Saturday, December 31, 2016

Intentions Are Cheap--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     (Friday, November 30, continued)

     “As for our separation, I'm grateful for a few extra days at home (I hope this email doesn't change that). While living with Troy I will figure out a longer term arrangement, I'd rather it be in the burbs. I want to be as close to home as possible. That's really important to me. I'm investigating things.
     “I will respect boundaries and not make unannounced appearances or anything of the kind. If you have other ground rules, we can discuss them. But I want to see Tom as often as I can, and Blake when he's home. I hope the kids don't end up hating me. That would be unbearable. I also want to have an opportunity to gradually repair our relationship to the degree possible. I still hope for eventual reconciliation, which I know will be difficult to earn. I know you would say impossible. At the very least I hope for eventual healing. Together or separated, I hope we can find peace and solace as the parents of two amazing boys, who have spent the better part of our lives together, yes with good and bad times, but lots of good. I love you very much and I am in agony over the mess I've made and the pain I've caused and am about to cause. 
     “I plan to focus in the coming weeks on improving my health and taking an inventory of my life. And getting back on top of my game professionally.
     “I know it's said that people can't or don't change. In a sense that is true. But I believe people can improve, become more self aware, change their lifestyle and their behavior. They can become more sensitive, spiritual and present. That's the journey I am planning. Intentions are cheap. You can judge the outcome a few months down the road.
     “The only request I have, as I said yesterday, is please don't move too quickly to file for divorce. I am assuming you are already getting advice, which you should be. I have not yet talked to anyone. I hope we can let the separation happen for a while and then take it from there. I want to support your effort to finish your book, and I don't want you to have to make any big sacrifices right now. I'm looking into ways I can perhaps increase/supplement my income, though haven't come up with anything just yet. 
     “As for what we tell Tom, I've given it some thought. We should talk about that directly. I would like to have a father-son night with him Saturday if that's OK wit (sic) you. I cry every time I think about telling him."
      “About a decade ago... I had a one night stand.” JB infected me with HPV a year ago. “secrets mostly fall into the category of, ‘why didn’t you just tell me?’” No. They don’t. “I have been hiding some debt.” More, I suspect. “. . . sensitive, spiritual and present. That’s the journey I am planning.” JB smirked whenever I spoke of spiritual matters. “… I think the only thing that matters right now is getting to honesty.” Not much honesty here. I read JB’s email again. I read it a third time. I started shaking. My breathing got short and shallow. I felt like I was flying apart. I saw myself lifting a shotgun and blowing JB’s head off.
     (To Be Continued)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

All These Stupid Little Secrets--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     (Friday, November 30, continued) 

    “1. I have been hiding some debt. It's about 11K, less about 2.5K in outstanding expenses from work. Amex, citibank and chase (sic). The sources of the debt will be detailed below. I have been whittling it down steadily.
     “2. I drink more than you may realize, and it's gotten a little bit worse in the past year. I probably have 3 beers a day on average, sometimes a little more. That's too much and given my family history, troubling. There is also an association in me between booze and poor judgement. It's one of the many things about myself I really need to examine. I think my guilt over my secrets may be a factor in my increasing use of alcohol. Also, I have learned that I have high blood pressure, which is not helped by my lifestyle of drinking lots of beer and coffee, plus the stress of trying to keep all these stupid little secrets. 
     “3. I have hid additional taxes in the past. On a few occasions over the past years, I've had you write checks for estimated taxes and then I filed later, sometimes we owed an additional 1-2 K which I would put on amex (sic) or on my citicard (sic) rather than tell you about it. 
     “4. Rather than come to you to talk about our share of the Michigan expenses, I've just buried them. We generally owe about 1500 per year for our share of the taxes, utilities and so on. I've been lax about collecting from Troy and Leslie but have recently sent them a statement. Leslie settled up but Troy still owes me about 1K. We have the fall taxes looming on the Michigan property. Our share is about $700. I also bury my life insurance payments, which are about 500 a year, but it all adds up.
     “5. The buyout checks are larger each month than I have told you. I've used the difference (about 600) to work off my debt. 
     “6. Some of the buyout checks that didn't come were genuine because the companies renegotiated the buyout deal. But on a few occasions I used that precedent as an excuse to keep the checks to try and whittle down my bills. This month is an example. I've probably done this 2 or 3 times over the past couple of years. 
     “7. I borrowed the capital one (sic) card in the basket in your office on my last trip as a just in case. I ended up using it but have paid it off already. It should have a zero balance right now. I returned it to the basket in your office and will not us (sic) it again.
     “All of the financial issues can be addressed if we sit down and really go through our finances, as unemotionally as possible, and figure things out together. Maybe right now isn't the best time, but we can't put it off for too long. Next year refinancing may be necessary to stabilize our finances as we figure out what our futures will look like. We'll probably need some professional advice.
     (To Be Continued)

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Sizable Lies And Omissions--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Friday, November 30

     My heart and stomach dropped when I began reading JB’s email.

     “I've promised to come clean on everything I've kept from you, so here it goes,” JB wrote. “This is probably too little too late but I feel that I owe this to you. This isn't going to help my cause, but I think the only thing that matters right now is getting to honesty. I didn't even have the guts to tell my therapist most of these things. If I had, maybe we'd be in a different place right now. This will be a long email but I ask that you please read it.
     “Please understand I may try to explain some of my actions. I have no intention of excusing any of my behavior. 
     “You probably are assuming I've been seeing women all along. That's actually not true. I've actually spent most of our marriage avoiding compromising situations on the road, which aren't as prevalent as you might thing (sic) but they can and do happen.
     “I haven't been perfect, unfortunately. About a decade ago, maybe a little longer, I had a one night stand with a woman at a conference in Florida. The two times I made this mistake had certain things in common. The women approached me and paid a lot of attention to me. They were younger, attractive but not amazingly so, and they were aggressive and made all the moves. And way too much alcohol was consumed in each case. None of this excuses my behavior, obviously, but I think the clear pattern is that my ego was being stroked and my judgment was impaired by booze. I've always had a pathetic need to feel attractive to women and when anyone feeds that, I am vulnerable. There have been a handful of other instances over the years where women have flirted with me and I was vulnerable to making a mistake, but nothing happened. At various times during our marriage I've imagined or contemplated having an actual affair, but never had one or took any serious action to find one. The two times I did cross the line, beyond any fleeting physical gratification, they produced only negative feelings -- remorse, guilt, emptiness and regret. These feelings were very strong this last time in particular. I was aching the next day. If anything, it's made it clear to me that I'm not really cut out for infidelity. Yet there is no denying I've been guilty of it. I repeated a mistake I told myself never to repeat. I can't change that now. You have no idea how much I wish I could. 
     “I am not sure we were in such a great place when this happened the first time. What is really killing me right now is that I felt good about where we've been recently. I've enjoyed the past several months together in particular, and have felt closer and more in love with you than ever, which makes my recent actions so much more repellent and inexplicable and tragic. But as I am about to describe, my accumulated secrets were holding me back from being fully available to you and were starting to take a toll on my health. It's what stood in the way of fully repairing our marriage, and I'd been struggling to find a way to reveal them to you so that we could have a completely honest relationship. And yet I have passed up every opportunity to come clear and finally be completely real with you. Until now of course, when I find myself completely out of rope.
     “As you will see, the other secrets are mostly fall (sic) into the category of "why didn't you just tell me?" It would have been so much easier. These represent a lot of dumb, careless decisions that I covered up mainly out of embarrassment or desperation. The one insight I did get from therapy was that my ACOA (Adult Child of an Alcoholic) status is consistent with a need to keep up appearances at all cost and avoid conflict. My intense conflict avoidance may be the one thing that has caused me more trouble in my life than anything else. You've pointed this out to me countless times.
     “I'm guessing some of these will not come as a big surprise, but there are some sizable lies and omissions contained here."
     (To Be Continued)

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

But Thailand Was The Only Time--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Thursday, November 29

     I walked into my doctor’s examining room, stripped, put on a paper gown, and jammed my heels into the table stirrups. Dr. Shoal inserted a speculum and swabbed me.
     “Visually, everything looks good,” she said. “I’ll call you tomorrow with your test results for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. You’ll need a blood test for HIV in six months. In light of what you just told me, the HPV you were diagnosed with a year ago was most likely something new your husband gave you. It’s unlikely a twenty-four-year-old case came back.”
     I felt like a robot. I drove to Tom’s school. I walked into the office and Mary, the secretary, looked up and gave me a saccharine smile.
     “I need to speak with the school psychologist,” I said.
     Mary gave me an odd questioning look. “I’ll call and see if she’s available.”
     When Mary got off the phone she said the psychologist was with a student but would call me. I left my name and number. I didn’t know how to tell Tom I was divorcing his father and needed help. And Tom would need help. I walked to my car. My text alert dinged.

     “The urine test was clear for chlamydia (sic) and gonn (sic) but the swab test won't be ready til (sic) next week,” JB wrote. “That will confirm tests And (sic) screen for any other possible infections. The urine tests are supposed to be accurate but not 100%. 
     “Troy can take me whenever. I can move in this weekend.”

     JB was going to move in with his brother. Excellent. I fed Tom dinner, JB came home, and while Tom was in the shower, I turned on JB.
     “Remember when my doctor said I had HPV last year?” The color drained from JB’s face. “She says you re-infected me. It wasn’t the case you gave me twenty-four years ago when we were dating.”
     “But Thailand was the only time I was unfaithful,” he stammered. “I swear.”
     I looked at him disgustedly. “The only reason you told me you cheated is because you thought you gave me an STD. Right?”
     JB looked at his feet. He nodded.
     “You’re leaving for Los Angeles in two days and will be gone a week,” I said. “That’ll give me time to figure out what to tell Tom. We’ll tell Tom when you get back then you can move to Troy’s. I’m leaving. I have dinner plans.”
     I met my friend, Matt, at an Italian restaurant. Matt and I’d reconnected two weeks ago at our thirtieth high school reunion. He’d invited me out to dinner in a text. Days after I’d said yes, he told me he’d lied to his wife about our having dinner plans. It made me uncomfortable. I’d decided to cancel but then my marriage blew up. Matt is a lawyer.
     “I know you don't do divorces, but can you recommend a divorce lawyer?” I asked.
     “I have a great one in mind, but I want to make sure she’ll take you on. She’s winding down her practice."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

I Went To The Doctor Today--"Thank You Ashley Madison" except

     I drove Nicole to the dilapidated farmhouse where she and her boyfriend, Ken, live. I’ve known Nicole since first grade. We grew up kindred eye-rolling spirits in Seventh-day Adventist school.
     “I’m leaving JB,” I told Nicole.
     “Oh, darlin’,” she drawled. “I’m so sorry. I thought he was great. I thought you had the perfect life.”
     “No one’s life is perfect.”
     “Well, yours seemed to be. I’m going to call JB and tell him he better behave and treat my best friend right.”
     “You’ll do no such thing. I want to get rid of that asshole.”
     “Oh, darlin’, you don’t want to end up like me.”
     “Thanks for your concern.”
     “You really want to leave him?”
     “Damn straight I do darlin’,” I drawled. “What the fuck’s up with that southern accent? We grew up together. You never lived down south.”
     Nicole nervously mumbled something. The rest of the ride she spoke in her normal voice.
     Several text alerts dinged on my phone. I parked next to my house. There was a long text from JB.

     “I went to the dr today near my office about my bladder problems,” he began.

     Tom and I had gone bike riding Sunday. As we peddled to the house I was happy to see JB raking leaves. He was doing it without me asking. He’d become oddly helpful lately. Days earlier, he’d organized the pantry. JB stopped raking and stood next to a pile of leaves. He was pouting and appeared lost in thought. Typical.
     “Why the sourpuss?” I needled.
     “I don’t feel good,” JB said. “I haven’t felt good since Thanksgiving. I’ve been peeing a lot and I get a pain right here.” He pressed his hand near his groin. I think I should go to the doctor.”
     “When’s the last time you saw one?”
     “I don’t know. Years.”
     “I’ll text you my internist’s number. Blake goes to her. He likes her, too.”

     “I told him everything,” JB’s text continued. “He checked me out and didn't find anything specific. It may be anxiety. It may be an (sic) urinary tract infection. He took a swab and a urine sample and gave me a general antibiotic called levaquin (sic) to be on the safe side. You might want talk to to (sic) your dr. An antibiotic might be a good idea for your peace of mind.
     "I know how badly I have fucked up and now I have to accept the consequences. My behavior was unforgivable. Its (sic) hitting me like a ton of bricks. I'm so sorry. I am so ashamed. I can't even face you. 
     "I will alway (sic) live up to my responsibilities to you and the kids whatever happens.”

     Sunshine streamed into the car. I watched dust specs float. I felt like vomiting. I slumped. I read and reread JB’s text. JB’d said he’d used a condom then added that weird comment about a blowjob. Who knows what he fucked in Thailand. I called my doctor and got an appointment tomorrow. I glided into the house. Tom was already home from school.
     “Hey buddy,” I said, trying to sound normal. “Get started on your homework. I’m hopping in the shower, making you something to eat, then teaching yoga.”
     I didn’t want to teach yoga. I wanted to curl up in a ball.
     I returned home from yoga and JB was in the kitchen. I stared at him. I felt deep loathing. He couldn’t look at me. I washed up and went to bed. The bed felt good without him. JB’s footsteps sounded on the stairs. His footsteps made me cringe for years. When they turned into Tom’s room, relief rushed through my body.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Blissed Out/Hellish Panic--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

    Wednesday, November 28

     I had a Kabbalah class this morning. Somewhere to go and get spiritual support. I felt relieved and hopped in the shower. It occurred to me that JB could possibly move into his sister Roz’s apartment. Roz was divorced and broke. I got dressed and, as usual, JB was at the computer.
     “Why don’t you call Roz and see if she wouldn’t mind having a roommate?” I asked.
     JB stared at me blankly. He furrowed his brow. He stiffened. “Oh! You mean me?”
     “Yeah, I mean you,” I chuckled. “I mean you living with her.”
     “Shit!” JB gasped and stared at his feet.
     “Call her. Bye.”
     I walked downstairs, hugged Tom, who was eating a bowl of cereal, kissed him, and left JB to take him to school.
     Kabbalah class was on the ego and the soul and figuring out which one I’m operating from. If I’m in the moment, excited, and passionate about what I’m doing, I’m operating from the soul. If I’m worried, anxious, fearful, doubtful, or angry, that’s my ego. So if I’m rehashing the past and getting twisted up about the future: ego. If I’m stuck in thinking loops about the same old crap: ego. I was advised to laugh at myself and pull myself back into the present and not beat myself up. Beating myself up is ego, too. I’m well practiced at beating myself up and all the other ego stuff.
     I drove away feeling happy. I was excited to start my new life. The sun was shining and the world looked beautiful. I was in the flow. Then I started worrying. Would we sell the house? How would I make money? I’d been a full-time mom for twenty-one years. I taught yoga and wrote part-time. Fear gripped me. I began to panic. I reminded myself I was in ego and brought myself back to the beautiful woods I was driving through. My phone rang. It was Nicole. I let her go to voicemail. Nicole had left many messages knowing I was going to pick her up from the hospital after my class. I’d visited her Monday and had to wear a Hazmat suit so I wouldn't catch her intestinal infection. Nicole had pulled a curtain around her bed several times and shat in a portable toilet.
     The drive to the hospital was an hour long and I swung on an emotional pendulum the whole way. I felt blissed out then hellish panic. I pulled in front of the hospital and Nicole was waiting at the door.  Apparently her nearby, drug-addict, alcoholic friends could’t bother getting her. She gingerly hobbled to my car.
     “Will you drive me to Walmart so I can get a prescription?” she drawled. She was pouring on her sympathy-seeking false hillbilly accent. “I don’t have money. I could pay you back. I could . . .”
     “I’ll take you to Walmart,” I said. “Forget about the money.”
     We waited at the pharmacy for Nicole’s prescription. Nicole rested against a wall periodically sucking in her cheeks and rolling her eyes and steadying herself and glancing at me to see if I was watching. A fat, bald, toothless guy limped toward me.

     “You single?” he asked me. “You live around here?”
     “No and no,” I said grabbing a magazine and pretending to read.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Did You Wear A Condom?--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Tuesday, November 27

     JB left the house this morning and sent me this text.

     “You were right to say yesterday that I haven't earned your trust. I need to clear the decks with you of all the stupid things I've done. The stress of it all is taking a toll. I want to be a better husband, father and man. I've got a ways to go...”

     I read JB’s text several times. I felt dizzier with each read. I put my phone away. I’d deal with this in person. I sat for what felt like a long time feeling ill. Then I mentally shelved what was going on. I began working on the novel I was writing then left to teach a yoga client. When I got home from yoga, JB was making spaghetti for dinner. Tom, twelve and in sixth grade, hopped in the shower after dinner and I walked over to JB who, as usual, was sitting at a computer.
     “What do you need to come clean about?” I asked.
     JB swiveled in his chair. He nervously glanced at me then stared at the floor.
     “I fooled around when I was in Thailand,” he said. JB’d been in Thailand a few weeks ago. “I don’t know why I did it but I did it. She was from Australia. She was there for the same conference. We were drinking in the bar. She invited me back to her room and I went. I don’t know why I went but I did.”
     “You had sex with her?”
     “Did you wear a condom?”
     “Yes. But she gave me a blow job.”
     That was weird. Everything he said felt odd and prefabricated.
     “Did you have sex with anyone else?” I asked.
     “No. That was the only time.”
     “What about debt? We were talking about money before you said I was right not to trust you. Is there debt you need to tell me about?”
     “No debt?”
     I walked away. It felt like I was gliding. I slid into our bedroom and stopped in the middle of the floor. I smiled. I walked into my closet. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t want JB seeing I was happy. I pressed my palms together, looked at the ceiling, and whispered, “Thank-you.” I started giggling. I put on my serious face and walked out.
     “I’m going for a drive,” I said. “I need to process this.”
     I pulled away from the house not knowing where I was going. I wanted to talk to someone but didn’t know who. Paul. I’d call Paul then buy myself a present. I pulled into a shopping mall parking lot. I turned off my car and froze. I was paralyzed. Eventually I pulled out my phone and dialed Paul.
     Paul and I have known each other thirty years. He and I’d gone out to dinner after my father died of cancer and I told him, “Not once did JB ask about my dad. He never asked how I was either. Hospice put my dad’s hospital bed in his living room. I was sitting on it feeding him cherry Jell-O and he asked, ‘Is JB ever going to come see me?’ I couldn’t breathe. I made up some excuse and changed the subject. When JB walked through the door that night I screamed, ‘Are you planning on seeing my father? He's fucking dying! He’s been so good to you and you don’t give a shit!’ JB stood there like a mannequin then said, ‘Oh, well, I was planning to go this weekend.’ I don’t like him Paul. I don’t like JB at all.”
     Paul’s phone rang. “What’s happening?” he answered.
     “JB cheated on me.”
     “No. No fucking way.”
     “Yes fucking way.”
     “How do you know?”
     “He told me.”
     “He told you?”
     “He told me.” I started laughing.
     “Well, it’s good you’re laughing, I guess.”
     “I can leave him,” I said. “Seven months ago I hit my knees, told God I couldn't take my miserable marriage anymore, and said, ‘Give me a sign and make it perfectly clear if I should stay or if I should go.’ I get to go now. If I’d gone to Thailand with JB instead of Spain, he wouldn’t have done whatever the fuck he did. I’d still be stuck. JB wanted me to ditch his business trip to Spain and go to Thailand instead. Thank God I didn’t.”
     “Well, congratulations.” Paul laughed. “Hey JB, thanks. I get to hang out with your wife more.” 
     I walked into the store. The world felt surreal. I glided around and picked out a grey merino wool sweater with tiny white buttons running up the sleeves. A sales woman began ringing me up and my text alert went off.

     “I'll stay in Tom’s room tonight,” JB texted.

     Tom had moved into Blake’s room after Blake went to college. I crawled into the middle of my bed and stretched out. It felt weird, but good weird.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Bank Statements--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, November 26

     I started the morning looking at bank statements online and getting increasingly agitated. JB made more withdrawals from our personal account for business expenses—something I’ve been yelling about for years. He pays back some of the money, but not all. He tells me his employer has cashflow problems and can’t reimburse him on time.
     The company JB works for purchased the company he used to work for. We owned shares of the purchased company and we're supposed to get a buyout check every month. The checks show up erratically, however, and the amounts JB deposits are almost always smaller than they’re supposed to be. Cashflow problems, JB says.
     I heard the front door open and JB’s footsteps on the stairs.
     “What are you doing home?” I snapped.
     “I forgot my thumb drive.”
     “I’m looking at bank statements. How many times do I have to ask you not to dip into our personal money? We’re always short. I don’t have enough to pay bills.”
     “I don’t have time to talk about this. I have a meeting. I have to go.”
     “This makes me sick. I don’t trust you.”
     “I have to go. We’ll talk about this later.”

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

In The Beginning... IV ("Thank You Ashely Madison" intro excerpt 4)

     Brenda began fantasizing about divorce. She confided in her mother.
     “JB’s a good guy,” Cherise told Brenda. “Concentrate on his good qualities. Tell him how wonderful he is. Praise him when he does something nice. Men love that.”
     Brenda listed JB’s good qualities. He didn’t lie, not even about little stuff, like their boys’ ages when purchasing tickets to museums or theme parks. He never ogled other women. He supported the family financially. JB was faithful, honest, and a decent provider. She concluded that she was an ungrateful bitch. She’d catch herself bashing him for not helping with the kids, the house, then remind herself that he was faithful, honest, and a good provider. She tried being more selfless and loving. She tried replacing negative thoughts with kind ones. So what if JB glowered when she asked him to clean the gutters and whipped rotting leaves on the ground. So what if she saw Blake watching TV with his dad instead of JB helping with homework as she cleaned up dinner. She focused on the good and told herself she didn't have anything to be unhappy about. There were homeless people, people dying of cancer, she had it good. But negative feelings and thoughts kept floating in.
     The problem, Brenda eventually decided, was she didn’t respect JB. She’d lost respect for him when Therese, who’d become a good friend of hers, was dying.
     Therese was feeling lethargic, achy, sickly. She developed back pain, chest pain, and had trouble breathing. JB’s sister, Leslie, took Therese, a smoker with emphysema, to a general practitioner. Chest X-rays and lung biopsies were ordered but came back inconclusive because of Therese’s emphysema.
     Therese’s health deteriorated. Early one morning, Therese called Brenda. “I’m slipping through the cracks,” she said. “I’m going downhill and no one is helping. No one is giving me answers.”
     Cancer had not been mentioned. Brenda struggled with bringing it up. “I know of a good oncologist who treated my friend’s mom for lung cancer,” she finally said. “They thought the guy walked on water. Do you want to see him?”
     “Yes,” Therese sighed with relief.
     Brenda called the doctor. She booked the first available appointment. It was in two weeks when JB, Blake, and she would be in Sweden. Brenda called Leslie and told her about the appointment.
     “Where do you get off making a doctor appointment for my mother?” Leslie growled. “Where do you get off telling me what to do? Who gave you that right?”
     “Your mother,” Brenda said, taken aback. “She called me this morning very upset. She wants to see an oncologist.”
     “You have no idea what’s going on. We’ve got this handled. Stay out of it.”
     Brenda called Troy, JB’s brother. She pleaded with him to take Therese to the oncologist. He said he would.
     JB, Blake, and Brenda returned from Sweden. Therese had been moved to a nursing home. She was on anti-anxiety meds and antibiotics for a possible lung infection. She had not seen the oncologist.
     “Leslie Dearest put me here,” Therese said when Brenda visited her.
     Brenda told JB they needed to get Therese out of the nursing home and to a cancer doctor. JB stared at her blankly. Brenda repeated herself. JB stared. Brenda got in JB’s face and screamed, “You have to get her out! We have to take her to the oncologist!”
     “My mother is dying,” JB blurted. “I’m going to have to live with my siblings and I’m not going against them.”
     Brenda staggered. She scanned JB’s face. “This is who I’m married to,” she thought.
     Therese died of lung cancer without having been treated by an oncologist.
     Brenda grew to dislike JB more and more. She condescended to him, thought of him as a coward, struggled to find compassion but couldn’t.
     JB and Brenda completed their relationship workbooks. Once they were done, they reverted back to they way they were. Brenda told JB, “There’s no intimacy between us. I feel like a piece of meat. I don’t know who you are.” JB nodded and looked at the floor.
     Brenda told JB to see a therapist or she was leaving. JB started seeing a therapist even though he didn’t want to. He told his therapist about Brenda. He said she didn’t love him anymore and treated him like an idiot. He asked how he could change her back. His therapist kept poking into his childhood, ignoring his goals. JB got frustrated. His parents didn’t beat him or physically abuse him. They were screwy but who’s parents weren’t? He needed to fix Brenda. She kept complaining about needing intimacy, to connect. Sex was intimacy and connection. If she’d get into fucking him again it’d solve everything. He wouldn’t have to lead a double life. His double life was stressing him out. But it was exciting finding women on the Internet who wanted to cheat. Sexting with them was arousing. He loved the anticipation of booking hotels, the climax of sealing the deal. Should he tell his therapist? He decided not to.

     JB’s and Brenda’s marriage kept sliding downhill until it finally dropped off the cliff it was headed toward and smashed. I know. I’m Brenda. And I kept a journal. Here it comes.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In The Beginning... III ("Thank You Ashley Madison" intro excerpt 3)

     JB was twenty-eight and Brenda was twenty-seven. Brenda knew JB wanted to marry her but was afraid to ask. Their friends were getting married and the subject came up a lot. When the “M” word was pushed, Brenda told JB marriage freaked her out. She didn’t like the idea of being locked into anything forever.
     One afternoon, while Brenda was writing a magazine piece, it occurred to her that JB was someone she could live with longterm. He wasn’t controlling, seemed to love her, and he wasn’t gushy and vulnerable—which made her uncomfortable. She phoned him and nonchalantly asked if he thought they should get married.
     “Yes,” JB said.
     JB and Brenda got married in front of immediate family. The thought of walking down the aisle in front of a large audience made Brenda queasy. Three months after their wedding, JB and Brenda went skiing in Vail and Brenda got pregnant with their first son, Blake.
     Blake was born and JB began feeling ignored. When Brenda did pay attention to him, JB noticed she didn’t respond like she used to. He was lucky to get a skeptical, “Huh,” after rattling off an impressive op-ed piece he’d read.
     The lack of vulnerability Brenda initially appreciated in JB began to bug her. They had no deep connection. JB couldn’t identify a feeling to save his life. His recitations annoyed her. She suspected he didn’t have an original thought in his head.
     Brenda began drinking. A lot. JB enjoyed flipping drunk Brenda around in the bedroom, but he disliked her getting plastered all the time. Seven years ticked by and Brenda got pregnant with their second son, Tom. She quit drinking, resumed drinking when Tom stopped breast feeding, and had an epiphany along the way that she was an alcoholic. Blake was eight and Tom was two when Brenda quit drinking. JB was mostly glad, but he had mixed feelings. Brenda wasn't passing out on the couch anymore and he didn't have to carry her out of parties or plead with her to stop serving wine at their dinner parties. But Brenda wasn’t throwing dinner parties. He wasn’t having drunk sex with her. She wouldn’t verbally shred people, events, and institutions, something they used to love to do. She was no longer the fun cynic he’d married.
     JB brooded. He’d always been a brooder, but it became more pronounced. Brenda would ask JB what was wrong but after hearing, “Nothing,” muttered repeatedly she’d stopped asking. JB sighed loudly. He stomped around the house. Brenda ignored him.
     The bedroom brooding, however, was un-ignorable. JB tossed and turned in bed, exhaled disgustedly, got up and stomped in and out of the room until Brenda rolled over and took one for the team.
     Brenda told JB she didn’t like the way he touched her—it wasn’t loving, it was horny. He never put his arm around her, never hugged her, never gave her an affectionate kiss. JB pointed out that she never did that either. Brenda said whenever she did, he took it as a sign she was horny and started groping her.

     Brenda’s friend, Kat, recommended a relationship rescue workbook. She bought two and handed JB one. She told JB they needed to complete the exercises or she was leaving. JB flipped through the workbook. The questions made him squirm but he didn’t want Brenda to leave. JB and Brenda assigned themselves questions and, once a week, sat in a coffee shop and discussed what they wrote. They began feeling closer and happier. But once they finished, things went back to the way they were.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

In The Beginning... II ("Thank You Ashley Madison" intro excerpt 2)

     Brenda’s desk was near the copying machine and JB had a lot of copying to do. He flirted with Brenda. He was sleeping with as many women as would let him and he asked Brenda out. She accepted. They hit it off and began dating regularly.
     JB went to Brenda’s apartment after dates and there were frequently flowers, bottles of wine, and one of two theater tickets from Gene at her door. Brenda appeared all the more desirable. JB jacked up his smartest-guy-in-the-room routine. He invited Brenda to have dinner with his mother, whom he lived with. His parents had divorced years ago and his father, Bob, died of alcoholism when JB was twenty.
     Brenda instantly liked Therese. She liked JB’s brother and sisters, too. She enjoyed bantering with them about politics and art. Therese and Brenda bonded over stiff martinis and Brenda felt smart, posh, worldly.
     JB told Brenda he loved her and, after a while, Brenda said, “I love you,” back, even though she knew she didn’t mean it the way JB did.
     “Never say ‘I love you’ first,’” Cherise had told Brenda. “If a boy tells you he loves you, he wants one thing: to get in your pants. And never tell him how you feel deep down because he’ll throw it back in your face one day.” There was evidence her mother was right. Brenda’s friends were getting their hearts broken repeatedly but hers never was. Her heart was petrified.
     Brenda hoped to find true love not realizing it was impossible with an inaccessible heart. She looked for love while dating JB and on a cruise with her parents, Brenda had a romance with the ship’s doctor. Bjorn wanted to fly Brenda to Sweden and try living together. They corresponded for months and Brenda considered it. But Bjorn lived with his mother and middle-aged mentally handicapped brother and she opted out.
     One year later, Brenda placed an ad in a Montana newspaper stating that she wanted an adventurous life with the right cowboy. She got lots of letters and began writing to a lean, chiseled, handsome cowboy who sent her pictures of cattle carcasses curing on hooks, a pink T-shirt from a local bar, and a rattlesnake’s tail. They began talking on the phone. The cowboy mentioned a steer crushed his hip in a roping accident and he had trouble walking. Brenda let the crippled cowboy down.
     Brenda felt guilty looking for someone while dating JB so she broke up with him. JB was hurt. He began getting laid as much as possible and Brenda dated a string of men but found she wasn’t attracted to any of them. JB was the best man to show up, Brenda concluded. She called him and he took her back.
     Bartenders, cab drivers, and people Brenda interviewed for stories routinely asked why she wasn’t married. Brenda hated that question. She never came up a good comeback. Trish, who was almost two years younger, got married and at her wedding Aunt Edie pulled Brenda aside and said, “You’re not getting any younger you know. And if you want kids . . .” Brenda looked around Trish’s reception and observed couples. True love was bullshit, she decided. People settled.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In The Beginning... I ("Thank You Ashley Madison" intro excerpt 1)

     Once upon a time, two sparks of consciousness twinkling in ethereal vastness chose to become human. Like other sparks, they were shiny threads in divine fabric wanting to experience, evolve, love, share, and gain information for the consciousness system they pulsed in. Most had become human before and there was excitement as the sparks invented obstacles and opportunities to transform, become divine as possible in human form.
     The two sparks agreed to pair up. They made a pact to push each other to greatness. They chose to be born to white, middle-class, Illinois families and the first to arrive was JB. JB chose parents who were intellectual alcoholic artists. His mother was a painter, his dad a writer. They’d already had three children and JB was the last. A year and five days later, Brenda showed up. She’d picked a super religious farmer’s daughter for a mother and a street-smart ex-hood for a father.
     JB’s parents threw fancy dinner parties, got drunk, and cheated on each other. JB’s mother, Therese, often screamed at her numbed-out husband, Bob, and JB would wring his hands and rub them together. His brother and sisters began calling him Uncle Joe. JB’s teacher told Therese that JB was disturbed and needed therapy, and Therese told the teacher she was an idiot and retold the story, which she found ridiculous and hilarious, at cocktail parties while JB drew gory war pictures in his room.
     Brenda’s mother, Cherise, was a full-time mom who read Seventh-day Adventist literature, went to church, and mostly kept to herself unless she was with her sisters. Brenda’s father, Carl, a high school dropout, owned the printing company he began working for as a delivery boy. Carl kept himself busy on the weekends with a twelve-flat apartment building he and Cherise owned. It allowed him to stay away from home and drink with friends. He and Cherise had a deal: he could pretty much do whatever he wanted if he didn’t interfere in their daughters’ religious upbringing.
     Brenda and her younger sister, Trish, went to Seventh-day Adventist parochial school. They couldn’t go to movies, read novels, wear jewelry, dance, and from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown, the Sabbath, they couldn’t do anything that wasn’t Bible-related.
     At JB’s, the living room couch hid liquor bottles that were stuffed under it. JB avoided confrontation at all costs and memorized history, trivia, and left-leaning political opinions to impress his parents. It worked.
     As JB learned to present himself well, Brenda developed an angry rebellious streak and began rattling her religious cage.