Tuesday, June 27, 2017

My Presence--"Thank You Ashley Madison" except

Monday, January 21

     Tom was off school for Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. He said his stomach hurt and he felt like throwing up. I suspected he’d ingested bird-shit snow. Tom and I watched an excellent but depressing claymation movie called “Mary & Max.” It was about an overweight Australian girl and a middle aged New York man with Asbergers. They were pen-pals and each other’s only friend. It was perfect for my frame of mind.

Tuesday, January 22 

     Tom was still sick and I kept him home from school.

     “Does Tom have any interest in this?” JB emailed. 

     JB had forwarded an email from Tom’s school about a sixth grade party that was on the weekend of JB’s fiftieth birthday. JB wanted Tom that weekend.

     “He wants to go. I just haven't signed him up because his grades have been poor. I've been using it as a carrot. Talk to Tom about it.”

     “OK,” JB replied. “I've been in touch with his studio 1 teacher and she's given me the info to get on PowerSchool. I just looked at Tom's grades. They have slipped. I'll talk to him. I will see you tomorrow at his conference. I know it will be difficult for you to be in my presence, but we'll both be focused on what's going on with him at school. We need to keep lines of communication open on things like this, and I appreciate you doing so. Have a good day.”

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Keep Your Mouth Closed--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, January 20

     Tom grabbed his snowboard, I grabbed my skis, and we went to Snowbirds. It had been in the forties last week and the snow had turned to slush. Today it was freezing. The wind was whipping. Most of the runs were sheets of ice. Snowmaking machines were blowing everywhere. The snow was weirdly sticky.
     Tom and his friends hit the lodge and I found a decent run. I skied it a few times and wound up on a chairlift with three ski patrol guys. One pointed to the run I was skiing.
     “That’s the only one with good snow,” he said.
     “That one over there,” I said pointing. “The one with the blowers. I thought it would be good but it’s sticky.”
     “Goose poop,” said the ski patrol guy. “They pump water out of the pond over there. The snow they’re blowing is full of goose poop.”
     “No,” I said.
     “Really. That’s why it’s sticky. Keep your mouth closed if you’re skiing over there.”

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Your Game--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, January 19

     Blake and I ate breakfast and watched Louis C.K. on Netflix. NMU was playing DePaul again later.
     “Do you want Dad to come to the game?” I asked.
     Blake looked uneasy.
     “I have to deal with Dad forever,” I said. “If you want Tom and Dad to come, text Dad.”
     “Okay,” Blake said.
     “Did you text Dad?” I asked later.
     “If you want, I’ll text Tom and let him know about your game. Dad is taking him to band practice. He’ll probably tell Dad.”
     “Yeah, okay,” Blake said.
     I texted Tom.
     I dropped Blake at the arena an hour before his game and went shopping. I bought stainless steel pots and a bright orange and pink duvet for my bed. I drove back to the arena, passing an upscale hamburger joint on the way. I sat next to Blake in the stands.
     “Did Tom text you back?” Blake asked.
     “He texted ‘Okay.’ He probably got busy with his friends. He might not have said anything to Dad. I’ll text him again.”
     I texted Tom and got no answer.
     “Text your dad,” I told Blake.
     He began texting.
     “Are they coming?” I asked.
     “He just asked me if I was playing and I said no.”

     “Are you at Blake's game?” JB texted me. “I just realized he's I (sic) town.”


     “Ok. Disappointed I didn't know. I've texted with Blake.”

     “Well, you messed him up.”

     “I know. If he doesn't want to see me of course that's his choice. All I ask (sic) that you please not encourage it. I want to stay close to my kids.”

    “I texted Tom this morning to let you know. Does that sound like I'm encouraging distance? As much as I don't want to see you, I was prepared to suck it up for Blake’s sake.”

     “For some reason Tom didn't tell me. And I appreciate your willingness to do that.”

     “My children come first.”

     “I know they do.”

     “Really? You might have considered what you were doing to their mother.”

     “Of course you're right. Tell me how I can make amends. I really want to but honestly dont (sic) know how. Everything I say and do makes things worse.”

     “You're on your own.”

     “Kinda figured. And that's fair. I hope you have a nice evening. I'll drop Tom around 1-ish tomorrow.”

     I got Blake and myself Cajun burgers from the hamburger joint, ate them in the stands, and watched NMU win. As Blake’s team loaded onto the bus, I gave Blake a kiss and he hugged me hard. On my way home, I picked up a chocolate raspberry cake. Tracy was coming over for dessert.
     “I put fifty dollars in Scott’s checking account so he could put gas in his car,” Tracy said sipping coffee. “He’s living at a new halfway house. He’s supposed to email or text me copies of his receipts when I give him money. That’s our deal. Hours have passed since I deposited the money. He won’t text, email, or take my calls. I don’t have a good feeling about this, or the halfway house. It feels like Scott’s just parked there. I don’t think they’re drug testing him unless I tell them to. The place is expensive. They’re just taking my money.”
     “Should you be giving him money? Should he be driving?”
     “No. Heroine addicts shouldn’t have money. But I’ve been making him send me receipts. He’s not getting back to me this time and I’m worried. He probably went out and bought drugs.”
     “My friend Serena’s son, John, is roughly the same age as Scott and he’s a heroin addict, too,” I said. “He’s clean and living in a halfway house. The last time John was locked up Serena didn’t bail him out. The guards put John in solitary confinement so he wouldn’t get raped or beaten to death. He was in a tiny cell twenty-three hours a day. When he got out, he was serious about getting sober. I’m texting you Serena’s phone number.”
     “She wouldn’t mind talking to me?”
     “She’s in recovery and talks to a lot of people who are dealing with this.”
     “I’m calling her.”

Saturday, June 17, 2017

That Package--"Thank You Ashely Madison" excerpt

Friday, January 18

     I called to get my STD test results. A woman at the health department answered the phone and asked for my name, password, date of birth, and address.
     “I thought this was anonymous,” I told her.
     “It’s just for us,” she said. “It won’t go anywhere. I need it to find your results.”
      I doubted it. Nervously, I gave her my information. Minutes went by as she tapped on her computer. I anxiously fidgeted in my chair.
     “All of your tests came back negative,” she finally said.
     “Thank-you,” I exhaled loudly.
     I sat for a while letting that sink in. I got up and started pulling Caphalon pots and pans out of my cupboard and putting them on the front porch for JB. I wanted to get rid of my aluminum cookware and get stainless steel. Maybe JB would get Alzheimer's from high levels of aluminum. I did Tom’s laundry and packed a weekend bag for him. He was spending the weekend at JB’s new house.
     Tom’s band was auditioning for the middle school talent show and JB was helping move and setup band equipment. After the audition, JB and Tom were stopping by to get Tom’s clothes and the pots and pans. I went to the barn. I didn’t want to see JB. I brushed BlackJack and headed out for NMU’s hockey game against DePaul. Blake was in town for the game but wasn’t playing. He hadn’t cut short his winter break for hockey practice because he’d stayed home with his messed-up mom instead. We sat together in the stands and watched the game. Afterwards, Blake came home with me instead of staying at a hotel with his teammates.
     “Does your father know you’re in town?” I asked.
     “No, I didn’t feel like seeing him.”
     I felt relieved then sad for Blake.
     “I’d like to see Tom,” he said. “But Dad would come with that package.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Chin Up--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, January 17

     I woke up agitated. JB said he’d started cheating in 2007. That was the year my father died of cancer. I’d watched my father shrink into a pain-wracked skeleton and many mornings I woke up feeling life was meaningless, exhausting, and the thought of not waking up again was pleasant. JB would slide his hand onto my hip and rub it a couple of times signaling for sex. I’d steel myself, roll over, and do it. Sometimes. Other times I’d pretend to sleep. If I didn’t roll over, JB would sigh repeatedly and eventually stomp out of the room. He didn’t put his arm around me. He didn’t ask how I was feeling. He didn’t ask about my father.

     “What month in 2007 did you start cheating on me?” I texted JB.

     “I dont (sic) recall exactly... I think it was later in that year that I started going online (sic)”

     “What season?”

     “I'll guess late summer/early fall.”

     “Right after my father died. The worst year of my life.”

     JB didn’t respond. I was shaking. I paced the floor. I dialed Paul. I got his voicemail. I paced some more.
     “Dishonorable soulless piece of shit!” I spat.
     I dialed Tracy. I got her voicemail. I paced back and forth. I called my mother.
     “Hi,” she said, “How are you?”
     “Not good. Ever since JB told me he started cheating in 2007, it’s bothered me. That was the year Dad died.”
     My mother groaned.
     “I had to know when he started, so I texted him. He said it was late summer. Right after Dad died. Apparently I wasn’t paying enough attention to him that year.”
     “Oh my goodness,” my mother said, her voice solemn and low. “Some people just don’t use their heads.”
     “Don’t use their heads!” I yelled. “He’s a fucking sociopath, a narcissist, a sick twisted piece of shit!”
     “He is sick,” my mother said. “Really sick. Twenty-one years down the toilet. What a shame, what a shame.”
     “Twenty-one years down the toilet?” I shouted. “It makes me sick that I lived with him, let him touch me, had sex with him. He’s a creep. For years I told you I was unhappy. You kept telling me, ‘He’s a good guy, a good provider, a good father. Keep reminding yourself of his good qualities. Tell him how wonderful he is. Build him up. Men like that.’”
     “I know,” my mother groaned. “I thought he was a good guy. Oh, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry he turned out to be this way.”
     “I hate him,” I snarled.
     “Don’t let yourself hate,” my mother said. “Don’t let this turn you into an ugly hateful person.”
     “Right now I hate the fucker.”
     I ended our conversation and paced some more. I checked email. There was one from JB.

     “I believe there are teacher conferences next week?” he wrote. “I assume you don't want to do these with me? I'll understand if you want to handle solo, but I hope you'll shoot me a note afterward to fill me in on Tom's progress. Ditto with things like report cards, etc.
     “With the talent show coming up, please let me know what you are comfortable with in terms of how we handle these kinds of public events. I plan on being there for these as a general rule. 
     “I assume your mother may be there as well. I'd like to say hello to her but I know that may be difficult or unwelcome, so I would appreciate some guidance from you on what would make everyone the least uncomfortable. I have a lot of regrets and one of them is certainly how much I've disappointed your mom.”

     “This is how you respond after our texts?” I wrote. “Who are you? What do you see when you look in the mirror?”

     “I didn't know what to say after your texts. Sorry is so insufficient. I feel horrible. And trying to explain or clarify anything only seems to make things worse. 
     “What do I see in the mirror? Someone who wishes like hell he could turn back the clock and erase what he's done but knows he can't. Someone who understands he has to keep his chin up and keep moving forward, because the alternative is wrapping a rope around his neck, and that would just be another in a long series of selfish acts. 
     “Since I've come clean about all my actions I've been answering your questions honestly and I'll keep doing so. I know it's painful and I'm sorry to put you through all this.”

     He has to keep his chin up.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Noose--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Tuesday, January 15

     Raymond and I had lunch at a sushi bar. We’d gone to a Seventh-day Adventist elementary school together and, roughly eighteen years ago, I’d written a newspaper story about how he was serving prison time for murdering his mother even though his sister and her boyfriend did it. Raymond had been up for appeal when my story ran and my piece helped him get out.
     Raymond, now a sales rep, looked great. His prison-pumped body, minus the tattoos, nicely filled out his dress pants and blazer. He was still married to Marcy, an average-looking woman who was six years older than him. She had begun dating Raymond while he was incarcerated.
     “How did you and Marcy start dating while you were in prison?” I asked.
     “My cellmate had a girlfriend who I’d see when she came to visit. She was friends with Marcy, and she told Marcy to start writing me.”
     “You two still happy?”
     Raymond shrugged. “We’re alright.”
     “How’s Donna?” Donna was Raymond’s youngest sister. Not the one who strangled their mother.
      “She married some guy. They moved to Florida. The guy’s a geek, but I guess he’s good to her. She and I don’t talk much. I had an affair with one of her friends and she got pretty mad about it. She told me if I didn’t tell Marcy, she was going to tell her. So I told.
     “The affair was wrong,” he continued. “But my marriage wasn’t good. Isn't good. When I got out of prison, Marcy began worrying that I was going to find someone younger than her. I gave her no reason to worry. I was faithful. But she was obsessed. She started accusing me of cheating. Accused me for years. I never cheated until Donna’s friend came along. I figured what the hell, she’s been accusing me of it for years.
     “Then Marcy began telling our friends I’d been in prison. I had created a whole new life for myself. I wanted no connection with my past. And she blew it up. It backfired on her, though. I showed our friends the story you wrote. No one dropped me as a friend.
     “She’s been threatening to tell my co-workers and clients for years, though,” Raymond said. “She says if I ever leave, she’ll do it. She’s got a noose around my neck. I keep telling myself that Marcy is a good mother. That our son needs her. It’s the only thing that gets me through.”
     “I know what that’s like,” I said. I told Raymond about my marriage.
     “Your husband’s an idiot,” Raymond shouted. “Look at you.” He shook his head. “I know a couple of guys whose marriages were ruined by porn. They were married to great women. One guy, his wife was hot, he couldn’t have sex with her anymore. He couldn’t get it up for normal sex period. I won’t look at that shit.”
     “Ever see Lisa?” That was the sister who did kill their mother. Lisa had testified against Raymond, perjuring herself to get a reduced sentence. She’d gotten out of prison on a technicality years before Raymond.
     “She lives forty-five miles away from me. She and her husband, Rocco, have three girls now. I took my son, Kelen, to meet his cousins once. Kelen was thrilled. But I don’t want her in my life. Nothing good could ever come of it.
     “She used to live in Indiana but moved back to Illinois after feuding with a neighbor. Lisa’s neighbor started digging around and dug up Lisa’s past. Lisa moved her family back here fast. Her daughters don’t know. They’re living in a crummy little apartment now. Lisa’s working as a headhunter, but she isn’t doing well.”
     A headhunter.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What We Wish For--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, January 13

     I bought Blake new windshield wipers for his SUV, made him a sandwich for the road, and he drove off for NMU. I looked at Tom. He was wiping tears off his cheeks. I squeezed him hard.
     “Pull your snowboard gear together,” I told him. “We’re going to Snowbirds, remember?”
     Tom disappeared in the basement and got his stuff. We took a few runs together then Tom and his friends rode off to the terrain park. I skied three more runs, went into the lodge, bought a cup of tea, and called Tracy.
     “Ken’s wife shot herself in the head last Sunday!” Tracy said breathlessly. “Her funeral is tomorrow. This is the bitch who hooked my son on heroin. Scott has been in and out of halfway houses since. That bitch tried to sleep with him, too. She’s got a six-year-old son who was taken away from her by the DCFS. Her family blamed me for reporting her, but it turned out her brother did it. He was in charge of Amber’s money. Their family has money. Now she’s dead. Now Ken, my dear ex, has no money and he’s suddenly reaching out to our children. He didn’t care about them before, but they’re circling him now. They’re going to that bitch’s funeral. My daughter asked me to babysit so she could go. I told her no. I told her not to expect to be received well by Amber’s family.
     “I’ve been helping Scott stay away from Ken and Amber, but now that sick son-of-a-bitch is reaching out to Scott through Amber’s Facebook page,” Tracy continued. “He sent Scott a message saying, ‘Where are you? I haven’t talked to you for a long time,’ and sent Scott the funeral information.”
     “The wicked witch is dead,” I said.
     Tracy started laughing.
     “Guess we should be careful what we wish for,” I added.
     Tracy laughed hard for several minutes.
     I turned and noticed Laurel standing next to me. She had a funny look on her face. She was trying not to look at me as she put her helmet and gloves on the table.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sum Of All Decisions--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, January 12

     I told Kent my thoughts on the universe slapping me upside the head. We were eating breakfast.
     “You had a lot at stake,” Kent said. “You built a life together, a family. You had to try. You’re too hard on yourself. People change Brenda. JB is not the same man you married. I’m not the same man Maggie married. We’re the sum of all of the decisions we’ve made thus far. JB made a lot of bad choices.
     “Speaking as a guy, once you let your mind go down a path, if you don’t stop it, sooner or later you’re going to act on it. When you get away with it, you do it again, and again. The person JB is today is not the person you married. The seeds of who he was to become were there, but he had many ways to go. He’s clearly a messed up person with many unaddressed problems. I know you’ve been unhappy for years. He is who he is because of the decisions he’s made, where he let himself go.”
     “Thank you for that,” I said. “How are you?”
     Kent was sober eleven years. He relapsed a year ago and has been drinking on and off since.
     “I actually envy you,” Kent said. “You get to start over fresh. I have all my baggage stacked around the way it has been for years. Part of me sees you and me partying in Cuba in 24 hours. I’d never bring you down with me if you weren’t already drinking, but if you were already drinking . . .”
     Kent was asking if I was drinking, and if I’d run off with him. I felt a part of my brain click off. I didn’t want to deal with this. I didn’t want to believe Kent. I began telling myself Kent didn’t mean it. Damn. How often do I do that? I need to listen. I need to observe. I need to believe people when they show me who they are. I looked at Kent long and hard. I felt scared for him.  
     “When’s the last time you drank?” I asked.
     “December thirty. I wanted to drink normally. I wanted to go to a bar and have a few beers and watch football, so I did. I did it again. Two times I had three beers and left. The next time, I drank more and my family knew I was under the influence when I went home for dinner.
     “Today I feel good though. I feel like my head is in alignment with my heart. But I can’t tell you about tomorrow. I feel like if I relapse one more time I won’t go back to recovery. How many times can I go back to meetings and say I relapsed? The last time I did that, Malory, Mary, and Patty were all sitting in the same row and their heads snapped in my direction all at once. It was funny. One guy started snickering. The thing is, I love drinking.”
     “All of us alcoholics do,” I said.
     “I’m really fun when I’m drinking.”
     “I’m a lot more fun sober. Drunks are boring.”