Friday, September 29, 2017

Be Invisible

Saturday, February 23

     Kent and I ordered breakfast. The waiter left our table and I told Kent about my meeting with JB.
     “I spent half my life living with someone I don’t know,” I said. “I’m freaking out.”
     Kent shook his head. “Wow. That meeting. The way you described JB. You just described me.”
     It felt like Kent slammed me in the head with a bat. I stared at him waiting for elaboration.
     “Maggie would have described me that way when my family got together and did an intervention on me. They told me I needed to stop drinking and everyone read letters telling me how they felt. I sat there playing with a piece of paper. I folded it, unfolded it, folded it in different ways. If she could have, if she’d been able to articulate it, Maggie would have said about me what you said about JB.
     “Brenda, I was so out of touch with my feelings I couldn’t tell you what I was feeling. I couldn’t label them. There was a soul in there, but it was buried deep. It wasn’t until I was in treatment that I started getting in touch with my soul, my feelings.”
     “I wanted to see JB cry. Get proof a soul was home.”
     “That’s exactly what they do in treatment,” Kent said. “They break you down so you can rebuild yourself. When I was sitting there folding that piece of paper, I was cringing. I didn’t want them to see me cringe. Believe me, that smile JB had on his face, he was gritting his teeth and cringing behind it. Appearances are everything to him.”
     “I wanted to see something, anything, that indicated JB wants to change. I don’t believe he does.”
     “I didn’t want to change until I was forced to,” Kent said. “I tried not to go to treatment, but they had a reservation for me and a plane ticket. I guarantee if JB started therapy, they’d focus on his childhood for a long long time. He grew up in an alcoholic home and learned to stay under the radar. He learned to push his feelings down, be invisible.”
     “Well, he’s on his own now.”

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Not All Guys Are Like Me

Friday, February 22

     I walked into Panera five minute late for meeting JB. He was delivering tax forms to me and I was delivering the latest divorce papers, but he wasn’t there. Odd. JB was always early. I sat a table and pulled out my phone out to see if JB had texted to cancel. I looked up and saw JB swaggering toward me.
      “Hello,” he said, like I was a work buddy. He hung his coat on the back of his chair and handed me an envelope. “It’s the next check. It’s postdated March one.”
     “Thanks,” I said, putting it in my purse. “I’ve been wondering why the IRS came after us for unpaid taxes the past few years?”
     “They calculated that I owed them more money than I calculated we owed.”
     “Were you hiding money from me?”
     “The government knows how much you make. You can’t do that.”
     “Buy-out checks, bonuses, things you ‘forgot’ to tell me?”
     “No, nothing like that. I just didn’t pay enough.” He handed me his income tax forms along with a list of expenses. “I’m still waiting for forms from the buyout.”
     I took the papers, glanced at them, and put them in my purse. I slid JB’s mail in front of him. “There’s also this,” I said slapping an overdue parking ticket and police report on the table. “Do you remember getting this?”
     JB stared at the police report. He nodded without lifting his eyes from the table.
     “Why didn’t you pay it?”
     “I didn’t think it was due.”
     “You were parked on Magnolia at three a.m.”
     “It’s not what you think,” JB blurted.
     “If I were screwing an Ashley Madison date and got a ticket, I’d have paid it right away. I wouldn’t have wanted you to see it. Were you rubbing my nose in it?”
     “It’s not what you think,” JB repeated.
     “” I asked and smiled.
     JB grinned like we were sharing a joke. “Look. I got really drunk that night and crashed on someone’s couch.”
     “You didn’t have the decency to spare me this. Nor do you care what Tom sees. He’s seeing pop up on your computer every time he uses it.”
     JB’s grin faded a bit, but he maintained it.
     “Tom says he sees you on dating websites all the time and it bothers him. He asked me to tell you that. He says when he types www, dating websites pop up and women poke you.”
     JB’s head sagged.
     “I’m guessing Tom’s seeing you work both ends. Dating websites and Ashley Madison.”
     “No. I haven’t been back on that website.”
     “You’re not working hard to find as many receptive vaginas as possible?”
     “I haven’t been back on Ashley Madison. And Match isn’t like that. It’s not a hookup site. I wake up in the middle of the night scared I’m going to be old and alone. So I’m working Match aggressively.”
     I stared at JB, astonished. I started laughing.
     JB grinned.
     “Keep your computer clean for Tom,” I said. I slid a packet in front of him containing a divorce settlement and custody agreement. “Look these over. If you have any questions or concerns, tell me. The more we hammer out, the less I pay the lawyer. You shit on me for years, so I’m hoping you’ll do the right thing now.”
     “I want to be generous,” JB said. “I don’t need much to live on. I’m comfortable where I am. I’m really sorry you’re in this position. I’m really sorry about everything.”
     “What exactly are you sorry about?”
     “I’m sorry I did what I did to the kids?” JB asked. “Ruining the family? I’m sorry for what I did to you?”
     I stared at him. He wanted to know if these were the right answers. I smiled incredulously. “And you kept doing it. For five years.”
     “I know,” JB smiled back.
     “How did that feel? How did it feel walking into the house and seeing me after cheating?”
     “I felt bad,” he said, still smiling.
     “But not really, because you kept on doing it.”
     “Like I said, I compartmentalized. I don’t understand it. I don’t know how it worked. But it was like two completely separate things. I would come home and see you and the kids and want to be a family man. I’d stay off for months but then I’d eventually drift back. I’ve always had these impulses. But somewhere down the line I lost impulse control. I used to think of myself as being honest, having a moral compass. But I lost all impulse control. I just started doing whatever my impulses told me to do.”
     “And you lost it when my father was dying.”
     “No, I wasn’t meeting up yet.”
     “You were sex messaging, whacking off, lining people up.”
     JB’s head sagged and he nodded.
     “Tom has been remembering things. He said every time he used the desktop after you were on it, the computer history was wiped clean and he thought it was weird. While the boys were watching TV, you’d sit in the TV room behind your laptop on that side chair with your back to the wall. Did you get off on having computer sex with our sons right there? With me popping in and out of the room while I cooked dinner?”
     JB was still smiling. “I can’t explain it. I don’t know. Everything was so compartmentalized.”
     I forced myself to stare at JB. It was hard to look at him. I searched his face for a conscience.
     “Not all guys are like me,” he said.
     My stomach lurched and I sat back. I forced myself to look at him longer. Tears rose up in my eyes. I blinked them down. “You’re repulsive. Out of all the things you could have choosen to do, this is your activity of choice.”
     JB looked at the table and nodded. He looked up. “I know you think I’m a sociopath, but I’m not,” he said, still smiling.
     “I’ve been looking for something. A glimpse of a soul. But there’s nothing. Your eyes. They’re glazed and empty. Kind of demonic.”
     JB looked at his hands.
     I wanted to see JB cry. I wanted to see he had feelings for someone other than himself.
     “Your facial expressions,” I said. “You’re smiling.”
     “I’m smiling?” he asked.
     “I was cringing.”
     “Your body language is cocky.” I got up from my chair and pulled on my coat. “There’s nothing more to say. I’m leaving now. I’m going to the counter to get dinner for Tom and me.”
     I ordered Tom his favorite chicken noodle soup and myself a salmon salad. JB was picking Tom up in forty minutes and taking him to his house for the weekend. I glanced at the table where we’d been sitting. JB was gone.
     “Sounds like you have a cold,” I told Tom as we ate. “Good thing I got you chicken soup.”
     “Yeah,” Tom said and cleared his throat. He grabbed his napkin and blew his nose.
     “When did you start getting sick?”
     “This morning.”
     “You know it’s best to start supplements right away. Why didn’t you tell me?”
     Tom shrugged.
     “Take these,” I said, putting chewable echinacea tablets in front of him. “I’ll put some in your bag to take to Dad’s. You need to take these three times a day, right?”
     “I know,” Tom said. Tom looked down.
     “Are you okay going to Dad’s this weekend?”
     Tom nodded. “Yeah. When’s he coming?”
     “Any minute.”
     “You know what band I’m getting into now?” Tom asked.
     “Oasis,” he said and smirked. I wasn’t an Oasis fan, but JB claimed he was.
     “Listen to them at Dad’s,” I said and laughed. “Listen to better music when you’re at home.”
     “I have two homes.”
     “Yes. Yes you do. It’s cool having two homes, huh?”
     “Yeah,” he said weakly.
     The doorbell rang. Tom put his coat and shoes on. We hugged goodbye. Tom and JB got into the car and Sonia walked up my front stairs. She and I were going to see the movie “Argo.” Minutes later, the doorbell rang.
     “Dad’s car won’t start,” Tom said. “He’s walking over to the neighbor’s to get a jump.”
     “Hang out until the car starts,” I said. I checked my watch. I didn’t want to leave JB with access to the house.
     “We’ll wait,” Sonia said sternly and gave me a worried look. “We can change plans.”
     JB rang the doorbell. He said his car started. Tom and I hugged again and we all walked out the door. Sonia and I drove toward the movie theater.
     “JB’s a conman,” Sonia said. “He spent years working out a system. A way to present himself to the world. Conmen are very smart. Too bad they don’t put their intelligence to better ends. What you’re dealing with would do a lot of people in.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Bad Mouthing--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, February 18

     I took Tom to his guitar lesson after school and looked for music to buy for Tom’s voice lessons.
     “He likes AC/DC, Foo Fighters, Cage the Elephant,” I told Phil, the music dude helping me.
     “But you want to buy him something that isn’t going to trash his voice,” he said.
     “Right. Tom gets focused on one band at a time. The first was the Beatles. He hasn’t listened to them in a while. I wonder if he’d like this,” I said, pulling a Beatles book from the rack.
     “It’s cool he jumps into a band and learns everything about them for a while,” Phil said.
     “He’s on YouTube watching concert footage, videos, figuring out songs. He memorizes band facts off Wikipedia. It’s nice we like the same music, mostly. But I’m not nuts about Green Day. That’s who he’s into right now.”
     “They used to be good,” Phil said.
     “They got lame.”
     I bought the Beatles book and showed it to Tom at the end of his lesson.
     “Cool,” he said and grabbed it.
     As we ate dinner, I told Tom Phil thought Green Day was lame, too.
     “You liked that song I played for you off their new album,” Tom said.
     “Yeah, because it sounded like their old stuff. When they were a punk band.”
     “Dad likes them,” Tom said.
     “Of course he does. It’s popular to like Green Day.”
     Tom narrowed his eyes at me.
     “Music isn’t an authentic interest of Dad’s. Until two years ago, he never listened to music. He’s trying to be a hipster, wants Greg’s dad to think he’s cool.”
     Tom nodded. “I was in Mikey’s dad’s car and his dad asked me what kind of music Dad liked. Mikey's dad was listening to Steve Earl.  We didn't like it. I told him Dad didn’t listen to music, he listened to talk radio all the time.”
     “In the twenty-four years I’ve known your father, he never listened to music—until now.”
     I was bad mouthing again. I should shut up. I want Tom to be authentic. I don’t want him to be a phony, spend time polishing a veneer he thinks others will admire. But I'm projecting my fears onto Tom. It's abusive. I need to control myself. Why is it so hard for me to do that? 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

We're All Flawed--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Sunday, February 17

     I started the online parenting course Illinois requires for divorcing couples with young children. I watched a video portraying parents unloading on their kids, pumping them for information about their other parent, and speaking disparagingly about the spouse they were divorcing. I felt guilty that I'd called JB a retard and an idiot. I felt guilty that I'd suggested we use JB for archery practice. I felt guilty for making a lot of comments Blake and Tom can’t un-hear.
     Tom thumped down the stairs for breakfast.
     “I've said sarcastic things about Dad," I said. "Made jokes about him. How does that make you feel when I do that?"
     “I hate it,” Tom growled. His face knotted up and turned red. “It makes me feel really bad.”
     “I’m really sorry,” I said. “I’m stopping that. I’ll try to do better. I'm not perfect and I might mess up, but I’m going to try very very hard to keep my mouth shut. How about you charge me a dollar if I say something mean?”
     “I don’t want a bribe,” Tom shouted. “I don’t want a dollar.”
     “I’m not trying to bribe you. I’m just thinking it might help stop me.”
     “Well I don’t want money for that. And I want you to stop saying bad things about Dad to your friends. It makes me feel horrible. ” Tom started crying.
     “I know you overheard what I told Ruby at the trampoline park. I’m really sorry.”
     “It’s not just that!” Tom howled. “I hear you when you’re on the phone!”
     “Oh, God. I should have known you’ve been listening.”
     “I haven’t been listening. I can just hear you. It’s kind of hard not to hear.”
     “But I make sure you’re upstairs in your room with your door shut.”
     “Well I can hear you.”
     “Not unless you’re trying to hear. I don’t want you listening to what I’m telling my friends. I need to talk to my friends. If I don’t, I feel sick inside. It helps me figure things out. I'm sorry you heard awful things. You should not be listening to my conversations.”
     I walked over to Tom and hugged him. He squeezed me back. He ate his breakfast and went to his room. I checked on him. He was curled up on his bed crying. It was the first time I’d seen Tom cry hard about his dad and me. My heart ached, but I was glad he was letting it out. Later, I brought Tom lunch in bed. I left to ride BlackJack. When I returned, Tom was watching a goofy video on YouTube and laughing. I sat next to him.
     “I thought Nana and Papa knew everything when I was little,” I said. “It bummed me out when I realized they didn’t. Every kid goes through that. We’re all flawed human beings. You’re seeing that right now.”
     Tom nodded. He looked relieved.
     “Want to go out for hamburgers?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” Tom said and smiled.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Intentions--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

     I wrote down eight intentions I want to manifest.

     “I want to be a beautiful radiant light spreader.”
     “I want to be healthy and vibrant in mind, body, and soul.”
     “I want to be independently wealthy and divinely directed to spread money and light the world.”
     “I want to purify my intentions, make them all about truth, beauty, love, and sharing light.”
     “I want to be divinely directed and led straight to true, deep, reciprocal, unconditional love that will lift my spiritual partner, me, and everyone around us.”
     “I want to be what I want for the world, and what I want for the world I want for me.”
     “I want to be more compassionate, empathetic, loving, and connected to others.”
     “I want the world and I to be ablaze in light.”

     I held the necklace Jody gave me for my birthday and read the attached card. “ACCOMPLISH MAGNIFICENT THINGS. Make a wish and put on your necklace. Get ready to accomplish the incredible! You can do whatever you set your mind and your heart to. Wear your necklace as a reminder that you are capable of anything you imagine.”
     I put the necklace on each of my intentions and, as I did so, read each intention out loud. I asked to be blessed and put the necklace on. I meditated and read a chapter in “A Thousand Names for Joy.”
     Ruby and Mikey came by in the evening and took Tom and me to the trampoline park. Before we could bounce, we had to watch a safety video with other jumpers. Ruby and I began whispering about my divorce.
     “JB turned into a creepy repulsive letch,” I said under my breath.
     Tom, standing in front of me, stiffened. My heart sank. What the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I hold my tongue? Why can’t I rise above my thoughts, control my emotions?
     The video ended and we began jumping. Mikey, overweight, began wheezing and his face quickly reddened. Skinny Tom bounced around like Ricochet Rabbit and sprinted toward a pit full of squishy foam blocks. He took a running jump, bounced off a trampoline, and landed in the middle of the foam-block pit. Mikey catapulted in and spent the next ten minutes flailing his way out of the blocks. Ruby and I called for a water break. When Mikey had caught his breath, we began walking down the edge of a row of trampolines toward an empty trampoline. A girl doing flip-flops kicked Mikey’s arm and he began screaming, "My arm is broken! My arm is broken!" Ruby touched Mikey's arm and he howled loudly. She shook her head and we left the trampoline park. Ruby dropped Tom and me at home then took Mikey to the emergency room.
     "Nothing wrong," she texted. "He's fine."