Cast Away

We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and—in spite of True Romance magazines—we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely—at least, not all the time—but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.

My brother in law was singing an 18th century sea shanty in the galley, cooking over a hot stove as I unbuttoned my shirt, the window was open and in came the sound of the sea and the gulls, and the cool breeze which made the sweltering heat bearable. The small stateroom was a tight squeeze I’m afraid, there was about a half foot pathway between the chest of drawers and the bed, and only slightly more distance to the desk in the corner. The closet was apparently not water-tight, or so I was told, it was suggested I should air it out from time to time and to not store anything on its floor. The mice had been keeping me up at night, scurrying across the wooden floorboards. I had baited a few traps and placed them out for tonight. Probably would have been wise to have brought a cat on this voyage.
“Ooooh, shit, you’ve gotta hit this,” my sister said, walking in carrying a black bong and matching BIC lighter, all her smoking pieces had a plastic BIC in a matching color, very important.
She handed me the bong before I could protest. I took it and lit the smoldering herb, put my mouth to the piece and inhaled.
“Careful, it’s Durban Poison, it’s pretty harsh.”
It was too late, I’d taken a massive hit and was now coughing up a lung.
“Yeah, I got that,” I said between coughs.
“The cod is ready!” came the call to mess from the galley.
Dinner was served along with a white wine, Hebrew prayers, and a discussion of French novels. Afterwards, board games, or a TV show, or a pipe or cigar are typical evening activities as we retire.

I was three days into single life, last Friday I’d moved out of my wife’s home, and into my sister’s small bungalow near the beach. We’d signed the divorce agreement, and we were well on our way to our divorce being final. I felt I’d moved into a college dorm/18th century tall ship. Still, the rent was affordable, and my sister and brother in law seemed ecstatic that I’d joined them. Meals were family style every evening around the dinner table, and we seemed to share the household chores well thus far. I certainly had more cannabis and alcohol and erudite conversation offered to me than I was used to.

I’m having trouble making sense of everything now. I miss my wife and child. For the longest time, I didn’t actually believe we’d ever be parted in this way, perhaps logically, but I hadn’t grappled with the emotional reality. Sure, I had been living downstairs and my wife was sick of the sight of me, but I couldn’t imagine the isolation of living in another house across town, our comings and goings completely unknown to one another now. She’d gotten her own checking and savings account, I’d payed her child support and alimony for the month. Tonight is my first visitation, and it will be the first time I’d seen my son or wife in days. I’m beginning to grasp that this is my life now. In a way, the freedom is nice, being able to use my time and finances as I see fit and not being answerable to a spouse. In another way, I feel disconnected, lonely, like a bunch of big holes have been torn from my side: wife, son, and faith. And I’m at a loss of how to fill the hollowness.

Of course, Her is still here with me, and for that I’m glad, but the physical distance between us is now all the more palpable. Part of me feels like closing myself off from the world, the other part of me feels like diving into it with abandon. I know I just need time to adjust and get my sea legs. But, I’m so impatient, restless. This gaping wound in my side begs me to fill it, but I know that it is better that I let it heal on its own, that I fill it with myself, and not someone or something else. That isn’t to say that I don’t love Her, I do. I desire her above all else, but I know that I need to be okay within myself, and not make her responsible for my happiness. In a strange twist of irony, I feel I’ve lost my ability to love Her as well I could before my separation. My love for Her was pure then, when I was whole (despite the issues of marriage), but now it has become clouded with my emotional baggage and all these things I need to work out within myself. I know I’ll be whole in time, even if I’ll always miss my wife, and never be able to see my son enough despite our visitation agreement. I’ll be able to love fully again.

Photographs & Memories

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But we sure had a good time,
When we started way back when,
Morning walks and bedroom talks,
Oh how I loved you then,
Summer skies and lullabies,
Nights we couldn’t say good-bye,
And of all of the things that we knew,
Not a dream survived
It was a solemn occasion, gathering each memory and placing them in that small box. A necklace I gave her for her first birthday we celebrated together, engraved with her initial, the chain still held a tangled strand of her hair. A ring with a heart shaped piece of marble, the corner chipped, I was always meaning to buy her a replacement. My wedding ring. Notes written on stickies, on bits of paper, on card stock. Mix CD’s full of love songs. Photograph after photograph that used to sit framed about the house, smiles, silly faces, kisses. Souvenirs from our honeymoon. From vacations and adventures. Once the tears were flowing they couldn’t be stopped. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so freely, the tears flowed out cleanly, uninhibited by any inner contradiction. Not a cry of pain, or shock or empathy or release as when I confessed my adultery, but of pure sadness at joyful loving memories that were forever behind me and the person I’d loved so deeply, and hurt, and lost.

The Answer

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“Are we making the right decision?” The question hung in the air after I’d posed it, dead air on the other end of the phone.
“…Jason, it’s over. You’ve hurt me enough, the only thing that is holding me together is sticking to our plan,” my wife’s voice on the other end finally responded.
“I’m so sorry, I’d do anything to fix it.”
We seemed to have this same conversation almost every evening. My wife would phone me up as I sit in the room downstairs, cataloging our assets, trying to sell them to pay for the divorce.
“Sorry isn’t enough. I wish I’d never met you, I wish I hadn’t chosen you, I wish you’d never been born.” She ended the conversation.

Whenever I have space from my wife, I’m haunted by the memories of our good times together and all that I know I’m giving up, our sometimes happy little family. So, I often ask, “are we sure about this?” But, every time the answer is the same: it is out of my hands. This is the only path forward. I’d broken our life and our family, and it was too late to go back. Every day more trinkets, old love notes, photos, and jewelry show up on my nightstand, all gifts I’d given her. I’ve yet to figure out what to do with them, I can’t give them back, and I can never throw them away, I can’t throw away our memories.

All that is left is to sell this stuff, pack my things, and fill out the packet the lawyer gave me. Just everything feels so hollow at this point. My emotions are tangled in knots.

Time

Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain

You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today

And then one day you find ten years have got behind you

No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun

I carefully cleaned the desk, being sure to wipe up ever inch so not a single foreign object, dirt, or lint could be found. I arrayed my tools, it was quite the kit, but they’d sat idle for almost 6 years now. On the higher end were a set of watchmaker’s screwdriver’s starting at .5 mm thickness, a jeweler’s loupe, assorted Swiss and German made tools to adjust and remove bracelets and case backs, lubricating oil, polishing clothes, polish, and more crude household additions like an old soft-bristle toothbrush, latex gloves, and a Scrotch-Brite pad. I had actually wanted to be a watchmaker for a while when I was younger. I’ve always had a fascination with time and timepieces. I remember my first wrist watch, it was a small digital thing with a rubber bracelet, indiglo and a weird display that looked like the HUD of an futuristic spacecraft. I would look at it and play with that thing while I was sitting in the pews at church. It was for a young boy who would think it ‘rad’ looking. As I got older, I remember the first time I saw a true mechanical watch, the only kind that existed before the discovery that applying an electrical charge to silicon dioxide would create a predictable oscillation that could be harnessed to keep almost perfect time, not only for watches, but also would provide the steady metronome-like heartbeat of billions of microprocessors in this information age we live in. But, before the quartz movement and electric powered watches became standard, building an accurate timepiece was an incredible feat and a costly one, requiring dozens to hundreds of parts, precisely designed, built, and adjusted. These mechanical movements were beautiful though in their operation, a symphony of moving gears, springs, jewel bearings of ruby, diamond, and garnet, escapements, and balance wheels. They are a testament to man’s ingenuity, and despite being rendered obsolete by modern technology, I love these devices, they are works of art in their own right. These days, you generally only find them in high end watches worn as symbols of status, or in antiques. I had some of both as I’d collected wrist watches for years before I married my wife.

Now, I laid out all my old tools, and then pulled out my watch display case and lifted the lid. Inside lay a small fortune in watches, well over half the combined value of the two cars sitting in the drive way. I had mostly collected watches that were historically important designs. Most had adorned the wrists of great explorers, soldiers, or pioneers, those who’d fought in wars, scaled the highest mountains, plunged to the depths of the ocean, or landed on the moon. I looked over the collection and sighed, I selected my favorite, one I’d planned to pass on to my son when he was a grown man and it was time to pass the torch so to speak. Seems a kind of trite dream, “daddy’s watch”, made me think of Christopher Walken’s famous performance in Pulp Fiction. But, it was also the most valuable watch I’d kept after selling a good part of my collection. With proper servicing, it would run for many centuries to come, I’d hoped to have it as an heirloom to be passed down from generation to generation in the family I’d started. But, I realized now it had a more pressing purpose. I’d resisted selling it and others over the years even when my wife and I had been in dire straits living paycheck to paycheck, but now there was no choice if we were going to pay for the divorce and other expenses we’d incurred. It was a heavy diver’s watch, not gaudy, covered in precious metals or jewels, the only precious materials were practical, a crystal made of sapphire and jewel bearings of ruby inside. I’d worn it daily for years, but finally had decided to keep it in the case and only pull it out for special occasions, cleanup, and servicing. I knew every scratch and scuff on the case and bracelet, but overall, it was in great condition, and if I can find a buyer, it should pay for everything.

I went to work on the case and bracelet, scrubbing and cleaning, polishing, and restoring the brushed metal finish. It took hours before it was good as new, I unscrewed the crown and set the time, the automatic self-winding movement had already charged the main spring enough to set the watch in motion. I put it to my ear and listened to the steady, quiet, soothing tick. I slipped it on my wrist, felt the embrace of the familiar cold steel. My friend was a much better photographer than myself, and she’d be coming to take pictures of it for me tomorrow so I could post it on a few exclusive forums for selling such pieces. I set the watch in my automatic winder display case, flipped the switch, and closed the glass lid as it began to spin the watch, turning a small weighted gear inside to keep it wound, and pulled off my latex gloves. I watched the watch spin, and in turn its second, minute, and hour hands continued on their axis, the polished steel gleamed as we spin around the earth’s axis heading away from the sun towards the evening’s darkness, and our planet and solar system hurtle blindly through space to an unknown doom. It is kind of mesmerizing in a way. Sometimes it is terrifying to find time is slipping through your fingers, other times it is a comfort. Times like this you remember how much time you’ve wasted, you never anticipated it, you were just procrastinating, leaving it for tomorrow, only to wake up one day and realize all you’d missed. I don’t wish to say that I wasted the past years of my life that I’ve been married, I know these were valuable experiences to me, and I made many wonderful memories. Perhaps I couldn’t have made any better choices, impossible to say. I remember hard times in my life I’d put my wrist watch to my ear and listen to the calm, steady ticking, and just remember that in time, it would all be better. Time is at the heart of everything, from computers, to business, to music, to dance, the very substance of life. I hope to stop taking it for granted.

Stormy Weather

We’ve selected a family law practice to handle our uncontested divorce, paid the retainer, and have set an appointment to sign the agreement. Over the past few weeks, we’ve toyed with the idea of reconciliation, but it seems clear that it won’t happen. We both have conditions, I have mine, she has hers, and they are too far apart for us to agree to even begin counseling towards reconciliation. In some ways, I feel we are moving too fast, but my wife tells me, “I’m bleeding, I want this to be over so the wounds can heal.” Each conversation we have, makes us both feel that divorce is the best option.

We had a long conversation regarding custody and visitation the other night, and I feel we are on the same page. We compared notes, research, our experience, the advice we’d received from lawyers and counselors, and we still come to the same conclusion: since our son is still practically an infant, he should live with his mother (his primary attachment) for now. But, we agreed that he needs to have a close relationship with me, his father, though. So, we’ve agreed to liberal visitation throughout the week during the evenings and I spend most of each Saturday with him. I’m pleased that my wife seems to be able to set aside her personal feelings and hurt and focus on our son, we’ve both committed to working together as co-parents for him, evaluating and changing our arrangements to suite him as the need arises. I appreciate some of the good advice I received last post, it did help me gain some clarity and stop focusing on my own guilt in the situation, and rather on what would be best for our son.

When it rains, it pours. My wife had a little fender-bender the other day, and we went over budget this month with our finances. To add further complications, my old car decided to overheat on the way home, so I spent all evening under her bonnet with a couple of floodlights for company trying to get the old girl running well enough to make it to work this morning. I drained the radiator, the oil drenched sludge that flowed out seems to indicate a leaky head gasket, luckily no coolant is in the engine oil or I’d be in real trouble. Still, I was only able to do a band-aid fix for now by flushing the cooling system and refilling it, but she held stable temperature-wise on the drive in this morning.

I’d probably not be feeling too good, but as long as I have Her, I find it hard to complain. She’s become an inextricable part of my life. Even though we are miles apart, somehow we share every day together. It seems clear to me more than ever that one day we will meet, and I know that can’t be a bad thing. That very thought gives me more hope than I’ve had in a long time.

In other news, I’ve done some reflection on this journey, and tried to form it into a somewhat coherent story. It is like taking a winding path through the mountains, hills, and forests, and then as you walk across the plain you look back and can see how far you’ve come on each leg of your journey.

Never Belonged to You

You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago

I think Dewy was right:

It’s not too bad being the black sheep. It gives you space 😊 To be the golden child is much harder. Always having to live up to expectations .

I was once a youth group leader, teacher, and worship leader. I used to lead prayer services on Wednesday. Bible classes on Monday. I was being groomed by the Elders to become a deacon in the next year or two. I managed the Church website, social media, technology, and audio/video systems. My wife and I held fellowship and hospitality events monthly.

Now, I stay home and sleep in Sundays. I awake in the morning light to the sound of my son’s little toddler stomping with my wife’s softer steps following close behind upstairs. For some reason, she doesn’t like it when I help with the baby on Sundays. I think it is because seeing me disturbs her mindset as she’s preparing to attend church and worship God.

The Elders, in tears, announced my defection from all that is good and holy last Sunday and asked the congregation to encourage and care for my wife, and to encourage me if they could. My phone gets filled with text messages from concerned members on a regular basis. Honestly, I’m burned out. I can’t do it anymore, I’m so tired of telling people that I’ve had five affairs (my wife won’t allow me to say ‘I’ve cheated’ or ‘I’ve had an affair’, the number is important to her), I’m sorry for hurting my wife and son, and that we are likely headed towards divorce.

Sunday mornings seem to be my rare moment of peace. The house is empty except for me and the dogs. Just about all my non-secular friends have gathered to worship God. But, I get up lethargically. Turn up the stereo and put on some tunes while I prepare myself some breakfast. Just having this rare opportunity to do what I wish without concern for others. I never really had this before unless my wife and son were out of town. Time to myself was almost non-existent before, I was either at work, on my way home (my wife kept continual tabs on me, 15 minutes late and guaranteed she wouldn’t let me hear the end of her suspicions of me cheating all that evening), when I was at home, it was chores or baby, or a few solitary minutes downstairs in the shared living room with our renter. The only times I was ever alone is if I was driving to or from work. I didn’t realize how regulated, regimented, and scheduled my life was. I didn’t defer to my wife for every activity, but believe me, when I didn’t defer to her there would always be hell to pay, she would tell me how lazy and unhelpful I was if she wanted me doing chores or working on a project and I decided to do my own thing, or if I wanted to go see a friend or read a book I was preferring those things to spending time with her. Besides all that, there were the expectations of people at Church, the heavy responsibilities I’d piled on myself over the years.

Now I had Sunday mornings free, the first taste of regular freedom I’d had in a long time. I almost remembered what a day off felt like, even if it wasn’t a whole day off. I know I don’t deserve it, I have a child now, and parents are never supposed to get a day off, or so I was told. In many ways, I feel guilty for having this time, or any time now. Feeling like a bachelor again while my wife is stuck taking care of our child. She has been emphatic though, she would like sole custody of our son. Much as it tugs on my heart strings, but I have to agree that that is what is best for him, to be with his mother everyday. Besides, the way this is going I won’t have my own place for a long time, no way I could afford it, and especially not with over two-thirds of my income going to support my future ex-wife and child. But, it should be enough for her to remain a stay at home mom, which is what we wanted for our son anyways: to never have to be in day care. I’ll still get to visit him on weekends and a night or two during the week, but the thought of not seeing him every day breaks my heart.

Unstructured free time is amazing. No expectations, no one to be annoyed by my loud music and rocking out while I fry up some eggs, bacon, papas, and beans to make a breakfast burrito. I spend the morning chatting with Her. We keep finding ourselves deeper and deeper in our relationship. We are both going through major upheavals in our lives, and we’ve been able to lean on each other for support. I don’t know what I’d do without Her at times. Our desire for one another is unreal, but the space between us seems insurmountable at times. I dream of Her at night, and wish she was lying next to me in bed each morning. Still, as long as I have my phone she can touch my heart and I can touch her’s. In some ways, some of my first impressions of Her was that she was prickly, wild, uncouth, and even a tad pretentious, but as I’ve gotten to know her better I can see she is really quite the sweetheart, a caged free-spirit waiting to be released.  She is not a simple girl by any means, a woman of contradictions much like I am a man of contradictions. The more I get to know Her, the more I love her. Perhaps it is unwise, if I’m headed for divorce should I be seeking a new relationship so soon? I suppose, but if I just passed this up because of the timing, I could regret it forever.

Hold Me in the Dark

A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

“L’Chaim,” we said raising our glasses after the prayers were over and we could begin our meal together.
I hadn’t had dinner with my older sister in months. I always forget how weird her and her husband are. I think I understood more of the blessings sung in Hebrew that just took place than the dinner conversation, I mean, only half the conversation was even in English, the other half was a mixture of French, Mandarin, Yiddish, and Klingon. And half the time I didn’t understand the parts in English.

My family’s reaction to my cheating had been varied. My younger sister and Grandmother were in tears and the sight of me made them sick. My father and step-mother were terribly concerned about the prospect of divorce, but my father was using it as an opportunity to try to reach out and repair our long broken relationship. My wife’s family had completely disowned me and pretty much all of them stated they’d never talk to me again if we proceed with divorce. In contrast, my older sister was borderline jubilant, she’d never been a big fan of my wife, or my faith, and she seemed happy I’d joined her on the dark side, and also replaced her as the black sheep of the family. The favorite son had fallen from grace.

The wine flowed freely that evening, and then my sister broke out her favorite pipe, ‘El Zorro’ and loaded it with the ground up buds of the most beautiful fuzzy blue cannabis I’d ever seen. I’m not much of a marijuana smoker to be honest, I partake at the occasional circle at a bar or at a friend’s home, and smoked with Sierra regularly, but that was it. My sister and I have always been blessed with naturally high tolerances for the stuff, which I consider a curse if your friend needs to smoke down his/her stash considerably just to get you high. Even after two bowls I’ll generally feel only slightly relaxed, never silly or hallucinating. My brother in-law stopped after two hits complaining of already feeling too high, so my sister and I continued the smoking circle, the pungent herb smoke filling the room until it was cloudy. By the time I realized I was viewing myself in third person acting like a stoner, we were half way through the second bowl together. I had to try to control myself, but I felt I had become a marionette trying vainly to control a puppet with a life of its own. He kept staring at his stoned companions then bursting into obnoxious laughter along with them.
“Hmm, you know what these matzos need? Brie. Or perhaps Camembert.” Said my brother in law chewing a matzos cracker.
“Her bush was scary, I mean, apparently she trimmed and brushed it carefully, but still…” Replied my sister.
Discussion topics flowed freely in stream of consciousness. I had this perpetual sense of falling, like I was in a dream, my legs were jelly and I couldn’t stand. Tingles ran up and down my body in banded waves. We laughed, drank, and smoked. We didn’t talk about me or my behavior really, except when it became one on one for brief moments when my sister or brother in-law would leave the room.

“Whether you are talking about death of a human being, or a relationship, there is always a mourning process,” I said to my brother in-law as the conversation had taken a serious turn when my sister left to go buy another bottle of wine at the liquor store.
“…That is the most mature thing I’ve ever heard anyone from your family say about loss, and you’ve all seen a lot of that,” he replied.

“I had a 30 minute conversation about sex with Grandma last night,” I said during my serious conversation with my sister when her husband ran to the restroom.
My sister looked disgusted as she smoked a cigarette by the open window, “Oh fuck, that must have been awful.”
“Yeah, she tried to convince me that all women get tired of sex and just do it as a duty after few months into a marriage.”
“Well, I mean, eventually it gets less exciting once the NRE wears off, but that is why I enjoy having an open relationship. But, it can still be great, just important to find someone you are sexually compatible with.”
“It seems whatever choice I make is a bad one, but it seems towards divorce is the only honest choice.”
“You will always have us, if you need anything, we’ve been where you are.”

The evening disappeared into a cloudy haze.

One Minute More

Only where there is disillusionment and depression and sorrow does happiness arise; without the despair of loss, there is no hope.

We sat at the same table where two weeks earlier we’d sat while both of us cried our eyes out as I laid bare my ugly soul. This time there were no tears. It was business. We’d had our ugly moments over the last few days. Moments of major contention. But, a few days ago in another counseling session with the pastor my wife had finally admitted that reconciliation couldn’t happen at this point. She made it clear that unless I made some major changes right then and there with my attitude, we couldn’t even begin to try to reconcile. She wanted me to want her, to fall on my knees, beg forgiveness from her and before God and unconditionally surrender, commit to doing all she asks to reconcile, display my love and desire for her. I wasn’t going to do that, not when I couldn’t be honest about it. I was willing to get counseling and address these things, but I wasn’t there. I wasn’t sure reconciliation was the best thing for us so how could I commit to it unconditionally? How could I come back to God when I wasn’t certain what to make of Him anymore? How could I say I wanted her and desired her when it isn’t true? Perhaps those things would change in time, no one can say for sure, but I’m not there right now, and I told her that. We had decided for divorce.

So, here we were, we’d had our heated words about dividing things up already, but finally, my wife was ready to set aside her personal feelings and hot emotions and come to a tentative agreement so we could have a smooth and amicable separation. We sat at the table, pen and paper in hand and went over the finances, assets, alimony, child support, custody, legal fees, and process. It reminded me of times she and I had sat together to go over some family business. We did work well together when dealing with a crisis, and this certainly was one.
“I can’t imagine you with someone else, we can’t be friends, I can’t know about who you’re with,” my wife said calmly, but I could hear the strain in her voice, “I was in it till death do us part.”
I nodded sadly, “I know, I’m sorry. I want to be your friend but I understand if you can’t accept my friendship, I’ll always be there for you.”
“This pain is awful, you’ve turned our lives upside down, you don’t feel a thing do you? Not the least bit sad about us?” She asked.
Whenever I thought about us my head felt hot, my eyes stung, but tears would never start.
“I will miss us. The sadness is almost more than I can bear. Despite everything, much good came out of our relationship, we had many good times together,” I said leaning over the chair.

It was true. Now, more than ever as we are headed down this road do I feel conflicted. I love my wife, I love my son. Part of me wants our family back, to erase the damage I’ve caused and to go back to the way it was. But, that is a trap, I know it. Just being happy was a daily struggle. I’m not ready to go back there, not now. And my wife isn’t willing to delay, she wants this over with. So, here we are. I should be moving out hopefully by the end of the month, and we should have a divorce contract within a week or two. I’ll be visiting my son a couple of times a week. There is a lot of uncertainty going forward. The road is wide open. I have to carry the regret of having a failed marriage and a child to care for until he is 18, but I won’t shirk my responsibility, and I will never stop loving my wife or child. I feel like I’ve wasted almost half my life away, and my wife’s while I was at it. I’ve ruined enough lives at this point, perhaps it is better to stop holding on, and accept it, mourn the relationship, and appreciate what was good about it, even though I’m continually tempted to go and hold my wife and tell her I want her back. But, I know I only want to do that because I don’t want her to be in pain anymore, I want it to be all a bad dream and to be able to make her happy again. That’s why I stayed as long as I did, that’s why I didn’t break up with her when we were dating, that’s why I married her, that’s why I had a child with her, all because I didn’t want her to hurt and I wanted her to be happy. I had made myself responsible for her happiness, and it had destroyed me. But, looking back I have to accept that I couldn’t succeed when my heart wasn’t truly in it. A good part of the time, I made her miserable, and she made me miserable. And then I did all this and now I’ve devastated her, inflicted wounds that will never heal. I want to be the one to bring her happiness, but I don’t think I am that person. So, as much as I just want to go and comfort her, and be the one to make her happy again, even for just one more minute, it seems I shouldn’t, won’t it only bring more misery down the road?

On the Outskirts of Town

Everything was pitch black in the distance. It was early in the desert evening and it was still hot, it had been over 100 degrees in the shade that day. We sat on the curb by the roadhouse in the yellow glow of the solitary street lamp.
“Well, we wouldn’t have made it this last quarter if it wasn’t for the extra income I got from selling coke,” Lloyd was saying.
“What?! You’ve been selling coke? Where did you get money to buy it?” My mother exclaimed, she had been pacing around talking on her cell phone, in her jeans and leather jacket, while Lloyd and I sat, she put her flip phone back in her purse and looked hard at Lloyd, a piercing look she’d given me before and it always meant I was in trouble.
Lloyd was my mother’s right hand man for her legitimate business in town, but also he headed some of her less than savory enterprises. He was reasonably handsome, tall, lanky, with short, close cropped hair, in his mid thirties, always wore a pair of jeans, a pair of sandals, a t-shirt, and an unbuttoned flannel, and smoked Marlboro’s like a chimney. She’d also had an affair with him that had jump started her mid-life crisis and taken a mild mannered Christian stay-at-home mom and housewife down this dark path towards perdition. He turned out to be gay, and now had a younger boyfriend, Luke, who was new to adulthood that escaped his abusive father to become the third highest ranking member of my mother’s tiny empire that she’d carved out in this run down old mining town in the foothills at the edge of the desert.
“Well… you remember Angel right? Well, I ran into him and his brother José at the bar one night. We got plastered and went back to their place. Well, the coffee table was covered in powder, we did a few lines and Angel and José passed out. I figured they wouldn’t mind too much, I had a plastic grocery bag in the truck so I just scooped a whole bunch off the table into it and left. They didn’t even notice, we did the same thing the next week and I got another bag full…” Lloyd had kind of a deliberate, wry way of talking, especially when he told stories.
My mother looked disgusted. She’d never approved of drugs, using them or selling them, but Lloyd wasn’t always compliant with her wishes.

But, business was hard these days. Had been since she’d moved out there, rented a commercial property in a small shopping center and set up shop. In the first month the front window had been smashed in, and thieves made off with a couple of computers and monitors, sadly ones I’d refurbished and installed since I basically ran her IT operations. The alarm company had called my mom and the police. My mom showed up, but the police didn’t. The local sheriffs were corrupt, so the town was basically the wild west. My mom spent the night in the shop with a sleeping bag and a loaded shotgun to ward off any other looters.

Lloyd’s philosophies had made their impact on my mother. Basically, an eye for an eye. Someone screws you, you screw them right back, whether that is the government, ‘The Man’, a business, or any person. It was a convenient philosophy which could be used to rationalize any action, against anyone, just label them ‘corrupt’ or ‘fraudulent’, I mean, most businesses and governments were, right? Every month there was a smash and grab at my mother’s business. Lloyd took it into his own hands to deal with the culprits who he discovered were a couple of small time thieves, he always drove around with a loaded Smith & Wesson .45 automatic beneath his driver’s seat. He tried to reason with them, and when that failed, then one night got loaded full of booze and drove by their place and opened fire, emptying his clip. Luckily he didn’t hit anyone, but he drove off and was soon pursued by the cops and had to hide in the oil fields outside of town. My mom and I went to get him in the dead of night and take him back to his place, abandoning his truck. That’s how life was out there. My mother and her two henchmen ran the business and committed petty and more than petty crimes: stealing car stereos and occasional whole cars, vandalism, racketeering, fraud, generally avoided violent crimes except in a couple of extreme cases. She tried to keep it hidden from us kids. I usually only spent summer, some holidays, and spring break with her. I hated it out there, but Lloyd and I would have some good times, driving around in his truck and causing mischief, listening to Blink 182 (I hate Blink 182 to this day). He taught me to drive a manual transmission when I was 14, and how to shoot a pistol. He may have been a thug, but he seemed to be a boy at heart, always wanting to take an off-road joyride or play pranks on random people.

I know it drove my father nuts paying alimony to fund my mother’s lifestyle, he tried to have her proven to be an unfit mother on numerous occasions, with a small degree of success. Perhaps he was right, but I do feel she always loved me, despite numerous bad decisions.

Welcome to Your Life

Listen. I may not be much, but I’m all I’ve got. Maybe you need a magnifying glass to find my face in my high school graduation photo. Maybe I haven’t got any family or friends. Yes, yes, I know all that. But, strange as it might seem, I’m not entirely dissatisfied with life… I feel pretty much at home with what I am. I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t want any unicorns behind fences.

I woke to Her text as I do every morning now, expressions of love and gaiety that warm my heart. Despite that, the room was cold, the bare cinder block walls failed to hold much heat in during the long night. When the sun went down the fog would roll in from the ocean and would stay there until it burned off around mid day. The room was perpetually cool, which is probably better than the alternative given the limited ventilation. The small slatted window no longer opened since the knobs had broken, and provided almost no light. My wife had poked her head in before going off to work that morning, set the baby monitor on the shelf by the door (which was really just exposed wood framing that had been painted). I could always feel her eyes searching the room to see if I was alone. She’d tried a few times when she wasn’t working to run down and catch me off guard to see if she could catch me in the act, but I had been honest with her, I hadn’t had any girls over, to spend the night or otherwise so far, and for her sake, I didn’t plan to as long as I shared a roof with her. She’d suffered enough with my infidelity thus far, and I certainly didn’t want to add insult to injury.

I got up and switched the light on. My little makeshift bachelor pad had come together quickly enough. I’d gotten my old beat up dresser out of the garage that I’d had since I was 6 years old, which my wife had kindly repainted and I’d put on some shiny new hardware, that is, before we decided we wanted nice new matching dressers for the bedroom upstairs, now her bedroom. Shirts, pants, and suits hung in the improvised closet with my shoe rack down below. Set up a little desk and chair, and was trying to cobble together an old computer from spare parts in the garage, it wasn’t going well, bad graphics adapter causing video corruption and glitches and occasional crashes and would need to be replaced when I had a chance, but it was reasonably serviceable now that I had the OS up and running.

One of the dogs had snuck in that morning when my wife cracked the door. She was a loyal one, and I knew she missed me now that I was living downstairs, the other dog often didn’t want to brave the cold of my room, so he’d stay warm upstairs. But, she’d snuggle up by my feet on the bed, which was no more than a box springs and mattress on the floor, and as soon as I’d get up she’d find a warm spot beneath the blankets where I had been laying. My wife had made me take all the blankets and sheets downstairs that had been on the bed when I slept with Anne and Sierra. She had wanted to burn them, but acknowledged that we wouldn’t have much to put on the bed downstairs if she did.

I put on my slippers and sauntered off to the shower across the cold tile of the living room/kitchenette downstairs. A shower, shave, and comb and I was a new man, instead of the neanderthal that had looked in the mirror minutes earlier. Dressed for work, and had time for some cereal as the baby stirred on the monitor. My wife insists that I keep all of my food and dishes confined to the downstairs kitchenette, really that I keep myself downstairs as much as possible so she doesn’t have to look at me. I can understand, she says just seeing me, the man that destroyed her life, makes her want to vomit. She couldn’t bear to be near me, and I can understand that. We decided some space was needed for both of us, so we could decide how to move forward, to reconcile or to divorce. I was surprised with how quickly we’d managed to separate our lives, within less than a week’s time. We’d had to tell our renter, Kenny, and his girlfriend since she is a friend as well, part of the church youth group to boot (all of them haven’t found out about the depths of my betrayal yet). My wife refuses to let me tell anyone simply that ‘I had an affair’, it has to be ‘I had five affairs’. She said it was important they had an idea of the level of my depravity. I’ve acquiesced to this description that I now wear like a brand, like the mark of Cain. Kenny was really nice about all of it, I feel terrible for displacing him, another life altered on my account. The pastor offered his spare bedroom free of charge for Kenny, so he moved out almost right away and I moved into his old room, which quickly reaffirmed in my mind the pittance we had been charging him to stay there, but I am content with it.

As I finished my cereal and rinsed my dishes, the baby began cooing and bouncing in his crib upstairs. I opened the door to the stairs and walked up. The upstairs is certainly far nicer than the downstairs. My wife and I had worked tirelessly to make it so, it is representative of the life we built together. The colors we chose to paint the walls, the furniture pieces and the layout. Above the fireplace hung a painting I’d purchased from one of her favorite artists and given it to her as a gift for Christmas. There were pictures of the baby and family and friends on the walls in the hallway, except for a few blank spaces where my wife had removed any frame that contained a photo of me. The door to the bathroom was ajar, the shower was spotless, my wife had scrubbed it top to bottom with bleach when she found out that I’d been in it together with Sierra. We’d spent the first two days and nights since my confession pouring over every detail of my affairs. She wanted to know everything: when, where, everything about every girl, her age, job, height, weight, race, cup size, every kiss, every sex act we performed together, even demanding I tell her how it felt and how they compared to her, and every nonsexual thing we did, everything I talked about and shared with them, the minute details of every relationship nothing omitted. I was flabbergasted by some of the details she asked about, but I had promised her transparency, so I shared, as difficult as it was. Each detail would bring fresh outrage from my wife, it seemed to me this had to be unhealthy, like she was seeking to be immersed in the pain it would bring her. Unsurprisingly, she was appalled that I’d had girls over, and in our bed, and at crazy hours and spent the night with Sierra twice. But, for some reason, that I’d been with a girl in our shower was even more grievous than all that. Somehow, she managed to perceive that it was more than sex for me with Sierra, and soon she was mining the details of our daily escapades. She referred to Sierra as my ‘college skank’ and to Her as my ‘mistress’, and to the others as just ‘sluts’, she eventually forbade me to use their names when answering her questions, I had to just refer to them as girl number so-and-so. All these descriptions had lead my wife to believe that I was a demented sex addict and needed serious help. It became more awkward for her to share these details with our friends and family, much as I tried to dissuade her. Soon just about everyone was in agreement that I had a serious problem as a sex fiend. My wife was hurting, she was disgusted, she had been utterly violated by my behavior, and she naturally felt I’d put all of these women above her, and in some ways she may have been right, and I felt terrible for that. Above all, she seemed to be hurt the most by my rejection of her. That she, as a caring mother and hard-working life partner, wasn’t enough for me: I had chosen these women, I had chosen sexual and romantic fulfillment above what she offered me. I had thought I could have both, but I was wrong. It was heartbreaking to watch her walk about, her face blank or twisted in misery. She didn’t deserve any of this. But, what could be done? Reconciling or divorcing were both fraught with pitfalls, there was no easy solution.

I opened the door to the nursery, and the baby stood in his crib clapping happily when he saw me. Then, of course, in the middle of it all, is our son who we both love dearly.
“Good morning, buddy,” I said cheerfully as I picked him up.