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.