Tuesday, January 31, 2017

All My Transgressions--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, December 9

     I drove Tom to band practice. Afterward, he and I had dinner with Paul and his son, Richie, and we went to a game arcade. Paul and I lounged in chairs while the boys ran wild.
     “He didn’t want to hug you, hold you in bed,” Paul said shaking his head. “I can’t believe all he wanted to do was fuck you. You’re fun, you’re smart, you’re interesting. Anytime we go out I know I’m in for a good time.”
     “What are the chances he only cheated twice ten years apart?”
     “I never saw what you saw in him Brenda.”
     “I’m a moron.”
     “Look who I married,” Paul laughed. “A dyke. I married a woman who bumps boxes.” Paul made two fists and knocked them together. I almost peed myself laughing.
     Tom and I drove home and I got into bed and started watching “Homeland.”

     “Watching Homeland,” JB texted. “I wish so much that I were watching it with you. I'm in hell. It's a hell of my own creation, but it's still hell. I'm going to send you a statement of assets, debts, and first draft of a budget for our separation. I am also going to send a complete declaration of all my transgressions. It will be difficult for me to write and for you to read.
     “I don't want to lose you. I don't want to lose my family. I want to cook Tom tacos and go out for Indian food with you and go hit golf balls with Blake. I am so fucking sorry for the mess I've made. I would do anything, anything to erase my mistakes. I regret them so deeply. All of the fond memories I have involve you and the kids. 
     “Once the rawness of this has worn off a bit I hope we can go have dinner and talk. I accept that you can't stand me right now. I can feel it. I don't blame you. But I love you and I want to regain your love and trust. I know it's an incredibly tall order but I will not give up hope easily. I don't want to move on. I want to rebuild my life with you and the kids.”

     I felt sick, hollow. A complete declaration of transgressions? What am I in for now?

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Stupid--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, December 8

     I haven’t been sleeping. I feel like a raw vibrating nerve. I went for a long run in the woods then did yoga. JB came over to hang out with Tom while I met Matt for dinner and a movie.
     Matt and I saw “Life of Pi,” and he twisted irritably in his seat making loud nasty comments at an old woman sitting a few rows behind us who was constantly commenting to her friend.
     “Oh, really, you didn’t get that from the book,” Matt sneered. “Get the hell out of here why don’t you? Look it up. Do us all a favor.”
     I crouched low in my seat.
     Matt and I had gone to dinner before the movie and Matt had ogled every woman who walked past our table. He told me how rich he was. He described his McMansion. He laughed about the antics of his hooker-chasing married friend.
     “On every level, on every piece of what’s going on, JB’s a fucking idiot,” Matt said. “If I were him, I never would have told you. If I thought I gave my wife an STD, I’d let her itch. Deny, deny, deny. Deny to your grave.”
     I didn’t think it was possible but Matt made me feel grateful toward JB. JB was panicky and made knee-jerk decisions. He believed he’d given me something bad, figured I’d find out, and told me. I wanted to believe he had a conscience somewhere in there.
     “He’s a fucking idiot,” Matt repeated. “How does that make you feel? That he was doing this and you didn’t know? Stupid?”
     I did feel stupid. I thought I was a bigger idiot than JB. It was my largest source of pain.
     I went home and JB quickly scurried out of the house. I climbed the stairs. My bedroom light was on. The TV was on. The comforter was rumpled where a large body had lain.
     “Was Dad in here watching TV?” I shouted to Tom.
     My stomach lurched. Rage filled me. I stood rooted to the spot.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I've Been Avoiding Her--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, December 7

     I went for a long trail ride with Tabitha. I told her I’m worried about Tom.
     “My friends had a very amicable divorce,” Tabitha said. “They got an apartment and instead of the kids moving from place to place, the parents trade weeks. The kids stay in the house and their parents take turns living in the apartment and the house. Do you think that’s something you and JB could do?”
     “Ha, no. I don’t want to cohabit with JB. I don’t want to be pals. I don’t want to chit-chat. I don’t want to set up two homes together and slap each other on the ass as we pass between them. I don’t want to share sinks, toilets, refrigerators, beds. No.”
     After riding I drove to the feed store and called my sister, even though I didn’t want to. I knew Trish would feel upset and left out if she heard about JB and me from someone else. She had a Hollywood picture in her head of what our sister relationship should look like. I’ve been trying to make that happen for her for years but failing miserably. When we’re in the same room it feels bad. Trish eyes me critically and looks at me like my existence annoys her. Her comments are barbed. She’s treated me like an adversary since we were children, and I've been avoiding her for about that long.
     “I’m getting divorced,” I said when Trish picked up. “JB’s been cheating on me.”
     “Oh my God!” Trish gasped. “I can’t believe it. JB? How did you find out?”
     “He told me. He got a urinary tract infection from screwing someone in Thailand. He thought it was an STD.”
     “Thailand! Those women are full of diseases. And he jumps on you constantly!”
     “He says he cheated with a woman from Australia, but who knows. Could have been a Thai boy for all I know. I don’t know who the fuck he is.”
     “I know flight attendants who fly there,” Trish said excitedly. “It’s disgusting! They see pilots going off with little girls at hotels. They’re loaded with diseases. Oh my God. Oh my God. I hope you’re getting tested. Did you get a lawyer? You need to be writing all of this down, documenting all of this.”
     Trish sounded gleeful.
     “Do you think JB’s been angry about your book, ‘Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife’ this whole time?” she continued. “Do you think he’s getting back at you for it?”
     Trish’s excitement rattled me.
     “When JB told me he cheated, I was grateful,” I said. “I had a good reason to leave.”
     “Really?” Trish said defeatedly.
      “JB says he’s racked up debt, too. I suppose it shouldn’t shock me. We refinanced the house a few years ago and I found $10,000 worth of debt he claimed was the result of paying Lakeside property taxes and life insurance premiums on business credit cards and not paying them off. I used the Christmas money Mom gave me to pay off the debt. He’s using the same excuses now to explain what he’s accumulated.”
     “What?!” Trish squealed. “That was your money and you spent it cleaning up his debt?! I thought he made a lot of money. How could he run up that much debt? What was he spending it on?”
     Trish was delighted again.
     “Who knows,” I said.
     “He screwed you out of a lot of money while he was fucking around behind your back!” Trish rephrased her statement and repeated it several different ways.
     “All I can do is get rid of him and that’s what I’m doing,” I said irritably. “I have to go.”

Saturday, January 21, 2017

I'm Glad I'm Not In Love--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Thursday, December 6

     I taught yoga this morning and felt like I was falling apart but eventually pulled it together. I rode Jack after class then visited my old riding buddy, Margo, who’d recently moved her horses from the barn where I keep Jack. Margo is seventy and married for the second time.
     “My first husband broke my heart in the seventies,” Margo told me while we ate lunch. “Free love was the norm back then. My first husband, I really loved him. He started a relationship with another woman. I put up with it for a while, but it got to where I couldn’t take it anymore. I told him he had to choose. He chose the other woman. While we were getting divorced, I contemplated asking him to come back but I didn’t. He’s still married to that woman. They don’t have it easy. They don’t have any money. But I really loved him.”
     Margo went silent. Her eyes got misty. She still loves her first husband. My heart ached for her. I took a deep breath and thought, I’m glad I’m not in love with JB. But if I had been, maybe things would have been different.
     As I was laying in bed at night, JB texted. 

     “I'm back from LA,” JB wrote. “It was hard not coming home from the airport. I love you and miss you. I miss Tom. I just want to crawl under a rock and die when I think about all this.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

I Want To Kiss That Doctor--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Tuesday, December 4

     I walked into Tom’s room braced for him wanting another day off of school. Tom got out of bed and began getting dressed.
     “I talked to the school social worker yesterday after I dropped you at Nana’s,” I said. “He called while I was driving downtown. His name is Ryan. He sounds nice. I think he’s going to see you today. He said his parents got divorced when he was your age. You want to talk to him?”
     I kissed the top of Tom’s head and drove him to school.

     Wednesday, December 5

     “I just got a vmail (sic) from dr's (sic) office,” JB texted. “I have a urinary tract infection with gram positive cocci (sic) bacteria. That’s all I have right now. You should share this with your dr (sic).”

     I googled the bacteria, which is commonly present in unsterile orifices of the body, like mouths and vaginas. It causes problems when it enters sterile environments, like the urethra. Women get urinary tract infections routinely. It’s nothing a gynecologist would label an STD.
     HPV, on the other hand, is an STD majority of adults my age either have or have had. There are more than one hundred strains. It manifests as warts or atypical cells. If a guy doesn’t have warts on his penis, he’s got no idea he has it or had it. His throat could be full of atypical cells or warts, however, and he’d be clueless. HPV usually goes away on its own, but it can cause cervical and throat cancers. There’s a vaccine for it now.
      The doctor JB selected from the telephone directory apparently figured JB’d give me something nasty eventually and told him to tell me. He could have given JB antibiotics and told him not to worry. But he didn’t. I want to kiss that doctor.
     Tom came home from school. We ate dinner and I left to teach my yoga class. I felt unclean, defiled, gross. I didn’t want to teach. I still need an HIV test. I still need my pap smear to return to normal.
     I setup my yoga room with candles, incense, and music. I was relieved I’d finish teaching in two weeks. Right after Thanksgiving and right before my life blew up, I’d sent emails to my clients telling them that after eight years of teaching, I was giving up my public yoga classes. I hadn’t written anything since “Diary of an Alcoholic Housewife” and wanted to focus on writing. My students began showing up. I got into them and out of my head. A blessing. But I was still grateful I wouldn’t have to teach soon.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

There Are People Who Will Want To Feed On Your Misery--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Monday, December 3

     I woke Tom for school. He opened his eyes and said, “I don’t want to go.”
     “Being busy, getting your mind off things, seeing your friends, it’d be good for you,” I said. I looked at the clock. I had an appointment downtown with the divorce attorney Matt recommended.
     “Going to Mikey’s didn’t make me feel better. I kept going to the bathroom to cry. I don’t want to cry in front of anybody.” Tears ran down Tom’s face. He wiped them angrily.
     “Nana and Aunt Lori are going to the Museum of Science and Industry today. I have an appointment in the city. Maybe I could drop you off at Nana’s and you could go with them?”
     Tom smiled and hopped out of bed. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
     “I’ll call Nana. You know she’ll say yes. I’ll call school and say you’re not coming.”
     “Are you going to say I’m sick?”
     “I’ll tell them you’re taking a mental health day. I already left a message for your school psychologist so you can talk to her. You can tell her things you don’t feel comfortable saying to Dad or me. Think that’s good?”
     Tom nodded and looked relieved.
     “Get dressed and let’s eat some breakfast.”
     I called the school.  “Oh, is he sick?” an office administrator asked.
     “He needs a mental health day. His father and I are getting divorced. I left a message with the school psychologist Thursday and she never got back to me. I’m upset about that.”
     “Uh, well, I’ll leave her another message if you want me to, but I think maybe the school social worker would be a better person. Ryan is his name. He’s a young guy. He’s really good. I know he’ll get back to you right away. The psychologist goes to all the schools. Ryan is here all the time.”
     “Thanks. Please have him call me.”
     “Should I leave the psychologist a message?”
     “No. Don’t bother with her.”
     I met with the divorce attorney and liked her. She slid a contract in front of me.
     “You can take the contract home and think about what you want to do,” Katherine said.
     “I know what I want to do. I want a divorce. I want to get this started now.” I began signing papers.
     “I’d really rather you read it before you signed it,” she laughed. “I’ll leave you alone and come back in a few minutes.”
     I read the contract, signed it, and Katherine said she’d send me a divorce petition.
     Matt, who leases an office in the same space Katherine does, kept popping in and out of the conference room. We went out for tea after and he asked me to have dinner Saturday night.
     “Be careful who you talk to,” Matt said. “There are people who will want to feed on your misery."
     I drove to my mother’s house and picked up Tom. We stopped at Kaufman’s Deli on our way home and stocked up on homemade soups and stews. I bought a loaf of fresh rye bread, a pound of warm corned beef, and Tom and I feasted on it for dinner.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I Want Us To Be A Family Like Before--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Sunday, December 2

     I got up and went for a long run and hit my yoga mat for two hours. I feel every cell in my body vibrating. I’m on high alert. Physical exertion helps, but I can’t make myself feel better.
     Tom walked through the door. I looked at his face. He appeared irritable, tired.
     “Did you and your friends sleep last night?” I asked.
     “Not really,” he said.
     Tom and five other boys had gone to Mikey’s to shoot their social studies videos. They needed to create commercials for ancient Egypt products. Tom’s product was scented mummification linen.
     “Did you shoot your video?”
     “Only Mikey got his done.”
     “Nobody was cooperating,” Tom complained. “Everyone was goofing off.”
     “Did you have fun?”
     “Not really.”
     “I thought you might have a rough time. What happened.”
     “I’m really sad. I spent most of the time laying on the couch. I went to the bathroom a lot so my friends wouldn’t see me cry.”
     “Did they ask you what was wrong?”
     “Did you tell them?”
     “What did they say?”
     “They said they were sorry. That’s about it.”
     “Did you talk to Jake? His parents are divorced.”
     “He said his parents got divorced when he was a baby.”
     I hugged Tom. “I love you,” I said. I kissed the top of his head.
     “I love you, too.”
     “Go take a nap. We’re going to your favorite restaurant with Nana, Olive Garden.” Tom knew the restaurant was for him. It wasn’t my favorite.
     Tom went upstairs and slept a couple of hours. I woke him up when it was time to leave.
     “I don’t want to go,” he said.
     “But you and Nana love Olive Garden. The bread sticks.”
     “I don’t feel like it.”
     “Come on. I’m not making dinner. Nana is almost there. You don’t want to blow off Nana, have her arrive and not show up.”
     Tom grudgingly got up. We drove to the restaurant and he sat at the table looking forlorn. The basket of breadsticks came. I put one on Tom’s plate. He gobbled it. He devoured his salad and spaghetti, too. By the time we left he seemed in normal spirits.
     We got home and I had Tom wash up, get ready for bed, and we watched a couple episodes of his favorite show, King of the Hill. During the second show, Tom paused the TV.
     “Why can’t Dad live here?” he asked angrily.
     “He did some hurtful things. I can’t live with him anymore.”
     “Why not?”
     “There are things people do that make their spouses not want to be with them anymore.”
     “Like what?”
     “I’m not sure it’s appropriate to say. I’m trying to figure out what to share with you. For now, just know your dad did something that was a deal breaker.”
     Tom started crying. “I want us to be a family. I want us to be a family like before.”
     “Your dad’s flying to Los Angeles tomorrow. He’ll be gone a week. He’d be gone a week if he were living here. You’re going to see Dad a lot. I bet you’ll even spend more time with him.”
     “It won’t be the same.”
     “No. It won’t. I feel horrible, too.”
     I hugged Tom. He began sobbing. I started crying. We cried together and Tom went to bed. I checked my phone. There was a long text from JB.

     “I am so sorry to have hurt you and the kids. I don't want to be this way. I want to be the honest, decent man you thought I was -- and once was. I am not a monster, but I am clearly not well.  
     “When I get back, I will sit down with you and review everything, and answer the difficult questions you will have for me. Then I will work with you on a plan to get our affairs in order.
     “You and the kids still need me to provide and that responsibility matters more to me now than it ever has. I don't deserve or expect forgiveness. But I will take responsibility and repair what can be repaired. It's going to be painful but we will get through it. 
     “Please understand that my love for you and the kids has always been true to my core. I am so incredibly sorry."

I switched off my phone. I threw it on the table. I woke up in the wee hours drenched in sweat, my thoughts racing.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Lucky!--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     Saturday, December 1

     I got out of bed and walked into Tom’s room where JB was packing and emitting weird little sobs.
     “You don’t have to be here seeing this,” he sputtered.
     “I’m going to a recovery meeting. If I’m not home when you get back from breakfast with Tom, please stick around until I get back. He shouldn’t be left alone.”
     JB nodded and I walked out.
     Several people in my recovery group commented before it was my turn to speak. I gave an outline of what was going on.
     “My husband doesn’t know it, but when he returns from California, he’s getting divorce papers,” I said.
     We walked out of the room and Pete made his way over to me. He gave me a hug.
     “Remember this,” he said. “Don’t forget and change your mind.”
     I got teary and nodded. “Thanks,” I whispered and hugged him hard. 
     JB and Tom were sitting like statues on the couch when I got home. JB stood abruptly.
     “Where’d you go for breakfast?” I asked Tom.
     “Dunkin Donuts.”
     Many bags were on the living room floor. JB picked up a couple and walked to his car. Tom stood up. He was trembling. I opened my arms and he threw himself into me. We stayed locked like that until JB loaded his last bag. I squeezed Tom, we separated, and JB nodded and walked out.
     I remembered the Christmas presents I bought JB on black Friday. I jogged upstairs, grabbed the Macy’s bag full of clothes, and walked to his car.
     “Here,” I said, swinging the bag at him. “Don’t get me anything for Christmas. I don’t want anything from you. I got these after Thanksgiving.” I walked into the house and squeezed Tom.
     “It’ll be all right,” I said. “You’ll see your dad a lot. It’ll be like he’s on a lot of business trips.”
     “But I’ll know better.”
     “He’s flying to Los Angeles Monday. He’ll be there a whole week. You’re the man of the house now and I’m going to need a lot of help from you.”
     Tom smiled.
     “Do you still want to go to Mikey’s for his sleepover tonight?”
     “Let’s get you packed. Mikey called my phone when I was out. He called you but you didn’t answer your phone. He wants you to come over before the other kids show up. I don’t know if his mother knows about that, though.”
     I called Ruby and she said she and Mikey were leaving to shop for Mikey’s sleepover. They’d pick up Tom on their way to the mall. Ruby pulled in front of my house minutes later. Mikey ran upstairs to get Tom. I slid into Ruby’s car.
     “I’m getting divorced,” I blurted. I told her JB had just moved out.
     “Lucky!” Ruby screamed. “Oh my God. I wish I were getting divorced.” Ruby stared wistfully through her windshield. In the eight years I’ve known her, she’s wanted a divorce.
     Tom and Mikey ran out of the house. I jumped out of Ruby’s car and waved good-bye as they drove away. I walked inside. I looked at my hands. They were shaking. Every cell in my body felt like it was vibrating. I put on my running shoes, sprinted out the door, and ran in the woods. I got home, unrolled my yoga mat, cranked Alice In Chains, and practiced hard. I took a long shower. I power cleaned my house to Soundgarden blaring. At eight-thirty p.m., I went to another recovery meeting.
     Paddy saw me and gave me a bear hug. We hadn’t seen each other in a year.
     “I’m getting divorced,” I whispered in his ear.
     “What?!” he said pulling away. “What happened?”
     “He was cheating.”
     Paddy looked at me and shook his head. “What an idiot.”
     The meeting started. After the speaker, Paddy and I went into the same discussion group. Lenny, Gemma, and a young Asian dude were sitting at a table in our room and Paddy looked at me, tilted his head toward Lenny, and rolled his eyes. Paddy and Lenny were best friends and for years both have complained about their alcoholic wives. Lenny was sitting very close to Gemma, a foul-mouthed much younger woman, and they were holding hands. I looked at Paddy. He raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
     Gemma was puffing on an electronic cigarette trying to get vapor to materialize. She unscrewed the cigarette, which looked like a one-hitter for pot, put a new cartridge in, and exhaled a large vapor cloud. The Asian dude, a jonesing addict, stared at her. Gemma lifted her huge satchel, tossed her extra vape cartridges in, and started digging around the bottom. She extracted mineral rocks and handed one to each of us. She gently pressed one into my hand.
      “Yours is for spirituality,” she said softly.
     I started crying. I grabbed Gemma, who was wearing a whiplash collar, and hugged her hard.
     “Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, pulling away. “Did I hurt your neck?”
     “It’s okay.”
     “You don’t know how much I need this,” I said.
     I went home, got into bed, and woke up in the wee hours with my mind racing. What if JB was pilfering our retirement funds? Was he draining the boys’ college funds? I was drenched in sweat.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

You're Joking, Right?--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     (Friday, November 30, continued)     

     When I calmed myself down I called JB. “I want you out of the house tomorrow morning. I contacted Tom’s school psychologist yesterday hoping I’d get guidance on what to tell him. She hasn’t gotten back to me but I’m not waiting for her. Let’s both think about what to tell him tonight. I’ll call you this afternoon before you come home. You need to go tomorrow.”
     “Okay,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
     Tom got home from school. He and I talked about his day. I left for the grocery store. I was going to buy a prepared dinner I could warm up. I parked in front of Sunset Foods and called JB.
     “I should be the one to tell Tom,” JB started. “You’ve done nothing wrong.”
     “What are you going to say?”
     “I’m going to tell him that I did some bad things. That I hurt you and let the family down and that I’m very sorry and we have to separate for a while so I’m moving to uncle Troy’s temporarily until we figure out what to do.”
     “Don’t position this as a temporary problem. Don’t put Tom in a place where he feels he can influence the outcome.”
     “All I ask Brenda, all I ask,” JB gasped, “is that you don’t go and file for a divorce right away, that you give this some time and think about it. Talk to me before doing anything.”
     “What are you going to say to Tom?”
     “I’ll say because of what I’ve done, you and I need to live apart and I’m going to uncle Troy’s until I figure out where to go next.”
     “Okay. Let’s have dinner at six and tell Tom after we eat.”
     I bought parmesan-encrusted tilapia, rice, and green beans. Tom and I chatted while we ate and JB looked like he was going to the electric chair. When Tom started getting up I looked at JB and nodded. JB swallowed hard.
     “Sit down Champ,” JB told Tom. “We have something to tell you.”
     Tom sat down. His eyes darted from JB to me. He looked petrified.
     “This isn’t about anything you’ve done,” I said. “Dad has something he needs to say.”
     Tom put his hands on the edge of the table and gripped hard. JB delivered the second version of his short speech. 
     “What?!” Tom shrieked. His face turned red, his eyes filled with tears, he looked from me to JB. “You’re joking, right?”
     “No, Buddy,” I said. “Dad is moving out tomorrow. You’ve done nothing wrong. This is entirely between your dad and me. We love you very much. Your father did some things that married people agree not to do to each other. We can’t live together.”
     “What?!” Tom shrieked. He looked disoriented, sick.
     “I love you and I’m still going to see you all the time,” JB told Tom. “I’m just not going to live at home. I’m leaving tomorrow morning but we’ll go out to breakfast first.”
     Tom sat at the table fighting back tears. I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him hard. Tom wrapped his arms around me and rubbed my back. We stayed like that a long time.
     “I’m so sorry,” I whispered into Tom’s ear. “I’m sorry this is happening to you. You don’t deserve it. I’m sorry.”
     “Does Blake know?” Tom asked, unlocking arms.
     “No,” I said. “Blake has finals coming up. I don’t want this upsetting him and screwing up his tests. We’ll tell him when he gets home for winter break. He’ll be home in two weeks. He’ll be home for a month.”
     “Okay, good,” Tom said.
     I started cleaning up. JB, looking like Droopy Dog, got up from the table and shuffled into the TV room where he and Tom began watching King of the Hill reruns.