track and doing the long jump.”

     JB called from the doctor’s office. “Tom couldn’t get out of bed this morning. I had to help him up and walk.”
     “Growing pains and shinsplints?”
     “He insists it’s not growing pains. I think it’s more than that.”
     “Let me know what the doctor says.”

     “Still at the doctor’s,” JB texted later. “Nothing really specific. They drew some blood to screen for any issues. They say he doesn’t look one hundred percent but nothing they can really put their finger on. His legs still hurt but not as bad as last night/earlier this a.m.”

     “Decided to keep him home," JB texted awhile later. "Back at my place. If you could come pick him up before four that would be great. Please let me know. Thanks.”

     I called Tom.
     “Hey!” I said cheerfully. “I’m excited to be picking you up soon. I miss you. What’s going on with your legs?”
     “I miss you, too,” Tom said. “My legs hurt really bad.”
    “Growing pains?”
     “No, it’s not that.”
     “Are you sure? You’re getting tall really fast. And you’ve been running and jumping a lot. That’ll make your legs hurt.”
     “Mom, it’s not growing pains. I know what those feel like. This is different. When are you coming to get me?”
     “I’m writing. I’m going to write for another hour or two, but I’m not far away. I’ll be there in two hours, okay? I’ll text you and let you know when I’m leaving.”
     “Okay, good.”

     I finished writing and as I was putting my computer away, Tom texted, “Are you coming?”

     “Yep. I’m leaving here in ten minutes. Be there soon. Love you. XO”

     “Ok.”

     I turned down JB’s street and my phone dinged. I pulled in front of JB’s house and saw Tom and JB standing outside waiting for me.

     “Where are you?” Tom had texted.

     Tom smiled brightly. I got out of the car and he gave me a big hug. I took his face in my hands and looked in his eyes. “You feeling better now?”
     “Yeah,” he said. “My legs still hurt but not bad now.”
     “Good,” I said and kissed the top of his head.
     Tom jogged to the passenger’s side of the car and hopped in. No sign of leg problems.
     Blake and Tom shoved each other, laughed, and started watching TV. Tom appeared healthy until nine o’clock, when Blake went to the gym and I told Tom to take a shower.
     “My legs are starting to hurt again,” Tom complained.
     “You seem totally fine.”
     “I was, but now they’re hurting again.”
     “I’ll give you an Aleve and rub essential oils on your legs.” I kissed the top of Tom’s head. “Get in the shower and we’ll do that when you get out.”
     Tom limped into the bathroom.
      “Lay down on my bed and pull your pajama legs up.” I said. “Where does it hurt?”
     “Right here and right here,” Tom said, pointing to his femurs right above his knees and right below on his shins.
     I rubbed oils where he indicated. “You’re going to school tomorrow, you know,” I said. “You can’t miss anymore. You only have a few weeks left. You have to finish strong. You’ll have the whole summer off soon.”
     “Yeah, okay.”
     “Okay Sweetie. Go to bed.”
     “Will you help me up?” Tom asked. “My legs hurt really bad. Really.”
     “Give me your hand.” I said, yanking Tom to his feet and giving him a bear hug. “I love you.”
     “I love you, too.”
     Tom dramatically limped into his room and groaned loudly.

     “Hi,” Golf Guy texted.

     “Hi. Did you have a decent day?”

     “Kinda wet.”

     “Doesn’t look nice for tomorrow either. But still better than working in a cubicle.”

     “Good point. How’s the writing coming?”

     “Good. Weird day with my 12-year-old. Now that the divorce is final, there’s some troubling behavior.”

     “I’m sorry, might take a little while.”

     “You deal with that?”

     “Not really. My kids have adjusted very well, so far. But my ex and I get along very well, which helps a lot.”

     “That’s good.”

     “Do you and your ex get along?”

     “I’m cordial, but I don’t like my ex. It’s complicated and shitty.”

     “I’m sorry.”

     “Tom’s going through a rough patch. I feel really bad for him. Night.”

     “Sleep well.”

     “You, too.”

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Strive To Be Happy--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Wednesday, May 8

     I checked my phone before rolling out of bed, something I keep telling myself not to do, but I keep starting my day in the grind.

     “Tom is complaining of a sore throat and upset stomach,” JB texted. “He has not thrown up or anything, but seems lethargic. I’m having him take a shower and then I need to decide whether to take him to school. I kept him off sweet, spicy, and dairy through the weekend but eased up starting Monday and let him have dairy again.”

     “I’ve said everything I can about his diet.”

     “I just want to keep you informed. I’ll make a decision and let you know. I’d like to avoid him missing more school.”

     “This is happening every Wednesday like clockwork. Tom has voice at six. Try not to miss it.”

     “I am going to keep him home. I really don’t want to—I will drag him to voice if I have to. He seems sick but I just don’t know. Tom is working on his social studies report. I think he will be well enough to go to voice and I told him he is going.”

     It was sunny and eighty degrees. I hopped on BlackJack and we hit the trail for two-and-a-half hours. As usual, BlackJack was edgy, spooky, and looking for anything that might kill him. He jumped, tried to bolt, spun, but we had some nice canters in between. I let BlackJack graze at the end of our ride and texted Golf Guy.

     “Had to ride. Sorry I didn’t come to the range. Hope you’re having a great day.”

     “How was riding?”

     “Good. I’m going to hit balls with Blake later. I’ll let you know how that goes.”

     “Hey,” JB texted. “Tom went back to bed and now won’t get up to shower and get ready for voice. Pulling my hair out. He’s either too sick to go or faking really well. He seemed better earlier.”

     I called Tom. “What’s going on Sweetie?”
     “I don’t feel good.”
     “The doctor said you should go to school, do your activities, stay on that special diet to give your gut a rest. Go to your voice lesson Sweetie.”
     “But I don’t feel good.”
     “Are you drinking a lot of water?”
     “Yes.”
     “Please be more careful about what you eat. Please go to voice. It feels good to sing. You’ve missed a lot of lessons. I love you Sweetie. I’ll see you tomorrow. Put your dad on the phone.”
     “Okay.”
     “Hello?” JB said.
     “Take Tom to voice. Have you actually seen him vomit?”
     “No.”
     “Me either.”

     “Now coaching baseball game,” Golf Guy texted. “Then spring sing at my 4th grader’s school. What are you up to tonight?”

     “Writing. Blew it off earlier to ride. Making dinner now. Gotta say, I was not a fan of the spring sing. Neither were my boys.”

     “Same and same.”

     “Well,” JB texted, “I dragged him here to his voice lesson. But not sure I should have. He’s not feeling well.”

     “Do you want to bring him to me?” I texted.

     “No. He’s doing a little better now. Let’s stick with tomorrow. I’ll call in the a.m. if he’s not fit to go to school. I think he should be. Then you pick him up from school. It’s been nice having him. Was just worried about him today.”

     “What did you make for dinner?” Golf Guy texted.

     “My friend gave me a pot of incredibly good bean soup. Had that with quinoa and a salad. How was the sing?”

     “Boring and off-key.”

     “That’s the sing I know.”

     I checked email.

     “So, has the golf pro started working on ‘turning your hips’ in the swing? :-)” Dick emailed. “It was good talking with you. Strive to be happy and everything else will work out.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Master Gardener-"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt


Tuesday, May 7

     I trained to be a master gardener (I’m perhaps the least masterful master gardener) and volunteer at the local office answering questions about trees, weeds, and lawns during growing season. Today, I worked with Dick, a man from my training class who habitually upstaged experts brought in to teach topics ranging from soil to fruit trees. I’d tried to switch volunteer days when I learned I was scheduled with Dick, but I was unsuccessful.
     “Just so you know,” the director said when I asked to switch, “Dick’s moving to Idaho. This will be the last time you’ll have to volunteer with him.”
     Dick was in the office when I got there.
     “I hear you’re moving in July,” I said. “Are you excited?”
     “Not as excited as my wife,” Dick said. “I’m happy here. I had no interest in moving. Jan wanted to move. She grew up there.”
     “I hope you grow to love it. It’s gorgeous.”
     “It is that,” Dick agreed. “We’re in the foothills. The house isn’t finished yet, but I’ve got pictures if you want to see them.”
     “Show me.”
     Dick clicked around on the computer and brought up pictures of his house taking shape. He showed me the architect’s drawings. He looked at me sideways and said, “You’ve lost some weight.”
     “Divorce will do that.”
     “Oh, yes it will,” he said, leaning back in his chair and rubbing his chin. “Happened to me when I got divorced. Should I say I’m sorry or congratulations?”
     “Thanks for asking. Congratulations. I’m tired of people saying they’re sorry.”
     “I spent a lot of time in therapy figuring out what I wanted, figuring out myself after my divorce,” Dick said. “I suggest you do the same. It was very helpful.”
     “I’ve been working on myself for ten years in a twelve-step program. Anyone told you about my book?”
     Dick shook his head.
     “I’m an alcoholic and I wrote about it. I think I know myself pretty well.”
     “I was single ten years before I married Jan,” Dick said. “Therapy helped me figure out what I wanted. You might want to use it for that. I dated a lot of women. I’d call certain ones to hike, certain ones to rock climb, certain ones to travel with. They liked me. And they knew the deal. I figured out what I wanted. You need to figure out what you want. Have you thought about it?”
     “Yes,” I said. “I want someone who’ll expand me, love me, someone who’s smart, honest, loyal. Someone who makes me laugh.”
     “Someone who makes you laugh, or you laugh with? There’s a difference. You need to get specific.”
     “Ah. I see. That’s good.”
     “Have you dated yet?”
     “No.  Well, there’s a golf pro who gave me a couple of golf lessons and seems interested. He’s attractive.”
     Dick slammed back in his office chair and threw his head back and laughed. “A golf pro? A golf pro? Yeah, I’m sure he’s interested. Did he put his arms around you and work on that swing? I bet he did.”
     I laughed hard.
     “You’re beautiful. You’re intelligent. You are interesting. You’re prime real estate. Don’t you forget that for a minute. Don’t give yourself away to the first person who wants you. There are going to be many who want you so be picky. A lot of rich men would like you for a trophy wife. I know you don’t want to be that. You wouldn’t be happy. Just don’t give it away to the first guy. A golf pro? Come on.” He belly laughed.
     “Thank you," I said, feeling choked up. "I really appreciate that.”
     “And don’t dismiss therapy. I worked out a lot, including dealing with the fact that I never felt loved by my parents.”
     “Hmm. Could be helpful on many fronts. I don’t know. I keep thinking maybe I could have seen what my ex was up to if I’d been able to look at him. I hadn’t been able to look at him for years.”
     “I don’t think you should tell guys you date that information,” Dick chuckled. He scrutinized me. “I’ll bet you can be a real bitch.”
     “Yeah, I can.”
     The phones started ringing. A woman wanted to know if she should stake a pine tree that was leaning over. Dick’s caller wanted to know if she should prune her roses now.
     “We’re having a garage sale this weekend,” Dick said when the calls stopped. “I have pictures of some of the nicer things, if you’re interested.”
     “My son is moving into an apartment with a friend this fall,” I said. “He needs furniture.”
     Dick pulled up pictures and I told him I was interested in his teak table and desk and I’d come by Saturday to look. I felt like hugging Dick, but I didn’t. I’d misjudged him. I don’t trust my judgment anymore.
     Dick emailed me photos of the things he was selling later and I told him I definitely wanted the teak desk and table.

     “How was your day?” Golf Guy texted.

     “Really good. Taught yoga and put in some master gardener hours. How was your day? Busy?”

     “My day was good,” he texted. “Was really nice out and had a lot of students . . . although my favorite was last night at 6.”

     I texted a smiley face.

     “You should come out to Deerfield tomorrow to practice if you have time,” he texted.

     “I’ll see how the day goes. I might.”