Saturday, June 30, 2018

Know-It-All--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, May 23

     Angie tied a red Kabbalah string around my left wrist at lunch. In the evening, Jody and I met up with some friends at a local bar. Suzy walked over.
     “I wasn’t surprised at all when you said you were getting divorced,” she announced.
     “When you and JB were at our dinner party, I could see there was a disconnect. At your book release, JB was there, but he wasn’t with you. He was just standing around on the periphery hanging out like a visitor. I started talking to him about your book, about how big the night was for you. He was like, ‘eh.’”
     “It was hard for me to be around him," I said. "Apparently, it was hard for him to be around me, too.”
     “Well, you know he did what he did because he knew you couldn’t stand him,” Suzy said. “I’m not excusing what he did, but that’s why. Why did you stay married to him? Why did it take this to get you to leave?”
     I fantasized about punching Suzy in the face. Instead, I said, “I believed JB loved me and was faithful. I thought there was something wrong with me for being unhappy. I thought I was a bitch. If I’d walked out sooner, my mother would have sided with JB and my children would have hated me.”
     “But you knew there was something really wrong with him.”
     “I thought I was a bitch for not liking him. I took my mother’s advice and kept reminding myself of good qualities I thought he had. I tried to make things better. I figured JB was put on my path to make me more selfless, loving, helpful, so I worked hard at that.”
     “But you knew, you knew in your gut something was wrong for a long time.”
     “Yeah, but the first half of my marriage I was drunk,” I laughed. “The person I am today did not marry JB. The person who married him was a cynical sarcastic party girl who needed to prove how smart she was. JB was the same. Like attracts like. Later, I recognized how hollow that was and then I got sober.”
     “So what’s the take-away from this?” Suzy asked condescendingly. “You knew, even though no one else knew, yet you stayed. You need to listen to your instincts.”
     Punching Suzy probably would have felt good.

     “How was your day?” Golf Guy texted.

     “Pretty good. Just got home. Went out with friends to hear a band.”

     “Was it fun?”

     “Sort of. Went out with a bunch of divorced chicks. What did you do?”

     “We had our last night of the golf yoga program, then my partner and I went out to dinner.”

     “How’d the program go? How did you tie the two together?”

     “Lower body stability and upper body mobility, proper breathing and visualization and meditation.”

     “Sounds good.”

     I crawled into bed thinking about smug Suzy. Damned know-it-all.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Barely Civil--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, May 22

     “May your shoes be waterproof and the ball catch your vibe,” I texted Golf Guy. It was raining on his golf tournament.

     JB and I met at the DMV where it took an hour to have his name taken off the Tahoe and mine taken off the Cadillac.
     “Do you have fun plans for this weekend?” JB asked cheerfully.
     “Yes,” I answered.
     “Oh, well, you don’t, uh, have to tell me what they are or anything.” He looked at the floor then swerved toward the guy handling our paperwork.
     I began chatting with the DMV guy about his family photos and Matt called. Matt said he’d purchased a vacation house in New Buffalo and was spending a lot of time there away from his wife. JB, hearing Matt even though the phone was pressed to my ear, stood next to me trying to look nonchalant. When I got home, there was an email from JB.

     “Well, slowly but surely we're taking care of all the post-divorce details. As far as the 401K goes, the ball is in your court in terms of getting the court order. I'll handle it as quickly as I can once you get that done.
     “I miss Blake terribly and think about him every day. I want him to know this. I don't want to give the impression that I am blithely accepting his decision not to speak to me. I'm respecting his decision, with the hope that time and some effort on my part will allow us to reconcile at some point.
     “I have gone to a couple of ACOA meetings, but travel and Tom's extended stay with me caused a temporary interruption. I will start going again this Saturday with the meeting in Deerfield. I think over time they will help. 
     “I recognize things are just barely civil between us. I've accepted that things may never improve, though I hope they do. Please do know I care very much about you and the kids and I am trying to live up to my responsibilities as best I can.
      “I also ask that we keep an open communication about Tom, how he is doing, what he is feeling, etc. I've made some mistakes, but I hope you at least realize I am trying to be a better father to him.”

     “We got rained out after eleven holes,” Golf Guy texted. “Bummer. How are you?”

     “Are you finishing tomorrow? Were you playing well? Had to meet the ex at the DMV to change car titles.”

     “No extension. We had a weather delay and then had to get back to Deerfield so we had to leave. Bummer that you had to see dumbass.”

     “At least his name is off my car.”

     “Step in the right direction.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Only The Best--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Monday, May 20

     Pia showed up at the barn while I was grooming BlackJack. My plan was to saddle BlackJack and let him graze in the outdoor arena while I took my scheduled call with Yosef then ride. Pia saddled Jimbo and followed me out to the arena.
     “I have a call with my Kabbalah teacher in a few minutes,” I told her, hoping she'd begin riding.
     Pia let Jimbo graze, too, and listened while I dialed Yosef and began discussing soulmates.
     “If the person isn’t the right one for me,” I told Yosef, “I don’t want to bother. I don’t want to spend time or emotions on someone who’s wrong, you know?”
     “Only the best,” Yosef agreed. “Why waste your time? Ask the Light to come into this.”
     Yosef told me to scan a section of the Zohar known for helping people find their soulmates.
     “About the red string,” I said. “Why should I wear it if I already believe the Light is protecting me? It feels superstitious.”
     “It’s just another tool. It’s a powerful one. You are protected by the Light, but if you have a good tool that would reinforce that protection, why wouldn’t you use it? It’s not superstitious.
     “It’s like the mizuza,” Yosef continued. “The mizuzas are very powerful forms of protection. You should have one on every door to your house. First on the outside doors to protect you from negative forces, then for your bedroom doors to protect you and your children while you sleep. You should really do this. I will email your contact information to the woman who provides the mizuzas if you want. I think it’s a very good idea. They’re expensive, but the people who make them fast for twenty-four hours and spend all day focused on writing scrolls they insert into the mizuzas. They don’t talk, they don’t eat, they focus all energy on the scrolls.”
    I told Yosef I wanted two.
    After our Give Peace a Dance adventure and listening to this conversation, Pia probably thinks I’m nuts. We got on our horses and Nicole called.  I didn’t answer and listened to her voicemail later.

     “Hello Brenda, this is Nicole (pause). I guess you don’t want to hear from me (pause). I don’t know what I did. I wish you’d give me a phone call back (pause). Tonight (pause). It would mean a lot (pause). You have a nice great day (pause). With the kids and everything (pause). Love you always. Hope to talk to you but if I don’t, remember I always loved you. Bye-bye.”

     I texted Nicole. “I love you. Always will. You know I don’t talk to you when you’re messed up. Call me when you’re sober.”

     “How are you?” Golf Guy texted.

     “I’m good, how are you?”

     “I’m good. Just finished coaching a baseball game. It’s kinda like Bad News Bears.”

     “I went to the driving range and did well—for me.”

     “Nice job! Do you want to get together sometime?”


     “Me, too.”

     That's it?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Rats--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Saturday, May 18

     Blake and I washed dishes, hitched the boat to my Tahoe and launched it, then laundered all the cabin linens.

     “Meals for today: pork sausage, Italian sausage, pork loin,” I texted Golf Guy. “Will need to detox.”

     I’d gone to the store last night for drinking water as the cabin water isn’t drinkable and the only non-alcoholic beverages the guys had were one carton of orange juice and a few cans of coke. Blake and I joined John, Steve, and John’s son-in-law out on the patio. Everyone except Blake, John, and me had been drinking since morning.
     “We don’t drink water when we’re up here for maintenance weekend,” Steve said raising a beer.
     “I don’t drink much anymore,” John said. “I’m usually the only guy up here not drinking. I stopped liking it.”
     “I quit ten years ago,” I said. “I liked it too much.”
     We laughed and traded drinking stories.
     “My friends and I used to get drunk and go to the loading docks and shoot dog-sized rats,” Steve said. “I’d only seen rats that size when I was slopping pigs on my grandfather’s farm. After shooting them a few times on the docks, the rats turned on us and chased us into our cars. They’re really smart.”
     John puffed on his cigar. “I was a medic in Vietnam,” he said. “One time we were drunk and sitting at a table eating pizza. A guy puked on the table and one of the helicopter pilots started picking pepperoni out of it and eating it. They did shit like that all the time to prove they were bad asses.”
     Steve helped me wash dishes after dinner. “I’m sorry about your divorce,” he said. “A lot of guys cheat. I never have. My first wife cheated on me. I left her after the third time.”
     “I got two great kids out of it. You have kids?”
     “No,” he frowned. “My wife, the one I’m married to now, failed to mention she didn’t want children before we got married.”
     “That’s not fair.”
     “It bothers me, but I still wouldn’t cheat on her. And women are really aggressive now. A twenty-four-year-old bartender told me all the good men are taken and asked if I wanted to go out with her. It was tempting, but I didn’t do it.”
     “Glad to know there are guys like you.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Maintenance Weekend--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Friday, May 17

     Blake and I drove to our cabin in Minocqua for maintenance weekend. My sister and I became owners after our father died, entering a joint venture with seven other parters.
     The bi-annual maintenance weekends were for guys, until I showed up. My dad had said the weekends were gambling and strip-club fests. He’d passed on them and worked on the place during his vacation weeks instead. JB, who couldn’t hang a towel rod straight, went up a few times after my dad died, then began scheduling work trips so he wouldn’t have to go. He complained about the strip clubs, but it was his lack of handyman skills that made him uncomfortable.
     One of the partners, Elwood, had built the cabin with his brother. They couldn’t afford it and sold shares to partners. Elwood appointed himself manager and went on petty witch hunts if someone left a piece of tissue in a trash can, if dog hair was detected on the couch, if a smudge was on the jet ski. He’d had a fit when a partner replaced a saggy old mattress with a comfortable new one because Elwood hadn’t okayed it.
     Elwood complained to me that JB hadn’t helped enough and hinted that I should start paying more money than the other partners or spend my entire vacation weeks doing chores. I told Elwood that Blake and I were attending maintenance weekend. Elwood hadn’t counted on that.
     Blake and I arrived. Everyone seemed happy to see us, except Elwood. We went to dinner at The Black Bear. My phone dinged.

     “BTW, I like kissing you,” Golf Guy texted.

     “I liked kissing you.”

     “I bet you love it in Minocqua.”

     “It’s pretty excellent.”

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Giddy--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Thursday, May 16

     “Hope the boys did all the heavy lifting,” I emailed Dick. “The desk and table are beautiful. Thanks for the great deal. Your furniture will always remind me of a lovely day spent barely answering phones with a talented master gardener. Hope you grow to love Montana as much as Jan. Peace and happiness.”

     “Enjoy, and remember to keep your head down, eyes open, and move through the swing. Your friend, The Montanan.”

     I dropped my dogs at my mother’s before meeting Golf Guy. I was giddy, wired, and feeling weird. My phone rang.
     “Hey,” Golf Guy said. “I got done coaching a little early and I’m at the restaurant. I thought I’d call in case you were killing time and could come.”
     “It will take me 15, 20 minutes.”
     I looked at my mom.
     “Just be careful,” she said.
     “I feel like I’m sixteen leaving the house I grew up in to go on a date.”
     My mom and I laughed.
     I drove off playing Arctic Monkeys loud to annihilate my thoughts and deaden my nerves. I pulled into the parking lot and walked to the hostess stand.
     “I’m meeting someone,” I began telling the hostess then saw Golf Guy in the bar. I walked to Golf Guy's table, peeled off my leather jacket, and hung it on the back of a stool.
     “Like I said, this is my own personal Cheers,” Golf Guy said. “I rented a place and lived within walking distance from here when I got divorced. I ate here a lot. I was nervous coming here tonight because I know a lot of people. No one’s here, though.”
     I was kind of flattered.
     Golf Guy told me his ex was a wealthy trust fund baby whose family had a plane and a ski house in Colorado. He and his ex had lived in an expensive house in an expensive neighborhood and whenever they needed money, she dipped into her fund.
     “It was like play money,” he said.
     “Must have been hard to walk away from. Your relationship must have gotten bad.”
     Golf Guy shrugged. “She wouldn’t fight. Wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. When I asked what was bothering her she’d just say, ‘nothing.’ We told the kids we were getting divorced and I had to do all the talking. She just sat there. She married a guy who’s younger. Had a baby five months ago. Never told me she was pregnant. My friends would say, ‘Looks like Bitsy’s putting on some weight.’ Her husband is thirty-five. She’s forty-four. I’m forty-four. She’s going to be in her sixties when her daughter graduates high school.”
     “I’m older than you. I’m forty-nine.”
     “So what. Why’d you get divorced? You said we’d swap stories one day and yours would top mine.”
     I sighed and made a face.
     “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
     “No, I’ll tell you.”
     “He actually did that?” Golf Guy said, his mouth hanging open. “I could see where it would be tempting, but to actually hook up with someone from a cheating website?”
     Golf Guy’s phone vibrated on the table and a woman’s name popped up.
     “She’s just a friend,” he said. “I used to date her, but just like the girlfriend I mentioned who has a horse, she’s a girl and a friend.”
     A photo of a boy playing baseball glowed behind the woman’s name.
     “Is that your youngest son?” I asked.
     “Yeah,” he said and showed me several shots of his son. A waitress brought our food.
     “I’m paying for this,” Golf Guy said.
     “No you’re not. This is for golf lessons. I’m getting off cheap.”
     I snatched the check when it was placed on the table. I pulled my reading glasses out of my purse.
     “I need these,” I laughed.
     Golf Guy snickered. “I need to get my dog home,” he said. “She’s been in the car all day. Want to meet my dog?”
     We walked to Golf Guy’s car and he let his young Pit/Lab mix out.
     “What’s her name?”
     I put my hand out for Happy to sniff. I crouched down and pet her.
     “I’ll walk you to your car,” Golf Guy said.
     I opened my car door and turned towards Golf Guy. He put his arms around me and kissed me softly. My heavy handbag dangled in my hand. I put my left arm around Golf Guy and kissed him back. He slipped his tongue into my mouth. When we stopped kissing, I threw my handbag in the car, put both arms around him, and we kissed again. I pressed in harder, wanting to feel something, some magic, anything. I felt a little tingle when he put his tongue in my mouth, but that was it. Golf Guy squeezed me into him.
     “I came up to you because of your perfect ass,” he laughed.
     I laughed and said goodbye.
     Blake was watching TV when I got home. We talked for a while then I went upstairs and flopped on my bed. I felt numb.

     “Thank-you for tonight,” Chris texted.

     “You’re welcome.” I texted back with a happy face.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Looks Good--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Wednesday, May 15

     Blake and his friend Chad picked up the desk that matches the table Blake broke. It’s gorgeous. And the unbroken half of the table looks good, too.

     “Hi,” Golf Guy texted in the evening.

     “Hi. You finally got good teaching weather.”

     “Yep. Busy day. How are you?”

     “BlackJack has a cut where the girth goes. Will check him tomorrow. Hope to get on. Bet you’re exhausted after teaching all day.”

     “It was good. Taught all day and then coached baseball game.”

     “Did they win?”

     “Nope. But Cody played great.”

     “Took Tom to his voice lesson. He’s been in a rock band since second grade. They’re pretty good. He plays guitar.”

     “That’s really cool.”

     “They played the Lake County Fair last summer, and they play Libertyville Days every year.”

     “That’s awesome. Looking forward to tomorrow night.”

     “Me, too. See you at eight.”

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Cheers--"Thank You Ashley Madison" excerpt

Tuesday, May 14

     “Are you okay with me writing a divorce memoir?” I asked Blake.
     Two thumbs up from Blake. “You have my total support.”
     I hugged him and kissed his cheek. “I love you.”
     “I love you, too.”
     “Remember, Tom’s going to dad’s and you and I are driving to Minocqua Friday for cabin maintenance weekend.”
     I texted Golf Guy.

     “Just arranged to drop my dogs at my mom’s Thursday. Don’t know where your son is playing, but dinner could be on my way home?”

     “I’ll check, it’s either in Northfield or Kenilworth.”

     “K. Pick a restaurant.”

     “We could meet at my personal ‘Cheers,’ Happ Inn in Northfield.”

     While I was living in Chicago and pregnant with Blake, I went to the beach one morning and dug a hole in the sand for my enormous belly. I missed laying on my stomach. It felt wonderful to lay front side down again. Afterward, I sat at the bar and  got a bowl of vegetarian chili at Heartland Café. A woman about my age was eating nachos to my right, her hair a glossy brown pageboy.
     “That looks good,” I commented.
     “It is,” she said. “When are you due?”
     “Beginning of October.”
     “I’ll probably never have a baby. I’m gay.”
     “You could still have one.”
     “But I probably won’t. This bar is my personal ‘Cheers.’”
     “I come here all the time. They know my name.”
     “That’s nice.”
     “I brought my girlfriend here. Introduced her to everyone. She’s an actress. She goes to Columbia. She stopped returning my phone calls. I went to see a play she’s in. She was a whore! She was on stage wearing a slip and coming onto a guy.”
     “She was acting.”
     The woman glared at me. “She was a whore! I couldn’t believe it. I brought one white rose with me. After the show, I walked up to her and gave her the rose. I didn’t say one word. I just stared at her and gave it to her. She didn’t say anything either. I walked away. I’ve been calling her for days, leaving her messages. She hasn’t returned my calls.” The woman popped a nacho in her mouth and crunched away. “This place is my own personal Cheers.”
     I looked at Golf Guy’s text and cringed.

     “That’s the name of it? Happ Inn? What time?”

     “Probably won’t be able to get there till around eight, is that okay?”

     I Googled the restaurant. “That’s fine. It’s Carlos’ place. Cool.”

     “You know Carlos?”

     “I’ve eaten his food. Took a cooking class from him years ago. Still make his crème brulee.”

     “I’ve never had that. I have consistency issues.”


     “Squishy stuff.”

     “It’s creamy with a crunchy sugar glass on top. It’s way better than pudding. And fun to make. Get to use a blowtorch.”

     “Wow, aggressive.”

     “What about chocolate pudding? Does that fall under squishy?”

     “I’ve never had it.”

     “No way.”

     “Cuz it’s squishy.”

     “Hahaha you are funny. Yogurt?”

     “Never have. Never will.”

     “I am laughing very hard right now.”

     “I’m all about Melba toast.”

     “Well then, I’m not your girl. I’m a girl with a blowtorch.”

     “I’m pretty sure there is a blowtorch involved with Melba toast preparation.”

     “You may be right. Do you really like Melba Toast?”

     No answer.

     “I’ll take that silence as a yes. I will not make fun of your affection for Melba Toast (much).”

     “Haven’t had it since I was a kid. But I liked it a lot.”

     “I will have fun eating with you. And I’m not being mean. I’m looking forward to it.”