500 Annies Ch. 02byqhml1©
"Good evening, listeners. Tonight we broadcast the second installment of our interview with Joe Williams, author of '500 Annies'. In case the you missed the first broadcast, here is a quick recap.
Joe gave us an overview of his life, leading up to his wife leaving him suddenly after almost three decades of marriage. He was taken completely by surprise, sending his life in a new direction and leading him to write his book.
We rejoin him now as he talks about the aftermath and how he struggled to put his life back together.
This is Barbara Barnes, and you're listening to Book Report on WORD. Now, back to the interview."
The crowd had gone quiet as Joe revealed his wifes' betrayal of their marriage.
After a brief pause, Joe started talking again.
"I was completely devastated. I really was the clueless husband. I thought if you loved someone that much it would be impossible to betray them. I was wrong."
"I sat at the kitchen table, rereading the note. It was short, almost emotionless in its' brevity.
No long explanations, very little in the way of apology. Just, I've moved on, sorry, no ones' fault."
"I didn't get it, not at all."
"I didn't sleep that night, just sat at the table staring at the note. I didn't get drunk, didn't destroy furniture, didn't rage. I was just numb."
The anger came later, much later.
"I finally went to bed and slept fitfully for a few hours. Woke up wondering why I had such a headache. Went into the kitchen, calling out for Annie, asking where the Advil was. Saw the note and relived the pain all over again."
"Over the next few days I was like a zombie. I went by her old office and they told me she had resigned three weeks ago, she must have spent the days with her lover getting ready to leave the country."
"She took very little with her. She left most of her clothes, most of her jewelery, including her engagement ring and wedding band. No pictures that I could detect, no knick knacks we had accumulated over the years. It was like she had died."
"None of her friends knew she had even left. Her only forwarding address was her lawyers office."
"It took me two weeks to work up the energy to call AJ. She refused to believe me for a few minutes, then started crying. She was in such pain her husband had to take over and I explained all over again. AJ finally calmed down enough to talk, insisting she was going to fly in to be with me for a few days. I talked her out of it, it would have ruined their vacation plans, and the logistics of transporting a baby across country and back was enough to get her to agree. She called me every day for three weeks afterwards, just to check on me"
"She insisted I email the complete goodbye letter to her. I was reluctant, but finally did. Her reaction was unexpected."
"What happened to my mother, and who's the cold hearted, self centered bitch that took her place? As far as I'm concerned, when Bunny[her nickname for her daughter]eventually asks if she has a grandmother, I'll tell her she died. Even if I could, I will never speak to her again."
I was shocked by her tirade.
"AJ, honey, I know you're upset. But deep down, even if she has no feelings for me anymore, I'm sure she still loves you. Maybe over time she'll contact you, please be open when she does. She's still your mother, the grandmother of your child.
Don't judge her too harshly over what she did to me."
A small bit of me was glad she felt that way, but in the long run I hoped she would at least talk to her if she got the chance.
I went through the stages of grief, all of them. Anger, denial, self pity, all of it.
I took perverse pleasure in jerking her lawyer around, knowing the longer I dragged it out the more it would cost her.
At first I refused to talk to him, and refused to answer the door if it was a stranger. The process server got a lot of mileage fees before I quit playing games with him. I threw the papers in the garbage in front of him.
I told the lawyer I wouldn't even speak to him without representation, and didn't retain anyone for about a month. Then I set up a conference and blew it and the next one off. Demanded all sorts of records, financial and otherwise. After six months she sent me a handwritten note begging me to let it end. I sent word through her lawyer if she would ask me in person I would consider it.
My lawyer finally asked me if I was tired of wasting money yet, even he thought it was getting old. He was right, I was beating a dead horse. I did get her to pay costs and lawyer fees.
Most of the anger and pain had receded to a dull numbness. It was still there, and would focus sharply if something triggered it, but by and large I was relearning how to live.
Luckily, I was working again, and it kept my mind focused and away from the pain. I had done a few jobs, getting business from word of mouth.
Then one day my old boss called me up.
"Joe, what the hell are you doing? We've lost two small customers to you, and in this economy we can't afford to lose a big one."
"Well, Bill, they came to me, I didn't seek them out. It's just small stuff, and it keeps me busy.
The job market here sucks, as you well know."
Bill had accepted a transfer, although I knew right up until he moved he was looking.
"Well Joe, I'm offering you a compromise. Come back to work for us. We'll reinstate you at your old rate and seniority, and you'll get to keep your insurance. We'll email you assignments, mostly stuff like you're doing now. You'll still have to travel a little, but not every week. I don't know why we didn't think of this before, it's a win-win situation for all of us."
I didn't accept instantly, I still had about three weeks worth of work to finish my latest contract. But I told him I was definitely interested, if I could work on my own schedule.
"That's the beauty of the internet, you can work at three a m in your boxers if that's what you want. Just meet the time parameters we set and it won't be a problem."
When I finished my contract I officially rejoined the Motion, Inc. fold.
Nine months had gone by. I wasn't back to where I was, doubted I ever would be, but I could function. I didn't even have a pity party when the final decree arrived.
I still had my friends, and most of them were completely shocked by what happened. Some of them, mostly wives, thought it had to be something more serious, probably something I did.
I didn't care, let them think what they wanted.
On side effect was that after the divorce was final, I would be invited for a barbeque, party, or meal, and find myself in the company of a single lady my age. I was polite, did my best to be cordial, but wasn't the least bit interested. I had spent my whole life in love with one woman, I had no idea how to connect with anyone else.
They soon got the message.
I looked at the calender. It was one year to the day since she walked out of my life. I had been holding up well, but I did not want to be alone tonight.
Harry's Bar and Grill was a popular local watering hole, a true neighborhood place. Most everyone knew everyone else by sight, and most were well behaved. Harry made it a point not to let things get out of hand.
We had known each other for years, even socialized as couples once or twice a year. His wife had some kind of disability, using canes to walk.
Her wit wasn't impared, she had a razor sharp tongue when she wanted to use it. Harry loved her desperately, and she often held court at a corner table while Harry ran the bar.
They sympathized with me, but after a few months she let me know in no uncertain terms it was time to get my head out of my ass and move on.
"She left you. It was cold, she was and is a jerk, a fool for leaving a good man. But she did. Move on, she has."
It was good advice that I didn't take, at the time anyway.
Their place was only eight blocks from my house, and when I was hungry for human companionship or a good cheeseburger, I would walk over.
Mostly I drank tea or a beer. If I had more than four, someone would drop me or I would call a cab.
Tonight would probably be a cab night.
I had a cheeseburger and coffee, exchanging casual greetings, catching up on local gossip, congratulating graduations, births, marriages. Expressing sadness over illnesses, deaths, divorces. Just a normal Thursday night in suburban America.
Not normally a drinker, I had developed a fondness for bock beer, especially one by a Texas brewer, Shiner. Harry gave me one, on the house. I guess he could tell I was feeling a little down.
I had just started my third when an attractive woman came in and sat beside me, greeting Harry and his wife by name. Close to my age but probably younger. She looked over and nodded, I raised my beer in salute.
Harry introduced us.
"Joe, this is Annie. She has the dubious honor of being married to my cousin. Where is Chad, by the way?"
"He's at that training seminar they make him take every year. Been gone four days. I was happy the first two, bored the next, and now I miss him. I didn't want to be alone tonight, so here I am.
She noticed me flinch at her name.
"Do I know you?"
I tried my best to give her a reassuring smile.
"No, it's just my wife was named Annie."
"I'm sorry, did she pass?"
"Pretty close, she went to Europe with her Spanish lover."
"Thanks, I'm almost over it. As a matter of fact, this is my one year anniversary of her leaving. I didn't want to sit and brood about it, so I came here. Harry is pretty ugly, but it beats looking at the walls."
She grinned while Harry said "Hey, I heard that."
We talked, she was a good conversationalist. Harrys' wife Jane would jump in with a comment occasionally. It was the best time I had in a year.
Remembering things I would frown up intermittently, but they would tease me out of it.
Annie was laughing at a comment I made about men being clueless when it comes to women, and said something that sent my whole life in a different direction.
"You're right, men just don't get it sometimes. It looks like one of you would be smart enough to write a manual, some guidelines to go by to understand us."
Jane chimed in.
"Yeah, simple stuff,like keep your foot out of your mouth and your head out of your ass. How hard is it for you guys anyway?"
I looked at them with my mouth hanging open. What an idea, brilliant in its' simplicity. This is what I had done my whole life, took something that was many times unintelligible and confusing, distilling it into simple, concise directions that any idiot could follow.
I would write a technical manual for understanding women, how hard could it be?
Famous last words.
My imagination ran wild for a second. I would be a god among mortal men, exposing secrets never before revealed to the masses.
They looked at me, trying to figure out what was going on in my head.
"Girls, you're absolutely right. You don't know this, but I've spent the last twenty odd years writing manuals for different types of machinery, often translating them from a foreign language.
How would you like to help me write that manual? I haven't, and I doubt any man alive has, mastered womanese. I need a translator or two, wanna help me?"
They both looked at me like I had lost my mind and starting speaking in no tongue known to man, before Annie laughed.
"Sure, I'll help, just know ahead of time I won't reveal state secrets, pain of death and all that."
Jane was even more blunt.
"I think it's a great idea. I can finally tell a man exactly what I think without hurting his feelings. When do you want to start?"
Man, this was going to be great. For the first time in a year I felt like I had a reason to live instead of just exist.
"Not tonight. I'm working under a four beer handicap and I most likely won't remember much. How about lunch tomorrow, here, my treat?"
"Thank you so much. You're going to treat me to lunch at the place I've eaten at every day for the last fifteen years."
Annie laughed. I grinned.
"Okay Jane, your choice, as long as we can talk uninterrupted."
"Great, I've been wanting to try that Japanese place over on third. Is that all right?"
"Anyplace is fine, as long as we have a bit of privacy and can hear each other. How about you Anne, anyplace special you want to go?"
"Can't I just go with Jane?"
I thought for a second.
"No, I would rather do this one on one. I can concentrate better if I don't have to divide my attention."
"Well, okay, I guess. Make it dinner here instead, it's close, and to be honest, I don't want to explain to my husband if someone were to see us. He's not gonna believe it anyway when I tell him what you want."
I thanked them, and had Harry call me a cab while I finished my fifth beer. The ladies went back to Janes' table chatting and looking at me occasionally.
"You're a braver man than I am, Joe. Asking what a woman wants and needs from a man is way beyond anything I'd want to do. Good luck. If I didn't know you and how tenacious you can be, I'd laugh the whole thing off. Are you sure you want to sail into uncharted waters like this?"
Harry had an eyebrow arched as he polished a glass.
"Yeah, I really do. Maybe it'll help me come to terms with what happened to me."
And maybe, I thought, keep it from happening to some other poor soul.
I could hardly sleep, even getting up a couple of times to make notes. This was going to be a great adventure.
I thought a lot about what I wanted to ask, and just confused myself more. Then I fell back on my experience. If a machine wasn't running right the first thing I did was ask the operator, after all he was the most familiar with it. I decided that would be my approach.
The woman would be the operator, her heart and soul the machine. If I could get her to share how that worked, explaining it to a new operator, a man, would be easy.
I was at the restaurant early, armed with a small recorder, so I didn't have to take notes or rely on my memory. Instead of Jane, Anne showed up.
Standing as she walked over to the table, I mentioned being confused.
"Something came up, and I came instead. I talked to my husband last night. He actually knows you slightly through your work. Chad said that I should come, order the most expensive thing on the menu, and talk your ears off. He also wants to read your manual when it's finished."
We ate, making small talk. Afterwards we ordered coffee and got down to business. I explained that I was going to tape it and she was okay with that.
"Now, what do you want to know?"
I had thought about this a lot.
"Everything. How your relationship started. Your expectations then and now. Was it what you expected, wanted, and achieved. How hard do you work at keeping each other happy. Are you happy? Where does he need to improve, are there times when you're unreasonable and know it. Who's the peacemaker? Do you make decisions together or unilaterally? Do you accept it when he does, does he when you do?"
I ran out of breath.
"Wow, don't be afraid to ask the hard ones. Give me a minute to process."
After a few sips of coffee, she started slowly, building steam as she went.
She loved her husband, had never been tempted to cheat. It wasn't love at first sight, but the better kind, the love that was built slowly with understanding and consideration. Did he make her angry? All the time, but she did the same. They resolved their little issues to defuse big ones later.
They had a few major fights, but never slept alone because of them. She wished he could be more understanding, he wished she could be a little more open.
"I mean, really, some times it seems like we think on different planes. I way up here and he just hasn't caught up."
He stopped his narrative to make another point.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this was something I really thought about. I deliberately didn't read any relationship books by learned authors, preferring to let my most unscientific approach
remain pure. But her statement was a recurring theme in almost every interview I did. I thought about it a lot before reaching a conclusion I address in one of the last chapters of my book.
Men and women don't speak the same language because they don't exist in the same space.
Men think in terms of now, responding to visual and aural stimulation.
Women think in the future, it's genetically bred into them. They prefer delayed gratification, and are much more literal. A womans' ultimate erogenous zone is her brain. I heard a comedian recently while I was in a town to do a book signing who nailed it right on the head. I wish I could remember his name to give credit, but it goes like this.
A man, especially a young man, falls in love. He falls in love with what's right in front of him.
He's thinking, man, she is so pretty. Bright smile, good figure, she sure fills that sundress out. She's perfect, just what I want. Plus, she's HOT!
And ladies and gentlemen, he's right.
Guys, shut your eyes. Project a mental picture of you wife. Now, you older ones, the ones that have been married for awhile. What do you see? I bet my book royalties you're still seeing that hot girl in that sundress."
There were quite a few chuckles from the men.
"Now, women, especially young women, look at a man and think: He's really kind, I bet he'd make a great dad. And if I could just get him to cut his hair and dress a little better, I could make something out of him. She can't help it, she's thinking in the future."
"Now ladies, time to shut your eyes and think of your husband. Do you see that skinny, scruffy kid, or do you see your man now, mature, successful, a loving father? Thought so."
There was appreciative laughter from the ladies this time.
"There you have it. Men and women don't communicate well because they don't process information in the same way."
"I'll give you an even better example. As I've said, I listen to a lot of public radio. One day I was listening to Science Friday and they were talking about the advent of GPS and the different way men and women process directions."
"If a couple stops and asks for directions, the woman will listen to the whole set and remember them. She'll remember 'Go to the white church and turn right, go two stoplights and turn left, first building on the right'.
"The man will key on the first part, 'Go to the white church and turn right', then stop and ask directions again."
"The man is thinking in terms of now, the woman is thinking in terms of the future. He's thinking in the short term while she sees the end game."
"And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I think women are smarter than men. Anyone disagree with me?"
He paused while laughter echoed through the hall.
"I thought not."
He went back to his narrative.
The conversation with Annie was enlightening. The only thing I really learned was that men had no clue.
The conversation with Jane went in a whole different direction.
"I was married to someone else before Harry. He was self centered, confident to the point of arrogance. It was all about him. We didn't last long."
"Thinking all men were pigs I swore off dating for awhile. When I finally started dating, nobody lit my fires."
"Then I met Harry. It was by gosh fairy tale, romance novel, happy ever after love at first glance. I really didn't believe it existed until then. And it wasn't just me, it was both of us."