500 Annies Ch. 03byqhml1©
"Good evening, listeners. Tonight we hear the third installment with Joe Williams, author of 500 Annies. If you've listened to the last two installments, you know that he came to write the book after his wife suddenly left him, with very little explanation and no warning.
This segment deals with the actual writing of the book, how he comes to terms with himself and his wifes' betrayal, and unexpectedly finding love again.
The first few interviews were set up by my friends Annie and Jane. After about three interviews, I realized I was going to have to go elsewhere. Word had gotten out and the women had time to think and formulate answers they thought I wanted to hear. All I wanted was the truth, what I was getting was a sanitized version of how they wanted their relationships to go. I did learn a few things from them. I probably learned something from every woman I talked with.
I got creative. I went to coffeehouses, different bars, colleges, churches. I even went to two retirement centers. I talked to women at places I was sent to through my work, I was still working about thirty hours a week.
The travel allowed me unlimited venues for contact.
I talked to women in Boston, St. Louis, Detroit,
smaller towns up and down the East Coast, and along the Mississippi corridor.
At the end of my research I collated my data.
The youngest I interviewed was seventeen. The oldest was eighty three. Three hundred twenty two were between the ages of forty to sixty five. Thirty nine were sixty six to eighty three, one hundred twenty nine were between twenty and thirty nine, and ten were between seventeen and nineteen.
Three hundred twenty were white, eighty were Hispanic, fifteen were of Asian descent, sixty four were Black, ten were Indian, six were Polynesian, and five were American Indian.
Most were Christian, primarily Methodist, Baptist. and Catholic. There were four athiests, ten agnostics, Hindus, Bhuddists, One Japanese lady that was a follower of the Shinto religion,
one American Indian following a traditional religion that included using peyote. Two were members of an offshoot of Voo Doo.
Two hundred eighty eight had been in a previous marriage or live in relationships, sixteen were lesbians, four were polygamists, thirty one were non American in origin. Six were currently in an abusive relationship, five were into relationships governed by BDSM, and fourteen were celibate, eight due to health conditions, six by choice. Surprisingly, twenty seven were bisexual.
Fifty eight believed their relationships would end before six months. Seventy were desperately unhappy but determined to do everything possible to avoid a breakup.
Forty eight weren't in relationships at the moment. And thirty three of those said they weren't interested in starting one anytime soon.
Joe paused to sip some water.
"If you think that's confusing now, you should have gone through the process with me.
Most interviews were right at two hours. My shortest was sixteen minutes, and all she did was cry. One lasted over four hours, but she was so compelling that I never noticed the time."
Determined not to get my research compromised, I took a picture if they would let me. Instead of learning names, I would give them my card with my email address and write their number on the card.
I decided to call them all Annie, just as a joke, and to remind me why I was doing it. So when I gave them my card, I would write Annie 20, or 200, wherever I was in my research. I asked that if they contacted me, to use their number so I could look them up to put a face with the message. That's where the title came from."
"It took me fourteen months to finish the interviews, and six months more to collate the data into something manageable, and that was working twenty to thirty hours a week."
The project consumed me. I never let my professionalism slip, I did my job to the best of my ability, but it was second in importance to me.
It got so bad Jane or Chad and Annie would show up every couple of weeks and drag me down to the bar so I could mingle with the living. Chad and Annie had become friends, to the point of dinner or a visit every few weeks.They wanted to keep me in contact with the real world.
Chad was firmly convinced I was a little off for pursuing it so hard, but often joked when it was over I could easily make a fortune as a relationship coach for men.
I had long ago given up the idea of publishing it. It was a cleansing ritual for me, a catharsis from my misery of being abandoned. I expected I would allow Annie, Chad, Jane, and Harry read it, but that was about it. But fate wasn't done with me.
Motion, Inc. used an editing service to make our manuals clearer and concise. My work rarely took any tweaking, I had been doing this for a long time, after all. It was more proof reading than editing. But nobody is perfect, and every once in a while I would make a mistake.
I had been working on a pretty big project, and was finally able to send it off. I was tired, having spent about forty hours in interviews and transcribing for the last nine days, plus doing my regular job. The only excuse I have is exhaustion.
Two days later the editing service called. John had been my contact man for eleven years. We had conversed enough to become friendly, but I had never met him. That was about to change.
"Joe, Joe, this stuff is great! I never knew you had it in you. I want to ask a favor, please, please, let me edit it."
"John it's just a manual, not even on a complicated piece of equipment. You could edit it with one eye closed."
"Are you crazy? The most complicated piece of equipment ever developed is the female brain. A chance for an average guy to peek inside and understand just a little of it is priceless."
I was starting to get a bad feeling.
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Your book, of course. I did the edit on the first four chapters already. My company is foaming at the mouth to see the rest of it. You know we're part of a company that publishes non fiction, biograhpies, historical texts, how to books, things along that line. They've been thinking about expanding, things like what you've done would be perfect. You do have it done, don't you?"
I was so tired when I sent the manual off that I accidentally sent the first eight chapters of my book. Looked like the cat was out of the bag.
"John, I wrote that as a kind of therapy for me. I never intended for it to be published."
"You're kidding, please say you're kidding. My boss is going to call you within the hour, he wants to start negotiations for the book today."
"You need to get an agent, and a good lawyer. You didn't hear this from me, but don't accept the first offer. Hint around you're shopping publishers, that'll keep them honest."
"And remember, you want me as an editor. Please."
Joe paused, his voice was a little hoarse.
Babs knew he needed a little rest.
"Ladies and gentlemen, lets take a few minutes to move about, restore circulation, use the facilities. When we get back I'd like Joe to reflect on some of his favorite interviews."
Ten minutes later the crowd was back in their seats, the stagehands had replenished the water bottles, and Joe took the microphone again.
"All the interviews were important, but a few stick out in my mind. Annie 337 lived in a retirement community. She was seventy four, and looked my age."
"I can still see her face."
"You're really 74?"
"Yes I am. I've had a little tightening up done, a facelift, boobs lifted, hell, basically every part of my body has had the effect of gravity reversed. In my own opinion, I'm still pretty hot for my age. Do you agree?"
"I do indeed, I thought you were my age. Are you in a relationship now?"
"Sort of, I'm seeing two men on a regular basis. One is sixty one, the other sixty seven. Personally, I think they're too old for me, but they're pleasant company. Plus, they're both pretty good in bed."
"So I take it you're still sexually active?"
"Oh, as often as possible. I've had a high sex drive ever since, well forever. I've been widowed twice. The highest praise I can give them is they were great in bed."
"Please don't get me wrong, I was never promiscuous. I was always a one man woman, and I loved both my husbands dearly."
"The first was a banker, it was a pretty well thought of profession back then. I'm sure Barry would roll over in his grave at what his profession has degenerated into. "
"Our relationship was the traditional breadwinner/ housewife scenario. It was the early sixties you know."
"But he respected me. He knew I handled every faction of our lives except making money. I reared the children, managed the house, behaved impeccably in social situations. We were a real life Ozzie and Harriet."
"I would get lonely sometimes when he would be trying to climb the corporate ladder, and he hated traveling, but we dealt with it for our betterment."
"We discovered early the joys of sex, and had a strong drive all the way to the end. We understood each other, we fit, you know? And beneath that three piece suit he was a tiger."
"I matched him passion for passion, we were indeed one. We only had one major fight, and it was about money. We had it, and he would make me spend time with him understanding our finances and investments. I told him as long as I had him I would never have to worry. I'll never forget what he said."
"Honey, there may come a time when I'm not here. If that happens, I want you to mourn me, and not worry about your future while you do. This is to protect you and our kids, now please pay attention."
"So I did. I became almost as good as him in money matters. He was very proud of me."
"Then one day the bank called. He was found sprawled over his desk, massive heart attack.
He was fifty seven."
"I cried my eyes out and mourned him. But I moved forward, and thanks to his foresight we were secure financially."
"we were married thirty seven years, and I don't regret a day."
"Five years later I met Paul, my second husband."
"He was a painter[I recoiled slightly at that] and a free spirit. While Barry and I were conservative, he was flashy, loud, and unpredictable. We made love wherever and whenever we wanted. He painted me nude, the portrait hangs in my living room today."
"Where Barry loved his cocktails, Paul didn't drink, said he wanted nothing that would cloud his vision. He wasn't broke, but he wasn't nearly financially secure as I. Money didn't matter to him if he had enough to live on."
"He wanted a prenup to show he didn't want my money. I refused."
"We lived happily for seven years. My kids even liked him after they got to know him, and the grandchildren loved him madly. It was nothing for the kids to come to pick them up and find their faces painted like zoo animals."
"He was killed six years ago when a kid talking on his cell phone ran a stop sign and centered his motorcycle."
"When I think about it, all they had in common was that they loved me, and never stopped communicating, even when I didn't want to listen."
"I'll never marry again, it would take a much younger man to satisfy me fully, and it wouldn't be fair to him. My two lovers combined keep me satisfied and happy. I've had a very good life all in all."
A side note here. The older ladies I interviewed averaged forty plus years in their relationships, I feel it was because of the moral climate at the time. Twenty seven of the thirty nine I interview in that age bracket, sixty six to eighty three, said they should have left their husbands.
"Annie 441 was an attractive black woman in her late twenties. This was one of the hardest interviews I had ever done. Her husband was abusive, insanely jealous, and a drug user. Her life was a living hell. The bruises were easily seen even under her dark skin. He had broken her arm, thrown her outside naked when the temperature hovered around twenty, even tried to pimp her out. She drew the line, that's when he broke her arm. She filed a restraining order and assault charges, then didn't show up for court."
"I asked her why she stayed."
"Because I love him, and he loves me."
"And yet he abuses you."
"He doesn't mean to, I just make him so angry."
I nearly exploded.
"Angry! I was in love with a woman for nearly thirty years. She betrayed me with another and moved out of my life with no notice at all. I was angry."
"Even as I raged against her, damning her to hell, it never occurred to me to beat her or cause her physical harm."
I paused, breathing raggedly.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have snapped off at you. It's just that, if you stay with him, it's going to get worse and you know it. He probably does love you in some sad twisted way. But I have to ask you, is your love for him enough? Will it block out the pain, the humiliation, the darkness. If you have children, will he abuse them? Is this the future you want?"
She wavered, then looked me defiantly in the eyes.
"It'll get better, he'll realize what he's done to me one day and change. I know it in my heart."
I knew she knew deep down she was lying.
"There were many highs and lows experienced during these interviews. Moments of almost blinding joy and agonizing sadness. Times when I felt I was making progress in my quest for understanding, many more times when I realized no man would truly understand a woman."
"Annie 499, the next to last interview I did, gave me great hope for mankind in general."
"I was in a mid sized town in Maryland, on a job. I was feeling pretty good with my progress, this one would be over quickly."
"I had checked out of my motel and was on my way out of town. It was lunchtime, and I passed a small restaurant that featured crab cakes, a regional delicacy. She was standing on the side of the road, holding up a cardboard sign."
"Help me. I need a job."
It got my interest so I walked over.
"Any luck?" I pointed at the sign.
"None. I don't know what to do. I've tried the employment office. temp agencies, I've put applications in with every business in the area. Nobody wants an eighteen year old with no experience."
She smiled her brightest smile.
"You're not hiring, are you mister?"
I felt bad for her.
"No, but I will buy you lunch in exchange for an interview."
Her defenses started to raise.
"I don't know mister, you're not some kind of pervert, are you?"
I grinned to lessen her fears.
"Nope. Even worse, I'm a writer. Right now I'm doing a book on relationships. Too bad you're not married."
Her eyes blazed.
"Am too married. For almost a year."
"Where's your ring?"
She blushed a little.
"Don't have one, we couldn't afford it. But he's gonna get me one, soon."
"Well, there you go. You're married, a perfect candidate for an interview. I'm going in now, join me if you want."
I got a table near the window. She was still outside, holding the sign with grim desperation.
I flagged the waitress down.
"Do you know that girl?"
She glanced out the window.
"Yeah, that's Wendy. Poor girl, she has no luck at all. Lucy lets her bus tables every once in a while for a meal and a few dollars. She eats less than half, and takes the rest back to the shelter for her husband."
"Yeah, they live in shelters. Foster kids, both of them, they've had a terrible life. God, I wish things would get better for them."
I gave her a twenty.
"Do me a favor, take her the largest drink you have, and tell her she has a meal paid for."
I peeled off another twenty.
"Take this for your trouble."
She looked at it.
"I can't take this for something I would probably have done after the lunch rush anyway."
She tried to hand it back to me. I pushed it back into her hands.
"Keep half, then, and give her another meal when she needs it."
"You're a kind man, mister. I'm sure she'll appreciate it."
A few minutes later she walked out with a jumbo styrofoam cup in her hand and gave it to Wendy. There was some hand waving and pointing, and when she came back in Wendy was with her.
She came straight up to me and slipped into my booth.
"You really a writer?"
"Have I read anything you've written?"
"No, I doubt it. I'm a technical writer. Been one for over twenty years. This is just something I wanted to do."
"How many women have you interviewed so far?"
"Four hundred ninety eight."
"No shit? Oops. I mean really? How many more do you intend to interview?"
"You, and one more. My goal was five hundred."
She sat back and relaxed.
"All right, but I want a crab cake plate, large, with extra onion rings."
I shook hands with her and ordered her meal.
Her story was heartbreaking. Abandoned as a small child, she had no idea where her parents are, or if they're even alive. She went from foster homes to orphanages and back to foster homes.
She was provided for, the very basics, and for the most part treated well, but there was no love.
She met her husband in a group counseling session for troubled foster kids. She was fourteen, he was fifteen.
Her eyes glowed at the memory.
"We looked at each other and I knew right then. This is who I wanted to spend my life with. We shared a coke at the break. We were both so awkward and tongue tied, nobody told us about love. But when we took our seats I sat next to him, and I haven't left his side since.
He lived in the group home, and I had a foster family that lived two blocks over. He was in the home because he wouldn't go to school, and he was so big his foster parents were afraid of him, even though he gave them no reason to be.
I mentioned that I was now attending that school and didn't know anyone there. The next day he was on the sidewalk, waiting to walk me to school. He did it everyday until he graduated. I was so proud of him when he crossed the stage to get his diploma.
He was one of the student speakers, honored for his turnaround. In his speech, he gave all the credit to me, saying the woman he loved was responsible for his success. I was crying so hard they almost threw me out of the auditorium.
One of his classmates' mother taped it, and made me a copy. It's my most treasured possession."
"We married the day after I turned eighteen, at the courthouse. We picked up beer cans to pay for the license and the ceremony. We had to get a janitor to be our witness. It was still the happiest day in my life."
Damn, something must have gotten in my eye.
"If I understand it correctly, you live in a shelter, is that true?"
Her eyes were downcast.
"Yeah, I don't have a job, and he does day labor. Sometimes he gets to work all week, sometimes not at all. What sucks is I'm on one side and he's on the other. We don't have a conjugal dorm, and we're pretty heavily monitored, insurance liability, you know."
"On the bright side, I do get to kiss him goodnight."
I tried to phrase the next delicately.
"If you don't sleep together, how do you...conjugate?"
"Oh, sometimes we stay with a friend that has an apartment. I clean it in exchange for bedroom time with my husband. And there's a park, a few of us do some stargazing, while the others watch for, uh, wildlife."
I had the feeling the wildlife was blue dogs and rats.
My heart ached for this child. She showed me a picture of her husband, a small strip you get at those photo booths. An average looking guy, kind of like me.
Her face was radiant when she talked about the children they wanted. Three, no preference to sex.