Wednesday, December 6, 2017

There Might Have Been Drool--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt.

Monday, March 18

     I rode BlackJack, ran three miles on a gym “dreadmill,” and unrolled my yoga mat in an empty aerobics room separated from the rest of the gym by a glass wall. I warmed up with sun salutations then laid flat on my back to stretch my hamstrings and hips. I bent my right knee, wrapped my pointer and middle fingers around my right big toe, and extending my leg straight into the air. I lowered it ninety degrees to the right, released my inner thigh muscles, then moved onto my left leg. As I curled my torso up from the floor to grab my left big toe, I saw an old man sitting on an exercise machine with his eyes laser focused on my crotch. His mouth was agape. There might have been drool. I was about to give him the finger but started laughing hysterically. He quickly averted his gaze. I thought, “Some poor woman is married to that.” Then I laughed harder realizing, “I’m that woman, but not for long.”

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I'm Going To Smash This--"Thank You Ashely Madison" excerpt

Sunday, March 17

     I checked Power School. More missing work. The assignments Tom handed in were slopped together. He had more U’s. I grounded him from band practice until May and told him he couldn’t be in the battle of the bands. Tom started crying.
     “I’m so mad at you,” he hissed.
     “I warned you. You were aware of these consequences and you chose them.”
     “I know, but can’t you give me a break? I’ll do better. This won’t happen again.”
     “I’ve heard that too many times.”
     Tom and I argued and argued in this circle.
     “I’m not arguing anymore, we’re done,” I finally said.
     Tom stomped out of the living room. I walked into the kitchen and began unloading the dishwasher. Tom’s feet pounded down the stairs. He appeared in the kitchen with one of his electric guitars, holding it like an axe. His face was fierce.
     “I’m going to smash this,” he growled.
     “Go ahead.”
     Tom looked at me like I was crazy. Then he looked confused. Then he got his angry look back. “I’m going to do it,” he growled.
     “Go ahead.”
     Tom raised the guitar over his head and growled like a dog.
     “Do that outside,” I shouted.
     Tom lowered his guitar and looked at me like I was a madwoman.
     “You better not break anything in here or damage the floor. Go smash it on the sidewalk.”
     Tom stared at me then stormed upstairs. I sat on a kitchen stool and stared out the window.
     Tom was already missing today’s band practice. Terry wasn’t happy about it. He was going to be more unhappy about the latest detail. I got up and sent a group email to the band parents and included JB this time.

     “I'm sorry this is affecting you, but Tom will not be able to compete in the battle of the bands or jam through the end of April. This was a consequence for poor grades. I'm sorry. Maybe another guitar player can step in.”

     I called Terry to make sure he got it.
     “Yeah, I got it,” he said in a clipped, irritated voice. “We’re not bringing anyone new into the band. It’s business as usual. I’ll fill in for Tom until he can come back.”
     I grabbed my laptop and emailed JB.

     “I hope you will not undermine Tom’s grounding. Tom has been without electronics and screens this week, and that will continue the rest of the month. You got the email about him not jamming until May, not performing at the Cubby Bear. It's the first time he actually cared about a consequence. Maybe this will make a difference. He got mad at me but he’s been doing homework all day.”

     “I agree something had to be done given how this trimester has started, and I'm glad it appears to be working,” JB replied. “I give you my word that I will not undermine your decision.
     “Now, as his father I am entitled to a heads up at the very least. I should not be learning that Tom is grounded from Terry. I should not learn that he's banned from participating in the BOTB at the same time as everyone else. I hope you can appreciate my point of view here.
     “Lets please try to communicate better when it comes to Tom. I would really appreciate it.”

     There’s a lot I would have appreciated, too, JB.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Poke Him In The Eyes--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, March 15

     I emailed Terry that I’d grounded Tom and he wouldn’t be at band practice. I didn’t CC JB. My text alert dinged.

     “I need to look up our self-defense classes!!!” Tanya texted.

     Tanya and I had gone out for coffee after a recovery meeting this morning. She’d watched a self defense video on public access the night before.
     “I felt sorry for the padded up guy getting kicked in the crotch, Tanya laughed. “They were making these old ladies really nail him. They didn’t want those ladies to hesitate for a second. ‘Kick him! Knee him! Poke him in the eyes! Now! Do it now!’”
     “I want to do that!” I said. “I want to kick the shit out of a padded person. Might help me stop fantasizing about maiming JB.”

     “We didn’t get to gossip about Colleen this morning,” Tanya sent in a second text.

     Colleen had been at the recovery meeting this morning, too. She's a none-too-bright know-it-all--a lethal combination--and the last person I wanted to waste time on. Colleen had spread a rumor last spring that I was drinking again. It occurred after JB and I'd met with an attorney to draft a will. The attorney had asked me to name a durable power of attorney and I'd frozen, felt like vomiting. The attorney stared at me. JB'd nervously laughed and said, “You can name Blake if you want.” We left my part blank. JB drove to work and I sat in my car crying knowing JB would never fight for me and I didn’t want to be married to him. I'd driven to a recovery meeting looking like hell and run into Kat. She, again, told me being a single mom sucked. Later, while I was sitting in a Jiffy Lube getting my oil changed, my phone rang.
     “I have to ask you,” Kat said breathlessly. “Have you been drinking?”
     I started laughing.
     “Have you been drinking?” she repeated.
     “No. Are you serious? Why are you asking me that?”
     Kat sighed with relief. “I knew it, but I just had to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Colleen told me she thought you’d been drinking. She said one of her sponsees saw you at a meeting and said you didn’t look good and you smelled like alcohol.”
     I started laughing. “Probably after JB and I met with the lawyer.” Then I got angry. “I was broken that day. What a malicious thing to say!”
     “I figured it was something like that. I just needed to talk to you first before I called out Colleen for spreading that around.”
     “Give me Colleen’s number.”

     “I have not been, nor am I drinking,” I texted Colleen. “Malicious gossip.”

     Kat called me later. She’d lit into Colleen, Colleen had gotten angry, and they were no long speaking. Colleen approached me at a recovery meeting days later and asked if we could talk.
     “I’m listening,” I said.
     In her slow, I’m-combing-my-mind-for-words, breathy way, Colleen leaned in and condescendingly said, “Brenda, I only shared information with Kat out of concern for you…”
     “Interesting you didn't come to me directly,” I cut in. I turned and walked away.
     "Colleen has said, in meetings, that you're unforgiving and wouldn't accept her apology," Tanya told me days ago.
     I started laughing. “Colleen didn’t apologize. She began justifying herself.”
     “I can totally see that,” Tanya said. “I can totally hear it. I just love how she sits in meetings and pulls everything out of her huge purse, rattles her keys around, chugs out of her water bottle, says, ‘Uh huh,’ or ‘Yeah,’ or ‘Mmm hmm,’ to every comment being made. Her legs totally sticking out. Trust me, I have it down pat. She drives me insane. She is the worst behaved person in a meeting. And she has 25 years of sobriety!
     “I get very catty about Colleen with Kiki,” Tanya continued. “It's not right, but yes, we have Colleen down pat. You have to be around us when we imitate Colleen. ‘Oh, I know that,’ or ‘Oh, I did that too!!!’ You can say something like, I jumped off the Empire State building and did a 360 and she would say, ‘Oh I did that!’ Kiki and I are going to deliberately make things up to see if Colleen claims she did them, too. We're so mean.”

     “I don’t want to talk about Colleen,” I texted Tanya.

     “You’re no fun.”

     “Find us a self defense class.”

     “You’re no fun.”

     "Maybe you can pad up."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Old, Broke, And Full Of STDs--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, March 14

     I meditated this morning and was feeling peaceful, until JB emailed.

     “Just confirming I will be picking Tom up after school today and dropping him at school tomorrow am,” JB wrote.

     “Tom has track after school,” I wrote. “Pick him up at the house after dinner, 6/6:30. I'm guessing you wanted your deceitful, scummy life to continue? Me to stay ignorant so you could continue smearing filth on me?”

     “I will be there by 630 (sic),” JB wrote back. “Brenda, I have a lot I want to say, but you tend to dismiss everything I say as bullshit. I've told a lot of lies and have tried to spin other things so I deserve that.
     “I've been unsuccessful in apologizing to you in a way that you believe is sincere. I think you've locked in on the view that I am soulless and remorseless, and while that's frustrating and I don't agree, I do get it. Things usually aren't as black and white as we like to make them. 
     “The fact is I am sorry, on many levels. Yes, I am sorry that my actions have put me in this position. You and Blake, two people I love very much, hate me, and for good reason. I don't see Tom enough and I know he is hurting over this. I am a pariah to many people who I like and care about. I feel isolated. Whenever I run into someone I know I wonder how much they know about me. I'm trying not to let it kill me, but it's difficult.
     “I know how painful it must be to feel that a large part of your life was a lie. I don't think it's ever that simple. But there is no point in trying to convince you it wasn't at this stage. It is difficult to imagine how much this must hurt you. And I am very sorry to be the cause. 
     “I am sorry that my pathological irresponsibility with money has left us both less secure than we could be right now. 
     “I am sorry that I was so good at convincing myself I was a decent person, when I really wasn't. 
     “I am sorry for the missed opportunity for a good marriage with such a good woman. It was all right there, I just was too fucked up to embrace it. 
     “I am sorry that I am no longer my kids' hero. Kids need their dads to be their heroes and I blew it. Blake was always my best friend. I am not giving up on winning him back, but it will be hard. Sooner or later Tom will know everything and this whole mess may play out again with him. I'm dreading this and wondering what to do. 
     “I am sorry that I can't bring this family back together. I wish there was a way that I could. I miss my family. 
     “I am sorry that I became the kind of man I always looked down on, lying and cheating and incredibly undisciplined. I still have an opportunity to change and be a better person, but nothing will erase what I have done. 
     “The only thing I am glad of is that I no longer have to live with the stress of keeping so many secrets. That has been a relief. But it's a small benefit against so many other bad things. 
     “I don't want to go back to being so selfish, deceitful, keeping secrets, compartmentalizing. I would do anything for a chance to live the last decade of my life over again. I have lived differently since we separated, but it's clear to me I haven't changed enough or looked deeply enough at what I have done. 
     “I am going to start therapy again. I am going to be honest this time. I didn't want to spend the money, but I realize I need to do this. I am probably going to learn some interesting things, and I hope at some point we can talk about it.
     “That is what I am feeling right now, Brenda. I don't know how else to say it.
     “Also, can't I just pick Tom up from school when the track meeting is finished? That is kind of what we agreed to, and I had planned to cook something for both of us.”

     “I know you'd like to avoid seeing me,” I responded, “but I told Tom you'd be getting him after dinner. When I mentioned he'd be spending the night with you, he seemed a little bummed. He said he thought he'd just be hanging out with you on Thursdays.
     “I thank God every day that I didn't end up old, broke, and full of STDs. That’s what you were working towards. Maybe I was close enough.”

     “I will be there at 630,” JB wrote. “You might give Tom a heads up that my cable was knocked out of service again today. We can pick up some movies. 
     “We did agree that I would pick him up at school on opposite Thursdays and drop him at school on Fridays and that is what I would like to do going forward. It is about the extra time with him. 
     “If you have constructive suggestions on what I could be doing differently to improve the situation. I'm always open to that. I'll talk to him tonight. I've tried to make this a place he wants to come to. 
     “I am going to make a suggestion that I think would benefit all of us. 
     “We're in a cycle now of you coming at me with some tough questions, intense comments, etc. all around what a terrible person I am. OK, I deserve it. My responses don't seem to help, if anything they are making it worse. Or they don't matter. 
     “Feelings are intense now. You are justifiably outraged, or however you want to put it. 
     “It is true I don't look forward to seeing you right now. Not because I hate you. I don't. I never have, and I never will. It is because I have trouble looking you in the eye, and I feel yours burning a hole through me. It rattles me. And I don't like Tom seeing the tension. He definitely sensed it when I picked him up last week. I think we can put a cordial face on for five minutes.
     “Why don't we keep communications strictly to the logistical, as necessary, for a while. Strictly neutral. ‘I will pick up Tom at 6. Please bring me a check.’ That kind of thing. 
     “i (sic) don’t see how what's going on right now is helpful to anyone. 
     “Once things cool off a little, and perhaps after I've been through a few sessions, then we can meet and talk and you can say whatever you like. I'm not asking to be let off the hook or forgiven. I just think we need to step back for a while. 
     “Why don't you ask someone you trust what he or she thinks of this idea? Please give it some thought.”

     “I thank God every day that I didn't end up old, broke, and full of STDs,” I responded. “That’s what you were working towards. Maybe I was close enough.”

     “Brenda, Please stop.
     “I am giving you a divorce, I am not putting up very much of a fight about property. I agreed to share a lawyer, which clearly wasn't in my interest. Once I am out of your life I will respect your privacy, respect you and try to be the best father I can to Tom. As long as I am on two feet and making a single dollar I promise you I will pay you and on time. I will not put my needs ahead of yours or Tom's. 
     “I can't fix what I have done in the past, and I don't expect your forgiveness. 
     “Yes, I made some mistakes even since we split. I let things dribble out instead of getting it all out at once. I told fresh lies and I acted far too soon to try to meet someone new, and to make it worse I was careless about it. 
     “But despite all that I have been trying to apologize and take responsibility for what I have done. And despite what you think, I've meant it. I don't hate you. I still love you. I do understand how badly I've wronged you and it does trouble me greatly. I don't know how to make you believe this.
     “I am begging you to please stop sending me notes like this. Please. I think a little peace would be good for both of us.”

     Tom came home. He handed me consent forms for track. We ate dinner. JB texted that he was twenty minutes away. I told Tom and he put his backpack by the door and put his coat and shoes on. His robe was hanging out from under his coat.
     “Why are you wearing your robe?” I asked.
     “Because it’s cold at Dad’s house.”
     “Make sure you get all your homework done and handed in tomorrow.”
     “I will.”
     Tom and I hugged. We held each other awhile. I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he kissed my cheek.
     “I hope you have fun at Dad’s house.”
     Tom smiled. He went upstairs to grab something. I walked into the living room and saw JB pull up and get out of the car.
     “Your dad is here,” I called up the stairs.
     Tom ran down.
     “Bye Mom,” he said and bolted out the door.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Power School--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, March 13

     I logged onto Power School to check Tom’s grades. I hate checking his grades. It always upsets me. Today was no exception.
     Our after-school routine goes something like this. I list Tom’s classes and ask if he’s got homework in each of them. He tells me what’s been assigned and shows me his homework when it’s done. I ask if he remembered to turn in that day’s assignments. He tells me yes.
     Once or twice a week I go on Power School crossing my fingers that Tom’s told me the truth, that his grades look good. My heart always sinks. It sank today. There were many missing assignments and U’s for Unsatisfactory—U is the new F. I started screaming at Tom. I’ve already banned him from the TV, the computer, taken away his video games, his phone. I’ve been threatening to ground him from his band, something I really don’t want to do, but resorted to today. I told Tom he couldn’t go to this week’s practice and if his grades didn’t improve, he wouldn’t be playing in the battle of the bands.
     Tom got wide-eyed. He started crying. He told me he’d do better. I can only hope.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Lousy Friend--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Tuesday, March 12

     After months of playing phone tag, I left Hope a voicemail saying I was getting divorced and we arranged to meet for breakfast this morning. One of the first questions my friends ask—female friends—is, “Are you going to lose the house?” It comes right before or after, “How did you find out he was cheating?” The questions rarely feel like they’re being asked out of concern for me. I know. Not long ago, I was one of the women asking their friends if they were losing their homes because I was selfishly trying to assess if I’d lose mine if I left my unhappy marriage. Perhaps I should have been asking how they found out their husbands were cheating, too. It felt heartless now. I felt horrible for being a lousy friend.
     I braced myself as I walked into the restaurant.
     “So why are you getting divorced?” Hope asked.
     “JB’s been hooking up with married women on Ashley Madison the last five years.”
     Hope started laughing. “Come on,” she said, staring at me like I was messing with her.
     “No! Come on.” Her mouth was hanging open.
      “JB? No way. You’re kidding, right?”
     “No,” I snapped. “Really.”
     “No way. I can’t believe it.”
     “Take him out to lunch and ask him,” I said testily.
     Hope’s face fell. “You’re serious. I never would have thought in a million years. Oh my God. How did you find out?”
     “He got a urinary tract infection. Thought he gave me an STD. I’ve been tested for every STD. Thank God I’m healthy.”
     “He told you he had an STD?”
     “He told me I should see a doctor.”
     “Oh my God. When did he do it? Find time to cheat?”
     “When he was supposedly working. He had international clients. I didn’t think a thing of him emailing or texting at night. The company he works for is out of state and he’s in an office all by himself.”
     “Where’s his office?”
     “Why does that matter?” I snapped.
     “I don’t know.” Hope fidgeted and shrugged. “Just wondering if he saw anyone I know.”
     “You two should have lunch.”
     “I, well, I don’t know,” Hope stammered. “I just don’t know. It’s unbelievable. I just, wow. Are you going to be able to keep the house?”
     “That’s my plan.”
     “How are you going to be able to . . .”
     “I don’t know how things are going to go. All I know is I’m going to be fine.”
     “So we’re done with me. What about you?”
     “Sid was diagnosed with Asperger’s.”
     “What?” I said. “Sid?”
      Hope dropped her head and started sobbing. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. It’s been so hard. You have no idea. I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.”
     “When was he diagnosed?”
     “In October. I got a call from his school. Sid doesn’t have any friends. It’s horrible for him. He posted on Instagram that no one likes him. He posted that he’s sad, that he wants to kill himself. He didn’t come home after school when he posted that. We were going crazy looking for him. He finally turned up.
     “Do you know how hard it is to get an appointment with a child psychiatrist? They’re loaded with patients. I called a friend and finally got Sid in with someone. Ray and I met with him, then Sid met with the doctor. After a few sessions, he showed Ray and me this book. He had us read sections in it and tell him if it sounded like Sid. It all sounded like him. The psychiatrist talks really quiet. He said something. Ray and I were like, ‘What?’ He said it a couple more times and we finally heard him say, ‘My diagnosis is Asperger’s.’”
     “What do you do for Asperger’s?”
     “He’s on a patch for ADHD. He’s taking theater classes. He loves those. That’s supposed to help. Roll playing is good.”
     Hope started crying hard.
     “A lot of brilliant people have Asperger’s,” I said.
     “I know,” she nodded, looking at her lap.
     Sid had been mean to Tom when they were little. I’d judged Hope harshly. I cringed. Hope had told me she and Sid lost friends because of his behavior. She’d cried and told me I had no idea what it was like being her. I’d been such a lousy friend.
     “Hope, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry for what I said. I’m so sorry for what I wrote in my book. Ugh. I’m so so sorry.”
     “It’s okay. You weren’t the only one. I got that a lot. It’s been really hard.”
     “I know. You told me. I just… I’m so sorry.” I started crying.
     We dabbed at our eyes, got up to leave, and hugged.
     “Look at us,” I said.
     We laughed and blew our snotty noses.
     Later, I drove to David’s for our yoga session. On my way home, I called Nicole. She’d left a voicemail about an abnormal pap smear. When Nicole answered, I could tell she was wasted. She began rambling about her estranged sister unfriending her on Facebook.
     “I have to go to the store,” Nicole slurred. “Have them figure out what’s wrong with my phone. I have four Facebook friends. I accidentally friended JB. I was just looking around and I accidentally hit something and he accepted my request. I told him, ‘Brenda is my best friend and I hope things work out for you.’” Nicole repeated herself a couple more times.
     I didn’t respond.
     “I didn’t, like, ask him to meet me or anything,” Nicole said.
     “I have to go,” I said. I pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store to buy dinner.
     “I didn’t, you know, it’s not like I want to meet him,” Nicole stammered.
     “You know, it’d be kind of great if you did,” I said and hung up. I started laughing. The idea of JB and Nicole hooking up, perfect.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

You Did It To Yourself--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, March 11

     I called Kat this morning. She’d left a voicemail a couple of days ago wanting to know what recovery meetings I was going to and if I wanted to meet for coffee.
     “How’s everything?” Kat asked.
     “Well, JB took $70,000 out of our IRA.”
     “Oh my God,” Kat gasped. “Well, you’re going to make a ton of money. Your book is going to be made into a movie and you’re not going to have to split it with him.”
     “You’re right. That’s what’s happening. I feel it. I know it. But damn, Kat. How long has JB been stealing, lying, cheating? Everything he says turns out to be a lie and I keep finding out new and worse things. I can't take much more.”
     “You knew something was very wrong,” Kat said. “You’ve been unhappy with JB the ten years I’ve known you. You need to accept and learn to be okay with the fact that you chose to stay in a relationship that made you uncomfortable that long. You did it to yourself. You had some admirable reasons to stay. You had children to raise. That was a good reason to try and make it work.”
     “I was afraid my boys would hate me. My friends told me being a single mom was horrible.”
     “If everyone told you to jump off a bridge would you?” Kat condescended.
     “A friend just told me to think long and hard before I divorce him.”
     “That friend is no friend,” Kat spat. “You need to get rid of her. You need to get rid of her now.”
     “We’ve been friends since high school. She’s had a hard life raising two children on her own. She’s coming from a place of lack. She thinks she’s looking out for me.”
     “Get rid of her! That relationship is harmful. You need to look at why you . . .”
     “You dissuaded me from divorce. You told me it was tough to be a single mom and I should try to make it work.”
     “Oh, that’s icky,” Kat said. “That’s slimy trying to blame me for your choice to stay in your bad marriage. I’m not taking that on! No way, I’m not taking that on at all.”
     “I’m pointing out that you both gave me the same advice and if I should write her off, I should write you off, too!”
     “You were blaming me,” Kat yelled. “I never told you to stay in your marriage after I knew he cheated like your sick friend did.”
     Kat ranted on and on and on. Soon she was screaming.
     “Good-bye Kat,” I said and hung up. I was shaking. Hours later, Kat called again. I saw her name on my phone, whipped it on the couch, and walked away. I waited a long time before listening to her voicemail.
     “Brenda I love you!” Kat said. “I know you’re in a lot of pain. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist. If I could beat the living snot out of JB I would. You’re decision to stay married to a passive-aggressive man that made you so aggravated at times was your decision. All that time that you were married, I told you what my formula was. I went to therapy, marriage counseling for three years. I dotted my I’s and crossed my Ts. When it came to getting divorced, I did not know Tim was cheating on me 100 percent. I suspected it, it was enough. I wanted people to support me, too. I wanted people to be there for me, too. But I made that decision. It was really hard. That’s what I told you. It’s really hard to get divorced. You have to be comfortable with that decision. Knowing what I know now about JB cheating on you: catastrophic if you stayed married. That friend knew JB cheated on you and told you to stay married to him. She’s sick. The minute I found out he cheated on you, he’s a dog piece of crap. I don’t care how hard. I told you a million times how hard divorce is. I will support you any way I can while you go through this process. That’s what a friend says. You’re a terrific person going through a difficult time. I love you very much. Bye.”

     “My high school friend loves me, too, and believes she’s looking out for me,” I texted Kat. “That’s the point. Don’t go after me with your chainsaw mouth again. Your reaction was violent. It was the last thing I needed.”

     “Really, violent?” Kat texted. “I’m sorry. I felt really hurt, too. I truly hear you blaming me. Let’s talk in the future.”

      “Yes, violent. And I don’t blame you.”

     “You were passive aggressive with your remark. Saying that I was one of the people saying you should stay married. I didn’t yell and scream at you, you were screaming at me. I will not take responsibility for sharing my views about divorce, and you choosing to stay married.”

     “Kat, go away. I have had enough of this shit.”

     “Take care, peace.”

     Two hours later, Kat texted, “BTW, I’m sorry to have added chaos to your day. It is hard to talk to anyone about traumatic life events over the phone. You are in my thoughts and prayers. May my words add hope and love to your life. Hey, I heard this somewhere THIS TOO SHALL PASS! XOX”

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Toxic Scene--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, March 10

     The boys and I met my mother for breakfast before Blake drove six hours back to school. As I watched him drive away, I felt both sad and glad. Sad because I was going to miss him. Glad that he was fleeing this toxic scene.
     Nicole called later.
     “Believe it or not Ripley, I found Shireen,” she slurred. “I’ve been talking to her most of the day. She’s beautiful. I’m amazed. She’s a lovely girl. But she’s a lot shorter than me. She told me she’s only five feet tall and I’m like, ‘What? Why are you so short? You weren’t that tiny as a baby. Oh boy.’”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Prayer And Meditation Have Worn Off--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, March 9

     Most mornings I recite a Kabbalah meditation, scan the Zohar, chant “Om” three times, meditate over my intentions, and pray. My days feel better when I do. I ended my practice this morning and picked up my phone. There was a Facebook friend request from  Nicole and I accepted. Another friend request popped up immediately from someone named Shireen. Figuring she was a “Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife” reader, I accepted.

     “Hi, do you know who Nicole is???” Shireen messaged. “I was just wondering.”

      I looked at Shireen’s picture. She was young and pretty. She looked a lot like Nicole. Then I remembered her name.

     “I do,” I wrote. “Are you her daughter?”
     “Is she real?”
     “What do you mean by real?”
     “Like an actual person.”
     “That’s hard to answer. I’ve known her since we were in first grade. She was my best friend all through grade school. Your mom would jump in front of a train for me. I love her. But as you know, she’s pretty messed up.”
     “Since it looks like a fake account,” Shireen wrote.
     “She just friended me this morning,” I wrote. “I don’t think it’s fake.”
     “Can you answer a question for me though?” Shireen asked.
     “What high school did she go to?”
     “Broadview Academy and Taft. She didn’t graduate.”
     OMG, wow, you do know her! I’m sorry. It’s just hard for me to trust people when they say something but, yes, Taft. Wow.”
     “I’ve know her since she and I were six. I remember you as a baby. You liked to eat pickles.”
     “How old was I?”
     “I don’t remember exactly. Are you the daughter who went to California and was raised by Nicole’s biological mother?”
     “No. I’m Frank’s daughter.”
     “Sorry. She had a lot of kids. Her second child is the one who went to California. I don’t believe I’ve met you. I lose touch with her for a while then she reappears. She’s living in McHenry now.”
     “Oh, I’ve been looking for her and stuff. I think I answered the phone when she called once when I was little. I just don’t know what to do. :/”
     “This must be very hard. You look a lot like her.”
     “I look mostly like my dad, haha.”
     “You’re very pretty, and so is your mom.”
     “Thank-you, though. And yes, she is.”

     I hoped Nicole wouldn’t say weird stuff or be wasted if Shireen called her. But I was pretty sure she would. Tom’s voice teacher called.
     “The Cultural Center is closed today,” she said. “I’m really sorry for scheduling Tom’s makeup lesson on a closed day. How about the next three weeks he comes a half hour early for an hour lesson?”
     “Perfect,” I said and hung up. I stared at my phone. The last thing I wanted to do was communicate with JB.

     “Tom’s voice lesson is cancelled,” I texted JB.

     “OK thanks,” he texted.

     “How can you live with yourself?”

     “It’s a struggle.”

     “Oh right, you do that blocking thing. Do you actually believe your own bullshit?”

      He didn’t answer. I sent another text.

     “Is believing your lies prerequisite for continued breathing?”

     “Tom and Blake are what keep me breathing,” JB responded. “And the hope that eventually you'll forgive me. It is a slim hope but I still hold onto it. I don’t believe my lies any more than you do. I'm sorry, I really am. Lets end this for now, please. Heading out to do stuff with Tom.”

     “You’ve been a creep our entire marriage, haven’t you?”

      No response. I sent another text.

     “Blake was playing with your iPod touch when you first got it and was introduced to Ashley Madison. He said he stumbled across your dates’ pictures but didn’t get it at the time. And you tried to get me to be a swinger right after Tom was born.”

     “I'm with Tom,” JB texted. “I'll respond more later. I'm sorry you are so upset. Yes, I am a twisted fuck in many ways but it's not as bad as you seem to think it is.”

     “Right. I keep learning more shit about you because you're not that bad. When’s the first time you fucked someone else while we were married, beat off to phone and internet sex? How much did you spend on hookers, sex clubs?”

      No response. Forty minutes went by. I texted again.

     “How much of my adult life was shit going on in the background?”

      No response.

     “I deserve an honest answer,” I texted.

     “You do,” JB finally responded. “I will answer later, but you really do have the worst of it already.  Short answer is most of our marriage I wasn't doing sick shit, beyond in my fantasy life. I'll answer in more detail later, so please stop bombarding me with texts now. I agree you deserve answers.”

     My morning prayer and meditation have worn off.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Come On Champ--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, March 8

     “Tom has a makeup voice lesson this Saturday because he missed Wednesday for the Hawks game,” I emailed JB, who was picking up Tom for the weekend.

     I began getting ready to have dinner at a new sushi place with Jody. The doorbell rang. It was JB. I forced myself to look at him.
     “Hey Champ,” JB said crossing the threshold and stepping onto the rug at the front door. I stepped in front of him, blocking him from going any further. JB stopped.
     “You ready to go?” JB called out with forced cheeriness, looking over my shoulder at Tom.
     “No,” Tom said. “I still have to get my stuff.” Tom’s footsteps thundered upstairs.
     I stared at JB. JB stared at the floor. After a while he glanced at me. His eyes were pink and teary. I continued staring. He looked down at the floor. He raised his head and called over my shoulder, “Come on Tom, let’s go.” He glanced back at me with watery eyes.
     “How could you?” I asked.
     JB quickly looked at the floor. He slumped and didn’t speak. I continued staring at him.
     “Come on Champ,” he yelled pleadingly.
     Tom appeared and they left.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Blocking--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, March 7

     “Taking only the best to the Hawks game is a prerequisite of mine,” Paul texted.

     “I think he buys his own shit,” I texted back.

     Paul sent a selfie of him holding his hand in front of his face under the caption, “Blocking!!!!!!!!.”

     Tom got home from school and the boys and I drove downtown to see the Picasso exhibit at the Art Institute. We ate dinner in Greektown and between flaming saganaki and our entrees, Blake leaned across the table toward Tom and said, “I don’t know how you can stand being with Dad. He’s a disgusting jerk.”
     “Mom!” Tom said and looked at me pleadingly.
     “Blake, don’t,” I said. “Really. Leave him alone. He needs to spend time with Dad. He’s a lot younger than you.”
     “I know. But how can you stand staying with him, sleeping at his house with him pretending like everything’s just fine? How can you go with him this weekend?”
     “Mom!” Tom said.
     “Blake, leave him alone.”

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Completely Clean--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, March 6

     I had my first phone call meeting with Yosef and he asked me what my Kabbalah goals were. I told him to purify my intentions, be as plugged into the divine as possible, and be a vessel for light to shine into the world.
     “Do you have any concerns?” he asked.
     “My divorce,” I said. “It feels like an enormous obstacle to my goals. I often feel sad for the man. I sincerely pray for him. And other times I visualize killing him.”
     “Those are our feelings,” Yosef said. “We’re not supposed to push them down or pretend they’re not there. We need to know that even in the darkest spots, the light is there. There is light to be gained from the darkest situations. We don’t punish ourselves, beat ourselves up for our feelings, we remind ourselves that light is there, too.”
     Our meeting ended and I drove to my appointment with my new accountant. My friend, Whitley, works for him and she gave me a big hug at the door before walking me into Jeff's office. I handed Jeff my tax forms. I’d emailed him the TurboTax returns JB filed the last six years and Jeff had last year’s return printed out and sitting on his desk. He began comparing last year’s tax forms with this year’s.
     “It looks like he took $28,000 out of an IRA last year,” Jeff said.
     I stiffened.
     “Did you know about it?” he asked.
     “You should ask him about it and get back to me.”
     “Let’s do it right now,” I said. I pulled my phone out, dialed JB’s number, and hit speaker. I set my phone on Jeff’s desk.
     JB picked up after one ring. “Hi,” he said cheerily.
     “I’m at the accountant’s office,” I said. “He has some questions for you.”
     “Oh, okay,” JB said. His voice quivered.
     “It looks like you pulled money out of an IRA last year,” Jeff said. “Did you?”
     “Yes.” JB’s voice shook.
     “What did you do with it?” I asked.
     “Paid debt,” JB said.
     “Have you taken more out besides this?” I asked.
     “No. That’s it.”
     “Uh huh,” I said and hung up on him.
     Jeff looked at me. “Look back at the other years when you get home. Look on line 16b. That’s where it will be if he’s taken out other IRA money. He took a big tax hit for doing this.”
     I sat there trying not to cry.
     “I’ll see what I can do, but you may owe something like $30,000 in taxes this year because of the buyout, too. Go see Whitley. I’m sure she wants to talk to you. Go see her.”
     Jeff walked me down the hall to Whitley’s office. I stood by the door. She scanned my face.
     “How did it go?” she asked cautiously.
     “Can I shut the door?” I asked shakily.
     “Yeah, shut it.”
     I closed the door and sat down. I began sobbing. Whitley came over and put her arm around me. I told her JB had stolen money, probably more than I knew about.
     “I can’t take anymore,” I cried. “I keep finding out more bad shit.”
     “It’s good you’re strong,” Whitley said. “You’re strong. You are going to get through this. You’re moving forward. It’ll be over soon.”
     I left Whitley’s office, got in my car, and angrily dialed JB. He didn’t answer. I drove home in a rage. Blake was in the TV room.
     “Hi Mom,” he said.
     “Hey,” I said and sat down on the window seat in the living room. I opened my laptop. I began looking at old tax documents. JB had taken out another $40,000. I felt sick. I dialed JB’s number again. He didn’t answer. I sent him an email.

     “You took $40,000 out of our IRA in 2009, $28,500 in 2011, and copped to $30,000 in secret debt. That's $100,000. Come completely clean.”

     I was shaking. Blake walked over. He started telling me about investment ideas. I snapped and said I didn’t want to hear it.
     “I’m sorry,” I said and started crying. “I just found out your father took $70,000 out of our retirement account.”
     “What an asshole. What a piece of shit.”
     Blake sat next to me and hugged me. I cried on him.
     “That’s it,” Blake said. “I’m done with him. I’m not going to that fucking game tonight.”
     “Oh Blake, I don’t . . .”
     “Stop,” Blake said. “I don’t want to see his face, hear his voice, sit there with him like everything’s fine. I can’t do it. It was hard enough going to the driving range and having dinner with him Sunday. All he did was make small talk, try to act like nothing happened. I won’t do it.”
     Blake picked up his phone and began texting. He told JB he wasn’t going to the Hawks game.
      “Why?” JB immediately texted back.
     “Funny,” I said. “I tried calling him twice. He wouldn’t answer or return my calls.”
     Blake snorted disgustedly. He began texting. “I just told him ‘I have 70,000 reasons why.’” Blake’s phone vibrated. “Dad just texted, ‘We need to talk.’” Blake began texting. “I told him, ‘I disagree.’”
     Blake and I sat on the window seat looking at each other.
     “I’m in the Twilight Zone,” I said.
     “At the end of the show people get out of the Twilight Zone.”
     “No they don’t. They’re stuck in their twisted realities.”
     “Well, Dad’s going to stay stuck. Not you.”
     I hugged him.
     Blake looked down at his phone. “Dad just said he’ll drop off the tickets and you could take me and Tom. He said he texted you, too.”
     I looked at my phone. “He did not. Let him drop them off. You and Tom can go. You could find a friend for your father’s ticket.”
     “I don’t want to go. I don’t want his tickets. I’m not going.”
     “Tell your father I’m already going to the game and he can pick up Tom.”
     “I’m calling Chad. We’ll go to the driving range, hang out on his campus.”
     Tom came home from school and Blake told him he wasn’t going to the Hawks game. He said he needed to go out with Chad to discuss business ideas instead. Tom frowned.
     “You’ll still have a good time buddy,” Blake said. “We have the rest of the week. Get ready. When you see Dad drive up, walk out the door. It’ll save time.”
     Tom went upstairs.
     “I don’t want to see Dad,” Blake said.
     “I know how you feel. I’ll be gone when he gets here. Please don’t let him in the house.”
     Blake snorted. “No way he’s coming in. I’m going to have Tom stand at the door and watch for him.”
     I hugged and kissed the boys. I drove downtown and pulled into parking lot K to meet Paul. I began checking email. There were a couple from JB.

     “The maximum debt I carried reached about $60,000,” JB wrote. “I paid off a chunk with the 40K (had to take a bunch out for tax so it was more like 30K), then the later 28K (about 22 after taxes) went to both pay taxes (about 9K) and further reduce debt. At that point the balance was whittled down to about 22-23K and it gradually climbed back up with interest over the next 2 years.
     “The origin of much of the large debt was when I was self-employed and I kept way too much of our income (for us, not me) and went into debt to pay taxes over those years. It started out as a few thousand and I let it compound over the years at high interest and made it worse with carelessness with business expenses and yes some with things I shouldn't have been doing but have already told you about. The latter was not the biggest factor at all, but it was part of it. It eventually grew into a monster. I borrowed from Peter to pay Paul until that was no longer an option and i got desperate.
     “I didn't have a secret/double life beyond what I have already confessed to you. Once it started to snowball I feared telling you because I was sure you'd throw me out. 
     “For tonight, if you like, I can give you the tickets and you can take Tom and Blake. We can tell Tom something came up with work. I can leave the tickets in my mailbox. I don't want Blake to miss the game because of me. Tom knows where the mailbox is.”

     Email number two.

     “I imagine you've at least considered the idea of hiring a private investigator. I actually think it would be a good idea. They don't miss much, and I can't remember every detail of what I've done. The ability to block things out is kind of prerequisite to the kind of behavior I was engaged in for all that time. I'm pretty confident he wouldn't find much beyond what you already know, but you will believe a third party more than me.
     “If you want to get some quotes and let me know what it entails, I'll consider contributing. I am sure the lawyer knows a few good ones. 
     “Think about it.”

          I stared at the last email. I reread, “The ability to block things out is kind of prerequisite to the kind of behavior I was engaged in for all that time.” I reread it. My head began to swim. I felt rage creep up my body. Paul called. He was in the lot. He told me to meet him at a specific door. I got out of my car, saw Paul, and waved at him. We walked to the stadium together and and took the escalator up to the restaurant. I told Paul about my visit with the accountant and JB’s emails.
     “What the fuck?” he said. “Does he have a gambling problem?”
     “I don’t know who he is. I don’t trust anything he says. He changes stories constantly. Now he’s saying he’s blocked things out, can’t remember. He said blocking is prerequisite to the behavior he was engaged in.”
     Paul almost choked on his food. He started roaring with laughter. The game started and we walked to our seats. Between the first and second periods, as the Zambonie smoothed the ice, I showed Paul JB’s last email.
     “Perhaps hiring a PI would be therapeutic for JB,” I said. “Help jog his memory. Shake him out of his amnesia. Because it’s all black for him.”
     “Yes,” Paul said. “I’m sure he had no idea where he was or where he parked when he was walking into those hotels. ‘Where am I? What am I doing here? What just happened?’ Paul held up his hands. “‘Blocking! Blocking!’ That’s what happened when JB walked in and out of those dens of iniquity. ‘Blocking! Blocking!’”
     We laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Paul shook his head.
     “I’d like to beat that piece of shit,” he said. “I hope we don’t run into him because I don’t want to do anything in front of Tom.”
     After the game, Paul drank a scotch and I had a tonic and lime in the restaurant. We waited for the parking lot to clear.
     “A guy can spend a lot of money on hookers,” Paul said. “I went to The Bunny Ranch in Vegas. My buddy won a bunch of money and wanted to go. I was married at the time. I didn’t do anything, but it was hard not to. They go after you. One hooker put her hand on my crotch and offered me a cheap hand job. I told her I was married and wasn’t interested. She offered to give me a massage and I told her, ‘Yeah, so you can get me all worked up and get me to go for it.’ Another one pulled her shirt off, walked behind me, and put her enormous breasts around my ears like earmuffs. I’m telling you, Brenda, you can walk out of those places thousands of dollars lighter.”
     Paul looked at me like he was my savior, my best bet. He shook his head and said, “You’re damaged goods now.”
     My stomach clenched. I felt sick. I felt angry. I began driving home. My phone rang. 
     “Hi Mom,” Tom said. “Where are you?”
     “Are you at home?” I asked.
     “Yeah. Dad and I are here and the house is all dark. Blake isn’t home either.”
     “I’m about twenty minutes away. I’ll call Blake and see if he’s on his way home. I’ll call you back. Stay with Dad until one of us gets there.”
     I called Blake.
     “Hey Mom,” he said cheerily.
     “Hey. Tom just called. He and Dad are sitting in front of the house. I’m about twenty minutes away. Are you nearby? Are you going to be out for a while?”
     “I wouldn’t be there any quicker than you,” Blake said.
     “Okay, have fun.”
     “That was a great game, huh?”
     “You watched it with Chad?”
     “Yeah. We hit some balls at the driving range, came back to Lake Forest, played pool with some guys, and watched the game. I’ll be here a while.”
     I pulled onto our street and didn’t see JB’s car. Maybe he’d decided to have Tom sleep at his place. I called Tom.
     “Hey, where are you? I’m home.”
     “We’re about to pull in front of the house,” Tom said. “I was thirsty so we went to Walgreens.”
     I parked the car beside the house by our backdoor. I saw JB’s car in my rearview mirror. I got out and Tom was standing next to my car. JB was gone.
     “Great game, huh?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” Tom said. “Guess where our seats were?”
     “The last row?”
     “Yeah. We were sitting up in the ceiling behind the Hawk’s goal.”
     “Well, you could see the whole ice.”
     Tom laughed. “Where were you?”
     “Second level, center line.”
     “I wish I could have sat there.”
     “Paul is going to try to get us tickets.”
     “Hope he can. I’m tired.”
     “Me too.”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Why Would I Want To Be Friends--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Tuesday, March 5

     “Hope you are well and enjoying having Blake home,” JB texted. “I just read they are putting a Trader Joe's in Libertyville. You must be happy about that.
     “I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know how you want to handle things for the Hawks game tomorrow night, per my last email. 
     “Also, I don't know if you've discussed the idea with Tom of my taking him on Thursday nights on the weeks where he'll spend the weekend with you. Was thinking we could start that next week, so let me know what you think. 
     “Thanks and have a good day.”

     I responded, “Thought you and Blake agreed he and Tom would be at your place at 5 tomorrow. You can have Tom Thursday of next week.”

     “Yes we did. Was just running it by you to be sure you felt Tom had enough time to get his h-work done. And thank (sic) re Thursday next week. Have a good day.”

     Swell JB.

     “Was just looking for Tom's video from the talent show,” JB texted. “Couldn't find it and it became apparent that you've unfriended or blocked me on Facebook, either that or you dropped off entirely. I guess I expected this eventually. It's certainly your right and understandable. It just makes me sad. I'm really sorry my actions have led to this. I still hope we can eventually be friends. Not Facebook friends but real friends.”

     Why would I want to be friends?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Homicidal--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, March 4

     “I hope you had a nice weekend,” JB emailed early this morning. “It was good catching up with Blake yesterday. I think that coach up at NMU is a complete tool for not making Blake the #2 goalie. Blake clearly outplayed that Alex kid, and according to Blake the assistant coaches were dismayed that Blake didn't get more games. 
     “Also interesting that Blake is getting into stock trading. You always said you were confident Blake will end up making millions of dollars and I think you are right.
     “For Wednesday, the Blackhawks game starts at 7, so I was thinking the boys could come here around 5 and we can eat something here and then go to the game together. 
     “I know this doesn't give Tom much time for homework, etc., so let me know if this will be a problem. If he needs the extra time I can just pick the boys up around 5:15 or so.”

     JB’s light-hearted banter enraged me. So upbeat, breezy. I threw on my riding clothes and went to a recovery meeting before going to the barn. Vince, a guy who came out as gay, talked about his hateful feelings towards his ex-wife and their ugly divorce. I had hoped the meeting would make me feel better, but it enraged me more.
     I marched out of the meeting, jumped in my car, and peeled out of the parking lot. I drove down Main Street and a man parked in front of Starbucks swung his car door open. I veered toward it. I wanted to smash it off. I straightened my car out seconds before hitting it. I pictured ramming my car into JB, watching his body fly in the air, and seeing him thump down on my hood.
     As I neared the barn, I made a snap decision to turn into the forest preserve instead. I yanked my car into a parking spot, slammed the door behind me, and stalked off into the woods. The snow was deep and crusty. In some places it was up to my knees. I hiked until I was panting. I stopped next to two weeping willows and stared at branches and thick downed limbs on the ground. I picked up a thick branch, held it in both hands, brought it up over my head, and smashed it down on an enormous limb on the ground. I bashed the limb again and again and again. Bark flew. Wood splintered. White inner wood began flying. I imagined the flying white chips were pieces of JB’s skull. I stopped, shocked. I could kill. I began screaming. I resumed beating the limb until I couldn't anymore. I started balling. I began hiking. Exhausted, I sat on an equestrian mounting block and called Paul.
     “Where are you?” he asked.
     “A forest preserve,” I panted.
     “What’s going on?”
     I told him.
     “I’ve been there,” he said. “What you’re feeling is normal. It’s good you’re processing this. One day, it’ll all be behind you and you’ll feel normal again. I promise you that. You’ll feel normal again but he won’t. JB will live with the fact that he’s a sleazy piece of shit until he dies. That will never go away. You’ll be fine one day but he won’t. Hold onto that. What brought out this rage? There must have been something that triggered it.”
     I told Paul about JB’s parking ticket, his flagrantly shopping for women in front of Tom, his sexting for years in front of the boys and me, his cockiness at Panera.
     “JB’s happy-go-lucky emails and texts,” I went on. “Blake golfing with him. All the false normality pushed me over the edge. Tom is going to be in a battle of the bands and JB’s family is going to be there. I can’t fucking handle it. It’s too much.”
     “Don’t go,” Paul said.
     “Tom’s so excited. He’ll be upset if I’m not there.”
     “He’ll have more performances. Don’t go. Tell Tom why. He’ll understand.”
     I contemplated not going and relaxed. I began breathing easier. “I’m not going,” I said. “I already feel better.”
     “There you go,” Paul said. “Why would you put yourself in a position like that? Why would anyone? There will be plenty more shows. Want to go to the Blackhawks game Wednesday? I have tickets.”
     I started laughing. “JB is taking the boys that night. Yeah. Let’s go. We won’t see them.”
     We made plans to meet in parking lot K and eat dinner in the season ticket holders’ club. Later, I told Blake and Tom I was going to the game, too.
     “Dad always gets nosebleed seats,” Blake complained. “I’ve never watched a Hawks game from good seats.”
     “I have,” Tom said. “With Mikey and his dad.”
     “Good for you,” Blake sneered.
     “I could meet you guys after the game. We could drive home together if you want.”
     “Dad wants us to come to his house,” Blake said.
     “Oh yeah, right, your car will be at his place. How do you block people on Facebook?”
     “Why, you want to block Dad?”
     Blake started laughing. “God, I thought you would have done that already. Here, I’ll do it for you.”

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Feel Better--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, March 3

     “I wanted to let you know about a race I have signed up for and asked Tom to do with me,” JB emailed. “It's the 5K Foam Fest. It's a race combined with obstacles, but not as intense as some other similar races. Lots of kids do it. It looks like fun.
     Tom told me he would it (sic). But I want to talk to him about it a little more and make sure he knows what he's getting into before I sign him up. We will need to do a little training. 
     I am on a team with the Chens, the Muellers and I think Laurel is doing it as well. You could do it too if you want.”

     Perhaps JB, Tom, and I could link arms and cross the finish line as a happy family. Yay!
     I took Tom to band practice and returned home. Blake, who was home for spring break, was on his way out the door.
     “I’m going to the driving range with Dad,” he said.
     “Have a good time.”
     “Thanks,” he said and left.
     I sat on the couch and started crying. I want Blake to have a good relationship with his father. But at the same time, Blake going to hang out with JB had me feeling betrayed. I don’t want to feel like this. It’s horrible.
     I drove to Terry and Laurel’s to get Tom from band practice later. The boys were still downstairs jamming.
     “We’re trying to figure out what songs the band should play,” Terry said. “I want them to have a shot at winning the battle of the bands.”
     Laurel was sitting in the living room and we joined her.
     “How many songs are they going to play?” I asked.
     “They should definitely play ‘Lonely Boy,’” I said.
     “I made them practice it a lot for the talent show,” Terry said. “Unfortunately, they’re sick of it.”
     “I think they should play it, too,” Laurel said.
     “I’ll try to talk them into it,” Terry said. “The second song I’d like them to do is the Chile Peppers’ version of ‘Higher Ground,’ but Tom says it hurts his hand.”
     “I’ll talk to his guitar teacher about modifications,” I said.
     “That’d be cool,” Terry said. “The other song should be an original. Have you heard the one they’re working on?” Terry pointed to the floor. We listened.
     “That’s the one Tom’s been writing,” I said. “You think it’ll work?”
     “It’ll be good once they learn their parts.”
     “It’s going to be hard to beat your niece’s girl band,” Laurel said.
     “Troy’s daughter’s band is in the battle?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” Terry said. “JB just told me.”
     “The band is weak, but the singer is great,” I said.
     Laurel nodded.
     Tom and his friends came thundering upstairs. I grabbed Tom’s stuff and we left. I was shaking inside. I don’t want to spend hours with JB and his family. I don’t want to go to the battle of the bands. I drove to the Salvation Army, dropped off bags of clothes, and went to the grocery store. I was in a spacey trance. Tom threw a box of sugary cereal into the cart—I don't buy junk cereal—and I let it stay in. Tom gave me a weird look. My text alert dinged.

     “Eating with Spazo,” Blake texted.

     “Okay. Get the garage door opener from Dad. Then you’ll have one.”

     “Blake’s having dinner with Dad,” I told Tom.
     “Aw,” Tom moaned.
     Soon after Tom and I got home, Blake walked in.
     “That was quick,” I said. “How was it?”
     “Eh,” Blake shrugged. “It was fine.”
     Tom and I ate dinner then I began watching TV in my bedroom. Blake sat on my bed.
     “You know what Douche Bag told me?” Blake asked.
     “He signed up for some extreme race where he’s going to scale walls, crawl under barbed wire, and run through mud,” he laughed. “Can you believe it? Pot belly with the bum shoulder? I told Dad, ‘What the fuck are you thinking?’ He said, ‘Oh, I think it’ll be a lot of fun.’ Yeah right. A bunch of fit manly guys and Dad.”
      “Or a bunch of guys like him,” I laughed. “I invited your dad to run with me last summer. He didn’t make half a mile. He started complaining about a cramp. I told him I was going to continue running and he limped home looking all dejected.”
     “What a loser,” Blake said. He shook his head and went to his room.
     Now I feel better. Sad but true.